Midnight at the Oasis

February 5, 2012
In which the party finds paradise lost

The party finds themselves in Samarthia — a ruined cityscape of metallic buildings covered in purple vines, and definitely nowhere in Athas. They begin studying their surroundings, and Serge notices several different tracks — a tailed creature, and a humanoid. The group follows the humanoid tracks into a ruined building, only to come upon a tall, gaunt creature — a githyanki. The gith is huddled in a corner, has no knowledge of who he is or where he is, and can’t remember anything. The party begins to grow worried that this might be the result of long-term exposure to Samarthia.

While investigating the gith, the party hearing something outside calling for it. They get their weapons ready, and Serge fires upon the beholder that shows itself. A battle ensues, the beholder seeming more annoyed than anything else and the party blasting it with spells, swords, and arrows. Finally, the beholder implodes. The gith has gone catatonic by now, so Mardukai decides to carry him with them.

The party then manages to come upon a great pool of water, an irrigation system for all of Samarthia where inside a shiny mithril dragon is doing the backstroke. He introduces himself as Leoben and tells the party he’s a sage, and once the party finds what they’re looking for, bring it to him and he’ll tell them how it works. The party is suspicious that he wants it for himself, but he insists he’s much happier sticking to the margins. Furthermore, he’ll also use his knowledge of the future to answer any one question from each of the members of the party, acting as an oracle on their behalf.

He also explains the secret history of Athas: There never have been any gods on Athas, and when the primordials tried to destroy the world, it was humans and other races that rose up to fight them. The most powerful were psionic adepts who grew to be worshipped as gods; two of them, Heironeous and Hextor, were brothers who shared Samarthia, but are not still there now, and these ascended psionics created divine power — if psionics are using every bit of your brain’s potential, then divine power is a different kind of psionics, drawing upon the power of other people’s belief in you. However, before the primordials were defeated, they did manage to taint the source of all arcane magic, creating defiling. Leoben also explains that the sorceror-kings are NOT the first defilers, nor particularly special in any way — Athas has been trapped in a cycle of violence, with defiler replacing defiler many times over the eons.

He also explains the current situation on Samarthia: The plane is a psionic demiplane created by Heironeous and Hextor, and it follows the rules that they’ve set up (even when such rules contradict with reality); that’s why the party is more powerful here, that’s why travel is different (to go where you want, simply decide where that is, and start walking), and that’s why the party doesn’t need to eat or drink while there, and why the time of day never changes. Heironeous’ remaining forces are the angels, who are personifications of abstract concepts (like battle, protection, etc.), living in their master’s former palace. Hextor’s forces are salamanders (orange-red reptile-men with fire powers), who rule over their azer (fire dwarf) foot soldiers; their master’s citadel crumbled millennia ago. There’s also a third party now: the Congress of Eyes, a group of beholders from a far-off place called the Far Realm, who have gith servants that they can reprogram with different skill sets and personalities. Thanks to the rules set by Heironeous and Hextor, nothing stays dead on Samarthia for long — presumably, this is how the angels, salamanders, and azers have been able to fight each other without end for eons.

He also makes some other statements:

  • He muses that the Dragon of Tyr is a “self-made dragon” and a poseur.
  • He comments that “one of them shouldn’t bother funding their IRA,” implying a party member will die.
  • To get what they’re looking for in Samarthia, the party will “have to make a repugnant decision.”
  • Leoben muses that Alanna is “running late to a family reunion.”
  • Mardukai muses that he’d like to work with the Congress of Eyes, leading Leoben to say “That’s funny for reasons I can’t tell you yet.”
  • Serge mentions fixing the primordial taint that allows defiling to exist, and Leoben mentions that they’re not ready yet. (DM: This refers to an epic-level story arc that I won’t get the time to implement, where the party would go to the Astral Sea and fix this taint, effectively ending defiling forever.)
  • Even once they find what they’re looking for, Leoben advises that finding it will not be the end of their quest, but another beginning: A weapon that can harm the sorceror-kings will draw lots of attention, and many will want to steal their power or direct it for their own uses.
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January 22, 2012
In which the party enters the Dragon's Bowl

