The Silk Road

Forces Gathering

Day 55

Return to Pride Rock. The wemic tribes, after having spoke to Duncan, left trusted men behind in case we found king and queen, so they could get word quickly. Duncan informs them of the king being found, some of them head for their tribes. He also has word from Grumpet's animal messenger that Grumpet has the queen. He does not know yet about her being lost again, then found again, so informs them that the queen and cub are safe as well.

Day 56

Night, Archileus et al return! Duncan talks with the Master of Heat and Flame and details the mysterious figure spoken of by the King. He does not know personally, but he has been around since the Masters, quite old. His cloak makes him unable to be seen directly on. Otherwise, just a powerful arcanist. Where this man is hanging out, can't be sure, but likely with wemics or watching us. Could be looking for former king/queen. He is called Ssark, highly intelligence. Avg charisma at best, nor the mastermind type. He is being guide by someone else. Not clever enough of a strategist. Nor are the brother kings. He is a subtle man, almost an assassins mind in that sense. Does not like drawing attention to himself.

I Duncan "Can you counter the cloaks effect, even for one person, even temporarily?"

"Not counter, but because I'm a master of illusion which the cloak works by, I could use a form of  a baleful mirror imaging. They stay around where he is, so it will show you where he is. You'll be able to look at the illusions, but as soon as you look right at him, he'll disappear but that will allow you to target his spot! The servant of the Masters in the temple, where I have been staying a lot lately, to the south may be able to do better. He is very powerful."

Day 57

Animal messenger arrives from Grumpet with all that has happened there. Duncan sends the Rakasta out to meet them immediately to take them to a friendly tribe.

Day 58

Nothing eventful.

Day 59

Late, Ship group arrives Pride Rock.

As does Grumpet et al.

Duncan talks to Brillstagg privately, with Callimachus, about:

Ssark: evil as evil can be, but also not very clever. Let's just say he has never won a game of chess in his life. He was there to make sure the king lost, for certain. The king should be dead, so there must be something special about him. No reason why he should have been allowed to escape. Old king is either very powerful and has something special that kept him alive, or he has someone looking out for him. Ssark's mission therefore did not come to full fruition. He is likely tracking down the King, or hanging with the 2 brothers.

Servant of the Masters: a conundrum. Only person who went under that title was a First who is kinda one of the originators of the Covenant of the Return, had no particular single Master, was loyal to them as a whole. During their rule centuries ago, one of the 2 great schisms between teh masters. In this one the 2 greatest Masters went to war (Imbrun and Peldan), brothers, in Celestine Empire. One was overthrown by the other. Celestia, chosed First of Imbrun, was the wife of the emperor who was was cast down. Her sister, Luna, chosed First of Peldan, and the sister's consort (a Malakhaz) took over the Empire for a short period. The Servant of the Master believed all Masters were divine, favored no one above another. Just a regular guy at this point. He gained a lot of power, on his own, around this same time. Eventually the Celestia side regained the Empire. As time went on, the Servant remained humble.

The 2nd schism, the Masters War, then happened later. The Servant was linked by some to the events that caused it. Not intentionally though. Once the war was over he fled and vanished. No one knows where he went since then. If this is the same servant, he still feels terrible, it broke him. He came here to hide out and worship alone. Now, not all Masters were the same. There was a group called the Veiled Masters who made pure monstrosities, not elves nor even orcs. Only those masters was he never a servant of.

He was a great guy, but all that he went through? He may be the bad guy. He may have gone over the edge.

He has no idea what he has locked up in those basement rooms.

Master of Heat and Flame: If there is one think I have learned in his long long life, it's that you never trust a Malenko. This one here is definitely a Malenko. The Master Malenko had a falling out with the Master Keraptis (possibly brothers). K had found a way to get past the coming doom via some means. Malenko, a bit of a schitzophrenic, also supposedly did, by shattering his psyche, spreading his personality and power among a bunch of Malenkos. How they are chosen and why he has no clue. Something to do with stars and birth signs. All have some sort of psychosis. Even the best of them can't fully be trusted. All have a personal goal that they work towards, their one obsession. Could be a life goal to protecting a person or group, anything.

So he could be the enemy, could be a true ally, could be doing this truthfully but for secret personal reasons, or anything in between.

Ilithid: One of the Veiled Masters, the original in fact, was a horrible abomination upon the world, by the name Ftagn. He showed up here as a Master thousands of years ago, in the early days. A competitor to many other masters. Was banished or destroyed by their combined efforts. His spawn lived on. One day, long time ago, there was a falling star that came to the earth. Upon it was a band of superheroes and many different peoples with them. They stopped here, did great deads. One of them was slaying the spawn of Ftagn on this world. These heroes called them Ilithid. The Nugenacers by Thorangia are descendents of some of them, one of the heroes in particular. The vast majority of that campaign happened in this area, especially a bit further east.

Callimachus uses the Crystal Ball, it works!! He sees Ssark, and the cloak gives him no benefit! Ssark stands close to a river, speaking to some snake men. They parlay with gnolls. Ssark himself does little, but for a few words here and there to the head Yuan Ti who looks to be a human type like the one who turned on Arisaan. One of the gnolls is massive, next to him stands a shaman. We bring in Hrok and the other 2 wemics, but as we figured the pic is too small for them to recognize anything at all. Ssark's masterminds may be the Yuan Ti themselves. Arisaan says that, via their body language, Ssark is subservient to the Yuan Ti. The gnolls have several bugman bodies, mangled in a fight and torn up. Arisaan concentrates on the lips of those talking facing us. Even considering they are non human, she has xp both gnolls and Yuan Ti recently, she picks up some stuff. The negotiation is almost a battle plan, but generally. Like 'we need to start acting soon' type of stuff. Also, apparently the bugmen are north of the river but came in a wave from east like locusts. Pushing gnolls westward. Something unknown south of the river is holding the bugmen from crossing it in some fashion. Gnolls and Yuan Ti have made an alliance, Yuan Ti have convinced the gnolls to cross south instead as a cultural mass and clean out the wemics, taking that land as their new home. Pressure on the gnolls is mounting. The gnoll shaman turns his back to us, says something to the Yuan Ti, and the snakeman leader and Ssark both look right at the sensor.

Mulligan flips them off, 2 handed.

They cease the meeting. The king looks at the ravager and mentions meeting again at the appointed time. Then they all split up.

Confronting Malenko: why are you here? Personally, he is quite fond of cats. A kindred he feels with them. The original master Malenko was dealt grievous mental damage, one of oldest though not most powerful Masters; Every Mal has a part of the collective of original Mal whether they conciously realize it or not. I particularly have a hatred for the Veiled Masters as he did. No Mal has ever worked with them. Not that I know they are around here, but their works are.

Whereas the Masters created things of nature and beauty (which he would include even orcs in, so…), all which fill a niche, the things Ilithid created did not fill such a niche so much as took over niches. 

His name is Pollux.

Callimachus "An invasive species artificially dropped into an environment within which they don't belong."

"Yes".

Example is the ankheg. Boon for farmers but if not satiated and properly handled, can kill a lot of creatures. All Ilithid creations are like that.

Duncan "Should I be worried about this warforged then?"

No, they are not a created life, not a species that procreates. They were task fillers, not niches.

He thinks the bugmen, Thri Kreen he calls them, may be their creation. He is not holding them back, he does not know who or what is. The yuan ti he hates, not created by the Ilithid but changed themselves using Ilithid inspired systems. So he wants them destroyed for that and that they threaten his cat people.

 Going to the caves was a hope to find something there that could help.

Concerning the Servant, even when he stays there briefly, they don't talk much. The Servant does not do chit chat, only talks about big things. We tell him the veil comment. He says could have been just a random word he used as symbolism, or not. We should speak with him directly, and listen carefully to his own words.

What does he have locked up downstairs? Mal is not sure. Never investigated it himself

One thing to understand: the 3 chambers, wings of the temple, are dedicated to beings greater than the Masters. They were effectively gods on earth. But, they had 3 gods that they worshipped. The Masters got their power via worship by men, and their worship was a conduit to those gods. A select few humans can have connection directly. The Servant was a regular guy at first. What made him revere the Masters as a whole was that he discovered, in his absolute unimportance and that level of humility, allowed him to gain the ear of those gods. He once questioned one of them as to why the state of mankind had to be how it was, all men servants and slaves, constantly at war, greed, etc.

He asked the god to fix things. Most of the earth was then dominated by an uber Master, setting the world at peace but didn't make things better. Absolute tyranny. He then asked to god to set things right again, back how it was. The world broke out in war. Masters fighting each other. Eventually all came to a head in the masters' war. All put into motion by the Servant just trying to do the right thing.

So, quite possible the Servant has turned evil, siding with the Veiled Ones out of loss of all hope. Or, maybe not.

We have to go and find out for sure.

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Duncan: Pride Rock Meeting/Search for the Dethroned King

Day 51

Duncan et al arrive Pride Rock early evening. Lots of clans are here.

Ambassador arrives today as well.

Day 52

The Pride Meeting

Lots of talking and posturing all day. Night the official meeting, lots of physical showings and domineering, including some non fatal fights which the brothers easily win each time. They are impressive comatants. The bros. are officially kings by the nobles, but enough are against them that its basically civil war.
Of the 9 tribes, 3 are loyal, 3 are begrudgingly loyal to simply following the new leaders. 3 are completely opposed. Several clans w/in the loyal 6 are opposed to the brothers still. They say that with the heir still out there, this is wrong to make them kings.

Both sides talk candidly to Duncan as a neutral party. The brothers say if Duncan can bring back the queen so they can kill the heir, or if we kill the king or bring him back to be killed, they will hook us up with an awesome item from their loot.
The rebels offer a separate solution: get the queen and heir and bring to one of their clans then we have their friendship. Bring the king back alive, same thing. Will find a way to reward us.

When the prides break up, the brothers say there's going to be lion blood. They can't put up with prides opposed to their rule. Those opposed would rather fight the fake king and the gnolls and die than follow a fake king.
They feel following these 2 kings means losing to the gnolls anyway. And their mentality of superiority and imbalance with the other races does not work in the long term.

Day 53

Duncan et al get to the hills. After nightfall, we are caught by cougar mountain wemic aka The Proud. They have our scout as well. They can't hunt in plain lands for larger game cause the wemics will bust them up. Very territorial. In the hills, the gnolls are causing them trouble. Their numbers are too small to do anything about it.
This is caused by the brothers.
The mountain wemics are now hunting plains to west, causing some issues with the Nomad humans there.
Duncan thanks them for not eating his scout. Mulligan would not have been pleased at his death.
They have the old king as well!! They thought he was just a warrior hunting them, until they saw him being stalked by other wemics so brought him in alive to decide later what to do with him. Bargain to the brothers for hunting rights maybe.
Duncan explains our presence here, including his backup. They size realize we are nothing to push around and take us to their camp, freeing the scout who has never been happier to see anyone else in his life.
They know of our caravan as well, it was too much trouble to do anything about. They agree to leave it be.

We are invited to camp with The Proud and talk tomorrow.

Day 54

They see our presence as a game changer, major power player.
Duncan wants the king set free. He explains we want to solve all inter racial issues and destroy the gnolls and any other threat. We just want peace. Duncan asks them to keep the king alive, well fed, and healthy as can be until we figure this out.
He also asks them to keep the king on the edge of the hills, easily accessible as quick as can be once Duncan wants him revealed.
They agree to take him to the caravan caves for us! And leave a handful of their warriors to makes sure we are on the up and up.

Now, Duncan gets to talk to the wemic former king Sirok Tor. Duncan introduces himself. Gives him the deal on why we are travelling through here.
He's heavily scarred. Lots of old war wounds.
He greets Duncan in a very regal manner.
His version of what happened matches well with what the brothers said. Their anger toward Sirok festered for a long time. They had a mixed adv party that did stuff extensively around the area. When they returned, they had the new equipment. At first, they asked to be part of the royal pride. Sirok turned them down, feeling they better served as wandering heroes not sun bathing males. They left, returned a few days later and kindly asked him to step aside and give them the throne. Sirok refused. They left for another few days, returned much more arrogant and demanded he step down, offering to let him take all his progeny. He refused of course, as a king should. They left assuring he would regret it. 2 nights later they returned while Sirok was relaxing, the pride was joyous with the alpha female being with cubs. A strange feeling came over all as the bros came in. Tension thick immediately in the air. All on edge almost in a trance, all anyone could do was watch. They drew wpns, challenged, he couldn't refuse and battle joined. The younger bro he thrashed heartily. The older was much stronger esp since he had just fought 2 at once. He was still holding his own until something weird happened. Sudden sickness came over him, weakening him. At that point on the older bro took control and won.
He can't tell if real or hallucination, he thought a man was there at the fight, human. It feels real but foggy all the same. That's when he started getting sick, when he noticed him. When he thinks about the fight in general, he doesn't recall him. When he pictures particular moments, he visualizes his presence. Sirok also can't place what he was doing, just staring perhaps. Also was never in one place watching. He pictures him in different spots at different points of the fight.
He wasn't very tall, shorter than Duncan. His eyes, though, had almond shaped eyes, not round like Duncan. Like a nomad rider only there was something about it off. Little to no facial hair, unlike the nomads. Its like he never looked directly at the man, but something off about the way he looks at Sirok in his memory of it.
Wore only robes, green to greenish blue color, shimmering like emeralds.

He's willing to go back, but knows he can't beat the brothers. Especially not with this strange ghost man seemingly helping them.
Duncan says he thinks the female is alive, and has top men searching for her now.
Sirok says no matter what, Duncan et al can't kill the brothers, not allowed since we can't claim the throne. We'd be like hitmen. They have to be brought down by their successor.
Duncan "But you could fight them with a partner, 2 on 2."
Yes, the 2 winners would be co kings then. Which at this point, he is fine with.
Sirok says we have to set the stage for this to happen properly. Whatever the bharag grok are doing is coming soon. There are already war parties crossing the second river in hunting parties. Even a unified wemic nation can't win vs their numbers. The wemics, centaurs, men, yak, etc must join forces.
No one will unite with the brothers, though.
He says he can tell The Proud are on our side.
He says an wandering man called The Master of heat and Flame is a wemic friend, he can help you with the alliances and much more. Find him.
 
We need to find this strange apparition man and deal with him then.

The Proud says we are free to go. We get on the move immediately. We send word with them to tell our cav to be ready to move soon.

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Mission: Queen and Cub

Day 47

Tonight: team arrives and camps at forest's edge. The woodland is more like closely packed patches of woodland. In the middle is a dense patch of thick woodland, deep and dark, 6 miles across.

Day 48

Into the woodland, looking for snakeman and wemic signs. Grumpet, Mulligan and Nnesk all find signs of a wemic occupying the areas. Early on was doing its best to cover up. Mulligan notices this, and that the fresher it is, the sloppier the attempt at hiding is. The birth is near.
There are signs of old ruins throughout the entire woodland area, like gate with no remaining wall and steps to midair. More and more the deeper we go.
Also, toward the middle, Mulligan sees the droppings of snakes, big ones. There must be a lot of them. The wemic also made her way deeper to the middle.
As the day is ending, he loses signs of the snakes. And only scattered wemic signs, moving further and further in. He loses her, but picks up gnolls!! They merged onto the queen's trail, so we follow them.
From high ground, about a mile off, Grumpet sees an encampment of gnolls in a grove with fresh game cooking. Maybe a dozen.
Mulligan "Let's kill 'em all."

He takes point, masking his scent by disgustingly rubbing on gnoll scat and approaching from upwind. They surround a campfire irregularly in a clearing. They predominantly have axes, spears, and bows. One is a flind, the leader. 1 wears gloves with piercing blades, lots of piercings all over his flesh.
Mulligan wants a diversion, which Arisaan says "I can supply that."
Arisaan, looking girly, gets himself in a state of partial undress and distress, and begins wimpering and crying, alone. The leader sends 4 other gnolls to retrieve him. Arisaan attempts to flee in terror but 'trips'. They easily capture him bring him to the camp and bind his hands.
As they are oogling at Aarison, Mulligan, Hrok, Nnesk and Grumpet approach from one direction to enter melee; Maeth and centaurs bow support from opposite side. Arisaan falls, and acts like she's scrambling away, getting herself inposition to grab a spear.
The leader orders the spit prepared to add her onto it. She escapes her bonds while huddled over herself in 'terror'.
The bowmen fire. That's when Mulligan, Nnesk and Hrok charge. Grumpet warps several of the spears with warpwood.
Muligan takes some shots, being surrounded by a few berserks. Arisaan takes out the Flind in one shot. We mop them up handily.
We'll use their camp for the night and eat their kill. Before it gets too dark, we scout the vicinity. Scattered about, we find some gnolls ripped up by lion claw, taking place over the last few days. Has she had the cub?
Grumpet charms 2 birds into acting as sentries overnight, and enhances the undergrowth around the camp to penalize stealth.
First guard shift, we hear footfalls in the dark, but light. Mulligan says 2 footed. Mulligan moves out to investigate. Maeth wakes up Hrok and Arisaan.
Mulligan follows the sound around the camp quarter way. 
He hears nothing, but just spots a woman dressed as a nomad in leather armor, long dark hair, saber and quiver/bow. She had doubled around Mulligan and is about to jump him. Very pretty, emerald eyes which among the nomads is a sign of nobility or blessings of the Masters. Could have a First in her bloodline.
"Why you lurk around our camp, woman."
"That depends on who you are, and what you're doing out here."
He tells you we are hunting snakemen, and so is she!
She comes into camp. Her name is Zyana, a Kakutsk, but a loner. Prefers to go it alone as much as possible. Mulligan says he and Grumpet like the solitude of the wilderness also.
We takes great pleasure tracking and hunting the snakes, she hates anything serpentine. She is also trying to find her friend, to no avail as of yet.
Arisaan is wary of her, but nods to Grumpet she seems truthful, so he tells her our true mission. So is she, the lioness is her friend! Arisaan, skeptical as always, keeps his eye on her.
Mulligan "Why would she wander into this place anyway?"
"Easier to know the enemies here." She's avoiding potential treachery of her own people, was originally looking for Zyana but they failed to find one another.
Arisaan "Let us look together." She agrees. She knows some areas where the queen certainly isn't.

