Rise of the Planar Trade Consortium

Run 33 Rise of the PTC: Revelations Pt. I, "A Fun Guy from Yuggoth"

The story begins with the drive being sold off in Kanda City. Simkins pays everyone off, and gives them a few days to waste while he gets a wagon train of supplies for the folks on the Upper Berare river together. Rook spends the time drinking, the rest stay out of trouble. Robb asks for some advice about himself and Alise and is told (by pretty much everyone) “Man up boy, life’s hard and you have to make choices, so make the decision. In the end Robb convinces Alise to join him and his mother in moving to the Berare River valley, Mel has decided to go work for the Simkin’s ranch.

The wagon train arrives without event, several days pass as it’s unloaded and people head to their homesteads.

Once things stabilize a bit life begins in earnest. Simkins and his folks begin looking into their herds, and into where to raise a church to Erathis. (as he’d sworn, and he doesn’t break his word) One day, while working a herd in a valley up in the hills, the group discovers that the cows in this herd are looking sickly. Some investigation reveals that many have died recently, from lung diseases. The whole valley seems to be sprouting up fungi in various forms. As everyone begins rounding up the cattle to drive them to another valley Alruna is struck by a falling bit of rot as she passes under a tree. She falls from her horse, which soon keels over and dies. Alruna tries to get to her feet a few times before collapsing, and then passes out while trying to crawl out from under the trees. Aeran succeeds in lassoing her shield and the group pulls her out into the open. Pieter checks her over and discovers that she seems to be dying from a long-term lung infection, like the cattle. It looks like she’s been infected for months, clearly a supernatural agency has been involved. Some spellcraft reveals that a divine miracle has taken place, but nothing more is found about what happened.

Returning with Alruna, who is put under Mel and Tara Simkins’ care. (Tara is Dar’n Simkins sister-in-law and is an old hatchet of a woman who runs the ranch with an Iron Fist that even Dar’n himself won’t buck.) In an outlying field they find Boss Simkins and ask for his advice. Dar’n tells them it sounds like Alruna has run foul of “Ol’ Yuggie”, one of the local gods. He doesn’t have much to say about Yuggoth except to note that he’s popular with the young, and is old enough that he mostly sleeps a lot. He does say they could find Crazy Horse and ask him, and directs them upriver if they want to find him.

Heading up the Berare Pieter asks at each homestead he comes across about Crazy Horse. At Jeb’s ranch they finally put together a story. Many years ago a dwarf from the old world arrived, with his wife. When Roj Baker’s wife was killed he abandoned his life and lands. Wandering the hills Roj came to believe in, and worship Yuggoth. He went native, taking a native wife, and changing his name to Crazy Horse. Over the years since then he’s wandered the local area acting as a priest of Yuggoth and generally being a crazy hermit. He doesn’t know where he is now, but says that if they head NE of the Berare into the hills they might be able to find Crazy Horse’s home.

Wythe confirms that there’s something magical going on to the NE of Jeb’s place, across the river, that seems to be affecting the weather in a broad way and is divine in nature. Pieter leads the group into the winding box canyons and valleys in the hills seeking for a good hill from which to look out for sign of Crazy Horse. Rook does some mountain climbing to set pitons and ropes in place, because heavily armored people don’t get to the tops of hills without help. And once atop a few hills Aeran and the group try to spot signs of humanoid habitation. Off in a distant valley they see a trickle of smoke rising into the sky.

Entering the valley in question after a few hours hiking they spot a sod cabin at the other end, near a pond. Around the house are ritually butchered carcasses, skeletons hung up, and plenty of evidence that the inhabitant seriously nuts. The valley itself seems to harbor a prolific amount of fungus as well. As they approach the cabin a crazy dwarf, entirely naked, with one blind eye, wielding a staff comes out to confront them.

Crazy Horse proves to live up to his name. He’s bugger-nuts crazy, drifting in and out of reality, and is completely incapable of a coherent conversation. It seems he’s been eating the “magic mushrooms” a bit too much. Due to some insightful analysis of the fractured conversations he has by Wythe the group figures out more about Yuggoth and learn an ancient tale that may help them out.

Many years before Roj Baker became Crazy Horse there was an Indian maid who was taken by Yuggoth, just as Alruna was. Her beloved, a formidable brave, set forth from his tribe to seek Yuggoth’s shrine so that he could bargain for her life. Once there the brave was cast aside by Yuggoth for he had nothing of value to the Fungal Lord. Unwilling to relinquish his intended bride the brave then killed everyone in the shrine, he then held Yuggoth to ransom threatening to violate (or even destroy) his shrine unless he released the Indian maid. Yuggoth relented, and the on returning to his tribe the brave found the maid had been healed.