One of the dwarf slaves the party freed, Boldris, claims to know how to get down into the Dragon’s Bowl and offers to lead the party there. The night before the party is to leave Dalworth and his band of rebels, Flik is pulled aside by Dalworth and told to keep an eye on Alanna, who the half-elf suspects means him harm. Dalworth, later that morning, confronts Alanna and admits that he was part of the group that hunted down and killed Alanna’s extended family. However, he’s unsympathetic — he points out that the party has blood on its hands as well (do they now intend to go to Nibenay to comfort all the widows and orphans of the caravan guards they killed yesterday?) and that it’s unreasonable to assume Alanna’s family never killed anybody either. He gives up the names of his associates — Callia, a mul poisoner (location unknown); Shathrita, an elementalist who’s now a noble in Raam; Macletar, a sniper in Tyr; and Nanuven Silenteye, a goliath who organized the group and received the job from their employer (location unknown) — just as Serge sneaks up with a dagger and slits his throat. Alanna stabilizes Dalworth to keep him from dying, but leaves him scarred to remind him of the pain he caused her.

Over 4 days, Boldris leads the party to an Urikite mine, knowing there’s a partially excavated path down into the Bowl. However, when they get there, the mine workers and templars have been slaughtered by ankhegs, giant ants, and other insects. Boldris directs them to the path down and leaves them. The party climbs down the sheer rock face and safely manages to get to the bottom.

Upon landing, the party is attacked by ankhegs. As soon as the party drives them off, a swarm of insects clouds the skies, followed by a female mul, Enora, who is wearing nothing but insects. She says she is the guardian of Lake Pit, the body of water in the Dragon’s Bowl, and demands to know the party’s intentions. Flik and Mardukai attempt alternately to flatter and intimidate her, with no success. Enora senses the party does not intend to defile the land under her protection, and agrees to lead the party to Samarthia, which she is aware of. She exacts as her price Mardukai’s youth — placing a curse on him that ages him 20 years — and sends some of her insects to lead them on the 3-day journey to the enormous glyph that will take them to Samarthia. She also warns that the glyph, which only appears under the light of the dawn sun, requires the tears of an innocent person to activate.

Over the course of their trip to the glyph, Flik guesses that Fortari might be the “innocent person” they need — Fortari admits he’s never killed anybody (and has been too sheltered most of his life to do anything truly terrible), so Flik begins insulting him and collecting his tears. The party eventually arrives at the correct spot, and sure enough, the glyph is enormous (the size of a football field). When the dawn sun arrives, Flik pours the tears on the glyph. Storm clouds immediately form overhead, raining down warm, radiant drops in a deluge that completely obscures the world around them.

When the rain disappears, the party finds itself in a much more temperate environment, in the ruins of an ancient city. A golden palace is far off in the distance, and the buildings are overgrown by sickly purple vines. Standing in front of the party are two statues — one a flawless human-looking man holding a sword and a lightning bolt in his hands, and the other a bestial, armored, tusked man with six arms, a different weapon in each hand.

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January 8, 2012
In which the party stages an ambush

Dalworth leads the party to plan an ambush on a passing slave caravan, using the information they gleaned from their captured Shadow Bride. Setting up shop in a canyon, Dalworth’s people knock over a stone pillar to block off the road and scatters to swarm in when the caravan stops.

The caravan arrives, a large group of Nibenese guards carrying two inix-pulled carts of slaves and one cart carrying four Shadow Brides, as well as a group of aarakocra scouts. The party ambushes the caravan, with Alanna unleashing a fire spell on the templars and Serge helping pick off the guards while Dalworth and his people attack the guards, and Flik and Mardukai move into action to bust open the slave carts.

The aarakocra quickly take wing, poisoning and dive bombing most of the party, but with the aid of Gerxis’ spirit companion, Mardukai and Flik bust open the carts while Alanna and Serge begin covering their retreat. The Shadow Brides begin chanting around a magical rod, beginning a short ritual, indicating the party’s time to leave. The party takes out a few more of the aarakocra before the ritual is completed — summoning a horde of demons.

