The Burnt World of Athas

Session 9
How do I throw down my chains?

The party investigated the previous evening's events. Wary to get involved in the chaos before knowing where things stood, they did not use their letters of marque or invoke Tithians name and instead took the harder path of investigating on their own. First the party went to the location of a nighttime raid in the warrens. There had been disturbances and even explosions in the night and the party eventually ascertained that Templars raided locations of presumed members of the Veiled Alliance. The locals seemed skeptical that the Templars did anything more than attack helpless commoners who had made it in the black logs for uttering the Kings name in vain or some other petty offense. They did however manage to speak with a local gossip who had been at the arena and after sharing some rations she told them she saw Kalak struck by a spear in the middle of the games. And the spear began to sprout leaves as Kalak was carried away by his King's Guard. Sukir appeared dead as did people in the audience.

The party then went to the Wailing Winds to gather information at the tavern, which was packed despite the empty streets. There were no messages at the front from the Captain, though they had left Glamor in the Warrens to reach out to her. In the tavern performers sang a ribald song about Kalak until a group of off duty Tyrian Guard in the audience told them to stop, starting a tense exchange with the crowd that eventually fizzled out. Deciding not to get involved, the party went on to investigate the arena.

Along the way they encountered a robed woman standing on a statute's pedestal in a square and speaking to the crowd, who was ignoring her, averting eye contact, and hurriedly walking past. They party approached and heard she was proselytizing about her goddess, the protector of nature. Hafeeza shared her skepticism and as they were the only ones looking at her, the lady began to speak to the party. The priestess looked Hafeeza in the eyes and said her goddess' power was real indeed… that she could even have brought Watcher back. Despite her lack of city smarts, Hafeeza was sure this was some trick, likely a ruse where the lady psionically read her thoughts. The party saw someone pointing out the lady to guards and they left just as the guards took her off the platform and silenced her.

At the arena the party found the area closed off by guards and created a distraction with a Nibenay cocktail around the corner of where the entrance was. When that failed to draw away enough guards, Bright Eyes used her charms and some light magic to draw more guards. This worked and though Malachi was found out and turned away, Chronicler made it through as eventually did the gecko Malachi. They saw Templars investigating several dead bodies, but did not see Kalak's or Sukir's among them. Some of the guards had daggorans, the hounds that Malachi had remembered where able to sense magic, and they were in fact sniffing at the air and moving out towards Bright Eyes. The pair left the arena, gathered Bright Eyes and began to walk back to the merchant district. 

Along the way Hafeeza had an idea. She had seen Sukir's staff and as such could locate it through her magic. She found no sign of it, but kept searching and walked back from the ziggurat to the arena and Templar district. As she did so, right as her power faded she detected it. The staff was in the Golden Tower, Kalak's palace. She cast the spell again and sensed the staff was moving towards them but not through any path, it was travelling under the city. As the party caught sight of daggorans once again they cut the magic short and hurried away.

With this new information the party went to the archives with the dual goals of destroying their record of entry and finding a map to the under city. Along the way Malachi left etchings in druidic in secluded streets stating: how do I throw down my chains. They found the archives totally empty, an exterior patrol and a librarian at the front entrance being the only inhabitants. They smooth talked the librarian and flashed their company insignia to make it to the interior. The librarian closed the heavy stone doors behind them leaving them totally empty in the grand archives. 

They investigated the public sections and determined what they needed was in a locked area. Before proceeding further Hafeeza used her powers to  sense the location of the coin she had held to enter the gates. Each of the three rooms had three murals depicting various scenes of Tyr and flanked by stone statutes. Some searching revealed the statues to the right of each mural held a sword and shield, but the ones to the left had a shield and in their other hand what appeared to be a key gripped in a closed fist. The base of the statutes held some arcane text that the party had difficulty deciphering. 

Malachi tried to pick the lock and the statutes turned toward him. He stopped immediately and they returned to their poses. After some trial and error Mulses made the statute drop the key by offering his sword, which the statute grabbed. But when Malachi used the key and entered the room the statute again turned towards him and again he stopped. Mulses returned the key and retrieved his sword then simply ran in to the room towards where Hafeeza sensed her coin. 

All of the statutes in the room sprang to life and attacked, the party defeated them and retrieved the keys. A cursory glance revealed that they had the entry logs of everyone who came to Tyr in the past year. Since the last couple weeks had involved this ceramic coin process, this included about 500 ceramic worth of entry coins sealed in packets. 

They also had the keys to the other murals in this room, one depicting King Kalak in an idolized regal pose speaking to a crowd and the other depicting an arena combat. They still lacked the keys to the room they first investigated, with a mural of an aqueduct, a mural of an underground water tunnel, and an overhead view of all of Tyr. Though that room was laid out in an identical manner with the same statutes.

