Write-up 22nd Feb 2024 – Resupply and retrenchment

Most of the session was basically paperwork, with characters deciding how to spend XP to improve their characters. Farshad learned magic, the better to communicate with Aribu, the possessed wooden bird inhabited by a crow spirit.

Smersh decided to learn how to notice things. He had to do something with the brief moments of lucidity after the three days of crashing after his alchemical boost of energy.

José Juan’s callisthenic paid off, with rippling muscles to get close to rivalling Smersh’s.

Fetnah, possibly meditating whilst watching over a shivering and sleeping Smersh, trained her Will, no doubt of great use to a Shaman, wrestling with her Spirit Ally Ilbalkia.

Utana and Jalabu honed their skills, Utana no doubt making use of Jalabu’s convncing ways of persuasion as the tailors visited to show their stock of clothes to Utana, trying to convince him that these garments made to a general fit could be modified to fit by the time the group’s ship left for the port town of Spah.

Farshad, for reasons that were necessary at the time, adopted an alias, Jabalu (or sometimes Jalabu) had met Nika, a woman who found like minded souls and arranged trading ventures, and Ridha, a dealer in silks and other goods from the East, from close to Jalabu’s home, who was the one who alerted Farshad to the false Farshad, whose frauds on the merchants of southern Ishtir had so blackened Farshad’s name. He got a description and some news of the last direction of travel.

From Nika, charmed by Farshad, he got the name of  a Zhuezhi silk trader, Haoran. As a Zhuezhi in the Haraxan Kingdom, Haoran’s reach is limited, but Nika suggested that Farshad could buy from him, or perhaps act as a front for Haoran’s ventures, splitting the increased profits.

Jalabu’s contacts from the party Jehia the caravan master, Irusya the dealer in the small and valuable and Zhaleh the horse trader. Jehia and Zhakeh were of not much immediate use to Jalabu, but he bought some perfume from Irusya, recognising in them a value and quality that she had missed.

Smersh, as a priest of the Cold Ones was invited to preach. After his first sermon, which had ancient doctrines not currently held, led to his other invitations being withdrawn due to dangerous heresy.  This might be why he asked the Magistrate’s armoury for better armour, just in case, torsion armour of lacquered plates, a light helm and leg armour,

José Juan, as well as showing off his biceps, obtained arrows and, from the Temple infirmary, replenishing his medical supplies.

Utana also restored his weapons, but also his perfumes and make up. He also took out a loan from the Temple bank, to be repaid with interest from his funds lodged with the Temple in Eshtaband, which he immediately spent on two new suits of the costliest silks and embroidered cloth and leather, not made specifically for him, but well worth the cost as these clothes would allow him to peacock in style.

Fetnah restored her supplies of shamanistic paraphernalia, then sold her failed wooden crow, as a primitive art duck and, with Farshad’s help, got more than a fair price, some woffcuts of Fiume woods to be crafted into amulets or trinkets, and a couple of dan, coins worth a couple of days of decent eating.

Then they took ship (and I forgot some stuff here, need to try and rewind next time) and sailed to the town of Spah, They were met by custom officials, who were disappointed that the ship, having set out from an Haraxan port, was not due any port taxes above docking fees. Utana impressed them, especially when giving the port-master an unnecessary bribe, and, when said they were here for an inheritance had them taken to the council chambers

It ook the arrival of a more literate priest to decipher Smersh’s documents, and, upon his stuttering words that these stated that Smersh was the appointed lord of the area, by an ancient gift.

And with that bombshell, there we left it

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Write up 8th February 2024 – A lost soul in Khanedarya part 5

This adventure is an adaptation of Losing Face by Kevin Kulp, for Swords of the Serpentine. You can get it as Pay What you want from DrivethruRPG here.

Note, the term priest is used for celebrants of any gender. The English word “priestess” is of relatively new creation, and priest would have been used before then, so I use that. Priests mostly follow other trades, and only serve part of their time in temples and shrines. 

Ou heroes, realising that they have taken so long, consider what to do next. They know that there is a party the false priest Farnskundeh is going to be the honoured guest at, as she played the part of the female aspect of the goddess Mawet, the patron god of the city, at the culmination of the recent festival.

But who do they know that knows what Farnskundeh looks like? The Librarian had gone, who do they know in the city who could tell them? Who? Utana and Jalabu, those wise nobles were stumped. A chorus of a cough from Fetnah, José Juan and Smersh had those stern visages out of their deep thoughts as the chorus continued “Someone at the party is bound to know who she is!”.

With that as a thought, and as the light starts to dim, the group is carried over to the great ha;; where the party is being held. The group made their way in. Immediately Utana, Jalabu and Jo?e Juan took stock of the venue as a matter of attack or defence, Fetnah tried to take stock of the people and Smersh flitted about like a hummingbird, under the effects of the medicine José Juan had procured for him.

The groups did not mingle and ask anyone to point out the priest Farnskundeh, believed to be the person whose face was stolen by the assassin.

This lack of social drifting led the major doom of the hall to be suspicious. He challenged Utana and Jalabu, but was convinced of their bona fides, Jalabu also introducing his companion, his fool Farshad. Jalabu’s companion in his body, the spirit Oblat, attempted to exert control, to stop Jalabu being honest and revealing himself, but Jalabu resisted and was his own person.

The party hall

Things are coming to a head

Fetnah was a bit more successful at blending in, but was all too aware of the drain on her spiritual resources meant that she was unlikely to be able to exercise her powers.

The hyperactive Smersh became so noticeable that two soldierly guests lifted him bodily, but gently, away from the party and to a corner where soothing tea was poured down his throat until he was seemingly calm.

Eventually, at least, the target Ushwamarra, targeted for the assassination by a Zhuezhi general in order to weaken the defences of the eastern Haraxan border, was identified. Fetnah spoke to him, but found his conversation dry and uninteresting (at this point the GM pretends that was the characterisation he was giving the character). The others in the group took positions ready to intercept any threat.

Jalabu did find time to make some contacts with local merchants, flashing the promise of access to the wealth of Dilmun, and possibly mindful of the threat of death (as delivered by Jalabu’s cousin Hamid bin Khawla al-Malmuntaqim al-Maqqaniyy) for the debts he assumed from Farshad’s debts (alleged debts – Farshad) to his family.

