Rathay and Gul




........After adjusting our almanacs which failed to account for certain perturbations in the ether which altered the conjunction of Rathay and Gul for a period of one week, we finally witnessed the promised eclipse.  Gathering up our troops, we hastened to the Undead Village to seek the perfect orb which offered the only hope for Xema's eventual cure. .........

 The Verini...

Our faithful band had no sooner gathered at the Drunken Giant for some well deserved restoration from the day's activities then Chesia suddenly appeared.  She seemed somewhat agitated having sensed some unknown stress in the psychic fabric of Tyr.  Shortly after she had calmed herself with a dose of Iono's scuppernog, Tedham strolled in.  He had been sent by the lady M'Thari in search of some "masked ones"; a somewhat mistaken reference to our Veiled Alliance.   It seemed that the lady M'Thari wished to speak with us again.  Tedham, who obviously does not enjoy his new duties, again bemoaned the recent changes in his employer Sinak of the House of Shom.  Sinak seems now to have only the welfare and pleasure of the lady M'Thari on his mind.  We all agreed to accompany Tedham to the House of Shom to see what the lady M'Thari desired.

Upon arrival at the House of Shom, we heard excited talk from the inner courtyard.  Slipping past the guards we found the lady M'Thari in conversation with a verini by the name of Xorex.  It soon became clear that we had been summoned so that Xorex could examine the designs on the card decks received from the House of Ankhor and the gemstone baubles taken from the illithids. Xorex insisted on being allowed to handle the original decks and baubles.  After assurances that they would be promptly returned, we allowed him to do so.  He immediately became very agitated and the identity of the mysterious "captive" became clear; as well as the deep involvement of the House of Ankhor in these evil proceedings.  The designs contained a concealed message from a female verini named Xema who is very important to Xorex.  Apparently she had been forced to create the designs and had managed to insert a secret message in them.  Unfortunatly, the message said only that she was a captive and gave no indication of her whereabouts but the note taken last week from the two templar henchmen apparently refers to her.

It was quickly decided that, since the illithids are expecting a meeting on Friday with the templars, that we would attend this meeting disguised as templars.  Unfortunately, we do not know where this meeting is to be. Chesia, however, sensed that the stress in the psychic aura she had detected came from a link between Xorex and Xema. It is hoped we can trace this link and discover the meeting place.  It is suspected that Xema might be held in the obsidian mines since Xorex says obisdian has properties that block psychic energy.

The lady M'Thari again spoke of her wish to return the Chalice of Hope to Nilenay but it was noted by several of us that she knows far more of our comings and goings than one would expect of a former dance hall girl.  She bears watching.

Tonight we returned to Shom’s garden to meet with M’Thari, Tedham, and Xorex. Our mission was simple, we had to rescue Xema.

First off, M’Thari reported the bodies of two templars had been found. They were badly mangled after being attacked and savaged by dune reapers. (They really should be more careful crossing the desert alone, but then a good templar is a dead …. , but I digress.) Some of us wondered if the templars could have met a different fate, and reapers only found their carcasses. If that was the case, templars need to be buried in a deeper hole, so the desert vermin can’t get to them.

Tedham produced what was left of their clothing. M’Thari commented something about ‘standard desert disguise for templars.’ Since we strongly suspected that Xutan’s templars were behind Xema’s kidnapping, M’Thari had also procured two sets of templar clothes for disguises – red hats, cloaks, and sandals. The plan was for two of our party to be disguised as templars, and this would aid us in getting to where Xema was held.

Our next task was to figure out where she might be. Fortunately, Xorex was some help here. Through some mental images from Xema, he was able to ‘see’ Xema in an open area, the top of an altar, the top of which blazed red, a stone wall, and perhaps the intense sun. Though this seemed like gibberish, we decided that Kled was the most likely place to start our search.

Thus, two of our party donned the templar red disguises. Xorex also changed his appearance, he put on a black hooded cowl and cape, and deftly hid his tail. We were off to Kled.

Once we got to Kled, several us scouted around, looking in vain for any signs. These were all for naught, but finally Xorex was able to establish a brief mental link to Xema. Then it happened. She appeared behind the Kled city wall, being led by two Illithids, Rathoras and Nislor. She was weak and barely able to walk, having suffered gravely from the mind flayers mental assaults.

The flayers brought her outside the walls of the city, and our templar imposters confronted them. They demanded that the ‘prisoner’ be turned over to them for safekeeping. While they haggled with the Illithids, others in our party skillfully maneuvered Xema away from them. Once she was safely aside, we launched our attack.

Though we were vicious in our first blows, the flayers were not unprepared. They had been wary, and thwarted these first attacks. However, we kept up the onslaught, and Rathoras quickly fell.

Nislor was another matter. He was stronger willed than Rathoras, and was able to inflict considerable pain on many of our party. He was especially intent in injuring Xema, and we had our hands full in trying to protect her. Finally, the death blow was given and Nislor crumbled to the ground. (Should I repeat his full name here, so all Illithids will know who died? Nissshorulassthessnathess. There, it has been uttered for the last time.) But even in his death throes, he lashed out at Xema, and she was gravely stricken.

Though we had beaten the Illithids, Xema teetered on the brink. Her mind had been shattered by the flayers, and she was on the ground, her tail twitching, barely alive. She needed help, and quickly. Several of us realized Chesia back in Tyr would be her best hope. Quickly, Xema was scooped up and we fled with her back toward Tyr. Hopefully, we will get her to Chesia in time (next Tuesday).

This evening, we again gathered in the Drunken Giant and were soon joined by Chesia, who had returned from her journey.  She was quickly brought up to date on the happenings of last Friday and of the rescue of Xema, the verini, from the clutches of the illithids; of how our valiant band had attacked two of the squid faced ones, killed them after a long struggle, and brought Xema back to the House of Shom.  When Chesia learned of the terrible mental injuries Xema had suffered, she immediately agreed that we should all immediately visit the House of Shom and see what Chesia could do to heal her.

Upon arriving at the House of Shom, it soon became apparent that matters were very grave.  Xema was barely alive and perhaps even beyond Chesia’s powers to save.  It was at this point that the troubling question arose of what Xema might know about the Chalice of Hope.  Chesia indicated that she could search for the information in Xema’s mind, but that the intrusion would surly kill her.  Healing her might destroy the information or, once well, she might refuse to tell.  Xorex, who as might be expected was very one sided about this decision, insisted that he knew nothing of the Chalice and that Xema knew no more than he did. Against this declaration was the question of why the illithid were so interested in Xema if she knew so little.  After much painful deliberation, our group decided in favor of healing Xema first and seeking what information she may have retained after she was well.

Chesia quickly realized that healing Xema was beyond her power without certain items to help.  With Xorex’s assisance, Chesia determined that magic blossoms, spider silk, strips of red cloth, and obsidian dust (or an obsidian orb to grind up) would be needed.  In addition, she spoke of a mind orb needed to concentrate her powers.  None of our band knew what this last item was but Xorex spoke of a legend that relates how intellect devourers, who have a taste for the semi-intelligent undead, raid villages where they may be found.  If such a raid occurs during the dark of the moons, the intellect devourers will produce perfect mind orbs.  It seems we may learn more of this foul process for the dark of the moons are next Friday and we must seek at least one of these orbs if Xema is to be healed.

After adjusting our almanacs which failed to account for certain perturbations in the ether which altered the conjunction of Rathay and Gul for a period of one week, we finally witnessed the promised eclipse.  Gathering up our troops, we hastened to the Undead Village to seek the perfect orb which offered the only hope for Xema's eventual cure.

Upon arrival, we were saddened to learn that the village was currently set upon by the clueless living, as well as the mindless undead and intellect devourers which we expected to find.  Several of our band were able to keep Syrik [sic] and his henchmen preoccupied with childish banter, buying the rest of us enough time to seek out the orbs for which we had trekked across the waste.