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Session 8
Have we not already been beset by thieves?

The seven began in a strange situation, well within the city of Tyr with no memory of how they cleared the final entry checkpoint. An examination of their belongings revealed everything was there and intact except for Malachi's and Hafeeza's staves, which were both broken. They examined the situation but went ahead to their company's informal headquarters, a floor of the "Wailing Winds" in the merchant district. 

Glamor, one of the company's two established spellcasters, greeted and debriefed them. She urged them to continue their contracts as she reached out to inform the city-state of the impending army and contact the Captain and nearby Company members. 

The party passed the mostly completed zigurrat and the brickyard. They saw masses huddled to get free water, part of the month-long build up to the Festival of the Soaring Sun. The party knew this was a necessary release valve given the recent brutality of Kalak's slavers. There were also guards burning bodies, which the party learned was due to an outbreak of wasting sickness within the city.

In the Smith's District the party was ushered in to House Voldon to meet a wizened old lady. She urgently inquired about the family carrying the chest and was distraught over news of their death, revealing that they were her child and grandchild, and the heirs of House Voldon. She eventually became convinced that the party tried to protect her family. The chest was opened revealing black rocks: carbon to combine with iron ore and make steel. A weighing confirmed that everything was accounted for. The lady provided 7 vouchers and an escort to the levels below the house where the party could hear the tell-tale sound of a smith. 

They were stopped at the door to the smithy by a quartermaster. He tried to talk the party out of honoring the vouchers and in doing so revealed that they were as the party hoped: permission to purchase metal items from Voldon's forge. After exchanging words they took their leave temporarily, first providing a tip to Lady Voldon about the likely upcoming clash.

The party continued to the High Templar's keep. On the way Bright Eyes saw a familiar face she couldn't quite place. After first being asked to disarm, a well equipped soldier allowed the party to enter, making it clear that he had no concerns over safety from the likes of the group. Inside the party was warmly greeted by Tithian who apologized for the security. The party shared their journey, including the battle with the Templar, which interested Tithian greatly. While Bertrand, the mocking soldier from earlier, questioned the party's capabilities, Tithian reminded him of his own failing in stopping the Templar. The party was elated at Tithian's reprimand, although mostly because of an unnoticed magical effect.

Tithian listened attentively to their recitation and was so impressed by what the party accomplished that he wanted to enter into a further contract. This show of confidence from such a mighty figure (and some more magical effects) again swelled Malachi and Kid's impression of Tithian. Kid wanted to use the chance to get authorization to carry metal. Although Mulses and Bright Eyes started to believe that the two were being unusually friendly. Bright Eyes discovered powerful psionics were the origin of a strange sensation she had during the conversation. This lead to further inspection by her and the realization that it seemed Tithian had surrounded himself with psionicists, which struck her as unusual.

Kid was sure he had the authority to make a contract for Grim and Glamor and the seven of them, as Tithian wanted. But the skepticism of the rest of the party dulled him somewhat. Even in their state the party could tell Tithian seemed to be showing a particular interest in spellcasters. Coupled with his strange retinue they assumed he wanted powers independent of Kalak's and that they had value to him, something he reaffirmed with an earnest plea of their worth.

Eventually an agreement was reached whereby the 7 members would serve Tithian during the siege. He then  left the part to enjoy the room and his free-flowing fermented nectar. As the party left they no longer felt punch-drunk, but still believed they had stuck a fair deal with a powerful patron, and secured an unheard of permission to carry metal arms within Tyr.

The party left for the long walk to the merchants district and saw the city had changed. One huge crowd swelled around the brickyard pushing into the coliseum. They heard from rushing passerbys that the King had ordered the games honoring the Festival of the Soaring Sun to begin immediately because his zigarut was completed early. The opening night promised free food, drink, and prizes to all who entered as well as entertainment from renowned gladiators. 

The streets were nearly empty, it seemed the whole city was at the arena. The party noticed smoke in the distance from the direction of the Urikite army, signs of a large fire, likely burning structures. Astounded that games would be going on despite an imminent siege, they continued along to reach the walls and investigate. As they did so, they felt a passing feeling of pain and weakness which they recognized as defiling. But they could see no circle nor any source for the defilement. 

 

The echoing cheers in the street had given way to chaotic screaming. The party waited for entry to the wall and began to encounter individuals running from the center of the city, most to their homes, although some were banging at the gates. They overheard the commotion at the gates. People were begging to leave and insisting that King Kalak was dead. Incredibly, they believed he had been struck by a spear and killed. The assassin was one of the gladiators, a man named Sukir. The watch captain who had been with the company ordered everyone to their homes and stated a curfew was in effect. 

