The Burning Sultans

The night shift
Closing time at the Viper's Eye

Yennas wiped the sweat from his brow as he finished scrubbing the grease pot. He hated this job, he told himself for the dozenth time tonight. Hated the grime, hated the dirty washing water that inevitably soaked his clothes, hated the cuts and bruises and burns that he accumulated every night. And especially hated the imperious boss. Why should it matter whether they were done cleaning up in under half an hour, so long as they finished? Slave driver.

As he wiped oily water from his arms, the halfling spied Ralesk coming downstairs from his meeting with the boss. Yennas had never seen the gnome woman who came asking after the bookbinder before. He had always just assumed the old grayhair didn’t keep any associates, given how standoffish he always was with the rest of the staff. Probably why he got along with the boss so well. There was something a little odd about that gnome, but Yennas couldn’t place it, and honestly didn’t care enough to concern himself about it. Whatever sorts of uncanny company the bookbinder wanted to keep on his own time was his own business, so long as it didn’t bring any trouble with it. Halfway through mopping the back floor now, Yennas recalled he hadn’t seen the gnome leave. He wondered briefly whether she had met Ralesk as she hoped. A bark from the supervisor drove the thoughts from his head.

“Yennas! Hurry up with that mopping! The front room’s already done!”

“Well there’s five people working on the front, isn’t there? I’m just one halfling, for Lady’s sake!” He turned back to his task, grumbling sullenly. “If I’d wanted a task master, I’d have joined the bloody guard. Not even any High Sun to look forward to this year…”

He hated this job.

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Murder in Highside
Just before dawn in the residential quarter

Alehira stifled a yawn as she entered the house where the guards reported the killing had occurred. She had been woken from trance by an urgent message to come to Highside immediately to investigate a murder, but the import of it didn’t do anything to relieve her exhaustion. She took one last, long drink of the clove tea she’d brought with her from home and set the empty mug on the table of house’s kitchen. Steadying her nerves with a deep breath, she headed back to where the guards were clustered around a bedroom door.

“Captain Khoushim!” one of the younger guards snapped to attention as Alehira made her way up to them.

“Save the formality for when the sun is out, Treshem,” she responded wearily. “Just tell me what you know already.”

“Ah, er, yes ma’am. Well, um… it’s pretty gruesome, as you can see. The victim’s name is Apamurvesh Kestervar, former Master of Elixers at the Eidalan temple. From what I’ve heard, he was expelled about a week ago when the news of the plague first broke. He was found by a citizen returning home from a long night’s drinking. It seems the man drunkenly mistook this house for his own, which is on the next street over, and waltzed right in and found our victim.”

“But how did he get in?”

“He says the door was left wide open. Possibly our murderer just dashed out the front after the killing and neglected to close the door. Seems odd, though: looks like the criminal entered the house through a rear window.”

Alehira stepped carefully into the room. Signs of a fight were clear enough. Small items knocked over, the wardrobe door standing ajar, even a pillow slashed open. Then she caught sight of the victim’s face, and her breath caught in her throat for a moment. Two empty eye sockets stared out from where the acolyte lay across his desk. Alehira muttered an oath under her breath.

“We found this emptied chest next to the desk, so at first we thought maybe it was a robbery, but with how badly he’s been mauled, it could be the murderer had some kind of personal grudge. Not sure how many enemies you can make as a priest, but I guess anything’s possible.” A guard standing by offered unhelpfully.

Alehira knelt down to examine the victim’s broken holy symbol on the ground. Given that he was still wearing vestments of his order when he died, it wasn’t likely in her mind that he would have broken it himself out of resentment for his expulsion. There was more going on here, and the captain didn’t like where the signs were pointing.

She stood up and addressed the other guards in the room. “For now, as far as the public is concerned, this is a burglary gone wrong,” she said. “Tensions in town are too high as it is, we don’t need to add an unexplained murder on top of it. You and you, take the victim’s body to the Merenites. Have them start funeral proceedings. You two, take first shift guarding this house. Only members of the guard are allowed in. We’ll keep 4-hour watches. The rest of you, go home and get some sleep. We won’t be able to ask many questions until daybreak. Assemble at the Shieldhouse at the hour of the coin, and I’ll give you all your assignments. Dismissed.” Alehira rubbed her eyes and sighed. She had a feeling this was going to be a very unpleasant case, adding to an already unpleasant week.

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Eidala's Ire
The divine inscrutable

“Your stew is as delicious as ever, Preva,” Anans says after savoring his first bite. The smell of simmered goat meat and spices fills his old friend’s small house. It’s been months since he last tasted elvish cooking like he had eaten growing up in the Sapphire Shore.

