May 29, 2018 at 10:56 am #9645
Session 31 – To the Oasis of Fish
Tabari was tired.
The group had been moving non-stop since Araceli had been taken from Ahmed’s tribe. The chase was hard, especially the Plains of Ash. It was the first time he had been back since he had buried his wife. He tried to hide it from the others how much it affected him, but he wasn’t sure how successful he was. Regardless, the clear goal had made it easier to push on.
After Araceli was back with them, then it had been the trek through the terrible sandstorm. With the blessings of Qedeshet and Arad’s sense of direction, they had made it to the safety of the mountains just before the Oliphant had arrived. Again, the urgency of the situation had made it easier to press forward. Move or die.
He glanced over at Salim, laying still on the magic carpet. His burns were still bad, but Araceli had gotten him through the worst of it. It was clear he would live, he just needed rest. Tabari’s magic showed his dreams were plagued by a large green monster, but helping with that was beyond his skills.
But Salim no longer being in grave danger meant that the sense of urgency was gone. There was no one to chase or to be chased by. It was possible that the minions of Apophis were still behind them, but they were keeping out of sight if so. Instead, there was just the miles of sand to trudge through until they reached the Oasis of Fish.
There would be plenty to do when they arrived. A full expedition in to Hekata needed to be planned. Porters and supplies to be obtained. Arad would arrange most of it, but it was still he who had the group’s coins. He would have to make the final transactions.
It could all wait until tomorrow. Tonight, he just wanted to sleep in an actual bed for the first time in weeks.
Left is Death!August 13, 2018 at 12:51 pm #9715
Session 32 – Journey to the Boarder of Hekata
His blood was racing as it always did in battle. He surveyed the carnage now that the cursed archer had been driven off. Three of their trusty porters had fallen to the arrows of Amangul the Patient before fleeing. The flame monster lay there in the form of a human. It was not clear if it was a form he’d chosen or a curse. Sand orcs lay here and there, the group looting them of their things of value.
And then there was the woman… chained to the wall of the ruin, moments from being sacrificed when the Five had saved her. She was beautiful, dressed as a Bedu but looking… higher born perhaps? Wise Tabari questioned her before we would decide to unchain her. She claimed to be a scholar on her own journey to Hekata for the acquisition of knowledge. Ahmed stayed wary since facts and lore was a weak spot for the grey-muzzled Cakali. She claimed to be researching a pharoah though none of us had heard the name before (Apepis Dashir the 3rd). She claimed to not be heading to the Great Pyrmaid, tomb of Apophis, as we were but would gladly travel with us for protection and would find things near the Great Pyramid of interest to her own learning. We learned her name was Kanika and that her own caravan had been waylaid. After finding the remains of her caravan and retrieving her most valuable books, we recamped and headed onward.
Nights of travel and days of camping through the heat brought us to a stone circle. We determined that it had been raised to Tammuz, the faithful’s god of death and judgment. We left the body of a fallen porter in the circle as an offering.
Finally we reached a row of obelisks in the desert, spaced widely apart but in view of each other. The obelisk had writing on it but Ahmed was too distracted trying to convince the camel that it was safe to pass between the obelisks. A group of Bedu were traveling outside this obelisk-defined border. They warned us away from entering Hekata but when we showed we were determined, they agreed to help guide the camels across the border.
Left is Death!August 13, 2018 at 12:59 pm #9716
Session 33 – The Perils of Boom Sand
All was pain and then darkness. His mind strained to recover itself. There was something critical… a life was on the line… but soon he slipped into the soup of insensibility and memories.
Stepping through the border to Hekata was his typical choice, a mixture of impatience and imagined bravery. He’d expected more resistance but passing through was surprising. In every way he felt the land was different, no matter that the rocks and sand were the same as those outside the mysterious border of obelisks. He remembered how everything appeared washed out, as if the life had been wrung out of the world…
Staring at the woman, Kanika, and feeling dread. She was beautiful and that was as distracting as Araceli’s beauty but from time to time Ahmed was able to raise his gaze and really look at her. She deflected questions with great skill and obfuscated her own purpose and goals. When the Bedu called her Twice-born, she had bristled and had not been forthcoming when wise Tabari had pushed her on it.