The party went to their room and learned Glamor had left shortly after their meeting and not returned. They visited company safehouses in the Warrens and found her. They discussed the events: their fruitful negotiations, Tithian's possible motives, the unbelievable rumors of Kalak's death, the possible death of Sukir, and decided what to do next. As the party prepared to step out they saw the soldiers enforcing the curfew peering up at the sky where words appeared written in clouds: throw down your chains and be free.

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Session 7
So long, Sukirs! Orphan Company out!

One hundred and fifty miles and possibly an army stood between the party and Tyr. They rushed to their destination, hoping to provide a dire warning to the city-state as well as complete a series of Orphan Company contracts. The journey started with an incredible sight: Cloud Rays, which Chronicler had vaguely remembered when Trigger first tried to describe them. The enormous flying rays began as billowing dust on the horizon and eventually blocked out the sun as they passed near the Great Road. After overcoming their awe, the party had Trigger reconnoiter and found Urikite troops on the backs of at least one of the gargantuan beasts. Although first worried that the Urikites had managed to tame the creatures, the party eventually surmised that there was, indeed, a passing army and it's movement had accidentally disturbed the slumbering giants.

Chronicler scavenged for resources and followed tiny indications of the presence of water to a very secluded oasis. But it was not totally abandoned, as a Thrikreen soon challenged the party and named himself, quite literally, the guardian of the oasis. Malachi quickly diffused the situation and said he sought permission from the spirits of the land before partaking of any water. The Thrikreen invited the party to sit and have their fill while discussing their journey. He believed that their mission would only beget more violence and destruction, although they were motivated by good intentions. Eventually with coaxing from the group, the Thrikreen offered invaluable aid, a secret route through ravines that would allow the party to by pass the great road and hopefully any Urikite army. He also gave them the location of several water wells, though warned them that water further in the wastes was often a location of conflict, either from people or beasts. Sukir also tried to get in the Thrikreen's good graces with badly mangled Druidic recitation that the party pieced together was the same call sign they had heard before: all are meant to be free. The Thrikreen seemed amused by this.

The party continued at a blistering pace, which soon wore Chronicler out. They ignored temptations in the wastes, and kept out of the presence of other travelers and the possible location of troops. Eventually they reached the ravines that He-Who-Guards-The-Oasis described. They found a blind carefully hidden at the intersection. Using a dust cloud, the party bypassed the guarded ravine but stood watch to attack anyone who came to investigate the cloud, lest they be discovered. A soldier did wander out and was felled by a hail of arrows. He dropped a switch that snapped shut, making a loud pop that echoed through the ravine. The party broke from their position and moved on the blind, seeing that the soldiers had split up and were running towards another ravine. They gave chase, running down or shooting most of the troops, although a soldier managed to take one of their crodlu and escape. The soldier's goal soon became clear, a small encampment with wooden palisades and watchtowers had been erected further in the maze of ravines. Just as he was about to break into the open line of sight of the watchtower, Chronicler loosed a shot that struck him in the neck, killing him so suddenly that he jerked back on the reins of the crodlu. 

The party considered exploring the encampment further but worried Trigger would draw unwanted attention. Upon Sukir's warning, Malachi left the area and transformed into a small burrowing skink to bypass the soldiers along the ridge of the ravine. On the other side of the ridge he sighted an amassed army: hundreds of troops bearing the emblem of Urik, armored mellikots hauling siege equipment, and dozens of calvary. He only briefly caught sight of the encampment before immediately heading back to tell the others. 

They continued at their blistering pace to the Tyr valley and began to encounter signs of civilization: farmland, scattered homes, even a roadside stop with a stable where they spent the evening. The party pressed on to Tyr itself, reaching the gates on the 4th day, well ahead of their contract. They saw signs that the situation in Tyr was not well. More than the normal number of individuals hung from the public stockades that lined the road to Tyr as a warning. Some of the bodies were guarded by large numbers of Tyrian guard and even Templars. A small unruly crowd was being dispersed as the group appeared at the gate. Sukir shared that King Kalak's usual foolishness had reached new heights. He had tasked Tyrian slavers with enormous quotas to provide the labor to complete the towering ziggurat that had been under construction for a year. This had pushed Tyr and it's populace to the breaking point. 

The line was also unusually long to gain entry, though a fee enabled the group to bypass the masses and use the merchant's gate. When they reached the gate checkpoint the party went to register their entry. They were each asked to pay the entry fee with a ceramic coin they pressed in their hand and concentrated on. The registrar watched them closely as they did so and would not let them drop the coin until he was satisfied they had done what he asked. When they dropped it on the provided paper he immediately sealed it with wax. An artist meanwhile drew quick sketches for their identification papers. The party then moved on to the next station, submitting to an inspection by the Templars. Sukir ensured the party that once they made it past the checkpoint they could keep their pick of a crodlu and riding gear while he would return the other 3 to the Balican merchant's post in Tyr.