Farshad found himself cut off from these contacts as Jalabu interjected, again, that Farshad was his personal jester, so amusing, even pretended to make business deals,

In the end, the merchants exchanged contacts and Jalabu can follow these leads up before leaving the city.

Not long after, the major-domo banged his staff against the ground, announcing the priest Farnskundeh, the prime singer of tonight’s show. Other singers and dancers followed her, but they filtered around and mingled, letting the attention coalesce around the star.

Whilst the warriors and Smersh were concentrating on being ready for a physical intervention, though Smersh’s looming over Farnskundeh in an unsettling manner wasn’t subtle, and the priest moved away, a lot. Fetnah tried a different tack. Knowing that the priest was false, a renegade Pale Folk, thrown out of their lands because of the face stealing power, Fetnah introduced herself, showed her the fetish she carried, one made 1500 years ago with assistance from the Pale Folk. The false Farnskundeh could not keep recognition from her eyes.

Fetnah softly challenged the assassin. “I know what you are, and why you are here. You must stop.”

The false priest balked, tried to talk her way out of it, saw it was going nowhere and moved away, Smersh, seeing this, chased after her, crying “Assassin!“.

The priest seized her chance, pointed at Smersh and cried “There he is, the Assassin is so bold he declares himself!“, trying to take advantage of the confusion. The party guests, many of them soldiers and merchants used to handling themselves RS in dangerous situations. This of course, included General Ushwamarra, the target, not getting closer to the assassin.

Smersh and Jalabu tried to physically restrain Farnskundeh, but she slipped their grasp, though her own spells used in response failed to take hold,.

Eventually both the false Farnskundeh, and the group were separated and the accusations heard. Without proof, the accusation sounded a  bit hollow but the group were able to convince the assembled guests and guards that there was a faceless body in the Temple (I had decided that a couple of guests would have heard that so would be primed to accept if it was mentioned) . Unable to take a boat to the Great Temple, a strange and resplendent crocodile made their way to see the victim, who otherwise would soon perish.

At the end, in the more crowded Great Temple, the false priest again tried to slip away, but she was easily caught, and forced to face the victim. The group laid out what happen, and the plan by a Zhuezhi leader named Zi Huijan to have Ushwamarra killed by someone wearing the face of Farnskundeh.

Dejected, the false priest revealed themselves, sloughing off their appearance and returning Farnskundeh’s face to her. The real priest started gasping, getting air properly into their lungs, able to taste and smell for the first time in a couple of days.

Revealed was one of the Pale Folk, a light green mortal, with features unlike any of the other mortal kind, whose speech was unintelligible to those there. She was taken away by guards, to a secure place Ushwamarra and the others thanked the group. They could not make a great fuss about this situation, because it might cause panic, but they would help the characters resupply and help arrange transport when it came time to leave.

There was one last warning from the group, about how criminal elements among the Zhuezhi settlers in the city had aided this plot. (Not sure if they were trying to encourage a pogrom or not!). Those would be investigated, they were promised.

The next planned encounter will be when the group arrive at the place of Smersh’s inheritance, and the map as it exists now was shown to the players but, before then, there will be deals to be made, resupply and Smersh crashing after alchemical amphetemines.

That is for next time, for this, there we left it.

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Write up 25th January 2024 – A lost soul in Khanedarya pt 4

This adventure is an adaptation of Losing Face by Kevin Kulp, for Swords of the Serpentine. You can get it as Pay What you want from DrivethruRPG here.

A rough map of the city of Khanedarya, covering several small islandsThe session started with the group split in two. Fetnah and José Juan looking after an injured Smersh in a watchhouse. Utana, Jalabu and Farshad had found the boatman who had abandoned them on the Isle of Old Griefs, leaving them vulnerable to the ambush by criminals, a Khanedarya gang known as the Yellow Turbans.

Utana used threats to the health of the boatman to force him to take them to the base of the Yellow Turbans, a hostel on an island in the lake that forms the north of the city, past houseboats, a floating market and floating underworld, on the so called “Snakebird Island”, as the only way to get there is by air or water.

José Juan decided to find an alchemist or doctor who could provide a more immediate cure for Smersh than rest and time, Fetnah instead sought Divine help. He might not be the best of priests, but Smersh is a priest of the gods called The Cold Ones, and in this city, the Cold Ones are the majority religion, rare in this far East in lands ruled by the Araya speaking nobility of the great empires.

As the boatman poled the boat along the channel, he chanted in rhythm to his actions, just as did the other gondoliers. The trio did not pay any attention to the words of the chant, which was in the local Bakhdin language, the language of the people who once considered themselves this land’s rulers. It is related to Araya but as the trio did not pay attention, they missed the words of the chant, a plea for aid against the criminals who had kidnapped him.

Our heroes being punted down a channel have it blocked by other boats seeking to rescue their comrade

They were surprised then when, in a narrow and out of the way channel, their way was blocked, and behind them came another boat, with armed gondoliers ready to rescu their comrade.

Utana seemed bellicose, but Farshad was more conciliatory. Accepting that any worker is worthy of the hire and that’s perhaps it could have been expressed better, and trying to discourage their boat being set on fire, Farshad offered a payment, plus some extra for the misunderstanding.

That proved to be a tidy sum, one even Utana would notice, which seemed fair as it was his purse the money came from, Utana handing it to Farshad so that his hands would not be sullied by handing money to someone Utana seemingly viewed as an extortionist, unaware, in his noble manner, of the irony of that situation.

Matters settled, they were allowed to continue.

Meanwhile, José Juan looked in the market. Starting near the perfumiers they had visited before, he hunted for signs of herbs and medical equipment. He did not decide to ask anyone, trusting to his own knowledge, and soon he found a herbalist to talk to, and exchange talk. After that, he circled out, looking for the medics, and picked one when he found them, Avagauri, a deft woman of middle years, mixing potions.

When the situation was explained, the apothecary first offered curse amulets to destroy those who had beaten up Smersh, but José Juan brought the topic back to healing. Avagauri selected ingredients, and ground and mixed and dissolved and dried out and eventually made a pill that they swore would speed the healing process tremendously, it was inexpensive for the sworn effects, and Jose Juan took it away.