Walking next to the camels, Ahmed felt more dread than excitement for the adventure they were on. In the last year, they had experienced many dangers and witnessed many wonders he’d never dreamed of, but no matter how many times he’d cheated Tammuz, he felt that this journey might truly be to find the end of his story…
Sand-worn skeletons of men lurching from the sands! Grabbing Flash and a burning chunk of the fire, he made his way easily through them, smashing their ancient bones to bits until they had all been destroyed or sunk back into the sands…
Flying… oh the heavens he loved flying… flying fast over lengthening shadows, racing toward the sun to find Arad. More skeletons, he’d fly through them and cut the down but that was harder than he’d thought, his sword flying through nothing but air as he swirled past them almost unnoticed.
Ropes and knots and the bindings across Arad’s throat… his pleading eyes… a quick cut of Ahmed’s knife began the process to free their friend and then… all was pain and darkness….
Since Ahmed was a bit flowery, the Orc Sniper had captured Arad the Pathfinder and a camel laden with supplies. She used that to set a trap in an area that had a mix of Boom Sand and Black Sand. Ahmed took an arrow to the head, nearly killing him. The group managed to chase off the Sniper again.
Left is Death!August 13, 2018 at 1:18 pm #9717
Session 34 – Bitter Soul
Note: there is a number of meanings to this in the session. But what triggered it was Ahmed crit-failed his Dervish Magic and it drew an encounter with a Bitter Soul. That seemed to set the tone for the session.
Arrival to the Pyramid – note that the residents of the city let the group go unmolested. The Pyramid is on the east side of the dried up River Ankh, which Tabari notes is unusual. Necropoleis and pyramids are built on the west side of rivers to symbolize the end of life (setting sun). Apophis denied this tradition, foreshadowing his war against time and death.
As The Five traverse the walkway from the Temple to the Pyramid, they transcend into the lands as they were during Apophis’s Time
Two thousand years before the birth of Suleiman, the Hekatic Empire was the largest, most powerful, and most advanced human civilization in the great desert. The Empire rose from a collection of small farming settlements in the land of Hekata, but by the time of its demise its influence dominated the northern desert regions. After a moment of disorientation, you find yourself on the royal barge as it flows down the River Ankh. There are hippos tussling in the water, cranes flying gracefully overhead, farms bursting with produce, and heavy boat traffic on the river. The people are young, hale, and happy. It is a living paradise.
The pharaohs, hereditary rulers of the empire, were always considered to be living gods, but their allotted time in the mortal realm was no longer than that of their followers. Pharaoh Apophis, named “the Conqueror” during his reign because he had expanded the borders of the Empire, had long prepared for his death. Under his tyrannical reign, tens of thousands of citizens worked beneath the baking sun and under the whip of overseers to construct a pyramid tomb which would stand until time itself ended.
What happens next in Ahmed’s words
All Ahmed could hear was the thunder of his blood in his ears and the rush of air in and out of his lungs. From every side they were beset by the rage and hate of the walking dead. His friends were being attacked and even as he gripped his faithful swords, he felt a sinking feeling that he had to choose who to save, what foul creatures to attack. The narrow walkway dropped off to a valley filled with seething skeletons, some of whom were climbing the stone sides to reach them. Behind them was a vast city of the dead and before them was a black pyramid that gave off waves of evil. All of their adventures had led them to this. All their experience, their successes and failures were a path of sweat, sand, and blood to this moment.
He turned his head and saw his brother, Menevis, run up to the hulking guardian blocking the way to the pyramid. Behind the guardian, a creeping mummy with some sort of crown could be seen, wrapped in rags covered in runes and sigils. The guardian bore heavy armor and a massive hammer. The Cakali was tenacious and swift but in this moment seemed to be outmatched by the brute.
Above them, the sand mage floated on his magic carpet, hurling blasts of sand here and there but the creatures attacking on the walkway swatted the sound out of the way or it passed through their bones with little effect.
