I had forgotten how draining the midday heat can be when you leave the elevation of the hills and mountains. At least Vash could produce sufficient water to keep us hydrated while we track the gnome’s footprints.
After several hours, I detected a series of gnomish footprints joining the others from a different direction. Inspection of same suggested to me that they were created at different times, and the more recent clearly showed drag marks suggestive of a large serpentine creature. Our spirits lifted when we realised that we were possibly going to be soon reunited with both gnomish siblings.
It was then that we heard a howl from ahead through the heat haze, in the direction that the gnomish footprints led. Picking up our pace, we quickly came upon a disturbing scene.
Ahead of us was a large creature – an insectoid monster called an Ankheg – whose nest was clearly visible in the sand. There were two large eggs still visible, and one damaged, it’s contents spilt. It was looming over the body of Nini, wrapping her in silk from it’s abdomen. I also spotted the bound and cocooned body of Ding.
I loosed an arrow art the creature, while Vash and Kre’vakka moved to attack it. It was a powerful foe though, and Kre’vakka was soon unconscious, as was Vash. I continued to fight bravely, but my foe was stronger, and it grasped me in it’s powerful jaws, spraying me with its burning saliva, and the darkness took me…
I woke an indeterminate time later (although the light was fading, so it must have been a few hours at least), to see the concerned face of Vash & Khalid leaning over me. Having determined that I was still greviously wounded, I tasted the sweet essence of a liquid being forced between my parched lips. My body felt rejuvenated, at least sufficiently enough to take stock of the situation and decide to leave the place in which we found ourselves. Vash was mourning the loss of Kre’vakka, of whom there was no sign.
There was a column of smoke in the distance, and we slowly made our way towards it. Nini explained that the smoke was from a fire she had lit just before she met the imps. Enquiring what had happened, she explained that before she had rediscovered Ding, she had come across a Mesa with a spinning “thing” on the top, surrounded by flying creatures. She had lit a fire, and one of the creatures had flown down towards her and she had recognised it as a little devil, or imp. It had warned her off, saying the “thing” was precious and for their master, and that she should leave. It also warned her that she had only 24 hours to leave this place, or she would be stuck here for ever. She argued with it for a while, but had eventually left, and had found her way back to the Ankheg lair and had fallen victim to the same fate as that which her brother had suffered.
Khalid explained that he had been separated from us and had wandered, lost, until ahead of him, from the very ground had arisen three undead abominations – skeletal warriors who pursued him and Sheba, trying to attack them with their scimitars. He claimed that after a pitched battle, he fell under their blades, but awoke to find Sheba licking his face and his enemies gone.
After an hour or so, I found us a relatively safe place to rest, and Vash and I attempted to heal everyone’s wounds with varied success. The gnomes wanted to immediately head off and take on the imps, but with the onset of darkness, Vash and I felt it was more sensible to wait until first light.
After a proper rest, and with the break of dawn, Vash healed us all using his wand, and feeling rejuvenated, we set off towards the mesa.
As we approached, an invisible imp decided to pester us, but Khalid hurled a bag of fine powder in the air, which outlined it long enough to become visible. We all leapt upon it, and pinned it to the floor. Thus began a long discussion with the creature, which seemed to involve a lot of slapping from Khalid, and confusion by me, as I can only assume that it had commanded my mind to help it escape.
Khalid and Ding both seemed to know more than they were letting on, and while discussing this, Nini summoned a pony and she and Ding rode off towards the mesa. We were all somewhat amused to watch the pony disappear a minute later, and while Ding landed quite lightly, Nini face-planted into the ground and ended up with a mouthful of dirt. I hope it taught her a lesson, but somehow I doubt it…
At the foot of the mesa, Nini summoned Pira’nya and it climbed rapidly upwards with her clinging to its back. The rest of us clambered to the top, the imp complaining all the time.
As we crested the ridgeline, an amazing sight met our eyes – a huge flower, on a trunk that climbed like a tree into the sky, shimmering with light with a giant crystalline skeletal creature in the centre. The downside was the giant scorpion that emerged to protect it. “Ahhh…the master’s champion…” said the imp, as we prepared for battle.