I myself lucked out and happened across two of the most excitable i.d.'s in attendance.  Their fervor was so great that they managed to produce seven of the mind orbs in the short time that I watched them.  I'm not sure of the significance, but they seemed to rather enthralled with my leg... but enough about that.  Between us, our band managed to procure 13 or 14 of the precious mind orbs, and we carefully packed them away for the long trek back to House Shom and Xema. The remainder of our crew boldly continued to baffle Syrik [sic] and the rest until we were safely away.

We returned to House Shom to find Xorex pacing madly, Xema lying in her bush, and Chesia patiently awaiting the healing aids which we had promised Fortunately, one of the orbs we procured was fit for Chesia's needs, and she proceeded to minister to Xema's ailments, during which Xorex was his usual sunny self.  After some rather extensive mental hocus-pocus, the machinations of which were beyond my meager abilities to comprehend, Xema returned to consciousness. 

Unfortunately, she was in no shape at the time to be able to give us any of the information that we so desperately need, but Chesia predicted that she should be well enough to talk extensively by Tuesday, and that being the case, we are planning on gathering <at Shom's?> that day for some rather extensive grilling.  (I think Lor is making arrangements for the burgers, but we still need someone to supply the chips and the Scup...)

We made our way to the House of Shom in anticipation of a full night of information gathering, and were rewarded well for our hopes.  Xema was up and about and in a fairly talkative mood, enabling us to pursue many of the matters that had been troubling us of late.

Someone in our band suggested that we play a game of 20 questions with Xema, who responded well to it, having the emotional maturity of a child as she does.  With Chesia monitoring her condition as we went, here is what we discovered about the...

Templars:  They kidnapped Xema apparently with the intention of using her Verini gifts to detect whether the chalice they have recently obtained was actually magical.  Xema, according to her story, felt the telltale "tingle" upon seeing it, and told them that it was magical, but not specifically what it does.  A "nasty" male templar is currently the possessor of the chalice.

Mines:  The Templars are using slaves to mine obsidian, which we already knew. What we didn't know was that they are mining more deeply than normal thanks to Xema's contribution of a ventilation system to their efforts.  Apparently she modified some kind of child's toy for use in moving the air in the mines.  Sadly, the templars have no way of operating the ventilation system without Xema, and her absence is mucking up the works to some degree.  (Why they just didn't use the fans that are already in the mines, I don't know.  I seem to remember fooling with them extensively some time ago to solve a poison gas problem, but what do I know? ;)  Because of this, the Templars will be looking for Xema.  Because of that, Xorex has decided to ally with us, as we are actively involved in hindering the Templars efforts.

Chalice:  The chalice is decorated with scenes of ancient dwarves fighting a great monster of some kind.  According to Xema, the dwarves were depicted as being quite hirsute, "like humans", and were shown going through some manner of door.  The side where the dwarves were fighting the monster is shown as having one moon, and the other side is shown with 2 moons.  She couldn't identify the monster, and said that she had not seen its like before.  Unfortunately, she is somewhat lacking in practical experience, so this may not necessarily indicate that we are dealing with an unknown quantity.  This brings to mind the question of what "hope" it is that the "Chalice of Hope" represents.  Hope and Athas are distant foes in our day, although this may not have held true at the time of the scene engraved on the cup.

Another note of interest is the fact that Tedham doesn't seem to completely trust M'Thari.  Given the nature of the art on the Chalice, I think it's safe to assume that her story (if I remember correctly) about the Chalice's link to Nibenay is probably false.  We should be on our guard.

We are to meet with Xorex on Friday to plan out our next move against the Templarate (finally).

We returned to Shom’s garden on Friday eve to check on the health and progress of the Verini, Xema.  The youngster’s recuperative powers must be quite remarkable as she was bounding (or bouncing) around the garden, and having a good time playing with her ball.  Her zest was a wee bit too much for the plants and bushes, however.  She managed to trample several of them.

The noise was barely tolerable to Old Man Shom, but seeing his bushes bent and broken was too much for the old geezer.  He announced that Xema and Xorex had worn out their welcome (regardless of what M’Thari had said), and they must leave his garden.

At first we complained, but it was to no avail.  After some discussion, we decided the Weeping Widow in Shadow Square would be a good hide-out for the two Verini.  Robes and cloaks were quickly provided and we stealthily moved out into the streets.  We used the less used side streets and alleys, trying to avoid any Templars.  (You should remember that Xema had been kidnapped by some particularly evil compatriots of Xel, and forced to work for them.) We successfully dodged two of them out collecting taxes, Templars Takan and Dornal, and settled into the Weeping Widow.

As seems to be our destiny with these two Verini, the two Templars showed up at the Weeping Widow ready to collect taxes.  Despite her best efforts, Xema
was unable to completely control either her tail or her ball, and one of the Templars recognized her as a Verini underneath her disguise.

We quickly sprang to the attack and soon the air was filled with magic, arrows, curses, and vows of vengeance.  While several of us were seriously impeded and wounded, others of us carried on.  Soon the first Templar weakened under our onslaught, and when he tried to escape, he was cut down as he approached the door.

The second Templar, Takan I believe, stood his ground, but he too became weakened.  The fatal blow was dealt and he too lay dead.

At that time, we realized the amulets the Templars had been wearing (or using), no longer glowed with a magical power.  Whatever magic these amulets held, and whatever knowledge these Templars had about the obsidian mines or about the Chalice of Hope, died with them.

Perhaps, some day in the future, we may learn how to take hostages - maybe.

Some interesting occurrences have transpired since we last spoke. I shall mention the most important item first, as it may have grave consequences for us.

This coming Tuesday, we have an appointment to meet with Sr. Administrator Xutan!! He is most interested in getting his hands around the neck of a ‘renegade’ Verini, and we have made some interesting plans to ‘help’ him. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at last Tuesday night. We were meeting with the two Verini, Xorex and Xema, in the Drunken Giant. Some of us tried to learn additional details from Xema about her capture by Xutan’s Templars, while others of us enjoyed the tavern’s spirits, perhaps to excess, but then perhaps not. The only thing we learned, at least all that I can clearly remember as my head was aching the next morning, was that Xema was in the vicinity of the Chalice of Hope, when she was operating the ‘fans’ to pump air into the obsidian mine. But, Xema has no intention whatever of ever getting close to that place again.

So, we decided that one of us could impersonate Xema, and that we could then use this ruse to gain entrance to where the Cup was kept. At least that was our thoughts.

The next night we re-evaluated this ‘plan’ and decided it had some merit. We would pose as Silverstalkers one more time, and offer to deliver to the Templars the ‘renegade’ Verini (our imposter – who may or may not be Xorex, I am unsure of his true intentions at this time). Once we had a contract with the Templars, we would then take our ‘Verini’ captive to the agreed meeting place (which would be close to where the Cup was, since the ‘Verini’ would be needed to operate the mine’s ventilation system). Once there, we would spring our trap, slay all of the Templars, and liberate the Chalice of Hope. A most daring plan.

All we now needed were some Templars to start the wheels in motion. As luck would have it, two of them were out collecting taxes in the east end of Caravan Way. We quickly gathered about them, Templars B’Rela and Larque. We noticed that they both had dragon sigils, so they must be up to no good. As we bargained with them, they first demanded that we provide them some evidence about two of their missing Templar brethren. We offered that we had seen their dead bodies in the Weeping Widow, and that the Verini had killed them. They were upset, and yet pleased, to have this confirmation.

We offered to track down this Verini, for a contract – remembering our disguise as Silverstalkers -, but these Templars were not ready to make such a commitment. However, they finally agreed to arrange an appointment for us with Xutan. There, we could hammer out the terms of the contract for capturing and delivering the ‘renegade’ Verini.

And that brings us to this coming night’s activities. I hope you will find in your heart to wish us well as we walk into the heart of the lion’s den.

Last Tuesday, we again met at the Drunken Giant. As previously arranged, we prepared to meet with Senior Administrator Xutan. Our plan was to pose once more as silver stalkers (and assistants) and pretend to arrange a contract for delivering Xema, the Verini, to Xutan in return for what we hoped would be the Chalice of Hope; or at least information as to its exact location.