Turning back, Araceli was trying to fire her arrows up the walkway toward the mummy and the guardian but the arid winds and angle were playing havoc with her shots. The aged Tabari was heavily beset although their new companion appeared to be having some effect and simply barking at the undead creatures to move back.
….and time flew back into motion and Ahmed made his choice. Bouyed by his swirling magics and moving where everyone else appeared to moving slow, he ran down the walkway to swash and throw off three of the skeleton warriors attacking Tabari and Kanika. The way cleared, he returned up the walkway, slid past Menevis and the guardian, and ran into a wall of hatred emanating from the mummy.
Swords ready, he was about to cut down the spell-casting mummy when the world disappeared. There was only a voice… a voice both quiet as darkness and as loud as thunder in his mind… “YOUR LORD REQUIRES YOU… RAISE YOUR SWORDS… SLAY THEM!”
Ahmed’s head turned to look back down the walkway and his friends. He felt compelled, almost out of control of his limbs, his hands regripping the hilts of his swords, his eyes already plotting his steps to make each attack.
“grrrrrrrRRRRRRRAAAAUGHHH!!” he screamed, tearing his mind away from that voice. He would never attack his friends, his brothers and sisters like that. Whatever had tried to control his mind made that mistake thinking he could be forced to do that.
He turned back to the mummy, screamed and began to attack in a flurry of blows. At first, they seemed to have no effect but as the battle raged on, bit by bit the rune-laden rags fell away, and the mummy took a step or two back losing advantage. In the last moment, Flash shattered the mummy’s neck as Sing crushed the foul creatures pelvis, crumpling it all to an inert pile on the old, dead stone.
But that is not all that happens, our chapter ends thusly:
Ahmed turned back to the mummy, screamed and began to attack in a flurry of blows. At first, they seemed to have no effect but as the battle raged on, bit by bit the rune-laden rags fell away, and the mummy took a step or two back losing advantage. In the last moment, Flash shattered the mummy’s neck as Sing crushed the foul creatures pelvis, crumpling it all to an inert pile on the old, dead stone.
Then the Pyramid pulsed with energy, knocking everyone to their feet. Most of the lesser undead just fell to the wayside, scampering back to the boltholes from whence they crawled out. All that is, except the hulking skeletal brute that was battling Menivis. As people regained their senses, the warrior strode past Menivis and confronted Kanika.
They exchanged works in ancient Hekatic, his challenging, hers haughty. Suddenly, the hulking warrior kneels down on one bony knee, and talks in a tone of supplication. Kanika commands, and the warrior stands at attention beside her.
She turns to the group. “This one is known to me. Lets us proceed.”
Tabari watched the conversation between Kanika and the skeletal warrior. He was still in pain from the fight, but was confident the blessing of Qedeshet had enabled him to hear everything. “It would seem that Twice-born is not just something that silly Bedu call you after all,” he said in Sandspeech. “Who is Kanika Dashur, daughter of Pharaoh Apepis from ages past?”
“She is one you should treat with great respect and tread carefully,” says Kanika in a stern tone. “The so-call Bedu that we encountered were the last living remnants of the medjay. They, however, have fallen far from their apex, yet the hint of my past is one thing they were right about. Regardless, we should press on. This one’s service to me,” she looks to the skeletal warrior, “will not divert from our path the horrors that lie within.”
Left is Death!August 28, 2018 at 12:19 am #9726
Session 36 – The Mortuary and Ahmed’s Fall from Grace
Note: for those of you following along, this is the penultimate session for this campaign arc. There may be a few other stories that will come for these PCs (if they survive – muhahaha!). But after the next session, the campaign will go on hiatus for a recharge by me as another GM takes over.
To fly… who has not dreamed of it? Looked up in the sky at the birds and coveted their freedom? The majesty and excitement of racing through the air, rising on the winds.
When I first discovered the secret in a dervish trance, I was overjoyed. Soon a floated above the ground and then swooped up into the air. I was weightless but steady. I could fly even faster than I could run! Dancing over danger or into it! It was yet another amazing gift from Suleiman who mastered all magics.
