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Old 11-20-2021, 05:04 AM   #111
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 210 since leaving The Homeland

On our way to the northern gate, I overheard Nuur-Karif quietly instruct Yana to keep an eye on Jaryn and have Wolfram restrain them if necessary. For all to hear, they instructed Wolfram to keep Jaryn safe. At the northern gate, we parked the couch in a discreet alleyway between two outbuildings belonging to the temple of Varatka. The apeoid god of warfare occupies the area east of the gate. The gate guards would probably not appreciate a heavily armed party appearing and demanding to be let in, so Nuur-Karif went ahead to talk to them. I followed them to the end of the alleyway to keep watch. There were no apeoids acting suspiciously, but Nuur-Karif feared that we might be attacked.

Nuur-Karif approached the guards and exchanged a few words. One of them ran into the tower and and returned after a few minutes with Audria. Nuur-Karif followed Audria into the tower, but emerged after 10 minutes and told us we could enter the gate tower. However, they wanted us to bring our weapons and even carried Wolfram's mace themself since Wolfram had forgotten their cloak.

While we were preparing, Jaryn declared that every step took them closer to Ashtar's domain, but what they were about to do would not only affect themselves. After touching the ground, they gathered themselves and we began to walk across the square to the gate. However, they were still worried and feared what would happen if they were not at their temple to calm emotions. With Jaryn gone, they feared that their cultists might drive themselves into a murderous hysteria.

The other apeoids in the square gave us many strange looks, but we hurried along. About halfway across, Wolfram stopped and stared for a few seconds. They had their helmet on, so it was hard to tell, but I believe they noticed the queue at the gate and froze. Thankfully they started walking again without causing a scene. Where they had stood was a grey smudge that looked like ash. Gesturing for Nuur-Karif to keep the party going, I discreetly moved over to the smudge and it was indeed ash shaped like Wolfram's footprints. Using my foot, I smeared the footprint out as well as I could. Grogg must have smelled it, because they whispered "ash" when they passed me by. I do not think this has happened before and I am concerned Jori's influence is becoming stronger. Catching up to Nuur-Karif, I spotted one of the guards staring at Wolfram and looking afraid. I do not think they could have seen the ash, so I wonder what caused it.

When we reached the tower, we were ushered in and I led the others down the stairs to the wash basins where Nuur-Karif made sure everyone washed themselves properly. There were ash on Wolfram's boots, but they did not seem to notice. Nuur-Karif then led the way into the temple with Jaryn trying to stay between Nuur-Karif and Wolfram. Audria was standing with both hands on the altar with their back to us. When we entered, they gave a nod to Enani who lead the other ashtarites in the room into side corridors. Nuur-Karif approached the altar and knelt down to pray while I manoeuvred the others to some benches near the exit. It would not do to get Grogg entangled with the snakes.

The snakes around Nuur-Karif behaved oddly. Normally, they crawl all over Nuur-Karif, but this time they stayed near the ground and did not go higher than their folded legs. Nuur-Karif remained in a kneeling position for several minutes, praying silently before getting up on their feet and gave a speech aimed at Jaryn and Audria. It was very stern and accused Tivito of deceiving the ashtarites, while the ashtarites had been blinded by short sighted greed and fallen for Tivito's lies. In their blindness, they had prioritized their own interests over Ashtar's and nearly started fighting among themselves. I also noticed that Nuur-Karif used all of our names in their speech. I should add that the speech was quite impressive. The appeals to emotions, shame and religious fervor seemed excellent for persuading the ashtarites to their side.

While Nuur-Karif spoke, the ashtarites appeared from the side corridors to listen. There were at least 20 and I was afraid Wolfram would panic, but they sat quietly on the bench next to Jaryn. After the speech, Audria led a short prayer and announced that there would no longer be any restrictions on who could come and go and who could talk to whom. This took the ashtarites by surprise, but they approved once they had thought it through.

Nuur-Karif told Jaryn that they and Audria had to talk together and make a plan for how to deal with Tivito. Jaryn appeared to agree and said it was now their own responsibility to not die too early. Wolfram said that we could protect them and wondered who would attempt to harm them. One possibility was Elik and I wondered if Jaryn had any contacts. Nulius' had mentioned that Elik/Elam was very useful for purging dark, underground places and Tivito probably thought the same. Jaryn looked surprised and worried when I mentioned this.