Fetnah made her way, not to a local shrine of temple, but it the great Temple of the city, where she had been before. She saw a minor priest who the group had seen before , and dumped a heavy responsibility on. He saw her, and fled, outrunning Fetnah. Fetnah still needed top find someone she had dealt with before, and made her way to where the faceless victim, believed to be the priestess Farnkhsundeh,  was being cared for. There a priest was tending to the victim, Susheelya, a librarian that Fetnah had met before and who knew the mission the group was on. Fetnah explained the situation, and the librarian pulled in thr harassed priest who had fled to take care of the victim whilst the Librarian went with Fetnah.

Island hostel, our heroes surrounded by ne'er do wellsOnce into the lake, the boatman ceased poling and started sculling the boat along, past the houseboats, past the market, and past the boats where pleasures, both respectable and illicit take place.

Eventually they came to Snakebird Island. The boatman deposited the group then settled back off shore a little way, so as not to get in the grips of the Yellow Turbans again.

The group approached a group of toughs, gathered outside the gate, who seemed mystified and indeed nonplussed by Utana’s imperious orders to be taken to their leader.

The yellow turbans pointed to within the confines of the hostel compound and there they found Lao Zhe (not that Utana, as confident as no man who has literally walked into a den of thieves has any right to be, actually asked him) and other yellow turbans surrounding him, listening to their orders for the night.

Utana demanded information on who had paid to have them ambushed and this conversation, like that with the gondoliers, threatened to explode in violence, with the trio severely outnumbered. Farshad seem unconvinced by the unarmoured Utana’s chances of taking so many of them at once, or that trio’s deaths would be avenged by a great army, and instead tried to find something that the criminals would accept as a good price for information and a peaceful resolution to the encounter.

In that conversation, Farshad, identifying himself as “Jalabu the Fop” (as opposed to the real Jalabu the Fox, and explaining Farshad’s fabulous hat) seemed to offer Lao Zhe access to corrupt officials and a number of etes turned away from illicit activities.

The offer was accepted, with around of drinks, which Utana refrained from with the most haughty suspicion he could muster. But matters concluded, the group was givem information. They were ambushed because anyone investigating the deal with the assassin was to be at least encouraged to leave the city or if required, disappeared.

This was at the behest of Zi Huijan, a chieftain of the Zhuezhi who seeks to weaken the Eastward defences of the nation by obtaining the death  of Ushwamarra, the chief military engineer for the district, and a most competent archutect and general they are.  Upon their death, the role would doubtless fall to their brother, a venal and dissolute incompetent, to the benefit of the Zhuezhi.

Lao also informs them that the assassination is to take place at a party of notables to be held after the festival concludes. As they part, Lao Zhe reminded the company of their deal, and Jalabu the Fox remained strangely silent on the misuse of his name.

José Juan and Fetnah, with Susheelya, arrived back at the same time. It was agreed to let Susheelya effect a cure first. Careless worshipper of the Cold Ones that he was, Smersh’s devotion to them was sufficient to join to the priest’s prayers. Smersh was healed, but left still marked with fading bruises and lines of wounds, no doubt a chastisement from his neglected and sarcastic deities.

This left José Juan and his mysterious phomboid pill of ble. Should Smersh take it now, or leave to a time of need but if he did so, and it proved poisonous, it would finish him off. What to do? After some deliberation, Smersh took it, and lept to his feet, wide eyed and energised, hyperactively rigidly upright.

At this point, the rest atrived and told their tale. All the time going to the island and finding cures had brought them to near the end of the festival. There was nothing to do now but hurry to the party and try to forestall the assassination.

And that is for the next time.

Will they stop the assassination?

Will they kill or capture the assassin?

Will they restore the face to the faceless?

We will find out…..

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Write up 11th January 2024 – A lost soul in Khanedarya pt 3

This adventure is an adaptation of Losing Face by Kevin Kulp, for Swords of the Serpentine. You can get it as Pay What you want from DrivethruRPG here.

We join our group having decided to leave the Isle of Old Grief to follow up on the leads of the hired killer they had learned about, only to find their boats gone and to be surrounded by a  number of yellow turbaned individuals armed with a selection of knives and clubs, with, thankfully, no bows, armour and only one armed with a sword. Most of the newcomers were obviously Zhuezhi, from further east even than the Mada who came and founded the Kingdom of Haraxa, and the other two look more Vaykattaran, the people who lived here before the Mada, Utana’s people, arrived.

The knife welders drew closer, as Jalabu the Fox considered negotiation or intimidating them, when, like a dervish, Farshad (occasionally known as Jalabu) waded into the fray, with sword and knife.

The Fox’s hopes of a peaceful resolution gone, the rest went in, mindful that, although their opponents were unarmoured, so were most of the group. `Fetnah flitted about, throwing knives, with Juan José acting as a meat shield, and skewering one assailant neatly. Smersh took his mace and strode forward, possibly regretting it as he found himself with two foes.

Although unarmoured, at least Utana, Juan José and Jalabu the Fox had shields, and could mitigate incoming blows, but Smersh was not so well protected, and he was soon severely injured by a vicious wound, and he was in a parlours state. Luckily the others did somewhat better and felled three of the assailants. With the slight wounds to the other assailants, the rest fled, despite the attempts of the group to tackle them. The Fox’s attempt leading to him slamming against a statue. The bodies were searched for clues as to what caused this, but apart from a superficial uniformity of dress that implied belonging to an organised group of some kind, there was not much obvious, they had a superfluity of cheap brass and glass jewellery, few weapons (Fetnah stocking upon daggers ) but, more interestingly, more money on their person than might be expected, the amount the three fallen had could pay the group’s expenses for almost a month!

In the aftermath, Juan José tended to Smersh’s wounds, but natural healing would take days of complete rest to restore him to good health, even with Juan Jo?s medical expertise. Fetnah spent time purifying herself, and made an offer to the spirit of one of the fallen assailants, a Vaykatarran, to ensure that they were delivered to their family for proper rites, if only they would speak to her. Although she felt the spirit almost give in to her offer, it split away, and would not talk to her.

Farshad scouted the Isle for any other signs left by their attackers and found signs that they had waited a while, finding wooden food boxes that had the symbol of a snake entwined around a bird branded onto it.

Thus the group left the bodies where they had fallen, and sought a way off the Isle of Old Griefs. They found a reed boat left by their attackers, and used that to head to the nearest inhabited island of Khanedarya. As they approached, they saw the two gondoliers they’d had hired earlier see them and pole away quickly.