The party leads the 30 freed dwarf and mul slaves to freedom, but the demons and surviving aarakocra harass the escapees on their way out of the canyon, leaving only 20 survivors. When the group returns back to Dalworth’s cave, they find Kaddim-sul knocked unconscious and the captive Shadow Bride having escaped.

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December 18, 2011
In which the party gets presents under a tree

The party wakes up to find that one of Dalworth‘s scouting parties has gone missing. Dalworth assembles a party to search for them: Alanna, Gerxis, Mardukai, himself, and a human Draji dune trader named Flik. Dalworth, an expert tracker, begins following the scouts’ tracks through the badlands.

Eventually they come upon a small camp where the scouts had rested, only to find the tracks end there; similarly, there is one set of hooved footprints and signs of a fight. The hooved tracks lead away from the campsite — and oddly enough, are wet — so the party presses onward across the rocky terrain.

The trail eventually leads to an ancient ruin in the walls of a canyon. The party goes inside, and the inside is noticeably colder than the outside. Furthermore, as they go in deeper, they find the walls oddly lit up in a multitude of colors, and a strange, low hum coming from deeper inside the cave. As the party descends an old spiral staircase, they find a strange white substance — snow — at the bottom.

The party trudges through the snowy corridors and enters a room with two snow effigies — “snowmen,” if you will — that throw snowballs at the party. The party quickly defeats them — Flik beheads one, while Alanna’s magic makes one scream and tear its own head off. The party proceeds further and finds a room with an enormous 9×9 grid, as well as nine inix statues. Gerxis notes that one of the inixes has a red nose, puts him in the front, and assembles the rest behind it — correctly opening the door ahead.

The party is soon met by a ghost missing its left eye and warning that the ruins are prowled by the Krampus, a supernatural being that punishes the wicked around this time of year, using its preternaturally long tongue to ensnare the guilty, beat them with switches, and dump them into his sack to die. The ghost explains that he was a trader who cheated his business partner in this area, then was carried away by the Krampus; when he tried to fight back with his crossbow, he accidentally shot his eye out.

The party confronts Krampus beneath an ancient, petrified tree, where his victims lie nearby. After a quick fight, the party stabs and kills Krampus. They then free his prisoners, and loot his sack, finding a bag of holding, candies of friendship, mountebank’s dice, endless chalk, a totem for Gerxis, and a new dragon’s paw for Flik.

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December 4, 2011
In which the party flies the only way to fly

The party thoroughly searches the Balican Temple of Heroes secret library for translation books, stuffing the books into Fortari‘s enchanted pockets. Redhorn starts casting the ritual scroll to teleport the party out, as the genasi praetor and several guards finally storm the library. The party holds off the guards, but the genasi disrupts Redhorn’s casting just as the ritual is completing, teleporting the party to parts unknown.

Fortari and the party wake up in a rocky canyon (sans Redhorn, who was presumably left behind); Serge finds an empty cave for the party to hide in while Fortari works on translating the mirror’s runes. Serge performs some recon work and finds the party is now near the Dragon’s Bowl, a 70-mile-wide crater in the north near Urik and Raam — hundreds of miles away from Balic.

After a few days, Fortari translates the runes: Samarthia, a famed lost city in the Bowl that no one has ever located or returned from. The party forages for food and debates where to go, finally deciding on the Silver Spring Oasis to pick up supplies, a three-day walk by road (so as to stay away from the sorceror-kings’ agents).

On the way to Silver Spring, the party hears someone yelling “Help help,” and some of them decide (against the more cautious party members’ warnings) to check it out. A group of bandits surrounds the party, and they ask who the party serves. After ascertaining the party isn’t agents of one of the sorceror-kings, the bandit leader, a half-elf named Dalworth, lead them back to a cave for shelter and supplies.

