As the white heat of afternoon began to fade and the Great Feast in honor of the arrival of Cibelik and Nafira the bounty hunting Silvenestri(Ghostwalkers) was prepared. Amidst the still, breezeless courtyard a very harried and sweaty Dabbah Hudun (owner of the Hotel Shaitan) and Hidaya Hudun (his daughter) were seen constantly dashing about.
The monks of the Drunken Monkey Monastery appeared to be making ready to leave. Barrels were retied and secured, strange mechanisms and metallic objects were shifted about on their wagon. The large beast of burden was being fed and watered. It was here that Lionheart suggested that the group travel together.
The leader of the monastery stated his concern that the heroes were in fact wanted men in Brimstone. They were suspected of treason, spying and fomenting anarchy in the rugged mining town. He also mentioned the certain retaliation of the Silvenestri once the truth of the public execution of the Silvenestri merchants and ambassadors among others became known in Alesandria. He appeared very fearful of the form that retaliation would take. He reminded the group that his first concern was for the well being of his fellow students and apologized for not being able to accommodate their request.
Perhaps the group might wish to journey to the Monastery of a Thousand Sips in the future. He guaranteed that a hospitable welcome would be given there, once his students were safe behind its walls. As they repacked their wagon numerous strange smells and pungent, acrid odors could be detected emanating from beneath the grey tarp stained with numerous dark, brown stains.
The arrival of the Silvenestri bounty hunters into the hotel courtyard caused Lionheart to seek to carry on the conversation in a more private area and headed off to the smithy where Hidaya was feverishly working Lionheart’s Chain Shirt to better fit the giant of a paladin and also repair the numerous broken rings. The monk stated his concern that the bounty hunters might in fact prevent anyone from leaving until their runaway slaves were found.
Lionheart revealed more about the attack on Brimstone and the undead horde which erupted out of the numerous mine shafts and entrances. Hidaya froze up at this and with a quick, minute glance looked downward at the flagstone floor beneath her feet. She desperately tried to keep her feelings hidden but the commanding yet strangely comforting voice of the blond giant caused her to stop and begin to weep uncontrollably. She then gazed upward, eyes shining with tears, at the paladin revealing:
Four weeks ago my mother became agitated, feverish and began behaving very strangely indeed…she kept refusing to eat, and spent much of her time in the lower cellar and only came out at night. She was seen to be repeatedly whispering strangely and covertly to herself…she appeared to be increasingly emaciated. Strange sulfurous smelling vomit belched forth from her sickly, cracked lips and became encrusted on her face…She seemed to not truly recognize us or respond to her name when called. My brother Salik tried day after day to care for her until finally he rushed up the cellar stairs and locked the door his eyes wide and full of terror….
‘that THING down there is not our mother! It just called out to me in a voice like the bottom of a pit of fire, I actually saw the ground around it erupt into fire and flame…and told me that if I brought her your heart I would be rewarded with the promise of all my dreams fulfilled…IT KNEW things about me I’ve NEVER told anyone!’
We spent the next few days praying feverishly at our shrine to Sol the Keeper of Hearth and Home. Then the Al Haladin outriders arrived looking for three escaped slaves from Alesandria and we had to disregard our mother (or whatever it was now). Then two days ago Selena and her troop of the Scarlet Veil entertainers arrived telling us that they were resting before their escort of Al Haladin dwarves arrived to take them to Brimstone. The Scarlet Veil was to perform for the Silvenestri ambassador and his companions.
Father became more and more withdrawn and fearful. At night we would hear occasional shuffling, scraping, pounding coming from below but over time it had grown quieter and quieter. My brother went down to check on our mother and we heard terrible screams and crashing sounds. I tried to plunge down the stairs but my father prevented me. I saw my brothers form, face bloodied, hair scorched and burned from his head, eyes wide with fear at the bottom and then he was roughly yanked out of my view. I knew then that he was most likely already dead.
My father seemed to go into a sort of shock and became eerily cheerful. He numbly just went back to his role as proprietor of the hotel but he had barricaded the door down to the cellar.
There have always been legends about this hotel; stories of spirits, voices on the wind, strange deaths have certainly occurred here. The structure was built by my ancestors the Al Morin Haladin more than 400 years ago. It is the will of Kaleh that we came here to offer shelter, food, and drink to those most in need…those lost on the roads of the south. It is our way as Al Haladin.
