As the sun sets, a half dead ork stumbles up the hill to the kaer entrance and collapses. Dehydrated and wounded, Couyoumjian ran from Uqbar City without rest. He returns with indispensable information: a sketch of Uqbar City showing both the location of the captives and the excavations.
Couyoumjian can only croak out the barest details of how he hid in the foothills for his initial drawing, then infiltrated the city itself for the details. He killed one of the horror’s Name-giver servants to avoid capture, and returned to the kaer via a circuitous route. Now he rests in the hope he can recover and guide the raid on Uqbar City.
Once again you assemble in the Heresiarch’s quarters, the same people as attended the morning meeting, but with the addition of Chadaouanka and Kafanchan. Melancho stands at the head of the table, his hands resting on the back of a chair. You haven’t seen him seated in quite a while.
Melancho points to a sheet of crisp hemp paper at the center of the table. “That is copied from Couyoumjian’s notes. Unfortunately, he is not well enough to attend this meeting, but I am confident that he will be ready for tomorrow’s assault. Every bit of magic we can spare is being used to make sure this happens.
“All right. If you look at the map, you can see the locations of the captives and the current excavations. Our people are housed in one of the more complete ruins and guarded by constructs. As of this afternoon, they appeared alive and healthy.
“We leave tomorrow after nightfall. That’s one day too late as far as I’m concerned, but there’s no help for it. We won’t have enough ammunition for the airship cannon before then. We fly high, then come straight down over the city. When we are within range, the crossbowmen fire at the constructs on the ground, and the gunners take out those flying spheres. We’re mounting some mirrors on the Departure that we hope will reflect whatever magic they fire with those eyestalks.
“In principle, the rest is easy. Drop down near the ground, the ground team leaps out, the crossbowmen and gunners provide cover while we round up our people, and then fly out. We kill all the constructs we can, but don’t take any longer than necessary. I’m expecting retribution, and we need to get back as soon as possible.”
Melancho points to Mishka, Shynya, and Oglat. “You three, stay here when we adjourn. Tiska has the particulars for your mission. Okay, anyone have any questions?”
Melancho fields a few questions.
You remain seated. Everyone else except Tiska and Melancho leave the room. The door closes and Melancho nods to Tiska. The Embalmer leans over the table and taps his finger on the portion of Couyoumjian’s map marked ‘digging’. “Once Couyoumjian brought this back, I realized what they were looking for. Graves. They are digging up bodies buried at the start of the Scourge, when there were still people who thought they could defend Uqbar City.” He shakes his head. “Fools, all of them.”
Tiska clears his throat and takes a swallow of water. “But those graves are not giving the Horror what it wants: a link to Kaer Uqbar. It must somehow think to gain advantage by exhuming the body of an ancestor of someone in the kaer. Not a particular someone; I suspect any ancestor would do. I do not know how it could take advantage of such a link, but I am sure that is the goal.
“Furthermore, I have…ah…communicated with one of my predecessors. None of the graves holds an ancestor of anyone alive in Kaer Uqbar. On the other hand, a certain cellar holds the body of a soldier named Farid Attar. You need to find a cellar within the excavation area and bring back the body within, whatever its condition. Not a simple task, but one I believe possible for a team with your talents.”
Tiska stops talking and the silence grows to uncomfortable lengths. Eventually he looks a little embarrassed. “Oh my, I seldom speak so much to the living. I forget my manners. Yes, I’m done.”
Melancho breaks in. “It is possible you may miss the airship pickup and have to return on foot.” He places a hemp sack upon the table. “Here are some additional supplies that may be of use.” The sack contains two last chance salves and three booster potions. Such a wealth of magic underscores the magnitude of your mission. “I’m sure you must have some questions.”
The obvious question is soon asked: why does the Horror not check for places such as this cellar? Tiska responds that the Horror’s lack of creativity hinders it from making the intuitive leap that seems so obvious to Name-givers. Perhaps if the Horror had retained uncorrupted servants, it would have found Farid Attar.
Later, the rescue team prepares to leave.
Stars blanket the moonless sky. Oache Techiman stands at the prow of Departure as crossbowmen, Adepts, and regular militia climb up the rope ladder. The crowded deck will be even more packed after the captives are rescued.
Eyes still forward, Oache growls, “Loose oars. Pull easy men.” His clan has waited over 400 years for those words to mean something. The massive troll Air Sailors grip the oars and pull with measured strokes. Slowly the Departure lifts from the ground and angles upward. Only the slight creaking of oars and the whisper of wind through the sails disturbs the silence. As the Departure gains altitude and the kaer entrance dwindles, the militia left behind salute in unison, and then shrink out of sight.