Day 49

Zyana is up earlier than any of us. We break camp and move out.
Grumpet uses the birds, empathizing with several and speaking to them, asking if they have seen a wemic.
One says there is one not far from here!! NE just inside the deeper section! In old ruined structure.
Mulligan "Let's move."
Couple miles further we find it, a single small 1 story, 1 room building. On the way we find couple more dead gnolls.
We catch sight of a pack of 10 gnolls moving around, keeping a perimeter around the entrance.
They are circling in teams of 4/3/3.
Zyana and Mulligan see them keeping an occasional eye our way. They must have caught our scent.
From inside the building, we then hear an angry lioness growling.
Mulligan sends the centaurs and Hrok around to come from upwind, taking Maeth and Grumpet as well. The rest will continue in and get their attention.

One from the group of 4 moves to the door and darts in. He tries is knocked back out. The queen walks out, with a wobble in her legs, as the gnoll rejoins his team. She is not pregnant. Then backs gack inside.
We are in position. The centaurs and Maeth start charging into a group of 3. Mulligan's team hits the other 3. Arisaan runs for the structure, just barely with a jump catches the roof edge and pulls herself up. Grumpet throws down and entangle on the group of 4.
2 of the gnolls get to the edge of the entangle, the other 2 are held.
Arisaan cuts down one of the bigger who made it throught the entangle with a critical from the roof. The other makes it past her swipe and into the building as the others are still fighting.
Arisaan drops to the doorway and sees the gnoll with the cub. It makes a rush to get through her, but she gashes his arm with the AoO crit and he drops the cub. He turns and graps it again.
The lioness hits for the first time now. The gnoll goes to hurl the cub out the door into the tangle, but Arisaan cuts him down DEAD. Then turns to take on any other comers.
The cub is wining and crying now.
By this time, Muligan has killed his and jut finished Nnesk's as ell, Hrok has one out of his 3 left which the centaurs take down.
The other 2 are still stuck in the entangle. Zyana's opponent is the only one remaining. Nnesk and Mulligan help Zyana kill the last.
One of the gnolls breaks free and runs flees. Centaur fire misses him badly. The entangle goes away.We take the gnoll prisoner.
The queen goes for the cub and collapses. Hrok gets the cub off the ground.
Grumpet sees to the queen. She says she is poisoned and now KO'd. Grumpet delays it well and starts working on fixing he. He assumes its Yuan Ti venom, which he has never dealt with. He can alleviate her symptoms and keep her alive longer, but she is dying unless we get venom from one of the snakemen to study it. Preferably alive.
Mulligan "Let's move out. No time to waste. Grumpet stay here with the wemics. Zyana, know where any snakemen are hiding?"
Not specifically, so its seaching time.
She says they are tough, expert ambushers so usually travel in small groups, and very stealthy. They don't like to use their venom unless they plan on eating the kill, so its likely w/in a mile or 2.
So, it could be looking for her. Mulligan wants to spit us into 2 search teams. Arisaan sneaks in a whisper to him, to be put with Zyana.

He leaves Maeth to patrol the perimeter and Hrok inside with Grumpet; then splits into 2 search teams: Himself, Nnesk and 1 centaur; Zyana, Arisaan and the other centaur.

Mulligan's team find a yuan ti heading in the diretion of the building w/in 5 minutes out. It's a short but desperate battle. The centaur is quickly coiled and taken down by a construction plus acid seep from its scales as Mulligan attacks. Nnesk is shaken by this half man half serpent abomination and only gets a couple arrows to hit home, too afraid to approach in melee. Mulligan is then grabbed but just as he is gets a lethal final cut with his axe.

Maeth misses a Naga move into the buildingsight. She reacts to the sound of battle.

Zyana sees Yuanti trail. She walks away a moment "follow me". Arisasan however is doing his job well and doesn't buy it, training his executioners eyes on her. Just as he readies and the centaur steps forward, Zyana turns and a second set of eyelids opens inside her eye. She's a Yuan Ti!! and draws her sword. This is a longer battle than Mulligan's, one of feints and position but in the end Arisaan's readiness for betrayal and skill challenges lead to too many sneak attacks. The centaur though is close to going down by the end.

Both scout teams rush back to the ruin.

The Naga we heard about got past Maeth's watch and into the clearing when Hrak sees it. He begins posturing lion-like but the Naga isn't impressed. It and Hrak engage. Trumpet from inside with the wemic Queen summons a dire wolf to assist. Though it's quickly taken out by its stinger's sleep venom, another large wolf exits the ruin and attacks as well. Together it and Hrak kill the Naga with no little difficult. The wolf then changes back into its true form of Grumpet.
The rest of the group arrive soon after.

Trumpet gets the venom from the dead and soon distills an antitoxin given to the Queen. He also has enough Naga venom to make several poison doses.

We absolutely can not stay here.
Gumpet talks to the birds again who inform him of a settlement a couple miles south of the southern edge of the forest. While Grumpet is preparing the antitoxin Mulligan gets a drag stretcher made for the unconscious Queen.
The cub  is starting to make too much noise but Grumpet easily calms it.

We make it to the town before nightfall and are met by a contingent of the inhabitants: yakmen. Though they are no lovers of wemics, it's on our side the former King was so much more friendly with the other races. They allow us in to stay.
Their is a king of the yakmen over 100 miles to the east. But, a relative of his rules locally, only about a days ride east. If we want to talk to someone of their race about the current problems, he's the one. We will ride for their tomorrow.

Day 50

Grumpet et al leave for the yakman prince, arrives tonight. Trysta stays with the wemic queen and cub. They take us into the town, fairly suspicious of Hrak. We even see a bull man (minotaur, naturally born).

Day 51

The ruler says if we manage to save the Kakutsk from the Bharag threat, the yakmen would be more than happy to be a caravan trail stop.
We can see they have craftsmen of skill. We eat with them, business tomorrow.

The yak king is gathering the herds to go to war with the wemics; the towns are fortifying. The new kings are nothing but trouble, tentative relations made aggression by them. They say whole villages have been taken out by the wemic warriors.
This is worse than we heard.
Arisaan "What if the old king were back in charge?"
"The king is dead, for sure" no way the brothers let him just leave. Certainly assassins have found him by now. Hypothetically, if he did return "we would reconsider. We can at least deal with him. He wasn't  just king of the wemics, he was king of the Kakutsk. Out of respect for stability."
Grumpet tells him to try to get the king to hold off on war with the hope of the old king being returned. He agrees to do what he can, with no guarantee.
He also mentions an odd issue eastward, further than their capitol:
Groups of insectoid men, 8 to 9' tall, have been seen since about a year prior to bharag started being offensive. First in very small, but larger and larger as time went on. Over 100 at one sighting. This is east, and north of the river north of here in bharag lands.
They were no picky about what they killed. He doesn't think the wemics have any idea about them, but the yakmen are sure they have something to do with the bharag grok.
We tell them of the encounter of such a creature from the Tunguskik friends attacking a group of them and a group of Tsyrgys.
This sounds to them like what creatures may do when something greater is forcing them to move to new lands.
When they are encountered, they don't attack towns nor large numbers, Otherwise run or they kill you. This concerns the yakmen greatly. One on one, a yakman beats one, but they fight well in numbers.

He says the yakmen territory roughly starts at the forest and goes east. Wemics run all west to the hills by Kimiristi.
 

Day 52

When grumpet gets back to the yaks south of the forest tonight: it was raided by gnolls! Their leaders fought like devils. The centaurs, queen and cub were captured. They had a powerful shaman witch or something as well. Its the prophet and ravager.
They went north to the woods. They came with 30 gnolls. The yakmen killed about a third of their regular warriors. The enemy elites did most of the damage.
Mulligan is furious, he insists upon a squad of yakmen warriors to accompany us i we go into the woods to rescue them now. One will be the minotaur. To make up for their folly. He goes full the Scum here, doesn't ask nicely.
Grumpet gathers a handful of birds and sends them as animal messengers, one to the desolate caves and 2 to Pride Rock, to inform all of the situation.

Day 53

We don't know if we have the power here to take on the leaders, but we must at least know where they are going. We have to track them if nothing else. Our force starts north to track.
The have 2 days, maybe just more, of a headstart. We begin tracking at full speed, mounted. The yakmen struggle to keep up, lagging behind as we go. Hedge magic has been used to try and disguise it, but Mulligan and Grumpet still pick up the trail.
They get to the woods and continue straight through. Obviously, they are not concerned with the Yuan Ti, which is concerning for us. We almost lose it, but Maeth keeps us on track. About 12 miles in, she says it looks like 2 large serpents  who came from deeper in the center of the woods and a human sized booted foot with them met up with the gnolls. They then all proceed north together.

Day 54

Following a bee line north. While we are going, Mulligan sees signs of turmoil in the tracks as they stop. We come across a dead wemic, head on a pike. Further on, a fight with a herd of yakmen that the gnolls won again. 5 dead yakmen, their cattle slaughtered. We slow down our tracking.
After nightfall, at least 12 miles ahead, we see sets of campfires miles ahead. Probably at the river, but spread out from one another. We have to stop. The yakmen catch up, exhausted, a few hours later.

Day 55

We work our way toward them, Mulligan using his spyglass. There is a veritable army gathering here! Our quarry lost several gnolls on their way up here. There are 10 left including shaman and ravager.
Something is moving in the grasses for their campsite, Mulligan spots. An inconsistent rustling at several spots.
Mulligan "Let's move in, now!"
The enemy start making for a ford in the river. Coming right at them from the waterline is the prospective ambush. The enemy look oblivious. We are SW of them as we approach. Both captured centaurs are with them, as well as the queen and cub. The queen is moving ok on her own, it seems. The shaman must have been working on her.
Mulligan has Hrak look through the glass to see if the attack formation is that of wemic. He says that's something else "judging by the direct assault to the front, could be men or another humanoid variety" like rakasta, there are orcish and goblinoid types around here once in a while. Also, that lead gnoll is not the Ravager. It's a pack lord.
Whatever is coming is going to hit them before we do.
The centaur's human arms are bound, connected to necks. Each has a gnoll yanking on them.
We see the enemy catch something on the wind. The ravager flanked by 2 others steps forward. The yuan ti slither low into the grass and out of sight. 3 other gnolls move right, on our side, into the grasses. The other gnolls back around the prisoners. The human is cloaked in robes behind the ravager with the shaman.
As we make our way up, 5 rakasta come into view yell a war cry of sorts, and charge into the gnolls. Flankers spotted the yuan ti, for they are both attacked by a rakasta. The other 3 hit the ravager and his flank guard.
We run forward.
Grumpet has prepared a call lightning, and as the rakasta hit unleashes it on the hedge wizard shaman. This bolt stikes some fear in the gnolls with the guards. The human turns and pans around, trying to sense the strike's source. Mulligan and Arisaan notice that under the robes, as a breeze blows, his skin has a slightly yellowish tinge. The clothing for a second seems to shift in color as he pans around. It then seems like he hones in on Grumpet.
The robed man shimmers briefly, then multiplies into 6 duplicates. Illusions!
We hit the fight ourselves. Our bullman hits at our captive friends. Maeth fires at gnolls, Mulligan at the robed man and one of the figures is cancelled; Grumpet calls another lt bolt upon the shaman; Hrak leaps tween the centaurs upon another of their gnolls; Nnesk fires at a guard gnoll who then engages him. One group of yakmen are sent to help sweep to the front and help the front 3 rakasta, while 1 helps the rakasta on our side vs the yuanti. Another group sweeps around the far end to the other yuan ti fight and to watch that flank.
The robed man and images fire a blast but misses Mulligan.
The yakmen guarding the flank call out that one of the other groups of gnolls is wading across the river nearby, about 30.
Maeth turns to the illusions as Mulligan charges them.
The Lt. keeps coming.
The centaurs attack with their hooves.
Mulligan yells at the centaurs, who were abused on the way up here, and queen "fight or get the hell out!"
The centaurs back away, the queen attacks the Minotaur's man, her binding is attached to that gnoll.
Hrok is the first to take his gnoll down! One of the rakasta is killed by gnolls next.
Grumpet's lt. takes the hedge wizard down!
Hrak charges one of the fight at the front. The robed man vanishes in a puff of smoke and the last image vanishes.
The first of the other gnolls have reached the shoreline. The centaurs have been sent to get our horses.
The yuan ti on our side is cut down by the rakasta! One of the front line rakasta takes down one of the gnolls. Another gnoll is dropped by a yakman, another is crit ko'd; another yakman crits the other yuan ti DEAD.
A yakman is killed by a front gnoll, who then turns on a rakasta and drops him too!
The pack lord takes the Rakasta leader down!
Arisaan charges from hiding, sneak attacking the pack lord.
The centaurs arrive with the horses.
Mulligan calls for the yakmen not engaged to start rushing away, 2 on help Nnesk and his gnoll finally dies. 1 of the 2 remaining rakasta stay in the fight.
Another yakman is dropped by a gnoll.
Arisaan cuts the pack lord badly again, plus another lt. shot.
We hear the warcry of the gnolls heading our way.
Everyone starts taking off with the queen but for 2 yakmen, a rakasta, Arisaan and Hrok fighting the pack lord, and Maeth firing at the last gnoll.
The rakasta leader is pulled out, still alive, by one of his own telling Arisaan to get him out.
The Pack lord kills a yakman but his axe gets stuck in its head. It draws a big curved blade.
The other gnoll charges Hrok.
The other of the group are making for Grumpet.
Arisaan first aids the rakasta leader. Maeth rides up with her horse.
The yakman still vs the packlord crits and hits again DEAD!!! The rakasta crits him as well!!
Arisaan mounts up with the rakasta leader and she and Maeth take off. Hrok flees, the gnoll missing him. It howls and chases but Grumpet fries him.
Grumpet starts sending lt into the chasing gnoll group.
One of the rakasta was poisoned and is weakening. He turns to face the gnolls and his death. A very bloodied yakman, gaping wounds all over, goes with him.
We see them hacking as we flee, going down in a swirl of blood.

So, 4 yakmen lost and 3 rakasta dead. We get away fleeing like the bloody hell. East for about an hour through some rocky terrain to lose any pursuers, then straight south we go.
We come upon a herd of cattle and its yakmen herders. We warn them of the gnolls north.

The rakasta explain were part of a pride in this area. A bunch of gnolls recently crushed their pride. It got enough that they are no longer an effective pride. They were on a mission of vengeance to die fighting the first group they found. It happened to be this one.
There are only a few pack lords in the Bharak, we are lucky to have gotten one! Since we showed up, they figured the mission turned from suicide charge to chance of victory.
We cut back west ourselves. The yakmen heard accompany us for a while, safety in numbers, into the wemic lands.
We will take the queen to the centaur village to hide her there until needed.
Grumpet impresses the urgency now upon the yakmen. They must get the yakmen on our side, this was an army massing north of their border, not the wemics. We have to get together.
The Rakasta ask for horse or to to gather their prides quickly. Grumpet and Trysta will ride centaurs so they can get mounts.
We tell the yakmen to have their king or his emissary meet us at the city that was attacked while we were gone, Duncan or an ambassador will meet him asap.

Day 56 though 58

On the way to Pride Rock, we meet the Rakasta sent by Duncan who take charge of the queen and cub.

Day 59

Arrive Pride Rock.

In the meantime, we head back west.On the way, we meet the Rakasta by Duncan
 

View
Mission: The Desolate Caves

Day 47

Guide team leaves early for Archileus at Pride rock. The Rakasta switches back and forth, riding with the riders.

Day 49

Arrive at Pride Rock

Day 50

Guide for priest leaves for base caves. Pushes a bit, arrives tonight.

Archileus et al leave for the caves. They go south to the river; at the fork, south to and around the hill's edge, and south to the next hill line to search for the caves.

Day 51

Kalestios and guide leave base caves.

Arrive at desolate area at end of day. Camp tonight, will begin search tomorrow.

Day 52

One of the riders and a hoblite find the correct marker, quickly find the entrance to the cave today.

Enter, leads to a 4 way intersection, door at the end of each 3 halls. After killing an undead in the room to the left, we get into a fight vs 3 tough undead, 1 from each door, backing to the intersection to fight them, and defeat them. During that, the bricked in tombs along the main hall are broken out by the skeleton within, filling the place with them. We have to retreat to the middle room where we find the master of heat and flame in a stupor state. We fortify ourselves inside, stuck. A couple hours later, he wakes up.
Somehow the intelligent undead here were able to trap him. These undead were the bones of the original race of Malakaz. Some of the Lords of the Malakaz were entombed here also, 6 of the 12 including the leader; tiefling halfbreeds. The race were a tier down from the Lords. There is also a human race called the Malakaz that simply adopted the name and some culture (the Gozerians). There are similar other caves in these hills as well. The leaders were disturbed a while ago and are no longer here, in spirit/life essence. They do require mortal coil to walk the earth. This means someone has been here, and their bodies hijacked by them who knows when. The former owner of the body is a prisoner in their own body. Eventually it will turn into the Malakaz's natural form. A creature unto themselves, like hybrid incorporeal and corporeal. The skeletons are not neg plane tied, though were at some point. Animated bones only now. That means their neg plane essence is out there somewhere else.
He has necromancer brothers he wishes were around to truly explain all that.
If we can retrieve the crown of the Cairn Wight King (last king of the race; the race were exterminated in a war with the Celestines) in his room they will likely ignore.
The rune marking this particular cave is of the Northmen, but which stretches across many cultures, called Ansuz, a derivitive of the Malakaz chief it is named after: Andzus. The rune does change some in meaning across cultures.