Approached by the watch, concerned about the blood soaked Smersh, Utana flashed his agent’s symbol and got immediate cooperation. The officers promised to send a clean-up crew to the island and took the group to the watch-house. Juan José was determined to place Smersh in a cell, but the watch officers took pity on Smersh and put him on a bed in their accommodatio, where Juan José and Fetnah looked after him.

Farshad sought out some of the unionised urchins of the city, and, paying them with some of the attackers’ silver, sent them to look for the gondoliers. It took an hour, but soon they were summoned to a dock, where another urchin was distracting one of the gondoliers.

Utana laid a firm hand on the gondolier, and started a gentle, but threatening interrogation, learning that the yellow turbans offered that they left there and then, or be killed/ Utana made a similar offer, help them or suffer for it.

Thet learned that the yellow turbans are members of an organised criminal gang who control the illicit activities in part of the Zhuezhi quarter. Utana offered the gondolier continued good health if he took the three of them there, and the gondolier saw the wisdom of that offer, given the strong grip on his arm and unfriendly expression in the three.

And there we left it.

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Write up 30th November 2023 – A lost soul in Khanedarya pt 2

This adventure is an adaptation of Losing Face by Kevin Kulp, for Swords of the Serpentine. You can get it as Pay What you want from DrivethruRPG here.

Having placed the faceless woman with the Temple of the Cold Ones, the group, now joined by merchant prince and assassin, Jalabu the Fox, returned from various side trips along the way.

The group then headed to the Palace of Agents in the administration centre for the city, like most situated near the magistrate’s house and court, the main barracks and the lesser temple and stores.

The route skirted the edge of one of the markets, a bustling, cosmopolitan place where travellers met to do deals, build contacts and learn secrets. Then a shout “Jalabu! Friend Jalabu!” And two men strode towards the group.

Beaming, Jalabu the Fox, unable to place these two, but he had met so many in his travels, smiled and started to speak “We;; hello…” only to be cut off as yhey ignored them and started speaking to Farshad.

Farshad and the two had a social conversation of small talk and good wishes, and promises of deals to come, with frequent mentions of the name “Jalabu” directed at Farshad. Attempts by the `Fox to speak where hushed with and a word and a a wave from a smooth and confident Farshad, leaving Jalabu stunned and confused as he found his name being bandied around in connection with potential deals that would make his name known across the civilised world. As that name was attached to Farshad, that added to the Fox’s concerns by the time the merchants took their leave.

In reality this was true of the player also. Andy had been unable to make the last few sessions and wasn’t sure he’d make this one, so hadn’t read the last write-up. He had no idea what was going on and was speechless, and the whole situation did bring some hilarity to the players.

At the Palace, a rather grand name for some utilitarian buildings and accommodation, the group found themselves amidst a bustle of agents and scribes, but they were soon taken in to see the officer of the watch, who gave them some refreshments and heard their story from meeting the children, to the discovery of the faceless woman. The officer of the watch, Lutf, had a scribe take notes but, rather than assuming responsibility, asked the group to keep with it, for at least a couple of days, as the agents under their command were busy not only with security for the Epic at the Grand Theatre, normal criminal activity but also rumours of Zhuezhi activity at the border.

The group agreed. They were taken by accommodation by one of the scribes, who seemed to have been assigned as a guide, and they took an hour or two to freshen up. With regrets the group left armour behind, the city is not at war. Everything settled, they asked the scribe about perfumers, where might expensive and custom scents be found, They were taken back to the market, past less exclusive sellers of perfumes and scented resin and wood, to a more up-market area, an enclosed street guarded to keep out thieves and riff-raff.

However Utana’s dress sense, bearing and voice overawed the guards, and the group were ushered into the so called “Street of Scents”. Some more high handed dealings with merchants got them to The Red Bottle”, owned by Zuanada, the perfumer who made up the scent and, thanks to his own training with scents, though mostly in the field of detecting positions, Jalabu was able to home in on just the right scent. It was part of a group of scents made for an old family of the city, one from the previous rulers of these lands, before the coming of the Mada.

This exact scent was, however, created for Fernskundeh, a Priest of the Cold Ones who is famed for her beauty but. More importantly, her singing. It is she who plays the part of the god Mawet in the epic tonight celebrating the city. Hers is the role of the god Mawet, revered here as a feminine figure, and as patron of the city.

With this knowledge, they head back to the Temple. Finding the junior priest they had collared before, despite the nervous priests attempts to be unnoticed, give the horrific situation they landed the Temple with last time.  The group was able to seek another audience with the Librarian, They passed on the information regarding Fernskundeh, but were told that she would be at the Theatre. The Temple will send people down there to investigate, but please, the Agents should continue.

Fetnah was intrigued by the vision communicated to her by the spirit of Tanima

I saw a vision of the Place of Old Grief, a group of islands where memorial stones are placed. It is the largest of the islands, there is a plinth with nothing on it, the plinth are surrounded by statues in a ring, the statues all face the plinth, it is very distinctive. I do not know why it is significant.

And that was the next place visited by the group. Taking boats to the quiet area, a mix of neglected and tended, depending on the family devotion to their ancestors. This island, thought large, is sheltered by others, and the water sluggish and in places brackish.

It took a while, but a place matching the description was found though, instead of a bare plinth, a statue of a dog headed individual clad in painted robes was on it. The group were mystified by it, and threw rocks and stones in its general direction, even tried prodding it, until, despite all these inexpert interactions failing to make contact, the individual revealed itself as Eblan, a Rishalkibu, a reclusive type of mortal, often nomadic, some are of studious mind and settle as hermits, tending the spirits and often in a relationship of both servant and student,

Eblan has a tale to tell in answer to questioning by the group

This city has many secrets, and there are killers that will dispose of your enemies for money. One was here two nights ago, meeting a client. Both were hooded and cloaked, but he heard mention of the Epic of The Gods, and of Mawet, patron of Khanedarya, being held. The assassin seemed supremely confident.

With this information imparted, and no other specific details having been overheard, Eblan seemed disinclined to hang around those who had been throwing rocks at him, and so he went off. The group noticed that the island seemed quieter, empty, though they found close by the family memorials of Fernkunsdeh’s family, surely not a coincidence that this was close to the meetings place.

