The Holy City of Ten Thousand Gods

Session 6.5
Murdered in our Beds

Player: Peter

It’s getting late at night, and down in the sewers beneath the Red Blades Janwar is preparing to strike. He’s placed his new recruits hiding a few blocks away; not ideal, but he couldn’t find anywhere closer that was out of sight of the Red Blades compound.

Down in the darkness, he slicks back his hair, puts his helmet on, nods to Aman and Soraya and starts climbing. The narrow shaft has no ladder, but their are rough handholds carved into the packed earth. As he rises, he can see the dim outlines of the room above through a circular hole in a wooden cover over the shaft. Stopping to listen, he hears nobody nearby, and so gently lifts the cover with the slightest creak of hinges. He climbs out, into what looks to be a small, dusty privy. Holding the cover open, he waves Aman and Soraya up and then in a soft voice tells those that lurk below to climb up.

As Soraya and Aman adjust their armour straps and weapons, the soft sound of shuffling and climbing rises up the shaft. Aman and Soraya slowly scout out the room outside, as the risen corpses start filling the privy. Janwar arranges them as they climb out, and then moves into the room next door. He finds himself in a barracks that looks like it’s been empty for a while; there’s dust on the beds and the windows are grimy. The group have a quick scout around; Janwar finds a door out of the barracks, Soraya checks the windows and works out where they are in the compound, and Aman finds some discarded suits of lamellar armour in a chest. Janwar checks the door, and can see it opens into one corner of the central courtyard. Just ahead is another building, with a side door.

Janwar slides open the barracks door, and quickly moves across the courtyard to the side of the other building. As he’s moving into the shadow of the other building, though, he hears a grunt of interest from somewhere in the courtyard. Pressing himself against the wall, he motions for the others to get ready and listens carefully. There’s footsteps approaching, and light spreading across the packed earth of the courtyard from a torch. Only one set of steps, and they seem more interested in the now-ajar door to the barracks. As the guard comes into view, torch in one hand and sword in the other, Janwar tenses and then rushes. The guard notices him in time to turn, but is totally flatfooted as Janwar kicks him in the groin and stabs him in the leg. The pain only adds to his confusion, and he’s staggering back as an arrow goes right through his head. Janwar’s temporarily shocked by the gore and just stands there as the body crumples down. Aman rushes over to grab the sword before it clatters to the ground, and the rest of the body falls with a muffled thump. Janwar recovers himself, thanks Aman and Soraya, and together they drag the body into the barracks.

The three then move to the door to the other building, and try to listen in. Janwar reckons he can just about hear voices talking, and Soraya says she thinks they’re at least a few rooms away judging by the volume and pitch. Janwar opens the door carefully, with nary a squeak, and finds himself in the back of a long kitchen, lit only by the dull red glow from a clay brick oven. The voices are coming through a door at the far end. At a command from Janwar, the risen dead shuffle in, and the three Fingers move slowly and quietly through the kitchen. As they get closer to the door, they can make out what’s being said; it sounds like two servants grumbling about their boss, over the occasional sound of cutlery on crockery. They’re too busy complaining about never getting invited on their boss’ pleasure jaunts despite preparing all the food to hear the Fingers taking position around the door. Janwar sets up the attack precisely, and in the instant that Aman opens the door he’s dashing through and spearing one servant while Soraya sends an arrow into the throat of another. In seconds, both servants are slumped over their modest dining table with blood pooling beneath. The zombies are called forward, but Janwar stops them from eating the bodies.

The small band move out of the servant’s quarters and into the main body of the guild. This is remarkably opulent; the walls are covered in fine hangings and murals, and the fixtures have stylish touches of gilt. There are reception rooms, extended offices, and stairs going upstairs to a mezzanine floor. Unfortunately, the invaders are too busy scouting around the downstairs to pay much attention to the floor above. As Janwar’s looking through a scribe’s office full of lists of assets and transactions, there’s a crash from upstairs. Quickly dispatching Soraya and Aman outside to make sure nobody gets out, he runs to the stairs up, only to find them blocked by a makeshift blockade. It looks like somebody’s toppled over a bookshelf and other furniture to stop people coming up. He sends the dead to pull down the barricade, and raises his shield to shield him from anyone on the balcony above.

As the zombies start pulling apart the furniture, an arrow shoots out of the dark at the side Janwar’s shield isn’t covering, but the angle’s wrong and it glances off his chest piece. Now he’s got a view of the figure above with a bow, he starts to duck and weave, trying to ensure the archer’s not paying attention to the dead. Another arrow whistles down, and this one just gets through the lamellar armour on Janwar’s chest. Most of its force was absorbed though, and the hit just winds him. Janwar decides to take cover out of the sight of the archer, and catches his breath.

As he climbs back up the stairs, an arrow thunks into one of the undead, but it continues unrelenting. There’s the sound of feet running away upstairs as the dead finish tearing apart the blockade, and Janwar gives chase. Unfortunately his quarry had a head start, knew the layout, and wasn’t wearing heavy armour, and loses his pursuer (but Janwar advances speed!). Janwar gets to s window in time to see the guard sprinting across the courtyard pursued by Aman. He’s almost at the gate when an arrow shoots through his thigh and he falls screaming. He’s not on the ground long before Aman lumbers up and brings down his axe, and then all is quiet.