Then came the pyramid of Apophus. Such a vile, dark, and evil place we had never seen before. We walk inside it accompanied by a skeletal warrior, a mysterious woman I do not trust, and Araceli and Menevis’ old friend Arad who had acquitted himself well enough.
But I need to pick up the story from where our last telling ended. We’d conquered the treacherous Grand Hallway and were forging ahead. We spent time exploring side passages and long empty or never-filled chambers. Eventually we reached the Mortuary. A large chamber held all manner of abominations from walking dead performing menial tasks to a mummy violating our old friend the treacherous archer while she was still alive, and a massive hulk with a gem in its chest that looked stitched together from many different nightmares.
We observed all this quietly from a balcony. Araceli and Menevis struggled with their fogged memories of having been here before so were little help. We decided to act swiftly. Araceli’s arrows and Tabari’s Quills of Qedoshet flew with great force into the mummy, smashing its head and leaving it an inert corpse in rags. I flew at the hulking creature which stood up twice the height of a man. Using my powers of flight, I thrust and feinted with Flash and Sing which the creature batted away easily as it groaned to stand up. Menevis ran to its feet and drew its attention allowing me to stab my flashing steel into its chest, stopping its foul heart and cutting out the pulsing gemstone. The skeletal workers were trivial to smash to bits. Within a few moments, the room had been cleared and I felt a power I’d never felt before. Looking at the others of the Five, I had a striking realization at how far we had come from our first adventures together.
But it was no time to admire ourselves. We used the gem to trigger open the next set of doors and moved onward.
And we were… underwhelmed. Another room of visions, more of Hekata’s tragic and evil history revealed, and… a reed boat. We were perplexed, searching the room, and trying to understand the significance. Tabari told of his studies and that the reed boat was symbolic of the journey to the afterlife.
It was only when we found a painting of the same boat with a bright gem in its bow on a wall of the room that we made an astonishing discovery. Touching the painting revealed that it was in fact a portal of sorts. Our hands could pass through to someplace a little colder.
I took on the risk, commanded Flash to glow and pushed it through followed by my head… and I nearly fell away from shock. It was as if we were looking through a window of a hut that did not exist floating high in the clouds above Hekata. Far below sat the massiveness of the black pyramid but looking quite small. Near the ‘window’ was another reed boat, tethered by a rope to the cloud itself! Flying around the boat were dark guardians, hideous mutations of the vicious deer-eagles we fought months ago.
Drawing back to the tomb, I explained what I’d seen and we made a plan. Araceli and Tabari would be anchored by rope to pillars so they would not fall. They would try to kill the guardians while I used my flight to snatch the gem and return. My blood was racing and I gave it no second thought. This is what heroes do.
As soon as I leapt through the window, my breath was snatched away. The winds and cold were different enough and I’d never tried to fly so very high. I went as swiftly as I could, watching first one guardian, then another plummet, cut down by my friends. Reaching the reed boat, Flash and Sing went to work and I dispatched two more guardians before grasping the massive gem. As my hands closed around it, it shrank and I was able to secure it in a pouch inside my shirt and armor.
There were still more guardians and my friends called for me to return with haste. Ignoring what was around me, I leapt back into flight like an arrow for the strange window. I had done the impossible!
It was that hubris that nearly ended my life. A guardian leapt upon me, raking my back and stunning me. I lost my senses and felt all my magics fall away. I quickly followed them, plummeting toward the sand and pyramid below and a terrifying speed. I pushed my terror down and focused on the words of Suleiman. I tried to summon my dervish magics to regain my power of flight and…
failed! The ground rushed toward me and I had only moments left. I tried again to reach out and pull the shimmering magics of the dervish to me and…
they came to me. I felt the power of flight return and I desperately slowed my descent, ending in a wide curve and sent me around the black pyramid itself before I could start to rise above its peak once again.
By the time I returned to the mystical window in the clouds, I’d recovered much of my wits and spirit but putting my feet on the floor of the tomb once again left me weak-kneed. I gave the gem to the others to examine as I sat back against a pillar.
“How was your flying?” asked the skeletal warrior in grating ancient Hekata that Tabari had enchanted me to be able to understand. It’s low chuckle was like stone grinding on stone.