It wasn’t just other mourners who had quit the island, the boatmen had gone how were the group to get off the island>

That point may however be moot, as from the surround come some armed Zhuezhi, knives out, looking very unsympathically at the group.

And there we left it/

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Write up 16th November 2023 – A lost soul in Khanedarya

This adventure is an adaptation of Losing Face by Kevin Kulp, for Swords of the Serpentine. You can get it as Pay What you want from DrivethruRPG here.

Juan José, Utana, Fetnah and Smersh return to the farm with two nervous children, distraught to see their burned out home, though at least their parents were buried, so they were spared that. They picked up Jalabu and Farshad, the latter of whom had been spending time working with the crow-spirit Aribu, getting to know each other.

The group intended to fulfil their promise to the ghost Hurat, to take these children to their only living relatives. All the children know is that the cousin of their mother, Darshana and her wife Surrayo live in the jeweller’s quarter. The describe Darshana as tall, Surrayo as short, but not much more could they remember.

They saddled up the horses, Jalabu and Juan José setting the children in front of them and setting off, rejoining the road and finding themselves safer amongst other groups, merchants, patrols, hunters and the like, until after a couple of days, Khanedarya was in sight.

Farshad spurred his horse over to a group of merchants only to hear one tell an extraordinary story, of having been taken in by a confidence trickster, who after a small but profitable deal them suckered him into a fake investment and stole the money. Another merchant told a similar tale, of a fake cargo of iron ingots. The identity of this thieve? A Shevam called Farshad.

The genuine Farshad commiserated with the merchants, who stressed that they did not condemn all Shevam because of this one, but they hoped to meet him again sometime and enact their vengeance. The merchants exchanged details of where they could be contacted with Farshad who, however, called himself “Jalabu” , in order to avoid conversational unpleasantness. as he rode away, Farshad thought to himself that for once, just once, it would be nice to be blamed for something he had actually done!

However, Farshad did find out what he wanted, which was to get an approximate idea of where the jewellers quarter was in the city. The group was able to get further directions at the city gates from the guards, who thankfully did not have to tell the group not divest themselves of war-gear as they had felt safe enough to wear travelling clothes.

Khanedarya, lying on the Sharqshud river, is built on several islands in the middle of branches of the river, enhanced with canals and artificial islands, the city is cosmopolitan, with travellers from many lands, though the largest minority of visitors are from the lands of the Zhuezhi, right across the border.

For some reason, I decided the inhabitants of this area spoke with a Welsh accent, and i occasionally delivered on that. Almost.

Following directions through the city, past islands with markets, industries and housing, fending off members of the artfully dishevelled Urchin’s Guild. Well organised under their bemittemed leader, Bernni of the Sands , until reaching the walled Jeweller’s Quarter (though not only Jewellers are here, there are places that serve the jewellers, such as the famous public eatery noted by the sign of a bear holding a fork) until reaching the riverside yellow door that they had been directed to.

The door was knocked, the introductions made and, after being invited in, the full, sad story was related, amongst many tears and hugs. The children were assured of a new home, and love and care, when Darshana’s and Surrayo’s daughter came in with news, a body has been found in a boat outside!

Reed boatsThe group rushed outside, a reed boat of a type they had see in the waterways here, poled by someone with passengers or cargo in the front, though some are wood, but built in the same style. A blanket was heaped in the boat, but with a foot and leg visible. Uncovering the form revealed a woman, dressed in overlarge clothing, though the most remarkable thing was her lack of face, where it should be,  seemed totally smooth and featureless, though Utana spotted two thin slits where the nostrils should be, and examination from Fetnah and Juan José revealed that the woman was still breathing, in fact they had good, strong lungs as far as they could tell, and that the bones under the face were mostly still there.

The group decided that this was a matter for the city authorities and went to fetch a guard (unknown to the players, the guards of the quarter are not city soldiers, but are paid for by the residents of the quarter) and Juan José went to fetch them. The group did further examination, recollecting that the garments the figure was wearing, unusual in Haraxa, seemed to be the standard clothing of the boat polers in the city. It was noticed that the hands and skin of the figure were not those of someone who worked for a living, that there were marks of missing jewellery.

Juan José brought back the guard who took only look at the figure, and bolted in fear, the extreme reaction caused others some pause, including Utana so retreated from reality momentarily. Left holding the bag, they took the body into the house of Darshana and Surrayo, while they tried to find out more. Fetnah established that the body was devoid of spirit, though it still was living. There was no sign of violent assault, her colouration, state of her nails, her scent, all suggests a Vaykattaran origin, and a noble one one at that. Utana took a sample of some scented ointment from the woman’s skin.

The idea of a figure without a face rang vague bells for Smersh, this has happened before. The group did a little more checking at the boat, finding some badly knotted rope, no boatman tied these, and Fetnah tried to summon a spirit that might have seen what happened. As she did so, the others looked for anyone else who might have seen what happened. Both attempts took them to look at the same place, a balcony at the corner of the waterside end of the street.

Up on the balcony could be seen a face of an old woman, and Fetnah’s search of the spirit realm drew her there also. They went up the steps to the first floor (second to Americans) to meet Vanni, a Shevam woman, old and a bit infirm. They asked her if she had seen what was going on. Her answer wavered off the point intro digressions, but she did give a description of what she saw,

“There was a boat. The boat was being steered by a pretty woman, and she was with someone who maybe was her sister, hard to see her slumped as she was.

“One odd thing, the lady was in a boat poler’s clothes, but changed into her sister’s blue dress, a lovely dress, with shiny threads, the pretty woman was in a hurry.

“I was going to call down at her to close the door, but a jar fell, when I got back, the girl was gone.”

At this point another prescience made itself known to Fetnah, though not to others, another Shevam, but the spirit of one, Tanima, Vanni’s spouse. They told Fetnah that they had seen the pretty woman, but recognised her as something to not be the human she appeared to , nor Paira, Dugan nor Kotharim.  Knocked the jar over, to save Vanni from being killed by the thing. Tanima did, however, gain a vision from the mind of the thing.

I saw a vision of the Place of Old Grief, a group of islands where memorial stones are placed. It is the largest of the islands, there is a plinth with nothing on it, the plinth are surrounded by statues in a ring, the statues all face the plinth, it is very distinctive. I do not know why it is significant.