“Thank you, little dervish,” she replies. She sighs and says, “I only made it because I can do it without thinking. Too much to think on already, recently. I’ve been praying twice as long every day since the temple made its announcement. I even got out my copy of the Barkhoum and sang a few verses last night. In the desert, water’s never unwelcome, as they say.”

“Will your business be alright? I know the festival is usually a busy time for the both of us.”

“We’ll survive. Qarivesh has been saving money. I’ve always groaned that he never buys me any nice gifts for Springday and the like, but it’s saved us, I suppose. He’ll never let me live it down, I’m sure. Still, it will be a year of tightened belts.” Preva sips her wine, and Anans ruminates that her expression reminds him of the horizon just before a dust storm. At length, she continues. “I just can’t fathom why Eidala would visit such a catastrophe on us. Priestess Ilir’ana claims that the goddess is displeased with us, but displeased for what? Ilir’ana says it is for allowing this disease to creep so close, but… forgive me, Anans, you know I would walk into the ocean before I profane the Feyqueen, but why didn’t she give us some kind of warning before? If even those afflicted are not aware, how were we to know? I should like to ask Eidala that, but I am not Ilir’ana.”

“No, indeed none of us are, my friend. Tarmun had much the same questions, as do I. But we are not Ilir’ana.” The prayer bells begin to sound in the town as the sun sinks behind the horizon. Preva busily pulls her prayer cushion out from under her small shrine and kneels down. Anans stands to leave. “Thank you for the stew, Preva. I must go to meet my companions. Feyqueen grace your house.” Preva’s singing follows him out the door.

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Zeemo's Adventure Log #3
  • Found and freed the missing town guards, plus a Dragonborn Sorcerer named Deirdre.
  • Three guards escaped home to seek treatment. Kexa T. Halforc aided us for the mission.
  • Deidre joined the party.
  • Discovered the cause of the canal running dry: a giant fire snake’s magma-like eggs that evaporated the water.
  • Slew the giant snake courtesy of a critical frost spell.
  • An official of the Burning Hand appears to have escaped the cave without a trace.
  • Informed Zabba of our success and received some more treasure as reward.
  • Returned to Vez to rest and restock.
  • Received 3 new quests to choose from: (1) joining Anans in the Sapphire Shore for a festival and a job to investigate ruins, (2) redeeming our letter of recommendation from Djeeta to her cousin Karakrum Sungeld in the Red Canyons and learn more about the Burning Hand, (3) help Fiddin Glimmereye to mine a nearby gem mine.

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The saviors of Vez
Afternoon at the temple of Meren

When Yamal woke up, she found Djeeta sitting by her bedside. Abbot Moonsilver had performed a number of healing rites on Yamal when she was brought into the temple in the early morning hours, and had given her a draught to help her sleep at the end of all of it. Her wounds were healing up nicely, she was pleased to find.

“Are you comfortable?” reeve Sungeld asked. “I can have Rashel bring you more pillows if you need.”

“Just fine, thank you, ma’am,” Yamal replied. “The abbot says I’m not to walk until tomorrow, but I feel like I could if I tried. Are the others alright?”

“They are, by the Dwarfmother’s blessing. It was just you that worried us. But the abbot’s done a good job, I see. I’m glad. I’ll go notify your family that you’re up. They should be by later.” Djeeta stood with a relieved smile from the small stool on which she’d been sitting. After the infirmary door had closed behind the dwarf, Rashel came over from where she’d been mixing poultices at the other end of the room and stood by Yamal.

“The reeve was here all morning, waiting to see how you held up,” she said. “You’d have thought she had nothing to do, but it was just that she was so worried. Truly amazing.”

Yamal nodded. Something occurred to her. “Rashel, who were the people that rescued us? I didn’t recognize their faces.”

“Just a bunch of caravan travelers, I hear. Never seen the likes of them stick their necks out for strangers before. Strange. Lucky, though!” Yamal idly wondered whether the Merenite acolyte had gotten her habit of declaring judgment on everything from her devotion to the Warden of the End. Still, she was right. It was incredibly lucky that they’d come into Vez when they had. Yamal wanted to thank them. From what the cultists had been saying, she would likely be fire snake food right now if it weren’t for them. By the half-dragon sorcerer’s account, the Burning Hand was more than just the cultists in the caves here, but whatever plan they were devising was certainly disrupted by this bunch of caravan travelers.

“How much longer will they be here? I’d like to give them my gratitude for all they did.”

“Just until tomorrow morning, from what I hear. Seems they’ve got business elsewhere. Too bad, really.”

Too bad indeed. Yamal decided she’d just have to risk abbot Moonsilver’s ire for walking too soon.