Inside, Dalworth shows that the bandits have captured a shadow bride of Nibenay to interrogate for information about incoming slave caravans. Gerxis helps interrogate the templar, using some rather dark imagery to convince her to provide information in exchange for letting her flee. As the party and the bandits rest for the night, Dalworth speaks with Gerxis while on guard duty, explaining his bandit group is made up of freed slaves, as he’s trying to right his life after a mercenary life of violence, including helping hunt down and kill an extended family of elves. Alanna, while trancing overnight, hears this, and realizes Dalworth might have helped kill her extended family.

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November 27, 2011
In which the party breaks and enters

Fortari gathers the party together and lays out the plan: To access the secret library hidden under the Temple of Heroes in Balic, they’re going to go in disguised as Fortari’s servants to access the main library. Redhorn will join them through a different entrance; he’s cast a ritual on Fortari’s noble robes to enable him to sneak the party’s weapons and armor in, and he’s also got a portal ritual to enable them to teleport out of the Temple once they’ve got the books they need. He also explains that another cell of the Veiled Alliance is going to provide a distraction somewhere else to draw most of the templars away, and they’ve also loaned them one of their personnel, a human shaman named Gerxis.

Despite some harassment from a voidsoul genasi templar, the party finds the hidden passage that leads underground. The first level underground reveals a throne room with a fountain, a large barracks (complete with armory, which Fortari and Redhorn loot), and a very powerful map room that shows the entirety of Athas, the Lands Within the Wind, the Grey, the Elemental Chaos and the remains of the Astral Sea. The map also shows that Andropinis is currently with a group of praetors in the Astral Sea, and not actually in Balic. The party considers destroying the map apparatus, but finds it’s out of the range of their abilities.

Serge inadvertently figures out a sigil puzzle that allows the party to descend to the next level. The entrance room is a crypt with 20 sealed coffins, each decorated with a statue holding a blue-purple orb. Kaddim-sul and Alanna explore the other two rooms: one is a portal room (where the party quickly dismantles the portal circle), and the other is a magical workshop, full of half-finished items, a font of primordial energy, and a rust monster. Kaddim-sul and Alanna quickly finish off the rust monster and locate some magical items; Kaddim-sul also finds the rust monster was a female and takes one of its eggs for himself. Meanwhile, the rest of the party finds that the blue orbs on the coffins allow them to communicate with the spirits trapped inside — Andropinis has entombed many of the greatest heroes of Balic here, and prevented them from traveling on to the afterlife so he can continue to draw on their knowledge. The party mercifully decides to smash them, after the spirits reveal that one of the walls is actually illusory.

Through the fake wall leads the lowest level: the long-awaited secret library. They’re greeted by a human slave, who takes them to his masters — two librarians and their cadre of slaves. The librarians say they refuse to grant knowledge to any but Andropinis, as he has gifted them immortality in exchange for their services. A battle is joined, revealing that the two librarians are in fact oni, terrible ogre-like creatures with soul-sucking powers. The party quickly dispatches them, however, and begins looking for the translation books they need.

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October 30, 2011
In which the party sees a play

Fortari obtains the mirror from the party and explains the plan: Enter the Temple of Heroes, a civic center in Balic that houses a public library; the building also houses a secret library, which contains books that Andropinis doesn’t want the nobility reading (but are too valuable to destroy), and which almost certainly contains something that might translate the runes in the mirror. Redhorn, being a messenger for nobles by day (and Veiled Alliance by night), knows where to find the entrance to the secret library, as well as the password to bypass the magical barrier barring entry.

While out in the city, Mardukai receives a note from a former Urik templar, Shuqa, who has just arrived in town and is also on the run. She asks to meet in the Agora, the market district of Balic; Mardukai goes, with Serge secretly following behind to spy on them. Shuqa tells Mardukai there’s another Urikite templar in town, an elf named Feravel, who’s spying for Hamanu. He’s meeting a contact at an underground play.

The party arrives separately at the slum hosting the play, which is trite, boring, and a thin political allegory. Mardukai gets into an argument with Feravel’s contact, who grows angry; finally, Serge jumps on stage, yells “Death to the sorceror-kings!” and shoots arrows at Feravel. A melee breaks out, with most of the viewers running off, and ending with Feravel and his contact unconscious; Serge finishes them off. The group burns down the building as well and runs off.

