Rise of the Planar Trade Consortium

Run 28, Rise of the PTC: The Thousand and One Nights, "The Beggar of Aqaba"

Cast ashore by a shipwreck onto the Bone Coast Sioned and Sim struggle to make their way out of the desert and back to Aqaba. Sioned has instructions from Estevan to go there in disguise (so the Caliph won’t know she’s alive) and while there check in on his old friend Asim al Awad bin Tariq.

Disguised as beggars they enter Aqaba, and locate Asim, he involves them in some shady deals which help keep the poor of Aqaba housed, fed, and clothed. While out begging one day Sioned is recognized by an agent of Jafar, the now-out-of-favor-and-exiled Vizier. They fight off the agents.

Leaving Aqaba, to avoid Jafar’s attention, they pursue the rumors of a magical body that washed up in the delta of the River Laq. It turns out to be the corpse of Rook. Rook’s body is indeed magically protected and does not decompose, it is being tended by an ancient crone named Erzulie, also a priestess of the Raven Queen. She promises to give them word if anything changes, and they return to Aqaba this time disguised as rich pilgrims.

Investigation leads to the discovery of a safe-house Jafar’s agents are running. Jafar seems to be kidnapping the poor of Aqaba for (doubtless nefarious) purposes.

Sioned and Sim decide to deal with it themselves. They scout out the house and invade it late one night, within they defeat Jafar’s chief apprentice, a twin brother to the hydromancer they’d fought in the past, and a necromancer.

Further investigation leads to a room deep beneath the sewers of Aqaba where Jafar himself is at work on a magic ritual. The two assault him, but fail to capture him as he flees the sewers.

Some weeks pass as they wait for the periodic portal in the crypts of Aqaba to open a gate to the Sargasso Graveyard. Erzulie shows up just a few days before the appointed time, Rook’s body in tow. She says she was given a dream from her Lady that his body should be returned to the Sargasso Graveyard. That night Asim dies of old age. At the death-rites Erzulie performs for Asim the beggars of Aqaba all dice off for what little goods he has left behind, Sioned wins his set of lucky dice.

A few days later Sioned and Sim take the body of Rook through the portal to the Sargasso Graveyard.

Shazhara thanks Di’Ahna for telling her the tales of Sioned that she has re-told to the Sultan, and for her instruction in dancing. Di’Ahna thanks her for her hospitality, but says she must return now to Tradegate to attend to her family’s business.

This is where the tale ends, and our story as well.

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Run 27, Rise of the PTC: The Thousand and One Nights, "The Five Faithful Wives, Pt. II"

Boy am I going to summarize quickly, and badly.

Pieter waits aboard ship while his friends go ashore, he being a living man and thus unable to safely go ashore on the Isle of the Worlds. After most of a day passes he decides to test the curse, and sets out with the Caliph’s Chief Eunuch towards the castle. A djinni woman of fantastic beauty, dressed in the silks of a non-combatant, appears in a burst of smoke as they approach the shore. Pieter talks to her, as the Chief Eunuch flees toward the ship. She tells him his friends are nearly ready to enter the cave where her husband Prince Balaam waits, he says he will not put foot upon the shore if he can join them when they are ready.

Sioned and the rest leave the castle to return to the ship and see Pieter and Ameena, the scholar of the djinni sisters, talking at the quay. When they approach, and re-unite with Pieter on the quay, she exerts powerful magic and raises a small stone island from the middle of the bay. At it’s edge, near the quay, is a tunnel leading inwards. The group leaps from quay to island, never setting foot on the Isle of the Worlds. (a good thing for Pieter)

The tunnel leads into the depths of the stone island ending in a large, seemingly empty, cavern. The group manages to detect an unexplained air-flow, which leads to a magically hidden exit high up the back wall of the cavern. Using the exit the group finds themselves moving down a spiraling passage, as if it was outside a large funnel, as they move they are aware the slope is increasing and that they are passing through multiple planes though no individual boundary can be discerned. At the bottom they find a hole opening into the roof of a large cavern.

Dropping a series of knotted-together ropes down the hole the group climbs down into the Cavern of Gold and Silver. All about them lie piles of gold and silver coins, various golden pieces of sculpture, gold plates, etc., etc., etc. The Cavern of Gold and Silver has three exits, the group chooses an outer exit. That leads to the Cavern of Silks, a huge cave piled high with rare silks, carpets, clothes, etc., etc., etc. From this cavern there are also three exits, this time the party passes up the scents of the remaining outside passage leading to the Cavern of Spices and chooses the central passage instead.

At the end of the central passage lies a massive iron door with heavy bronze fittings. Listening at the door reveals the faint sounds of music beyond. Opening the door the group enters into a luxuriously appointed room with silk hangings and pillows strewn upon the carpet-covered floor. Lounging upon some of the pillows, playing an odd (and unknown to Sioned) wind-instrument from the deepest past, is an old and withered man.

The party introduces themselves, and learns he is Prince Balaam, once the greatest of the djinn generals in the Dawn War. Since his side lost, due to the God’s treachery according to him, he has been imprisoned here away from the winds that feed him, with only the slightest breezes from mortals entering the cave he has been starved down to his present form. He too tries to dissuade the group from attempting to take the Splinter of Bone, but in the end is convinced to allow them to try.

He uses magic to hang a silver rope from mid-air and open a hole into the depths of the earth, which the rope descends into. The group climbs down the rope into a small apparently natural cavern. Within are three dogs with eyes the size of eggs, the party defeats the normal-sized dogs with ease. The sole exit from the room is a natural appearing tunnel snaking to a second cave. Within that cave are three huge dogs with eyes the size of saucers, these three are a much tougher fight though the party triumphs in the end.

At the back of the cavern lies another massive iron door bound in bronze. The party takes out the three magic sesame cakes from Zahura and takes up battle formation as they open the door. Beyond is a huge room and within are three massive dogs with eyes the size of wagon wheels. They move faster than anyone in the party and each savage, or fling, a party member as soon as the door is opened. Thinking quickly Alruna, and Sioned each fling a cake at one of the hounds, the third cake is mis-aimed and lands on the floor. Fortunately the dogs go before any of the party for the scent of the sesame-cake fills the air almost instantly and everyone knows that if they can they will go try to eat the magical treat, but alas for the party the third great hound devours the cake. The party takes a short rest as the dogs slumber.

Magical wards standing between the party and the only other exit from the room take some more time. But combining religious and arcane knowledge the party manages to work out a ritual that will, for a time, disable them.

Beyond the wards lies a room filled with the most spectacular magic items any of the group has ever seen. Each member of the party save Alruna nearly loses themselves as greed for one or another item almost overcomes them. Sim does NOT grab for the Staff of the Magi, Rook passes on a feather from the Raven Queen herself, Sioned and Pieter each also nearly succumb to tempation when Alruna speaks up saying she has found the cedar box they are searching for.

Inside the cedar box lies a small splinter of what looks like bone. However the box becomes heavier and heavier each step someone takes away from it’s original position at the back of the room. In a few steps it’s too heavy to be borne, a few more and not even ropes can drag it any further, and as soon as it’s on the floor and not being held it slides back to it’s original spot.

Experimentation shows that if Alruna tries to reach for the Bone Splinter her fingers begin to feel like they are burning as they get close to it. Sim discovers that the splinter devours his magic when he tries to pick it up with a mage hand, he chooses to lose his access to the spell Mage Hand for a day rather than spend another (mostly gone) healing surge to keep it.

In the end Sioned takes a leap of faith and just picks it up and walks out.