Audria joined us, while Enani and about half the ashtarites left. I pointed out that it was not really necessary to worry about the law. The king is dead and there probably will not be any Arland left when the cataclysm is over, so what some nobles write on a paper is of no consequence. Especially Wolfram claimed that the law was important, insisting that there would be a new king to enforce it. Apeoids are sometimes willfully unimaginative when it comes to their own demise.

Nuur-Karif sent Jaryn and Audria off to one of the side corridors while I ran off to fetch my clothes in the prison room. Jaryn was back next to Wolfram when I returned, while Audria and Nuur-Karif were mingling with the other cultists. Apeoids are often uncomfortable in silence, so Wolfram started asking Jaryn questions about life in Byblos. Jaryn steered the conversation towards Wolfram and wondered if Wolfram wanted to become an ashtarite. Wolfram declined, saying they were already claimed by another god, and Jaryn surprised me by pointing out that it is silly to only worship one god. They claimed they sensed something special about Wolfram and wondered how we had all met. They were very surprised when they heard we were traveling companions and had met more or less randomly. This got Wolfram talking about demons and dragons and Grogg chimed in at the mention of dragons. They were moving dangerously close to the meeting with Nulius, so I shut down the conversation with a warning to Wolfram.

Jaryn looked thoughtful and mentioned the story of the seven generals. While they did not use the word, it was clear they meant the seven demons. They had also been a very mixed group that had set events in motion during the last cataclysm. They speculated that we were perhaps a similar group. All my companions have been affected by demonic powers in some way, so I changed the subject back to Tivito and Elik. Jaryn agreed that they could be a threat, but could allay Wolfram's concerns about other ashtarites. They also mentioned that ashtarites in the Vasulla territories were oppressed.
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Old 11-20-2021, 05:30 AM   #112
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 210 since leaving The Homeland

If we were to make it to the other temple before nightfall, we would have to get going. I called on Nuur-Karif and we left. Back on ground level, Nuur-Karif went to fetch the couch while the rest of us waited. Wolfram saw that there was a small crowd outside the tower and insisted the couch had to go through the gate and they would leave the tower on the outside. The couch had to stop only a few meters from the entrance to the tower and wait for the crowd to clear, so this was a bit excessive. However, considering what had happened earlier, I did not bother arguing.

At The Evening Light Terrace, we sent the wagon away and walked towards the door. The guards posted outside initially looked at us suspiciously, but Jaryn said we were their guests and we were let through. The inside of The Evening Light Terrace was opulent, but we hurried through the main room and down a stair in the back. The stairs and the washing room was less gilded than upstairs, but still considerably more ornate than the bare dirt or stone cellars I am used to from the ashtarites.

Two ashtarites asked who we were when we entered the main temple, but again Jaryn said we were with them and we were let through. There were about twenty ashtarites in the temple that turned to look at us. Someone in the back asked facetiously if there would be a meeting. Wolfram, sensing the crowd, stayed in the hallway, while I ushered Grogg, Hylda, and Jaryn onto benches near the entrance. Myself, I took up position with my back to the wall and carefully scanned the crowd, while Nuur-Karif strode up to the altar. Some of the snakes around the altar slithered towards Nuur-Karif and they held their speech again. It was not exactly the same, but repeated the main points. It was not taken quite as well as in the other temple, but most of the ashtarites listened in silence and appeared to consider Nuur-Karif's words. At least none of them got got their knives.

After their speech, Nuur-Karif started a meet, but I noticed three humans that were whispering among themselves. It was the two young males that had challenged us in the door and an older female. Nuur-Karif also noticed them and approached the trio after the meet. Their main complaint was that they had not been allowed to kill anyone since the ashtarite conflict began. Commiserating, Nuur-Karif gave them a gold coin which seemed to calm them down.

Nuur-Karif walked around talking to the ashtarites in the room until I signaled for them. If we were going to make it back to The Lame Mule before the curfew, we would have to leave immediately. Wolfram and Grogg wanted to go, but Nuur-Karif insisted they had to stay and protect Jaryn. If we were in as much danger as some of the ashtarites had claimed, we should not split up. However, the others could not agree, so I decided to stay with Nuur-Karif. Yana would also stay, but they are useless in a fight.