We found a jetblack short sword with gold wiring on handle found in the tomb of the Malakaz chief, in the wraith's room. He tells us it is not the chief's main weapon, or he would have taken it. The design is too new, in the last couple decades of the Master's rule. It's powerful, not evil, but neither good. It will allow us to carry and transport us but will not let us wield it. Likely whoever is bearing the chief's essence was the one who brought it here. The Malakaz didn't need it so left it here.

Archileus asks if he can summon, he can! Archileus writes a note to the riders and sends it out on a small summoned bird after the Master of Heat and flame warps a corner of the door open just large enough for it to fit. It lands at him outside, obvious note attached. It instructs to assault, with Kalestios's magic, from this side and blow their signal horn to lighten our burden getting to the crown.

Late night Priest and rider arrive.

We gather loot in this center room in the meantime:

Chest of coin: 67pp; 430gp; 240sp; 700cp; gems 90 amber, 120 amber, 80 blue spinnel 110 pearl, 90 tourmaline
Mst glaive
Augmented ancient breastplate (= half plate): on chest is symbol clenched fist holding a ring of what was gold, but paint is mostly off; hand was painted of silver. Looks like a Celestial's armor. plus 1 magic! vs good foe  becomes massive bonus like plus 20. Maybe it won't like wearier fighting good people at all, then. Vs true evil = light fort.
Otyugh hide leather (tentacles still hang off back) armor = leather
Potions: invis to undead; prot chaos
3 man chariot in decent shape. Archileus says we will use this as a ram through the skeletons.

Day 53

Morning, Kalestios and guide are met by one of Archileus's 2 riders at the turn south around the hills. He guides them south, arrives tonight.

The other rider has seen the inside of the tunnel and received the bird's message. He blows the signal horn to alert those inside of the arrival.

Day 54

Archileus:
After daybreak, the desolate cave escape begins. The riders attack from the entrance to draw some weight off of us, backed up by Kalestios magic.

The skeletons turn out to be very brittle. The chariot as a ram is a master stroke by Archileus, we get to the room with no issues but sweat.
The master checks out the crown, and feels the skeletons will obey the wearer, but he can't wear it. He won't explain. Archileus will do it, he tells them to return to their tombs, and they do.
He says we now command these animate objects, of sorts.

We loot the tomb:

1000gp in coin
10 pitons
2 10lb bags salt
10lb bolt of canvas
8 boxes 20 arrowheads
20 candles
5lb net
1lb oil
5 grapples
10 hammers
14 50' ropes
5lb iron prybar
loom
miner's pick
11 mortor and pestles
12 pairs dice
pitchfork
23 10' poles
37 scrollcases
shears
signet ring of the cairn wight
41 small casks oil
2 hunting traps
spinning wheel
ink vial

Meanwhile, kalestios and the master study the stories in the wall art. the race was buried here by survivors of the race. There are hints as to where the remnants went: South of here and underground. Interesting. Do they still survive?
There are 5 other caves around this extent of hills. We could have an army of animated object skeletons. Thousands!

Day 55

Back to Pride Rock.

Kalestios will stay behind with the 2 riders. He will wear the crown, gather all the skeletons from the other tombs all together, and bring them to the hills north of here, south of the river fork. This could be a useful though brittle army if needed later vs the gnolls.

Day 56

Night, Hoblites return to Pride Rock.

View
Mission: Academics at the Buried Ship

Day 48

Night, Guide team arrive Pride Rock

Day 49

The Riders, one the same who was at the ship with Grumpet, head for the caravan base at the caves. They push ahead to arrive late tonight.

Day 50

The Riders, Callimachus and Kyros leave for the ship. Other rider leaves for Pride Rock with ambassador.

Day 53

Safe uneventful trip, arrive today and start exploring and documenting. After a pass from bottom to top, we check out the machine man.

The glowing gem goes into the fallen automation at the helm. Putting it into a chest chamber, it awakens!! He's called a warforged, made for battle on a ship by the Ilithid. One of several sorts they created. It can speak, needs to learn our language, but can communicate telepathically to bracers below. 
He explains the tentacle creatures to us. Explains the fall of the Ilithid empire with help of a human who got his mind put into one of his kind. After that, they changed warforged creation to make them more subservient and not as free minded. W/o the ilithid here alive, though, he has been made independent. He has his equipment here and with nothing else to do, will join our expedition.
He has no proper name, only a code ID set: TK421.

Mere words can not describe the Ilithid's horror, he says. He will come to explain as best he can as Callimachus gathers info from him as we go. There is no negotiating with them, all are slaves, food, entertainment. Destroy them wherever we find them.
This ship in particular: There was a colony here on this world spread out, this was probably more than thousands of our years ago; travelling tween locations going east when a local Master brought the ship down personally; couple hours flying time from destination, hundreds of miles for us.
They were experimenting a lot with insectoids, which they generally like. They hate undead. Its hard for their senses to track them, plus no real thought patterns.


Bracers: plus 2 knowledge checks (psionic); speak to intelligent creatures that use non verbal communication. Plus 2 disable device (can be used as Heal on a warforged). We will use this communication to teach him our language.

Day 54-55

The ship is dead w/o a brain. Nothing can be gotten from its machinery. Callimachus does detail all language inside and what signs and other stuff mean from the warforged. It is so alien, it gives him a headache. We take the star charts, which being a slave warrior the warforged is not privy to.
The rooms with the dead were slaves, who began to eat each other after the crash. The ilithid fed off their depravity. The ankheg was a creature it had on the ship, woke up and dug its way out.
The stores of food are nothing any respectable human would ever eat, lots of brain.

He says salt is deadly to ilithid. Like acid.

The small glass vats of jelly like stuff house the ilithid spawn. They will never die as larva in here.
Callimachus want to cook them all to death. We get a super hot fire going and try to cook one in a vat. Its not hot enough to boil the jelly nor kill the spawn. The jelly can be removed, though, so we do that.
He keeps the 10 vats of the jelly to study later, and 10 small vials here. Each vat has 10 vials worth in it.
There are 10 spawn total. As we get the jelly out, these things start to emote emotionally to us, trying to make them love them and want to nurture them. The warforged keeps us from doing do, this then makes us even hate them even more. Each one takes several minutes held by tongs directly in a fire. It takes a couple hours,and their emotional power mains
He coal pit bakes 3 w/o ruining them for later disection.

Bio gel: repairs life, on wound for 1hr = 3d8 cure; large amount can regenerate bad wound; drink = potion of longevity; 
Theoretically, a large amount could resuscitate a recent dead, like w/in minutes, if their last breath had not left yet. Could be side effects.

Day 56

Some final clean up, then ride for Pride Rock. The warforged will have to ride double, swapping around so as not to slow us down.

Day 57-58

On the road.

Day 59

Late, arrive Pride Rock

 

View
The Road To and With the Royal Pride
plus shrine/ruin/buried ship excursions

Day 43

Uneventful trip thus far but we do cross a north/south oriented river. This river cuts east not far north, right at the edge of the hills tween Bharag and Kakutsk.

Scout who surveyed hills south of Kimiristi arrives at cave base tonight.

Day 44

Early in the day, we come upon a temp settlement of centaurs, in the ruins of an older permanent town. About 60 to 80 in number, much in appearance like we know of home but of local culture. Hrok says the wemic relations with them are a toss up. Could fight, could trade, pending on first reaction of both groups. They speak the steppe tongue.
Duncan rides forward with Grumpet and Bhodan only, no weapons out. 3 of them appear out of the grasses and ask out business. Duncan tells Bhodan to be completely honest.
They appreciate our forwardness of honesty. Their chief is in the settlement.
They say the gnoll issue isn't just a wemic issue, the hyenamen are allied to the humans in their area as well, they are vile scum so get along famously with the gnolls. If it turns into an actual war it will effect all. In which case the centaurs will help fight the gnolls.
They generally stay put for the entire season so they aren't leaving any time soon.
They invite us in to meet their chief.
Inside, its much more humanish than the wemics were.
We are greeted warmly!
The chief is named Mugal.
We tell him the quick of our story.
He has not met the ruling brothers directly, and isn't quite sure what to make of them. Conflicts with the old king was more like a game, a hunt. Larger conflicts weren't to the last man, one would lose and be allowed to leave. These brothers are more hostile openly with the centaurs, even pushing some centaurs out of their grounds. Lots of trouble from them. The tribes most loyal are taking the same attitudes. Those not accepting of them as kings have kept to the old ways.
This settlement moved up recently from not far south.
Duncan asks his opinion on where the 2 MIA lions are. We think, since there are no major geographic anomalies here, someone may be hiding them out.
He tells the details of a river to the south, running from the Great Hills eastward. Its the southern fork of the one we crossed. He figures they have either been killed; or they found a set of ruins to hide out in, together or not; or they are moving from woodland patch to patch; or they have been taken in among the Rakasta (the bipedal catmen) or a friendly tribe etc.
Hrok says the lioness is due w/in the next few weeks.
Duncan convinces him to loan us a handful of his good scouts to lead someone south to help us search the area faster since they are familiar with it. He offers up to 5, Duncan asks only for 2. Leaving Maith, Nnesk, and 2 of Bhodan's men to go with them.
They begin immediately.

We move on for the Royal Pride, arrive this evening.
Not far out we come across a half dozen humanoids at a campfire cooking. Meat smells gamey and plain. All are slender and armored somewhat similar to Toronaga, not same. They are a bit to the south of our path.
Duncan rides up to them with Bligh and Bhodan. At the sight of us they hop to their feet drawing curved single edge blades lacking in elegance or quality make. They yell gibberish, in an accent similar to Toro's. Bhodan can translate some, they are the Rakasta. Their language is more human by far, and different altogether to the nomads, but most of them also speak steppe common.
We greet them peacefully and sit with them. We explain the short of our travels and purpose.
They say the 10 clans of Niko, their name for themselves (short for Toro's name for them!) know of the hyenaman incursions. Unlike the wemic who ignore the gnolls unless provoked, the Niko kill them on sight w/o question. They also don't run from a fight. So every Niko we meet have either won every fight they were in or somehow it was finished w/o death. Have a special reverence for a man Toro knows as Master Lee of his religion!! Their code is similar to Toro's bushido.
We call Toro up to meet them, who is dumbfounded. Their language is a vary archaic form of his tongue. They make a fast connection with one another. He tells them they wear the blades of Lee, they respond like he is an aasimar sent by the gods! This band of 6 insist on staying with Toronaga!
Duncan "Ok then."
They are ready for war vs the gnolls. Have only been in the vicinity for a day and a half. They have a hard time staying in one place too long but for good reason.
They readily agree to search for the MIA lions. The leader says there is a strange cave not far from here, day or 2 walk, south. Wasn't there last time they were around here weeks ago.
Grumpet "Caves don't just materialize."
"Tell that to this one. There is a patch of good very high grass around it, slight rise in the ground, cave is on one side well hidden by the grass." Possible then they just missed it but they have been there several times over the years.
Duncan has them take Toro, Grumpet and a Rider to check it out.

At the Pride:
dozen females varying in age, 2 males are lounging in a clearing getting sun, another 3 around them as well keeping a watch. One of the 2 is thick and strong, deep claw mark scars on his face, likely blind in one eye, has the battle axe slung over his back. The other brother is riddled with scar tissue, saber next to him.
Some meat being carved up is humanoid. Uh oh.
The 3 guards level bows at us.
We let Hrok introduce us. The kings get up, the axe wielder taking the lead. He's definitely the one in charge of the 2. They greet us cordially.
Duncan explains our concern at the wemic fracturing since we need to move through the area "far be it for me to judge how your folk rule themselves". They insist nothing to be concerned with, the wemics will weather any storm that comes along. The big meeting is to solidify power and fix the issue we are concerend with. They insist the old king had no idea how to rule. To keep peace with the lesser steppe races, allowed prides to go hungry during winters by not allowing us to use yakman or centaur lands for hunting grounds. His  friendliness went too far.
"We on the other hand care about the wemics. We, being the dominant force on the planes" should rule and run the show. "Now it is only a matter of keeping the lesser races in their place, and from stealing what we have." He admits they are not the strategic generals he was, but we still have the best fighters regardless.
They are indeed concerned about the lost female and what her permanent loss will cause. He would love it if we were to find her, a reward even: at the mention of that by the younger, the elder shushes him "We found some things in our wanderings, not all that we can use, some more for a settled folk.  He even calls us a more sedentary lifestyle, this guy whose women hunt for them while he gets a tan.
Duncan assuming this sort of coup has happened before, asks why this female is acting like this is such an unusual terrible thing.
Typically, the females to try to keep their young alive, they do care for them afterall. So these coups aren't always the easiest thing even after the male is dead. Its not common for the queen to be with cubs when a coup happens.
Duncan asks of their actions "Why your timing then?"
In their own pride there was a vendetta. Tor killed the former king one on one, who had no cubs, so he was lucky in that respect. Before that he was in a dual of honor vs the brothers' father and killed him. Some bitterness, but those things happen. Then he became king and allowed the lesser races too much leeway to maintain a peace so much that it hurt the wemics. Several of their pride died over a winter because of lack of supplies thanks to less raids because of Tor's rules. That embittered them even more. Before whatever warlord is running the gnolls took over, they were loose wandering packs. One pack snuck in at night and slaughtered the females of their pride. There were 7 males, including them, so they all went your own ways. They came to the Royal for a home and Tor said he had no use for such clanless wemics and sent us packing. That insult was final. We were adventurers, essentially, in their wanderings. Travelled with men, hunted beast, etc.
That's why they have such equipment. It was loot.
Duncan thanks them greatly, much appreciate their honesty and openness.
They know we aren't hitmen, if we find Tor, we can tell them or not. They will not hold that against us.
Duncan asks their opinions on pregnant and wounded lion disappearing so completely so fast.
He admits Tor would have killed either of them individually. Even as a team it took their equipment for them to win. That's a microcosm for how awesome he is, at lots of stuff. Including hiding. As for Sur Abe, the female, is also a paragon of wemicness. Even heavy with child its no surprise she is gone.
They are fine with us staying here for a while.
We are getting along well, so Duncan says he is fearful that they are missing a middle ground toward the other races. He insists on their superiority.
He declares tomorrow we will feast on Yakmen and Centaur. We say we would politely decline that, so they will get other game for us.
As Duncan figured, they leave for Pride Rock in 4 days.


Meanwhile:
The centaur guides say there is a shrine south of the river and an old ruin further on. They make for those in order.
The shrine is a 3 story building. 100×70 ground floor, 3 wings to the complex off the main structure; double doors enter. No windows. Floors are smaller than one below.
People have come and gone from this area a lot.
We pull the heavy doors open enough to walk into a 40×40 room, archway at far end. ANcient statues, once humans in ornate clothing with staff or scepter or sword. 5 on each side. Bare remains of ancient faded cracked frescoes on wall. There are fresh torches in wall sconces so we light a few, take a couple more with us, and continue through the arch.
Maeth "Hello, is anyone here?"
Braziers, sensers throughout. We can still smell their recent use, air heavy with it. Walls littered with niches of small idols and statuettes. Maeth recognizes them as Masters, some she knows others she does not. One of them is an idol of Corellon. There is an obvious separation of Greater Masters who have larger and more ornate niches; the lesser power they go the more plain their spot and idol are.
This must be a shrine dedicated to Masters, now run in memorium.
She notices in a corner of the room is a set of 13 idols almost identical but with minor differences like positions. The priests in the caravan or Callimachus may be able to make further study of this.
There are stairs going up and down, on opposite sides of the foyer wall.
Archways lead into the 3 wings from here too.
Each wing dedicated to a different thing, imposing statues in each but differing motifs. On east/right is a huge man sitting in a chair, bare cheste, staff, big beard and crown, face removed of all detail.
The middle wing has the same damaged face, its kneeling, holding a scepter in an offering position.
West wing has all face definition scrubbed clean, only bottom of remnants of beard; helmet, hand on sheathed sword, aggressive stance as if looking out and into the east chamber upon that chamber's statue.
We call out again, and here sound of pounding downstairs. From above, feing chanting like private meditaion lightly chanting.
We go downstairs first. 3 doors, banging from all 3 like banging on the door.
We go back up and upstairs to the 2nd floor to a living area and study. We take the steps up. 3rd floor is a single room, peaked ceiling. A robed man meditates at a brazier, breathing in the smoke as he chants in a language unknown to us.
He wears long fiery red robes, he seems to have paid us no heed.
We wait for him to finish, letting off a final smoky breath.
He greets us kindly enough, and we all understand what he says as if he speaks to each of us in our own language. Nnesk is wary of this.
"Welcome to the shrine of the Masters" and asks us our business. We tell him.
He knows the wemics are having their issues, but the 2 missing wemics are not here, nor are they together.
"From beyond the veil, the Masters show their servant (him) many things" but not where the 2 wemics are hiding. Only that 1 is in dire straights and the other soon will be. "You, seek the master of heat and flame. He wanders the steppe lands, has a strange love for the wemics and occassionally comes to stay with the Masters humbles servants. He's a blessed one you know? Blessed long ago." Also hates the serpent, one of the wemic's immediate dangers. They seek the death of both, "the masters have not told their servant" why.
Maeth "Where can we find the serpents, then?" This we will have to find on our own. They dwell in the open but they are all hidden. "All you have to do is look." 
Not that they change their appearance, but not all look like the serpent. "They prefer to live in the gloom of their former glory. They let the dogs to that for them. All their dirty work."
Nnesk "Literally dogs, like gnolls?" He can offer no specifics such as that, only clues.
We bring up the 3 pounding on doors in the basement.
"We have nobody here, just us." He says if we refer to the catacombs below, those would be the servants to the master of heat and flame. They don't get along too well with others, so he locks them up. 3 ancient sigils keep them from leaving their rooms.
Maeth "Where can we find the Master of heat and flame?"
"When last we spoke to him, he was seeking a tomb recently (what the Masters would call recent) opened; looking for one who was forgotten but never forgotten about. People remember who he is but not what he was." To follow in his steps, find the shaman of the wolves "He would know?" Some of the wolves are currently staying not too far from here in a section of ancient gloom, as it were. This entire region, the flat lands, is the decaying corpse of an ancient time. The people were all pround once, living in grand cities. Now they ride the steppes not knowing how they once were.
He says the wolves don't stay in one place long.
"Understand, when speaking to wolves its best to bring a bone, or a nice juicy steak." Like what?
SInce we came in peace, he dips his hand into some water "May the peace of the Masters be among you" and flicks it upon each of us. A blessing.
1 time each, each person here has a reroll of a d20.