As they return to Prince Balaam everyone can feel the earth beginning to shudder and quake as huge magical power is being released. Entering Prince Balaam’s chamber they can see that he is already changing, before their eyes he “youthens” and grows in size. As he becomes larger and larger the shaking intensifies until there is a massive explosion and the entire prison is blown outwards and upwards like a volcanic explosion. Prince Balaam shields the party, ensuring they land safely on the quay near their ship.

The entire fleet watches as the small island in the bay blows up. They watch as a rain of gold and riches fall down upon the island and the ocean. Everyone sees as Prince Balaam grows out of the massive crater and, raising his thickly muscled arms to the heavens, declares “I am free! At Last I Am FREE!! Let the Heavens themselves beware Prince Balaam and his Five Faithful Wives.”

With a deafening clap of thunder and a great rush of wind Prince Balaam, the castle, and his Five Faithful Wives vanish from The World.

(those seeking them may do so in Chaos you suspect)

And as the fleet gathers up a great treasure of gold and luxuries from the island’s sands the tale ends.

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Run 26, Rise of the PTC: The Thousand and One Nights, "The Five Faithful Wives"

The tale opens as Shahzara dances with her sisters and several other ladies, the mysterious dark-haired human woman sits in the corner. She answers Shahzara’s question as to the truth of the stories she is telling with, “I can attest to some personally, the others I have heard as true, but I must say she’s not as young as you’ve led the Sultan to believe, nor is she “pretty” as he’d see it.” Shahzara replies that she knows her audience, and that a little embellishment to keep his interest isn’t unfair given the circumstances.

The Sultan then bursts into the room in a rage, he roars about a noble-woman’s betrayal of her house and Him and how he must now destroy one of the noble Efreeti Houses of the City of Brass weakening his entire Realm. He tells Shahzara that as the perfidy of women is proven she can go to the headsman’s axe now, and damn her tales of Sioned and the Merchant’s Son. Shahzara prostrates herself and says she will of course obey, she says that she only regrets that she cannot now bear the Sultan his third son, that she is pregnant with even now. The Sultan’s mood changes in a moment from rage to celebration. When the room settles, and most of the women depart, Shahzara says that not all women are so faithless, and she tells the Sultan to remember the tale of Prince Balaam and his Five Wives.

“Yes, it is true,” the Sultan admits, “They kept faith for thousands of years. Since the times of the Dawn War they have waited faithfully for him.” The Sultan pauses, “But has the Prince not escaped? Was he not just recently freed, and his wives’s faithfulness rewarded?” Shahzara dips her eyes from his gaze and replies, “Does my Lord wish to tell the tale, or does he wish to hear it?” With that she launches into her story . . .

After restoring the honor of Hakim’s family, and rewarding them with vast riches in recompense for his Vizier’s actions the Caliph decided to reward Sioned for her part in revealing the Vizier’s plans. Along with his Chief Eunuch he dispatched her, and her companions, to the Isle of the Worlds in the company of a Royal Fleet. There the Chief Eunuch was to replenish the Caliph’s treasury from his ancestor’s hoard, and Sioned was to be rewarded with “Gold and Jewels equal in weight to my Chief Eunuch,” in the words of the Caliph Al Raschaid. (the Chief Eunuch is a “man” most notable for his vast and profound mass) But the Caliph warned Sioned, “Let no true man set foot upon the Isle of the Worlds, for it is accursed and no living man may land there but he dies.” He lastly recommends her to Ayla, the Mistress of the Isle, who will grant them access to the treasure.

Approaching the Isle the group decides that Pieter must stay aboard, rather than landing. It is also decided that Rook shall risk a landing, as he is dead, and Sim will go ashore provided he changes into a female form. As the ships exit the straight and approach the Isle they enter an otherworldly (in it’s most literal sense) fog. Eventually the fog clears and before them is revealed a low rocky island with a low hill at it’s center, there is a magnificent stone castle near a bay, and a massive stone quay juts forth into the bay. As the ships enter the bay the weather begins to turn foul. Approaching the quay is difficult as winds whip up, driving the ships away, and a funnel cloud descends towards the castle from the sky. As Rook and Sioned leap to the quay to tie up the ship the winds scream down upon them blowing sand and debris before it, the funnel cloud comes with it, and as everyone’s vision clears when the winds begin to die they see a giant woman before them.

Mirya is a huge Djinni, she is dressed as an Amazon in armor and gear for war, she is armed with a massive bow. In a booming voice she demands to know who seeks their death by daring to approach the Isle of the Winds. At Sioned’s reply that they serve the Caliph she screams in rage and attacks. With blurring hands she draws and fires a slew of arrows in a heartbeat, all but one are near perfectly aimed. Sim is grazed by an arrow-head as it passes by his neck to feather the mast behind him. Everyone else on the ship and quay finds an arrow within inches of themselves. Rook reveals that Mirya has left, and is likely atop the castle walls watching them, Sioned and Alruna calm the terrified crew, then Alruna and Sim scout the shore.

Climbing up a path to the castle they are stopped at the gates by a Djinni woman in fine, though sturdy, garb. She bears a great sword upon her back, and says she is Lakiyaa, the Gatekeeper. She says that she will admit the group to see her sister Ayla, the Mistress of the Isle, but that she will be greatly vexed at the interruption. Ayla resents the Caliph’s impositions, so if Sioned seeks her goodwill she should think of something to help calm her feelings. Lakiyaa tells them, when asked, that if Sioned helps with some wreckage that has washed up on the north shore of the island Ayla would surely be more happy with her. Lakiyaa, after being pressed on it, will grant that the “wreckage” in this case was a vessel from the Far Realms that storms forced onto the rocks of the Isle’s coasts, she knows there are survivors, but if the four can slay them the situation will resolve itself. Sioned agrees.

On the North shore of the Isle the group sees a rocky beach. Upon it lies the wreckage of a vast nautiloid “ship”, the vessel was clearly a living creature. Working on the wreckage, trying to heal it, are a grell and a pair of gricks under it’s command. The group watches for a bit, then crests the dunes leading down to the beach and attacks. The grell is nasty, grabbing and biting Alruna, Sim, and Sioned, and the gricks are no easy prey either. But in the end the three abominations can’t stand against the four heroes.

Returning to the castle they find the gates are now open. Entering, the four pass through the courtyard and into a vast throne-room. Not upon the throne, but upon pillows at it’s feet, lounges a magnificently beautiful woman. The Djinni is dressed in flowing silks and veils, with jewels dripping from her, an exquisite perfume fills the air around as invisible servants fan her.

Ayla and Sioned speak for a bit. Ayla is grateful for their help and tells the tale of her husband the great Djinni general, Prince Balaam, and her sisters to them all revealing how he was imprisoned by the gods during the Dawn War, and how his wives, the Five Sisters, were also imprisoned in objects in the castle until he was released, only one at a time able to act. Ayla tells of how much she misses her husband, and her sisters. She says that until her husband is freed they can never be free themselves.

“She is beautiful,” the Sultan says. “I courted her once, but not even my charms could win a kind glance from her, much less a kiss. Her four sisters likewise. Each forever faithful to their lost husband.” Shahzara quietly responds, “Indeed their lot was cruel and their heartache great.” She brightens, “But this day was their salvation, for unknown to them Sioned had orders from her Master to steal the Bone Splinter, thus setting Prince Balaam free.”