But two days ago my father awoke saying that he must go pray. He exulted telling me that Sol had sent him a vision! A dream to show a way through this gathering darkness. He said that Sol was sending us a Blessing and that we should be vigilant less we miss it…
Now my father is utterly convinced that you five are indeed that blessing. The grey handed human glitters with the heart of the earth within his very skin. Now he journeys to the Crossroads of Worlds! Perhaps he will find my mother’s soul wandering there? The plains elf, though partially blind still offers refuge, protection and aid to that escaped slave…yes I know that is the one the cursed Ghostwalkers (see whispers this word while spitting on the ground and fearfully looking out the smithy door) are hunting. Surely he will help us as well? Your bandaged youth bears the ancient Al Morin Haladin symbol of Hearth and Home! How did he come upon it? The bearded, hairy cousin is a priest of Sol and shines with the radiance of a blessed of the sun.
Then there is you my paladin! Father says you have seen the dark heart of the flames! That you are like the sword tempered by that dark fire! You have been touched by the BEAST but the light of Sol’s Glory doesn’t dampen within you! As it was foretold in the Book of Light:
When Pallid Worm
Crawls Across Night Black Sky
When That Which Is Dead
Will Refuse to Die
When HE that was Sundered
Might Again Be Remade
When Debt Forsaken
Must Now Be Repaid
When Forger of Shadows
Gives Scions Gift Away
When New Forger Arises
The Hammer of Kaleh
When Crossroads of Worlds
Become Open and Wild…
(and at this point Dabbah could be heard calling for her)
Ah! I must go but know that for now I will prepare this too small…this inadequate Al Haladin armor and make it more suiting for a BLESSED ONE such as yourself. But please give me a few days and I will craft such an armor to truly befit The Hammer of KALEH! (Sol in Al Haladin). She looks at a faded worn mural on the far smithy wall…
With that Hidaya rushed out of the smithy.
The young, socially awkward monk Dim could not get last nights swim with sultry entertainer Selena out of his mind and eventually sought her out on the backstairs of the hotel. With some tantalizing touches and caresses that sent the hot blooded monk into a whirl of confused arousal she let him know that she would be his if only he would help her troop The Scarlet Veil escape this place.
Dim in utter confusion sought out who he felt was the real leader of this rag tag band of heroes…none other than GUIDO the Knee Cruncher! Guido tried to get Dim straight on the differences between slave life and free life; prostitutes and…non-prostitutes. Much of his wisdom was apparently lost on the young man. As he ran about he eventually nearly smacked into Nafira who ground his head into the dirt as he bowed.
Nafira tried to learn more about Lionheart, Valahaire and the rest. When told about Brimstone being attacked she seemed less than concerned even doubtful of the groups story.
The Silvenestri apparently told the Al Haladin outriders they were not to leave until the others returned and if not the leader would be executed.
The group then did their best to assist the father and daughter Huddun to prepare this great feast for the guests of honor; the bounty hunters.
The group sat down to a great meal with entertainment provided by Scarlet Veil dancers that entranced all in the room. The swirling, cavorting beauties captivated the many gathered there so much so that the Al Haladin outriders seemed to become unaware of their surroundings. This hypnotic state seemed to be happening with the Drunken Monkey’s as well. Even Arakasi and Valahaire appeared to succumb to the beguiling, writhing dancers bodies. Until the auburn haired Oyasi, the stealthy elf’s reunited companion brought the partially blinded elf to his senses with a firmly planted elbow in his ribs.
Next, a woman clad in thin, sheer emerald silks came down the stairs. Two veiled dancers carried two great baskets which revealed themselves to contain two great eight foot cobras. The cobras swayed with her for a time and then rushed out to attack the heroes in the front row seats. The Ghostwalkers seemed to take renewed interest in the group as they quickly dispatched the cobras, but not before Guido fell over a table and was bitten by one of the venom laden cobras. He was sickened by the bite but not too severely. While Valahaire slashed one of the snakes heads off with his glimmering elven blade Anduril. This brief skirmish ended with the sounds of slow applause from the Silvenestri bounty hunters. The entranced outriders and monks started to become aware of their surroundings once again as the heroes dragged the snake dancer woman to the kitchen as the young woman sobbed and begged for mercy…
Guido charged up the stairs to check on the other entertainers and soon found that they had all left.
As Arakasi and Dim drug the whimpering scantily clad woman to the kitchen a clamor erupted at the Silvenstri’s table. Nafira was seen wide eyed clutching at her throat and collapsed across it convulsing. Cibelik cried out in his strange, otherworldly tongue and then pointed at a wide eyed Hidaya.
“You worthless STONEHEART! How dare you rise against us! You have poisoned her! You have poisoned your master!”
With that he closed his eyes and a strange shimmering appeared around him as he began to briefly fade in and out of view. Placing a hand on the back of the motionless Nafira she too began to fade but then was brought back with a ragged gasp sitting upright staring off into nothing.
As the Al Haladin and monks got up from their tables a great tremor began to be felt from the ground, dust rained down from the ceiling. Plates shattered falling to the floor. It became difficult to walk smoothly without stumbling.