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Zeemo's Adventure Log #1-2
  • Entered town of Vez.
  • Canal is running dry.
  • Anans offered to pay to find missing guards who investigated the dry canal, and also to investigate the lack of water ourselves.
  • Traveled several hours to reach the cave.
  • Gained trust of Zabba & goblins who revealed that Burning Hand cult has taken over the caves and is responsible for lack of water.
  • Killed a number of cultists, including the leader, and several elementals
  • Currently mid-battle(?) – have cleared the immediate room but a human cultist saw us and escaped to inform others.

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On the edge
A letter from the Reeve

Letter from Djeeta Sungeld, Reeve of Vez, to Karakrum, emir of House Sungeld, dated 5th day of Wyvern, DY 1285

Dear Cousin,

I write with grave concern. As you well know, life here in Vez has never been as easy as it was in the Canyons, but I have weathered the various hardships for the good of my citizens. In return, they have gifted me with a life of which I can be proud out here beyond the comforts of home, and proud I am.

Earlier this week, however, we discovered that the supply to our qanat has been cut off somewhere nearer to its source. More often than not, this is simply an issue of rockslides or erosion, and I dispatched a troupe of guards as such, but they have not returned in days. The citizenry are not yet widely aware of the situation, but if water is not restored, it may soon be that I must give the order to evacuate Vez. It is not a thought I relish, and I am reticent to ask you for aid, but should the worst come to pass, I pray that I can rely on you for assistance. I know you have long harbored resentment about my leaving the Canyons, but please consider helping us not for my sake, but for my villagers’.

As luck would have it, one of our water traders happened to arrive in town earlier today, and brought with him four mercenaries that he claims are capable. These four I dispatched to rescue my guards and, if possible, restore the water supply to our qanat. I know better than to place all my hopes in one group, though, no matter how skilled they may be, and so I send you this letter. I will eagerly await your reply. Please send it back with the messenger who will deliver this to you. He is trustworthy, and he is quick.

I remain your faithful cousin,
Djeeta

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An Elvish Reunion
Back at the Salamander's Smokehouse

You’re sure that bunch is as capable as you say, my friend?” Valar asks, in Elvish for discretion’s sake. The majority of the villagers don’t yet know about the problems at the qanat, and he hopes to keep it that way for fear of inciting panicked water hoarding. His cup is half-drained, but what was once a cloud of worry across his face has softened somewhat to a lighter shade of stress.

Everything will be fine,Anans replies. “I wouldn’t have allowed them into my troupe if I didn’t have the utmost confidence in them. The tiefling is young, but I’ve seen her slice a beast clean in two with that hulk of a glaive. The halfling’s songs will make your lost party forget all that ails them once they’re found, and the ranger will be the one to find them, sure and true. And should they meet with any trouble, that gnome will lay it out quick as a desert gale. They’ll be fine.

I hope you’re right. Reeve Sungeld worries that it will come to the worst, and I understand her concern. We’d not be the first town to sink below the sands out here, nor the last, Mahara knows.

“You’ve become just as much of an anxious ant as her, ravenhair!” Anans laughs, prodding Valar with his childhood nickname. His shift into Common signals the time for hushed whispers is over.

“I followed her out here from the Canyons because I trusted her judgment, Anans,” the other elf retorts. “That judgment has kept the town from failing these past decades. You’ll forgive me for not countermanding her now, dervish.”

“I suppose not, but by the Lady, how you seem to have aged out here, friend. To look at you now, no one would believe that I went on my first route a decade before you. Come, let’s restore some of that youth! Torvec, another round, if you please!” The proprietor of the smokehouse lays new wine cups in front of the elves with his characteristic silence.

They’ll find your villagers, Valar, and bring back your water besides. It’s my livelihood, too, you remember. I need that water to come back just as you do, and when it comes to my business, I wouldn’t have sent any but my best to handle it.

“So the dervish does have cares! Well then for you just as much for me I say may you ever find the Feyqueen’s favor!” Valar raises his cup, his choice of an Elvish toast recalling the oasis where the two elves had grown up together so many years before.

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Approaching Vez

“Nearly there, by the Feyqueen’s grace.”

Anans’s voice is somewhat muffled beneath his sunveil, somewhat hoarse from the dust and sand that had dried out his throat. The elf, so jovial when you set out from Ambershade only a few days before, now looks weary as he sullenly tugs his turban down in an apparent rebuff of the sun. The two-day detour on account of the dust storm meant he was behind on his scheduled route and had to make up for lost time with daytime travel. More irksome still, with the harder pace, he had found it necessary to dip into his own stock to keep the caravan members hydrated. Any longer, and he would have had to use even more for the camels.

You cast your eyes in the direction of his gaze and can barely make out the hazy outline of a small village through the heat distortion. The Ridge of Heaven rises impossibly high ahead of you, its highest peaks lost to view. You hope it will give you some shade from the heat once you arrive in Vez, at its foot.

“Just a bit farther now!” Anans calls, and the other members of the caravan give a cheer and pick up their step.

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