The Holy City of Ten Thousand Gods

Session 16
The Barrel of Laughs

Fazzik tried to trade the kidnappers an unconscious Azam in a barrel for Farouk, but when it’s clear they don’t have him a fight breaks out. They manage to corner Fazzik in part of the covered market and he takes a nasty wound from a throwing dagger (and drops his great bow), but manages to escape fleeing across the roof. Janwar binds his wounds, stopping the bleeding, and Duban gets him to a cheerful and skilled surgeon to treat the wound.

Azam wakes up in the cell previously occupied by Farouk, tied to a chair and gagged. When the elf comes in he manages to convince her that the Hand have a terrible demon bound as their archer-assassin, and their priest is a servant of dark powers. He convinces them he’ll help them banish the demon and kill the priest, but asks that they steal some of his books so that he can conduct the proper magical rituals.

Duban leads a service to Zarus, gathering all the Hand’s staff and servants together. He pulls down the power of Zarus to start destroying the cocoon around the Sultan, and begins carving the peripheral bits off. Then he dismisses the rest of the guild, sending them home. While bringing the Sultan up from the celler, he spots someone dropping down from the hole in the roof, but moves the guards to a defensive position.

Fazzik take a lookout position on the roof, and spots the thief running away over the roofs with a bag full of books. He tracks him to the kidnapping gang’s hideout, spotting Azam in the cell. He goes back to the hand and tells them about the hideout, and they move to attack it.
The thief comes back to the hideout, and drops the books he stole from the basement in a corner of Azam’s cells. Then the guards go back to playing cards.

After Aman fails to lever out the bars to the room Azam is kept in, a plan of action is formed – the Fingers will break down the main door to the hideout and charge in while Fazzik provides covering fire. This goes pretty well, although with his wounds, downgraded to a hunting bow and firing through the small cell window Fazzik is having trouble penetrating the guard’s armour. Soon the guards are backed up into Azam’s cell, fighting as defensively as they can but taking a few scrapes. They turn to look as Azam announces he’s found the right ritual, only to be sent cowering as he casts The Fear. The Fingers then hack them down.

The Hand poke around the hideout and don’t find much – a few empty cells, some dismembered human limbs (Fazzik is very relieved to see none look like Farouk), a small room with playing cards and booze. Duban is watching the proceedings from outside with a guard, but neither of them realise what’s happening in time to stop the elf grabbing him and putting a knife against his throat. The rest of the hand pile out into the street as she demands to be let go if they want the priest to survive, but they continue advancing on her as Fazzik draws a bead. She starts singing a low, discordant song that worms into people’s ears, filling their minds with horrid grief. Most of the Hand fight it off, but Duban is wracked with tears. Fighting past it, Fazzik lets off a shot, clipping the elf across the temple and interrupting her song. She shakes off the pain, bares her teeth and slices through Duban’s throat, throwing him at the Hand and running. The Hand split; Janwar and Azam try to treat Duban, stemming his bleeding, while Fazzik chases the elf through the streets. Eventually he outpaces her, finding a vantage point from rooftop as she runs through the street below, and nails her with a shot straight through the chest. As she bleeds out, he climbs down and demands to know where Farouk is, but all she manages to say is “…gone…”. Then she dies.

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Session 15
The Darkness Before the Dawn

Lack of time gets you a bullet-point recap :P

  • The Stone Hands are contacted and agree to dig a tunnel from the Desert Gardens to the Palace cellars. They’re given the excuse that Farouk needs to be able to get to the foreigners easily.
  • Duban goes to meet his mother, tries to convince her that she should get pissed at the House of Whispers.
  • Fazzik works out the calling card of the House’s assassinations – an arrow that whispers as it flies through the air. He makes one with a successful Fletcher roll.
  • Fazzik sneaks into the Desert Orchid, shoots Duban’s mother in the leg, runs away.
  • Farouk goes out into the City, to try and get an idea of how the general populace is doing. Fazzik shadows him, but loses sight of him temporarily; in that time, Farouk is pulled into a side alley and drugged into unconciousness. Archers on the roof drive Fazzik to take cover, and although he kills both handily it loses him the opportunity to find Farouk.
  • A group of a dozen guards wearing Desert Orchid livery turns up at the Hand’s door, demanding Duban. Janwar locks the gate and forms up for a fight, but in a disastrous combat they blast through his defenses, take down two of his people. He has no choice but to escape with his fighters.
  • The Orchid guards grab Duban, ignoring Azam’s nursemaid disguise. As they leave, they throw lanters through the windows, starting a spreading fire. Azam manages to put it out with a thick blanket, gives Zarus the baby to look after, and heads after the guards to attempt a rescue.
  • Janwar tries to find allies in the Obsidian Claws, but fails his circles roll. It turns out they’ve heard the Hand attacked the Desert Orchid and Shari ibn Maliq, people they are now allies with. Only their lack of weaponry stops their superior numbers from crushing Janwar in the ensuing bar brawl, but his tactical retreat and jabbing spear help him avoid injury. He goes back to where the Fingers are hiding to work out what to do next.
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Session 14
Planning for the End

Firstly, there is a trait vote.

Azam gets [Char] Child-Catcher and [C-O for Falsehood] “It was a terrible accident”. Farouk gets [Dt] Linguist and [C-O for Soothing Platitudes, Falsehood and Seduction] Glib. Duban gets [C-O for Persuasion and Oratory] Charismatic. Fazzik gets [Dt] The Killer.

Second, session!