Sioned expresses sympathy and, claiming to be moved, says she and her companions will endeavor to free Balaam if only Ayla will tell them how. Ayla says that if they can but take a magic item called the Bone Splinter from Prince Balaam’s care he will be freed, but that the task is impossible. The Splinter is warded by three sets of guards; wolves with eyes the size of eggs, wolves with eyes the size of saucers, and wolves with eyes the size of wagon wheels. Even if Sioned could pass the guards there are magic wards the gods and their servants have put in place to guard the Splinter. Lastly the Splinter itself is lethally powerful, it has slain all who attempt to take it, lying in wait ”. . . until The Three shall need it again, when it is fated to return to them.”

Sioned presses that she will attempt it, and gets the rest of the party to help convince Ayla to let them try. Ayla finally relents and says that she will do what she can. She can not help them in the cave itself, and Prince Balaam is forbidden from helping them as well, but her sister Zahura may be able to help them with the guards. She can make a sesame cake so fine that after eating it any creature will nap for a time, and no creature can refuse them either, as their scent is irresistable.

Departing the throne room the three women, and the dead man, approach the castle’s kitchens. Within the vast, cavernous, kitchen everything seems in motion. Beasts on spits turn without help, utensils cook on their own, even the bread kneads itself. After a moment of standing and watching the group sees the Fourth Sister enter, Zahura is shorter than the other sisters, but heavier, she sports some seriously “dangerous curves.” Zahura dresses practically, for the kitchen.

Zahura says that she wishes Sioned would not choose to die by attempting to steal the Splinter, for she has no more of the sesame seeds she needs to make the cakes. Though she does not doubt the four’s courage, she does doubt they can defeat the largest of the wolves that guard the splinter. On being asked if more sesame could be acquired she says it can not, “Such seeds of power have not grown since the Dawn Times, and the last of my stores were stolen by the ants which have come to the castle.”

Thinking, correctly, that perhaps the ants would be large enough to leave holes the group could travel they offer to attempt to retrieve some of Zahura’s sesame seeds from the ant-nest. Descending into the hive the group fights waves of workers as they advance. Eventually they enter the heart of the nest, and fight more waves of workers, this time supplemented by warriors and soldiers. Soon enough the Queen herself advances into the fray.

“The fight turned nasty, both Rook and Sim used their greatest magical spells, and Alruna nearly gave her life protecting them as best she could,” Shahzara relates to the Sultan. “Everyone was bloodied, and for a time the outcome of the battle was in doubt. But in the end the Queen fell.” The Sultan looks up from his wine as dawn breaks, “Did they find the sesame seed then? And what of the reinforcements they heard climbing down the nest’s tunnels towards them?”

Shahzara smiles, a light of victory in her eyes for she knows she has won yet another day, “Oh most Magnificent One, Lord of the Lambent Fires, Master of the Brazen Peoples, it is nearly dawn, and your tasks are almost upon you. And so I fear that the tale’s end must wait for another day. Shall I send for the headsman now my Lord,” she taunts, knowing the inevitable answer.

“No oh wife. Not today. Perhaps I will have you executed tomorrow, but I think we can both await the end of This Tale,” the Sultan says and chuckles as he recognizes his now-inevitable defeat.

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Run 25, Rise of the PTC: The Thousand and One Nights, "The Merchant's Son and the House of Ghuls"

In the City of Brass evening descends over all. Within his magnificent palace the Sultan stomps around one of his magnificent rooms, the day’s events having disturbed him. Before him the beautiful Shahzara, her sister Dumzarad, and several handmaids dance. With a bellow of rage he scatters most of the women, only Shahzara showing the courage to stand before him. “This day has been the ruination of my many viziers’ plans wife. Amuse me, and abate my just wrath, or face the Headsman’s axe here and now,” he demands.

“Oh great master, Lord of the Fire Nation, Potentate of the Sacred Flames, I will of course obey your will and seek the Headsman myself, but you will never know how Sioned managed to finally speak to the Caliph Al Raschaid and expose the evil of his Vizier Ja’far,” countered Shahzara, bowing gracefully to her husband and master. “Very well,” the Sultan replied, settling upon a couch to drink wine and eat fine figs while she spoke .. . .

“So it was that after escaping the castle of Malec Keth with the scrolls of Alhazared that Sioned and her men set forth upon the Desert of Sighs. Little did they suspect how lifeless, or how wide, the desert was. For days they traveled over sand, scrub, rock, and dunes seemingly without end. In the end they found themselves approaching the oasis of Al A’Qa, near to the city of Aqaba. As they approached they beheld a rare sight, a magnificently appointed riding horse, and nearby a finely dressed young man sitting, sobbing, at the base of the date palms that ringed the pool of the oasis. .. .

Introducing themselves the five companions met Haqim, son of one of the greatest merchant families in the Caliphate. Haqim warned Sioned that she and her men should leave immediately, for he was a doomed man and he did not wish to bring his doom upon them. Upon some friendly prodding he began to embark upon the voyage of telling his tale, only to be interrupted by the attack of a group of ghuls on the oasis.

The pack of ghuls descended upon the six travelers, blocking them from the eastern desert entirely. Their leader, a powerful witch, hexed many of the warriors and turned two of them (Sim and Sioned) into small desert snakes while the rest fought her foul minions. In the end Haqim was as successful in defeating his opponent as the party proved in defeating the rest. Settling down to a quick rest, Haqim began again to tell his tale . . . .

“I was once the most fortunate of men, a beloved son of a powerful House with signs that I should rise even farther in the service of the Caliph. The signs were so great that the Caliph’s most favored Vizier Ja’Far went so far as to offer his own niece to be my bride. The wedding was magnificent, but not all was at it seemed.”

Haqim then related how he’d discovered his wife was a powerful ghul with sorcerous powers that she used to transform him into a dog. She then stole a great deal of his family’s gold and cast him into the street, telling the city he had left with a great treasure to seek wealth and trade in a foreign land, ruining his reputation and preventing him from returning even if he should regain his form. Through the will of the gods, and the magic of a young girl in training with a good sorceress, he was restored to his form. But though he was given the magic to turn the tables on his wife he was powerless to do so until her own source of power was found and destroyed. Haqim tried to find that source, but discovered it was concealed in a house of ghuls near the city’s walls. And though he tried to sneak in he was discovered and chased from the house. Only through great skill and cleverness had he managed to out-run them this far. Even now he knew he was doomed, for if they did not slay him it was possible he could yet obtain the proof of his wife’s nature and inform the Caliph.

“And so it is that I, once most favored of all merchant’s sons in the Caliphate, am now an outcast and doomed to certain death,” concluded the dejected young man.

Knowing that without access to the Caliph there was no way Sioned could convince him of the Vizier Ja’Far’s treacherous necromancies Sioned then struck a bargain with the merchant’s son. She and her forces would deal with the house of ghuls, and aid Haqim in dealing with his wife. In return Haqim agreed that when he brought his case before the Caliph he would bring Sioned with him and speak on her behalf to the Caliph, as the first son of a powerful House he was sure the Caliph would hear him out faithfully.

Steering across the desert wastes by the stars Pieter proceeded to lead the group to a river valley. Below them a slow river lay beyond a great city. And before the city an ancient building lay near the desert’s edge, and the city’s graveyard, the House of Ghuls was found.

Sneaking up to the house the group prepared for battle with prayers to the Gods and spells. Flinging open the door they were initially stopped by a charge of ghuls. Behind the ghuls came cultists of Demogorgon with long-spears, and in the far back a foul priest of the demon lord lurked. Though the priest neatly caught Rook with his tentacles, Rook flung them off soon enough to advance after Pieter’s divine power flung the ghuls backwards. Sim and Rook soon combined forces and trapped and burned many of the ghuls and the cultists. Seeing the inevitable the priest snuck out a side door and escaped from the house to warn Haqim’s wife.