With the guards dealt with, all that’s left to do is to clear out the rest of the guild’s inhabitants. Aman and Soraya are put on watch for people trying to escape, and then Janwar and the dead go from room to room, kicking in doors and murdering the sleeping scribes and merchants. As they murder one after the other, Janwar repeats a mantra over and over: Blood for Money. For Sorweel and Gabriel. Several minutes later, he finds himself sitting on a bed, a dead Red Blade at is feet. His hands are shaking, covered in her blood. The soft found of flesh being gnawed fills the building. Soraya and Aman come up to the second floor; there’s nobody left to watch out for. Aman looks pale, while Soraya’s noticing all the corpses, a look of distast on her face. “Looks like all of them. Are we hanging around?” Janwar stands up and pulls his helmet back on, and looks around. “We grab whatever looks valuable, and then we go.”

They move through the guild building, and find the Ambrosia store. With half-a-dozen jars and a bag of shards put away, they send the dead down into the sewers and bring in the recruits to help clear up. As they put the recruits to work dragging the bodies down into the sewers, so that the rats will disguise the risen dead’s bite marks, Janwar keeps watch for any dealing badly with the work, and with a shard word of command keeps them in line. With the bodies disposed of in the sewers and their stolen goods safely packed away, the enforcers of the Hand of Zarus make their way back through the dark city streets home.

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Session 6
Broken Blades

Players: Joe, Oliver, Chris V, Chris L

In the Ebon Boar’s HQ, Azam is left alone with four corpses. The next step in his plan is, of course, to reanimate them. After picking up his tools from the Guildhouse, he gets down to raising. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go well. Only one of four attempts works, and in the process he has to sic his successful creation on a rebellious one. He’s deciding that a new plan is needed, just as Farouk arrives. Once the situation’s been explained, Farouk decides they should get Mara in to deal with it, though he doesn’t name her. Azam’s suspicious of this ‘specialist’ and decides to hang around inconspicuously to get a look at them.

Back at the Guild, Duban has been spending the previous evening working on Ali, priest of the Stone Hands. He manages, through appeals to doctrine and ‘how things are done’, to convince Ali to turn on the Red Blades and support the Hand of Zarus on their counterstrike. He’s there to welcome Jafar from the Ebon Boars, who is somewhat less willing to engage in debate.

Farouk slips into the Desert Orchid through the tradesman’s entrance and makes his way to Mara’s room. She’s surprised to see him; she’s all armoured up and sharpening her spear, preparing to go on the hunt. Whatever’s been raiding Ambrosia storehouses has struck again, and the guilds are getting antsy. Farouk tells her a tale of dark goings-on at the Ebon Boars, and she agrees to investigate and deal with the problem. They travel back, and as she’s scattering salt around the building Farouk notices Azam blending into the crowds walking down the street. While Mara’s distracted stabbing zombies Farouk goes up to Azam and asks what he’s still doing there. Azam dodges the question, and heads off to the Southern Gate to lie in wait for Mukhtar. Farouk goes to check on how Mara’s doing. She’s fine, but he freaks out at the sight of her covered in blood and surrounded by dismembered corpses and has to run outside for a gulp of fresh air. She comes out and starts preparing to burn down the house to sanitise it. As they finish up, Farouk tells her what Najma saw under the desert gardens, and recommends she follow it up as a good lead on her earlier case.

Later in the day, the guildmembers not otherwise occupied by lurking over a gate or in the sewers go out to look for allies in the Obsidian Claws to help them with the attack. They fail the Circles test, unfortunately; it seems the head of the Obsidian Claws and the Red Blades have come to an agreement that rather than escalate into a guild war, the Red Blades will pay the Claws blood money for their dead and neither will seek more harm to the other. To seal the deal, the heads of the Obsidian Claws and the Red Blades have gone away for a party at Mukhtar’s desert retreat.

Meanwhile, the caravan has arrived at the Southern Gate laden high with alcohol, food, exotic drugs and hired escorts. Azam senses his opportunity, turns into a snake down a side alley, climbs up the stone gateway and drops down onto the caravan’s roof with perfect stealth. As the caravan sets off, he finds a comfortable place on the roof to hide.

It’s getting late and the time of the attack is fast approaching. Duban gathers all remaining members of the guild together for a great ritual to earn Zarus’ favour in the coming battle. Najma is unwilling to participate, and so heads off into the outskirts to try and find Great Jackals again. Her search is fruitless, however, even helped by Nikesh’s keen nose. It seems there are no jackals remaining in the area outside the city.

The ritual is still going on back at the guild, but Duban realises he’s misjudged how exhausted he was. He feels consciousness slipping away as he hurriedly brings the ritual to a close, but is unable to successfully entreat Zarus. He topples to the floor unconscious and all the lights in the room wink out. Farouk panics, grabs Duban, and drags him away out of the Guildhouse in the darkness.

Najma returns from her search to find all the lights out, and only the servants left. They look to her for guidance, fear in their eyes. Unsure what’s happened to the others, she locks the servants into the basement and hides in a side room upstairs with Nikesh on watch. She doesn’t have to wait long, as Nikesh soon warns her that he hears eight people approaching; three big, four light. There’s a crash of the front door being kicked in, and the sound of movement in the main hall. Najma waits tight, and soon a dark figure moves searching through her room. Nikesh tackles him to the ground, and Najma swiftly finishes him off. The fight is on.