There is a good bit of lying involved in getting Crazy Horse to reveal where the shrine is. He’s not about to betray his god, but by convincing him they are pilgrims going with him to the shrine the group manages to get him to divulge the location. They are warned that it’s very dangerous, there are the Children of Yuggoth who guard the entrance. Within lie the abhomination-filled perils of the underearth, and deep below the Shrine of Yuggoth lies within a kingdom of fungi. When Crazy Horse heads into his cabin to get some things for the pilgrimage the group bolts, leaving him behind.

After more travel they find the valley Crazy Horse has directed them too and begin searching for the entrance to the shrine. They are unsuccessful in concealing their search and are attacked by a band of troglodytes (Yuggoth’s Children). The fight is quite nasty, and though they do slay some warriors and a shaman they only succeed in driving off the troglodyte javelineers, who retreat to play Adam and Eve for their Fungal God. Inside the group finds a lapis lazuli, crudely carved, fetish of Yuggoth, which is worth 500 gp to anyone who buys lapis. They also find a tunnel leading further down.

Below the entrance cave the tunnel quickly breaks into a meshing network of tunnels and caverns the group must search. Some time and effort are put into the search. Soon enough the party runs into trouble, as they enter a cavern they see (and are seen by) several horrors. A fierce black ooze squidges out of a glowing pool to attack and bottle them up while a displacer beast and a destrachan attack from range. Two alpha gricks also move to engage. Despite petrifying the ooze and one of the gricks for a time, and despite a brilliant blow by Aeran that practically kills the displacer beast, the fight is very dangerous. Many people are bloodied, healing words are used, and most of the enemy is still standing, and are in fine shape.

Deep below the surface-dwellers things look quite bleak for our heroes. The Raven Queen seems to be drawing near . . .. .

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Run 32 Rise of the PTC: Drive To the Railhead Pt. IV, "Showdown in Wycliffe"

The session begins with Pieter, back in the chuck-wagon w. Melissande and the drive. He is terribly fevered, and delerious, but is driven to consciousness by the voice of Erathis speaking in his head. She urges him north, immediately, saying if he does not hurry Wycliffe will surely perish. Despite opposition from Simkins and Melissande Pieter mounts up and rides north, swaying in his saddle. The next several days are a blur. Exhaustion, divine will driving him onwards, and visions of a vicious cavalry officer all combine such that Pieter recalls little as he rides down a valley towards a small town. All he can recall well is that this is the town in his visions, and that if he doesn’t warn his companions that the Oni Mage Davakara (summoned with an evil scroll by Vailor) is coming as an assassin in the night they shall all surely die, and Wycliffe with them. He stumbles off his horse and up some stairs in the building he’s been shown by Erathis.

The party wakes to Pieter pounding on their doors. Just in time as Davakara, disguised as Mary, appears at the top of the stairs and blasts most of them with lightning before retreating downstairs. Alruna charges after her, clad only in nightclothes, bearing sword and shield. Aeran and Rook are close behind. In common room of Mary’s a battle of wait and watch begins, some blows are exchanged before Davakara pulls back to the street. Outside, in the street, the battle resumes for a few more swings. But once bloodied Davakara declares “I haven’t been paid enough by Vailor to die for him. You’ve won safety from me this time.” He bows as he rises into the air and vanishes.

Pieter is given some critical help in tending his wounds and the disease that’s been ravaging him. The fever drops enough that he is no longer dazed all the time, and when told of the situation he begins preparing for battle.

The first of the Roughriders to arrive is Captain Viridian, sent ahead by Col. Vailor for a sneak attack on the town after he found his own point force was wiped out. Viridian charges into town and towards Alruna who is standing in the center of Main Street waiting for him. He then sees a third of his force fall prey to the trap the townfolk have dug. He leaps the pit to spar with Alruna, several of his Roughriders try to leap the pit but fail and fall into the pit or are thrown from their horses when the horses balk. His sergeant begins shooting the party with deadly-accurate poisoned crossbow fire. The party attacks, and calls the townfolk atop the roofs to join in firing down on the Roughriders. In the end Viridian dies, and most of his troops with him, the sergeant and a few riders escape to return to the Colonel.