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Session 6
All are meant to be free

With limited time and several sources of information to pursue, the group split up. First Kid speculated that the water rationing wouldn't affect the group and sold all of his water at a significant markup, a high risk / potentially high reward move. Afterwards Hafeeza and Kid spent the day speaking with advisers from House Wavir and surveying the area with the help of Trigger. What they discovered was a great dust storm in the sand wastes and what Trigger could only describe as birds as large as buildings. They also uncovered the movement of a much smaller number of people along the great road to the north. Fearing they had either been misled from the start or that the army had veered northwards to bypass Altaruk and march on Tyr, they immediately sought an audience with Olgem. They shared this news and beseeched him for immediate mounted transport to Tyr. He dismissed them to deal with this new information and said he would have news of their request in the morning, which they needed anyway for Chronicler to finish resting.

Meanwhile Malachi, Bright Eyes, and Dragonpaw sought leads for a means to escape if needed by looking for someone capable of smuggling a person out of town. Their barkeep knew of possible leads but his contacts would need assurances the party could afford the steep cost of what they asked. Bright Eyes and Dragonpaw displayed their emblem and lacquered mask as a sign of their status and waited at the inn for word from the barkeeps contacts. Malachi, not content with waiting, went to the southern wall to survey possible tunnel routes. He found suitable land for supporting a tunnel in only a certain section of ground and after much searching pursued one of the several caverns that led underground at the base of the mountains. Sure enough, through remarkable chance, this tunnel lead back to Altaruk and to a cellar of a house. Donning the shape of a gecko, he stepped out of the cellar and into a room where he found Bright Eyes and Dragonpaw in a bit of a predicament. 

The pair had been lead around town in a dizzying pace and ultimately waylaid in an alley by 2 greasy thugs who wanted to know their business. They talked their way into an audience with the thug's patron, mainly by playing up their connection with Kyrie. The thugs lead them to a room with a well dressed man who questioned them further. All are meant to be free, he said to Bright Eyes and Dragonpaw. The two nodded quizically and the man immediately walked away, the others in the room grabbing them by their arms. Before the man could leave, Bright-eyes explained that they were not of his group (implying Veiled Alliance), and didn't claim to be, but they had worked with Kyrie, who was one of them.

The man agreed and also noted that the totems meant Dragonpaw and Kyrie were connected and had both drank from the ichor of the tree of life. But he said that connection was their own business and had nothing to do with him or his work. He would only help those allied with him in their cause. As Dragonpaw pointed out, however, Kyrie did believe in the cause and also clearly considered Dragonpaw trustworthy to have encountered him and left him alive. The man said that is why he would leave them alive, but he would do nothing more. Bright Eyes and Dragonpaw were blindfolded and lead around before being dropped off again. But the gecko Malachi headed straight back and noted the location of the cellar and tunnel.

The party regrouped at their room and waited for the morning and word from Olgem concerning  mounts. At the Wavir tower the next morning they learned the most he could offer was the relative safety of travelling with a caravan. The mellikot mount leading the caravan would help make their trip more secure and well provisioned, but would be much too slow for the group's goal. He did agree to provide water, to ensure he appeared cooperative in case King Kalak indeed did care of the group's mission and found he had not provided sufficient aid. He also suggested they try Aristophanes, a wealthy Balican merchant and the only person who could possibly have mounts to spare. They did so and discovered Aristophanes was the man Bright Eyes and Malachi had spoken with the prior afternoon. 

They negotiated a potentially lucrative deal that seemed to work in everyone's interest. He would lend them 4 trained, equipped, adult crodlu mounts to travel to Tyr provided they ensured the safe travel of his man, Sikur, within 6 days. He assured the group that this man would have no trouble entering the city gates, that he was capable of helping on the road, and that they only had to enter the city with him and he would go send word of the mission to the Balican trading outpost in Tyr. If Sikur made it to Tyr alive during this time and all the mounts survived then the group could keep one of the mounts. If the group made it to Tyr with Sikur alive but mounts dead, then they would return the remaining mounts and consider their contract fulfilled. However if the Sikur should perish or not make it to Tyr, then the group would have to reimburse the steep cost of any mounts they had lost along the way.

Horns began to blare as they loaded the mounts. Fearing any further delay the group went to the gates and Aristophanes used his leverage so the party could pass. They learned the horns signaled a giant attack. As the group sped off they managed to avoid and outrun the main giant force. However while travelling through the canyon that led north out of town they had no choice but to pass by an ambush. Some well placed spells and attacks threw the giants off guard and foiled the ambush, allowing the party to speed off to the Great Road. Their travelling companion seemed unphased by the sorcery and in fact remarked that perhaps they would survive this journey after all.