Swiftly moving through the hallways of the 1st floor, she heads to the stairs down but meets one of the Red Blade’s fighters coming up. There’s a brief exchange; she scratches him, he refuses to back down and shouts for help, she runs him through. Then, as Nikesh shouts for help behind her, she turns and runs back up to his aid. He’s holding off another Red Blade, who Najma promptly stabs, but she doesn’t notice the one sneaking up behind her. He slips a garrote around her neck and starts choking her, but she’s able to throw him off, turn and stab him too. With only minor harm done, she heads down the stairs, where she can hear fighting still ongoing. Down in the hall, two surviving Stone Hands are facing off against the remaining Red Blade, although one looks like he’s yielding. As Najma enters the fight, the Red Blade decides to make a break for it. Nikesh charges him down, and only suffers a minor wound from his dagger before bringing him down. The Guildhouse is safe, and an exhausted Najma sends the Hands of Stone away with her thanks. The servants are let out, and set to work clearing up the bodies.

Out in the desert, the caravans have arrived at the oasis. Azam has managed to sustain his spell during the ride, and now sneaks up a nearby tree and down onto a balcony. Finding himself in a bedroom, he hides behind the pillows and waits. Several hours later, the sound of laughter and music has died down and someone enters the bedroom. Azam prepares to strike, but stops as he realises this isn’t Mukhtar of the Red Blades, but instead the head of the Obsidian Claws. Slipping down to the floor, he wriggles out of the room and across the hall to another bedroom, where Mukhtar and one of his girls are lying. The girl looks a little odd, but Azam isn’t paying much attention to her.

Climbing up the headboard and behind the pillows, Azam waits for Mukhtar to be distracted by the girl, and strikes his shoulder. Not waiting to watch, he then dashes to the other end of the bed and bites his toe. As Mukhtar thrashes and the girl looks around in distress for the snake, he lunges again for the hand dropping down to the floor, but misses. Realising he has little time left as the sound of footsteps approaches, he climbs up the headboard again and strikes right in the eye. The poison mixes with the flowing blood, and Mukhtar finally goes still. The other guests and the guards arrive in the room just in time for Azam to hiss an incantation and raise the merchant back from the dead. Using the horror of the living dead as a distraction, Azam then makes his escape, dropping out of the window onto the sand below. He’s far away and crawling through the sands to home by the time an awful, anguished wailing fills the oasis.

Duban, still unconscious and dumped outside the Desert Orchid by Farouk, has been taken inside and placed in his old bed. Still wracked by the failed ritual, his mind is further assailed by a series of images. He sees the sultan’s palace, even grander than it is now, but without any city surrounding it. He sees a figure of shadow slipping in a side door, passing rooms filled with monstrous and inconceivable creatures and emerging in a central chamber, and knows that this figure is Zarus. Squatting in the centre of the chamber, an enormous multi-headed, multi-tendriled entity squats, attended by a multitude of smaller creatures with the odd human servant scurrying by. Zarus bows, makes greetings in a language that Duban does not understand, and shares around food and drink that he produces from nowhere. Soon the entire palace is riotously drunk, and do not notice the great army of divine figures that forms around it. In one great movement they charge through the palace, killing all within. As they reach the throne room, Zarus turns to greet them and gestures at the now sleeping monstrosities, but the shining gods at the head of the army (one of whom Duban recognises as the Desert Rose’s patron) cut him down with the rest. The final thought is a feeling of millennia passing as a fragment in the desert, woken but a few months ago by the return of something ancient. At that, Duban wakes. Now he knows why he was chosen, but the revelation isn’t any comfort to him.

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Session 5
Hostile Takeovers

Players: Oliver, Peter, Joe

The session starts with a quick Duel of Wits. Azam wants to play it safe, turning or taking down the small guilds and guarding the Guildhouse. Janwar wants to strike hard at the Red Blades while they’re attacking the Guildhouse, risking in order to win big. Azam ends up winning, but accepts that if this goes wrong it’ll be his fault.

Janwar uses his circles to track down who’s been hired to take down the Hand of Zarus. With Azam persuading people to get over their fear of associating with the Hand, he finds that the Hands of Stone and the Ebon Boars have been hired to take them down along with the Red Blades. Additionally, there is a heightened guard presence on the streets – someone has apparently been breaking into many guild’s ambrosia stores. As he’s leaving… does he see Jamal round a corner? Nah.

Najima tries to circle up an architect who could get her plans of the sewers under the city. No luck; there are Hand and Eye guildsmen all over the more municipally important guilds, guarding Desert Orchid functionaries.

Azam tries to circle up the necromancer woman who he traded Jamal to. No such luck; she’s horribly mutilated in her cellar. Looks like she was trying to ritually reanimate a powerful revenant, but it went badly wrong. Azam grabs some of her books, and hires a bunch of layabouts to grab the choicest bits of her workshop and bring them back to his basement. He pays them with gold from the Dropping Ring. Fails the resources test, but luckily the fund is untaxable.

Najima tries to circle up rumours of the necromancer hunter. She finds that nobody really knows much about them; the previous one apparently died a few years ago (though the body were never found), and this one’s hunts are heralded by flames and things going weird in the local area.