Fetnah established that there had been a delay in the funeral rites, and thus Tanima had ended as a wandering ghost. Though Tanima loved being able to watch over Vanni, they knew Vanni’s time would soon come, and so accepted Fetnah’s offer to consult the priests of the Temple of the Cold Ones to see if anything could be done, over a simple exorcism.

There were two main places the group wanted to visit, the Temple, to take the faceless woman, to learn more and to find help for Tanima but also the Palace of Agents to report in, and possibly to pass on this strange set of circumstances to them.

The reports of the strange person with the monstrous spirit and the faceless body leads all to conclude that maybe the face of the pretty lady had been stolen from the hapless victim, though the too big clothes were odd, and this was not like any shapechanger that they had encountered in the past. It was troubling.

To the Temple first, Smersh carrying the afflicted woman, and with Farshad collaring some urchins, and telling them to be on the lookout for the pretty lady, with her blue dress and shiny wires, and a lot of jewellery, and not to worry, Utana would pay.

The Temple was in an uproar, busy, a hive of activity, as this was the time of the city’s annual festival in favour of the gods, and in particular Mawet who, although a god of Darkness and death, also rules a sea kingdom, or rather one under the sea, and so he is their patron. Though they depict Mawet as a woman, not a man, and also give this Mawet some of the characteristics of his mother Ahera,

A priest was collared, and after they were apprised of the situation, they nervously took the group to the quarters of a priest (priests of the Temple being mostly members of the community with other jobs, who serve a time in Temple now and then, with few full time there). The priests hustled away and brought back two other priests, a short man, a physician, and a tall woman, a librarian and chief scribe.

The physician did what they could, which was not much, but the Librarian was able to dig up some lore. That there had been instances like this, of stolen faces, of people doing terrible things and then, when questioned later, having no memory. This seems to be connected with some of the Pale Folk, the strange green people of the Great Forest, who have this ability, a curse, and are cast from their people because of it.

With that stunning information, all were quiet for a time, then Fetnah pled the case of Tanima, and the librarian assured her that she would organise the needful to give Tanima her chance to move to Mawet’s lands.

Next, the group would go to the Palace of Agents, but there we left it

When adapting this, I wrote up notes on the city festival, only I got the wrong religion, writing it for the Temple of the Three rather than the Cold Ones, oops, but I wanted this to be a hold-out centre of pre-Mada culture, so a bit of live backpedalling and rewriting.

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Write up 2nd November 2023 – The Tower of Hurat – Part 2

Having made contact with a ghost, who was quite upset at bandits from the North, and who was acting as protector to orphans from a destroyed farm, Utana and Juan José  offered to clear the Northerners away, but felt some more bodies would be useful, and headed back to the same destroyed farm, where the group had been camping.

Only Fetnah and Smersh were there. Farshad and Jalabu were off looking around the area, Dhran and Arpaesis had remained in the capital, Arpaesis to study and Dhran probably to foment mischief amongst the proletariat.

representation of the ancient border in Vaykatara, though now part of HaraxaHaving filled in Fetnah and Smersh, they headed back towards the tower, seeing the wreck of the old border wall to either side. When asked, Utana recalled that, in a period of history, during one of the phases of the nation of Vaykattara, the north and south were split in Civil War. This must have been the border

North of the remnants of the ditch are some forested hills, and the denser wood where the bandits are said to be.

The group did manage to stumble into a patrol of bandits, coming down the path they were following. Combat ensued, and Fetnah summoned spirits tro affect the battle, causing the enemy to be hesitant and at another point to be slammed by a spirit in the form of a swooping falcon.

Smersh was injured too as he went to the fore. Secure in his near impenetrable full cavalry armour, Utana hung back with his archery. Juan José mixed archery and hand to hand, and the foes were despatched and looted. They did not have much of use, apart from spare arrows and daggers, and they were stunned, and intrigued, by some erotic potsherds.

Smersh was injured too as he went to the fore. Secure in his near impenetrable full cavalry armour, Utana hung back with his archery. Juan José mixed archery and hand to hand, and the foes were despatched and looted. They did not have much of use, apart from spare arrows and daggers, and they were stunned, and intrigued, by finding some erotic potsherds.

“buckler, spear, 2H axe, 5 x daggers, two composite bows, short sword, some carved up armour, a few coins, some erotic potsherds”.

Forrest dwelling Fetnah and the wilderness savvy Utana looked for tracks back to the main camp. Both came to the conclusion that it was, err, thataway  , yess, thataway.

Smersh is surprised near the bandit campSo they went, thataway. After their stumbling into the patrol, Smersh went ahead as a scout. Good news, the group found their way to the bandit camp, bad news, two of the bandits found him, and he had not spotted them. The bandits came at Smersh, he dodge one, but the other got a cut on him as he fled back to the rest of the group.

The group moved up as the bandits readied themselves. Some of the bandits were better armoured more heavily than their scouts, and one casat magic on one that seemed to be thir leader, enhancing her strength, and making her armour almost as powerful as Utana’s.

Smersh was severely injured, and Fetnah tried to patch him up, but she dare not risk summoning spirits, as she was more open to possession without rest or sacrifice. She did lob daggers to distract some of those crowding Juan José.

A  terrier, a pet of the bandits, ran up and attacked Utana’s leg. He kicked ir away, far away, and it fled away, yelping in pain, lucky not to break its teeth on  Utana’s armoured leg.

Utana was a murder machine, at one point a blow skewering a foe and driving up off their feet. Juan José was knocked over and vulnerable, but hius opponent foolishly though him down, and stepped Juan José over to attack Fetnah and  Smersh. Seizing his opportunity, the Faliscan stabbed upwards, and rendered the foolish foe hors de combat, writhing around as Juan José scrambled to his feet.

Utana did learn as lesson about trusting to his armour alone and not bothering with his shield, as he did find his defence pierced.

The combat ended with Utana again skewering a foe, the leader, not as dramatically as before, but effectively, and the mage and the last bandit able to move ran away, at speed.

The group was in no shape to pursue, what healing they were able tio do they did, and Juan José’s medicine will make Smersh’s recovery faster. They gathered up some food from the fire and ate and rested, before heading back to the tower, with such spoils as they could gather.

“Two shortswords, three daggers, a few coins and semi-precious stones, more carved up armour, rather well used bedding, a spear, cooking utensils, some bags of grain.”