You rise high into the night, until the contours of the land transform into an unbroken plain of black. Oache leans against the forward railing, more at ease than you have ever seen him. “Steady at cruising speed.” Time crawls, and it seems that hours must have passed, although you know the Departure can reach Uqbar City in well under an hour. Then Oache points, and you can make out dots of light far below. Couyoumjian steps forward to confer with him.
Your eyes have grown somewhat accustomed to the darkness, and for a moment, you think a large dark shape occludes the lights. Another black shape passes beneath the ship. Couyoumjian whispers something to Oache and the Patriarch gives a hand signal. The rowers angle down, and the Departure descends.
After imbibing potions of Windcatcher, the characters leap from the airship. They float gently towards the ground as the forces of Uqbar initiate the battle. The Horror’s attention should be on the rescue operation, and not three Adepts and a kaer boar dropping from the sky.
The ship accelerates towards the ground. The lights form a pattern that define the center of Uqbar City. Walls and ruined buildings stand out from the darkness, and humanoid shapes move amongst them.
You struggle for orientation based on Couyoumjian’s map. Then the landmarks snap into place. The building with the captives is almost directly below. The Departure drifts downward, until it hovers just above the floating spheres. Oache’s bellow rumbles from below. “Fire!”
Bolts rain down on constructs. The earth cannon boom and shake the ship. A round stone hurtles into one of the spheres, propelling it towards the ground. Loaders shove new stones into the barrels, while the gunners prime the kernel of True Earth. Clickings and roars erupt from the ground as the crossbowmen reload. Then the rescuers vault over the railing and drop to the ground.
Light beams of many hues play across the hull. Most are reflected by the mirrors. A yellow beam clears the railing and strikes one of the crossbowmen in the chest, propelling him upward and out of the ship. His scream fades into the din of combat.
The characters finally reach the ground and explore the excavations.
The shouts and clash of arms sound distant, buffered by the broken walls of Uqbar City. Puffs of dust raised by your landing settle to the ground. Perhaps this open area was once paved when Uqbar City belonged to the Empire. Now, numerous holes the size of graves are scattered about the bare earth. Shovels are stacked against one of the walls. You are alone.
Covered by small stones and loose dirt, you find a wooden door set in the ground near the center of the northern wall. Though dried from years under the desert sun, the wood appears solid.
Though the door creaks open with a strong pull, the stone stairway is blocked by a mound of dirt. A space about a foot wide between the dirt and the ceiling hints at a larger space beyond.
Oglat fetches some nearby shovels, and a few minute’s work clears enough dirt so that the characters can crawl inside.
This dry, dusty room preserves a mummified corpse. A man sits on the floor with his back against the wall, the faded insignia of Uqbar upon his leather armor. A pitted sword lay across his legs, an almost peaceful expression on the taut, dry skin of his face. A torn sack on his belt holds gold coins. One legs is bent at an odd angle and obviously broken.
But just when the characters have completed their goal and are prepared to leave, a large construct enters the area.
You hear the tread of heavy feet and turn to see a massive troll with two heads. Only one of the heads faces you. Tree trunk arms hold a large burden. A deep bass voice rumbles. “The master would see you dead.” Then it throws the object it was carrying. The body of a dwarf spins toward you.
The dwarf body strikes Mishka and knocks her down. The creature advances, one head directing the attacks of the massive body, while the other head casts spells. Although the characters battle valiantly, the construct slowly gains the upper hand. It throws Jesse the kaer boar at Shynya and knocks her down. Mishka is battered into unconsciousness. Then Oglat is killed.
Only Shynya and Jesse remain, and it is clear the boar is little more than a nuisance. Shynya gathers her magical power, and at the last possible moment, manages to slay the construct with a brutal hail of Ice Shards. She then rouses Mishka and gives Oglat a last chance salve. But there is no time for victory congratulations, because the airship rises above the ruins and heads for Kaer Uqbar.
Escape seems doubtful now that the ruined city is filled with swarming constructs. Yet the body of Farid Attar must get back to Kaer Uqbar. The characters devise an interesting plan, strapping the body on Jesse’s back and sending him home. A single fast escapee is less likely to be caught.
While Jesse heads for the kaer, the characters hole up in the cellar for the night. The hours of inactivity offer some time for recovery, and by the next evening everyone is well enough for travel.They manage to elude the constructs in the darkness and reach Kaer Uqbar by the morning.
The captives were rescued with few losses. Jesse successfully brought back the body of Farid Attar. Finally, Mishka, Oglat, and Shynya can settle down in relative safety for some well deserved rest.