We take our leave and keep making for the ruin.

Nearing the ruin, there is a camp of 30 horsmen, human. Armed. The centaurs say they are local nomad tribe. The relations with wemics are iffy. Several are out scouting, they have surely spotted us. One gives a whoop or a howl of warning to their men.
The ruin once had a wall and castle, now a skeleton at best of its former ancient glory.
We approach casually. In the middle of their camp is a large pole, a large wolf skull strapped to it like a totem.
Our riders says that's like a banner to show affiliation. Those that use animal totems will have a chosen animal skull. Animalf of the same type will have similar canines and be part of a larger tribe. Their outriders hastily beat us to their main body and an older man in his 50's comes to greet us with 3 others.
The old man wears a wolf pelt cloak. They converse in steppe common with the riders and Nnesk. They want an offering for us travelling through his land. They ask about the girl, which the rider says we cna't give as she is not property. We have some high quality jerky and such that they are happy to clean us out of.
They taste and find it phenomenal.
"You have made the shaman of the brothers of the wolf, which is me, happy". They call him Gray Wolf 2 Fist, real name is Tuchik.
The animal brothers are called Shin, but part of the Kakutsk nation here as well. This is one of the wolf clans. There are brothers of the cat, deer, etc. The only ones they don't get along with are the brothers of the snake, not trustworthy. Wemics and shin trade when they must but stay out of each others way. Just don't get along.
They came across Tor, the king, some time back right after he left the tribe. They assumed he's likely dead. He was further west actually toward the hills. Why they don't know. They traded some weapons to him for the carcass of a large yakman, and parted ways.
The Master of heat and flame was here 9 suns ago, travelling deeper into the brother of the wolf lands searching for some old cave in the ground. Man made cave, over in the hills just west and along the north edge. Cursed caves, they feel. Can't miss them, its all desolation near them.
The heat and flame guy has appeared in the steppes for about 50 years, but was gone for a while. Only has been back for about a year. Has a real love for the wemics. Also curious about things from the past. Had a drawing with him, a symbol like the letter F, set inside a skull like shape. They recognized it from outside one of the caves on a stone.
They say there are surely no snakes in this ruin. "There are a hanfdul of truly nasty things wandeing east of the royal pride. A patch of forest further on home to things with body of a snake and torso of a man. Bad business. They can also be found in the steppe ruins here and there, but again mostly further east. That patch of woods though is like their epicenter. Also, somewhere stalking the steppe lands is something even worse. Long snake beast with a man like serpents head only. If you see that, its ill omen. Someone will die soon.
They give us a rough sketch of about where this cave is. The sun never shines into it, aka its not on the east side.
These guys's tribe is about 50 miles south of here. They invite us to bring some more of that good meat to impress the chief and we will be welcome.
He says the vile dogs north, gnolls: their war leader called a ravager has organized the warriors. He is badass. Spiritually brought together by A Chosen, powerful connection to their gods. Their original leader, a pack lord, now serves the those 2.
Also, "we have a word for the cursed beings we believe are inside of those caves. According to legend" the beings there were a despicable race long ago, tween undead and demons. The Malakaz.

We camp together, our 2 groups.

Day 45

Maeth's group makes for Duncan. The 2 centaurs decide to stay with us for now. Much appreciated. We camp at the river tonight.

Grumpet arrives at his destination.
The Rakasta say there was evidence of a lion, maybe 2, moving west. This was along the river, couple of kills. They saw no tracks, so he was likely wading in the river a lot. This was SE and SW respectively. The hill is about 50' x 200' and 50' max height. The high point makes a ridge, inclined at both ends for easy approach. Grasses are 9' tall or more for a couple miles around. Grumpet finds the cave, says something was digging and hit a cavity in the ground. The grasses once covering the soil are at the bottom of the hole. It goes in 20 feet or more. Grumpet starts in. Whatever was digging in her, he's sure was fairly large with claws designed for digging.
He moves in further and it curves upward into the hill. There is illumination in the cave, and eery red glow where it opens up. Maybe runes. He continues and it is runes carves on a worked archway. He can't tell what the material is! Which is highly irregular. He calls in Toro and Bhodan. He has no idea what the runes say so they move in deeper to a T section hallway. We call in the Rakasta. There is no trace of dirt inside here. No trace of lions. The walls seem to have a crusty film on them that crumbles, Grumpet thinks it was once a slimy film. There are tracks, insectiod and large. He thinks there is an ankheg in here. They burrow. Once we are all in, a circular door rolls across the entrance, blocking it. The halls are illuminated by free floating orbs at teh ceiling. The light is unnatural, slightly purplish glow to everything. Very unsettling.
The doors have no knobs or latches, oddly.
Touching a glass plate at the first door on the right turns the light from blacklight to redlight. We hear a terrible screach inside our minds!!
All the doors open. Another disc slides in front of the other disc at the entrance.
In all the room lie skeletons of the dead. Something bad happened her long ago.
We hear the clicking sound of insectoid feet walking down the steps at the end of the left hall. The ankheg appears and we arrange for battle, Toronaga taking the front.
After Toro cuts it up, it gets him in a grab. One of the Rakasta fires a bow in support. One more cut by his Wakizashi and another arrow brings it down DEAD.
Its eyes go dark and quickly loses some of its color.

We start looking for a way to open the entryway or another way out. We find possible sleeping quarters with ragged clothing remains, prison rooms. There is a sound in the former like a buzz then a clunk coming from grates in the ceiling. In one of these is a closed door with another glass like plate. Toro puts his hand on it, The door opens but all the others shut. Through the door is a hallway going right to steps upward. There is a door every 5' along the walls. Each has a small glass slit to see through, but they are blocked by muck or condensation or something on the other side. 2 rakasta think they can make out 2 of the rooms. Skeletal remains in a chair, one each. These are small personal rooms or cells. They look to have been wearing rags like the prisoners before, so likely also prisoners here.
The last room is 10×10 with a door on the other side. Maybe a couple weapons as well. Here is a glass plate too, but when doing so Grumpet feels a sense of intelligence like something has to be outwit to open the door. Grumpet succeeds and it opens. Probably a guard chamber. An old decreped blade, but also a 2' long handle, circular hilt, with a foot and a half blade. Like a weird short sword with a long handle. 2 sides of the handle are studded. There is a door in here as well. Another test of will but Grumpet opens it again. It is a room full of crates, rounded at the far end and cuts back on our left. The crates have some form of lock with a metal ring that may be the way to open it. Each crate has a seal of sorts burned into its surface, like a cuttlefish. Total of 50 crates in here. Figuring there have to be keys in here somewhere, we leave them be for now.
We go back and up the closer of the stairways up to a cargo deck. This is like some sort of buried ship. Most of the deck is one open room full of open crates full of containers of nasty viscous goo/brine and brainlike matter. Food? Ugh. Also, spheres and ballista bolts like ammo.
There are some door as well which we explore.
The stairs we came up continue upward. We explore here first. The doors require no thought contest.
We come to the other steps from which the ankheg came. Another stairway up as well. Galley; captain's cabin; a mate's quarters; floors covered with a weird crusty dried material, very dusty when it cracks; chart and treasure room with scroll tubes set into a device. They are air tight stoppered.

Loot:
12 gp agate, likely ankheg's random treasure
what we suppose is coin, each somehow made of swirls of gold and silver, differing in shape. The shape must determine the value.
311gp worth of gold/silver
Gems: azurite 12; 90; 55; opal 550; topaz 550; large zircon 55;
rod of cold iron
rod of adamantine
each couple inches in diameter and 5' long
high qualite set of endirons and a spit
8 bags of 20 marbles each, each a single color
half pound bag chalk
1lb bag nails, adamantine
1lb bag of salt, with strange ties of an unknown hard but pliable material  
several small kegs of an oil substance
tall bottle of clear liquid, strong smell of alcohol
9 bottles of a wine, also ancient so who knows if its any good
crowbar of an unknown metal, stronger than iron
grappling hook on a strong cord, metallic like but like rope!
9 outfits, sealed up in clear bags and in perfect condition, robes with high collars that would go above one's head; mix of colors including yellow, purple, orange, green. All drab, not bright
Tent of unknown very strong material
1lb pouch of a leafy substance
wrack of wood like blocks, like pressed dense, of different colors red, blue and black 
Sack, out of same tent material
Lots of what must be food that we don't think is a good idea to eat. Gross looking sausages, etc.
Small trap, like a beartrap but a size smaller so for human would work
50 vials ink, squid ink says Grumpet
Metal ring, few inches in diameter, with rounded fobs along it.

We check one of the 10 good charts, all with the alien script we have seen all over the ship. One is a map of what may be the region we passed through prior to Kimiristi and further east. There are markings of possible cities we didn't come across; teh standing stones we found are all marked!
Far to the east of here, a huge rift is marked for hundreds of miles north/south. The others look more like charts of the skies. One looks much like our night sky.

As we continue upward on the ship, more skeletons and rotted clothes; a room with many skeletons with a piece of their skull missing, punctured first by a hole. Whatever creature whose ship this is feeds on brains!
We find the weapons like ballista and such which the previously found ammo goes with. The weapon ports open into the ground outside!!
One weapons room was destroyed, we think this ship was likely sunk.
Shattered suits of armor, over 20, at one battle station. Inside the pieces are coils, tubes, strings of copper. A helmet with same stuff inside is partially crushed. Blunt weapons were used on these things here.
On the bridge, the floor is stained with not just he dried cracked film, but sickly purple blotches like blood stains.
Finally on the command deck, we start to get an eery feeling. ALl but the head rakasta are shaken by the feeling as we ascend the tight spiral steps to the command deck. In one of the eggshape chairs, with a consul in front of it with fururistic machinery, sits an Ilithid!! It wears an outfit like in the wardrobe. Looks like he has been sitting here a long time. Wires and tubes come out of him into the consul. Some are sucking fluids from him others into him. A large glass apparatus has a large brain floating in it, tentacles hanging from it writhing sickly in the goo. There is a metal manlying against one wall like teh ones we found bashed to pieces but complete.
Toronaga springs into action before the squid face can react and attacks, leaping at it 15. It attempts to assault Toro's mind but he resists. The brain's tentacles slide into teh device, and metal tentacles rise from the floor to attack Toro as well. He deftly dodges both. 4 others rise.
Toro crits with his katana for 1 con blead and hits once with the wakizashi. The lead rakasta then joins in as well. It dominates the rakasta leader, but before he can turn on us Toro slays the alien. Grumpet casts heat metal, and the brain's metal apparatus including tentacles start to burn it.
Toro is grabbed by 2 of the tentacles and it starts to try to pull him into the machine. The rakasta try to cut him free and he resists the pull. THe heat is starting to warp things an dthe glass starts to crack.
He escapes! 
It looses a psionic pulse. Grumpet slumps over paralized with horrific visions in his head.
The glass casing shatters!! The fluid is like uncooked eggwhite. The brain falls the the grounds, tentacles with it.
Toro 2 hands his katana and splits it down the middle DEAD!

The lights go out in the ship throughout. Grumpet snaps out of it in a few moments and casts Light.
2 sections of the consul glow. We can lift the surface up like a panel. A spherical crystal pulses with light, hovering in midair in the machine. Under the other is a rod about 8 to 10 inches long: a sunrod. We light that up too.
We taket the pulsing gem, which continues to do so even after removal.
Grumpet believes the gem pulses like a heartbeat, it even feels to his druid senses like a living thing. Its like it gave this ship thing life, the brain gave it intelligence. We find nothing that may open anything. He appears to have not moved for a long time, probably only kept alive by the tubes.
Toro lops his arm off at the elbow with his tanto.
Nothing works, at all, with any hand. Killing the brain killed the ship. But, with the power they are no longer locked. All the doors can be slid away with a little effort, including the entryway.
We fill the hole in partially with dirt and Grumpet camoflages it.
We camp outside.

Duncan spends the day with the lions. 

Day 46

Maeth et al arrive with Duncan early afternoon.
Grumpet arrives today as well, but later.

Duncan starts planning. His guess is that the pregnant female is the immediate need, and she's in the forest to the west. So, we need to investigate the desolate caves, the southern parts of the Great Hills for the missing former chief, and east at the snake forest for the pregnant female. Plus, Duncan would like to be present at the Pride Rock meeting.

Snake Forest: Mulligan; 2 centaurs, Hrok, Nnesk, Grumpet, Trysta, Maeth, Arisaan.

Immediately back to Pride Rock after Maeth's return, to send Archileus south to the desolate caves: One of the rakasta as a guide to get there and 2 riders, with Toro and Bligh to join them. Bhodan goes too. Another 2 riders will continue on to the caravan base: one to take 1 or 2 of the priests from the caravan and lead him there as well, the other to bring the ambassador to Pride Rock.

Once Grumpet returns, his rider and another are set to leave tomorrow to gather Callimachus and Kyros, taking them directly to this buried ship to research.
 
The other 2 wemics and the last 5 rakasta will remain here with Duncan. They will all return to Pride rock for the Meetings, then into the Great Hills in search of the king with Duncan.

Day 47

Duncan talks with the twins.

Day 48-51

Duncan leaves with the twins, travelling with their retinue for Pride Rock. Arrive late.

View
The Kakutsk and Pride Rock

Day 39

The Wemic Team: Bhodan and his 5, all the PC's, Trysta, Maith, Nnesk, 2 survivalists to send back as runners to move the caravan forward, 8 hoblites, Toronaga.
The dwarves with 1 scout will move up with them but cut off to the caves to secure and fortify.
2 scouts will explore from here for now. 1 will go through the hills around and south of town. The other will go south along the low edge of the main mt chain to the east.

The main group goes through the pass.

Day 40  

We are out of the pass, and set up camp.

On the way, Mulligan and Duncan noticed lots of gnoll signs in the hills to the east of the pass, on the city's side. Duncan is sure that in the last few days a party of mt wemics had been in the valley. Further on, a section of dozens of trees have been cleared out on in a disorganized manor. Chopped down.
Mulligan searches it in detail "Crude axes, and by the hair as well it had to have been those nasty gnolls to make some sort of primitive wood palisade or building. Roughly 50 worked in the area."

We set guards all night at camp. 4 shifts of 4 men.

On the 2nd shift, we hear a crash from Toro's tent. He immediately knows his personal shrine medicine bowl has been knocked over. He rushes for it followed by Mulligan. He sees a huge half man half lion with huge braided and beaded mane!! This wemic is rolling around in the tent knocking everything over. He is licking the bowl clean. He is equipped as a warrior.
"Unhand my bowl, beast!"
Mulligan thinks it looks like a cat doped up on catnip "What did you have in that bowl?"
The wemic gets to its feat, cramped in the human sized tent, looking wild eyed. It starts speaking in its own language. Mulligan tell the rider that is also on guard to get Bhodan fast.
No weapons have been drawn by either side. The wemic goes for an overrun by toro and Mulligan but they block the stoned wemic. It was a sloppy jump, the rug slipping partially out from underneath him as he tried.
Mulligan "Hurry up Bhodan!"
It gets back up partially, crouched and ready for danger when Bhodan runs in.
Bhodan starts communicating, telling it to calm down. It speaks in highly accented plains tongue. Bhodan says his name is Hrok Angry Spear. He had been watching us for a while and smelled Toro's herbs he cooks as incense for his meditations. He had to investigate it smelled to so, and apparently to him its highly intoxicating to the wemic. He's a bit scatterbrained right now.
Duncan will make not of this as a future trade good.
Nnesk shows up with Duncan about now.
Duncan has Bhodan lay out the short of why we are here, lucky to have run into him. He is from the pride at the high ground. He's out on a lone hunt for game and the gnolls that they call Bharagrok. He says war is brewing.
This guy is an odd sort. Twice during the talk in the tent he cut a sting down that toro had clothing hanging on, randomly.
WE get him outside and sit. He paces while we discuss, randomly getting too close to a person, or jabbing at an interesting looking clothing. Sniffs someone.
He says the gnolls have terrible warchiefs but great champions. The 2 new kings of the wemics are not great at fighting wars. They killed off the old kings young. Not a strong tradition anymore unless you are really throwing down the gauntlet and disgracing the old king. This has, however, angered many clans who threaten to migrate away. The mountain and cheetah wemics are not fond of them either and have distanced themselves. The royal pride lead female has gone missing only days ago. The coup happened about 2 months ago. The first evidence of gnolls was 3 to 4 months ago.
She was the last of the pregnant females by the old king, she is trying to keep her litter alive. The brothers have promised not to harm her and are looking for her.
The old king, Sirrok Tor, wasn't exactly the nicest guy either, bit of a jerk, domineering. He was a good warleader though. The female was one of the best hunters in the land.
They call the meeting highland Pride Rock. Currently the pride there works with the nation and the brothers still.