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Session 5
I was just scared of the dark

The bedraggled Orphan Company members pitched camp by the Great Road until they were rested enough to continue to Altaruk without certain death. They spotted a small group far to the north heading in their direction parallel to the road and broke camp, fearing more Urikite scouts would catch them in their weakened state. Continuing south, the group reached Altaruk, although once again on the brink of exhaustion. They had some difficulties at the gate with the Crimson Suns, the company sworn to protect Alatruk and its environs, But it was nothing name-calling and glowering couldn't overcome. Eventually they secured an audience with Olgem, the middle-aged head of House Wavir's outpost in Altaruk and governor of the region.

They urgently warned Olgem that they had encountered Urikite troops deep within Tyrian territory. They marked the location of scouts they had encountered as well a s where they believed the larger army to be, as they had learned from their onetime captive turned shish-kabob. They also warned Olgem of the intercepted messages so he would find more secure means of communication, or at least send a great number of avian messengers. Olgem sent word to the brigade and a state of emergency was declared. A panicked buzz quickly made it's way around town: travel into and out of Altaruk would soon be cut off, the town expected to come under siege.

Dragonpaw made contact with a member of the N'Kosi trading collective to establish a favorable position during the upcoming crisis while the group went to a less reputable dealer to offload their weapons. On their return they encountered a commotion. A little girl stood in the center of a crowd, her hands tied with a length of rope to a post, while her father pleaded with the  large and unruly group. It quickly became clear that she stood accused of defiling, but also became clear that the young child did so unintentionally, if at all. Dragonpaw suggested giving the girl to the Templars to spare her life. Her father was elated at the possibility. The crowd however was not so happy to add to the ranks of their oppressors, though most feared to make that disdain clear.

While the rest spoke with the crowd, Bright Eyes went off with the young girl's neighbor and accuser. She learned the neighbor sounded an alarm after feeling weakness and pain and seeing a bright light. The mob pulled the girl out of her house upon finding the source of that light. Bright Eyes also went into the girl's sparse living quarters and found the proof she sought, a small and weak, but clear, defiling circle encompassing the girl's hammock. It had been hastily hidden by someone dragging a chest on top of it. Also in the hammock was an old tattered felt figurine of a desert rose, which Bright Eyes noted but left.

She returned to the group and gave the symbol for defiler. As Mulses restrained the inconsolable father, Bright Eyes slit the little girls' throat, whispering an apology but also an assurance that this was a far better fate than becoming a Templar. The crowd's blood-thirst quenched, they slowly dispersed with thanks to the company for having dealt with the budding sorceress. The group took the girl's body to a bonfire far from any of the hovels and burned her corpse. 

They returned to their room for a much needed rest, still hoping to make contact with any company members nearby and to prepare plans for travelling to Tyr amid the possible siege.

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Session 4
My only allegiance is to surviving

The Unfallen Host concluded the grim rites for Shale and Watcher and rested after the battle. They took the templar's water but nothing else, dismantling the weapons and armor to try to slow the process of anyone discovering what became of the Tyrian agents. Chronicler used an orphan cipher to transcribe the contents of the warrant and letter of marque and noted the names of the Templars from their papers. The company burnt the originals of the documents along with the Templar's bodies.

Towards the end of their resting, the members lifted their banner on a high point. After some time they could see birds closing in on them from the east and from the north. Meanwhile nearby, Kid was holed up in a cave with the man with the totem, whose name he purposefully preferred not to know. The young brother's kes'trekel, Trigger, surveyed the surrounding area and found the banner. Kid sneaked up to determine whether this was a trap and was spotted by Chronicler who chided him for not being more stealthy. 

The man joined the group and delivered a packet of papers that he said must make it to the group's employer. He explained that the cipher key for reading the documents was branded on the inside of his waterskin. He offered to decode it for them if they wanted, but they decided not knowing was better. However in secret Chronicler tore open the skin and decoded the message, believing it was best for one person to have the information as a backup. Bright eyes resealed the skin.

Dragonpaw didn't care for the group's secrecy and plainly asked the man who he was. He said his name was Kyrie, one of the veiled ones. He was acting in secret because his actions would be controversial among his comrades. He was making a deal with evil in the hopes of defeating a greater evil.

Dragonpaw asked why Templars would want to kill Kyrie, and he responded that there were many possible reasons, not the least of which was that as a member of the veiled alliance he sought to overthrow the Sorcerer-Kings themselves. Dragonpaw also asked about the totem, to which the man responded briefly that he did not have time to show him it's significance. But he also telepathically shared more with Dragonpaw.