Seeking throughout the house the five found neither gold nor magic. But they did discover a small jar of foul, necromantic, odure that held the soul and power of Haqim’s wife in it. With that in hand the plan could now proceed.

Knowing the wife would now be watching for her husband via mystical methods Sim worked several spells to shield Haqim. Rook stole up to the back door to Haqim’s house and picked the lock, allowing the six adventurers entry. Alruna explained what had really happened to the servants, who showed their true loyalty to the merchant’s son by helping conceal Haqim and his friends until the wife returned. Sioned, checked over everyone’s hiding places to confirm the plan was solid, then hid herself behind a tapestry concealing an alcove.

“And so it was,” Shahzara spoke, “that when the wife came home that morning to her home she was caught unawares by the merchant’s son and Sioned and her companions. She was so surprised that Haqim managed to leap to his feet and begin speaking the magic words before she even saw him. Putting his hand to the cup of water he . . .” “Sister,” broke in Dumzarad, “Look, the sky is lightening again. Dawn is nearly here.” Shielding a yawn with her hand she continued, “We must not keep the Sultan any longer, there is business he must attend this day, important affairs for the City of Brass.”

Bowing low Shahzara turned to address the Sultan. “Oh Master, Husband, Lord of the Fire of Creation, I would not keep you from your urgent business. Shall I go to find the Headsman myself, or should you prefer to call him yourself?”

Waving a meaty hand the Sultan replied, “No, no. You have won yourself another day oh Cunning Wife. I fear I prefer the end of the tale to your execution this day. Come to me again this night, and we shall discuss the matter once more.”

And so, as the Sultan departs for a new day in the City of Brass, this tale too must end . .. for a time.

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Run 24, Rise of the PTC: Tale's end and The Thousand and One Nights, "Enter the Vizier"

Pieter wakes in the middle of the night to the sounds of the Vistani putting horses to wagons and loading their gear up in preparation to depart the village of Zhi Tao. He looks into the hall at the sound of a soft knock on a nearby door to see Sioned talking with two Vistani.

Basho, the chief Luko’s son, and a Vistani young woman warn Sioned that the Vistani are departing. The girl is Mai Li, and is eloping with Basho. Both emphasize to Sioned that the village will surely be up in arms about the marriage. Mai Li gives Sioned what she says is a bride-price from her father, who can’t officially “approve” of the couple but wishes them well, the “dowry” is five bolts of pure Imperial Gold dyed silk. Mai Li tells them of an ancient hermit in the jungle near Li Jin’ shrine named Shakaji who might be the only man with enough authority and knowledge of the past to unite the two villages Zhi Tao and Zhang Yi. Then Basho looks a bit abashed and says that his father is taking a bit more from Zhi Tao than just Mai Li, the Vistani are stealing most of the raw, undyed, silk from the village warehouse. The two are halfway down the hall and departing fast by the time the last of the tale comes out.

Sioned and Pieter get everyone up and the group of people sneak out of the village rather than face their wrath, since the Vistani had paid Sioned to get them in the village as her “guards”. They head for Li Jin’s shrine hoping to find the hermit Shakaji. Going further up the mountain they encounter him sitting and meditating in the morning sun.

Shakaji is an ancient, wizened, elf. His leathery skin is quite burnished by the sun. He’s also a little rude, and doesn’t like being bothered by pestering youth while at his meditations….. After being convinced to help he reveals that he is the father of Li Jin’s first wife, an elven maid from whom the Zhi are descended. He tells how Li Jin and his two wives (the second being a wild orc warrior-maid) came to this land in times past. In fact without the aid of both of Li Jin’s sons neither village could have been founded for only together could they emplace the holy orb.

The two villages grew apart over time and eventually forgot their ancestor Li Jin and thus also forgot their relationship to each other. After some convincing that arcane and divine signs pointed towards this being a good time to help his old son-in-law’s family re-unite he agrees to try to solve things.

Returning to the Shrine everyone discovers it has been overrun by Imperial troops, and Zhangs. It seems there was a back-route to the shrine from Zhang Yi, and that the Zhang’s summoned the troops when they discovered the mass-grave there. The Zhang’s and the group cleanse and reconsecrate the shrine before the troops and Zhangs head to Zhi Tao with Shakaji. The group doesn’t want to meet the Imperial troops after they’ve talked to the Zhi so they arrange to wait for Shakaji at his camp in the jungle.

Shakaji eventually returns and tells the group that since the Zhi no longer have the mass of raw silk to make bulk trades with they’ve asked the Zhang to restart trade in the yellow dye to make Imperial Gold with. Only that way can they do well this year. Further he believes that he can in time more fully re-unite Li Jin’s family, thus fulfilling the spirit’s wishes. Making for the Brazen Bazaar before it leaves the Earth Kingdom the group passes Li Jin’s shrine one last time, as they do so the spirit of Li Jin appears and blesses them for their aid in rebuilding his family and restoring his shrine. Channeling power from the Heavens he strengthens and empowers the enchantments on both Sioned’s sword and Sim’s magic orb.

And with the sale of the five silk bolts at the Brazen Bazaar the tale of the two villages on the road to Ba Sing Se is complete.

In the City of Brass the Grand Sultan of the Efreet, the Lord of Flame, the Potentate Incandescent himself reclines in one of his bed rooms. He bickers with one of his women, a stunningly beautiful efreet named Shahzara over whether or not he should kill her for not finishing her most recent tale, “The Merchant Girl and the Prison of Malec Keth”. Shahzara says that she will of course obey his will, but that he will never learn what happened when the Caliph’s guards burst into the harem to discover her and her spy Sim and spiritual advisor Pieter arming themselves for battle .. .. . the Sultan rages a bit for effect, but in the end concedes that he’d like to hear that tale more than follow his plan to execute her as a faithless woman.

Shahzara tells of how the Caliph’s evil Vizier had decieved the Caliph into evil ways and how Sioned set two of her men to raising bandits in the hills while she and Pieter went to warn to the Caliph. Alas the Vizier got wind of this and imprisoned Pieter and threw Sioned into the Caliph’s prison. Sending for her “spiritual advisor” she was joined in the harem by Sim, who had disguised himself as one of the Caliph’s guards. The three had just finished arming themselves when a pair of demons, summoned by the Vizier, and in disguise as the Caliph’s guards, burst in and assaulted them.

After telling of the fight Shahzara allayed the Sultan’s questions about why the demons did not just call for more guards, revealing that Sioned and her spies were actually in the castle searching for some ancient scrolls the Vizier was seeking for a foul necromantic ritual and that revealing his forces in the castle/prison would have alerted the Caliph to his intent. So it was that Sioned and her pair of men began to search the castle of Malec Keth for the library, where they hoped to find the scrolls. They were successful in evading the Caliph’s guards, but without Pieter beseeching the help of a holy priest in the castle’s temple would never have found it without alerting more guards.

Led into the library via a secret passage from the temple the trio begins to search for the scrolls the Vizier needed. Alas for them that before they could find, and safeguard, the scrolls they met the Vizier’s apprentice and his guards, a pair of cultists devoted to Demogorgon. A fight ensues during which the apprentice, a genasi hydromancer, nearly kills Pieter several times by drowning him. Fortunately the cultists can’t save their master, and while Pieter continues choking for a time after the apprentice is slain he eventually coughs all the water out of his lungs after the fight is over.