There is a tribal council in the near future to meet there.
Everyone is worried for the queen especially since a lone wemic birthing in the wild is a precarious and very dangerous situation.

Day 41

The survivalists are sent back to tell the caravan to finsish business and leave for the caves in a couple days. About 8 miles into the valley, they are spotted by a patrol of hyenamen. They managed to evade them but were followed for a few miles before doing so.

We make for Pride Rock with Hrock. He says the tribes are very migratory here, unusual for a tribe to have a permanent home, like the humans here. He describes a further tribe now, a bipedal tribe! Toronaga has heard of such a thing in his lands legend: Nekonohitobito. Supposedly died off or migrated away long ago. He's interested to see one.
Hrok says there are a few permanent settlements, no cities though. There are also ruins.
It takes a bit of a push, but we arrive late today at Pride Rock. There are copses and patches of woodland all around. At dawn the surrounding terrain causes a singular beam of light at he right time of year shine into the area, hence the spiritual import of the location.
To the north as we are pushing on the final stretch we see shapes moving in the grasses at twilight. We assume the areas wemic sentries. Duncan mentions it to Hrok, who also noticed. His ears are already perked and attentive.
"No, not wemics." Its the hyena men! "They come closer and closer every day. "One pack, probably all related."
Mulligan "As many men as we have, or smaller?"
"Less, so unlikely to attack."
They are too far away to make a move for.

Sentry wemics meet us as we approach the Rock. Hrok explains our presence. They are all quite curious, smelling up on us, a couple feeling us out, even literally. One rubs a pigment or ochre of some kind on Duncan's neck until Hrok stops him. He was trying to mark us as property. Duncan cleans that off right quick.
The tribe here is 2 or 3 prides. 7 to 8 females plus cubs per pride. 2 or 3 males on average each.
Hrok introduces us to the shaman Roko and Chief. WHat they call him is not so much a word but a sound they make. As a translation, one could say "Victory over hyena". We Kelestize the title Hyena slayer into an Imperial name.
Roko is very suspicious of us. Especially the hoblites. He thinks we may be demons and sent by demons. The Chief, while taking head, is more interested in details.
He calls the hills to the west the Great Hills.
He wants to know lots about our lands, our games, foods, drinks, lots. We offer to trade with him when our caravan arrives. Duncan starts a quite good relationship with him. Roko even decides we are no good evil spirits, omens of ill portent, not really demons. Good first step!!
Duncan then goes into how we are here to help, and explains what we know of their situation.
These prides are relatively loyal to the brothers only because their first born will be born here, as is custom, so it will be the rightful heir. Basically, just because they are in charge.
If anything else were to happen, they would follow the next leader. They have no idea where the former king may be. They assume he's dead. They do greatly lament the missing head female.
The royal pride is the pinnacle of the race, have been breeding the heirs for as long as the wemics remember.
Usually, when alpha female is on her deathbed, her oldes child will naturally become more and more alpha. When its an abrubt death, especially with 2 males leading, the females will go estrogen crazy and many could die. Potentially ruining the royal pride for generations.
We dine on meat with the wemics into the night.
Several younger members look on in astonishment as Hrok says something to several of them. They wnat to know if we have any more of that stuff he got high on in Toro's tent.
Duncan "I'll ask Toro when I get the chance."
He has a few lbs of it. Duncan tells him to pass a bit out to the most interested.
The night goes swimmingly.
The females will be up earliest, to hunt. The males sleep in late.
He reiterates that the Bharag started acting up just prior to the brothers taking charge.
The royal pride is only the females, genetically. Males come in from outside.
The 2 brothers were clanless, wanderers. They stay with a clan here and there, were well known. One day, decided to stake their claim on the throne. They were beating him in combat and he fled.
Grumpet "Anything seem different about them since, compared to before?"
"No, same personalty as always. Only thing different, they came in with better equipment for the coup battle. The older brother's axe is more similar to what you humans have. The younger brother wields a saber, very uncommon for wemics."
We don't think 2 wandering brothers would have much to use as stardard trade for human weapons.
Currently, the Royal Pride is just shy of 100 miles east, then 40 miles south, from here. They still have rounds to make to establish their rule. In about 10 days time, the chief and alpha male from each tribe, and alpha male if it is different, is to come to Pride Rock for a great meeting. Chief is usually the eldest or eldest warrior, so sometimes not the main breeding alpha.
So, its up to us if we wish to wait here or go and seek the Royal Pride ourselves.
Mulligan "Where were they when the female disappeared?" About the same area they are in now. Also same area that the coup took place. She left 2 days later after the slaughter of the cubs.
If we ride to them, Hrok will stay with us for safe passage. Its about a 3 day ride. They will likely not leave until they have to for the meeting.
The dangers are gnolls and human raiders, at least. 
We convince 2 more males to join us as guides as well as Hrok, in case we split up, if we go. Hrok and the chief will give them rudimentary words to communicate with us. They aren't thrilled about waking early.

Day 42

Archileus and the hoblites stay put.
Duncan moves out with the rest. He, Bligh, Toro and Arisaan will meet the brothers.
Mulligan, Nnesk, Maith and Grumpet will go as well, but branch off to search for the missing 2 lions. Grumpet will come in with Duncan first, to get the info from the source on what direction they went and such. Bhodan et all go with Duncan.
One of the guides will always be with the trackers. Hrok and another with Duncan's main party.

View
Road to; In Kimiristi

Day 26

Our caravan moves out with the scout who returned to lead the way along the first leg.

We meet the small village south of the river, a pleasant people, and we move on. We are led through the trailblazed woods by our 1st scout, within which we camp at a large open area within the woods at end of day 23. Next day, Duncan and a group enter Daviski to meet and greet, set their role along a future silk road, then move on mounted to catch up with the caravan which continued forward. We get back on the north side of the river this day.
By the end of the day, we meet our 2nd scout.
The next morning, its drizzling a bit off and on. The weather is changing; getting very windy and some precipitation. SKy getting darker. We batten down the hatches. The rainstorm hits in 3 hours and its bad. Everyone performs stellar duties of animal handling and survival. Only a mule and 2 horses out of panic are able to free themselves and break. Duncan joins the Proniar and a couple cav to round them up. But, one of the cavalry has a nasty fall and twists his ankle. He'll be laid up on the med wagon for a few days. The storm lasts for 6 hours.  We let everyone rest and dry out, camping here another night. Duncan sends the 1st leg scout, well rested now, ahead to meet the 3rd scout to inform him of our situation.
Its a comfortable cool temperature post storm.
Moving forward we pass another swampy area to the south of our trail. Signs of a large herd that moved past recently since the rain storm.
A few hours from stopping to meet the 2 scouts at the end of the day, outriders report that ahead there was a scuffle of some kind not long ago. 2 groups of horsemen may have clashed along the river: kinned and butchered horses, broken arrows, mound of fresh dirt like a burial mound as well. We know the Tsyrgys and Tunguskik clash along this border often. There were signs of both sides leaving the sight.
Duncan leads the cav lt. Kallestios, half dozen cav, and Grumpet to ahead to follow the north trail. The caravan will continue on.
We find a camp about 8 miles north of about 2 dozen cav camped. Its obvious they were in the battle.
They call out a challenge at first, who we are. Duncan calls his name, that he is travelling to meet Wughash and help his new friends in any way we can. They were on their way to meet him when they were attacked. The storm scared off some cattle from a nearby clan and they were trying to gather them back to the stock camp. They failed to do so are returning to report. The Tsyrgys they met were running from something else, which showed up and the 2 side fought that together. Something they have never seen before. Large bugs of a sort, but didn't act like bugs. Wielded weapons. Their number was small but they were mighty. Twice as long as a man.
They sound to us like manlike mantid people.
He says they carried off their dead. 6 of them killed 20 warriors in all. The horsemen killed 2. The 4 that got away also took 2 of the horsemen dead as well. They do have a legend about these sorts of creatures. Centuries ago Masters gave intelligence to many things that did not deserve such intelligence. Ancestors of the horsemen encountered a giant rift in the earth where many insect and bug men lived. None in recent memory had ever seen such a thing until several hours ago. By legend, the valley should be at least 1000 miles east, though.
Their settlement lost 60 head of cattle.
Grumpet helps tend their more seriously wounded. He finds that a few are poisoned and tends to them first. Grumpet will stay here to tend their wounds for the night, and stay with them until our 2 sides meet. The rest of us return to our camp.
The 3rd scout reports that he almost lost his camp in the storm that hit us.

Next day, not far ahead we meet come to the of yurts, mobile village of maybe 300. Several hundred head of various herd animals. As we move in, we see the horsemen with Grumpet in the distance closing in.
We meet Wughash quickly. They plan to ride to the geoglyphs with us where they will cut north. He invites us to drink fermented mares milk called coumis, and lunch with him at his table.
On a huge steel shield is a massive slab of meat. Bligh, Duncan and Grumpet all drink the milk and come out alive and avoid sick!!  Kallestios and Achilio also drink and get very ill and very drunk. Our hosts find them very entertaining, lots of friendly ribbing to come.
Argyrus drinks it like its just mead. Impressive.

Forward to the geoglyphs where we all camp together. Wughash is very pleased by our assisting his men last night. They consider this a holy site.
They are set into a slight depression in the landscape about a mile and a half wide. One looks like a simple representation of man, staff in one hand sword in the other; another, odd for this area, we would swear is either a giant spider or perhaps octopus like thing, 2 protrusions longer than the others; another a long snake.
Wughash says his forefathers did this to commemorate their travels, each is a god to them. How they are described differs from tribe to tribe and clan to clan. He gives us his people's lowdown:
* The long snake is a dragon of the east. Represents strength and honor. Toronaga recognizes his descripiton as his lands' dragon, indeed. Most were killed long ago but for perhaps a few survivors of legend.
* The man was an ancient being venerated as an ancestral spirit/deity. Known as the black khagan. A spirit that only came to flesh when a willing human body accepted. He is a dualistic spirit, evil blood lusting while also one of growth and good grasses.
* The last to them is a spider representation, the tsyrgys say it is a soft bodied demon. A spirit of pain, like a devil. Prefers cold, dark, damp, unsavory places of earth. Hence, underworld.
So only the dragon is a wholly good thing. One could say its one good, one neutral, one evil; one air one earth one darkness.
They say there are many other places with geoglyphs across the lands.
We can feel that this whole place hums with magic aura. Probably a major layline intersection.
When showed the glyphs, Kyros knows no more. He agrees in full with Dunacn's layline theory. He says if we were to dig under the site we would surely finds the gems from back at the standing stone.
Brillstagg the skull has some input: Well before Brillstagg's time, Lathander had a consort, a lover/rival, best girl also though of a greater Master who created the elves, Master Corellon. She loved to play them against each other. Finally they teamed up an booted her, but many followers went with her underground setting up their own culture; they turned dark and evil. Many that didn't go underground though went east and disappeared from history. The only thing the 2 groups have in common is their veneration of spiders. He feels that glyph might be the female elf slut. Concerning the man, he agrees with Duncan and Callimachus's first idea: its Andzus Lord of the Malakaz whom we learned of a few weeks ago.

We hang and eat and all, talk a lot. Wughash introduces us to a gift he gives us, a translator and guide for our travels who knows at least in passing the languages of 1000 miles. His name is Bhodan Khmelnyst, a cousin of Wughash by marriage; handsome, bushy beard; horn comp. longbow, mst leather. Fantastic swordsman, great archer as well. His wife's side of the family would not appreciate him being sent off alone, so 5 riders accompany as his guard. All in dark brown head to toe overcoat that straps at legs and face covering; leather armor; 2 scimitars each drawn from the back of the waste from underneath; bows. They are elites for sure.

They head north and we continue on with our new friends.

Day 36

Finally late morning, we reach old Kimaristi. They know we are coming thanks to Arisaan. Then on to Kimaristi itself. The town is abustle and ready for our arrival. High interest in wares from a faraway land.

Kimiristi:
In a state of nervousness when Aarisan arrives. The primary wemic tribe to their east is in chaos. News here is that the primary pride leader has been overthrown by 2 brothers, great warriors but seem not very good leaders; a tribal nation of gnolls north of the wemics in the area of Bharag have attacked them and are faring well. The city feels that w/o the wemic buffer, the savage gnolls will roll in like prairie storm.
The former pride leader was not killed, so they have heard. They know little about the country first hand.
The Tsyrgys in general are nervous.
Aarisan dropped, during his stay, that our caravan is moving this way. The place seems excited that a caravan is coming through, they are looking for busines. They mainly trade with other cities in the steppe's of this region. He tells them also that he heard the leader is apt to adventure, and has already solved some issues for another city or 2 along the way.

The town leader is a shrewd dealer. He and Duncan come to an agreement, he accepts to be a stop on the silk road. We get no sense there is any con going on or other bullshittery.
It should be a stay in good faith and company.
Our merchants get right to selling.
Arisaan makes contact, and says he also feels we are safe.
Duncan asks about the wemics. They know there are 3 nations there: lions, a smaller breed by the mounains like cougars, and further east a cheetah breed, not as strong as lions but super fast. The 3 breeds get along but rarely interract with the other 2.
The big trouble is among the lions.
That land has the wemics and human settlements; oxmen with a subrace of yakmen; hyena men who live in the Bharag land to the north, they travel in small packs and are a blight on the earth, when formed into a horde under a great warleader they are worse than a swarm of locust, a thing of nightmares; the solitary Yuan snakemen, horrifying, evil to the core and never to be trusted; centaur tribe, good guys, amiable race.
Wemics and gnolls hate each other to the point of killing on sight.
The ox/yakmen tend to be herders. They are vegetarians but love the herds milk; prone to build permanent settlements and farm. Both wemics and gnolls raid them, but they are also huge and rippled with muscle, very dangerous; breed slowly.
A royal pride once ruled with a royal male in charge. He is no longer in charge, a set of brothers are the royal males though one is more dominant. The nation is in turmoil over this. Many prides have refused to accept them and left. The nation's relations with the other 2 breeds has suffered a lot.
There is a long highland east of the pass mouth that is a major meeting place. A pride lives there. That may be our best bet for introductions.
The gnolls have seen this as opportunity, there numbers are high. They have even been seen in this area at the river. Last time that happened they had a great warchief. If so, a war is brewing. The only thing that ever could stop the gnoll horde were the wemics. If they are about to freak out, the wemic situation needs resolves asap.

Day 37

Full day of business and politics.

There is a pass through the mts. It starts east of the city, goes north before turning a short distance east and opening up into the wemic savanah.

Mulligan's report: he went east across the hills into the pass, then continued to its end searching for a rest point while we, he figured, dealt with the wemic situation Arisaan told him about.
The pass floor itself is too wide and exposed to set up. Just outside of its end, to the south, is a series of caves running between the hills. He explored them and found no danger. Looks like a good protected area to set up a temprary easily defendable camp with caves to sleep in.
He saw no wemic signs in the hills, but he wouls expect that from cougar/leopard types. But knowign they do hang in small prides, its a bit suspicious. He did find obvious proof of gnolls along that northern edge. He turned immediately upon realizing that and checked the south edge. One spot about 15 miles out of the pass was a potential spot, wooded area with a bluff to its back.
He then retuned to the city.

Duncan decides to move the caravan once we are done here to the cave gully.

Day 38

Full day business and politics

View
Persukar: the hill shrine, scouts move ahead

Day 17

Mulligan goes forward with the scouts to blaze trail and, with the mappers, map and scout new area. They are to go all the way to the next major settlement we already know of, sending a rider back periodically lead us on each leg of the journey. The mounted caravan guards paid for by the smithy guild are sent to guard them, the Proniar's second in command in charge. They will break the trip up into 3 legs, as it is a 9 or 10 day trip probably. Each leg, a scout will stay behind, explore if time, and backtrack to meet us at the beginning of his leg.
Arisaan leaves today as well, riding al the way to the next town. As Loreena Sunfire, she will get the lay of the attitude there prior to our arrival, ingratiating herself to the people she meets there.
Duncan takes Callimachus, Grumpet, the town arcanist we spoke to yesterday, the Proniar and the groups priests.
Archileus leads his hobgoblin holites into the sewer with Bligh, and guides to a catacomb entrance. They will scout it out for us and map what they can.