We then repaired to the Adventurer's Inn where Xutan was enjoying a lavish meal paid for by the excessive taxes he had recently collected. We approached him about the matter of a certain escaped white verini and mentioned that we could arrange to deliver said Verini if he were interested. He immediately showed great interest but at this point, as is often true with Templars, things became somewhat difficult. Xutan seemed most interested in offering vague promises of a temporary reduction in taxes in return for what, to him, would be the recapture of a most valuable prisoner. Apparently, the real silver stalker tribe has been negotiating for such a reduction for some time. Our attempts to steer him to something more concrete (and more specific) proved to be of little avail. After much discussion, he agreed that, as payment, he would throw in a few trinkets in addition to the tax reduction. He was most suspicious of our claims to be silver stalkers and demanded that a known silver stalker representative accompany us to the next meeting; specifically, Irena, Tarakuu, or Keyvas. We were also able to get him to state that delivery of the Verini should be made to the gates of the Templar Inner Sanctum.

It was finally decided we would meet with him again in one week at which time, if we were accompanied by one of the named silver stalkers, he would sign a contract and specific delivery details would be arranged.

I suspect you may still be in shock following our last missive. We realize that dealing directly with Sr. Administrator Xutan is not unlike walking into a den of bulettes. You’re always second-guessing yourself, whatever happens.

The latest convolution on our long journey to thwart Xel’s plans called for us to enlist the aid of the Silverstalkers. Xutan has required that they co-sign a contract for delivery of the ‘killer’ white Verini. We had bargained with him the previous night, but he was somewhat suspicious of us. So, in order to guarantee our actions, he would only sign a contract that was co-signed by a Silverstalker. Our problem was that we had not seen one in several months.

Thus, we started our night’s activities, wondering just where in all of the Tablelands the Silverstalkers were camped. Fortunately, one of us spotted a commotion in the silt village. A prominent Silverstalker, Irena, was having a disagreement over payment for a shipment of cloth to a tailor, Miafa. We all hustled to the Silt Village, and by the time we arrived, the disagreement was turning ugly. Miafa had two henchmen with her, and she was being very adamant in not paying Irena for damage goods. We quickly realized that helping Irena collect this debt could be a good way to have her return the favor and help us with our contract with Xutan. When Miafa’s henchmen, Fara and Groza, decided that it was time to take up arms and settle the argument, we were ready for them. This only took a few moments, as both of these louts were better talkers than swordsmen. Though, I will say that they can pack quite a wallop when they do land a blow.

With Fara and Groza both dead in pools of their own blood, our attention turned to Miafa. At first, she was prepared to fight to the death, rather than pay a debt she did not owe. We all parried blows with her, but in the end we reached an understanding. Her death served no purpose, and she realized this. So, the battle ended. She and Irena settled on payment for partial shipment of the goods, and Irena would take the other goods to Tyr and sell them there.

With that settled, we broached the subject of our contract with Xutan. After some discussion, Irena agreed to co-sign the contract, as long as the Verini would also sign the contract. As would be expected, her only concern was fulfillment of the contract, and having the Verini sign was necessary.

We shall see how this works out, and how we can manipulate it to our advantage.

This evening we met again at the Drunken Giant. As she had promised, Irena of the Silver Stalkers was present. She was willing to negotiate a contract with Xutan in return for the help we had given her at the Silt Village last week. First, she requested a contract between herself and our band which specified what we were attempting to do and that Xorex was entering into our escapade of his own free will. This we all signed. The second contract was to be between herself and Xutan (hence the need for the first contract between her and us.) This contract was to specify the delivery of one Verini to Xutan in return for lower taxes on the Silver Stalkers and some additional hard goods.

We then repaired to the Adventurer’s Guild where Xutan was again enjoying a lavish meal at the taxpayers expense. He was quite surprised to see us with Irena but quickly got down to negotiating as only a Templar can. After much haggling, he agreed to lower the taxes on the Silver Stalkers and also deliver +3 single handed swords of good quality in return for the delivery of the Verini Friday evening to Kled. A major complication arose, however, in that Xutan insisted that the words "white rogue Verini" be specified in the contract. This presents a major problem for us since Xorex is obviously green; as are all male Verini. Perhaps quantities of white paint would be in order for
next Friday.

One very interesting additional piece of information was a casual mention by Irena of a contract for the shipment of "berries" to Xutan. This had nothing to do with our current business but seemed to encourage Xutan to sign our contract. Could the Silver Stalkers be in the jav business?

Last Friday, we gathered in the Drunken Giant with Xorex and Irena to carry out our plan. The first major problem was Xorex's green color. Xutan had insisted on the "white" Verini being delivered. Irena brought along a special "cosmetic" from Mk'rie which fine ladies are accustomed to using when they have had too much sun. After much persuasion Xorex agreed to an application. However, much to his horror, he turned what at best could be described as a dull grey. He was much relieved when he found that wiping off the creme restored his original vibrant green. We then attempted to make use of the known psionic powers of the Verini. It is known that the Verini can change their color using mind control but Xorex said it would take all his energy and last only a short time unless he had some psychic object to help maintain his focus. Fortunately, Loraque could provide a fully charged psi sphere made by Xema. It worked perfectly and in a moment Xorex was a radiant white and said he could remain so as long as necessary.

The trip to Kled for the supposed "delivery" was then quickly made. The only problem remaining was how to communicate with Xorex once he was inside Kled. This problem was never really solved and we watched sadly as Templar Idmani signed the contract indicating that it was completed and led Xorex away apparently under psionic control. We set up camp outside the gates of Kled to await further events.

Perhaps Xorex can get word to us by way of the Sun Cleric Lodo or the dwarf maiden Elika. Perhaps he can esp Xema and perhaps she can be persuaded to pay attention long enough to pass us the message. We will have to see.

As you will well remember, we reluctantly handed over the Verini, Xorex, to the Templar Idmani at Kled last week. Our plan was to wait for contact from him, and then stage a daring Rescue Xorex / Maim and Disintegrate all Templars / Destroy the Obsidian Mine Air Circulation Fans / and Snatch the Chalice of Hope mission.

It truly is a great plan, but there now a small snag, named Xema, which has come up. I am beginning to get the feeling that many of the citizens of Tyr do not realize the imminent danger that Xel presents to them, nor do they have the slightest idea that we have been working feverishly behind the scenes to thwart his attempts. (But, being discrete and anonymous members of a secret organization does present public relations problems. But you must agree, that some of the locals are truly without any clues to current activities.)

Well, having said all that, it does bring us to the latest turn of events. We were patiently waiting, as is our lot in life, for any word from Xorex, when Chesia burst into the Drunken Giant. She was wringing her hands, and was extremely worried. You see, she had been entrusted to look after Xema, and the little twerp of a Verini has now taken off. Skipped town. Vamoosed. Split.

Of course, we were stunned to hear this news. Chesia told us that Xema had been having nightmares for several days (or nights). Obviously, to me at least, these nightmares were an attempt by Xorex to communicate with Xema. But the youngster obviously did not understand their importance, and instead was frightened by them. (There is another possibility, but we'll come to that later).

Of course, we all thought she had ran off to Kled to rescue Xorex. All we would do then would be to ride out to Kled, and become the dashing heroes. Well, no sooner had we left the Drunken Giant, and began our preparations for traveling to Kled that it became obvious that things were not quite so simple. First, we had no evidence as to which direction Xema had gone, and even if she had gone toward Kled. Second, some of the smarter ones in our group noticed some unusual activities were occurring. We then decided to talk to several shady, and one not so shady, characters to learn what they might know about a 'missing' Verini.

First, there was a halfling con artist named Skish. He seemed to have seen a Verini. He also reportedly pilfered Chesia's purse (from which she had offered to pay us for our help in finding Xema). A bracelet of Mme K'rie's was also missing, and Skish was implicated again.

Second, there was a pirate, Cint. He talked about a Verini taking a caravan, about seeing a large flying creature dive into the Silt Sea, and finally he produced a piece of cloth pulled from the Silt Sea.

Third, Mme K'rie had sold a case of "tanning" crème to a pale young girl wearing a black robe. And this girl paid for the crème with a psionic powerstone.