It’s midday, and Janwar goes to meet his brother. He passes the great brute who guards his brother unloading casks of beer into the Crimson Bull; his brother broaches the cask, and pours them both a drink. As they try out this new brew (based on imported grains), Mehtab goes into more detail about the Red Blade’s plans. Mukhtar is planning on getting out of the city before any violence; he has an estate at an oasis out in the desert, and is already laying on provisions for a party. The party preparations will take at least a day, but the Hand will know the attack’s coming when Mukhtar’s caravan leaves the city. Mehtab says, though, that he needs something to pass up the chain to justify handing this information out. Janwar promptly agrees, and tells his brother that the white box is in the Guild’s basement, buried deep.

After lunch, Janwar heads out to Potter’s Field to try out his new recruits. He puts them through their paces, and picks out a good 8 or so that have potential. Four of them seem like they know how they handle themselves in a fight, too. He tells them he’ll meet them the next day for further training.

Back in the basement of the Guildhouse, Azam is poring through the old necromancer’s journals. It seems that Rashouk ben Shelah had been waging a shadow war against the ‘wielders of dark magics and servants of dark gods’. She had found that his defenses aren’t from any longstanding enchantments, but instead from bound entities that all have specific contracts. She’s been researching those contracts, and had found that the guard on his door between sundown and sunup could be bribed with silver.

That evening, the guild comes together to take down or subvert the small guilds. The plan is that with their priests captive, they’ll do what the Hand wants. Thus Azam, Najima, Nikesh, Janwar, Aman and Soraya make their way to the base of the Hands of Stone. Azam blends in with the crowds to get a good picture of their adversaries. It’s pretty modest; two big guys in leather aprons keeping watch, a small shrine, a communal living area and a few rooms. They send Aman and Azam to watch the back of the building, and take position at the front. Janwar knocks on the door to get their attention, and then Najima kicks it down and shouts for them to hit the ground, Nikesh joining in with a loud growl. Two of them immediately hit the ground, two stand dumbfounded, and a final one flees out the back. As Nikesh charges after the one fleeing, Janwar beats down the two standing drooling while Soraya covers the two on the floor with her bow. Najima ascertains that the guy tackled by Nikesh is their priest, and brings him inside to guarantee their surrender. In a few short exchanges, the fight is done; the Hands of Stone completely surrender and agree to turn on the Red Blades, and seem completely cowed by the dominant guild. Their priest, Ali, is taken back to the Guildhouse to be watched over by Duban.

Moving quickly on, the Guild find the headquarters of the Ebon Boars. This is a somewhat more professional establishment with walls, a gateguard, and a watcher on the roof. Azam tries to talk his way inside, to no avail. Then Najima comes up and tries to persuade the guard that Azam’s a wanted criminal, and they need to take him inside the Ebon Boar’s guildhouse to ensure he doesn’t escape. This convinces the guard well enough that he comes out onto the street, and so in a well-coordinated move Najima charges the guard as Soraya shoots at the watcher on the roof. There’s a brief fight in the courtyard, ending with Najima cutting the man down. Najima, Janwar and Aman form up in the courtyard, and bread down the door into the guildhouse.

There, two fighters and a priest are waiting for them at the end of a hallway. Najima tries to intimidate them into backing down, but their priest manages to keep them under control. There’s a brutal fight, involving lots of charging, wrestling, blocking and stabbing.

By the end there’s only one Ebon Boar alive, their priest. He surrenders to Najima, who puts him under her protection. As the others loot the house, she brings him back to the Guildhouse, although gives him time to say a few words to his god. He totally doesn’t curse the murderers of his guildmates. Oh no.

Janwar and his two enforcers make their way through the guildhouse, looking for interesting things to take home. They find a few small valuable trinkets, and two jars of Ambrosia. As they head off Azam stays behind, to conduct his vile necromancy on the dead Boars as part of a fiendish plan against the Blades.

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Session 4
Day of the Jackal

Players: Joe, Peter, Oliver, Chris L

The session starts with those PCs who weren’t at the last session dealing with the attack’s aftermath. Janwar reacts with anger to the loss of more of his people, and brings his two remaining soldiers together to talk policy. He announces to them that if it ever comes down to the Fingers or the rest of the Hand, they’re to put themselves first. His people come before the Guild.

It’s getting to the middle of the morning and the sand’s heating under the sun as a figure clad in chainmail strides down the street leading to the Guildhouse. The crowds are murmuring, pointing to the great jackal that pads alongside her and marks her as one of the Sultan’s elite bodyguards. This is Najima bint Haroun, and she’s come to the Hand looking for answers.

The Hand are interrupted from their breakfast/emergency meeting by a knocking at the door. Quickly Janwar takes position behind the door, and motions Soraya and Aman to cover the door. Farouk goes to the door, opens it a crack, and asks the armoured figure outside what she wants. There follows a tense conversation: she thinks they have the box, but Farouk denies everything. She’s stubborn and won’t back down, though, and as Janwar takes over talking duty Farouk runs downstairs and hides all the papers surrounding the white box under the clothes of the currently slumbering zombies.

