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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