After Grogg, Hylda and Wolfram left, the impatient murderers from earlier approached, but Nuur-Karif told them to wait upstairs. They then turned to Jaryn and asked if they knew who the murderers had been payed to kill. Jaryn did not know, but feared it was someone religious and had kept them on a tight leash. Nuur-Karif suggested they could be used to guard the temple, but Jaryn thought it would have to be discreet. They did not want their followers to know that the temple was a dangerous place. We arranged for all of us to sleep on the floor in Jaryn's room and Yana and I went ahead to prepare. Nuur-Karif went to the restaurant to talk to the murder trio.

Yana and I were shown a room on the third floor and mats were brought and put on the floor. I noted that all shutters and doors could be locked from the inside. The room faced north and had a small balcony. While I would be very exposed if I sat on the balcony, I could open the door and look straight at the northern stars. I sat down to meditate and found that the wandering stars were slowing down. They were waiting for something that had to happen before they arrived at their destinations. I started to gather the threads to get a vision of what they were waiting for. I did eventually get an impression, but it was very vague. Both the wandering stars and I were waiting for several things to happen and the things we were waiting for at least partially overlapped. These things would happen in a short time span. I suspect that I should make my searches more concrete to get more concrete visions. This one was not very useful, but might refer to the dragons and The Day of Judgement.

While I searched, both Jaryn and Nuur-Karif had returned and Jaryn had gone to bed while Nuur-Karif kept guard. We agreed that Nuur-Karif would wake me in three hours to take the second shift and I went to bed.

It was close to midnight when Nuur-Karif woke me, but little had changed. The streets outside were very quiet, so I could hear well in advance when someone walking lightly in the hallway outside. I listened in silence as they approached and knocked gently on the door. I woke Nuur-Karif and quietly updated them on the situation. They got their knives and went to open the door while I got mine and hid behind the door.

One of the murder trio was outside and said they had information Nuur-Karif might be interested in. From context, I understood Nuur-Karif had payed them to watch the temple. Now they were back to ask for more gold. They said they would use it to gain information through their contacts. If we knew who had payed to have whom killed, we could get an impression of what was going on in the city. As an example, nobody were willing to pay to know which room Jaryn lived in any more.

Nuur-Karif payed the murderer and sent them on their way. Before going back to bed, they assured me they did not trust them. The rest of the watch was quiet and I woke Yana to take the last watch after three hours.
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Old 11-20-2021, 05:57 AM   #113
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 211 since leaving The Homeland

Jaryn woke us in the morning and we followed them down into the temple. On the way down, I discussed Wolfram's ash with Nuur-Karif, but they appeared unconcerned. Before we could discuss it further, we were interrupted by one of the murderers who told Nuur-Karif that an ashtarite was waiting for them in the temple. When we got down, a female human approached Nuur-Karif and said they were from the The Cracked Pot. They wanted Nuur-Karif to come and speak there as well. Their admiration for Nuur-Karif was disturbingly intense, but Nuur-Karif agreed to pray with them and come for the meet at nightfall. The human's name was Nosora.

After praying, Nuur-Karif said we could leave after talking to the murder trio. They were waiting for us in the restaurant and Nuur-Karif sat down while Yana and I made sure nobody was listening. The murderers did not have anything specific to report beyond confirming that there were spies keeping watch. Furthermore, there did not appear to be any murder contracts involving us or the temple, but they could not guarantee there there were not more exclusive jobs out there. Nuur-Karif payed them off an we left.

Wolfram and Hylda were awake, but Grogg was still sleeping when we reached The Lame Mule. We got breakfast in the meeting room and Wolfram and Nuur-Karif had an odd discussion about where assassination attempts were more likely. Nuur-Karif divulged that their preferred method was poisoned food or drink. This was a bit surprising, considering how fond they are of their knives.

I brought up Wolfram's ash. They had indeed not noticed it and were unperturbed when I told them. If the rest of the Tiri order takes that lightly on demonic possessions, it is no wonder that they were outcompeted by Tivito.

We had nothing specific to do before Nuur-Karif's trip to The Cracked Pot, so we discussed how to find Elik. When Wolfram interrogated the slave after the fight with Elik, they had been told of two slaves that had some connection to Elik. It was not clear what that meant, but they had written down thorough descriptions. Finding the slaves could be helpful, but Nuur-Karif wanted to be alone with Yana and used waiting for Grogg as an excuse. I sat down with the book about elves and star signs. After two hours, we heard something slam into a wall upstairs. We ran up the stairs, but it turned out to only be Grogg signalling that they were awake. Neither Grogg nor Wolfram had any interest in looking for slaves, so Nuur-Karif, Yana, and I left.