The scouts find that a light forest follows the river a little over a day out of town, with a marshland to the north of the river. Within the woodland south of river is a village, pop just short of 1000. 
Mulligan and the crew stop in and say hello. Friendly, good place to stop for water or something. Nothing else of major importance there.
Not far past is where the first scout stops to meet us.
Continuing on, they pass 2 other settlements off the river, both small farming communities with maybe couple hundred pop. Also, over 20 miles south of the river on the second leg, is a ruin.
2nd scout stays behind.
Mulligan and his last scout then arrive at old Kimiristi, a smaller settlement outside the mts from new Kimiristi. Its 3/4 ruins, raided and sacked many times. It is on a giant mound several miles wide almost like a steppe pyramid of levelled cities.
Less than 1000 pop. The town is surrounded by ruins, wall around the ruins. A quasi road runs tween the 2 settlements.
In Old K, men meant to fight still make up much of the people. Not professional military, but rough and tumble men.
Along this whole trip. we have seen signs of nomads, even small parties riding off in the distant plains. Even a few signs of fighting between the north of the river Tunguskiks and south of river Tsyrgys. Running along the river nearing old K there was not life to be seen at all but small remnant life. Mulligan thinks it was a great hunt, where a clan will encircle an area, and closing in kill everything. Set up skinning/dressing stations, then ride off with all they got.
Mulligan stops in Old K, the scout continues to New K. He will then turn back to take us over the last leg.
Woodland continues to dot the river sides all the way here. On the third leg, before the great hunt area, is a special spot, NE of the ruin we saw not too long before, and close to the river: a collection geoglyphs (like Nazca lines).
Another village lies just NE of Old K. Semi permanent looking just north of the river.
The valley to New K is wooded. About 7000 pop as we were told. Richest live on hillside itself, other classes in valley below. Road goes right into the lower classes, then back up the hill to aristocracy. That area has its own wall around it.
Mulligan hooks up with Arisaan in New K.
The mappers and guards stop with the last scout and backtrack to the start of their leg. A group of Tunguskik comes into sight, watching and tailing us. 
Once we stop at our camp, they approach to meet us. About 30 of them, in 4 waves.
The scout has a tough, but not impossible time, speaking with them.  They ask what we are doing here; he replies we are advanced scouts of a larger group going far east.
He convinces them we are not a military attack force; offering trade even when our group passes through. We give them the timetable, and they say they will be back here to wait to meet our leader.
The man says the tribe leader will be very interested in meeting us. As we are getting out of our linguistic knowledge, he says we may even be ablet to hire an interpreter to go with us a ways.
When asked about Kimiristi, they say they do not like them, long history of that. They treat the Tsyrgys a little more friendly, who are our rivals. Tsyrgys are also more apt to sign on as mercs for them.
The scout assures them our leader will love to meet them.

Back in Persukar, we take a boat across to the shrine that first morning with 4 of the cav as well. The arcanist guides us to the shrine. Callimachus and Kyros take many notes, drawings and such of all the details. The rest of us search around the general area.
There are little moonstones all over the area, just under the ground. The Proniar and Duncan together find 4. They are probably all over the area. Each gives off the light of a torch when it starts getting dark. Probably worth descent money too.
Couple of the cav notice there was at one point some sort of structure around, a large one, but long gone. There are random small remnants, hidden in the brudh and ground of pieces of wal, floor, even a broken stairway. All of stone.
The shrine of standing stones seem about in the middle of the structure/city. Whether during or before or after, who knows.

Once the sun is down and the moon is up, Baltazar says anyone who wants to attempt the simple ritual of meditation upon the shrine may do so.
Duncan and Callimachus both do so. Nothing happens with Duncan, but for a feeling of confidence.
Callimachus, however, has a different xp altogether. He feels something bad is going to happen in the near future upon him personally.
Grumpet is feeling eminations though he is not taking part, of the arcane amorpha powers of the earth are converging on this point right now. He feels them like a spiritual wind.
The proniar Alexius also takes part: getting a vision of his own death. Luckily, it was no where near here. In a grove of cherry blossom trees he lied in a pool of his own blood as if he were killed w/o expecting it.
The 3 priests: Kalestos begins to actually glow. Shining so bright we can see the light even through our closed eyes. All his body hairs has been removed and skin more pale. He fealt as if infused with magic, has the feeling of godly intunement with magic. His cha dropped.
Deacon Nepos has xp little to nothing, but a desire to be more artistic in the future.
Father Balsamon had a grand vision: the story told back at the ruins by the shadow men, the Malakaz are already free. A spirit told him this. They already walk the earth. Something big is coming soon, schemes and plots by them. Bad things will happen to the east when we get there, apart from all of that. No way for us to avoid it. Each day we go, we get closer to that day.
Grumpet kept trying to feel what is going one once he got the initial unwilling feeling: the shrine is built on a convergence of arcane lay lines; the moonstones on this hill draw magic of the world here; certain ones in here act as arcane magnets that fuel, recharge, disperse magic.  The more he thinks on just that, he sees that the hill is completely surrounded by spirits that are zooming all over the place overhead and around the area of the shrine; he feels this spot has random effects unless you come here for a specific purpose. For instance, resurrecting someone! At what cost, he can't tell.
The spirits are either drawn here because of the power nexus, or a result of it as in people who once lived here.
He tries to commucate with the spirits.

Kyros has vanished. About 20 minutes after it all ends, we hear a scream in the distance. We rush to it, certainly Kyros. He's not too far, we find him on the ground, grabbing his face, screaming in horror.
Duncan grabs him and asks what is wrong.
He yells "IT hurts, it burns." He has blood coming from all orifices and is in great pain. Grumpet and Callimachus try to help him, but can not figure out how to stop the bleeding.
Grumpet says get him back to the stones and focus on his healing.
Kyros yells "He's here, and he's coming!" randomly.

We get him to the stones and all get him w/in a circle of us, concentrating on his healing specifically.
The blood turns black, still pooring out. He opens his mouth and vomits thick viscous black icor. He gurgles and chokes! A growling hiss comes from the puddle of spew, almost angry. The spirits all around we all now hear, Grumpet can see, acting in pain The pool of icor begins to congeal, move, bubble.
Kyros passes out, and stops bleeding. A black hand begins to form, then another.  Duncan starts throwing alchemist fire on it, 4 vials in succession.
Grumpet "Baltazar, do something!"
Kalestos raises his hand up, beating Baltazar to the punch, trying to dispel the magic summoning this thing here.
The now 2 hands retreat back into the ooze and it stope, now just a puddle.
Baltazar "That was utterly horrifying" he watched as the aura w/in your friend completely morphed from that of a man to something terrible he can not even describe. Utter….Wrongness. With no shape, and its still there in the puddle. Kalestos did not dispel anything.
Just then, it bursts forth into what looks like a slug of congealed blood the size of a man generally.
A pseudopod erupts from it, hitting Grumpet.
Callimachus withdraws quickly. Grumpet wild shapes into a black bear; Duncan cuts it with his war chopper and it divides into 2; Nepos fails to cast something; Balsamon blesses us; Kalestos begins a spell; Alexios attacks it. Baltazar is also working on a spell.
Baltazar yells "Glory to the blood angel!!" He's been corrupted and casts at Grumpet, who begins to bleed like Kyros but to a much lesser extent for 5 con damage. The blood that comes out of him flies into the bloodrot.
Alexios attacks Baltasar.
Duncan now shield bashes the mass as Grumpet bites at them.
Baltazar grabs Grumpets rear giving him 2 con back and the bleed stops.
Nepos fails again; Kalestos now finishes his spell, a stream of fire pouring from his hand onto one of the rots destroying it.
The bloodrot begins to move at full speed toward Kyros' ko'd body. Pieces are tendriling out to grab him.
Baltazar's wrists split open, the blood oozing into his hands forming blood maces, and attacks Alexios.
Duncan charges and takes down the blood rot. Grumpet crit bites Baltazar.
Calimachus checks on Kyros.
Alexios also crits Baltazar.
Duncan joins the fight just as Grumpet drops him. Duncan makes sure.
The central column of the shrine has a red glowing ring at the base of it.

Grumpet says the place is indeed a nexus of arcane energy, but Baltazar perverted it to the blood magic. Probably why every use has a negative with it now.
We start digging under the central pillar, and quickly find a ruby of perfect cut. Baseball size, glowing red.
We take the blood ruby with us.
No one likes holding it, very uncomfortable to our psyches.
Grumpet says that was the cause of the corruption for sure. We will take it far away. Back at town, we'll put it in a small lockbox and take it with us.
Near the ruby are half a dozen large moonstones, about the same size. Duncan has each priest takes one.

Day 18

Back to town. Kyros wakes up in town later that day.
We plan to get a small lockbox with a high quality lock. Duncan tells the priests that once we do, put any wards and protectins on it you can.

Duncan decides to get a lead box for the crystal. 2 keys, both with Duncan for now. He may give one to Arisaan soon. Balsamon says blood magic resists magical healing, so it will be up to our skilled healers.

Day 19

Grumpet and the priests continue working on the damage done by the shrine encounter to Kyros especially.

Duncan joins diplomacy alongside the Imperial Ambassador

Research also begins by Callimachus and the priests on the bloodstone.

Day 20

Continued research, healing, diplomacy.

Day 21

Callimachus, with the help of Brillstagg the Skull, says the blood gem is an item originating from a group called the Crimson Path, used decades ago. Part of a larger whole called The Heart of the Angel, a revered deity to the Crimson Path. No one has seen one since their  plague priests were expunged in the inquisiton. Balsomon, an historian, recalls some too. When the covenant of the Masters was in chaos afte rthe Masters left, and became the Return, the Crimson Path heavily infiltrated them and were causing worse chaos. Scholars thing the reason why there are so many different Return branches is because of heritical doctrine introduced by the Path. They tricked priests into doing Path work which they thought was Return work. The Path masked their blood works within the Return dogma. Very tricky. Major priestly officials would carry a blood amulet. Couple decades or so later, the church had figured out what was happening and finished an inquisition vs the Path. It began in the empire, and sent missionaries across the lands how to weed them out and destroy them.
The inquisition went continent wide. The blood rubies disappeared; what was found by the inquisition were wisked away with no record of what happened. Any Path remnants went underground.
First, Grumpet figures Baltazar got the gem from the underground. Duncan wonders if Baltazar did indeed visit the tower and got it from through the portal.
Our priests say the chance that a cult is here, thanks to the crystal, is too great to leave be. Hopefuly, he only found one and was corrupted by it. Or, the crystal had been here for a long time and corrupted him.

Path: many of their symbols floated around the old city in Master's time, the ancient city below. There seems to be no real cult activity related to this Path. Seems like it was just a lone occurance. At one point in the old city the cult was indeed here.
If anything remains, it would be old city = sewers or fled to the dungeon.

Day 22

Diplomacy and rest and research.

Bligh has been gathering info on the streets for any rumors of blood cult remnants, just to be on the safe side. He finds no leads thankfully.

Day 23

On our last day in town, Duncan goes out to explore the sunken tower west of the city. He takes Callimachus, Bligh, Kyros, Archileus and 1 hoblite and 3 hob trainees, Trysta, Toronaga, the Proniar and half the cavalray, and his 3 henchmen.
Callimachus has been searching for mentions of the tower in the papers from the dungeon. He found mention of a First who lived in this area, a favorite of the regional Master. This First was an arancist. During the preWar interMaster conflicts this First named Maylock had his tower and followers swallowed by the earth. Including, presumably, himself. Maylock was an impeccable dresser, taking great pride is his appearance and such gifts like medals from his Master. Was given a dagger as a gift for his status alone. Was very proud of it, but no mention of it being special otherwise.
We get to the tower uneventfully about 10am, and enter through the visible top floor via a window. The cav stay outside.
We split up: Duncan, henchmen, Toro, Kyros, Trysta; Bligh, Callimachus, hobgoblins.
Duncan finds steps, Bligh a ladder under a hidden hatch. Archileus leads the way down the ladder into a room with no visible doors. The floor is littered with bones and debris. Duncan and Bligh start to descend. Toro right behind.
Lots of old rusted equipment on the floor. A glint of metal from the far corner. Duncan investigates. Its the handle of a scepter 2 1/2' long. A gem or something in 4 prongs at the head is missing. We take it.
A gang of 4 Shadows attack us!!! 1 str down from Duncan and 6 from Bligh!!
The boss wrenches the scepter from Duncan's hands during the fight. Bligh's wooden blade can hit it, as can Toro's daisho. Duncan uses his Meelkor Holy Water which utterly destorys the boss Shadow.
Duncan :"Weren't expecting that, were you?" The other 2, Toro has killed one, begin screaming unintelligably. The other 2 now flee. The scepter has fallen to the ground.
We search. Duncan finds that an old door has been bricked up long ago.
Most of the bones are human.
A large symbol of some sort is carved across the whole floor. We sledge the bricked door open to an L shaped room finishing off the floor. In one corner are the bottom of the steps Duncan found upstairs that also continue downward. No Shadows.
We shovel all the bones out into the other room to reveal the symbol to Kyros and Callimachus who copy in great detail.
Once the hobgoblins clear the bones under Archileus supervision, horrible pains of all sorts wrack all but the hoblite. 
Callimachus says its a symbol of pain, the men who were once shadows were thrown in here and tortured to death by the symbol.
They're at minus 4 to all d2o rolls for 1 hour. They go upstairs with the Proniar. Archileus is attacked by a Shadow for 6 str! We run for the light of the top floor and outside.
Duncan, his 3 henchmen with Toro continue downstairs with the hoblite.
The walls of the next floor down are partially collapsed exposing support beams. Signs of combat long ago, including human remains. One staircase goes downward but away from the tower's structure. We find the main keep door once to the outide had been burst open from outside.
One body is a knight at the center of the pile of dead, rusted plate, sword run through him broken at the back. Arrow remains in the bones.
Robert and Davius start digging at a hole where the main doors were, that may lead to more open space. Toro watches the steps.
The break into a 20' tall vaulted cavity. Within are some 30 humanoid figures staring at them and the entrance. They toss a torch in about 10', they look skeletal, still in equipment and undead. Behind them stands a black shadow with blazing red eyes, ostensibly in command, in plate armor.
They stand like awaiting the doorway to be open to flood in, like they don;t realize the truth of the matter.
We stop digging at that point and turn back.
Under the knight back in the room, Duncan finds that one of the floor bricks is removable and lifts it out, finding a rotted leather bag:

Loot:
Black diamond, few inches in diameter. He pockets that
Immediately,  from the undead comes an ethereal, evil voice, yell "Servants of Maylock, give us the scepter and the jewel!"

The henchmen fill earth back into the hole.
The undead start to dig on the other side. They have a lot of work to do so we go to the 3rd floor we skipped by taking the ladder rather than the steps.
We find an old arcane lab. Perhaps some usable components still. We collect all of that for Callmachus and Trysta.
Here, we come to the mirror! 6' tall, pure gold frame, almost shadowy or hazy image. Up to 5' the frame is normal, but top 1' is demonic claws meeting atop, holding a demonic skull fanged horned and scowling.
Robert and Davius start to take it off the wall. Davius vanishes!!! We call for Kyros, who is sent down.
Kyros "Ah, not good. This looks like a planar gateway of sorts." Looking at it or contacting it can suck you into another plane, such as shadow, negative, positibe, wherever. Davius has been taken in.
D "How do we get him back?"
"Normally, you need a high powered wizard or you have to go in and find the key to get yourself back through."
"Like the scepter with this diamone?"
"Potentially. Personal I think you should call it a lost cause and keep moving."

We go down to see if the undead have breached yet. They are probably 20 minutes or half hour away.
We bring the Proniar and the cavalry down for a big fight. Brillstagg says the scepter and mirror are most certainly connected. Once heard of a First particularly favored by a Master in these parts obsessed with living/unliving. Vein, haughty, prone to fits of anger toward those who looked better than him. The scepter should act as a key through the mirror, but this mirror seems not to be completely what it seems. Something strange to it, some sort of inversion. Rather than a gate, it made somewhere else here.
Callimachus is sent back to town to fetch our priests and return.
Duncan puts the diamond atop the scepter. Trysta detects magic getting necromancy, enchantment and abjuration.

We go downstairs fast into a natural cavern, eerily cold, to steps down to a complex of worked rooms again.
We bypass what Toro calls Undead Oni Spirits, at his request.
Then into an old temple looking large room. 10 orc skeletons in the room like preparing for action. The leader is big and bad, burning orb in his gut.
Backtrack to the next room across, connecting to the Oni room. Barracks; 2 plate wearing shadowy beings in the room. Shadows.

Now up to the top sector, a series of rooms with little in them but pit traps and a nasty ghoul which paralyzed Duncan temporarily but Toro then slays it.

Next up a winding passage to another series of rooms, coming to a room of zombies.
We hear the signal whistle above so make for the fight but we are stuck, the handle of the door we came through disappears. Then it turns into a stone wall.
We go around the other side. We start to bash it but it turns to stone.
We hear the whistle again.
Back to the other side we haven't gone to. 2 statues of arcane like beings, probably masters. A room ahead, bell shaped.
2 undead orcs in half plate armor, and a skeleton in fancy outfit adorned with medals and ribbons, dagger in his belt. Lying in front of him is a corpse, writhing as a fresh undead perhaps.
Maylock.
Duncan, with the scepter, tails him they are about to bust his gates in.
"The interlopers are of no concern to me, but you will be my followers eternal."
He starts to cast and we attack.
Tapestries completely cover the walls.
Toro and Duncan go right for the big guy, Archileus and Bligh after the ghouls.
What could be Davius stands up and attacks Duncan "You left me in the mirror, aaaaahhh."
Holding the 2 black orbs he conjured in his hands, Maylok goes for Toro but misses. Quickly realizing that every time we strike him a negative glow comes from behind the tapestry behind him, Bligh moves and cuts it down. Behind it is a matching mirror!!  Then disappears!
Bligh finds himself in the exact same chamber, but a reverse image. There is a mage next to him, Maylock, Davius in front of him in combat fighting a group of WIghts together! The fight is an opposite image of the one he just left.
Bligh "What the hell is going on in here?"
A fleshy dead comes through the portal on Duncan's side in Bligh's place.
In the fog of the mirror, Duncan sees vaguely what't happening on the other side.
He pulls out the scepter and touches it to the mirror, turning it into a doorway and walks through. No Wights appear in his place though. He sees what's going on.
Maylock on that side is astonished.
He is at a loss. He was working with the mirror and scepter and something warped about it and well, shifted, in some way.
We go back through, but Maylock is unable to do so with us. Our simulacrum's drop dead and shrivel up there, as does Davius' here.
Duncan goes back through and he and Mayock make for his study as Toro and the others continues to fight.
They pass a gang of Wights mingling at the gate, like ours were now, from the attack by the men who are undead on our side. A confused elf stands among them, unnoticed by the wights. He follows us "Wait, I'm coming with you!" A few of the Wights start to follow but we continue on.
We beat the wights to the arcane storage room. Duncan stops to take the closest wight while Mayhlock and the elf continue and begin the furious research.
Duncan continues defending as 4 more ghouls rush up at him.
He finishes them off, and hears commotion downstairs.
Soon, the elf calls him into the room.
They can't find it! They tell him some key words and subjects and phrases to help look for.
He finds it in seconds!
This miror is similar to a mirror of opposition. Instead of opposite, it reflects the negative plain equivalent of this place. The 2nd mirror he made is a copy of the original to experiment. It swapped the tower with the negative version including the surrounding area. He thinks the arcane lines intersecting nearby helped.
The failures tied him to the mirror. In our real world, his undead version can't be destroyed while the mirror exist. The mirror can't be destroyed until the real Maylock here exists.
The tower will remain the neg plain version in the prime material realm though. Likely forever.
Real human Maylock is not a bad guy, so this sucks. His will always be Prime Mat inside the negative plane. If we could find a way to get real Maylock into the neg plane tower in our world then the undead would swap with him. Then we could maybe destroy the mirror.
We try going throught he upper mirror. It lets Duncan through.
The elf is our talking skull!! Once this all began, he suddenly was here with a body.
Maylock can't get through.
He calls through "I think there's someone coming up the stairs!"
Duncan comes back in. Wise guy elf thinks the is other version of Mayock is a Deathlock, like a Lich.
Duncan says "There must be a phylactery for it that is keeping this whole thing fused together."
Duncan says lets bust up the gem and scepter.
Maylock says its possible its the crystal on the dagger. Go back and steal the dagger, bring it back here to be destroyed. That should switch back the neg/pos swap that was done. Then destroy the mirror on our real world side.
4 wights block us, but Brillstagg turns them all.
Duncan comes through into the fight and snatches the dagger from its sheath and runs back through the mirror.
No destroying it. He gives Duncan his dagger to fight the deathlock with.
W/o his dagger in this plane, we kill him fast!!
It is healing though.
We drag the husk through the mirror.