The group debated traveling together, but ultimately the man stayed back to divert any following soldiers. He was known to the Templars and would be easily spotted in Altaruk or Tyr anyway. The rest of the group decided to press on immediately for fear of the looming falcons.

Unfortunately the group travelled too hastily to hide their tracks well or to find sufficient cover. The falcons initially headed towards the trapped canyon where Shale's banshee lay in wait. But after a few hours it became clear some birds were also following them. The group pressed on at a perilous rate, the desert sun taking it's toll on them. Eventually when they could go no further they set up camp and a weary watch. They saw a contingent of troops camped a few miles away. After debating a nighttime sneak attack or to pack up and leave to try to make it to the great road, the company decided to set an ambush and lie in wait.

The plan went remarkably well. Although outnumbered with 8 Urikite troops, the company hit them too quickly for them to recover. Bright Eyes and Chronicler rained fire and arrows from high ground as Dragonpaw and Kid punished the Urikites who made it to the narrow choke point leading up to their vantage point.

As the company massacred the troops, the final Urikite soldier put down her sword and surrendered. After convincing the company that her only interest was in survival, she parlayed for a promise of safety in exchange for sharing information. She explained that she was part of an outer force merely picking off any who may have spotted the larger army movement. King Hammanu was marching on Tyrian lands, to claim what is his. After marking the troop locations on a map and apparently telling the truth, Kid thanked her with a swift kick into the pit trap where she lay gurgling as the party left.

The party continued it's forced march towards the great road and Altaruk. This time marching until Chronicler literally could move no further. But they made it to the road, and set up camp nearby, anxiously awaiting whether the next travelers on the road would be friend or foe.

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Session 3
You've made a foolish mistake

The Unfallen and their allies left Blue Spring to follow the path the Templars had taken the previous evening. Watcher had a vague idea where the bright blue flash he saw had originated and Chronicler easily tracked the Tyrian agents. The tracks confirmed that there were three of them and a cilops, though a fourth set of tracks apparently belonging to a human joined them perpendicularly as they neared the site of the flash then veered off again as they made their way back..

The area ahead was a ravine, formed by the ancient river that once snaked through the alluvial sand wastes. They prepared themselves and rounded the corner to find a familiar face, Shale the amiable rogue in Grinner's unit who had the contact in Blue Spring. But the ravine cast a strange shadow over him. When Khalil called out to Shale a bright, blue flash lit the ravine walls as he turned to greet them. They could see Shale was grievously wounded yet spoke as though he didn't notice. Eventually Khalil realized he was a banshee: as a dwarf he had failed in a quest and his spirit would remain restless until he could accomplish it. He was still sane because of the recency of the events, but discovering he was dead could turn him into a raging, mindless ghost.

Farther in the ravine, Hafeeza and Chronicler discovered the spot where Shale had made his last stand. He had been attacked by the same Urikite troops the party had encountered while first fleeing the black steppes. He had killed at least 2, since their bodies remained, and the party took their items along with Shale's body to return to the cart.

But waiting back at the cart was a Templar, the one the party had spoken with when they first entered the town. He was with his large feline and he asked whether the party had encountered the same dwarf that he and his companions had encountered earlier. Though the party tried to be coy, the other two Templars revealed themselves from within the ravine, where they had been hidden. They had to admit the banshee was friendly with them, and they tried to play along without actually leading the group to the man they all sought. They asked Shale to take them to the man, while signalling in their company cant to keep them lost.

The Unfallen and the Templars commenced a tense march through the desert. Eventually the female Templar, who seemed the clear leader, became suspicious and insisted one of the living members of the group tell them how much further they had. Khalil lied and felt a psionic presence in his mind react. The female Templar told them to stop stalling, that they would die in the desert long before she and her companions.

Sensing no other options, the group decided to just get the truth from Shale and hope they could kill the Templars. Khalil took Shale aside while the rest of the party got in advantageous positions. He told Shale that he had failed his mission, and Shale became despondent as he realized what that meant and what he had become. As the brute who had accompanied Khalil reacted, Shale shared what information he could. The mission at the Black Steppes had been to feign a siege of the veiled alliance. But really the veiled ones and unfallen host had fought side by side when the Urikite army closed in on them. Some of their brothers and sisters may have even survived by retreating in the caverns under the steppes. Grinner's unit had been trying to make contact with the man with the totem, but had been hounded by Urikite troops the whole time. The man could survey a large area so they only had to make themselves known, but the company was never in position to safely beckon to him.

Meanwhile the battle raged on as Mulses easily felled the male rogue Templar and Hafeeza squished the Cilops like the bug that it was. Chronicler helped with the Cilops and turned his attention to the main obstacle, the powerful defiler that was raining fire. Khalil and his paladin corollary traded blows and healed themselves. Eventually with Mulses' help the brute was dropped, after what seemed like a countless number of blows. 