Short summary of events:

  • The foreigners have holed up in one of the wings of the palace after the last night’s attack. Farouk meets them, finds out they want the box and that they are suspicious about the gods. He fobs them off saying the gods are desert mystics, and as he leaves he convinces the Hand and Eye to set up barricades for the foreigner’s protection. He has made sure that this looks threatening to the newcomers.
  • Representatives from the House of Whispers offered an alliance, to deal with the conspiracy that has plunged the city into chaos. They are somewhat rebuffed.
  • PCs researched a method by which a god could subsume another, gaining a lot of their power. This requires the presence and consent of priests of both gods.
  • PCs found out it’s actually impossible to excommunicate a priest, so most priests are killed or exiled if they do bad things.
  • PCs worked out that the Marble Box could be used to completely summon Tiamat on the solstice, when the city gets more weird.
  • PCs needed to get the box into the palace, to perform the ritual.
  • PCs wanted to set the three big guilds at each other’s throats to make the above easier, I think. To do this you considered sneaking into all their vaults and stealing their ambrosia.
  • The PCs also found out that the Hand and the Eye and the Desert Orchid were planning on declaring martial law in the run-up to the solstice, due to the violence against the foreigners and the growing ambrosia shortage.
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Session 13
Retribution

Players: Joe, Chris L, Oliver

Azam tries to find the last book he needs. Early the next morning, he poses as a scholar and knocks on the door of the guild of Rabah ibn Falar, but a sleepy guildman tells him Rabah’s out. Azam goes back to the Hand and tells Fazzik, who offers to help out. Fazzik scopes out the building and sneaks in, grabbing the book and a few gems but inadvisably releasing a sand-demon that lunges for him. He flees, losing the demon as it feasts on a guard.

Farouk decides that the Herald of Tiamat the foreign priestess spoke of needs to be found and stopped. He brings in his criminal contacts, his friends in the city, and the gossipers on the street to try and find any strange cults that may have cropped up recently. Thus he finds himself in one of the covered markets, standing in front of a ruined old temple that the market-goers are giving a wide berth.

He enters the temple, seeing that it’s packed full of the deranged and the homeless. A robed figure stands on a makeshift stage ranting, and Farouk blends in to get closer. The figure, the Herald, is ranting that the time has come for the city’s true rules to rise up, to come back in glory at the head of an army of followers. He exhorts those present to go out into the city, and find the divine relic of the goddess, a white marble box, and there’s something supernatural in his words. Farouk fails to resist it, and somehow begins to feel that this request is perfectly reasonable.

Azam now has all the information he needs, and sets about buying things. He wants:

  • An infant, as an alarm spirit will not make an alarm in its presence.
  • Silver, to pay the watchman at the front door between sunset and sunrise.
  • Oil, to immerse anything he’s stealing that a tracking spirit is watching over.
  • A way to scratch out the symbol of a warrior-spirit on the room it guards.
  • Knowledge of the nearest running water near the tower, to cross and stop the assault of a vengeance spirit.

He sets about buying the more mundane things, but the silver and the infant will require more work. Azam heads to the outer city, to find the rest of the items needed. First, he visits the augur who was identifying his items, because he knows he at least has a silver breastplate there. The augur unfortunately didn’t find much else of interest, beside a skullcap that improves your night-sight and some items that are supernaturally durable.

Farouk has come back to the guildhouse, and is poking around looking for the box. Fazzik is bemused, wondering when this plan turns into a good idea, but helps him out. Farouk digs up the box and dumps it on the cart to take it to the market, but is happy to let Fazzik come along and kill the herald. Farouk isn’t quite sure how logical this is, but there you go. They pull the cart to the market, and Farouk heads in to fetch the herald and his minions while Fazzik takes up position on the roof.

The herald is exultant, and he and his minions sweep out of their makeshift temple. He’s directing his follows to bring the box to him and stepping into the street to oversee them when an arrow goes straight through his head. He slumps to the floor among his screaming followers, but even as he falls his robes start roiling and billowing. Fazzik climbs quickly down to confirm his kill, and finds just a pile of steaming robes – a tunnel has been burnt into the street below, only a foot wide. Farouk feels his mind clearing, and wonders why he considered it such a reasonable suggestion.

Then, there’s the baby. Azam skulks through the poor district, waiting for someone to leave their baby alone. After 10 minutes or so, he sees a mother pop out to buy some food leaving a baby back in the house, and takes her face with Mask. He then nips in, grabs the baby, and makes his Child-Rearing roll to keep it quiet. He then heads back to the guild. He manages to convince the rest of the guild that he found it abandoned, and decided that the guild could take care of it. Even when Farouk runs into the mother frantically looking for the baby, Azam is able to convince them that the Hand can produce a far better life for the child than the mother could, and promises to make sure it’s raised properly.

Finally, Azam is prepared to break into his master’s tower. All the preparations work absolutely fine, except when he momentarily forgets the thing with the warrior-spirit’s symbol. He bursts into the upper room, and finds his master with a gaping head wound and covered in strange growths. They both start casting, but Azam gets the drop and paralyses him. He grabs the staff and prepares to beat him to death with it, but Rashouk’s Turn Aside the Blade stops that. Azam, ever-inventive, breaks open a lamp and douses the entire study in lamp oil, and sets it alight as he runs away. Fazzik hears the screams and comes in to help, but even the protective charms Farouk got from Mara cannot protect him from the spirits. Deafened by the alarm-spirit, laboring under incredible heat, and coughing and blinded by one of Mara’s powder bombs, he’s only saved by Azam grabbing him and pulling him out of there.

Leaving the burning tower behind them, they head back to the Guild. There is still the matter of the people on the barge, and the translation Farouk has promised the Hand and the Eye he’ll do. He tries to put together a guide to the language with subtle flaws in it to teach to the others, but his language skills are more instinctual than anything else and it’s beyond him. Although he was just planning to skip the next day, Fazzik decides to stage a distraction and ensure that negotiations aren’t going to continue. To do this, he decides to set the barge on fire. He skulks along the rooftops across the river and opens fire, landing a burning arrow on the barge. The soldiers are panicked, but the officer returns fire, and a tense battle ensues. He kills two of the foreigners even when he fails to set the barge on fire, and flees before they get a look at him.