Before he dies the apprentice taunts Pieter saying, “You will never succeed, we have found the Scrolls of Alhazared, and they are even now departing the prison for my master’s hand.” He then dies, blood bubbling out of his mouth as he expires.

Knowing their isn’t a moment to lose the trio race for the front gates of the castle. They evade one group of guards, and race (quick as the wind) past another. In the end they are successful in escaping the castle and, leaping down a switchback confront and capture the carriage, capturing Alhazared’s scroll.

“But what good is the scroll to them, woman?, bellows the Sultan, the Tempering and Eternal Flame of Truth, the Most Puissant of Hunters, Master of all Efreet. With a bow and a smile Shahzara points out the window to the first traces of daylight beginning to creep over the brazen and smoking buildings that comprise the City of Brass. “Oh great master, it is nearly morning, would you not sleep before your business tomorrow? Let me watch over you as you rest, there is time for the tale to finish tomorrow evening. Surely you can postpone my execution one more day, just long enough to hear the tale’s end.”

Yawning mightily the Sultan somewhat groggily agrees. And laying his head down in the lady’s lap decides to rest for another of the Thousand and One Nights. Shahzara smiles gently as he sleeps and places a hand on her belly as she is lost deep in thought, knowing she has bought another day’s life for herself and her unborn son.

Really, just another day in The City of Brass.

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Run 23, Rise of the PTC: The Road to Ba Sing Se Pt. III, "The Brothers Jin"

As the sun rises our five heroes walk upslope and away from the Palace of the Lunar Emperor. Behind them it, and it’s road, fade away like mist in the dawning light, leaving only dense forest. Cresting the edge of the valley the party descends down into an inhabited valley. They can see a road winding away to their right and left, some distance down the road they can see two villages though details are missing in the morning haze.

Approaching the road they and a company of bandits in wait alongside the road notice each other simultaneously. Calling out that they have no time to waste the bandits attack. A mixed-race unit of army deserters four draw bows and four advance on the party. Though it takes a few rounds to dispatch the warriors, and the archers do pretty heavy damage, in the end the bandit leaders Li Po and Li Zhu are captured as a caravan of wagons begins to approach.

As the fight ends a unit of Imperial army troops charge out of the wagons towards the fight. Sioned is thanked for her help in apprehending the notorious “Li brothers” and told to report to the army camp near Zhan Yi if she wishes to collect her reward. The soldiers then march off with the prisoners and the personal gear of the bandits. The caravan proves to be the 5 Vistani wagons the party has seen near Zhuge Liang.

The leader, a tiefling by the name of Luko, chats up the group a bit as they seek information about the villages in the valley and he seeks information about them. He then makes them an offer. He says that Baba Tasha is someone he knows and that she owes him some small favors, Luko claims that he can’t cancel the life-debt Pieter owes her but that if the party could help him and his out he could include Sioned’s debt in their reward for helping him.

Some hard bargaining takes place. In the end Sioned agrees to take on the caravan as hers, “officially”, and claim six of the Vistani men as her guards. This will gain them the access to the village of Zhi Tao that they need. He warns Sioned that he intends mischief, and in recompense offers her three things since that mischief will resound upon her and hers almost inevitably. Firstly he gives a magic sword to the group, which Alruna gets. Second he agrees to cancel Sioned’s debt to Baba Tasha in return for the favor she’s doing him. Lastly he offers a bag of gold (500 pieces in fact) for their help, Luko later offers to Pieter that if the group needs to depart the Earth Kingdom he’d take the bag of gold back and in return give them passage as part of his caravan with the Brazen Bazaar to the City of Brass. Sioned accepts the terms.

Pulling the caravan into the village of Zhi Tao the group and the Vistani break it down in the courtyard of an inn where they take rooms. Sioned, Pieter, and Alruna split off to ask questions around the town while Rook and Sim head down to the river where a number of Zhi’s seem to be practicing a very ornate and formal ritual. The three in town speak to several weavers and determine that the Imperial Gold silk is not being produced due to two factors, firstly a lack of the Treasure-Bird’s-Belly dye they need to make it, and secondly because a new buyer has arrived that is offering premium pricing for the more regular colors of silk cloth. (which are easier to produce)

Down by the river the revenant and the changeling, in the form of a human, take part in what turns out to be a harvest ritual thanking their ancestors and the Heavens for the good weather for the silkworms this year. It’s apparent the Zhi care deeply about the proper forms of worship and even more deeply about their ancestors. Following the ritual they talk with the village leader, an elderly man named Zhi Gong Tsu who is dressed impeccably, and is also impeccably coifed.

Gong Tsu eventually talks with the full party and reveals some information about their buyer, Lu Soon. Lu Soon soon turns out to be quite mysterious, he seems to be from a never-before-encountered race. Further, he’s offering prices higher than he really should be, and is thus causing the Zhi’s to focus more on their regular colors. Gong Tsu says that the only problem is that he’s having trouble getting the dyes needed to produce even those, accusing some “Filthy Zhangs” of being behind the problem. Gong Tsu offers that if the party could obtain more of the normal dyes they need from the Zhangs he will have the village witch enchant Sioned’s sword to greater power.

The next morning Sioned hires the village witch to cast a Phantom Steeds for her and the group. Aided by magically-fast travel they reach the village of Zhang Yi by late-morning. They pass through the village, asking minimal questions, and report to the army post. A young Imperial Army captain speaks with them. He thanks them for their help and, after determining that he has no reason to believe they were involved with the bandits, asks if (as barbarians) they can read some letter he seized from the Li brothers. The letters are in a language and script no one has ever encountered before. Some magical rituals by Sim reveal that they were written by a blue-skinned humanoid (Lu Soon), were delivered and read by Li Po in the bandit camp near an ancient shrine, and were communications used to coordinate bandit attacks up and down the Road to Ba Sing Se. The attacks seem focussed on caravans of locally produced goods.

In Zhang Yi the group speaks with Zhang Tai Ling. Tai Ling is a vibrantly alive woman, though she appears messy and in some disarray. She has little time to speak with the group saying that the village is suffering from very bad luck. They are being cheated by the “treacherous Zhi’s” of the gold for their next shipment of dyes, and the Zhi have even imprisoned her brother-in-law Pao Pao who went to ask for the payment. She says this is typical of the untrustworthy Zhi. She relates a tale of how, when her village was founded, her ancestor Zhang Jin was falsely accused by the Zhi and imprisoned for ten years before he escaped as an example of Zhi untrustworthiness.

Thankfully for her village, Tai Ling claims, a mysterious buyer has turned up that might be of help. He has offered to buy all the dyes her village can produce freeing them from the need to sell to the Zhi. The downside (for the PTC) is that he’s returning in a month and her village needs to work very hard to produce the dyes for him, so she has no time to restart production of “that yellow dye the Zhi’s like best”. The buyer’s description, unsurprisingly, matches Lu Soon’s appearance. She will agree that if the party can free her brother-in-law she’ll reconsider, and will even make sure some of the yellow dye gets made, even if it gets sold to “those effete Zhi”. Tai Ling doesn’t care much for culture, or ancestors, or even neatness and cleanliness, but it’s apparent that she and all the Zhangs care VERY deeply about family and will go to great lengths with that loyalty.