As the lead Templar continued to defile, the shouts in the cart turned silent. Watcher's blows struck true against her feline companion and the large cat fled to avoid certain death. Watcher turned to the main threat and wounded the defiler amid her constant stream of sorcery and defilement. Eventually he collapsed from her onslaught, as did all of his companions except Mulses and Chronicler. Her spells were tapped, but Chronicler's arrows could not find their mark. As she skirted the canyon wall it seemed she may manage to escape, until Mulses grabbed one of Watcher's spears and impaled her on the clay walls of the canyon, a look of shock on her face amid the realization that she was not as unstoppable as she believed.

The Unfallen regrouped after the devastating battle. A glance in the cart revealed the desiccated corpse of Demara frozen in a scream and clutching her lifeless baby. And as the party slowly brought their companions back on their feet they faced the grim realization that Watcher had made his last stand. He had borne the brunt of the defiler's attacks, and his body had been sapped of all life.

The party buried Shale and moved quickly to a safe location. They brought with them the bodies of Demara, her child, and their one-time leader Watcher.

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Session 2
See that great big ball of fire in the sky?

The party rested up and resupplied, bartering to sell their excess at a high price and even getting a discount by purchasing water in bulk. Watcher's Quartermaster Log Book keeps track of some of the more noteworthy items.

After getting sorted they reached out to the Templars and offered to help find the wanted man. The Templars welcomed any aid but wouldn't share information other than the man was dangerous and an enemy of Tyr. Watcher shared that the party had encountered defiling cirlces to the south west. 

In the morning Khalil and Mulses tried to subtly use magic to heal some injured caravan retinue for pay. They succeeded and were rewarded with enough to pay for everyone's room and board for the evening. They also learned this caravan had been hit hard on the way here and was looking for more support on the road to Altaruk.

Watcher and Bright Eyes reconnected with Jeran, the dwarf peddler who seemed to be a contact with someone in Grinner's unit. Jeran seemed on the level as he had also aided the party in bartering. Watcher pushed him for signs he was untrustworthy but found none. To keep up pretenses the party bought some useful shovels along with useful information. He noticed the Templars had left the previous night with the cilops and returned at sunrise. There were three of them who left although he wasn't able to see exactly who came back. 

With a mild distraction from Bright-Eyes, who needed assistance from the gate guard in finding the position of the midday sun, Watcher easily followed the strange insect tracks left by the Templars. They had gone along the road as the party had, but then veered off the road to the north, not the south where the party said the circles were located.

The party put their heads together and gleaned that this meant the Templars were unconcerned about the defiling circles and maybe even caused them. They also probably believed that the man was nearby as they continued to use Blue Spring as a base of operation. Based on their actions it didn't seem clear the Templars knew why the man was sticking around, but they did seem to have some lead they continued to pursue nearby.

Meanwhile Khallil's attempts to extract information from the local drunks drew attention from the Templars. Mulses noticed they made a point of bringing their strange feline out when they next spoke with Khalil. After the conversation they seemed satisfied and continued on their way. But Khalil had sensed a psionic presence try to probe his mind and get repulsed when he dissembled.

The party considered going out on the Templars path themselves or trying to follow the Templars or even grouping up with them. But instead they opted for the safest route of setting up to watch from town in case the Templars left on the second night. Bright-eyes flirted with the lookout while Mulses watched out. 

The ruse worked, but even from the lookout perch on the wall, Bright Eyes couldn't see where the Templars went in the dark. She  returned before things got too serious with the lookout. Watcher however had taken the opportunity to remain on the tavern roof. He also couldn't make out their path in the dark, until a magical illumination briefly lit up the desert, miles away but in the same direction he had seen their path take earlier that day.

The party went back to their room and waited to see if the Templars returned at sunrise again.

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Session 1
Tembo's coming for the baby

The party started off figuring out what to do with their prisoner. Khalil succeeded in making the captured scout talk, but Amari would not break. However a severe beating from Watcher left Amari whimpering for the Great King, an honorific for Hamanu, the Sorcerer-King who ruled Urik. This fit in with the rest of the information Khalil gleaned from Amari. The party pretended to make plans to reconnoiter in the scouts' direction and Malachi detected Amari's restrained joy at that prospect. There was clearly some salvation South-East, likely a larger force. Khalil made one last entreaty and when Amari used the opportunity to try to fool the party into heading South-East, Khalil and Mulses slew the dishonored scout.

After travelling for hours, Chronicler noticed that a creature had been following them for miles. He recognized it as a tembo from the Chronicles and children's stories; a fearsome, intelligent creature that killed for sadistic pleasure as much as survival. 