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Session 12
Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go

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

  • Word comes that the Red Blade’s mining camp was attacked last night.
  • Duban and Farouk head off to the barge, to see what’s up.
  • Azam, Fazzik and Janwar head off to the mine. They take Aman and Soraya with them.
  • The Sultan’s Palace is full of big guild scholars and officials trying to work things out. Armed line of foreigners guarding the boat, people not sure what to do.
  • Farouk tries to remember some of the tales about the people over the mountains, in particular their language. Thinks their language sounds like birds, so he imitates some.
  • It gets attention, but then he insults them somehow and almost gets shot. Duban stops Taladiq people from intefering, though, and more people emerge from the barge and beckon Farouk over.
  • They begin trying to open a dialogue, taking Farouk and Duban onto the barge.
  • At the desert garden mine, the Hand runs into guards from the Red Blades. They’re wounded, bandaged but still armed. They give the Hand details of what happened. They were attacked from underground, by creatures that took the shape of men but exploded into tentacles and snakes.
  • Janwar and Azam look at their wounds, treating them. Janwar reckons they’re using some kind of poison, and Azam thinks a demon may be to blame.
  • The Hand go to the Hands of Stone’s shack, to look at diagrams of the mine. On the way, they see Thapsis walking with some Red Blades, giving encouragement to the various guards around. Fazzik bristles.
  • In the shack, a Stone Hands clerk talks them through the cave system, describing the route to the lowest tunnel where the attack happened. The caves go in a succession of expanding chambers, with paths winding downwards between them.
  • The Hand grab lanterns and make their way down. At the bottom, they find a collapsed tunnel with strange goop on the walls. There’s a fresh tunnel dug off to the side.
  • Azam tastes the mucous, gets a numb mouth for his troubles.
  • Down the side tunnel, Najma and 2 Red Blades are guarding some Stone Hands digging away. Najma briefs the party: something came out of the collapsed tunnel, collapsed it, and several miners were lost. They’ve been trying to dig around the collapse and break through, to see what caused it.
  • The Hand wait for the miners to break through. Azam tries to prepare a spell to turn into a snake so he can sneak in, but fails to properly hold it.
  • The wall is broken through, revealing a 2-meter wide diameter tunnel slick with slime, going down into the depths.
  • Fazzik goes ahead to sneak around and see what he can see. His aura of shadows cloaks him, enabling him to get past any observers.
  • Fazzik makes his way down the slick tunnels to a great chamber. Something large and slithering lurks there, sleeping in the center of the chamber. Small forms are scattered around it, like bundles of snakes. In one corner, there is a pile of ambrosia jars, unbroken.
  • Fazzik drives pitons into the slope up to the tunnel, to allow for quick escape. He then climbs back up, and relays what he’s seen.
  • The group decide they need to take down this creature. They all make their way down the tunnel to the lair, and form up. Fazzik and Soraya will snipe from the ledge, with Aman guarding. Janwar, Najma, Nikesh and the two Red Blades will engage the creature directly, using a firebomb made from Janwar’s hair-oil. Everyone gets into position without disturbing the monster’s rest. Azam hides in the tunnel.
  • Fazzik and Soraya launch a volley of arrows, waking the creature and beginning the fight. The arrows drive deep into one great tentacle, thoroughly disabling it.
  • The creature stirs to life, and so do the bundles, forming into man-shaped figures of writhing tentacles. Janwar and Najma get stuck in, cutting into the remaining great tentacle and keeping it busy. Janwar adopts a defensive style, weathering blow after blow as his shield cracks and warps from the strain.
  • The lesser minions run to try and take down the archers. Aman stands in their way, and they’re unable to get past his great axe.
  • Soraya and Farouk loose another volley, taking down one of the tentacle-men and driving another arrow deep into the great beast at the centre. Janwar and Najma press the assault, cutting viciously into it and bringing it down. The fire is lit, and spreads quickly across the chamber floor. Numberless things squirm in the jelly coating the walls, and start flowing towards tunnels away from here.
  • Aman does his best to hold back the remaining creature but it’s too quick and overwhelms him, covering him in a writhing mass of squirming tendrils. Fazzik drops his bow and pulls it off Aman, but it’s already given Aman enough poison to render him unconscious.
  • As Soraya draws a blade and Janwar charges up to help, Fazzik tries to wrestle the creature and fails. His guard slips for but a moment, but a tendril snaps out and bites deep. Poison courses in, dropping him to the ground.
  • Janwar and Soraya cut away the creature before it can do further damage, and the battle is won.
  • The ambrosia jars are divided up between the three guilds. Nikesh starts sniffing around the chamber, and then tries to dig underneath the great carcass of the beast.
  • Thinking this might be important, people join forces to push the creature away. It was squatting in an indentation on the floor, and at the bottom a translucent oval can be seen in the slime. A shadowy humanoid form can be seen within.
  • The group dig up the thick, gelatinous oval and carry it out, and as they leave they send down barrels of oil to set the place afire.
  • Back on the barge, a few hours have been spent building up a rapport with the foreigner’s translator, a man named Nik’Tal’Canti.
  • They have come to the city because they saw it go from a great temple to their goddess to a sprawling city overnight, and have come down the river to find their goddess’ high priest and get answers.
  • The conversation is disrupted by the sound of screaming and wailing from within the barge.
  • The interpreter goes to sees what’s up, leaving Duban and Farouk alone in the room with the big armoured guy. He’s not very talkative.
  • Nik’Tal’Canti comes back in, very agitated. He motions for the two of them to follow, and urgently tells them that their priestess has had a vision. He warns them she’s quite, quite insane, but as his cousin and their priestess she is tolerated.
  • They enter a smoky, incense-filled room, where a heavily pregnant woman is lying on a bed.
  • As they enter, she struggles to her feet and starts speaking at an escalating volume, gesticulating and shrieking. Nik frantically translates while holding her back: the goddess has awoken, the goddess has suffered great loss, her priest has betrayed her and she has chosen a new herald. As Nik tries to calm her down, Duban and Farouk are escorted off the barge.
  • The Hand meet back at the guildhouse, and confirm the figure trapped in the ovoid is the sultan. They sit down to ponder their next move…
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Session 11
Living on a Prayer

Players: Chris V, Peter, Oliver

The session begins as the last one ended, with Farouk carrying Mara to the shrine. At the sight of his sister’s body, Duban is filled with shock and horror, and demands to know why she’s dead. Farouk dodges the question, and instead begs Duban to try and get Zarus’ aid in bringing her back. Duban, shaken, agrees, and sends Farouk out to gather as many guild members as he can to help the ritual. Fazzik joins Duban in the shrine, deep in prayer for the resurrection of Jamal.

Janwar and Soraya have been walking in a leisurely fashion from their boat back to the guildhouse, relaxed and exotically perfumed after two weeks of rest in Ratport. That calmness fades quickly, however, when they enter the guild compound to find it in chaos. They quickly rearm and question the other guards about what has happened, and what steps need to be taken. Janwar places guards on every entrance into the Guildhouse and two on the walls, and then heads inside to get answers from the rest of the Hand.