Vash began the assault, but soon fell to the venomous blows of the foul beast. The eidolon soon followed – it’s powerful form dispelled by a rain of blows from the scorpion. At this point, Nini summoned an eagle, and sent it flying to the flower to collect the petals of same, which Ding started to distribute amongst us when opportunity arose. I was unsure as to the significance of this – another example of Ding knowing more than she let on – doubtless something to do with the Pathfinder Society member with whom she was conversing in Solku. We persisted in our attack and eventually overpowered the creature, but not before we had taken some degree of wounds from the combat. In the end, it was Khalid’s skill with thrown oil flasks that saw us through – the ongoing fire damage eventually killing the scorpion.
The same fire caught light to the base of the flower, and soon the entire blossom was alight. I created a rope sling and was lowering Vash down the cliff face to safety when I heard a horrible cracking sound from behind me. Looking up, I saw the flower toppling over and falling in our direction! I stopped lowering Vash, and instead leapt backwards, doing my bets to let out the rope as I did so, so as to prevent Vash from plummeting downwards. The flower crashed to the floor nearby, fortunately missing me and Vash, and the crystal creature smashed into a thousand shards. Ding and Khalid collected some of these, while I continued to lower our unconscious friend to safety.
It was only then that we noticed that the magical haze that had enveloped us until then was now dispersed, and we could see clearly the sites that previously had been obscured from view – there was the dragon, perched on his rocky outcrop, and there was a camp of gnolls, who, a-spying the dragon, started to rapidly pack and leave!
Despite the imp’s insistence that we should let him go, Khalid decided to keep the little fellow as a “pet”. I am unsure as to the wisdom of such a course of action and will be discussing it further with Khalid in the hope of changing his mind in the matter. We then headed to the dragon, to let him know that he was free to leave – despite our last, less than satisfactory encounter with him, I felt it was wise to part on reasonable terms with such a powerful being. He seemed confused but delighted that we had removed the curse that had locked him in time for so long and flew off to the distant mountains, leaving his cave unprotected, which of course meant that the gnomes immediately decided to re-enter and take stuff, as is their wont! Again, I advised against this course of action, but Khalid suggested that the dragon would not be back, and if he did, we would be long gone by then. I consider this to be a short-sighted approach, but could not dissuade them.
When we left the valley and headed back to camp, we were met by Garavel, who was interested to know what had happened, as he said we disappeared from view on entering the valley. Only recently did we reappear, some distance from where we had entered, and that there was a dragon which flew off towards the distant mountains! Apparently we had only been gone for a matter of minutes – certainly much less than the 24 hours that had appeared to pass from our point of view.
Once we had rested a short while, he announced that we must head on, to The Sultan’s Claw, where we would be meeting our employer, Almah, and joining the rest of the caravan.
It was a three day journey to the designated meeting place of The Sultan’s Claw – a place known to myself and Vash – a large tree with branches that resemble in their near-leafless state, a large taloned hand. During that relatively uneventful time, Vash summoned a new companion – a cheetah who he introduced to me as Xuum Xum.
On cresting the final rise we could see a caravan of perhaps half a dozen wagons, clustered around the Claw. There was a pen with camels, and other animals (goats and suchlike) were wandering the campsite while people ran about in confusion trying to put out a fire which had broken out in one of the caravan wagons!
As we hurried to the campsite, the wagon in question appeared to be brightly coloured and emblazoned with moons & stars. A gust of wind blew smoke and the charred remains of a pack of Harrow cards into the sky, one of which flew straight at Ding and caught on his chest – it was the Cyclone, a card which portends war, destruction and arson. The coincidence was not lost on us all, as the flames licked higher, and caught light of The Sultan’s Claw itself!
From a large tent in the centre of the camp emerged a beautiful woman, who could only be our new employer, Almah. She shouted at the guards to douse the fire, and then turning to us, made a snide remark to Garavel and told the rest of us to “find some way to help!”.