We went to the slave house near The Golden Arrow that had been described by both the slave and Korro. The building took an entire block and formed a U shape around an inner courtyard. The open end of the U, facing east, was blocked by a tall fence. There was a gate in the fence, but two guards were stationed there and kept a list of everyone going in and out. Walking around the block, we found no other entrances and there were no windows on street level. There were some windows higher up, but it sounded like there was activity going on inside. Nuur-Karif suggested that I could climb over the fence, while they caused a distraction. Getting in would probably not be an issue, but I was unsure what I was supposed to do there. It is not like I could grab the slaves and stuff them in my pouch. Yana suggested that we instead could order the slaves from Krago, which we all agreed was a better idea and we returned to The Lame Mule.

Outside the inn, we caught the dwarf and troll about to leave. I lead the way and walked past them, saying to Nuur-Karif that we would need to make another requisition. Krago stopped and pretended they had forgotten something and went back into the inn. We took the back door and we all met up in the meeting room. They said that they could probably arrange our request and we decided it was best that it was delivered somewhere nearby.

When Krago had left, we looked over what they had brought. They had provided all the equipment we ordered except daggers for Wolfram. The sheet of silk Grogg had gotten was purple and huge, but they were more interested in a book they had gotten. The title was 'Dragons, creatures or powers?' and was a collection of stories about dragons written by someone called Pardel Orma. Wolfram had gotten a book detailing the preparation of laws that was volume 57 in a series on the council. I do not think it was the last volume. There was also a proposed law, that turned out to be Mir's proposal.

More interesting were the shorter notes Krago had brought. One concerned demons and described ways of capturing them. They could be fascinated and distracted by powerful artifacts that were attuned to the demon's power. In order to hold them for long periods, one needed a subject they could possess. This agreed with what Odon had told us, but added that it was easier to hold the demons if the subject had a matching personality.

Another note had information on the star signs. The cold sign is called The Snow Bringer by the apeoids. It is associated with the cold season and is usually only visible in the month of Azura, the coldest part of the year. The earlier the sign appears, the colder the season will be. The sign appeared on day 196 since I left the homeland, which is the 9th day in Ratanu's month according to the apeoids and 47 days before the month of Azura. I wonder what the apeoids will do when their fields are covered with snow instead of corn? Starve, I suppose.

The other sign was called The Guide of the Beasts. When it is visible, animals tend to flock together with members of their own species. Sometimes, they also begin migrating. At the end, the writer had noted that despite popular belief, domesticated animals such as horses were also affected. The vision of thousands of hooves stamping through the snow flashed before my eyes again.

We spent the rest of the evening reading, except Nuur-Karif that left to be with Yana. They returned for dinner and we discussed how to get Wolfram into The Cracked Pot. Nuur-Karif suggested drugging them again, but Wolfram would rather sit in an alleyway and wait. I wondered if Audria and Jaryn had any way to contact us, but they did not. Nuur-Karif was sure they would find us if it was necessary. They had no intention of being discreet.

At The Cracked Pot, we left Wolfram outside and entered, though Grogg was reluctant and had to be persuaded by Kra. On our way down, I asked Nuur-Karif if there were any other exits from the cellar. They said that there usually was not, but with a strange emphasis. I suppose Nuur-Karif would consider exiting life an exit.

After a short introduction by Enani, Nuur-Karif held their speech again. This version was less stern and more focused on the other temples and the ashtarites listened intently and enthusiastically. After the speech, Nuur-Karif prayed and spoke with the ashtarites. From what I overheard, they had the impression that there would be peace from now on. Nuur-Karif did nothing to clear up the misunderstanding.

We returned to The Lame Mule just before Ajaw disappeared under the horizon. Nuur-Karif and Yana immediately went to their room while Wolfram started drinking. Grogg and I compared the dragon book with the Arani book and we found the story were Sulai Chira killed the dragon spawn in both. The author claimed they had gotten the story from a sea captain from the south and it had a status somewhere between myth and fact. Something about the story reminded me of the Varatka priests. I suppose the focus on individual heroics are right up their alley.

As night fell, I sat down underneath the window to watch the stars. On Grogg's suggestion, I searched for visions of Palongi and suddenly found myself somewhere far away. Beneath me, an apeoid was depositing a sacrifice in a large bowl. I drifted closer. Suddenly, I stumbled over something in the dark. I think it was the sacrifice and I was in the sacrificial bowl. Before I could find my bearings, a powerful wind sent me flying and I barely avoided crashing headfirst into our table. The vision had ended and I was back in our room. Wolfram had been busy drinking, but Grogg and Hylda were unsure if I had been thrown by a force or jumped myself. My vision had been far away, but I had no idea if what I had seen had happened now or sometime in the past or future.