Shuqa follows Mardukai back to the Olive Tree inn (where the party had been staying before meeting Fortari), while Serge and Alanna go back to Fortani’s villa. Shuqa tries to kill Mardukai on the walk back, but Mardukai overpowers her and head-butts her unconscious. He ties her up, carries her back to the inn, wakes her up, and tortures her; she says she and a group of other ex-templars are kill every templar of Urik they can find, even other ex-templars, to weaken and try to kill Hamanu. Shuqa refuses to work with Mardukai, so he summons Serge and Alanna to help interrogate her, but when they return, she’s escaped.

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October 9, 2011
In which the party goes shopping for slaves

Now in Balic, the party learns more about Fortari, who had hired Iphitus to steal the mirror from Grak’s Pool: He’s a noble and playwright whose parents were killed several years ago. The party goes to the Villa District and bribes a templar to get in, where they also convince Fortari’s bodyguard, a minotaur, to let them in.

In Fortari’s estate, the noble meets the party and feigns ignorance, saying he only wanted the mirror as a bauble, but Serge sees through his lies and tricks him into revealing that he knows more about the mirror than he lets on (by falsely claiming the mirror shows only an empty cave, not an opulent room). Alanna recognizes Fortari as a member of the Veiled Alliance, and he inadvertently outs her to the rest of the group as well. He explains that while sailing on the Sea of Silt, he was approached by a sphinx, who gave him a long, riddle-filled message, but part of it was that the mirror would lead the way to “a weapon that even the sorceror-kings will fear.” Fortari also reveals that he’s a sorceror, having some command over fire.

Mardukai struggles with working with the Veiled Alliance, as he believes the sorceror-kings provide stability to the world and improve the lives of their subjects, but he’s willing to work with the party (as with Serge, it’s an “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” situation).

The next day, Fortari shares news about the world and the Alliance: it’s raining in Tyr (which Serge interprets as a sign of the primal spirits’ approval of the death of Kalak just a month before), and Hamanu of Urik is gathering an army together (explaining Mardukai’s feeling of being psionically called back to Urik). Also, another Veiled Alliance cell — a slum full of tieflings — was arrested last night and is now being sold at the Slave Auction. Fortari intends to decipher the runes on the spying mirror by breaking into the hidden library in the Temple of Heroes, Balic’s civic center, and one member, Redhorn, has intimate knowledge of the temple that can help them.

The party goes to the Slave Auction and eventually finds the group of tieflings in question — Alanna herself finds Redhorn, recognizing the secret signs of the Veiled Alliance. Redhorn warns that the auction is a trap, so Serge pays an elf thief to cause a distraction. The three templars who are secretly watching the auction are distracted long enough for the party to launch their attack. Even though two trained cilops beasts are hidden under the stage, the party still manages to defeat the templars and the cilopses, free Redhorn (revealing that he’s a dark hexblade named Arkadi in the process), and escape the Auction intact.

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October 2, 2011
In which the party sets sail for Balic

The party debates what to do with Iphitus. Iphitus admits that he was hired by a Balican noble named Fortari, who specifically wanted him to steal the mirror at the first opportunity. After considering their options, the party decides to go to Balic.

Before they leave, Serge goes back to Grak’s Pool to see if Sanozar has learned anything yet about the Veiled Alliance. He appears not to have, so Serge leaves him.

Iphitus explains that he was to head north to a silt river and meet up with a schooner that would take him to Balic. The party travels north, and when they reach the schooner, it’s under attack by gith. The party drives them off, and the dwarf captain, Simiack, agrees to take the party to Balic for free.

While on the boat ride, Mardukai starts teaching Alanna how to read and write. At the same time, Mardukai feels a psionic call in the back of his head, pulling him in the direction of his homeland of Urik.

The silt schooner arrives in Balic, and Simiack slips a templar a bribe to let them through. The party gets rooms at the Olive Tree, a clean and secure inn. Serge searches for the Veiled Alliance, and sees someone entering a slum building using a prestidigitation spell. Mardukai brings his silk to the Weavers’ Guild; they say they can use it in any cloth item he wishes.