We shared all of this information with Chesia, and when we showed her the powerstone, she recognized the sigil on it as similar to one Xema had made before.

So, it appears that Xema has hauled tail and taken off to the south, possibly toward to the Silt Sea, or maybe to the Silt Village. We can only guess at her motives. Fear of being recaptured by the Templars is forcing her to flee. Or, maybe she racing back to her family (tribe?) to convince her father that Xorex needs help. Time will tell us.

Finally, Chesia suggested we reconvene this Friday evening. We are to come prepared for a desert trek and to bring adequate supplies. Of course, we will need to develop a plan of action.

However, several of us have already suggested, and rather strongly too, that our best course would be to locate and free Xorex first. That way, he would be able to help us locate Xema. I am afraid our group may become split on this point, and only a few of us will follow Chesia in looking for Xema. The rest of our group may be headed toward Kled and search out the dwarven sun cleric Lodo, or the lass Elika. Part of the original plan with Xorex was that he might be able to make contact with them, and they would pass on critical information to us.

I realize it has been sometime since I have written you. However, Xema’s disappearance has drawn us in an unexpected direction. But I am hopeful that we will soon be back on the route to rescuing Xorex from the clutches of the Templars or whoever has him.

You will recall that we delivered Xorex (who was impersonating the white Verini youngster, Xema) to the gates of Kled, where Templar Idmani took him and lead him into the obsidian mines. Xorex is supposed to secretly learn the location of the Chalice of Hope (some dwarven cup coming from the days of the Kemalok kings). Once he knew the location of the cup, he was supposed to get word to us, either through a ‘mind contact’ with Xema, or by having some of the Kledian dwarves deliver a message to us. In a nutshell, Xema ran off over a week ago. We scouted around for information about her, and we were able to figure out that she had headed off to the south, possibly to Alturak or to the Silt Village, but most assuredly to a location involving the Silt Sea.

So, our most recent actions were directed at trying to find information about the missing Xema. A well-placed VA informant in Alturak told us about unusual activities with some dwarves on Balic. When we checked this out with did find two dwarves, Kov (who was busy making boxes or crates), and Kesi (a female dwarf who seemed to be talking about the fine furniture they had made). There were a couple of pirates there, too, Nual and Elleena. Some of us talked to Kov and Kesi, trying to glean any tidbits of information about a mysterious female traveler wearing a dark cloak (Xema). We did learn some things – mainly that Xema had been there, and that she had headed off into a tunnel somewhere else on the Pirate cove. At least I think this is what we learned, as I was alternating being either distracted or bothered by Elleena.

The presence of a hidden tunnel on Balic intrigued us, and when we went to investigate the rest of the cove, we found our passage blocked by two surly pirates, Gryla and Pete. We tried to ‘reason’ with them, so they would grant us passage into the rest of the cove. But they would have no part of it. Perhaps, we should have tried to bribe them with coins and gems instead of our swords. But we drew our weapons and a massive battle started. Although we sustained heavy casualties, a fine crew of ‘medics’ kept patching and healing our wounds and sending us back into combat. Finally, we defeated these two pirates, but it was to no avail. The passage to the rest of the cove was still blocked.

The next night provided a potentially better lead. We remembered that Elika, the dwarven lass from Kled had requested more dyes and materials for making her tapestries. Several of us scooped up these needed items in Shadow Square and made the trek out to Kled. When we arrived, we presented Elika with her requested items. Needless to say, she was quite pleased with us.

Besides Elika, the sun cleric Lodo was there, and there was a totally inebriated dwarf named Dhrun. We tried to question all of them about Xorex, or any Verini, but we were unsuccessful in learning any useful information. However, Lodo, who is an assistant to the Urhnomus of Kled, was in the midst of some sort of ceremony, celebration, or event. He was reciting a familiar tale of dwarven ancestry. My congenital lack of interest in Dwarven heritage made it difficult for me to follow this entirely, but I believe I have some of the key events.

Lodo started by talking about the great Dwarven clan of Jahaz and the elaborate mines they dug. Jahaz was a great leader in the days before Kemalok fell. He took a small band of dwarves to Balic, dug some mines and found lots and lots of precious gemstones. Jahaz’s settlement and the mines prospered until Borys descended upon them, wielding his scourge (this was before Borys had transformed into a dragon). Borys destroyed the settlement near Balic, and then laid siege to Kemalok. At this point, Jo’orsh and Sa’ ram helped to stopped Borys. Lodo believes, but he is not completely sure, the mine tunnels from near Balic still run toward Kemalok, and maybe all the way to Kled.

After listening to Lodo’s tale, we realized the significance of Xema being seen in Balic. She may know about the old dwarven mine tunnels, and might try to use them as a way to sneak into the mines around Kled. This would surely catch the Templars and Illithids operating the Kledian mines off guard.

All the while Lodo was telling his tale, the drunken Dhrun kept complaining about how he had no friends, and that no one would read his book to him. Finally, Lodo agreed to read a passage or two from Dhrun’s book, just pacify him. Being a cleric often carries such responsibilities, for those of you considering this profession.

Dhrun’s book was really a telling of the Karkod chronicles, his family. It contained several pictures, showing momentous (?) events in their history. First, we saw a drawing of Karkod leading a band of dwarves toward the southeast from a great city (Kemalok). These dwarves were miners, and they were heading southeastwardly toward lava fields. Once they, they set up a settlement, and began mining. A final drawing showed the lava erupting and covering the town they had built. However, the entrance to the mines might still be intact, something which Dhrun believes.

This might have been the information we were seeking. This could be the hidden entrance into the interconnected dwarven mines, which would let us sneak into the Kledian mines and rescue Xorex (but I could be getting way ahead of myself).

Dhrun was stubborn at this point, as he was not about to show us strangers where this entrance actually was. One of us did pilfer a parchment map of his, but it was the typical dwarven gibberish. It was only after we started drinking with him that he began to like us. (A thoroughly disgusting adventure as the only thing grimier than him was the cup we were all forced to drink from.)

Dhrun promised to show us the secret entrance to this mine next week, barring any unexpected events. Once, more the fate of Athas lies in the hands of a dwarf. Is there no justice?

True to his word, the dwarven warrior, Dhrun, led us to the secret entrance to his ancestral mines. It was quite a trip, but allow me the luxury to start at the beginning of my tale.

We assembled outside the gates of Kled after receiving word of Dhrun's malady. It seems he had a powerful thirst, so we hustled to meet him, bringing the needed 'remedies.' When we arrived, we were met by the Sun Cleric Lodo, another dwarf named Khurt, and Dhrun. Once we produced a full barrel of Chai, Dhrun immediately recognized us…. errrr remembered us, as his new friends. For those in the party that had not yet drunken with Dhrun, they all got the joy of drinking from his special cup. (It makes me shudder to think that Dhrun's heavily encrusted and slime-coated drinking mug might turn out to be the Chalice of Hope. But I prefer to suppress such aberrant thoughts.)

After we all had been properly initiated by drinking from Dhrun's mug, Lodo insisted that we take Dhrun for a 'walk.' Thus we started out across the desert. Dhrun 'leading' and the rest of us following. Thankfully, he seemed to know the way, it must be due to dwarven luck or something like that. It quickly became apparent we were headed almost due south from Kled, past the Oasis, and toward the lava vents in the mountain range north of Altaruk.

We all made it safely to the area, and started picking our way around the pools of molten rock. Several wrong, and then a few right turns lead us to a dead and burnt tree. This tree is an important landmark on Dhrun's map, and in his family, as it is the ancestral tree of relief.

We continued picking our way through the lava fields, when two creatures rose out of the molten rocks to block our path. A "Lavablob" and a "Lavacrab." Both of these foul creatures thought we looked like their next meal, as the blob kept uttering 'oog,' which Dhrun said was its word for food. We had no choice but to unsheathe our weapons. Unfortunately, they were formidable opponents and we were all injured. And one of our members slipped and was thrown into one of the lava pools. We tried in vain to rescue him, but it was too late, he was gone.

After the battle with the lava monsters, we finally reached Dhrun's house. It was a very humble dwelling, but it was next to the entrance to the old mine tunnels. As our luck would have it, the entrance was blocked with rubble and despite our efforts we were unable to clear any of it.