Azam does not share his companion’s desire for Jamal’s resurrection, afraid that if Jamal is resurrected he will indict the necromancer who sent him to his death. He considers doing horrible things to the rest of the guild, but decides he’d need a lot more force to take the rest of the guild on. He goes out into the city, desperately searching for signs to lead him to the death art masters that lurk within the city, but is unable to find them in so short a time. Making new plans, he returns to the guildhouse and cleans up his basement.

Duban has finished his preparations and all the guild aside from Azam assemble in the shrine. He has constructed an exhausting ritual stretching all the way from midnight to dawn, mimicking the journey from death to life he hopes to create. There is praying, singing, shedding of blood, and exhortations for aid. Duban brings the worship together and tries to bring down Zarus’ power, but falls short (9 successes vs ob 10). The shadows fade in the light of dawn, revealing the two bodies perfectly preserved with fine stitching. The hideous twisting of Jamal’s body has been undone, and Zarus tells Duban that this was as much as he could do; the bodies will not rot, and their spirits are still kept in them, able to perceive the world around but as at peace as spirits can be.

The congregation disconsolately files out, but Duban stays behind to spend some more time with Jamal and Mara. Physically and emotionally drained, he apologises to the two for not being able to do enough, and promises to try and find some way to bring them back. He falls asleep next to the two of them, in one of the shrine’s alcoves.

Azam has weighed up the power that the death art has brought him against the sacrifices he has had to make, and found it wanting. Deciding to denounce it once and for all, he collects up all his death art tools and texts and, disguised, throws them in the river. As they water carries them away he heads back to the guild, hoping for more harmony with his guildmates in the future.

The next morning, Duban travels to the Desert Orchid and tells his mother of the fate that befell his sister. She’s devastated, and rather rightfully blames him and his guild, asking how much more he plans on taking from their family. She also blames ‘that little weasel’ who was obviously a bad influence. She bitterly asks him to leave, unless he has anything more he needs from her. As Duban leaves, word spreads through the servants of the guild, and he is surrounded by the sound of grief.

That evening, Duban’s sleep is troubled. He sees the city as from above, lights glittering in the darkness. Then he sees it as from far away, but the city is now as a giant temple to something old. The view is now framed by a mountain pass, as a boat travels towards the city. Suddenly the original view is restored, the temple disappearing. The boat stops, is unloaded of great jars, and loaded with armed people in strange garb. The boat sails on.

A few days pass. Duban has been busy down in the city’s docks, cultivating contacts among the workers there. Leveraging his reputation as one of the city’s priests, he gets people to agree to send him word if any strange ships arrive. Meanwhile, Azam has decided to resume the plan to unravel his master’s defenses, and begins plotting how to read the books belonging to the next mage on the list: Afira the Bright.

Azam disguises himself with Mask, and he, Duban and Janwar go to meet Afira, pretending to be a small group of scholars called the Brotherhood of the Eternal Sands. They eventually find her reading books at a bar, and try to persuade her to let them read some of her books. There’s some haggling and attempts to establish how much the other knows about the subject in question, and eventually they agree to pay a deposit on every book of hers they want to read. Together they scrape together the shards she asked for, and so she allows them temporary access to her library.

From a bestiary of desert spirits Azam gets clues to spirit’s clauses; an alarm spirit won’t cry out in the presence of a newborn, a warrior spirit needs its symbol on the wall of the room it protects, and a tracking spirit will be mollified if someone breaks one of their own fingers in its presence. From a holy text, Azam also learns a little about the spirits of the sanctified dead: they are unwilling to be raised from their peace, but it’s possible to summon them to get information or minor social services.

Finally, Duban gets a runner from the docks. A barge has moored right next to the Sultan’s palace, coming down from the mountains. It’s of the style of the ambrosia barges, but it’s full of armed people and no-one knows what to do.

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Session 10
Death and Rebirth

Players: Chris L, Oliver, Joe

We start with Fazzik on the hunt for suitable orphans as they’re a vital part in the plan to get Jamal back. He looks out for a place they tend to gather, and then makes his way there picking up sweets on the way. His offer of candies from the shadows does little to entice his chosen orphan, however, and soon he’s running from three of the older ones. Still, he manages to draw one away from the others and take him down with a shot to the leg. The youth bleeds out, and Fazzik stuffs him in a barrel and takes him back to the guild.

Meanwhile, Farouk is continuing his campaign of dissent and tries to convert the roden outside the city to his way of view, reasoning that they’re the minority least privileged in the current status quo. His words fail to sway them, however, and the mood of the crowd is turning bad. A large, grey-furred roden takes him aside and explains that the current situation is tense, and his message is only going to make things worse. He is asked in firm tones not to try his preaching again here.

Over the past few days the Hand has gathered quite a collection of things with possible magical traits, but no-one in the guild has any idea what they do. Rather than have them collecting dust in the corner, Azam takes the box to a mystic of middling talent in the outer city who makes a living from identify this sort of thing. The cost is somewhat pricey, but Azam manages to haggle him down and pay him with some of his endless supply of gold rings.

After paying off the enchanter, Azam is feeling somewhat short on money. Wanting a new paying gig, he decides to see if a faith healer to the wealthy he ran into many years ago is still running his cons. Dressed up in finery, he travels through the higher-class bars of the city until he sees Barudi the healer in a corner. They get to talking and even though Barudi obviously doesn’t remember Azam, Azam manages to charm him into agreeing that Azam has certain skills that could be helpful in his business; the ability to provide painless and easy deaths for people whose time has come. Business concluded, Azam goes back to the guild to prepare for the ritual.

Fresh from rejection in the outer city Farouk heads to the Desert Orchid in disguise, to hash out a plan with Mara and try and disrupt the ritual. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have much in the way of backup to call on, and so they’ll have to make do. They go to one of her caches and she pulls out an array of different tools and weapons for fighting the undead, and she asks Farouk to try and hide them in the guildhouse if it comes to a battle and she needs to resupply. Farouk goes back to the guild to keep an eye on the ritual, and Mara goes to try and find some last-ditch allies.