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Sept. 4, 2011
In which the party goes deal-hunting

The party heads back to the surface, having successfully quieted Stone Brother and the hejkins. They go to see Grak for a reward, but he is incredulous at their story, saying they have no proof, and gives them only 125 gp — a quarter of his promised reward — and a goliath slave, Vimak. He says he’ll pay them the rest if the party does another job for him — during the hejkin attack, one of his guards, Iphitus, stole something valuable from his treasury, which he won’t say what. He wants Iphitus back, as well as what he stole. He introduces them to Mardukai, a mercenary who’s been doing some jobs for him, who’s been already assigned to the search for Iphitus.

The party is very uncomfortable owning a slave — although slavery is a legal institution in Athas, most of them believe strongly in the cause of freedom. (Notably, Talgeyl, a mul and a former slave himself, has no qualms about keeping Vimak.) None of the caravans leaving Grak’s Pool are willing to accept another hand, but Serge convinces Grak to free him and take him on as a guard.

The search begins for Iphitus. Mardukai speaks a caravan of nearby elves, but they insist they don’t harbor those outside their tribe. Talgeyl meets with a dragonborn seer, Mafoun, who tells him that Iphitus is in darkness and in danger about a day away (presumably in a cave), and he’ll be dead in a few days. Mafoun also tells him that Vimak will live long as a free goliath and come to praise those who freed him, thus salving their consciences. Talgeyl then meets with a cartographer, learning about the two nearby villages where Iphitus could’ve gone — Altaruk and South Ledopolus.

While wandering around the tent city, Alanna is approached by a charismatic mul named Sanozar, who already knows about Iphitus and offers the party 500 gp if they bring Iphitus to him instead of Grak. Serge investigates a Balican templar who lives at the pool; he finds out that the templar is sent to track down Balican criminals, and is under Grak’s protection to avoid bringing undue attention to the oasis. Serge looks for someone “in the know” and ends up talking to Sanozar, further inquiring about the Veiled Alliance. Sanozar says he doesn’t know any of their agents at the oasis, but he says he’ll try to help him find a cell if they bring him Iphitus or whatever he stole.

The party doesn’t know who to trust between Grak and Sanozar — Grak shorted the party significantly on their reward, but Sanozar is shady himself; he’d expressed an interest in buying Vimak earlier, and is a member of House Vordon, a merchant house with designs on taking over Grak’s Pool.

While looking around in the direction Iphitus must’ve gone, according to the maps he’s looked at, Talgeyl finds some tracks going into the desert. The party follows for about half a day, avoiding getting distracted by a mirage but getting briefly knocked about by a silt storm, before the tracks lead into a cave. Residue on the entrance indicates that this is the cave of a silk wyrm, a deadly psionic predator.

The party enters and finds Iphitus wrapped up unconscious in silk, and as Serge tries to free him, the wyrm phases through the wall and attacks him. A fight ensues with the wyrm flying about, biting as many as it can with its paralytic venom. Finally, badly wounded, it tries to run, only to be beheaded by Mardukai.

While searching the wyrm’s treasure pile, they find a primal totem — which seems to be somewhat intelligent, and communicates to Talgeyl that its master was killed by the wyrm — as well as Grak’s stolen treasure: a spying mirror, showing an ancient, gold-trimmed room full of golden objects, with runes written on the wall. None of the characters can read the runes; under interrogation, Iphitus says Grak has been trying to find someone who can translate the runes, find out where this room full of gold is, and launch an expedition.

The party debates what to do with the mirror. At first, everyone seems inclined to sell it to Sanozar, but Talgeyl offers to pay expenses (bribes, travel costs, etc.) if they can find out where this treasure is, convinced that there will be a big payout if they can launch their own treasure hunt.

The group decides that Serge will sneak back to the pool and talk to Sanozar; if he can’t turn up any members of the Veiled Alliance, then they won’t tell him anything or give him the mirror. What to do with Iphitus is up in the air, too.

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