Farouk comes back to the door, and says he’ll take Najima to the box. They go down the steps to the basement, followed by Janwar and his guards. As Farouk brings her into the basement, though, she slams the door behind her and bars it. As Aman grabs an axe and starts trying to break the door down, Najima investigates the box and presses Farouk for information. He knows nothing, though, ao she reopens the door using him as a human shield. It’s a tense beginning, to be sure, but after some negotiation they establish that they have a common interested: finding out what happened to the Sultan. She eventually tells them that the sorcerer Rashouk was responsible, conducting a ritual using the box on the eve of the equinox.

After that’s sorted and Nahjima is provisionally welcomed into the guild, everyone goes their separate ways looking for information:

  • Farouk goes to deal with his father; Najima’s jackal, Nikesh follows.
  • Najima looks for other bodyguards, fails. Finds none of them, and has to leave the bodyguard’s barracks quickly before the Hand and the Eye see her.
  • Azam looks for other necromancers, succeeds. Finds an Olde Curiosity Shoppe in the outer city with a necromancer’s workshop in the basement and a crazy witch. Is promised information on his master’s defences if he gives them a child to reanimate.
  • Janwar looks for replacement soldiers, succeeds. Finds some stevedores in the outer city looking for better work, and arranges to meet them for tryouts the next day.

After making his way to the building in the outer city where his father’s gang is based, Farouk manages to defeat his father pretty nicely in a DoW, drawing on the skills his father so disdained. He manages to get the guild involved in the shipment con as middlemen, although in the process, he lies that his brother is dead.

As Janwar heads back to the guild house, Jamal runs up with a message from his brother, Mehtab. He wants to talk to him at his bar that night, on a matter of some importance. Janwar continues on to the guildhouse, and gets the updated stock manifest from Farouk. He goes through the shipping manifests to judge their worth, but is unfortunately unfamiliar with goods of this quality, and over-estimates the value of the stuff at 40 shards.

That night, Najima goes looking for Jackals. Instead, while looking in one of the desert parks she finds the corpses of two jackals. Going down into the caves, she finds a whole bunch of smashed ambrosia pots, a scrap of the Sultan’s robes, and some drag marks going up to a solid wall. Before she can explore more, though, there’s a hissing from the side tunnels and a creature with a thousand serpent tendrils attacks! She fights it off, getting covered in ichor in the process, and escapes.

Azam sends Jamal to the creepy shop, with a message in symbology that Jamal is the intended sacrifice. Jamal is not seen again.

Janwar meets with his brother Mehtab in the Crimson Bull. Over a friendly tankard, Mehtab lays out the facts; the Red Blades have had their pride wounded, and are coming for the Hand of Zarus in force. He suggests that if Janwar takes his enforcers elsewhere for the night in question, he’d be recompensed generously. Janwar seems to agree, and leaves.

Janwar comes back to the guild, and immediately tells them what happened. They immediately go downstairs to talk about it, uncaring of Najima’s suspicion. This is the first time Farouk’s seen the walking dead, though, and as they shuffle about he screams and tries to run. Janwar pins him down, and with his Command gets him past the panic. Najima, upstairs, hears the muffled scream, and sends Nikesh to investigate.

Downstairs, the group debate their different positions through the night about what to do about the attack. No clear conclusion is found, but the conversation gets loud enough on delicate subjects for Nikesh to realise they’re talking about using the walking dead and necromancy, and tell Najima. Eventually the group goes upstairs and brings Najima into the conversation, but still reaches no conclusion.

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Session 3
Day of the Jackal

Players: Chris V, Chris L, Joe

The story picked up the next morning. As Duban’s preparing for the day, Jamal runs in and tells him there’s been a fight at the north-east gate. Something to do with the Obsidian Claws. Everyone gets their stuff together, and head out.

At the gate, there’s a bunch of dead Obsidian Claws next to a rank of camels, loaded for travel. Duban goes in to look at the bodies, Farouk tries to overhear gossip. and Fazzik gets high up and starts surveying the crowd.

Getting in close, Duban can tell that some of the bodies were stabbed in the back, and that some of the corpses are using weapons of a different mark to the others. The brothers are less lucky; Farouk can’t pick out any useful information from the chatter and Fazzik can’t pick out anyone paying particular attention to the investigators. The crowd shift away from the bodies, though, as a large squad of Hand and Eye heavies move in. As soon as their sergeant starts calling for witnesses, Duban goes up and tells them what he found out. They’re thankful, and tell him to drop by a guardhouse if he finds out anything more.

As Duban heads home, Fazzik notices someone break off from the crowd, blend in with another group and start following him. Duban makes his way home through the twisty back routes, and soon there’s no group for the stalker to blend in with. There’s a moment of uncertainty as both Fazzik and his quarry seem undecided what to do next. Then, in an instant, there’s an arrow where he used to be and he’s darting down a side alley.

A very quick range and cover follows. The guy breaks out knives and starts scrambling up to the rooftops, Fazzik edges round to get a line of sight on him, and Duban runs to the alleyway to get a glimpse of him and help out Fazzik. Fazzik wins the first volley easily, lines up the arrow, and launches a superb shot that pins the stalker to the wall and outright slays him.

There then follows a farcical sequence wherein Fazzik tries to get the body down from the wall, fails, Duban considers pulling him down, decides not to, Fazzik cuts the clothes off the corpse and rifles through his pockets, the corpse falls down of its own accord, and they stuff it in a barrel and roll it home. Over the course of this, they work out that he was a member of another tiny guild – the Ebon Boars.