Fazzik fetches Jamal from the sewers, and after disguising him with a cloak thrown over his smoldering shoulders brings him into the Guild. By this point Farouk has finished hiding the various supplies around the guildhouse, and he’s realised the plan is much more likely to work if he can watch the ritual and call in Mara when it’s time. Azam and Fazzik are resistant to his involvement, however; Azam thinks he could disrupt the ritual and doom them all, while Fazzik just worries about his safety. They move to a duel of wits and both sides make good points, Azam highlighting Farouk’s lack of relevant skills and Farouk pointing out how Azam was allowing Fazzik to watch. The duel of wits ends with a double-KO, so he and Azam agree that he can observe the ritual, but only from the top of the basement stairs.

The Ritual begins. Azam poisons Janwar’s body, and extracts the soul inside delicately. As he’s reanimating the body of the second orphan, Farouk slips out. Looking for a way to interrupt the ritual, the first likely thing he sees is one of the guards standing out in the grounds. He tries to convince them there’s something bad happening in the basement, but they firmly tell him that they have been warned by Azam not to go down there under any circumstances. Not deterred, Farouk leaves the compound to find the alley Mara’s hiding in.

They confer in whispers. She’s been unable to find any support; much of the city cowers in fear of the supernatural, and people in the smaller guilds have some trepidation about interfering with the Hand. Together they decide they have to act now to have any chance of stopping the ritual, and so they split up. Farouk dashes to one entrance and puts on a great performance, drawing the attention of all the guards with mad rantings about the stars aligning and giving Mara a chance to slip in.

Down in the basement, Azam’s preparation is paying off; he’s forging ahead with the ritual and is on track to complete long before he predicted. Just as he’s placing the possessing soul into its new body, however, something flies into the room and explodes, filling the air with a choking cloud. Eyes streaming, Fazzik peers through the fog and is able to see a figure running down stairs towards them with a weapon extended. He quickly brings up his bow and fires off a shot, hitting them straight in the shoulder and knocking them off their feet.

Azam commands his zombies to protect him, but they seem sluggish and loath to move. Quickly he picks up a knife and goes over to finish off the attacker, but Fazzik has realised who it is and grabs his arm to stop him. Azam knows full well this is his nemesis, however, and will not be dissuasion. With a glance at Fazzik he paralyses him with sorcery, and then drives his dagger deep into her heart.

A flame light up the smoke in the cellar and a voice speaks out, obviously that of the possessing spirit. It thanks them for its new body, but expresses disappointment that they killed Mara. It insinuates she was possessed too, by one of its relatives. It bids them goodbye and disappears in a pillar of flame that cuts a hole through the ceiling. The pillar brings the guards running, but in the short time before they arrive Azam tries to convince Fazzik that it was for the best; she knew who he was, and could have harmed the guild.

Farouk comes in with the guards, and despite Fazzik’s best efforts to soften the blow through deception Farouk sees through his lies and works out what’s happened. He doesn’t press the others, too busy foisting blame for letting her in to the guard who refused to help him earlier. But as soon as the blame has been shifted away from him he snatches up Mara’s body, carrying her up to Duban’s door in the hope that he can do something to save her…

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Session 9
Information Gathering

Players: Chris L, Joe, Oliver

The next day, Fazzik goes looking for a place the elf and Jamal might be lurking. Reasoning that elves are likely to live in a place where they can see the horizon, he starts looking for appropriate high places. There’s a tower in the centre that he reasons will give good views of the district the Hand’s based in, and as the Guild who own it have fallen on hard times since building it the highest floors are uninhabited. As he sets to climbing, his wound is still holding him back; there’s parts where he almost falls, and catching himself sprains his arm. By the time he gets to the top, hours have passed, and though he checks through the upper floors of the tower he doesn’t find any sign of habitation. Still, he’s able to get a good look of the city from here and a better idea of how the towers are laid out than any map could give. He also works out which guilds he might go to in order to resupply his assassination tools, although they require you to be introduced by an existing customer before they’ll do business with you.

The other members of the guild have also been hard at work tracing the source of the murders. Azam hits upon the idea of questioning the city’s cadaver collectors to see if they’ve seen any trends, and so circles up Thulsa the Butcher. It turns out there are dodgy markets in the city, where as you go deeper inside the services provided get less and less legal and wholesome. Partway into this market is Thulsa’s place, a butcher’s specializing in ‘special’ meats.

Azam disguises himself, trying out his mask spell again to get the practice and to be unrecognisable. The spell fails, however, and he’s left looking completely ordinary. So ordinary, in fact, that illicit businessmen are likely to find it suspicious. He heads deep into the market to the butchery, and enters to the sound of a cleaver thwacking into meat. Thulsa, a broad, greasy man in a bloodstained apron, is carving up a carcass of indeterminate origin. On seeing a customer, his eyes narrow. Azam establishes himself as a connoisseur of special meats, but Thulsa isn’t convinced and demands he eat a slice of the meat first before they talk further. Azam willingly obliges, and Thulsa visibly relaxes. Thulsa’s worried he has some new competition in town, what with all the bodies turning up partly eaten and partly butchered. He willingly gives Azam a list of locations the bodies have been turning up, in return for promises of future business.

Armed with this information, Azam heads home and drags out a map of the City. Fazzik and Farouk come by, and together they look through the information they have. After a bit of pondering, a pattern emerges; the murders have happened in regions within easy access of the high towers, but also easy access of the underground water network. It’s in places where the two overlap that the most deaths have occurred.

Sleuthing done for now, the guild decide to pursue the matter of the sorcerer’s defences. Azam has received a list of the buyers at the book auction the Visionary Conclave had a few months back, and has worked out the three mages who have the books he want: Afira the Bright, Hakim the Wise, and Rabah ibn Falar. Rabah’s already met Azam, so they decide to investigate Hakim first. When casing a place for burglary, though, you don’t want to be recognised, so the Hand go disguised as peasant necromancer-hunters, drawing on Farouk’s knowledge of hunter symbols to paint themselves as a trio of outlanders come into the city to spread word of visions of doom.