The main force of Roughriders sets up an HQ atop a low hill a few miles from town. From there the Colonel directs units of men to begin burning the fields and the outlying buildings. In the town the villagers begin to despair. The party considers briefly, then waits for a time when the detached units are too far from the Colonel to support him. They come charging out of Wycliffe, heading straight for Col. Vailor and his HQ. Seeing he can’t call back forces before they get to him the Col. detaches his sergeant and troops to attack the five as he takes his headquarters company into the field. He uses bugle calls to direct some of the detached units to unite with his headquarters.

The sergeant and his unit rapidly close with the five heroes charging out from Wycliffe. The skirmish turns nasty as he directs sub-groups of Roughriders to deal with each hero. He uses his net to restrain Alruna, leaving her tied up with Roughriders. Wythe runs into some trouble as a quartet of riders surround him, he is forced to teleport off his mount to take shelter near Rook. But in the end the Roughriders don’t have the strength to stand against their opponents, and the sergeant perishes soon after all his men are down. A few minutes to catch their breath reveal to the heroes the tactical situation.

Col. Vailor has taken his reformed headquarters into the town center and is raising hell. Robb and Luke are both leading forces of town-folk fighting units of Roughriders who have charged in at the Colonel’s command (damn bugle-calls), one on each side of the town. As they watch Luke falls trying to turn the tide as his town-folk’s battle-line begins to collapse against the bandit’s pressure. Robb has left his unit and is charging to the town-center to face Colonel Vailor. Realizing the moment in which the battle is decided has come the party charges the town-center!

As the five charge into town they find themselves facing the same trap Capt. Viridian had been up against. To them it proves less of an obstacle. The Colonel and his berserker bodyguards prove quite vicious and, with support from other Roughriders, do some serious damage to Alruna and Wythe. Neither Rook nor Aeran escape the enemies notice. Pieter is forced into summoning his healing spirit lest the battle be lost. But after the Roughriders are mostly downed the berserkers fall. Once the berserkers are down it soon comes down to Colonel Vailor standing alone. Golden hair waving in the wind, having lost his cavalry hat, Vailor refuses to die. He swings at everyone around him, but in the end is brought down by the combined strength of his enemies. He dies in the middle of Main St., Wycliffe, his story ended. Robb on the other hand does not die, he lies unconscious, critically wounded by the Colonel. But is saved from death, to spend a few days recovering in the company of Alise.

The folks of Wycliffe rejoice and celebrate, after fixing up things a bit. Several days pass as Pieter recovers in a sick bed. Magic items are found. Eventually Simkins and the drive will arrive. Picking up their wounded Simkins and his men will proceed onwards to the lightning rail. There they summon engines and cattle-cars to take the herd to Kanda City, where Boss Simkins will sell it. He pays out everyone absolutely fairly. Herd owners get the value of their herds, less the cattle contributed to paying for the drive, everyone else gets an equal share of the contribution. Shares are set aside for the family of those who died on the Drive to the Railhead.

Thus endeth the story.

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Run 31 Rise of the PTC: Drive To the Railhead Pt. III, "Trouble in Wycliffe"

The drive continues on up the Rioja and after several more weeks crosses over the Taloq river where it joins the Rioja.

Pieter takes ill and is confined to the chuck-wagon to recover from his fevered state. Surrounded by Mistress Mel’s trio of young girls, and beside a fairly unhappy baby, this is either domestic bliss or the purest torture conceivable depending on how you feel about such things. Either way, it’s memorable, even through fever-dreams.

Boss Simkins gathers the drive up and explains that he’s going to send some scouts ahead. He’s heard that there may be an easier pass to use to get to Fort Lamarre. It’s further up the Rioja than Jonner’s Pass, the regular route for the drive, but if it’s easier on the cattle it’ll easily be worth it. He details Jeb and Aeran to each take a handful of men, “and you too Miss Alruna if’n you don’t mind,” and ride out ahead of the drive. They’ll reach the split in a week or so, and each should take their boys to scout the various routes. If they return to the split in three weeks they should arrive about the same time the drive will, and Simkins can then choose the best route.

Jeb and Aeran split ways at Jonner’s Pass. A coin-flip has Jeb and his boys riding Jonner’s Pass to scout it for the drive while Aeran is to scout further up the Rioja for the rumored better route to Fort Lamarre. A few days later another split takes place as Aeran, Wythe, and Robb go to investigate a possible pass while Alruna and Rook ride a bit further along the Rioja, the two groups will re-unite in a few hours, around high-noon.

The trio rides over a low pass between two hills and find the landscape rapidly changing around them. Whereas most of the Rioja river-valley is scrub and low brush over the pass there is a well-watered valley that opens up before them. It stretches away to the northeast, towards Ft. Lamarre, and has green grass and an easy route for the cattle. Near a small lake in the center of the valley is a small village.