At the tower, the ghost was fading, the reason it had returned gone, with the dead and fleeing bandits. Before she went, she did obtain a promise from the group to take the two orphans to relatives they have, in the city of Khanedarya to the East, luckily on the group’s route

And there we left it.


Conclusions of this session. Heavy armour is perhaps too OP. I will either need to nerf armour a bit, or put a penalty for use in. It already tires the wearer quickly. Either that or throw more opponents at the heavily armoured.

The rules and setting are not out yet, but the core rules are available for free, including character generation, skills, a bare setting and a character sheet, all in 10 pages here

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A look at the map game “Border Riding” – published by Stout Stoat Press

Border Riding by Jo Reid

published by Stout Stoat Press

This is not a review, it is a “look at”. The reason for this is that this is really designed for a group, and I have only played it on my own.

TL:DR – I enjoyed it

Map/Game cover and a glimpse of the unfolded map

I have never played any map games before. I have drawn plenty for RPGs, and even come up with histories and events, but they tended to be for larger national entities. This game in the form of a traditional folded map is more concerned with a smaller community area, and the closest I got to the feel of this from other
games I have played was playing “King of Dragon Pass”. It is also available in PDF form, reformatted for printing normally.

The concept, which might take it away from a game for some, and move it to the category of “pastime” is to build a narrative and history around roles taken by the players, the geographical and social features of the area, the events of years and those outside to the region.

The inspiring source material is a custom of the Scottish Borders, the “Common Riding”, where citizens of a town would ride the border, defining it. There are variations of the ceremony depending on the rown, and can feature elaborate routines of waving a large standard round at various heights as the standard bearer kneels and stands and displays the standard to all.

I mention the standard in particular, not just because the person leading the game in a round is “The Standard Bearer” but one-time during my 17th Centurey re-enactment career, I was a guard for the regimental standard bearer during the battle and that standard bearer, from the Borders, started doing the moves and, unused to people near him, whacked me in the guts At least, I assume it was an accident.

Starting map, next three turns, and final map

starting map

The map starts with a random, contiunous border. This border can be any, land or water, and onto that each player draws a geographical and social feature, e.g. a river and a windmill. There are also outsiders (Them). I can’t see any suggestion on how many, but I set one each. I imagine that a group could change the number and nature of the outsiders as they interpret the events.

My concept was an island, surrounded by the mainland of a larger mainland, like Arran or Bute. Its outsiders are fishfolk who think land folk should pay them for fish, traders who arrive by ship, mercenaries who seek to recruit and a proslytising religion.

Obviously it is set up for 3 to 6 players, I found it not obvious what the accommodation was for solo players, though it is visible in the cover/map picture above as it is written under the bottom left of the map. The answer is  “assume the role and viewpoint“. Given that, for solo/duo players it might be worthwhile getting a story prompt tool, like story dice, to help out with imagination.

second turn map – year 7

With a group, you are going to want to have people who can work together, it might be awkward with one or more dominant personalities or folk who can’t bounce off each other.

A new Standard Bearer is elected for each turn, not repeating until everyone has had a turn In each turn, an Event is randomly generated, in one of a variety of categories, from innocous to unfortunate, and the group discuss how this affectes things, thoug that turn’s Standard bearer is the arbiter of the debate.

The third turn – year 8

I found the guidance about the  transferring from one turn to the next unclear. The rules say you copy four of the existing geographical or social features over, but I didn’t know how new geographical and social features got generated, so I asked and they got directed to the relevant passage about them being  generated by the events phase.

The Standard Bearer confirms the permanent consequences of this event, and draws the relevant changes onto the current map.

the fourth turn – year 13

This means that the chat about what the event means for the region, the inhabitants and the outsiders is important.However the game says that it can take 1- 2 hours to play, as an average game will have about 18 turns, that means each turn will be between 3 to six and a bit minutes.

I suggest thin paper you can easily see through to make it easier to copy outline and map to the new map.

The last two years of play, Year 106 and Year 606

This means that, as well as a changing story, influenced by events, you
look back at a changing geography (even the border outline, unless you are amazing at copying) and what features the “community” considers important, until you follow through about 5 or 6 generations and you leap forward to look back at it all.

I know you get some folk using things like this for campaign backgrounds, maybe not to the extent of “Traveller”, and I am not sure every play through would be useful for that, but some of them could be used to flesh out small areas for an RPG.

As a story game it was fun, and it’s a pity that I missed out on the cooperative experience and other peoples’ ideas, , because this has been a new and engaging thing to do, and bouncing ideas off each other would make it even better.

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Write up 19th October 2023 – The Tower of Hurat – Part 1

Tonight was one of those sessions where most could not attend. These things happen. However we decided to proceed as we were, I thought two or three could do something with the set-up I had prepared for tonight.

The night wore on, the watches were changed in the partly burned and ransacked farm in which the group were camped, until it was Utana and Juan José’s turn. False dawn was starting to give way to the real one, when a noise was heard. The two looked towards it, and Juan José saw a small figure run away. A child? A Shevam? Something or someone else?

Waking the others up, Utana and Juan José set off following the tracks made by small bare feet, leading north by north-west, soon joining a long disused path y that led up into the hills. After some six or so miles, the duo saw a tower in the distance, one not in the best shape, which became even more apparent as they got closer and saw the remnants of an earthwork that once formed a wall that the stone tower was once part of.

The other notable thing, near the top of the tower, was a weak blue light shining out from Thea window. The two approached the door warily, the placement to the south suggesting that the tower and wall guarded against the north, not the south.

The doorway was dark, but lead to an open space, with the only thing obvious dirt and the rubble of collapses stairs. Utana gave Juan José a boost up, but it took two goes, the first one ending in a slip by Juan José, leaving hum a bit winded and stunned.

On the first floor (second to Americans) Juan Jos#e found the ghost of a soldier. She was dressed in garb of somewhere between 800 and 1000 years ago, and held a sword in her hand, though not in a threatening manner.

There was a ladder up, that Juan José considered removing and using to help Utana up, but she blocked that way, saying

“Halt! I expect the northerners to attack us soon, only those under my command are allowed on the upper level!”

Confused, Juan José saw a rope tied to a beam, and used that to help Utana up. In the conversation, the ghost revealed herself to be Hurat, bound to the tower, and drawn back to wakefulness by the prescience of northern enemies.