While this was going on, Farouk was busy in his own way. Firstly, he went to seek the Obsidian Claws, but as he failed the Circles test they were all locked up in their guildhouse having an emergency meeting. Still, he wasn’t discouraged. With his comprehensive disguise kit and extensive wardrobe, he disguised himself as a prosperous merchant and went to seek an audience with Mukhtar, head of the Red Blades. At the gates, he presents himself as a trader in information who can tell them of the Obsidian Claws’s plans. A difficult falsehood test is passed, and he’s taken inside. This time, Mukhtar receives him in his office, which is plush and fancy. He greets Farouk with a handshake, exchanges pleasantries, and then they get down to business, haggling over the information.

Eventually they decide that in exchange for Farouk giving him information on the Claws, he will let him in to the Red Blade’s plans. Farouk makes up a very convincing lie that the Obsidian Claws were planning on going deep into the Elf hunting grounds, and strangely enough Mukhtar reveals that his guild were already expecting them to take that course of action! Farouk hides his surprise, though, and Mukhtar goes on to tell him of the Red Blade’s plans; to increase their hold on the city by welcoming smaller guilds into their fold and disposing of them if they don’t want to join. Soon, he says, they will move against the Obsidian Claws and gain wealth and glory. Their deal concluded, they shake hands and Farouk leaves.

Everyone meets up back at the guildhouse for lunch. There’s some discussion of what to do next, and the body is rolled down to the basement. Lunch is interrupted, though, by a voice calling to see if anyone’s in – it’s Mara ibn Maliq! Farouq quickly hides himself among the guards eating lunch, as Duban goes to talk to his sister.

He goes out into the courtyard and sees her curiously looking round at the house, a servant at her side carrying shopping. They warmly greet each other, but she’s soon inquiring about their investigation into the missing luxuries, as apparently the Orchid has a party planned. Unfortunately, there’s not much to report; the Hand knows that they were definitely offloaded from the rat’s boats, and never made it to the guild’s warehouses, but that’s about it. Mara looks disappointed, and reveals that she kinda has an ulterior motive; she thought this could be a good way to get Duban and Shari talking again. It’s clear that Duban’s rejection of the Desert Orchid hurt her too, and she wants him to try and make amends.

Duban’s too busy thinking about this to notice the momentary look of shock on Mara’s face as Farouk leans round a corner and waves. Through an extended sequence of nonverbal communication, he motions for her to come inside and talk. After some small talk with Duban, Mara excuses herself to go find the bathroom, and quickly seeks out Farouk. A brief, whispered discussion in the bathroom along the lines of “What are you doing here?!”, “What are you doing here?!”, “You’re in his Guild?!”, “You’re his sister?!” etc follows, and they resolve to meet up that night at Farouk’s secret shack. Mara makes her exit, though not before asking if anyone else can smell something rotting.

As Duban helps her and her servant carry their boxes back to the Desert Orchid, Farouk and Fazzik head off to the outer city to solve the mystery of the missing shipments. As they investigate, though, it becomes clear to them that only one group is big enough to have taken all these shipments and hidden them through the outer city; their father’s gang. Meanwhile, Duban is welcomed to the Desert Orchid, and manages to get a list of the missing provisions from the Orchid’s Maitre D.

Little else happens that evening; Farouk and Mara meet up and share a bottle of Mukhtar’s finest wine, and Fazzik scouts the outer city some more. In the morning, Duban gathers everyone together in the shrine, and performs a small ritual calling Zarus to bless Fazzik’s scouting efforts that day. It’s a great success, and as Fazzik’s eyes are covered in shadow he finds he can see other people and their relations to others more clearly (+1D to streetwise). This is a great help as he and Farouk go to find their father’s storehouses.

Working together, they eventually find a row of houses that they know will have their basements linked for storage. Guards posted in covert locations watching the street make it certain that this is the place. As the brothers watch, the shutters to the basement open, and a group of cloaked figures carrying boxes climb out. They load them onto a waiting cart, nod to the guards, and are off. Although they’re clearly guild members, the bothers decide getting the Orchid’s goods back are a higher priority. They hatch a plan; Fazzik goes to steal a cart (and succeeds), while Farouq bluffs the guards into thinking he’s back with the gang and that the Desert Orchid have paid up (ridiculously enough, he succeeds too). Soon, the cart’s loaded, and Farouq drives it off and goes to meet Duban. One of the guards goes to tell the boss about the deal, though.

Fazzik stays behind to see what happens, and soon sees a group of thugs marching down the street lead by his father, Jamil. There’s a brief, terse confrontation, and then quick as a flash Jamil is stabbing the guard in the gut. In the space of a few minutes, he’s got the guards carrying the crates from the basement up and off to numerous other storehouses. Jamil checks the rooftops with a quick glance, but fails to spot Fazzik. Then, he’s off.

At the Desert Orchid, the Maitre D is extremely grateful to receive the crates of supplies, and shows Duban up to his mother’s office. As he enters Shari looks up from her overcrowded desk, and gives him a calculating look. There follows a tense discussion; she makes it very clear that although the Desert Orchid is very grateful for the Hand of Zarus’ aid, she personally has in no way forgiven Duban for what she sees as his betrayal. She even hints that she doesn’t think Zarus is even a god worthy of respect. Still, she promises to let the other guilds know who got the Orchid’s supplies back for them.