As they ride into the village of Wycliffe they notice two unusual things. First, despite the well-tended fields around the town the town itself appears quite poor. Second, as they approach most of the (thin and hungry-looking) villagers clear the streets pulling children off them and into their houses. As they ride into the center of town Old Man Terl steps out into the middle of the street to talk to them. He determines they aren’t bandits, and welcomes them to have a drink or two before moving on. The four men head indoors entering Mary’s the local saloon.

Mary gets Wythe a whiskey, and Aeran a local beer as they chat with Old Man Terl. Robb asks Wythe for the coins to get a drink, and when refused goes outside to tend to the horses. Aeran and Wythe get the feeling something’s amiss, but Terl ain’t telling and Wythe’s gut-instincts tell him it’s from fear of something so neither push the issue. Terl does tell them that Jonner’s Pass is now dangerous territory, and that the Federal Lightning Rail is working to push a spur from Ft. Lamarre to the Rioja that will pass through Wycliffe.

As folk talk with Old Man Terl, asking for more details about the rail, there is the sound of a female scream from outside. It is followed by another scream, and a male bellow of rage. Aeran races to the front window and finds that he can’t see Robb, and that the streets have been cleared of folk again, continued screams from an alley beyond indicate something bad is up. Wythe and Aeran race outside and around the corner to see what is happening, they see a girl screaming in fear and between them and the girl is the silhouette of Robb with a bloody Bowie-knife in one hand standing up from the body of another man on the ground. Before anyone can begin questioning what’s happened the girl flings herself into Robb’s arms and begins sobbing frantically.

Rook turns back down the Rioja to rejoin Aeran, Wythe, and Robb. Alruna says she’ll be right behind him, she just needs to check out one more possible pass away from the river. Riding on he heads up the pass and down into Wycliffe. As he rides into town he discovers a commotion; Aeran seems to be trying to keep a crowd of townfolk back from Wythe and Robb, who is comforting a sobbing town-girl.

Robb claims he was just relaxing in the shade when he first met Alise (eh-LEES-ah), the local girl, as she walked by Mary’s. The two got to talking and discovered they had several things in common despite him being eladrin and she a human. Some time later a man rode into town and began pestering Alise. When he pulled her into an alley and Robb heard her scream he ran to her aid. The man drew on him, and Robb defended himself. Robb says he didn’t mean to kill him, “but I couldn’t let him hurt Alise, so I tried to stab him in the leg, but in the heat of the fight I missed.” Robb’s knife went cleanly into the man’s chest, killing him almost instantly. Alise backs Robb’s story 100% as Robb falls to his knees and vomits up everything he’s eaten over the past few days, or at least it feels that way to Robb. (first kill nerves you know)

The town panics. The man turns out to be Bart Lassur, a bandit riding with Colonel Vailor’s Roughriders. The unit went bandit after the Alliance failed to win the war and their home state joined the Federation. Currently the Roughriders have become a band of vicious bandits who’ve been terrorizing the local towns, after taking all their weapons so that no one can resist them. Bart’s brother Jark Lassur, and his boys, are certain to be coming to town soon. A local pointing across the valley to the north says he just saw a group of men riding down into the valley, there’s at most a few hours before they arrive. Aeran, Wythe, and Rook plan an ambush in town. They order Robb to wait in Mary’s Saloon so that if the bandits win at least someone will survive to warn Boss Simkins.

Alruna discovers, as she expected, that what looked like a pass between two hills turns out to be far too difficult terrain for a cattle drive and turns back to rejoin the crew. Riding along the Rioja she turns off to head up the pass towards Wycliffe. As she rides into town she sees eight men on horses hooting and hollering and causing trouble on the town’s main street. She notices a woman slam shutters closed on a second-floor window, and a small boy peering out from behind curtains. As she begins to suspect something is up she sees Rook hiding behind a building corner. As the high-noon’s sun blazes, baking the small town, she gets the feeling there’s Trouble In Wycliffe. (the soundtrack plays music apropos to a high-noon showdown on Main St.)

Robb bursts out of Mary’s Saloon to warn Alruna, and the fight begins.

Jark Lassur charges Alruna while his bandits and a slaver tangle with the rest of Aeran’s crew. After a few bandits go down Jark leaves Alruna off to try to help his men, to no avail. In the end he declares he’ll try to hold ‘em off and orders his second-in-command to retreat and warn the Colonel. The slaver nearly escapes, but Wythe’s stinking cloud brings his horse down, thus ending his attempted escape.