“It really makes you feel alive,” I retorted, cutting his chuckle off. “Oh, forgive me…,” I ended in faux sympathy.
Menivis watched Ahmed fall as his magic failed him. Outwardly the Cakali warrior was stoic and expressionless but inside he wondered what his friend would do. He was a wizard no? Certainly, he had to have a solution to the problem? It would be most unseemly to see one such as Ahmed end his days as a stain on the dry riverbed. His worry grew as his friend grew smaller and smaller in the distance. The ground was getting a fully close it seemed. Stop showing off Ahmed! Then at last the speck that was Ahmed jerked and weaved, puling out of the fall just short of a very quick and very ugly death. Menivis grunted his approval.
Scenes of Apophis
Priests mummified Apophis alive, as the ritual demanded, decorating his corpse with powerful talismans of an evil nature to bind his soul to his corpse. The magic failed and Apophis was entombed in his pyramid as his forefathers were entombed in theirs.
(added later) Research into necromancy continued for many centuries, consuming the hearts and souls of the magicians, twisting them into liches. Priests and paladins of Tammuz rose up against the abominable practices being carried out and a brief civil war ravaged the land. The pharaohs won, and retribution was swift and harsh. Worship of the old gods was prohibited, replaced with worship of the divine pharaohs. Ancient temples were looted then pulled down, the clerics who did not escape died by the sword. From this day forth, the nobility, while no longer mummified alive, had their souls ritually tied to their corpses in preparation for the day when their bodies could be reawakened.
The empire began to crumble from within, the darkness of necromancy eating away its foundation. As its strength waned, so others began to look upon it as a prize to capture, for its farmlands were rich and its trade networks extensive.
Exactly who invaded the empire is lost to history, for no buildings or inscriptions survive from this period. Some claim the ophidae or scorpionmen were responsible, seeking revenge for earlier defeats imposed upon them. Others looked toward the jinn, whose power was on the rise to the south. A few look toward the sphinxes, ancient rivals of the Hekatic pharaohs, the mysterious lands to the east, or even the lizardmen from the south.
What began as another war of conquest quickly became a campaign of total extermination. Vast armies slaughtered each other, salting the land they conquered to deny it to the enemy—hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, died by sword, starvation, and Diseases of the World. Eventually the armies of Hekata were surrounded, their rallying point the pyramid of Apophis. The remaining liches began a dark and terrible chant, which echoed through the heavens, shaking the foundations of the universe with its unholy power. The sky darkened and great, black droplets of rain began to fall. As each one landed, a skeletal warrior, one of the countless souls buried in the sands, rose from the ground. Lightning the color of midnight ripped the sky asunder, striking the tombs and pyramids of the many necropolises, each strike imparting unholy energy into the slumbering corpses within and giving them unlife.
The invaders were soundly defeated by the freshly risen undead, but the spell which the liches had invoked had disastrous consequences. The massive release of necromantic energy drained the life out of the soil, the animals, even the people. The mighty River Ankh, the source of life in Hekata, succumbed as well, its waters turning black and rank with the stench of moldering corpses. The only things “living” in Hekata were the undead. Freed from their tombs and imbued with unnatural powers by the fell spell, the numerous pharaohs began to war among each other, for each claimed the throne as his own. The war stretched on for over a century, each undead pharaoh using more and more necromancy to call forth the long-dead bodies of the empire’s citizens. The war could have continued until the present day, but it did not.
As the unleashed necromancy built up in the soil and air of Hekata so something vast and terrible stirred—Apophis had finally awoken. His power was beyond that of mortal reckoning, for in his centuries of slumber his spirit had escaped its earthly bonds and wandered the darkest recesses of the universe, gathering knowledge of subjects so terrifying that even to speak of them would slay a mortal with fright.
Before he returned to his tomb, Apophis granted each pharaoh a small domain, which they were to rule while he slumbered. The surviving liches were appointed to the status of wizir. They would act as Apophis’ eyes and ears, reporting everything the pharaohs did during his slumber. When next he awoke, he promised, the Hekatic Empire would rise from the ashes—once more the hand of Hekata would rule the desert.