Anyway, mirror broke, planes shifted back. Brillstagg could not travel back in physical form, it was purely a creation of the mirror.
Scepter gem breaks, both mirrors destroyed.
All the undead shift away into nothing.
Maylock the First is here, w/o his own dagger which we left in the deathlock, a man out of his own time.
The tower is now standing again at normal level.

We all get upstairs and meet our men, who made it through the fight with the skeletons.
Maylock will live here near Persukar.
Maylock says he knows of Toro's people. Way to the east we will find them. Its quite a ways, few thousand miles maybe.
Their whole political structurs is based around the infallability of their Masters and even Emperors.

 

 

Day 25

Rest and recoup

Day 26

We move out for Kimiristi

View
Under Persukar
Dungeon and Sunken Tower

Archileus in the catacombs, Day 17 

The hoblite engineer will map along the way.
We get led in by a sewer team. They say there are dozens of entrances to the catacombs, and dozens of entrances from there to the dungeons.
The most common entryway is called The Well. This was the well in the center of the old town. The architects of the new city were geniuses, using the architecture of the old city to build the sewers. A 40' diameter well.
They take us to the part that they personally know best, however.
Looking down, it goes right into the catacombs, lined with niche graves. A ladder goes downward.
They know one entrance to the dungeon from here. Looking at the ladder, go left for easily a quarter mile. There will be an entrance to the dungeons, an archway with steps going down.
The remind us the catacombs go miles in every directions, literally.
It definitely smells down here, unnatural like. We are certain undead lurk the catacombs, as rumor has it. At least one room was one giant undead creature, the team tells us, the room itself battled the workers. Some escaped to tell the tale.
We follow their direction to the archway and down the steps to a landing then opens into a room. 2 other openings lead out. We go north, and stumble immediately upon an old black reptilian tale, old, dry and crusted. Large enough it could be part of a dragon tale.
In this north direction we find a secret door down a left corridor but its locked. Bligh finds a hole in the wall, inside is a release. The door slides open into a room.
Feminine, ghostly lips hover and speak a riddle, smiles, and fades away.
Never be loud, always be still; for whispering cloud obeys master's will.
Green carpet and bookcases, circular wood table in center, massive armchair, candelabra and skull with last bit of scalp. Looking up, the air at the ceiling is cloudy; very moist and dank room
Bligh and Archileus move sneakily into the room and look around.
The books are thick accounting logs of long gone businesses, geneologies,  atlases, health care, and more. Very mundane and boring until we find a history of ancient dragon wars (1000 years or so ago when they fought the Masters), though much of interest to Callimachus; sewer and mine inspection tours from a dwarven kingdom (an enthusiastic rambling account); cattle breeding record; possibly 2 spellbooks, one of scaly hide over slate covers, other of gray elephant hide over wood. Fat book of recipes; staff.
We will be taking all of this back.
Bligh "This alone is going to make the entire trip worthwile for Callimachus."
We brought sacks and packs, and we pack all that we can.
Outside, the soldiers hear booted feat nearby, from the south hall we didn't take originally and heading this way.
We all take positions to see if we pass this way. Torches out.
9 orcs make their way toward us. They look wary, like they are searching or hunting. An archer is at point.
We ready to attack, but they are strung out in a rough line. Tactically, too easy for some in lead or rear to escape so we let them be.
Archileus sends one hoplite to tail them.
We finish packing up and take it back to the stairway, setting it all down about halfway up.

Now continuing north through a door past a right turn to a T section. Our sneak left a dagger pointing the way he followed, making the left through another door. Passing a huge ancient audience chamber on the right, we follow past another room, making a right then another right past a long hall to a left turn. Further, a goblin runs from the intersection, the orc leader gathers his men and ready a plan of attack "They already know we are here." Then plan to charge down the hall, splitting into groups of 3, food stores important as "we're hungry".
The scout reports this as we are following and we move forward.
By the time we arrive, there is a quasi celebration. It's the goblins! Peeking down, there are a few dozen goblins, many beaten and bloody, dragging the last of the orcs into a pile still barely alive. A bunch of dead goblins lie around as well.

We enter, without Bligh, and greet them. It was obviously not an easy win. At first, they are ready for a fight. Archileus stops them, and the leader steps out and acts abrasive.
The orcs are part of a warbgand that settled just next to where we entered, they are relatively new to the area. Not many, probably and advanced force or survivors of a dead tribe. He says there are many, many ways into this dungeon, even from the wilds above. Plus Master gates to other parts of the world.
The orcs hit one of their foraging parties.
There are about 30 warriors here.
He claims there are another 100 warriors in their warren.
He tells us about a grate in one of the city inns far east of where we entered. ALso, when they need to get outside, there is one they use to outside the city limits via a secret door in their warrens into a cave into the hills.
They make a point not to mess with the humans. They are much happier down here anyway.
They have a trade agreement with a group of kobalds here, that also station near our entrance next to the orcs. They and the orcs have also fought, they are led by Vhue the Adventurous.
They know in detail much to the east of here. There is a maze of rooms south of there. The caves also to the south, and rooms tween there and our entrance. Otherwise, not far off. Lots of undead and giant bugs roam about. At least one gelatinous cube roams the halways. Packs of ogres and bugbears. They hunt outside, and down here molds and fungi to eat. There are levels below this that other beings come up from here and there. At least 4 levels.
One of the orcs has a short sword with a glowing pommel that it talks to.
The goblin leader is named Balugd
Archileus offers an agreement: if we eliminate the orcs, they and Vhue keep the humans in mind if anything truly dangerous to the outer world shows up, keep eyes and ears open, that sort of thing; start an information brokering with the surface. Archileus thinks this place, this large, is a ticking timebomb for the city.
Perhaps even get some people down here to show them how to secure more area.
Plus free reign for us to travel here, even through his and Vhue's areas.
Archileus asks for Vhue to be summoned, and goes over the whole thing with her.
She has a pet giant weasel Dorn. She is highly agreeable to the deal.
Bligh has been introduced by this point as well.

Balugd sends a guide with us to the orc area.
Vhue and 3 of her champs are joining us as well on the raid.
They lead us to a circular room The Chamber of the Well.
Goblin guide: the head orc is very foreign to this area; a metal helm comes to a rounded point at the nose with eyeholes; very fond of furs and his mail shirt; large around wood shield; goes by Klethvagi.
We find Klathvagi and the rest of his orcs in one large room. The hoplites in mini wedge then line, and our kobold allies, storm the room and massacre teh orcs. Bligh then moves in and brings Klathvagi down. His chain is mst and his short sword is magical!

Loot:
5 blackened long swords of a northman style 
19 small crates: bundles of fabrics, moyre, etc. Trade Goods! Old but in superb condition
66 more crates of goods: including spice and one with medicinal herbs; ceramics, statuary, etc.
20 sacks: onions, cabbages, root veggie, smoked hams, cheese wheel, mint water, whole pickels
6 metal flasks of healing elixier: after 1 hour gives 2d4+2 hp back.
Klathvagi's:
3 beads of force: 5d4 each in a 10' radius
mithril mail shirt
Short Sword: does not want to leave Bligh's side, and begins speaking to him telepathically. Blade crafted of blue mithril; on each side of the hilt are cougar paws, handle of ivory with some sort of unknown hide; worth total well over 1000gp w/o magic; crystal in the pommel glows, might be a diamond, speaks to Bligh. Tells him its name is Harikkas. Of Spelekian descent. He was a woodsman and warrior, had come this way shortly after the Master's vanished and found the dungeon. He faced an evil wizard who destroyed his body and put his soul into the sword. Ideally he'd rather not be, but he'd need a wizard or holy caster to put his soul into a new body. He's picky about the body, too. Until he is out, its a plus 2 short sword (when he's gone, mst with 2 special abilities: plus 1 dam/incr crit mult), plus 4 vs trolls; DC25 use magic can act as a sword of dancing for 6 rounds.

Now, we and our new allies feast on the food winnings!!! They get whatever food is leftover, we get the rest.

Archileus congratulates his men down the line on terrific fighting. Then, we pack up all our loot and get it to the caravan. The materials that can be traded or sold will be. Archileus stays with the goblins through the night to build more relations and repore. Bligh and the hoblites stay with the caravan. They will bring a group of the new hobgoblin recruits from the castle adventure in the morning.

Day 18

This is the day Duncan returns from the arcane shrine, see above.

Bligh leads the 7 new hobgoblins to Archileus with 6 of the hoblites from yesterday as well. Bligh stays for now, but will return to the surface sometime in afternoon or early evening to report to Duncan. The other 4 hpblites stay with the goblins.

We want to link this area to The Well entrance, map from one entrance to another. It lies eastward. We go up to the intersection at which the orcs turned left to go the the goblins. There is a right turn just below that intersection. That is our way.

First though, adjacent to the orcs, the goblins and kobalds say there is an ancient tomb area we should check out first. They believe it to be cursed and avoid it. A few have gone that way and never return.
Through the first door, a dwarven statue of a warrior holding a 2 handed axe greets us. A voice from it says not to disturb the servers of Barrik Whitehelm. It spoke in the Empire latin.
We pass by it and continue on.
It is dark and smells terribly.
We come across 4 humanoids, huddled in a corner. The room has 14 stone coffins. Lids covered in dwarf runes. One corner has a pile of broken bones near the huddled creatures.
They lift their heads up as Bligh and Archileus enter. They smell the air briefly.
Bligh "Who goes there?"
They collectively screech and howl eery. All 4 sprint for us. 2 of our new hobs get their first action, 2 hoblites behind them. Arch and Bligh on the flanks just at the door.
We make short work of the undead. They have burn marks all over their body. 3 ghouls and 1 ghasts.
Each coffin are all named. Callimachus will translate later.
We open up the coffins. 14 complete sets of dwarven warrior equipment, all in great shape. Each armor is engraved with the name of who wore it. We get the goblins to collect everything under supervision of the 4 reserve hoblites.
Another room has a magically preserved tapestry of a white dragon. An altar on a dais. Either end rises in 2 armes becoming candle sticks. They radiate visible magic. Each has a white candle atop it. The dragon on the tapestry was also on the dwarf coffins.
Others more qualified will have to check out this altar. We move on.
Through a short stretch of hall with stagnant water flooding it ankle deep.
We come to a T section with another hall just left and forward. The north end turns the same direction east. Bligh and our goblin scout go south.Its a much longer hall before it turns east as well.
We take the hall to our immediate left. It makes a square connecting to the turn just beyond it (including a deadend dogleg), which we then follow further east to a 4 way intersection. To the northis a T section just ahead. To the south, stairs leading down into a possible room. North, both directions go beyond sight.
A door is straight ahead. We go south down the steps first. Our goblin scout says this is good hunting area, lots of vermin.
It leads into a sort of egg shaped room full of pillars to the ceiling. Archways go the other 3 directions as well
Among the pillars, a mettalic glint is noticed by Bligh.
A giant rat scurries in the room but it avoids us. Bligh walks to the glint of metal. It's a gold coin, unknown markings. Probably hundreds of years old. Callimachus will confirm this later. On the SE wall writtin in charcoal points to south "certain death this way". One pillar has the skeleton of a long dead serpent spiralling around it. We look down each other exit, all start with another stairway. West goest to a long corrirod of mirrors down each side. SOmething small lies on the floor partway down. South goes to a long hall with1 visible branch east with a goblin standing just ahead. East hall is doubly wide into a nother long gallery room.
2 hobgoblins see a small brass key on the floor as they go to get the gobin. The goblin is crouched on the floor. "Are you ok?" He leaps up with a spear and shield on the defense, short bow strapped to his back. We bring up or goblin scout (Barg). They talk briefly. His name is Nnesk but not from around here; just arrived, he walked into a cave, there was a flash and disorientation, and here he arrived. His riding boar was left outside the cave. He is also out of arrows. He has been wandering for a couple days; ran into some orcs and animals so far but got away. He is more of a plains goblin. He came up from further south down this hall.
He refuses to stay in such close confines, bad Agorophobia. Barg explains about our expedition and he is fully up for joining up to find his homeland.
Nnesk also says do NOT pickup the coin where he was just sitting, it burned his palms immediately, its a fire trap. That takes a real jerk.
1 of our reserve hoblites will lead him up top.
We continue east leading right to the well!!
Back around to the door, not locked. Tiny vent shafts go upward out of the walls. A suit of bright chain hangs on a rack, and a long sword. In front of it are 3 armored orcs playing dice munching on meat skewers. 1 large jug of a frothy black drink they are drinking. Having quite a good time. All 3 scramble to their feet as the door opens. One points and says "Beware human, we will defend ourselves.
He's surprised when we don't immediately attack. They have heard that the city pays guards to watch entryways. They were going to climb the well and offer their services. Gring, one of their own, did so and someone poured hot liquid downward on him. 1gp/week they supposedly offer. Just looking for an honest job.
We explain that we are exploring for ourselves and we may be able to get those jobs.
They join us for the day.
They tell us about the secret door that goes into the long galery room from here, and one out of the well room going north. They spend most of their time on the level below. A cave complex far south has a lot of nasty stuff in it. A recluse wizard lives farther north, not very friendly. A group of brigands as well. The city does not like death penalty, so they put such people in the dungeon. They migrate around, last seen south of here, to east of caves.
Bligh "Show us to where you get to the lower level." Go back same we came, go south a ways through a maze like area to a secret door.
Bligh "Take us there." They lead us down the south turn east of the flooded hall.


Tapestry of White Dragon of Bereg Whitehelm = 400

The hoblite and new hobgoblin engineers mapping all the way. Through an old throne room with a skeleton sitting. It turns in its seat and watches our every move but otherwise does nothing. We don't get any closer either.
At the end we turn right/west then south through a door next to steps. Past another altar just like the previous with the candle holders.
Straight south into the maze area. A rippling black curtain hands ahead which we turn away from The orcs say anytime you see one of those, don't go through. Always a monster on the other end. Often in a tricky way like mimics taking advantage to ambush.
We go around, to south then west to the body of a large lizard they killed and ate at a doorway. Through the door there to a 4 way intersection. The south hall goes right to a door. In this room, they say we'll have to be careful. Some dwarves were asleep beyond it, this room has a statue in it. They gave it a wide berth as it gave off a bad vibe. Like magical, and eerie. We go in. Its huge and dark in color. Pillar base is 7' tall. Atop is a male torso, arms pointing towrds north and south doors (we just entered the north). Head and some fingers are missing.
We give it a wide berth to a secret door to a hall. In the next room lie 6 armored dwarves in a heap. Weapons beside them. They snore deeply, beards far too long.
They are called the 6 sleepers. They are a known landmark in here, longer than anyone they know has been alive. Everyone figures they are under a curse.
All their coin purses have been long stolen, as well as some other equipment.
We continue to a door east, In this large room are the steps going downward.
We continue west, to turn north back into our goblin friends' territory.
Before we get very far at all, we hear a horrified scream from behind us. Back to the Sleepers' Room. 1 has woken up!! The others are beginning to move as well.
A handful of humanoids are moving toward them, about a dozen humans ready to kill them armed with various weapons.
Orcs "Some of the brigands."
They are coming through the south door we went through to get to the steps down.
They all look like violent criminals. Only the leader looks different.
One of them at teh sight of our trained men "Tushar, uh uh, we don't get paid to fight real fighters.
He was a rebel who attempted to overthrow the lords of the city and failed, we will find out when we go above and report.
Our men rush in. Bligh sizes up the leader. He tries to deal with Bligh, who declines, walks right up to him and starts swinging. The dwarves turn to the hobgolins, their leader turns to Archileus confuses as to whether they are supposed to kill the hobs or if we are really helping dwarves. Arch confirms we're here to help. They go for their equipment.
The brigands just stand there, eyeballing.
Bligh hits Tushar again. Tushar tries to bluff Bligh, but fails miserably. Bligh hits him hard 22. Then he tumbles back and runs. The hoblites hurl spears and the hobgoblins charge. The first 2 in the room drop DEAD.
The others in the hall back up to the stairway room, forming into a V shape ready for us.
Behind their line, 3 of them guard Tushar who is getting bandaged by another.
We send the orcs in first to break up their line. Some hoblites follow behind. One of the orcs is taken down but lives.
The healer actually casts a magic healing on Tushar.
Archileus, Bligh, and 2 hobgoblins move past the line as soon as their is an opening to the leaders group.
The caster fires an eldritch dart at Archileus and barely misses. Bligh and the 2 hobs take out the 2 guards. ARchileus engages Tushar but he feels the new LS almost turn his hit into a miss.
We wipe the brigands out.
The blade also hinders Archileus blocks! Damnable thing is cursed!
Bligh finally brings him down.
Archileus "Give up, spellcaster."
He quits. He'll work for not being killed. They had an encounter with the orcs a few days ago and were looking for them.
We make him take us to their loot room. Its actually down the stairs but we go anyway, though we didn't plan on leaving the level at all today.
We weave through some halls to a 4 way intersection, huge chamber both north and south. He leads us north to a massive room with pillars allaround the perimeter and a colonade down the far end.
Double doors at teh fare end as well as 2 other archways out.
A bright white sphere is suspended in midair at one end; a pile of loot lies below it. A small altar is within the pile, stone. Suits of armor are all throughout the room.
That ball, he has no idea what it is.
We make him sack up all the loot around the altar under the ball. He is not too keen on doing that at first, then grumbles the whole way over.
We get to the pile and notice 2 things. Inside the orb, about a foot across, is what looks like a person but shadowy and blurred in detail.
Suddenly, he goes for a bounding step but fails to conjure the power and hops about 2 feet.
We rush him and take him down then question him. He tries to hit Bligh with the sack but misses horribly.
Archileus "Why don't you tell us why you don't want to do this?"
One of the hoblites has to stab him in the calf to get him to start with his task. He bags it all up but for a small tiara atop the dais.
Bligh "You forgot the tiara."
"Oh, me, so I did. I have an allergy to platinum."
We gag and tie him up.
Looking closer at the sphere, the person looks like they are lying down but are upright nonetheless. Holding a staff looking thing close to it.
Looks like an elf wearing a tiara just like the one here.