Quizzed on this, as surely any enemy would be long dead, she revealed that the children of the devasted farm that the characters were camped at are here, on the second (third to US)
children were hidden, under her protection and command, the farm had been attacked by bandits from north of the ancient wall.

The children were persuaded to come down, dirty and hungry, so Utana fed them with his travel rations and watered wine. Hurat asked for aid, pointing the way to a wood across a small valley where the bandits were camped.

Feeling a duty, as Agents of Haraxa, to bring justice to criminals within the bounds of the realm, Utana and Juan José agreed to help, but they would need the help of the rest of their group, so they would go back and gather them.

And there we left it.

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Write up 5th October 2023 – The deed of Smersh – Part 3

I had a few ideas for scenes that the characters might encounter given the options I thought they would go for, given the situation, but the players managed to shave their characters avoid every, single one. There was only one I managed to help-shoehorn back in. Half. 

Stunned and shocked by violence in the library stacks, at least Arpaesis was able to achieve their goal, they know where they need to go. Utana, mildly affected by the poison of the shambling rag spirit, was suffering from a headache, but at least the toxin had not built up enough to seriously affect him.

They leave the former temple hewn out of the rock, out into the spaces before the buildings proper,  they found themselves intercepted by Imperial Immortals and various court functionaries. It must be the sight of the elite troops of Shara Khrush II in front of them that distracted Utana from realising members of his own household were in the group.

Utana’s servant led the group into a room in the Temple of the Three, where clothing and basins were set aside, explaining that coming to the palace complex fully armed and armoured for war, without express summons, could be adjudged treason

Weapons and armour were gathered up, and the household washed and clad the group, minus the urchin who was loaded with ichor stained robes,explaining that they had been summoned to the Royal presence. Smersh tried, but failed, to secrete a handy weapon someplace best left unimagined, though Farshad succeeded.

Whilst Fetnah worried about the correct court etiquette, Smersh again waxed paranoid aboiut why anyone would want to see him, and where was the exit….

Escorted through the Second Paradise, they were brought to an ante-chamber. Once again, the ambassador Claudius , seeing Utana, treats him like a flunky, in this case made even worse by being witnessed by his Rival, Sonya of Rogah-tinosh. As this was going on, Hortensia, the other ambassador took advantage of the distraction to have a quiet word with Juan José after his audience.

The doors opened and the group was ushered in, ahead of Sonya’s party, earning Utana a begrudged nod of respect from Sonya. It had been a topic of concern as to how much grovelling would be required, but they noticed that the throne was shielded by the screen. Shara Khrush II could listen but, officially he was not there, so no obeisance was required.

Instead they saw, again, the Secretary of Agents, Bahramian, conducted the audience. The deeds in the north of the nation were outlined, and the group quizzed about whether or not they saw any connection, as so many strange occurrences seemed to draw themselves to them.

The group pondered this, but could think of no evidence that there was a unified and concerted effort against the Haraxan Kingdom, though it seemed strange that so many spirits manifested to attack them

Smersh and Fetnah were discussed, and the circumstances of how they came through time, and Bahramian mentioned that he had heard the name of Farshad somewhere, and not in a good way, but Farshad passed that off as he was sure it was a misunderstanding.

The last part of the audience was a presentation to all of decorated akinashes, a long dagger or short sword, depending on your point of view, granted like a medal to soldiers. Of course Utana’s was the finest decorated, but all were serviceable and the most gorgeous damascus blades.

The audience concluded, they were shown out, and Sonya’s party entered the room. Claudius the ambassador again came up to Utana, to apologise, again allowing Hortensia to approach Juan José with an offer, in effect to act as an informant and talent-scout for the Faliscan cities, opportunities for trade, news of disruption and opportunity. Juan José agreed, and Hortensia made another offer, to introduce him to Umati,one of the lecturers in battlefield medicine at the military hospital attached to the barracks.

This was one of the bits where I expected Joan José to take advantage of that more directly, but the group headed back to Utana’s family town-house. Joan José did go back, but, with some prodding, with Utana, as the only one of the arty with the clout to get an itinerant mercenary straight to a senior official of the army. Fetnah tagged along.

In the hospital Utana took advantage of the presence of Umati, a tall, human of indeterminate gender, and asked them for treatment for his headache. Umati prescribed a vial of a strange fluid and a demon scaring talisman efficacious against any spirit that would try to invade an ailing skull.

Juan Jose asked for information on a bone knife he had picked up long ago, and found it was designed to pick certain plants at the height of their efficacy, and Umati gave Juan José a tablet that should help him use it, and Fetnah pointers on making her own.in the fullness of time. With him having the support of Utana and Juan José, Umati invited Juan José back to study any time.

The group, aware of the deadline hanging over Jalabu’s head, limited their exploitation of the circumstances of being in a major city, so there were few areas of re supply, Fetnah and Juan José refreshed their material medica, silver arrows were replenished, Farshad bough more upmarket robes and splendid, matching hats for himself and his horse.

Smersh wanted to upgrade his armour but, with the minimal time  to hand, settled for a loan of some pieces from Juan Jose, adjusted to fit.

There was a bit of discussion atropine here about the weapons everyone had, and their efficacy against spirits given the frequency of their appearances.

A short resupply finished, the group rode off, deciding to not go bu sea, the quickest route, but overland, taking a shortcut away from the main overland route as speed was of the essence.

Utana reverted to hardened ranger of the desert and mountains, saving Fetnah and Smersh from chasing after mirages and, as afternoon gave way to evening, they had two choices at a fork in the trail, north-east to a raised area where a wall could be seen, or south east towards a small oasis.

Farshad decided to use his bond with the spirit Aribu, placed into a construct in the shape of a crow. Launching it into the air, Aribu flew over the walled area, finding it a farm of sorts, with plants fed by wells around a domed dwelling set into the ground. Beside the stairs down were two charred human adults.

This appears to have happened three or four weeks ago, after burying the bodies, they searched the dwelling, finding it looted, but still Farshad found an amulet of a Shevam domestic spirit on the wrecked bed, and Fetnah found a smoke blacked pouch with three smooth,  coloured riverstones, one painted red, one green and one white. Despite much puzzling from Smersh, Fetnah and Juan José to try and determine some great meaning to these stones, the most that any could earn through Fetnah’s  magic was that these stones had meaning to three children who once lived here.

Of these children there is no sign.

The group set watches, and there we left it

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