At the oasis, the party gauged their options, and considered that going east toward Jeklea Bay might be the fastest, most direct route, even if it meant travelling overland through the mountains.
“Can anyone tell us how to get to the coast?” [pause] “What coast?”
“The Master’s may know, but their time is limited.”
In the mountain town, three tribes share the space, including the Qualinessi. The leader of the Qualinessi is called thee “Subvil,” that is who the men at the oasis recommended we see, if possible.
Over the Subvil is the Grand Sufi, who visits once every couple of weeks. We are warned to avoid him if possible, due to his acquisitive nature and the likelihood he would want to received Thrax as a gift.
The party travels at night to avoid the heat, having traded with locals at the oasis for warm clothing. The locals are very receptive to gems in payment, and we’re advised to proffer gems to the Subvil as well, should the need arise.
As the party begins to ascend into the hills, the sand began to change. Where once it was dusty, even powdery, as the party entered into the hills it began to take on a clumpy aspect.
The village is surrounded by an ancient stone wall, with a long-absent space where the gate once stood. Despite them arriving late at night, there was a fair amount of people out and about, taking advantage of the evening’s cool.
As the party made it’s way to the Qualinessi sector (three sectors, each populated by a separate tribe, plus a large central area that was assumed to belong to the Great Sufi), they saw a strange humanoid in the distance: normal in most ways, for this region, save for one eminently distinguishing feature: his hair and beard were made of flames.
The town, Jarlebank recognized, was an ancient Suel fortress, long unoccupied but now home to these tribesmen.
They party found their way to a modest inn of sorts, and while the place wasn’t fancy the people were welcoming and generous. They dined on spiced goat and kumiss, a fermented milk.
The innkeeper, when asked about the man with the flaming hair, explained: “They are the Unruhn, the followers of the Great Sufi. They are prodigious warriors.” Other creatures are also among the Great Sufi’s followers, but Subvil’s guards are different.
The party approached Subvil’s administrators and made it known that they wished to see the Qualinessi leader. While the Qualinessi admins were receptive, they informed the party that tat it would be a day or two before Subvil arrived in town.
The party took the downtime opportunity to visit the local bazaar, acquiring more desert-style clothing and local foods suitable for travel.
The merchants mentioned that they traded with the creatures in the mountains (the humanoid camp the location of which Shepherd had originally divined). They described the creatures are “red-skinned, pointed-eared people” with tendencies towards organized violence, although they’d always treated the Qualinessi traders well. Jarlebank suspected these creatures might be hobgoblins, based on the merchants’ descriptions.
After dark on the second day, the party was approached and told that Subvil had arrived and was willing to see them. They were instructed in the proper manner to approach the tribal leader: bow upon entry, approach five steps, bow again, approach another five steps, then stop and wait to be acknowledged.
The building was a temple of some sort, repurposed into a ceremonial chamber. The floors were of marble, with well-crafted stone walls and even a font. Upon the walls, gems and crystals had been encrusted. Goat-tallow candles brightly illuminated the chamber.
The Subvil was a large man, dressed in robes and obviously used to having his commands followed to the letter. Standing nearby was an immense bodyguard, seven feet tall and dressed in robes similar to those of Subvil, but bearing a large scimitar. Even more interesting were two women, their faces covered in veils, one of which had a disconcerting but attention-grabbing feature: her hair consisted of live snakes, writhing behind the veil.
Subvil asked the party to explain how and why they’d come to the territory of the Qualinessi. Calador explained to him the story. Afterward, Subvil said: “You have been truthful, I can see… but not entirely truthful. Why?”
Calador explained that we wanted nothing but to travel easterly and reach the Bay, where we might follow the coast north and re-enter the lands they’d come from.
Subvil was thoughtful, they explained: there exists a ring, made of rose-gold and bearing three large amethysts. Subvil had discovered it’s whereabouts, a place known locally as “the Shifting Stones.”
If, Subvil explained, we would be willing to acquire this bauble on his behalf…? He would be willing to teleport us either south, to a known pathway through the mountains, or north, to a region where the mountain crossing was shortest and ended near to territories with which the party was familiar.
Subvil said he could get us to within 30 miles of Shifting Stones, but beyond that they’d have to travel on foot. The party agreed and made themselves ready to travel. The party was transported back into the desert, and arrived near dusk. They travelled for hours, taking advantage of the cooler temperatures to make good time.
The road the party travelled on was obviously, eons ago, a major road, but now the cobbles were cracked and the pitiless sands encroached on the road, shrouding it in an ochre powder the color of time. it was barely a path, now, a testament to some ancient people whose creations survived the Invoked Devastation, only to die slowly under the ministrations of the centuries.
Near dawn, the party saw a bright, unwavering light in the distance, a couple miles off the road. After some discussion, they approached (including overflights by Thrax), and saw an enormous, remarkably unattended pile of bright, shining treasures. Twelves columns surrounded the pile
They party approached warily, as piles of well-lit treasures, without guardian or bandit, were rare in the desert. This particular pile almost screamed out “trap,” but Jarlebank, attempting to learn what manner of trap this might be, found that the treasure piles was no illusion, nor glamor, and he could find no obvious hazard. The mage even went so far as to cast Dispel Magic on the pile, but to no avail. “Whatever might lurk here,”Jarlebank said, “… the treasure here is real.”
Simon examined the area for prints but, as remarkably as Jarlebanke’s inability to determine the nature of the illusion, found no tracks leading into or out of the area.
After much discussion, the party agreed that they’d have to enter the region bounded by the pillars to find the ring requested by Subvil. Once committed, Simon entered the region.
“INDIVIDUAL OR GROUP” came a disembodied voice. “CHOOSE.” The party looked at each other, wondering what this could mean but suspecting the worst. “Group,” answered Simon.
Each member of the party had to fight a random assailant; to emerge from the pillars, three of five contests needed to be won.
Shepherd, fighting a warrior with a glowing sword. Shepherd was defeated; the warrior selected something from the treasure pile and departed across the sand. 0-1
Simon, fighting a cube (?) with wings (maybe a modron?). “I am sorry I must fight you,” says the creature calmly before they begin fighting. Simon defeats it and it disappears. Simon selected the ring described by Subvil. 1-1
Sonja, fighting an immense female creatures with wings and a serpent’s body. It was a hard fought struggle and the result was by no means ensured, but ultimately Sonja was victorious. 2-1
Jarlebank, fighting an Ettin. The battle lasted approximately 10 seconds. 2-2
Calador, fighting a blink dog. A lengthier battle than originally supposed, but was ultimately a victory. 3-2
Jarlebank cast Identify on Subvil’s ring; it is a Ring of Three Wishes.