So, all dressed up, the three head to Hakim’s guild. Although they don’t have an appointment, they manage to convince Hakim that they’ll be interesting people to talk to, and his servant leads them through the guildhouse to his room. Fazzik and Azam look round for security features and arcane wards, but don’t see anything beyond the usual. They’re shown into a grand study, three walls covered in bookshelves and the fourth wall opening up to a balcony. Hakim is sitting reading on the balcony, and looks up as the guild enters. Fazzik takes the lead, regaling Hakim with stories of terrible omens seen in dead corpses. Hakim ponders his stories and sends Azam to fetch him a particular book, giving Azam ample time to look for the book they’re after. He soon sees it, and nods in its direction when Farouk is looking. Farouk swiftly grabs it and is about to leave when Hakim notices the book disappearing into his cloak. The old man has obviously gathered some experience over his life, and immediately starts incanting a spell. Fazzik rushes to pin him while Farouk flees, but quick as a flash shards of stone break off from the balcony’s rail and shoot into Farouk’s side dealing him a Midi wound. As Hakim is distracted by casting Fazzik manages to overpower him and pushes him over the balcony rail to fall two stories to the courtyard below.

As Farouk falls to the ground in pain, Azam starts shoving every book and trinket of note into a sack and Fazzik puts an arrow into Hakim to finish him off. Quickly Fazzik pulls Farouk to his feet and the guild stealthily make their exit. They shed their disguises and Fazzik takes Farouk to the Guildhouse while Azam looks for a surgeon to help him. He finds one, but he’s crooked and likely to inform on them in the future. Still, he sets to work on Farouk’s wound, extracting shards of stone and patching him up. He’ll be fully healed in 5 or 6 weeks.

That night, Fazzik is keeping watch over the Guildhouse from the roof of a neighboring building. He takes his eyes off it for just a short time, and when he looks back there are odd markings on the walls. He climbs down to street level to take a closer look, and realises the markings are hand prints, burned into the wall. A quick glance around locates a trail leading away from the building. He ducks into the Guild to pick up support from Azam, in the form of two undead, and then heads out to follow the trail.

He follows the trail through twisting backstreets, past a cooling body and crossing paths with a guard patrol (and running away as fast as he can). Eventually his search takes him to a drain culvert, and so he ducks inside followed by his posthumous allies. They travel down the cramped tunnel, water up to their knees, and as they go the sound of chewing can be heard getting louder. The undead stir, scenting dead flesh, but Fazzik holds them back and scouts ahead. Peering round a corner, he can see Jamal hunched over a body, tearing out handfuls of flesh and chewing them. Fazzik creeps closer and starts smelling that odd, burning scent in the air as the ripples around Jamal start forming odd symbols, whorls and patterns. He’s close enough to feel the heat radiating off the creature, but steels himself and calls to Jamal.

Jamal whips round but Fazzik’s quick enough to jump away from the slicing claws. Startled, the child appears to be on the back foot, having trouble recognising Fazzik or knowing what to do. He wants to come back to the guild, it seems, but something’s stopping him. Fazzik is gradually coaxing him into conversation when there’s a sudden change; fire lights in his eyes and when he speaks there’s another, deeper voice underneath. This new conciousness is a lot more sure of itself and intelligent, and talks quite reasonably with Fazzik about the issue of its creation, its escape from the one who called it up, and its hunt to find a necromancer to place its soul in a more suitable vessel. To this end it has partnered with the elf, Elisandre, but it has no particular loyalty to her. It cannot say what manner of creature it is, but scratches a symbol on the wall that it was referred to as long ago. It gives its demands clearly to Fazzik; if they find another body to move it into, it will let them have its current one and give them no further trouble.

As Jamal turns back to the corpse and resumes eating Fazzik gets the feeling the conversation is done. He makes his way back to the guildhouse and tells Azam of his conversation, and notes down the symbol for him. Azam ponders the matter some and spends the next few hours poring through his notes and books to see whether the procedure the spirit demanded is at all possible. After some time he works out what needs to be done; Jamal’s body and another that’s very similar in age and size need to be prepared as if he was raising them into living death through the ritual method, and then he must bind the creature’s soul to the second body as it moves out of Jamal’s.

Meanwhile, Farouk has slipped out of the guild to visit his girlfriend. He’s been cultivating a good relationship with the rest of the Orchid, but Mara doesn’t seem to appreciate this much. She’s never been very happy with the idea of a public relationship, and it’s starting to show. Farouk changes the subject before it gets too tense, and asks whether there are any other hunters that she knows. Unfortunately, it seems she’s the only one; the mantle of the hunter is only held by one person at any one time, although she doesn’t know what happened to the last one. Still, she knows a few people who she can call in when she needs backup, or specialist knowledge, or rare components. Farouk notes this down, laying the groundwork for his plan to remove the supernatural from Taladiq entirely. He’s been trying to bring the patrons of the bars and cafes he visits around to his point of view that the gods aren’t to be trusted and may be bad for the city, but hasn’t had any success so far. The next place to try in his plan is the rats…

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Session 8
A Beast of Our Own Creation

Players: Joe, Chris L, Chris V, Oliver

Downtime – damn you Luke Crane! What looked to be a reasonably simple system (put in x hours a day for y months to get a test) turned into a nightmare of spreadsheet wrangling as people needed to look up how much practice they could do per day, what tests they needed for their skills, what skill type the skills were in order to find out how many months they needed to practice for and how many hours a day set the difficulty… And so on. I think it’d be simpler if we weren’t trying to get the most tests possible out of the system but it could really do with being more clearly laid out.

So, what happens in the actual downtime?

  • The Desert Rose and the Hand and the Eye will have been trying to pull the city together, using their copious Ambrosia stores to contract crucial guilds and get them to keep doing their jobs. Entirely coincidentally, this is exactly the job the sultan used to do.
  • Ambrosia stores are being drained. This would’ve been bad enough without the storehouse thefts, but as months pass with no boat down the river, people (and gods) are getting scared. The traders are coming up from Ratport only to find that people aren’t buying anything more that the basic staples, being stingy with their remaining stores of Ambrosia. Allegations of thievery are starting to be thrown around, and there’s been a few violent confrontations in the street.
  • Although the Hand’s in the destruction of the Red Blades has been guessed by many, there’s no reprisals; general consensus is that they were bullies and bastards, and if one of the Guilds they picked on turned round and tore out their throat, no-one’s very bothered.
  • Word has gone round of work beginning excavating under the desert gardens. It’s only at the initial planning stages, though.
  • Five months pass, people raise their skills, the new Red Blades are set up, Azam finishes his first reading for both of his new spells, Fazzik wakes up, and Duban and Farouk pass their maintenance checks and thus help advance resources.