Unable to do anything but continue cautiously, the party encountered vultures in the distance. They crept up to discover a man in bad shape propped against an overturned cart. Hafeeza recognized his affliction as wasting sickness, which struck individuals randomly and left them with an unquenchable thirst for water. After they wasted away from dehydration, the bodies of the afflicted would rise again and spread undeath through their bites. Khalil was unable to heal the affliction, which the rest of the party thought obvious, but which seemed significant to Khalil as an indication that this was no disease.

The party also found a distraught woman, Damara, her child, and a chest bearing a Royal Tyrian imprimatur. The sides of the chest and the man's clothes bore a black diamond, the symbol of House Voldon, prominent for its role in Tyr's iron trade. The company members eventually convinced the man to put his family first and contract with them to bring the chest and his family to Tyr. Damara eventually acquiesced. Khalil and Chronicler circled back to kill the man and burn his body despite his pathetic insistence that he may recover.

The party marched as far as they could before it became clear they would die of exhaustion before reaching the Great Road. They found an easily defensible cavern to set up camp. Chronicler found mentions of the tembo in the Chronicles as psionically-attuned creatures created by the sorcerer-kings. They were designed to hunt beloved individuals or people whom others placed their hope in, but they were now wild roaming psychopaths who killed for amusement. 

Stepping out of the cavern to claim a lizard for breakfast, Chronicler turned to see the tembo perched atop the cave entrance. He asked whether it intended to take the baby and the tembo laughed, urging Chronicler to bring him the baby to find out. It attacked along with another of its kind. A vicious fight ensued and the party emerged beaten but victorious. They rested for an entire day to recover from the exhaustion of the march and the withering poison of the tembo. 

They finished their march to the Great Road and Green Spring, the nearest 'town" and likely rendezvous point with Grinner. Tyrian Templars briefly questioned the party about a man with a Dagorran totem before allowing them entry. The party made it to the safety of the town's reinforced earthen walls and spring. It didn't take long for a vendor to catch their attention with heavy handed hints that he bore a message left by Company members within a hideous pottery figurine of a bloated man.

The party purchased and broke the pottery abomination to reveal a note in Grinner's hand along with a portrait of a man. The note reads:

We're heading East. It is imperative that we all work to find the man whose portrait I've enclosed. We must retrieve the packet he is carrying. If that's not possible, you know where to go. – Grinner, 1st Sgt. 

The note ends with symbols in Orphan-tongue that indicate there is more to share but this is not a safe enough means to share it.

As they glanced at the portrait a sneaking suspicion in everyone's mind was realized, the man the Company sought was the same the Templars were tracking.

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Session 0
Smiley and Looker are Dead

The party defeated 4 soldiers and 2 falconers that they believe were scouting and/or intercepting messages in the region. The scouts traveled light and had nothing giving way their allegiance other than being trained and appearing to be regulars of some fighting force. Aside from their competence, Watcher partially gleaned this from the standardized make of their weapons. They had the following items on them:

4 short bows
2 longbows
6 sets of travelers clothes and padded armor
6 obsidian scimitars
6 half full water skins
6  rations
20 arrows
The three scrolls Mulses found in a hidden pocket on a falconer

The party has one scout alive (one of the soldiers) who was still subject to the sleep spell. The others are all dead along with the 2 falcons. Chronicler had to spend 20 minutes after the fight finding the body of the second falcon which had flown a good distance away before he shot it. 

The three scrolls were: 

A Dark Sun rises in the west,
Festival of the Soaring Sun
Or Sooner. Festival of
the Highest Sun too late.

Troops spotted along Great
Road. Southward, from Urik
or Raam. Near fork North of Silver Spring.

Ambushed by an army. Not veiled,
not cells, had defilers. Smiley + Looker
are dead. Even Weird outclassed

 -Lash, 3rd Sgt

None of the scrolls had their seals intact so there is no indication where they are from except by their contents. The party assumed these are intercepted messages sent by pigeons that the falconers brought down. 

The party believes the first scroll is referring to two of the festivals of the season. Watcher is guessing Dark Sun rising in the West is a warning about some army or power in the west.

The second scroll is unknown but its contents appear to speak for themselves, or are in no code the party recognizes.

The third scroll appears to be from Lash, the Sergeant leading the siege of the black steppes where the company was ambushed. It references the events of the attack and, in simple code, seems to make a point of Grinner and Watcher being alive. Grinner's party was, as far as you know, acting as comparable lookouts on the entrance to the parallel canyon that you were guarding.

Fearing the consequences of being caught by what appears to be a large, capable fighting force with powerful sorcerers, the party is planning to continue their controlled retreat back to the great road and one of the spring towns to rendezvous with Grinner, if possible, or get a message to him or the main company.

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