Returning to Zhi Tao the group learns that the Zhi have imprisoned Zhang Pao Pao for cheating them of goods. They claim he took their gold payment and then never sent the goods they bought, the dyes, further he then had the audacity to come to village demanding more gold for re-shipping the missing shipment while claiming he sent it to them already. Pao Pao confirms his story to Sioned in person when they ask to interrogate him. Sioned learns from Gong Tsu that despite her suspicions she lacks the proof he requires that Lu Soon is in fact up to no good and that Pao Pao did not try to cheat them. He offer to have Pao Pao transported to the Imperial City to be tried alongside the Li Brothers so that if what Sioned is true he can be released by the court with his honor and name vindicated.

Sioned declines the offer and, after being told that Gong Tsu knows of the shrine where the bandits camped, leads her group into the forest the next morning to look for more evidence. After many hours hacking through jungle and climbing across river chasms the group finds the shrine. There is evidence of wagons being brought in via another (much better maintained) path through the jungle. There’s even some dyes stolen by one of the bandits that they find. There’s also a shallow mass-grave with over 30 bodies rotting away in it.

Pieter checks out the shrine with a religious eye, looking for evidence of it’s purpose. He cleans up a bit, and says a few conciliatory prayers. As he finishes a bright white light descends from the Heavens, Pieter sees a vision of Ma Wei. He hears, in his head, Ma Wei thank him for cleaning his shrine, in repayment of that honor Ma Wei says he brings Pieter a visitor. As Ma Wei fades another ghostly figure appears to Pieter, it is a human decked out in formal clothes from long ago. He tells Pieter he is Li Jin, and that he is distressed for his family is split and quarreling. Li Jin offers that if Pieter can bring his descendants once again into peace and harmony Li Jin will ensure that the “Blessings of Heaven” fall upon him and his companions. Li Jin then vanishes back to the realm of the dead from whence he came with no further enlightening words.

Returning to Zhi Tao in the late afternoon Sioned speaks with Gong Tsu. On the evidence that Sioned found at the shrine Gong Tsu will agree to release Pao Pao, who immediately sets off down the road despite Pieter’s attempts to get him to stay for a bit saying he wants nothing more to do with these treacherous Zhi. Asking after the spirit in Pieter’s vision Gong Tsu refers them to the ancient witch who remembers best events from the village’s early days.

The witch relates how the village of Zhi Tao was formed by the notable Jin Zhi, the son of Li Jin. She relates how the conflict between the Zhi and the Zhangs stem from that time. According to her there was an important ritual needed to obtain the blessings of Heaven for the village when it was founded, Jin Zhi was carrying a powerful magic orb necessary to that ritual when the Zhang’s founder attacked him. The filthy Zhang stole the orb and very nearly caused the ritual to fail, which would have cursed the villagers down the generations even unto this day.

Alruna, racing after Pao Pao, manages to convince him to return to Zhi Tao for the night. At least he’ll be safer than he would traveling to Zhang Yi through the night. Sim evades the locals and imitates Lu Soon’s form in the presence of the Vistani, testing if they recognize him as he suspects they may be Lu Soon’s agents, he watches carefully when they first see him but no sign of recognition flits across their faces, not even briefly. Thus it is as night falls on the village of Zhi Tao and everyone beds down in the Inn of Restful Contemplation.

The story will resume in the middle of the night…..

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Run 22, Rise of the PTC: The Road to Ba Sing Se Pt. II, "The Lunar Emperor's Palace"

The fight at the shrine of Ma Wei goes fairly well. The evistro demons take some killing, but eventually they fall and the outcome is never really in question after the wraith of Ma Wei is put down.

The group then spends some time working on the shrine. They clean away the detritus of the years it’s lain un-cared-for. Some rituals to placate the dead are performed. There’s even some repair work put into restoring the roof of the shrine. As the last sounds of the ritual reconsecration finish the wraith of Ma Wei re-appears.

Ma Wei no longer seems tattered and disordered. Instead his ghost seems to be at peace. His hair is neat, his beard combed, his clothes seem of fine quality and are well-arranged. The ghost seems to speak, but no sound emerges. Ma Wei then raises his arms in blessing and a white light emanates from him. When everyone’s vision clears Ma Wei is gone, but Rook discovers that Ma Wei must have done something for the enchantment on his Pact Blade has been strengthened and reinforced.

Returning down the mountainside the group notices that the Vistani have packed up during the day. They can be seen in the distance driving down the road towards a gap between a pair of mountains a few hours away. As the daylight is beginning to fade the group hurries on to the town of Zhuge Liang.

In Zhuge Liang they speak again with Ma Li, a member of the House of Ma. Ma Li is pleased with their help and as promised reveals his source for the Imperial Gold silk. He says it comes from the village of Zhi Tao which is some weeks from the Imperial City of Ba Sing Se, which itself is a week or so’s travel from Zhuge Liang. He also reveals that during the week of the full moon his agents can use the Palace of the Lunar Emperor to pass through a mountain pass that cuts the journey down to a day or two. But he warns them that the journey is dangerous, and that if they are caught in the Palace come sunrise they will never be seen again.

Driven by time constraints, their merchant’s pass will expire in a week, Sioned polls opinions and leads the party down the road towards the pass where the Palace of the Lunar Emperor appears. It becomes apparent as they walk that they are following in the footsteps of the Vistani caravan. Near the pass they stop at an Imperial fort at the fork in the road going up to the Palace. Captain Li Bao-Xiang tells them more of the history of the Palace and gives them enough information on the guards that they can identify the foes they will probably face. He also tries to dissuade them from going to the Palace.

Undaunted the group begins to climb up the road leading to the pass. As they climb the road first becomes steeper, then becomes rougher, then ceases to exist altogether, becoming naught more than a rough foot-path. Some time later the road re-appears, in pristine condition. It crests the pass and reveals a valley between the two peaks. The road leads down to the center of the valley where a magnificent palace built of white quartz sits. It is watched over by infrequent patrols of the Emperor’s Terracotta Warriors, warforged by another name.

Sneaking successfully past the main gate the party enters the Palace. They manage to avoid attention for about half the trip. But passing alongside a huge courtyard, it appears to be designed to allow tens of thousands of the Emperor’s Servants to assemble for review at a time, they attract a patrol’s attention. The fight gets nasty as, despite catching some Warriors in a Visions of Avarice, others escape and the leader never even gets caught. But in the end the party is successful.

The fight draws attention though. Sioned and Pieter, followed by the rest, flee out the rear gate just ahead of Terracotta Warrior re-inforcements. As the group climbs up out of the valley they can see hundreds of troops mustering in front of the gate to pursue them, in the courtyard the mobile seige-engines begin to gather. But as they crest the lip of the valley the sun rises, and in the light of day the Palace and all it’s Warriors vanish like mists.

The party begins to descend the other side of the pass.

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Run 21, Rise of the PTC: The Road to Ba Sing Se Pt. I

Run 21, Rise of the PTC: The Road to Ba Sing Se Pt. I

The session begins with everyone talking with Caravan in the Drunken Apple, an inn down by the river-docks in Tradegate. He tells them the Road to Ba Sing Se, and draws them a rough map. He gives them a merchant’s pass, good for a few more weeks in the Earth Kingdom. He tells them to start their investigation with the House of Ma in the town of Zhuge Liang. In return for all this he says he wants “a cut”, a cut of their rep that is, if Sioned succeeds in re-opening trade in Imperial Gold silk he wants her to be sure to mention his name in a good way to any factors she speaks to about it. Everyone agrees this is a good deal, after all agents trade on rep and Sioned has little else to offer at the moment that Caravan wants.