As play picks up again, Azam tries to find someone who knows more on the sorceror’s defenses but fails his circles. He meets an old sorcerer in the Golden Thurible, a guild that procures reagents for enchantments. Thankfully Azam goes disguised and bluffs as a desert scholar, so the sorcerer doesn’t set on him the desert spirit given him by Rashouk. Instead, he just warms him very strongly not to continue this line of investigation. They talk instead of old sorcerers of lore, discussing the flame barriers of Drizzik the Unholy, and then Azam takes his leave.

Trying to take another route, Azam goes to the libraries of the Visionary Conclave – they know him and are happy to let him browse. He fails the research test, and finds that the library has no books that go into any great detail on the desert spirits. He asks the librarian about this, and is told that a few years back, a lot of the guild’s collection was sold off to help the guild make its bills. He gets a list of those who bought the books to chase up on.

Back at the Guildhouse, it’s getting late in the evening as a messenger runs up. He’s from the Bronze Helms, the guild that works as this region’s neighbourhood watch. Apparently there’s been a murder, and the Helms want to gather the local guild heads together to discuss what to do.

Duban, Farouk and Fezzik go off to the meeting, while Azam stays in his basement. As they travel through the dark streets, Fezzik glances up and notices they’re being watched; there’s a figure on one of the roofs, and a smaller one down one of the alleyways. Sending the other two on, he ducks into an alleyway and sneaks round the back streets, hoping to catch their stalkers off guard. His knowledge of the back streets is a great help here, allowing him to move silently behind them. As he gets to a corner, he peers round, and sees the smaller figure crouched behind some barrels, looking out away from him into the main street. There’s a strange smell in the air, like burning herbs.

Now he can get a closer look, he realises that it’s a child, but horribly disfigured. Its flesh is twisted, and its limbs look like the bones have been broken and reset multiple times. It glances back in his direction, and although it doesn’t see him he recognises the face, as Jamal. Like the rest of him his face is twisted and disfigured, and embers glow in his eyes.

Fezzik inches back away from the corner and, mindful of the other watcher, starts climbing the building. His wound is still paining him, but he manages to climb up without making a noise. As he pokes his head up and looks about, he sees the rooftop watcher (clearly female) go over to the edge and call down in a whistle to Jamal below. Fazzik climbs up onto the roof, and after some consideration reaches back into his quiver. He slowly creeps forward, getting ready, and then rapidly taps her on the shoulder and offers her a flower. “Are you a widow?”

The woman, clad in dark leather, is totally flat-footed by this approach. She takes the flower with a “…yes?”. Fazzik does his best at small talk; nice weather, do you come here often, why are you on this roof and so on, and manages to find out that she’s seeking revenge against the Hand, and has formed some alliance with the child due to shared goals. Fazzik tries to find out why she’s after the Hand, but lets slip that he’s a member of the Hand himself. Immediately she draws a knife and jumps at him, as he scrambles back. He jumps across to the next roof, and the chase is on. Although she has the speed advantage, he knows the home terrain and manages to shake her. What he can’t shake, however, is her haunting, grieving song, rising as they run over the city roofs and resonating inside his mind. It’s a strange, alien sound that overcomes his mind with thoughts of grief and spite, leaving him crying as he hides in an alcove.

By this point, the others have arrived at the meeting. Most of the guilds in the area have sent someone to hear what is said, and low conversation fills the amphitheatre. A sergeant from the Bronze Helms calls for order, and then explains why they’ve all been called here: a body has been found in the district, the third one this month, and horribly enough it’s been partially eaten. They think they have a cannibal murderer on the loose, and ask the guilds present if they know anything that could help the investigation.

On hearing the state of the corpses, Farouk wracks his brains for what he knows of zombies. With a successful Folklore roll, he establishes that zombies eat their prey raw, whereas other cannibals tend to cook the meat first. The Bronze Helms hadn’t considered that, and after a brief discussion within themselves say the state of the bodies was strange; some had obviously been chewed on, while other parts had been sliced away like a side of meat. Farouk hearing this works out that they may be dealing with more than one cannibal here. One is very likely a zombie, given the Hand’s activities, but as the Hand talk among themselves they realise the other’s likely to be an elf of some kind; only they are feared for their hunger for the flesh of men. Immediately Duban sends off a runner to the Obsidian Claws, asking for advice on the problem of Elves. The circles roll is successful (special knowledge, soon).

Fazzik joins them at this point, eating a kebab, and relays what he saw to the others. They discuss the matter, wondering what could have happened to Jamal, and then a member of the Obsidian Claws shows up. They concur with Farouk’s assessment; this sounds like the behavior of one of the desert folk. Normally, he says, the elves tend to keep out in the desert, but they’ve recently had trouble in the city. Five months ago their leader left to stay at a retreat ina nearby oasis, but never returned. When they investigated after a few days of silence, they found everyone in the house dead, murdered by each other. The elves, apparently, can bring on such profound emotion with their songs that they can cause people to turn on each other and cut their fellows down. He warns the hand that they should stop up their ears if they go to fight elves, and to be wary of their wiles.

The meeting finishes with the organisation of a watch roster; the Bronze Helms are asking for help patrolling the district to try and catch the murderer. The Hand make their goodbyes and walk home, considering these new foes.

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Session 7
Mergers and Acquisitions

Trait Vote

The session started with a Trait Vote, the final part of the Burning Wheel play cycle to be introduced barring Deeds. This works through everyone thinking through the game so far, thinking of distinctive moments for each character and encapsulating them in a trait, whether Character, Call-On or Die Trait. Additionally, reputations are modified.

To begin with, all agree that the guild could do with a reputation boost. They all get a 1D reputation of ‘A Guild Not To Be Underestimated’, while Duban boosts his to 2D and changes its context to fit. Then, we go round the table thinking of traits.