However, we did note that one of the boulders was marked with familiar looking etchings. Some of us thought they resembled Verini markings or etchings. We took this as a sign that Xema had been this way and had left this mark for us to find. Although the boulder was too large to move, we did use a piece of paper to make a 'rubbing' of the etchings. Perhaps we will be able to have someone (Mme K'rie comes to mind) interpret them for us.

Since the mine entrance was hopelessly blocked, we had no choice but to delay our quest in finding Xorex and liberating the Chalice of Hope. Some of us went to Altaruk, others to Tyr, and still others headed north toward the Oasis. Dhrun, however, remained in the lava vents, content to be home again.

Last night we met with Chesia. She was anxious to know if we had learned anything about the whereabouts of Xema. As you remember, she was supposed to be watching over Xema, when the Verini youngster skipped town.

We quickly told Chesia what had happened. We had tracked Xema south to the Pirate Cove, and then a dwarf had shown us a secret entrance to ancient dwarven mines north of the cove. We then showed Chesia a copy of the Verini markings we had found at the blocked entrance to the mine tunnel. She was not able to read them, but said an old hermit she knew of might be able to read them. She thought we might find this old coot in the company of some nomads.

We then took off, and true to Chesia’s thoughts, we did find Hermit Acritus living with the Nomads in the desert. We cordially introduced ourselves, but being a hermit, he wasn’t much interested in talking to us.

At that point, a little varmint ran up and ate some of the arrowroot plants from the Hermit’s garden. This infuriated Acritus, but gave us the means to bargain with him. We quickly struck a bargain. We would take care of this varmint, and Acritus would decipher the Verini markings for us.

It seemed so simple. After all, this little critter (a Skarat) couldn’t present that much of a problem to a seasoned group of adventurers. We quickly cornered it, and had it at our mercy when some of our party started to have feelings of compassion. They convinced the rest of us to hold our attacks while they attempted to either ‘reason’ with the varmint, or else probe its mind. Well, the only result was that the Skarat decided that we looked tastier than the hermit’s vegetables it had been eating. We had no choice but to kill it. It was one of those classic ‘no win’ situations.

You see, once the Skarat was dead, its mother came looking for her precious baby. Needless to say, she was more than just a varmint. She was a very, very large Skaranyi. And she was going to avenge the death of her offspring.

This caught all of us off-guard. In fact, one of our members was quickly killed, and only through the skilled intervention of our spell casters did we prevent his body from being blown to the far corners of Athas. Dispatching the Skaranyi was another matter. This critter was big and relentlessly pummeled us all. Fortunately, we kept our wits and gradually wore down its defenses. And in time we prevailed, and before we could retrieve the carcass to show Acritus, the sand howlers devoured it.

When we told Hermit Acritus about our victory, he was very pleased. We produced the paper with the Verini markings on it, and he started translating it. Of course, he had to point out that he knew that Verini lived on the far side of the Ringed Mountains (in case we didn’t know that). The gist of the message was this: ‘entrance not open’, but the distance to the next mine entrance was ‘reasonably close travel’ and that this will be found in a ‘sort of garden or garden temple.’

We will have to meet again to solve this puzzle. Many places around Tyr and Altaruk come to mind, but which one is it?

Yes, I like to drink scuppernong, but not too early in the day.

So, you're wondering how much progress we've made in our efforts to stop Xel's transformation into a dragon. Well, . . . . things have not been going that well lately.

What's the problem, you say? Have we stopped the obsidian shipments? Have we destroyed more fields of the jav-berries? No, but we've made progress. We're getting closer as we follow Xema's trail, and we should be pinpointing Xorex's location, and hopefully the Chalice of Hope.

Let me tell you what happened just the other night. You'll remember that Hermit Acritus had translated the crude message Xema left for us. This message was by the blocked entrance to an ancient dwarven mine in the lava fields. Dhrun, a dwarf from Kled, led us there last week.

Yes, you're right. Xema's message did say there was another entrance to the mines close by the blocked entrance. It was either in a garden or in a temple.

We were supposed to meet with Chesia last night, but we grew impatient. Besides, we heard rumors of some 'traders' near the lave vents. Maybe they had seen or heard something that would be useful. So, we made the trek to the lava fields. Once there, we ended up in the hidden Underground Village, where we found three … well, I'll call them merchants, for the sake of politeness.

Right. As I was saying, there were three of them. Thugron, a half-giant intent on keeping a record or sorts. There was Shivaara, an elf who was most interested in selling the wares they had. And finally, there was Eknoor. He seemed disoriented, either from disease or some other ailment, or maybe too long a time in the underground.

Like I said, they had set up their wares for either sale or barter in the Underground Village. They didn't have that much, though. Some feyr's teeth, some pots, some grog that came from this odd looking contraption, and some throwing sticks. The throwing sticks were most interesting. You could take one of these curved sticks and throw it at a target. And after hitting the target, it would sail back to you. Very ingenious, so much that I bought one, though I know I'll be able to master it, I wonder if kuu daato's will. <grin>.

Yes, yes. I know. I’m coming to that part. Just be patient.

The ground around the traders was littered with the skeletons of long dead dwarves. These skeletons must have been Dhrun's old relatives, and this part of the Underground Village must be linked to the ancient dwarven mines and tunnels talked about in Dhrun's book. When we asked Shivaara about Dhrun, she turned disagreeable. She mumbled that he had been there, but it was good riddance. When we kept questioning her, she just spit, and refused to say more.

She also said some halflings had been there, and a lizard.

Yeah, we think it was Xema she was talking about. You see, she said the lizard was white, and that she had traded some cream and a powerstone to Shivaara. She showed us the powerstone, and it had Verini type etchings on it. We asked what she had traded for, but we didn't get an answer.

That's right. I see you've dealt with her type before. She wanted something for that information. What she wanted was some more of the cream that the lizard, well the Verini Xema, had traded to her. She showed us the jar, and we were able to make out part of the label. It said, "… 'ries Gol… tan… eme."

Yes, that's what we think too. It came from Mme K'rie. You'll remember when Xema ran off, she first bought some tanning cream from Mme K'rie. So, it makes sense that the label on Shivaara's jar really says, "Mme K'rie's Golden Tanning Crème."

Well, it's not that simple. We not only have to bring six jars of this cream to Shivaara. She also wants six obsidian orbs.

No, I don't know why she wants them. She just says, that since we asked two questions, we need to bring these two things. This one is shrewd trader, we might have to bring some more persuasive members with us next time.

The good news is that we have a week to round up these items. That shouldn't present a problem….

Uh oh, here comes a templar… yeah, that was a good match in the arena the other night. I thought the lame halfling put up a stiff fight until the aurumvorax chewed off his sword arm.

Well, I need to run a few errands.

We had to complete a hasty return trip to Tyr before continuing our mission of finding the two Verinis, Xema and Xorex. You will remember that we were following a reasonably fresh trail left by Xema into the Underground Village when we encountered some 'traders.' In exchange for information, they needed some supplies that we could only find back in Tyr.

The first item was some of Mme K'ries' Golden Tanning Crème. Fortunately, we located her having an evening meal in the Adventurer's Guild. We tried to approach her, but were interrupted when one of her regular customers showed up. An uppity and haughty matron named Varda. It seems that she too wanted some of this very same tanning cream and Mme K'rie only had a limited supply. We quickly explained our position and after some negotiations, Mme agreed to meet our needs. There was only one stipulation. She needed some 'activated' obsidian to make the cream.

Well, what a coincidence! That was exactly the second item the traders in the underground village also needed. We knew from past experience that Orac, the low-life thief, would have a source of this material.

Mme K'rie agreed to meet us later in the evening, after we had found some obsidian for her. We raced out of the Adventurer's Guild and soon found Orac in his usual surroundings of the Elven Bazaar of Shadow Square. After an exchange of greetings, some pleasantries, and a couple of choice foul words, the more cordial members of our band learned that while Orac did have some obsidian orbs, he was more concerned about the plight of his 'lady friend.' It seems some Templars were putting the squeeze on him for some of his 'business' activities, and they had detained his friend. Orac described her as an elf with soft brown hair, and if we could find her and bring her to him, he would be most grateful.