As the town undertaker begins fitting the corpses for coffins the town panics. Col. Vailor is now certain to kill them all, and he’s due in town in a few days to collect their “tribute.”

The group convinces the men of Wycliffe to take up the weapons they have gotten from Bart and Jark’s men. The others arm themselves with pitchforks and home-made spears. Under Wythe’s leadership they start fortifying the town, setting traps for horses and blocking off routes of approach. Aeran begins training the villagers to fight together with what weapons they have. Alruna determines there’s no good points in the hills to position scouts while Robb gets bandages and healing supplies together and organizes the women and children of the town to help heal the wounded when the battle comes. Rook thinks over how past similar battles have gone and determines there is a real need for scouting, an essential need. So Aeran takes to the hills and finds some good hiding places where scouts can observe the approaches to the valley but still be able to retreat unseen to warn everyone of what they find.

Days pass in a montage of preparation.

One evening, after an exhausting day of work, a scout comes racing into Mary’s Saloon. He tells everyone that he’s seen the main force of the Roughriders, they’re approaching from the north. He says the main force is camped about a half-day’s ride up the next valley, but that they’ve broken off a scouting force of a dozen or so men who are mere hours away from Wycliffe. Wythe and Aeran both agree that taking out the scouts now, while they’re separated, is clearly the right answer and the four (leaving Robb behind in Wycliffe) set off for a fight.

They try sneaking up on the bandits, but one of them spots Rook as he creeps towards the camp and combat ensues. The group’s mage is one of the first casualties, targeted strongly by Rook. Their leader directs the rest of the outlaws, but falls to Aeran’s blade. Two javelineers try to take out Wythe, but fail. The rest of the men go down fairly quickly once everyone else is dead.

Returning to town everyone finds that they’ve been joined by one of Jeb’s boys. Luke says that he and Jeb encounterd bandits in Jonner’s Pass. Though they lost Bar and Natch, the rest escaped the bandits. Jeb and Quexchil, the sole Mixtec (the hobgoblin empire to the south) are riding hell-bent for the drive to warn Boss Simkins. Jeb sent Luke on to warn Aeran about the bandits.

So now there are six, count them, Six heroes to defend Wycliffe. I wonder where the Seventh “Samurai” could be . . . ..

The only thing anyone knows for certain is that the coming dawn will bring the bandit onslaught.

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Run 30, Rise of the PTC: Drive To the Railhead, Pt. II, "Badlands"

The session opens with a flashback detailing how Aeran came to be with Boss Simkins and won his trust by saving a favored grand-daughter during a barn fire.

The scene quickly shifts to current-Aeran, now asleep in the chuck-wagon. He dreams of his escape from the City of Brass, and his time training and growing up in the Shadowfell and how he left there for the prime Carta. In particular he’s shown how at a few steps along the way Akasha intervened in occasionally subtle, and occasionally not, ways to ensure his survival and training. The dream ends as he wakes, and hears the whisper of her voice in his ear telling him that things are changing and he should seek to learn more of “the Lady’s ways.” When he wakes a long, silky, raven’s feather falls from his chest to the ground, he pockets it unseen by anyone and rousts himself to the chaos in the camp.

It seems the camp outriders standing watch have captured a horse-thief. The thief seems to be a young eladrin boy, looks like a local farm-boy actually. Boss Simkins says that he can’t take the boy with them to the judge for trial, and he “ain’t willin’ to hang ‘im ‘less it’s done fair and proper.” He and Jeb put their heads together and declare that as most of the boys on the drive have a stake in it none of them are fit to act as judge or jury, almost all the cowboys in Simkin’s drive are just ranchers who have joined their herds together for the cattle-drive. Dar’n (Boss Simkin’s given name) decides that the thing to do is to appoint Pieter and his “boys” (Simkins actually says, ”..., and you as well Miss Alruna if that’s all right with you.”) to investigate the affair and judge what is to be done. But since he’ll need to be sure it’s done proper he requires them to take his “trusty”, Aeran, along with them so he (and the whole of the drive) can be assured the whole things fair. Everyone agrees to this, though the drive as a whole grumbles pretty loudly about it as they’re of the “Hang ‘em high” school of horse-thievin’.