Left is Death!September 17, 2018 at 7:37 pm #9785
This is the last session for a good while. It caps off the PCs trying to rid themselves of the Curse and to delay Apophis’ awakening. Our heroes get to battle the dreaded Demi-Lich!
Session 37 – The Well of Dark Souls
Ammon the Demi-Lich
“They are powerful. It is risky to allow them through all at once” warned Nefertari. “Agreed” noted Imhotep, always to the point, never wasting words.
“Irrelevant” scoffed Ammon. “The time is upon us. The Joining will be enhanced with them as a group instead of isolated. Apophis will not wait. The time is now and there is not a group of mortals with stronger Ka in the region.”
Ammon considered adding Nefertari to the Joining. Her presumption is out of line to her position as nothing more than an assassin. He thirsted to drain the Ka from these powerful mortals. Apophis’s time is now.
The chattel arrives and immediately seeks to destroy Nefertari and Imhotep. “Excellent, this will make it even easier.” One mortal flashes forward at astonishing speed towards Nefertari, unaware of his pending doom. One ray of death reduced this foolish mortal to a smoldering mass of flesh. Such a powerful Ka – this almost would free Apophis on his own!
The group scatters. One of noble bearing comes forward to the Well of Dark Souls with a Medjay. “Interesting. Lets see what she is doing.” A canine warrior presses forward to attack Imhotep. Two others of the canine peoples work their way forward. One of a race not see in these parts fires arrows. Then a human opens a rift to pull in a demon of sand. Annoying, but a challenge.
Moving forward, one of the canines falls into mass of decayed flesh. A Ka that wandered much of the world. “Not the strongest Ka, but experienced.” Another of the Canines – powerful. Weakened. But he is not quite dead. His Ka remains with his Khat, for now.
“Powerful sand – destruction! Weakening of physical form! Must destroy the mage of sand. Form is unstable! Will not last long. Only need one more Ka to free Apophis! He commands it! But must survive!”
Rays of Death…weakening, must shift form to survive and fully awake Apophis! There! There is a vessel to hold me…the transfer will be difficult but their attacks are relentless…Noooooooooooo!
Nefertari could not believe what she just saw. She could feel Ammon, a powerful Demi-Lich, attempt to shift his essence to another skeletal vessel. There was some ritual by that odd mortal on the other side of the Well of Dark Souls that just failed horribly. Perhaps that interfered with the shift. But whatever it was, Ammon failed…and his will to contain the multitudes of powerful Ka’s failed with him. The Well erupted as the Ka’s fled the spiritual prison. Apophis will not be pleased. Best to flee and lie low for a time. But Araceli’s prime form survived. So not all is lost…
….Menivis watched in shock as the demi lichs floating skull cut down Ahmed as he ran, with his usual incredible speed, to strike at Araceli’s tormentor. The beam of shadow slashed thru the Dervish Warrior with contemptuous ease and sent his torn corpse sprawling to the stone floor with a hideous and sickening finality. A red haze settled over his eyes as primal rage at the sudden death of his friend overcame the Cakali. He raised his shield and sword and snarling a Mameluke war cry, threw himself at the enemy….
….Outside of the great pyramid Menivis shook his head as the battered band headed towards their encampment. The day was won, but at such cost. The Great Pharoh was delayed in his return but not defeated. That was for another day. Today was to leave this accursed place and to sing the death song of friends and companions….
<Aside: Include with Menivis a stinky bag of rotting Ahmed bones/guts. Never know when they may be important. Besides we can always make soup stock if all else fails> <Aside 2: I’m Sure Areceli grabbed all his items that Menivis missed>
Kanika was despondent. The ritual failed horribly. There will never be another chance. Twice-born it is then – what a horrible way to live.
“Aaahh,” said Kanika softly as she stumbled for a moment. Only her guardian heard her, his bony hand grabbing her arm to keep her upright. They stopped and the guardian turned to look at her properly. Its motionless face shifted like a dog, curious, searching. Searching her face…
Now I get to be a player and mess up other people’s campaigns muahahaha!
Left is Death!
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