This is the moment all adventurers wait for. The chance to rescue a damsel in distress.

Well, not really. Knowing Orac, this couldn't be that much of a lady. But, we needed the obsidian and quickly too. Mme K'rie wouldn't wait forever. Orac pointed us toward Fariya's passages, where he suspected we would find this elven woman.

Once again, the chase was on, and in what seemed like no time we encountered two men, Spang and Templar Radne, and the elven lass, Kiiretti, in the underground. It looks like they were getting ready to play house, as they had hauled living furnishings down there. Things like a cooking fire, some bookcases, a pile of treasure, and a bed (hmmmm……). Now Kiiretti was a name some of us recognized from a few months ago. She is or was a dancer at the Rampant Drake (I believe). It certainly looked like she was about to do some 'dancing' by the way she was dressed and the way she swaying and moving. No wonder Orac wanted her back. Well, I guess she qualified as being in distress (or in a thongkini, at least), so we sprang to the attack. Some of us pummeled and kank-whipped Spang and Templar Radne, while others of us moved Kiiretti to safety. In no time, we had her freed, and with a bonus to boot. One of band was alert enough to grab Radne's amulet. Maybe this Templar's amulet will prove to be a useful item in our efforts against Xel.

We quickly spirited Kiiretti to the topside and made our way back to Orac. They were overjoyed to see each other….awwww… ain't lus… errr… love sweet. Anyway, Orac fulfilled his end of the agreement and supplied us with a bag of obsidian orbs. A couple of us bought some extra ones, just in case they were needed.

We then hustled back to Mme K'rie in the Adventurer's Guild. We showed her the obsidian, and when she tested it, she found it was indeed 'activated.' She quickly produced the six jars of tanning cream we needed. During this time another one of her customers appeared, another woman named Florajin. We did our best to ignore her, as we were trying to complete our work.

We had the jars of tanning cream, and a bag of obsidian orbs. We were now ready to head back to those traders in the Underground Village. I only hope we'll be in time.

I am afraid I may have some distressing news. Things may not be as they have been appearing.

You will remember we had concocted this plan for Xorex to be turned over to the Templars at Kled, that he would contact us, and that we would the storm his holding place, releasing him and hopefully the Chalice of Hope, too. And at the same time, laying havoc to Xel’s obsidian mines.

After we handed Xorex to the Templars, you’ll remember that Xema, the young Verini, ran off, presumably after Xorex. We’ve been following her trail. And it’s led to some old dwarven mines in the lava vents and cauldrons. There have been a few delays along the way, but those things are unavoidable when you’re trying to catch up with a sly Verini.

We had tracked Xema to the area of the Underground Village, and there we met a band of traders. They claimed to be ex-slaves and gladiators. This Friday we returned to their camp, toting some supplies in exchange for information.

There were three traders. First, there was a half giant, Thugron, whose passion was to keep a still going that made grog out of shambling mound mash (I think). He also kept a journal of all of trades and business they did.

There was Shivaara, sort of a human type (maybe a half-elf, but that isn’t important). She wore scars from many years as a gladiator in the arena, and walked with a bad knee. She seemed to be the leader of the traders.

Finally, there was Eknoor. He was another human type, but he had burned himself badly, and was in dire need of some healing crème. That was one of the things we were bringing to these traders.

When we arrived at the traders’ camp, they had their wares all set out on display, ready for business. There were some of their throwing sticks, some pots, and bottles of liquids, and some casks of their grog. More interestingly, there was an assortment of daggers and swords. While the swords looked ordinary enough, they were unusually marked. On one side of the hilt was the symbol of House Ankhor, and on the other side was the sigil of a Rising Sun (you know, the dwarves in Kled, and Lodo the sun cleric). When we questioned them about the swords, we didn’t get much for answers. These traders were very tight lipped. But these weapons with the sigils for both Ankhor Estates and the Kled rising sun on them could be an omen.

It was then time to do our first transaction. Last week we had been to Tyr and had picked up six jars of Mme K’ries "Golden Tanning Crème." It seems this crème also works well on Eknoor’s burns. And in exchange for these six jars, we would learn where the original jar of crème had come from.

Shivaara took one of jars of crème, tested it, and was satisfied with the quality. We then handed over the remaining five jars. In exchange for them, we learned that the original jar had come from a "lizard" dressed in a black robe. The traders knew it was a lizard because while she tried her best to keep her tail inside the robe, it kept coming out. This had to be Xema. She also bought some other supplies and headed toward the north. When pressed for more details, the traders reminded us that wasn’t what was written in their record of the agreement.

The second transaction involved delivery of six "activated" obsidian orbs. For this, we would learn where the traders had obtained a certain psionic powerstone. We gave one of the orbs to Shivaara. When she tested its potency in vial of mysterious liquid, the resulting flash knocked her over. She was very impressed with the orbs we had provided. We then found out that the psionic stone had originally come from a group of forest halflings. They had used it to trade for fresh faro root, some of the red berries from Altaruk, and other supplies. We tried to talk Shivaara into showing us where these halflings had come from. But again, she refused. This time, she just pointed to the north, and said she wasn’t about to go that way and face any those halflings without an invitation. We kept pressing for details, and she said that if we were bold enough to go that way, we should take some useful supplies or presents. Things like smoked erlu meat, or wok meat were mentioned (from a jabberwoki, a halfling delicacy, or so I’m told).

While we had learned some things, these traders seemed more intent on enforcing their version of the agreed bargain, rather than what we thought we had agreed to. In other words, it seemed like we had gone to a lot of trouble, and were getting the pointed end of the dagger when it came time to do the transaction. Needless to say, there were some whispered grumbles among some of us.

All the while this was going on, one of our party was tending to Eknoor’s burn wounds. He had skill in the healing arts, and was using some of the "tanning crème" in his own special blend. This crème must have been potent, for it not only helped heal Eknoor’s sores, when applied to Shivaara’s scars they started to fade away.

All of this healing was remarkable. We all were amazed at how well this crème worked.

Here where’s the suspicions start. The more I looked at Eknoor, the more I started to realize he looked familiar. At first I couldn’t place where or when I had seen him before (if at all). But the more I looked, it finally came to me. He was no ex-slave! I had last seen him in Tyr as a Templar! An Administrator, to boot!

What was going on here? Were we being set up for an ultimate ambush? Were the Tyrian Templars actually using Xema in order to ensnare us and kill us all?

A few hasty whispers and we pulled our weapons and laid into these traders. Our attack caught them off-guard, but they quickly retaliated. When the smoke cleared two of our party had fallen, while we had killed Shivaara and Thugron. Unfortunately, the disguised Templar Eknoor slipped through our clutches. Hopefully, he’ll die a slow and painful death in the lava vents.

This does not bode well for our efforts. I feel we will be regrouping and making new plans.

News Flash: Halfling Rescued in Lava Cauldron

This report just in from the lava cauldron. Our on the spot town crier, L'rnyx, has the whole story.

L'rnyx: A group of adventures has successfully rescued the lone surviving member of a halfling trading party in the lava cauldrons in the mountains north of Altaruk.

In my earlier report today, I described the brutal attack by two lava dwelling monsters on a small band forest halflings intent of trading their wares with ex-slaves in the underground village.

These two monsters, a "salamander" and a "bernie," had brutally killed and devoured all but one of the halfling party. The last halfling, Freja, desperately clung to the top of a tree and yelled for help.

Now, I'm happy to tell you that a hardy band of 15 adventurers heard her cries and hurriedly made their way to her location.

These adventures quickly located the site of the battle. It was almost beyond description. The carnage was unbelievable. There were burned halfling remains and skeletons on the ground. There were netherworld babaus and animated giant skeletons.

Freja, the halfling, was clinging with her stubby fingers to the top of a dying tree. The salamander and the bernie were throwing chunks of molten rock and lava at her, trying to knock her out of the tree.