Questioning the suspect reveals that he’s what he seems. Rob says he’s a farm-boy who’s father died in a plague last year, he’s been trying to keep the farm going for his ma and his sisters and baby brother, but the land just ain’t no good. They’re on their last legs. Which is, of course, the point at which it went worse . . . . their plow-horses died. Now the whole family is probably doomed; bad land, no plow-horses, no more money, nowhere to go. So he thought that if he could just steal a pair of horses from the drive as it went by maybe, just maybe, he could save his family. Foolish youth combined with a lack of anything to lose prompted him to try to follow through on his idea.

Boss Simkin’s isn’t particularly moved by the boy’s story, but is a good enough man that he can’t discount it entirely. He says he’ll hold off the drive from lynching the boy for a time, but that Pieter needs to find out the truth of the matter. If he can save the family Boss Simkin’s would be happiest, even if he has to hang the boy he doesn’t care for the blood of innocents to be on his hands, and he feels strongly that “folk oughta stick together out here, it’s a hard enough world as is and it’s just worse if’n we take it on alone.” He warns Pieter that he’ll likely have to hang the boy if he isn’t to lead the drive to questioning his leadership and decision-making capacity.

Pieter and his companions, plus Aeran, ride off to investigate further. Just a short distance away they find a farmhouse. The situation is pretty much just what was described by Rob. The group are stopped at the farm-yard by an eladrin woman standing in the doorway who warns them off, “I have a bow, and children inside to protect” she says, and does though she hasn’t drawn the arrow yet. Alruna calms her down and she agrees to let the five in to talk provided all of them except Alruna leave their weapons outside.

Inside the claustrophobic confines of a frontier house, sod walls and only one room, she offers them what little hospitality she has. The party declines as “grass soup” isn’t really on their list of acceptable cuisine. They also note that she has three young girls and a baby as well, confirming Rob again.

She turns out be Melissande Darkleaf, a cousin of Res’Tar Blackrock who was forced to flee Maelgrimm many years ago when Prince John (she spits at his name) took over the kingdom. Her husband and her managed to escape with only what they could carry away from their estates. They took ship for the New World and, along with some other nobles, pooled their goods to form a wagon-train into the wilds with which to seek new lands. Some of the noble’s died on the way, most of them settled on poor lands further downriver, but her husband and she tried to push on as long as they could in the hopes of finding some decent farmland to make a new life on. It didn’t work out and this was as far as they got. She hasn’t seen her son Robert since last night, and is desperately worried once told what’s happened to him.

After convincing Mel to come back to the drive the group decides to try to convince the ranchers towards lenience for Rob. They make several arguments ranging from compassion to greed, including even legalistic “But he didn’t actually succeed so there wasn, technically, no crime.” The cattle-men are skeptical, but in the end are convinced that hanging Rob isn’t the right answer. Boss Simkins accepts Pieter’s solution, Rob will be indentured without pay for the duration of the drive and let go afterwards. Dar’n asks Aeran to take a place riding with Pieter so that he can put Melissande and her kids in the chuck-wagon since they’ll die if left alone on the farm.

There’s some grumbling over the next few days about the whole affair. Everyone is so busy healing hard-pressed cattle, scouting the trail, riding herd, and doing the thousands of other exhausting details that make up a cattle-drive that the grumbling soon recedes. It helps that while Rob is utterly clueless as a hand he’s good-natured, learns quickly (except about riding a horse), and works himself to the bone.

A few more days pass uneventfully when Pieter and his crew find themselves riding herd on a few hundred head of cattle as they pass alongside the river between it’s banks and a low hill. Scrub-brush and wind-whipped trees cover the ground. They all notice a grinding sound beneath their feet, soon after they see a low mound, as if a creature is burrowing underneath it, approaching. In moments all hell breaks loose as a bulette bursts forth from the ground seeking prey. The cattle scatter in terror. Aeran gets badly bitten by the bulette, but in the end they defeat it without loss of any cattle, though their horses get a bit bruised. Boss Simkins thanks them later that evening for their good work that day.

The last event of note before the drive leaves The Badlands takes place soon thereafter. It seems a good day as Pieter and “his boys” (Miss Alruna included) are working driving a few hundred head of cattle along the Rioja river. A low rumbling growing louder, and the shaking of the earth, are the only warning they get of an on-rushing stampede from the front of the drive. Most of the folks scatter to the “lee-side” of things like trees or large boulders seeking shelter from the herd, two of them try to ride it out racing alongside the herd.