Before departing on the Rim Trade Road Sioned stops in at the house of Master Trader Duncam. One filling, though not luxurious, meal and several hours waiting later Duncam steps in to see what the group wants. Sioned explains her current desire to investigate the lost Imperial Gold silk trade, and asks for a purse to help with expenses. Duncam says that will doubtless please Master Pizarro, who trades in rare goods, and gives them a purse of 1,500 gold to help them along in their investigation. He allows that he’ll probably get the gold from Master Pizarro when he sees him at the next Council meeting.

The next morning the five set out from Tradegate. The two days travel along the Rim Trade Road is uneventful. People might be surprised but it’s clear that the volume of traffic combined with regular sweeps along the road by the griffon-riders of Tradegate keep the route safe. Thus it is that the trip to the Fin of the World is uneventful. The ridge of stone looks remarkably fin-like, and the hole bored through it does contain a gate, which opens to the parchment inscribed with magical runes that Sioned uses.

Passing through to the Elemental Plane, to the Pandemonium Stone more specifically, the party is attacked on arrival. A Death Shard, a Flux Slaad, and a pair of slaad tadpoles leap to the attack. Sim traps most of them with a Visions, and Rook finishes them with the Vestige of Ugar. The Flux Slaad manages to stay free though, and the Shard doesn’t care, so the fight proves nasty.

Finally done with the fight, and after a short rest, the party explores the Pandemonium Stone. Moving down it they eventually come to a tavern carved out of the rock itself, two adamantine doors inscribed “The Trackless House” bar entry to the outside. After knocking they are let in by a warrior genasi named Altayar. After hearing their mission, over their dinner, he leads them to an aged djinn named Farzan who seems to run the Trackless House. Farzan questions them for a bit, and reveals a Truth about language that goes a little deep for those not named Sim. At the end he agrees to let them pass through his portal to the Palace of Judgement with a minimal payment of 200 gp to open the portal.

Arriving in a huge library in the Palace of Judgement Sioned starts asking around for Lu Bu, their contact for the next gate. Some guards take poorly to the group wandering around, but are convinced to take them to Lu Bu for a decision as to what to do. Lu Bu, the Fourth Undersecretary to the Junior Minister in service to the Warden of Souls, queries them as to their business in the Earth Kingdom. Determining that they do not threaten the Celestial Bureaucracy or it’s hold on the Earth Kingdom he agrees to send them there, provided that Pieter and Alruna agree to not proselytize on behalf of Erathis. Both agree and he has a pair of bull-like guards escort them out of the Palace of Judgement to a great temple arch a few hours away. There the arch is activated by the guards reading a formally signed declaration from Lu Bu approving their travel.

Passing through that gate Sioned leads the group into a temple to the Celestial Bureaucracy. It’s clear they’ve all entered a new plane that no one has visited before, the land of the Earth Kingdom. The priests there greet there arrival with some wonder, and direct them both to a local Imperial Outpost and to the town of Zhuge Liang. Stopping first at the guardpost Sioned confirms her pass, and pays 40 gold to have the local captain sign the names of her “guards” onto the pass as well. Moving onwards they spend the night in an inn on the Road to Ba Sing Se and the next day arrive at Zhuge Liang.

The “town” proves to have 50,000 to 80,000 people living in it, it is by far the largest city anyone has been to. (excepting some people’s brief trips to the City of Brass and The Cage) Some asking around leads them to the House of Ma. There they speak with Ma Li, an elder son of the patriarch of the house.

Ma Li is evasive about the Imperial Gold silk, understandably since he doesn’t want the PTC cutting him out of his own trade route. But since the route does seem dead, AND since Sim rolled spectacularly well on his bluff check to tell Ma Li “We would never undercut a trading partner like that,” totally a lie, he agrees to help. There is a price however. A shrine to his ancestor Ma Wei has been despoiled. It is occupied by undead and demons immune to the strikes of anyone from the Earth Kingdom. As outsider barbarians Sioned and her group should be able to fight them. Everyone agrees to this deal.

Leaving the town-gate and traveling to the nearby mountain the shrine is on the group passes a troupe of Vistani gypsies encamped beside a small road. They pass on by exchanging greetings but refusing the Vistani hospitality. The hill should be difficult to climb, but it is as nothing compared to the climb up to Maelbrathyr and the party easily locates the shrine.

Within the Shrine of Ma Wei is the wraith of Ma Wei, driven mad by the disrespect implied by his unkempt shrine. (Mad I tell you …. . MAD!!!!) The party charges to attack the wraith, critically wounding it in the opening round. At that point four demons rise up out of four great sarcophagi to attack the group. Some initial blows are traded, the wraith is destroyed, but the combat remains unresolved when we break for the night.

Next week .. . . the finish of the fight and the next step on the Road to Ba Sing Se.

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Run 20, Rise of the PTC: Housecleaning Pt. V "Escape from the Underdark"

The combat with the goblins continues to go badly for the goblins. Multiple warriors and cleavers caught in the Visions of Avarice combine with the Vestige of Ugar into a recipe for “goblin suck.” The Underboss and some warriors manage to escape, but most perish.

The drow scout rejoins the party and leads them onwards. Some hours further on he stops and tells them they are about to step onto the King’s Highway. He declines to continue onwards at this point. He does tell them that Maelbrathyr lies close by on the other side of the mirror, and that it should be safe for a day or so since it’s still Carnival. Carnival is a week-long festival where the slave-markets (and other markets) are open and the city becomes a haven from the dangers of the Underdark, but when the festival ends Maelbrathyr returns to it’s normal practices of enslaving anyone it can catch.

The party then ventures out onto the King’s Highway. Although they are in the Deeps, here in the mirror-world it is like the shallows. They fail to notice the God’s-Dream rock beneath their feet. (not good enough dungeoneering checks)

As they progress along the highway they meet a pair of dwarven slavers returning from the markets at Maelbrathyr with a pair of human warrior-slaves. Both groups form up lines and move to engage. The fight goes for a while. The dwarven bolter causes quite a bit of consternation as it constantly gets cover from good positioning and does substantial damage to everyone it shoots at with it’s carefully aimed shots. The bolter drops Sioned mid-fight. In the end it tries to run, but can’t escape Rook who (along with Sim) chases it down.

It’s unsure exactly when the group passes out of the mirror-realm and into The Land, but eventually everyone notices the change of plane and knows they’re “home”. (for very broad definitions of “home”) Soon thereafter they come a spot where acrid water drips and rains down on them from chasms above, from the drow’s description the city of Maelbrathyr lies directly above them.

The climb upwards proves to be nearly impossible however. Everyone suffers over the course of two days as they stuggle upwards. It’s very “three steps upwards, two steps falling back down”. Exhausted from the climb and exposure to the wet and cold around Maelbrathyr they finally emerge from a crevasse to see the lower gates to the city . .. . and to discover that Carnival has ended.

Some discussion of options takes place. They discount going back down. And sneaking in over the city-walls gets discounted as well. No one can figure out a way to go up that doesn’t involve entering Maelbrathyr. So in the end they do their best to conceal Pieter and Alruna’s allegiances and try to disguise themselves as cultists of Torog and enter the city as pilgrims. They pass religious tests, and bluff the guards, and manage to buy holy symbols of Torog as pilgrim’s passes for the city, at a high cost of 1 platinum per person.

Inside Maelbrathyr they start asking around the Tilting Tenements for routes to the surface. They find that the best, and fastest, route would be a two-week journey from the uppermost level to the dwarven city of Forgehome. Since that would take too long they explore other options and find that the House of Dungrim might be willing to magically transport them.