Valahaire grabbed Oyasi and made his way out into the courtyard and quickly climbed atop the roof of the shrine and waited to see what would happen next. From his perch above the courtyard the nimble, partially blind plains elf could observe that the old double gates at the Hotel Shaitan’s entrance began to shake.
Plunging into the kitchen, as Dabbah ran out to go to the aid of his daughter; Arakasi and Dim drug the dancer to the edge of the burning, red hot stove. It was then that they noticed Lionheart was slumped over against the wall a trickle of drool coming out of the big man’s mouth.
Dim began to torture the apparently terrified woman (editor’s note “We here at Awakening of the Desert King campaign would like to apologize on behalf of the behavior of some of the characters here…they really are played by nice people…I swear.”)
Dim kept reminding Arakasi that he felt the woman was in fact lying. Finally, knocking the bound woman unconscious Dim ran out into the courtyard. Guido came in and tried to drag the giant two hundred and fifty pound man out of the kitchen and out into the courtyard as well.
Arakasi remained behind and slit the woman’s throat.
This was the first mortal death someone in the group had caused since their flight from besieged Brimstone.
As the gates burst open three great furrows could be seen rapidly approaching the shimmering oasis pool. Dim leapt up from the second floor with a mighty, seemingly impossible leap to the wall some 15 feet above his head. Guido gave a quick smack to the face of the unconscious paladin in hopes of waking him. Lionheart opened eyes glaring with a strange, crazed light and roared in a voice certainly not his own, “THE PALADIN IS MINE! I AM COMING FOR HIM PRIEST!”.
Shocked and confused Guido dropped the groaning warrior and pulled out the his ever dwindling supply of silver powder and with a gouging rake across his own face he flung the silver into the air crying out “THE POWER OF SOL COMPELS YOU!”
Lionheart once again fell unconscious.
Arakasi leapt to the base of the north wall where Dim lowered the last tattered remains of their thirty feet of rope allowing the stone handed sorcerer to quickly clamber up. He thrilled to realize that randomly his newly reshaped hand seemed to meld with the stone of the wall aiding his climb.
The courtyard was a confusion of staggering Al Haladin outriders bellowing about most of their mounts being gone, and Drunken Monkey monks trying to get their beasts harnessed up to pull their bulky wagon. Lone Guido with the dour, relentless strength of his race heaved the sagging load of unconscious paladin onto his shoulders. He paused just a moment to whisper to Sol to give him strength; then with muscles heaving, eyes bulging, he made his way to the dangling rope.
Behind him the two bounty hunters exited out of the building with both Hidaya and Dabbah in shimmering, silver rune carved shackles on both hands and feet. The two Al Haladin dwarves looked wide eyed and fearful. From their hovering airship some sixty feet over the hotel a ladder was lowered down and a rope with large curved hooks fixed to the end. Hooking the shackles of the father and daughter the two Silvenestri effortlessly scaled the ladder and brought their prisoners aboard.
As Guido struggled ferociously with the snoring, unresponsive Lionheart he wrapped one thick, muscled arm around him and attempted to climb grasping the frayed, tattered rope with the other. With the assistance of Arakasi heaving and Dim Mak swinging down the other side of the Hotel’s forty foot walls to counterweight. The great bulk of dwarf and paladin began to inch their way upwards.
Suddenly, the three furrows arrived at edge of the pool and erupting from the broken flagstones and sandy ground were three great worms each over fifteen feet in length. These rotten, purplish sickly looking maggot like creatures appeared to look exactly like the much tinier worms encountered around the Brimstone mines or crawling about the Liber Infernum.
With a single drawn out moment…
A courtyard full of the chaos of panicked monks and Al Haladin. A shimmering great pool of freshwater reflecting the gathering storm clouds and sinuous, sparkling green comet high overhead. Flickering torchlight from the many windows of the now vacant Hotel Shaitan. A hovering multi-rotored airship with Silvenestri seen to be watching, waiting from above. A dangling sweat soaked, exhausted dwarf desperately trying to keep a hold of an unconscious drooling paladin. A stone handed, growling with the strain of heaving, gem glittering sorcerer. A scarred, bandaged clinging and swinging from a rope, young monk. A distant hunkered down, watching through his telescope, with his remaining good eye; lovely escaped slave by his side, stealthy elf…
The giant worms plunged into the pool. A great squelching, sticky boom erupted from the hissing water as thousands upon thousands of worms burst forth showering all in the courtyard including Guido and Lionheart. The worms shriveled and died upon coming into contact with Lionheart’s skin. Guido was not so lucky as Arakasi and Dim finally managed to heave the pair to the wall’s parapet.
From there the roiling indigo storm clouds and pulses of swirling lightning could be seen gathering on the Runespire Pass.