As soon as it’s safe the group all begins trying to get their herd back under control. It takes hard work, skills in animal handling, and no small amount of brass-balls to pull off. But without anyone getting hurt, or their horses, everyone works together and succeeds in bringing their herd to a stop. And just in time as well, for now the front of the drive is thundering down on them. Rook has a clever idea and works with Wythe to erect a barrier of magical flame. Alruna and Aeran help spread the fire in a line towards the nearby hills, and Pieter closes the gap with a wall of thorns erected magically with his Green Thumbs. This basically blocks the stampede from proceeding on except towards the river. As they watch near 900 head of cattle come thundering down on them, and turn into the river where they bog up and eventually are forced to stop.

All that’s left is the tail end of the drive, being herded by Jeb and his boys. It’s exhausting work but after many hours of it everyone manages to stop the tail end of the stampede. The next day isn’t any easier as everyone works together to seek out any cattle that got away during the confusion. In the end it’s a bad day as Boss Simkins, Jeb, and everyone else, tally up the losses. 12 cattle were killed outright in the stampede, or needed to be from injuries incurred, and another 10 are gone missing.

But as with everything some good comes of it, the drive eats steak that night.

Thus endeth the story.

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Run 29, Rise of the PTC: Drive To the Railhead, Pt. I, "Plague at Laredo"

Pieter and Alruna are split from the party and cast adrift after the ship everyone is aboard is wrecked in a storm. As they drift they are visited by an, un-named, angel with white and salmon colored wings. The angel tells them to swim towards the sun, then to follow the pole-star from an oasis they will find. The angel also admonishes them for having freed Prince Balaam, but tells them forgiveness will be theirs from Erathis should they save “one town and one soul”, each. A vision is shown them of Boss Simkins at the start of his cattle-drive, he swears an oath that since none of the gods he knows will help him he’ll build a shrine to any god that will. They follow the angels instructions and come ashore, find the oasis, follow the pole-star into the desert, and pass through a shallowing to the Feywild they find hidden within a cave they come across.

Rook is pulled beneath the waves along with the stern of the ship after it breaks up. He and the wreckage are seized by a kraken and pulled further down, he then drowns.

Wythe, an eladrin wizard on the run from himself, has finally managed to find a nicely isolated spot to live out his life. He’s found two shallowings that lead to The World, and one day sees a pair of humans stumble out of one of them. After some conversation with them it’s apparent to him that Erathis has not let him go free, at least not yet. The three agree that divine providence is clearly at work, and take the other shallowing back to The World. (as it happens this second shallowing leads not to the world of the Earth Kingdom and the Caliph Al Raschaid but instead to the world of “Carta”, the world of the Crimson Port, the Maelgrimm Empire, and Port Liberty)

They emerge atop a pass between two peaks, below they can see a massive cattle-drive moving alongside a river, beyond the pass is a valley, they decide to approach the cattle-drive. Heading down they find an off-shoot path leading away from the river. At the crossroads is a dead horse, shot through with massive arrows, and a dying Pony Express rider. Nearby him is Rook’s body.

In darkness Rook wakes, he finds himself speaking again with Akasha, the Exarch of the Raven Queen. She talks with him for a bit about how his life has been led this time around, then tells him the Lady has decided to send him back for another try, again. As his vision grays, and he collapses like a corpse to the ground, she bends down and whispers in his ear, “As always, it must be a life for a life.”

Pieter fights desperately to save the life of the Pony Express rider. He’s terribly fevered from a massive compound fracture of his leg and the resulting infection. As he works the rider suddenly dies, just as Rook gasps in pain and sits straight up. Rook notices a small, black, raven’s feather fall from his chest as he sits up and quietly pockets it. Some introductions ensue.

As the group begins to question what’s happening here a group of five men from the cattle drive ride up. Initially things are quite hostile as it looks like the group has just murdered a Pony Express rider, but after seeing the actual situation is quite different the two work together to examine the scene.

It seems the rider was going as fast as he could for the “town” of Laredo, a small mining village not more than a few day’s journey away. Letters indicate that Laredo is in the grip of a fierce plague, Red Spotted Fever, and that they sent to a healer priest of Graahk for aid. The rider was returning with the components to finish a ritual, a ritual to produce a cure to the fever.

The leader of the riders, Jeb, is pleased when Pieter says he’d like to meet the leader of the drive since he was going to have to bring them in anyway and this way there won’t be a fight. At the tail end of the drive Jeb brings them to the chuck-wagon where they meet with Boss Simkins. Simkins is a tall, whipcord-thin, salt-and-pepper haired, grizzled man with a grip as hard as steel, though he doesn’t crush the hands of folks who will shake his hand. He’s a hard man, but on hearing Jeb’s tale, and Pieter’s desire to join him, says that “As I lost some boys recently” he’ll take Pieter and his crew on. He warns them the work is hard, and the trail long, and payday isn’t until they reach the railhead and sell the cattle, but that he’s a fair man and will pay them fairly for their work. Everyone agrees.