Successfully convincing the house guards to let them talk to Jokko Dungrim, the “Ruby Wizard”, who leads House Dungrim they proceed to try to convince him to help them without giving too much away. Jokko agrees, and due to Sioned’s quite charming words doesn’t even charge them more than the normal market price. Initially there’s much concern amongst the party, no one has much gold left. Master Plo suggests they offer the candles, which Jokko will accept. But even after checking individual’s purses they still come up slightly short of what they need. Alruna then offers that she could help, although she knows she’s poor and her purse is insignifigant. When she opens her purse it becomes apparent that the “poor knight” of Erathis isn’t quite so poor as she thought, and she covers the entire cost of the ritual except for the candles.

The portal the wizard of House Dungrim links to proves to be slightly spinward of the hag in the Kvalik Forest, a mere day’s travel from Tradegate. They arrive at night and, after moving slightly off, make camp for the night. Come morning everyone hikes spinward to the river Elbruin and there take ship aboard a river boat bound for Tradegate. Later that afternoon they pull into Tradegate’s docks and head straight for Master Pizarro’s house.

Pizarro isn’t happy about what’s happened. But he’s quite practical. Agreeing with Sioned and Szass Tam he destroys the mirror connecting the worlds. Master Plo stays a few days with him, discussing theories about mirror-worlds and exotic academic trivia, after which he takes ship for the River Ma’at and the route back to Sum of All.

A few days later a slight half-elf named Caravan approaches the five friends at breakfast in a local inn. He introduces himself as another agent of the PTC and offers Sioned a letter from Estevan. In it Estevan commends her actions, and tells her to speak with Aral T’forc about re-imbursing her expenses, she did save his life and business after all. He then rummages through several bags (of holding) before pulling out a box of magic items that Estevan has sent for Sioned and her “men.” Caravan then says he’ll finish breakfast here and asks Sioned to return after speaking with T’forc.

Returning with purses made fat with gold the party again meets Caravan in the inn. He’s polished off a good breakfast, and a lot of wine. He says that Estevan didn’t mention anything for Sioned to do, and was himself off doing something far to dangerous for such a new and untested agent as Sioned to get involved in. He does offer that if Sioned is interested in showing some initiative he may have something she could investigate, the alternative being hanging around Tradegate serving the Master Trader’s needs.

Rook is probably quite relieved when Sioned says she’d much rather be known as someone with ambition than as a hanger-on, and asks after what Caravan found. Caravan explains how he’s recently returned from the Kingdom of Ba Sing Se. He pulls a 6 foot bolt of fine crimson silk cloth from a tiny purse at his waist saying, “they make some of the finest silks there.” But there’s a problem. His normal source for “Imperial Gold” silk (a color it is dyed, not literally made of gold) has dried up. He offered an extortionate price, so he’s certain the House of Ma didn’t have any to sell. But he also didn’t have time to investigate the situation more closely.

He says that if Sioned wants to show some initiative she could go and solve this mystery. Restoring trade in “Imperial Gold” would please many factors, some of them in places far from Tradegate. Sioned agrees that would be a good thing.

“Well then,” Caravan says, “Let’s negotiate some terms. I can give you contacts, the ‘road to Ba Sing Se’, and useful background information and passes. All I want in return is a ‘fair’ cut of the profits . . .. . . .”

Next session will begin in an inn, over breakfast, with Caravan.

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Run 19, Rise of the PTC: Housecleaning Pt. IV "Through the Looking Glass"

The session begins with Alruna, a young paladin of Erathis, in Hestavar. She is visited by the angel Machariel, who tells her to find and protect Pieter, Erathis’s servant. Machariel instructs her to “Find the Black Witch, pass through the looking glass, seek thee the penitent dead, and there shall thou find thy charge.”

Back in mirror Faerun Sioned and her men continue up to the top of Mt. Thay, turning some ankles and such on the last cliff they assault. Atop they discover a paladin of Erathis awaiting them, standing beside a liche.

Back in Hestavar Alruna manages to find Estevan, aboard the Black Witch. She agrees to take service with him in return for quick passage to where Pieter is. Estevan leads her through a gate to Silverton, then onwards (via the Heads of Amn) to Port Liberty, there they hop the Wardrobe Gate to the City of Brass, where Estevan takes them through another gate to the city of Sigil, finally passing through the Market Ward they take one final portal to Tradegate, where Estevan hands Alruna off to Master Pizarro. Pizarro sends her through the looking glass to mirror-Bezantur where she barely escapes the army of the Empire of Cormyr as it assaults (and takes) the city. Fleeing Harper insurgents, regular Cormyrian Army troops, and various mercenary forces she makes her way to the top of Mt. Thay where she meets Szass Tam and one of his Zulkirs. Alruna is surprised by Szass Tam not being evil, and waits with him while the party finishes their climb and approaches. Once united with Pieter she agrees to work for Sioned since it means she can more easily guard Pieter that way.

Sioned and Szass Tam talk for a bit. With the fall of Bezantur, and the advance of the army on Eltabbar underway, Szass Tam convinces her that fulfilling her mission is impossible. There will be no factor of the PTC here at this time. He goes a step further and convinces Sioned that if she doesn’t want the villainous Elminster interfering in Tradegate she’ll need to destroy the mirror linking their two worlds before he discovers it’s powers. Since Bezantur is unreachable, the party returns to Eltabbar to speak with Tam Rothgar about getting back to their world so they can destroy the mirror from that side.

In Eltabbar they speak with Tam Rothgar and the Tharchion of Eltabbar after finding Master Plo. The Tharchion agrees to send them into the Underdark if they pay for the reagents for the ritual since Master Plo believes he has found a route out of the mirror-world there. Tam Rothgar agrees to help, and will lead many of the people of Eltabbar out to the wilds of Rashemon where they will shelter with their barbarian allies in the hope of eventually retaking their homes, the Tharchion plans to die defending the city walls.

The linked portal goes to the drow city of Menzoberranzan. On arrival they are stopped and questioned by drow guards watching over the portal. The guards are polite in a distant, monastic, sort of way, and upon finding that their mission is peaceful give them directions to the abbey where Mother Superior Eclavdra resides. On the way there they see many instances of drow compassion and kindness, including ascetic priestesses giving all they have to help feed the poor who crowd round them when they go out.

Eclavdra proves a busy woman, unsurprisingly. She also proves to be a very holy woman who speaks to Sioned about the nature of mirror worlds and implies that this mission could never have succeeded due to that nature. Eclavdra confirms that Master Plo is correct, there is a section of the King’s Highway in the mirror-underdark, and it can be used to get to the “Real World”, though she warns them that the real underdark is a hideously dangerous place and specifically cautions them against any drow they should meet there. She can not help guide the party herself, nor has she monks or nuns to do so, but she does recommend them to the Bregan D’Aerthe a mercenary group of scouts and spies who can.

The bargaining goes well with the Bregan D’Aerthe, and Sioned manages to hire a scout for the fairly paltry price of a platinum a head, so 600 gp in total. The scout is highly stealthy, and fairly regularly moves out far in advance of the party to be sure the passages ahead are safe. It is at one such time that the party enters into a large cave where two streams meet. The cave is dimly lit by lightly glowing crystals in the walls, and contains stalagmite walls interspersed with giant fungi.

Failed perception checks soon reveal that it also contains a troop of goblin thieves, or rather the hail of javelins rattling off shields and armor reveal that. Rook and Sim combine to trap a flank of the goblins with visions of avarice and the fight begins in earnest. . .. ...

We will resume next session mid-fight.

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