The band of adventures swarmed over all of the monsters, laying into them with swords and magical attacks. To my eyes, I thought I saw the work of preservers (could it be that some are so bold now as to show their magical might in front of others?).

First, the giant skeletons were reduced to piles of bones. Then the babaus was disintegrated in some of the finest displays of psionic power this crier has ever seen.

All the time, the salamander and the bernie repeatedly try to burn and devour the adventurers. These savage beasts spit fire and brimstone, hurled molten rocks, and beat unmercifully on every rugged rescuer.

All of the rescuers suffered critical wounds, at least those brave enough to actually engage the monsters. As with any expedition, there are always a few stragglers who hold back, waiting to step in at the last moment and claim the glory.

Sadly, there were several casualties. But in the end, the intrepid adventurers were successful. The salamander and the bernie were killed, dismembered, and their remains scattered to the winds. A fitting end to their vile existence.

The party then tended to their wounded and ultimately coaxed Freja out of her tree.

Once on the ground, Freja grieved for her fallen tribal mates. But with soothing words and a comforting hand from two of the halflings in the party, her mood improved.

Some of the party, their motives unclear to me, started asking Freja questions.

As I listened, I learned some things. Apparently, some of the adventurers have been looking for a friend of theirs, and they suspect this friend might be with Freja's halfling tribe.

Freja indicated that this 'friend' was travelling with the tribe. She referred to her as a "teacher." And that she was making preparations for some type of celebration feast. At the same time, Deshi - the halfling tribal medicine woman, was preparing the youth of the tribe for some sort of passage. Again, I'm not clear about this, this being my first encounter with forest halflings. But, the tribal leader, Surjk, has moved the tribe on a hunting expedition into the desert. But just what their quarry is, I wasn't told.

Freja told the party that they should be able to find the tribe in the desert near a human fort in a couple of days. Also, that the tribe would be expecting gifts and presents if there was to be any hope of talking with Deshi or the 'teacher.'

And finally, I did talk to one of the party members. They supplied me with this roster of adventurers. Though I'm not sure who exactly did what during the battle.

Well, that wraps it up at this end. Back to you.

Last week, as you know, our valiant band rescued the halfling Freja from the fire beasts in the lava pits. From Freja, we learned that a "teacher" had come to the halflings. The description of this "teacher" sounded suspiciously like our errant Verini, Xema. Freja would say only that we had to talk to Deshi when the halflings camped at some "fort".

This evening, hearing rumors that the halflings were abroad, our band set out and quickly located a halfling camp at Fort Iron. Sure enough, Deshi was there with a halfling band. We introduced ourselves and distributed presents to show our good intentions. After being assured that we did not come from the Ankhor estate, which by the way could be seen in the distance, they invited us to sit by their fire. Even as we shared their food, however, some of them cast appraising glances at us obviously with thoughts of meat on their minds. Being a half-elf, myself, I did not know whether to be insulted or honored.

When we asked about the "teacher", Deshi was very closed mouthed. Gradually we drew out the story that there is to be a "Rite of Passage" for the halfling children in four days and also that a "teacher" always comes to "teach mind magic" during this time. Can it be that Xema did not vanish because she was intercepting Xorex’s thoughts but rather because she was called by the halflings to be their teacher?

Deshi explained further that the children who are ready to become adults must go out alone and steal jav berries from the Ankhor estate. Only the quick and skillful return and thus the tribe remains strong. She expressed a great hatred of the "humans" that had tried to enslave the tribe. She seemed to mean humans from the Ankhor estate. It was then we suddenly realized that these halflings may be the same tribe that the VA rescued from the obsidian mines some months back. Deshi said that the jav berries had originally belonged to the halflings and they needed jav berries to make the "dream walking potion" used in the ceremony. We offered to help obtain berries but she insisted that the children must do it themselves or else the tribe would not remain strong.

It was Djuna who first sensed the hidden message. If we could distract the Ankhor people during the children’s quest, the halflings would be most grateful. The children however must NOT know that they are being helped. We must NOT intervene to save one if it gets into trouble. After a successful berry hunt there will be a feast and ceremony. Xema will surly have to be at this feast and we have the halfling’s permission to attend. We must however bring presents of fruit, drink and, above all, salt. I would remind all that halflings sometimes have a curious way of entertaining elves at their feasts. Be on guard at all times.

At the last meeting of our band, we learned that a certain halfling tribe would be sending some of its children to steal jav berries from the Ankhor estate. This was a "Rite of Passage" considered necessary for them to become adults. We agreed that we would attempt to distract the Ankhor people during the raid with the stipulation that the children must not know they were being helped. In return, we would be allowed to attend a halfling feast at which Xema, the Verini we have been seeking would surly have to be present.

All I can say is that from that point, things have gone steeply down hill. We gathered at the Ankhor estate at the appointed time. Unfortunately, since the halfling children were not to be told they were being helped, we could not coordinate our actions with them. We tried to distract the guards watching the jav fields and were partially successful. However, one of the children, being incautious as children will, attempted to play a joke on a guard and was captured. We do know that at least one of the other halfling children made it safely back to his tribe with a sack of jav berries but we were unable to locate the tribe. Neither did we learn any information as to where the promised feast was to be held.

Due to the capture of the halfling child Haili, the Ankhor estate was fully alerted to the raid. Davlo Ankhor has engaged a tracker to trail the other children and find the location of the tribe. It is his spoken intention that the tribe be wiped out. Apparently, he will be in Tyr next Friday to hire mercenaries for this evil deed. This is not certain, however, since his steward Gareb is also seeking mercenaries at the Ankhor estate. We can only hope that by posing as the mercenaries and getting this job we can both protect the halfling tribe from extinction and learn their location as well. Otherwise we will very likely lose the only lead we have as to the whereabouts of Xema and all of our previous hard work will be for nothing.

Those who have read the reports of our adventures know that our last foray ended with the raid of some halfling children on the Ankhor estate to steal jav berries. Despite our efforts, the raid was detected and one of the children captured. Davlo Ankhor demanded that the entire halfling tribe be wiped out and said he would hire mercenaries to commit this evil deed for him.

This evening we were alerted that Gareb, the faithful if not entirely brilliant servant of the Ankhors, was indeed hiring mercenaries. We immediately repaired to the Ankhor estate at Fort Iron where we found the tracker Haxt, together with two dregs from the lower gutters of Tyr ready to begin the hunt. Haxt, although himself a halfling, was from a different tribe and expressed no hesitation about tracking down his kin. We were able to induce Gareb to hire us as well; however, as proof of a successful hunt, we were required to return with the heads of the halflings we had killed.

It was not long before Haxt had tracked the halfling band to the volcanic caverns near Altaruk. We entered and soon found the halflings' hiding place. To our good fortune, a collection of boxes and broken machinery had been thrown together as a barricade behind which Freja and the other halflings were attempting to shelter. Being of halfling construction it was not high enough to keep us out except for Haxt. Once past the barricade, we fell upon the two scoundrels; all the while calling to Haxt that it was the halflings we were fighting. Our loud cries drowned out the wails and calls for help from the two low lifes and they were quickly dispatched.

We had found the halflings but now we had the problem of what to do about Haxt. Also, how we were to prove to the Ankhors that we had killed the halflings when in fact we had done just the opposite? This difficult question was solved brilliantly by Loraque who suggested that, rather than killing Haxt, we bribe him to tell the Ankhors our version of the story. Haxt, after considering the bribe and our ready weapons, quickly saw where his best interests lay and agreed. Many who come to these infernal regions do not leave and there is always an abundance of skulls lying about. We quickly procured some of halfling size and left for the Ankhor estate after wishing Freja well and receiving from her an invitation to attend the hafling feast next Friday. Back at the Ankhor estate, with Haxt confirming our story, Gareb accepted our "evidence" of a successful raid. We think the halfling tribe is safe for now.

We gathered in Caravan Way this evening to await the expected halfling feast. At last we would be able to meet with Xema once again and perhaps find an explanation for her puzzling behavior. Perhaps our quest for the Chalice of Hope would proceed at least one step further. Alas, it was not to be.