600gp worth of coins et al

We go back upstairs taking the arcanist with us.
We meet the dwarves properly. 
Arthan, Bahordil, Dammath, Elengi, Goruth, Khaltarr. Deep in the lower levels it reaches the upper underdark, whose tunnels stretch all across the continent. They came up from lower levels. They drank from a flask of wine the found here, which they still have. Few minutres after they all fell asleep. They describe their clan, which sounds like the dwarf kingdom in the books we found yesterday in the library amongst the healing books.
By the length of their beards, they've been asleep for a good 80 to 105 years.
"Just out of curiosity, who is tha Master in this region above."
Boy do we have news for them. Callimachus can give them a more detailed tale later.
One of them is missing his weapon Welm, a terrific magic warhammer. Another is missing mithril plate. "Hopefully the followers of Keraptis didn't get their hands on the hammer. But the odds of them getting their hands on all the artifacts is slim to none."
We explain what we are doing here, that if they stake out a claim around here we're sure they can ally with the city. Though it is surely different than the one you recall.
They are not happy about this situation.
Bligh says they should come to the surface and meet the town leaders if that's their plan.
Each as about an 8' long beard.
Things are a bit odd at first especially, dwarves with goblins and orcs.
Archileus explains his hobs are civilized et al.

We head back north to our goblin home base.
Rest time now. We lead everyone out to the surface.
As we pass the sewer level, the dwarves do recognize it as the town they remember.
Duncan returns and all report.

Day 19

The dwarves say the statue with the head broken off was that of the local Master. There was a stairway back in the day that came down from above it to the floor. A close inspection reveals the old bolt markings. They say the red stone makes granite look like mica. The statue was made in pieces and sealed together via magic and alchemy. The head, after their inspection, was no doubt broken off by force, not cut or chiselled off.
We figure that stairway, if it was going to a statue of a Master, might go somewhere of previous importance in the now catacombs.
We bring them down, and the hoblite engineer begins constructing a scaffold to the ceiling.

Duncan starts his political stuff the remainder of his stay.
Dealing with goblins and orcs and dwarves with us and city starts.
Our vouching for the ors leads to the orcs getting entryway guards. They will start immediately. Outfittend and equipped by town guard.
Nnesk finds that no one here knows anything about his type of goblin or dialect. He has no clue where he is. Duncan talks to him and he joins the expedition.
The dwarves to not feel like they'd be an appropriate fit here afterall. Just too different. They ask to travel with us east for a while. They are from that direction as far as they recall.
Duncan agrees.

The dwarves pass on this info:
Whitehelm was a dwarven champion of the colony underneath the city, died a generation or 2 before them. Slew a white dragon single handedly. Eventually killed in battle vs orcs and goblinoids. The equipment we have from the tombs, which they would normally consider an afront but seeing as that clan is long gone now since they aren't here anymore no harm no foul. THey woul dlike to equp themselves from that. ANything else they'd prefere we didn';t sell it off as mere loot to just anyone.
Barag himself has a long ivory coffer in the likeness of the dragon, they say; a basket hilt dirk, hilt worked into a wyvern hunting scene with gems inset as the eyes, fighting pegasi riders; a handaxe forged of everbright steel, and a crown and scepter supposedly magical.
We didn't find any of that, none of the coffins were Barag's.
Duncan thinks he'll give them Barag's tapestry when they split off from us.

Archileus' sword is cursed, it won't let him use anything else nor get rid of it. Our researchers will try to find a remove ritual. He'll still lead his men below, though.
But back into the dungeon we go today, this time Toronaga also in tow.
All but 1 of the hoblites descends again, left to drill the new hobs. We do take the new hob engineer to map and the scout.

The priests comes to inspect the orb. That's where we head first. After staring, debating for 10 minutes they come to the agreement that they're not sure where this woman actually is, but she is not here. However, it is a form of communication. Were one to reach in, you would physically touch her. What the ramifications are to that is unknown. The all believe she is wearing a tiara just like the one here. The tiara has magic on it, likely also dealing in communication linked to the orb.
Callimachus thinks donning it may allow communication, but that's just a theory.
More study should yield more. Being here would be beneficial. Kalestos especially thinks here is the place. Callimachus goes to the surface, collecting all the tomes they may need and bring them here to start working by the afternoon. The 5 other new hobs are brought down to guard them, along with Duncan's 3; Bligh will also stay here. The hoblite drill instructor is left here with the hobs.

The others make their way back upstairs to the first level. We want to secure what is immediately adjacent to halls the orcs led us by to get to the steps down. So we first head east right from the steps area. Then we plan to cut back up the long hall they led us down to explore what is just to the east of that.
First, we map all the halls we want to hit w/o entering any rooms. Then, we go back and hit all the rooms we passed in doing so.

First, through a bronze door is the carcass of a manticore.Still a body, decomposing recently. No noise ahead, so we continue on our guard. There is a canvas sack underneath it. As we roll the body off it releases a terrible odor of decay. One of the hoblites pukes all over the place. The underside releases a bunch of goo and its belly is wiggling. Archileus orders everyone off. Maggots crawl out. Our hands and arms are covered in grubs now.
Rot grubs!!
Archileus "Torches, burn them off even if we burn ourselves." One of the hoblites turning the body over has 6 crawling through him. By the time we fix him he has lost 11 con damage. We aren't boing near the bag. The belly is about to burst with probably hundreds more. We are out of here.
We put the hoblite with the dwarves and continue.

Next to room 19, the frame of a bed with a coffin within. A slithering sound within it. It smells like death. We approach, and a large snake like creature looks right at us slithering for us, closer and closer but it goes right by us. Just a snake. A tomb snake.
In the coffin is a skeleton, black warhelm now rusted to uselessness. Blackened blade longsword in his hands. We drag the coffin out of place to search thoroughly. Under in a niche is a chest. It crumbles upon touching it.
As we are digging the gold out, from the top of the canopy from an opening comes a handful of tentacles! A hideous grell follows!
It paralyzes the scout pulling out the gold and starts pulling him up.
We put the spears to work.
One round spear thrusts and a javelin bring it down.
Momentarily the scout is fine.

Loot:
460gp
Scroll that is a eulogy to the fallen hero here: a paladin, holy warrior, named Grauth Mharabbath; warlord of this city in days of the Masters, the original city; known for fighting off orc and barbarian hordes, died vs servants of another Master. Gahandra was the paladin's Master.
Callimachus will have a wooden coffin made and his remains will be taken back as a relic.

Engineer "That thing probably has a lair in the ceiling."
Hoblite "Probaby bodies and loot."
Upward is a hollowed out room. Other than rodents, also humanoid bones. Also, what looks like an icycle, its even cold. Plus a carved bone covered in arcane runes. Maybe a femur once. The knee joint is sanded down to a smooth handle. Rod or Wand?
The icycle does not melt to touch. We nab them both.

Beyond we find steps down that is blocked by rubble at the bottom. We leave that alone.

We backtrack, go west to east, SE of the maze, and continue east and check out a southern block of 5 doors in a long dead end hall.
One small alcove beyond a door is a fast dead end. We assume a trap and ignore it.
Another is a room of scintillating light which almost hypnotizes Archileus, we close it.
Another has a speaking skull on table asking who we are after introducing itself. Claims was once a powerful cleric, elf. His Master was Lathander Morninglord, creator of the elven race. This cleric fell afoul of an evil immoral wizard. He was slain in a bar brawl, left in an ally for almost a week. A guard, spooked by his speaking, beheaded him and tossed it in the sewer. His intellect is in this skull still. All he tried to talk to get tired of hearing him talk. Eventually taken by another wizard to the surface, but sold him to an arcanist of the city who experimented on it. Kept as a table ornament in his library. Stolen by thieves, explaining to them the folly of their immoral ways the whole time to their lair (here). Over a year ago. About 2 or 3 days ago the thieves left me here and never returned. He says he's full of knowledge and witty foibles, moral to a fault, marvelous watchman. Name Muragh Brillstagg.
Archileus "We'll tell our bosses, we may come back for you."

Another room filled with webs, we mark as potentially dangerous spiders.

The skull room has a door at the other end to a hall. We can enter the web room from there. There is an open well just inside. The water surface is visible, but clouded darkly. Looks like there may be some stuff at the bottom.
Archileus and one of his men notice 3 big spiders stalking, but waiting.

Out and further on to a storage room
14 earthen jars of olives, recent actually. 20 small kegs of brined herring; 14x 5 gallons of dry white wine; 12 metal lined crates of whole carcass smoked beef; 14 boxes each with 5lb seasoned red wine cheese; 1 basket skood, like a radish/potato; 1 keg brined oysters.
We haul all of this out to the surface.
Banquet morale booster at the caravan tonight! A local eatery will dry salt much of the smoked meat for jerky for us over the next couple days.

We set a canvas cover and smoke fire at one end of the spider room, pour oil into the other and light it up. We burn and smoke them to death. Then loot the well.

Loot:
36 copper
14sp
5gp
2 uncut blood stones 50ea
pair bracers increase DR 1
boots of stealth (MS unless have group, then its both) plus 5
crystal ball
dagger, longtooth

The skull, as well, for Callimachus.

Now northward, east of the long south passages.

Find a chained up woman, who screams at the sight of us. Barefoot and unarmed, wearing only a gown of a wealthy woman from the west. Toronaga enters to calm her down. She is hysterical, sobbing. She was given to a spider cult as a sacrifice, but have not gotten to her yet. Her name is Trysta, priest in the Covenant. We free her.
We get her out.
Further this way we do find a book in some old arcanist rooms, of spells. Most involve the use of blood as material component. Then, in other rooms, more blood cult evidence. Again, obviously wiped out. Mention on a piece of parchment of Myrkal the Lord of Bones, also called Lod of Murder. One of last of the leaders of the Path before it was shut down. He was lairing here until the new cult took him and his people out. So, happened decades ago. Good, evidence of no blood cult here anymore.


Hall of the Sleeping Kings: rows of great stone seats. Voice from the air "doom, doom takes us all". Remains of kings of the north 177+ years dead. Humans.
A parchment with a riddle upon it. We leave it.

Next room a black stone idol of a spider with an altar.
A female elf is chained here! Toronaga approaches first, so the hoblites don't scare her.
She is Maith Slenderbow, fletcher and archer from the crystal wood NW. She wears only a silk shift, unarmed, blindfolded and gagged with webs. The chains are actually of spider silk!
Was taken captive by the cult of the Attercop and allied svartalf, or nifleheimers. She is to be sacrificed, how long she is not sure. She's been a prisoner easily 21 months. The dark elves are prepping for teh sacrifice somewhere around here. The leader is Esra, with an honor guard of warriors and a consort. Plus about 20 layfollowers.
We free her.
She says this place used to belong to another cult this one didn't get along with. This one cleansed their holy areas and occupied. Not sure who they were.
Must have been the blood cult, judging by the spell book we just found.
She says the cult leaves to the north.

Archileus gathers reinforcements and waits in ambush. We don't want them to find her missing and come for our goblin allies nor to the surface. All his hoblites, Bligh and Duncan's 3. The hob engineer goes with the dwarves in the hoblite engineer's place.
Before late, they arrive. We catch them in the hallway between the 2 huge rooms, attacking from front and rear.
The first approach is the spider keeper talking about someone having killed her spiders. Trailing her is an ettercap, another dark elf women leads them. Others warriors follow.
In the rear is a heavily scarred male dark elf.
11 total.
The men chant an evil song, yet beautifully elven still.
Our rear hits first, Toronaga vs the scarred male. Then teh front hits as they react.
They drop a darkness and fairie fire us up!
We back off, then Archileus yells to lock shields and both front and rear charge in usison. We sandwich them, pushing them together and eliminating their casting potential.
One of the hoblites grapples the lead woman and drags her out of the darkness where Bligh lies in wait, stabbing her with Harrikas DEAD.
We hear the ettercap scoot along the ceiling and flees.
We cut them to pieces even in the dark. The last one left is Esra, high priestess, lying on the ground, screaming in horror as Archileus and 4 hoblites stab wildly into her body.

Loot:
3 x drow plate
6 x drow chain
All will disintigrate in the sunlight
Esra's ornate black helm in shape of spider (any attercop cultist will become enraged at any non cultist wearing it) = freedom of movement in webs; sensitive touch/feel vibrations is blindsense 30'

The layfollowers have not arrived. WHen they do, its 20 commoners we butcher.
We retire for the day to the dwarves and academicians.

The icycle turns out to be a wand that casts a magic missile but cold damage (46).
The bone is a quasi artifact, very powerful. Rod of resurrection, however, shamanistic. It summons spirits to do the job. They will demand a price in return.

The academics:
Almost positive she is in a magic jar type thing, her own demi plane. The crown holds the sphere to this plane of existence. Destroying it would make her stuck there forever. She is certainly imprisoned but don't know how to get her out.
The sphere is not mobile, either. She is not aging though, and is in a stasis almost all the time.
Communiation seems to be directly into it, when she's awake.

We report all to the city council. They are grateful at the elimination of the cult, but sorry they had to lose the commoners who were citizens.
The orcs have been positioned as watchmen of the well.

At the dwarves:

The scaffolding is completed. At the top is now a secret door. Rather than catacombs it leads to the original older stair remains. It bypasses the catacombs into the sewers of the city to a sewer grate into the city.

Day 20 and forward

Search the sewer area of the stairway for anything important today.

Over the rest of our time in the dungeon before the caravan moves on, we find the remains fo the Black Banner, a small group of adventurers who went east from our lands about 3 years back, not long after Duncan was starting to plan his own. They were never heard from again. What is strange is that they never were in teh city above us. They obviously entered from the countryside somewhere. They were certainly killed by violence, blade and bow. 3 bugbear and 7 human remains in total. First in robes, twisted, knapsack still in tact. He has abrass ring still as well. Duncan has met these guys in passeng before. He says that is and arcanist named. Thanirion Arkelt, from the isles to the north like Duncan. 2nd a big burly man, plate breast broken and hacked apart. Dried puddle of blood under him. Has belt pouch still, sword still in his side. He was Aaron Thilendor, good fighter. 3rd with long hair, face down on top of a bugbear, wearing chain. He was Andor Eothred, a saxon. 4th was slim man, black hair, broken short sword next to him, leather armor, dagger in hand. Died via spearpoint. He was Havalar Oremejo, lots of daggers stashed on him. 5th, back beared and old scar on left dried cheek, battle axe near him, twisted back and arm, split shield still strapped on. His help is near him, crushed apart. He was Barkos Oros, greek type. 6th, red haired man in studs, beneath a bugbear sack and lantern at his legs = Delbar Thorir, northman. Last, brown hair, studs, sprawling over a polearm, sack at his hand = Hortir Gundelbar, a Thorangian.
The arcanist's dagger glows faintly of magic when picked up.

Loot:
dagger of returning from arcanist
silver Returnist holy symbol (on the saxon) = 15
9 perfectly weighted daggers extra 5' to range increment(from Havalar), all with a bloodstone set into pommel = 50gp each stone
Boots with hollow heels (from Havalar)
70' climbing rope, waxed cord a bit stronger then avg
Scale mail and battle axe (Oros)
Lion head gold belt buckle (ornage and snarling) from Barkos = 15
Bronze charm, in shape of sword of Imbrun (from Oros) = 5
Their journal of travel!! Were getting to outskirts of city, but investigated a cave first; encountered goblins and orcs, then later bugbears, where the entry stopped.

We bring their remains out for proper burial and warn the city of the cave entrance to the dungeon.

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