For their first job Simkins tells them to talk to “Cookie”, a half-elf named Aerun, who will set them up with horses and gear they’re lacking. Once they’re set they’re to take the medicine to Laredo and then return. He says to ride the horses until they die if that’s what it takes, “But save that town, folk what don’t stick together out here don’t survive and I’ll not have Laredo’s dead on my conscience. After that’s done ride on back, you should catch us up in a few days, I won’t drive my cattle more than 15 miles a day if I can help it. brief pause Well, what are you still doing here, get moving!”

Kitted out by Aerun the party rides for Laredo.

Rook takes a spare moment when no one is watching to examine the feather and determines that it’s very definitely divine magic, but that it seems to be waiting for something, like it has a purpose….

Along the trail to Laredo they are ambushed by a party of orc braves. Sporting war-paint and bows, to go with their obsidian axes, the braves aren’t quite good enough to surprise the party. Arrows fly before the two sides clash together. The lead brave, an orc blood-rager, nearly downs Wythe. But in the end the party defeats the war-party and moves on.

Later that same day they crest a ridge only to see a huge “indian” camp in the valley below them. It rests alongside a small lake. Several parties of braves charge the group to test their courage, but won’t attack while near their camp. Pieter’s group is stopped outside the camp by a line of braves and their chief. Chief Red Bear doesn’t speak common, and no one in the group speaks Giant, so for a time nothing happens. After a while a half-orc “slave” appears and translates Red Bear’s words for the group. The two sides agree to be friends, for now. But while the Chief will offer them the hospitality of the camp he is reticent to send them on towards Laredo as they seem unsuited for such travels, the group succeeds in convincing him otherwise.

The night passes uneventfully as the group succeeds in intimidating one group of challengers and being diplomatic with another group, and chooses correctly which group to do what to. Early the next morning they leave the indian camp, heading for Laredo.

The trail to Laredo rapidly becomes extremely difficult. There are navigational obstacles, it’s exhausting, and it nearly lames one of the horses though Pieter is able to save it’s leg by walking it the last bit of the trip.

Laredo proves to be an, apparently, empty walled village of 30 or 40 buildings. The gate is closed. Some hollering produces a badly weakened young man named Jarit who warns them to “go away, there’s Red Spotted Fever here, we’re all as good as dead since no medicine has come yet”. The group convinces him to let them in anyway after explaining their mission to him.

Jarit takes them to the house of Leria, the local healer. Leria is infected and is delirious with fever, and is the only source of knowledge about how to transform the herbs and powders from Graahk into the medicine needed to fight the fever. Pieter cools her down with his healing knowledge, and the rest manage to decipher her rantings enough to realize that the process for the medicine can be found in her house. They toss the place in an intense search until they find letters and a book that help them figure out the right ritual.

After finishing the medicine, which is very volatile, they begin curing the villagers. Alas about a quarter of the villagers have suffered permanent brain and nerve damage, leaving them practically vegetative, and death from Red Spotted Fever is brutally nasty. It burns out your nerves in a remarkably painful way and then kills you by turning your lungs into bloody clots that you cough up until you die.

Rook acts on a hunch and puts the Feather of the Raven Queen upon a dying young woman’s forehead. In his head he hears an old woman’s voice whisper, “It must be wakened with a death.” He draws his dagger and gives the woman mercy, plunging it into her heart in a swift blow. As she dies the feather bursts into a black cloud of dust-like motes, which rapidly stream out of the house and across the town. People begin to notice that everyone who can’t be cured is now dead, even folks who shouldn’t be dead yet seem to have died peacefully.

Jarit and the group, and some other survivors begin the hard task of cremating the dead of Laredo. When that’s done everyone rests for the night. The next day Pieter exchanges his horse for a fresh one, with Jarit’s promise that he’ll see to it that the horse is treated well until it’s healed enough to ride again.

The return trip from Laredo is much easier. Chief Red Bear’s tribe seems to have moved on, they’re no longer camped at the lake, and after that it’s a quick day’s ride back to the pass where they first appeared. Boss Simkin’s drive has moved onwards while they traveled though, and it takes another two days for them to catch it up. Simkins is pleased with their efforts, and happy that at least some of Laredo survived.

But he remains quite the cynic, and is clearly still hostile to most gods. There must be something going on we don’t yet understand Pieter thinks.

Night falls and the cowboys bed down, making ready for another hard day the following morning.

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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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