As we waited in eager anticipation of a night of celebration, a desperate call for help came from the Veiled Alliance headquarters. Holpin, a trusted VA lieutenant, was in mortal danger from an Illithid that had somehow appeared directly before him as he worked at his desk. The Illithid demanded Holpin's brains on the spot but Holpin, not one to stand on ceremony, sought refuge in Faria's Passage hoping to elude the dread "squidface" until help could arrive.

We followed into Faria's Passage as quickly as we could and soon caught up with the pair which, to our amazement, had been joined by a Psurlon. To our further surprise, the Psurlon seemed to have arrived in response to a call by Holpin and considered Holpin an ally. A wild battle ensued with the Psurlon fighting on our side or, more correctly, against the Illithid. Its spells, what ever they may have been, affected a broad area and, I am very sorry to say, we lost some good comrades as a result. It was Getter who, sensing the proper moment, struck the killing blow and dispatched the squidface to whatever afterworld receives such disgusting monsters.

We were full of questions for Holpin about the unusual event. He reminded us that the VA had made a pact with the Psurlons some months back when our leader, Matty, was struck with a deadly spell for which we could find no cure. In return for Matty being restored to health, the VA agreed to help the Psurlons in their struggle against the Illithid. Apparently the Psurlons are constructing dimensional "gates" to Athas. When these gates are finished, the Psurlons expect the VA to join them in an all out war on the Illithid. At this point, it is anybody's guess who the ultimate survivors of such a war would be.

Holpin had no knowledge as to why an Illithid suddenly appeared in the VA headquarters and attacked him. We can only await further events and perhaps hope that there is still a chance to get to that halfling feast some day.

This evening we gathered in the city square as usual.  We were amusing ourselves by listening to the taunts and insults certain "egos" were hurling at each other in attempts  to display their own magnificence when suddenly we received a message.  The halflings were gathering at Fort Amber and the feast we had all anticipated was about to take place.

We dashed to Fort Amber and, sure enough, there were the halflings and Xema as well.  Xema, however, had obviously been partaking of some strong halfling drink and was in no condition to provide us with any information.  Since we considered ourselves guests, we presented our gifts and sat down by the fire.  I must say the halflings welcomed us very cordially and we felt that, perhaps for this evening, their more bloodthirsty tendencies had been put aside.  How wrong we were!

Deshi, the halfling leader, welcomed us to the "rite of passage" for the hafling children. Those who had successfully completed a raid on the Ankhor estate for jav berries would now be proclaimed as adults. She began to tell us the story of how the halflings had wandered in the desert until a "teacher" had come to them and taught them to be strong again.  As we listened to the story, we realized with a growing sense of horror that Deshi meant that the "teacher" had nourished their bodies and that we were about to witness a ritual sacrifice with Xema being the major participant.

We immediately protested loudly and, for a moment, it looked as if dreadful carnage was about to occur.  Fortunately we were able to persuade the halflings that Xema was not the "correct" teacher. We also learned that the halflings wanted "power meat" for their ceremony and that they also considered the body of a defiler to be such meat.  They agreed that they would take the bodies of two defilers in exchange for allowing Xema to live provided we could deliver this "meat" in one week.

I for one would be loath to kill even a templar just to provide food for halflings but other events were occurring.  Even as we spoke with the halflings, we sensed an evil power moving in the darkness near us. Although we could see nothing amiss, the more sensitive among us felt that two powerful defilers were laying waste to a village nearby. Perhaps the name of one is Eknoor for that is what we sensed.  He and his companion must be stopped and I fear only death will be sufficient. Thus we may kill two Vrocks with a single arrow.  Eknoor will return to complete his devastation in four days. Be ready. It will not be an easy battle.

We were picking up supplies in Tyr when we heard that Eknoor and his companion had been spotted near the Silt Village.

We had been looking for these particular defilers since last Friday when we struck a deal with a tribe of forest halflings that we would bring them to their "celebration." In exchange for them, the forest halflings would release the verini Xema. Of course, just what these halflings did with these defilers was not our concern.

Some of you will remember that Eknoor is one of the traders we met several weeks ago in the Underground Village (when we were tracking Xema). He had been badly burned from the lava, and we had brought him some creams to heal his burns. At that point, we recognized him as a Templar in disguise, and we quickly attacked him and his companions. We easily killed the others, but he had ran off before we could finish him. Now it looked like Eknoor was openly flaunting his defiling abilities, and preparing to do some hideous deeds.

We sprinted to the Silt Village, and quickly located the two defilers, Eknoor and Katrinka (who we recognized as a Templar in disguise). Also, Eknoor’s genetically enhanced pet strine named Akktri was there (another instance of Xutan’s or Xel’s latest laboratory creation?).

The defilers were sucking the life out of everything and stuffing the energy into their store of magical wands. We circled them and launched into an all out attack. Psionics and magic attacks filled the air. The defilers started drawing power from our own bodies, and using it against us. We attacked them all, but couldn’t find any weaknesses in their defenses. After repeated probes and attacks, we discovered the "pet" was not as enhanced as Eknoor believed he was.

It took many volleys, but we finally wore down Akktri’s defenses and killed the strine. During this time, Katrinka ran through our ranks, raining havoc on our morale. In particular, she seemed enamored with several in our party and chased them. This, too, ultimately worked to our advantage as Katrinka let her guard down, and she was turned into stone by one of our preservers. When one of us then struck the fatal blow, she literally exploded into a thousand pieces of stone and rock. It was obvious she wouldn’t be coming to the halfling feast.

When Eknoor saw all this, he went berserk. It still took several long and sustained attacks before we cut through his defenses. We were careful not to stone him, as we wanted him whole (as in wholly dead). Finally, one of the dwarves in the party cut through a deadly fog, and gutted him. He fell to the ground and died. In the words of the bard, this is how the final moments transpired.

" Eknoor's body, upon dying, settles into the ground with a sigh and a release of energies....

The brave adventurers shrug off their distaste for their task and begin to strip the meat off the carcass and pack it into neat packages to carry to the halfling feast.

The slightly charred carcass yields some meat... will it be enough for the feast on Friday?

It almost seems like justice... the very thing that harmed Eknoor when the adventurers first met him, they also helped heal him... then they kill him with flame! "

Time will tell if we are able to get our hands on Xema again.

As you may remember, the last time we met, our band fought a desperate battle  with two powerful defilers.  Although many of our valiant number were sorely hurt during  the struggle, we finally succeeded in killing the evil ones.  We then quickly prepared the defiler carcasses to be presented to the halflings in return for Xema’s safety.

This evening, as we gathered in the square, the rumor was already about that halfling drums  could be heard in the desert. Remembering where the halflings often gather, we quickly sought out Fort Amber.  There we found Deshi and her band again preparing for the "rite of passage" for the selected halfling young.  As before, Xema was there and, unfortunately as before, in a state of intoxication that rendered her about as useful as a sleeping kank.

We presented the remains of the two defilers and some other presents we had thought to bring as well.  There were some tense moments at first for the halflings thought we had not brought enough meat and were holding out on them.   Finally, though, enough meat arrived and the feast began. Another problem arose immediately as the halflings insisted that all must eat or the ceremony could not be completed.  For those of us who do not favor a menu of dead defiler this was a bit difficult; but, in the interest of cooperation, we put aside our objections and accepted at least a small helping of "power meat".

We also accepted the jav wine that the halflings considered so important to their ceremony.  Soon we all felt the power of the jav coursing through our bodies and it was not long before strange shapes and apparitions moved among us.   Deshi said these were power figures or totems that we saw.  Deshi explained the meaning of the shapes to those who would tell of their experiences.  Some would tell readily and others kept their own counsel concerning their dreams.

Gradually, one by one, the strange figures vanished from our midst and the ceremony came to an end.  Xema, however, had dreamed of her partner Xorex and how he was being hurt by the Templars who had captured him. Since Xema was in no shape to travel, Deshi insisted that she stay with the halflings until next Tuesday in order to recover.  During that time, Deshi would help Xema dream so that we might, perhaps, get a better idea of how to aid Xorex.  Deshi assured us that Xema would be safe until we returned.

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