Every so often I look at my life and wonder how I got here. It’s been not quite a year since I met Alix and joined her crazy quest; around 10 months since we first found the Left Eye of Varrien and came south. Sometimes it feels as though we will never see our homes in the north again.
Our other northern companions are long gone now: Calwyn, Ammonite and my cousin, Schill. Instead we find ourselves travelling with a disparate (and sometimes, it seems, revolving) mix of southerners. Squirrel has been with us a while now. He’s proven himself true to the party, even though he keeps secrets and I’m not entirely sure of his agenda.
Nightshade, on the other hand, has changed in the months I’ve known her: first she suffered from the zombie virus, and now I fear her encounter with the mummy has made things worse. She’s become secretive, almost furtive, and pragmatic to the point of callousness. Once, her mission was to restore the broken forest, but I’m not sure her goals align with ours anymore.
And now we have Blaze, a wealthy young paladin sworn to Nievor, god of the vine. Despite being temporarily killed on his first outing with us, Blaze has agreed to accompany us back to Kham Jhara. Although it is early days, he seems true of heart, although is doubtless motivated by reporting on our activities back to his church.
Sometimes I’m left questioning my own agenda. How did it fall upon me and Alix to save the world?
On the whole, this expedition to Reyim Baal and the Dust Plains has been successful — not counting the body and resurrection toll. We have found the Haft of the Flail of Wind & Rain. We have retrieved the Left Eye of Varrien from Elliana, who stole it from the Church of Elloran.
By rights we should return the Eye to the Church of Elloran, which gave us a down payment for its retrieval. However, on this I am outvoted. Instead, Alix is casting a Sequester spell on it daily. Nightshade, who snatched up the Eye and refuses to let anyone else carry it, is complying, but her reluctance is only too apparent. I sense this is going to become a problem…
The priests of Bahal lend us a barge propelled by a water elemental to take us upriver to Kham Jhara. Astra Khara, Master Smith, is frothing at the mouth when we present the Haft to him. It’s clear he yearns to be the one to re-forge the Flail, once the twin Stars have been found. And that is our next mission — undoubtedly our most challenging yet.
Tales of the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain
So where are the Stars? We’ve heard various stories and songs on our travels. In the tale of the mighty giant Horvath Goldenhair, the dragon Ovinha Blackscale took the stars to her lair.
But according to Jialara kar Tethem, the Flail of Wind and Rain lay in the depths of the Khor Sahar mountains until the dragon Yrujik took it to her lair. The haft was rent from the flail when Yrujik’s son tried to steal it — he took the haft, while Yrujik returned to her cave with the spiked flails (stars?).
Jialara also found evidence to suggest the haft was seen in the ruined city Toreth Jhand beyond the swamps bordering the Dharian Hills… and that a young dragon was there, blue or green, with sluggish minions and baleful guardians.
Abhorran (the Vahdrim mage we met on the island of Mycross) called the ruined city Darham Abras. He also said the haft was there — and that the stars were in an abandoned Vahdrim stronghold in the Dust Plains… (Sounds familiar!)
It seems information about the stars and the haft is confused and conflated at best. But at least we now know where the haft is. Our latest information says the Stars currently lie in a lost city beyond the swamps, guarded by a dragon, protected by a vanguard of vicious Rakshasa (tiger creatures).
Whichever way it goes, it seems there will be a dragon.
Directions and warnings
To get to the stars, we must travel through the Dharian Hills to an old stone bridge across a river, cross a dangerous swamp, to a great hill (or temple or ridge?) shaped like a horse’s head.
The directions are vague, more rumour than anything. Except for the warnings about certain death. On that, everyone we speak to seems to agree. People claim the Rakshasa cannot be hurt, that a single one could kill eight men. (Which leaves me wondering about the dragon…)
But that is our road.
Thanks to the wizened creature, Oramoot, Astra Khara agrees to re-provision us. And fix all our weapons. And arrange for enchantments to be laid on our primary weapons. I’m sure there’s something — many things — we haven’t thought of. But, after over a week in Kham Jhara, we finally set off on our quest for the Stars.
Into the swamp
A local youth guides us as far as his village, which lies on the river that divides the Dharian Hills from the swamp. The villagers direct us towards the ruins of an old stone bridge; it’s not sufficiently intact for us to cross, but it does point to an overgrown road leading through the swamp.
We cross and follow this road for a few days — it’s hard going and wet for much of the time, and we’re forced to fend off attacks from a variety of creatures. On the fourth day in the swamp we see something that sort of resembles a horse’s head rising up in the distance. It’s still over a day’s slog away, but at least it seems we’re heading in the right direction.
On the fifth day, we encounter our first Rakshasa.
There are six of them, probably a border guard, waiting on the far side of a body of water submerging the road. They utter some threats (which we ignore) and then lob a fireball at us. We retreat a few hundred feet in order to strategise, then creep back towards them under the cover of the dense swamp foliage. They’ve crossed the river and are sauntering after us, looking overly confident to my mind.
We’ve decided our best strategy is to engage them in close combat, so I charge out of cover and attack. The battle is now on. They’re tossing more spells and no doubt Squirrel is too. All I’m aware of are the three in my immediate vicinity. Blaze is with me, and Alix. I can hear Nightshade swearing somewhere to my left.
Three of the Rakshasa have hit the ground and I’m about to enjoy taking out the other three — arrogant bastards — when darkness smothers us and not even my darkvision can penetrate. It’s lifted a few moments later, but the three surviving Rakshasa are retreating under its cover. We follow the blackness to the edge of the water and watch them go. I guess it’s a victory… of sorts.
Horse head mountain
We cross the water and track the rapidly moving Rakshasa along the road. They’re leading us directly towards the rocky peak, which we can now see is indeed carved into the figure of a horse’s head. The land is rising and, a couple of miles away, the road heads straight up the side of the hill.
Before we get too close and walk into an ambush, we leave the road with the view to circling around the side of the hill. I cast “pass without trace” on the entire party to conceal our movements, should the Rakshasa attempt to track us.
After a while, we reach a river. From this vantage, it’s evident that what looked like a hill from front-on is actually the tip of a ridge line with a cliff face that extends along the river. There’s a bridge back at the road, with at least one guard.
We head in the opposite direction along the river, seeking to stay out of sight of the guard on the bridge, and begin entertaining ideas of scaling the cliff face using magical means. We want to get onto the ridge without taking the main road.
The next day, however, Squirrel discovers there’s an ancient magical barrier along the cliff face. As far as he can make out, the barrier appears to cancel out magic that passes through it — so there goes our idea of using magic to ascend.
Or maybe not.
Alix talks to the stone in the ancient cliff and discovers there are weaknesses in the ward, caused by an ancient earthquake. If we can find one of those weaknesses… That could be exactly what we need.
Pleased to report no deaths this session; let’s see how we fair next time when we (presumably) go up against more Rakshasa and maybe even a dragon. Yikes!