Grogg was furious that someone was sacrificing to Palo, but Hylda got them to bed. I also went to bed and Wolfram followed after finishing their beer.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 11-20-2021 at 07:45 AM.
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Old 11-20-2021, 11:16 AM   #114
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 212 since leaving The Homeland

Nuur-Karif's talk of poisoned food had left an impression on Hylda. They brought breakfast up to our room and insisted on tasting everything before allowing Grogg to eat. While we ate, Grogg wanted to know if I could take them to the dragon. I replied that it might be possible, but I would have to think about it. Earlier, I have danced with Wolfram in their star bear form and I imagine they could take part in the vision, but Grogg cannot dance and I do not think I can teach them. Grogg accepted the answer and we continued with breakfast.

After eating, we went down to the meeting room and found Nuur-Karif and Yana. Nuur-Karif wanted to go to the temples and see if everything was in order. Wolfram wanted to murder Elanos Larma and proposed that we stormed The Golden Arrow. Nuur-Karif and I carefully explained that if they wanted to fight the guards of the inn, the city guard and Tivito, all at once, they were welcome to try. We would find a table at a nearby inn and watch the events. While the idiocy of their proposal did not penetrate, at least they were reluctant to run off and try on their own.

Nuur-Karif, Yana and I prepared to go to the temples while Wolfram, Grogg and Hylda would stay at the inn and meet Krago and Bruto if they showed up. I told them to not do anything with the slaves if Krago had procured them and order winter clothes for me. Wolfram complained about the winter clothes, for some reason thinking that Grogg had asked for too much already, but Grogg said they would ask. If the apeoids' beliefs about The Snow Bringer are correct, I want to be as prepared as possible.

We set off towards the north gate and were let in after Nuur-Karif made an ashtarite greeting. The temple was almost empty, but Enani and the youngest of the guards at the murderer's guild was there. Nuur-Karif sat down on the floor to pray and I sat down next to them. Nuur-Karif's prayer was short and they got up when the guard made to leave. I did not really pay attention, but overheard that the guard felt bad because they had been reporting on us. Nuur-Karif said it was fine and that they would come to the guild chapel and talk at nightfall. The guard left and Nuur-Karif sat down to pray again.

When Nuur-Karif finished praying, their cheeks were wet with tears from their eyes. This is a common sign of sadness for apeoids, but Nuur-Karif did not display any other behaviour indicating sadness. When Yana pointed out the tears, Nuur-Karif looked surprised and noticed the snakes in the room. They looked distressed and Nuur-Karif bent down to hiss with one of them. Back on their feet again, they said we had to go to the other chapels and temples because something was wrong.

We set off to The Evening Light Terrace and did not notice anything out of the ordinary outside except one of the murderers from the trio sitting on a bench. Nuur-Karif sat down as if to rest on the opposite end of the bench, but were only told that the weather was nice. Inside, everything appeared to be normal. After talking to one of the snakes, Nuur-Karif said we should continue to The Cracked Pot. Outside, we agreed that I would go to The Lame Mule and get Grogg and Wolfram while Nuur-Karif and Yana would go straight to the chapel.

At the inn, I ran into Krago and Bruto in the door. I asked if they needed any measurements which confused Krago. It turned out that Wolfram had muddled the order and just asked for the name of a tailor. After a bit of back and forth, we decided that they would find a tailor, but a discrete one, and send fabrics and furs there. This necessitated that Krago opened the mechanism again, which annoyed them greatly, but gave me the chance to study it again. The mechanism had two spikes ready to pierce the inner casket, but I am confident I would be able to open it without triggering the spikes.

After Krago had left, I told Wolfram and Grogg that we had to fetch our weapons and go to The Cracked Pot. While they armed themselves, Wolfram gave me a note they had gotten from Krago. It said that a Mitra priest called Iloro was also an Elik priest. and that that a place called The Spiral in the university district was a possible meeting place for Elik. Krago had also told them to go to The Cracked Pot and sit down at the table of a male with a green hat with a red feather. Presumably related to the slaves.