  • Duban gets the trait Dreamer [Dt] from his visions from Zarus. He will now occasionally get prophetic visions.
  • Fezzik gets a pair of traits to represent how being in the cocoon has changed him; Spooky [Char] and Aura of Darkness [Dt] – shadows lengthen around him and protect him, giving him and all in his presence +2D to Intimidate and Stealthy. Unfortunately, he also suffers +1 Ob to all tests in bright sunlight.
  • Jamal firstly gets the Loyal [Dt] trait to represent his extreme loyalty to his people. He gets an extra belief to represent this. Second, there’s all the hair-slicking; he gets Greasy [Char] and Flammable [Dt] (fire damage is increased by one pip).
  • Azam gets the Sibilant [Char] trait from spending a lot of time as a snake. Also, because of his verve for bringing his old master low and stealing his staff, he gets the Driven [Dt] trait – it acts as a call-on for Sorcery when he’s pursuing that belief.
  • Najma also gets the Driven [Dt] trait, but for the Sword skill while trying to find the Sultan.
  • Farouk gets Tall Tale Teller [Dt] from all his tale-spinning. He gets +1D to Persuasion, Falsehood, Seduction and Interrogation so long as he can come up with an appropriate tall tale.

The Session

We start off in the aftermath of the attack. Najma is doing her best to try and treat the wounded and dying Hands of Stone, to little avail; one bleeds out on the floor, and they take the other wounded fighter away with them to find a surgeon. Ali, their priest, says a few words over the dead man, and then they carry him away with them. Janwar’s troops file in, tired from their night’s work, and go off to their barracks to rest.

In the morning, Duban wakes in his bed in the Desert Orchid. Remembering his dream, he heads out to the guild. Others are heading back too; Azam has turned back into a human and found his clothes inside the city walls, while Farouk has been scouting through the bars and cafes for word of what happened. Unfortunately, he only hears secondhand rumors of blood and murder and fears the worst.

At the guild, Duban has returned and takes stock of the situation. He’s glad no guild members were harmed, and thanks Najma for her aid. Then, he goes to question Zarus. He finds him in the shrine, hanging a rat with pigeon wings from the ceiling. Zarus turns, regards him, and they talk. Zarus makes it clear he didn’t send the vision; instead, Duban had tried to channel too much of his power, and as he failed some small part of Zarus had lodged into his mind, giving him some of the god’s memories. Zarus relates how millennia in the desert can erode your mind, leaving only the urge to be whole once again. A few months ago, he felt something stirring in the city, an old foe, and knew enough to force his way to the front of the crowd of gods that greeted Duban in the desert. He hopes to bring down Tiamat again, but is willing to postpone his vendetta with the other gods until it will not harm the city itself.

Azam has arrived back at the Guildhouse and blends into the crowds on the street outside, trying to see how the night’s events played out. As he watches, he notices a disguised Farouk trying to sneak inside the Guildhouse, but doesn’t make himself known. Farouk tries to sneak in, but is noticed by a guard he doesn’t recognise, one of Janwar’s new recruits. The guard challenges him, and Farouk tries to obfuscate and deflect the guard’s pointed questions. This is somewhat disrupted as he’s talked by Nikesh, pinning him to the floor before sniffing and licking him in a friendly fashion. Duban has heard the clamouring and spends a short while enjoying the scene before making himself apparent and telling the guard not to worry. The guard cuffs Nikesh around the ear, and they head off. Duban helps Farouk to his feet, and as the go back inside the guild Azam joins them.

After some discussion about the state of the guild and the attack last night, Duban heads off with a couple of the new recruits to look through the Red Blade’s compound. They make their way in through the sewers, but have to find another route after being confronted with the mountain of corpses down the route used before. They make their way out into the Red Blade’s guildhouse, and Duban sets to work looking through the office records while the guards are set on watch. He finds a few records of assets and stores to potentially follow up, but is warned by the guards that they see people approaching the guildhouse’s gate. Moving quickly, he heads upstairs to talk to the god.

Thapsis, the god of the Red Blades is standing in his shrine, a long room with ochre walls covered in weaponry. He takes in Duban, shit-covered rough clothes and all, and doesn’t look impressed. They get to bargaining; Duban wants Thapsis to form a vassal guild under the Hand of Zarus, while Thapsis wants Duban to leave him alone and show contrition for the death of his guild. The duel is tense; Thapsis has the edge with duelling ability (G6 Oratory!) but Duban consistently makes good, cutting points. They both get knocked out in the same volley, leading to a tie, where neither side can get what they want. The eventual compromise reached is that the Hand will help Thapsis set up his own guild, not subservient but favorable to the Hand. As this guild would be much smaller than the Red Blades were, the Hand of Zarus would be given the majority of the Blade’s assets to run.

As Duban leaves the shrine, he sees his guards facing off against a small armed squad. They introduce themselves as the local guard, and inquire who he is and what he’s doing here. With a great persuasion roll, he’s able to convince them he’s a concerned friend of the Blades, visiting to talk to their god after this terrible tragedy. With them fobbed off, he’s got time to look for information one more time, this in the chief’s office. Scouting around he doesn’t find much of interest in the desk, but while looking behind a small stone statue he notices it’s movable. Pulling it away, he finds a hidden receptacle containing:

  • Letters between Mukhtar and the heads of other guilds.
  • A skin covered in flowing writing, with two signatures at the bottom; one is Mukhtars.
  • Other letters, of a somewhat more… intimate nature. It seems Mukhtar had romantic inclinations.

While this has been going on, Azam has headed off to check the lair of his necromancer friends, with Farouk in tow. The shop is still empty; Farouk has a brief nose-around and gets rather creeped out but discovers nothing new. Trying to find out what happened to Jamal, they start asking around. Soon they find a street vendor who admits seeing a small kid enter the shop a few nights ago, and later leave it after a few hours. But he hasn’t seen him since.

They head back to the guildhouse, where Duban talks them through the deal with the god and shows them the documents. They’re not greatly enthused with the deal, but as Azam looks over the writing-covered hide he recognizes the script as one he encountered in his time in the desert cults – it’s the writing of the cannibal elves of the desert. The piece of hide is a contract between Mukhtar and one of the chiefs of the elves; in return for Mukhtar occasionally sending caravans their way, the elves would grant them safe passage and sell them slaves, elven slaves, for the Red Blade’s more discerning clients.

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