It’s late at night at the guildhouse. Only Fazzik is in a position to notice when there’s a strange sound in the grounds, and he immediately sends Jamal to warn the others. He climbs down, and after some scouting finds one of the guild’s enforcers. He’s dead, his neck cut. Glancing quickly back at the guildhouse, he can just make out two shadowy figures going into the first and second floors. Fezzik quickly draws and looses an arrow, catching the one in the top floor.

(Meanwhile, Farouk sitting in his barricaded room hears an ‘Erk’ noise outside his room, and then silence.)

Fezzik quickly gathers the help of two of the guards, and battle is joined. I handled this with a range and cover, which I reckon was the right system as it focuses on who gets the drop on who. Not sure, though, if bows were appropriate for the situation. In future, I might go with melee and short-range weapons only. Fazzik and the guards sweep through the compound, putting arrows into one assassin after another. As they are driven off, Fazzik takes to the roof to try for one more shot on the final unwounded assassin. This proves to be incautious, however, and even as his arrow takes down the fleeing man another shot comes from a far rooftop, driving deep into Fazzik’s chest and delivering a mortal wound!

Fazzik spends the Persona to not just die, but urgently needs medical attention. Jamal drags him down to the shrine, and as Duban urgently gathers the guild together in prayer Farouk runs to circle up a surgeon. He finds one still up at this late hour, and cajoles him into racing back to the guild. Meanwhile, Duban is leading the guild in one of the most challenging prayers he’s ever tried: a miracle to halt Fazzik’s bleeding and save his life. Pulling on the will of the guild and the benediction of Zuban, he rolls an amazing 11 successes! The guild courtyard falls into a strange twilight as all its darkness is pulled into the shrine room, pouring into Fazzik. Nobody keeps their cool in the face of this terrifying sight, and Farouk’s surgeon flees screaming as the shadows envelop Fazzik in a cocoon of darkness. Finally, the ritual is done; not only is Fazzik’s mortal wound treated, it’s downgraded to a Traumatic. Even so, he’ll be out of it for at least 4 months.

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Session 2
Moldering Books, Fresh Bodies

Players: Chris V, Oliver, Joe, Peter

The session starts with Duban at the priest meeting. A coalition of the big guilds take the stage and assume control of the city in the interim, and try to rally people to their crisis effort. Duban volunteers the guild to investigate the arcane writings found in the Sultan’s quarters. A priest from the Visionary Conclave offers Duban a job, looking for clues in the writings. Finally, Mara asks him if he could look into the way the Desert Orchid hadn’t been getting the supplies they wanted.

Back at the Guild, a wake is being held for the dead. Azam’s already raised them, but they’re under instruction not to move. Janwar and the other enforcers give good speeches in remembrance of the dead, and there’s much quaffing. Once the party’s over (and Fezzik’s trailed the widow of one back to her home), Azam commands them to rise, demonstrating his power to the Guild.

A Duel of Wits followes, with Janwar wanting no more necromancy and Azam wanting the use of as much necromancy as he can. Eventually Duban joins in, occasionally adding religious advice to either side. Both sides get in good points, and Azam ends up winning with a major compromise. The end result: the zombies are staying, but Janwar has to be consulted before Azam raises any more of the Hand of Zarus. The debate done, Azam and Duban retire downstairs to study the White Box. It’s difficult; the carvings on it don’t match up to any known iconography, or sorcerous practice. With Duban’s knowledge of obscure religions and Azam’s magical lore, however, they come to a working hypothesis; the box may have been the centrepiece of a summoning ritual to bring down the avatar of a god. The god is damned old, almost unheard of: Tiamat.

Next morning, Azam, Fazzik and Duban go to the guildhouse of the Visionary Conclave, to pore through the Sultan’s writings, while Janwar and the guild’s urchin go to the docks to talk to the rats. Janwar circles up Sazzik, a roden barman on one of the floating barges. Sazzik informs him that, as far as he knows, the goods were unloaded off the barges with no problems.

There’s chaos at the Visionary Conclave as the guild members arrive. There are large piles of writings and books from the Sultan’s palace, being sorted and pored through by scholars of all types. While Duban volunteers to act as organisational support, Azam is assigned to the Sultan’s occult texts under the Sultan’s head sorcerer. Fazzik goes along to keep an eye out for trouble, but there’s a slight problem; the Sultan’s head sorcerer turns out to be Azam’s old master, Rashouk ibn Shelah. Thankfully, it’s been 18 years, and Azam notices him in time to blend in with the other scholars in the books at the back of the library. One passed inconspicuous test later, he’s reading through the books in front of him and keeping an eye out for dustier parts of the library. Indeed, he’s able to sneak to one of the closed cabinets at the back, and steal away some of the old spellbooks kept there. As for the Sultan’s books, all he can glean is an interest in illusions and long-distance projection.

It’s getting later in the day, and Janwar and the urchin are poking around the warehouses of the Desert Rose’s suppliers. They seem pretty empty, and a guard confirms that they haven’t had any new shipments for a while.

As Azam and Duban make their way home, their pockets filled with payment for helping out, Fazzik decides to trail Rashouk to see where he goes. Flitting across the rooftops, he follows him through the city streets and on to an imposing minaret standing free of other buildings. The sorcerer goes in, after making some waving motions. Fazzik, looking for further information, starts scaling the tower. It’s monumentally difficult; the tower’s sheer stone walls mean this is a Ob 6 test on B5 climbing! Still, Fezzik drops some fate on the test, and manages it against all odds. He finds some big windows looking into a large laboratory, and starts listening in. Rashouk’s there, burning incense and muttering an incantation, and Fazzik gets the feeling magic is being wrought. There’s a burst of greenish light, and then a wraithlike figure is standing in the circle. Rashouk and the figure start talking in low voices, but Fazzik can’t quite make out the words. There’s “…his location?”, “beyond my knowledge”, and “Tiamat”. Then, the spirit is dismissed, and Rashouk goes downstairs.

With the sorcerer gone, Fazzik does his best to break in. Another great roll beats the odds, and he’s able to sneak past any defences, grab a few trinkets off a bench, and get out of there. He makes his way home from the tower, and there the session ends.

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Session 1
Paid in Blood

So, I reckon I should probably start a log to keep things straight in my mind. Here goes.

PCs: Joe, Chris L, Chris V, Oliver, Peter

The session started with the PCs at the guildhouse, in the aftermath of the Equinox and the destruction of the Sultan’s Palace. The destruction took a particular form; a jagged crevice had opened up in the middle of the Sultan’s throne room and extending outwards, and dark, choking gas was issuing out from it.

As the Guild’s allotted Guy-With-Money, Duban, was away at a panic meeting with the other priests, the rest of the Guild decided to look for work. Farouk took to the streets, looking for some information and helped along with rumours Janwar sourced from one of his guards. The circles roll failed, unfortunately, and so I invoked the Enmity Clause >:D

Farouk got an audience with a wealthy merchant in the Red Blades, a mercenary guild higher up the food chain. After some haggling, the merchant gave the Hand a job; to silence the guilds investigating the crack underneath the Sultan’s Palace for them, in return for payment. Farouk grudgingly accepted.

The Hand showed little compunction about being hired to murder some guys, and packed off to the palace. Azam nominally stayed behind in his basement, but really turned into a snake and followed them there. At the palace, the guild found another Guild, the Obsidian Claws, already there and sending people down the crevice. While Farouk distracted one guard with his terrible stories, Janwar charged one guard into the pit while Fazzik sniped the audience of Farouk’s tales. Farouk… did not pass the resultant steel check.

As the guild enforcers secured the throne room, Azam snaked his way down into the pit. Through the thick smoke, he could see what appeared to be a subterranean temple, complete with murals, a large altar, and iron gratings on the floor that belched out the smoke. Also present: two Obsidian Claw guards, peering at the broken, dead body of another. “Aha!” thought Azam. “Dead flesh!”. It turned out that hypnotic swaying and sibilant hissing worked perfectly well for raising the dead, and soon screams were issuing up from the pit.

Trying to work out what the hell was going on down there, Janwar and Fezzik abseiled down, and were pretty surprised to come face to face with… the living dead. Two failed steel rolls later, Janwar was backing away as Fezzik put arrow after arrow into the zombie casually feasting on his colleague’s entrails (the surviving colleague having fled down one of the side passages). Eventually, the beast was put down (Bows are bloody brilliant), and Janwar brought some of his enforcers down to help out. They soon cleared out the last of the Obsidian Fangs, who were busy trying to work out how to open a large white box. Having put down the Claws, they set to searching the place. There were books lining the wall in some ancient tongue, and Azam did his best to draw the guild’s attention to them.

At the same time, Farouk was lounging in a bar outside the Red Blades, trying to scope out details of the fat merchant. Soon enough, the merchant came out, flanked by two bodyguards. They wended their way through the streets, with Farouk close behind, but as the merchant went into another, bigger guild he dispatched one bodyguard. Farouk was close enough to hear the instructions: “Go to the palace. Silence everyone.” Knowing time is crucial for the safety of his guild, Farouk runs to find the Obsidian Claws.

Back in the pit, the search for clues is interrupted by a warning shout from above. Leaving Fezzik to look after things down there, Janwar scrambled up the ropes to the throne room. He got there just in time to see his men and women forming up against a group of Red Blade assassins and thugs. With a scramble and a leap, he managed to get on the same side of the crevasse as his enforcers, and battle commenced. As the Hand’s soldiers killed and were killed by the Red Blades, Farouk was busy rounding up as many Obsidian Claws as he could, telling them the Red Blades were killing them at the Palace. His words soon caught the ear of the Obsidian Claw’s guildmaster, a towering man in plate with a boisterous temper, and soon a whole horde of Claws were marching on the Palace. In the Palace, a long and bloody battle was winding down; Janwar and the enforcers had managed to carve a path out, but lost two of his men on the way. Still, Obsidian reinforcements arrived, and soon crushed the Red Blade resistance.

And that, as they say, was that. Janwar dispatched the last assassin after suffering only a minor garrotting, the guild transported the box and their two dead enforcers back to the guildhouse, and the day ended at the Obsidian Claw’s wake for their dead men. Not a shred of guilt on our brave crew…

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