I heard someone running up the stairs in the hallway outside our room. Looking out the door, I saw Yana entering their room and asked what was going on. They said something about something terrible at The Cracked Pot and ran away with Nuur-Karif's medicine kit. Either Nuur-Karif was trying to heal someone or murder someone, possibly both, so I urged Wolfram and Grogg to hurry and we got on our way. Hylda remained at the inn.
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Old 11-20-2021, 11:30 AM   #115
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 212 since leaving The Homeland

At The Cracked Pot, soldiers were forming a circle surrounding the area and not letting anyone in or out. A small crowd of apeoids had formed in front of the entrance to the chapel and seemed equally determined to not let anyone in. There were a few apeoids lying on the ground between the groups and Nuur-Karif was attending to one of them. Yana came towards us so we stopped and waited. The city guards could become unpredictable if they saw Grogg and Wolfram and the crowd could make Wolfram unpredictable. Taking a reconnaissance round, I noticed that the soldiers looked quite aimless and I did not see any officers. This might possibly be exploited, so I told Yana to tell Nuur-Karif.

I had also spotted the green hat with a red feather on my round, and walked over to the wearer. We exchanged some pleasantries and lamented the lack of tables available. They offered me a table somewhere else and I went with them. A few streets down, I made it clear that I could not leave my companions with whatever was going on at The Cracked Pot and they responded they could not leave their delivery unattended. We agreed that I should return not later than an hour before nightfall. It was not yet midday, so that should not be a problem.

When I returned to the others, Nuur-Karif was approaching. They had found Nosora, who had babbled about someone that had come to take a priest. One of the fallen outside had a wound that looked like an Elik dagger and the Elik might still be in the chapel. They had told the city guards they would sort out the situation and that they should let us through.

Nuur-Karif and Yana led the way towards The Cracked Pot followed by me and Wolfram with Grogg making up the rear. Suddenly Wolfram froze, but Grogg must have expected it and and took hold of Wolfram's shoulder and urged them on. Instead of going forward, Wolfram shrugged off Grogg's hand and tried to get around Grogg. It looked like Wolfram was going to flee, so I tripped them up with my staff and reminded Grogg of Lunari. With Wolfram distracted, Grogg could get hold of them, which resulted in a short wrestling match with Grogg shouting for Lunari's help. It did not take long before Wolfram tumbled to the ground. Grogg seized the opportunity and started dragging Wolfram towards the chapel entrance.

In the meantime, Nuur-Karif had continued on and at least gotten the guards to spread out a bit. I ran after them and told them to scatter the crowd. Wolfram was increasingly getting out of control, kicking and thrashing around, but unable to escape Grogg's vicelike grip. Nuur-Karif did not seem to notice anything, but simply walked on through the crowd towards the door to the chapel.

Just as Nuur-Karif was heading through, the apeoids around me started screaming and pressing in around me. Over the apeoids I could see smoke emerging from Grogg and Wolfram's direction. The smoke was not natural, but looked more like the smoke emitted when Vaxo is angry. Wolfram was giving in to the demon.

Behind me, Nuur-Karif closed the door and instructed the apeoids to not let anyone enter. I tried to get to Wolfram, but the apeoids pressed together and I was afraid they would trample me. Grogg bellowed "They are possessed by a demon! Flee!". The cultists around me were too stupid to follow Grogg's advice, but at least the pressure let up long enough for me to jump up to the rafters above.

From my vantage point, I got an overview of the situation. The city guards and most onlookers were fleeing in all directions, but a determined group of cultists were huddled together in front of the chapel door. Presumably, they would rather die than not follow Nuur-Karif's order. In the middle of the eating area, Grogg was standing over Wolfram who was writhing and trashing in the middle of a transformation. Their screams were increasingly turning into roars and ash and smoke were gushing out of their mouth.

The roof over the eating area and the building housing the stairs to the chapel were overlapping, but not connected, so it would be possible to get up on the roof. I made my way crouched on the rafters over the cultists who were screaming for Nuur-Karif.

In the meantime, Wolfram completed their transformation. The bear was more twisted and deformed than ever before and a constant stream of ashes were gushing from its mouth. As I watched, it got up on its hind legs and let out an ear-shattering roar. The sound was accompanied by a wave of ash that covered everything and I was barely able to dodge up on the roof in time to avoid it.

Looking back into the eating area, visibility was reduced to a few meters. From the darkness, I heard roars from the bear and Grogg and an apeoid screaming. Still, the cultists held their ground. Apparently only Nuur-Karif could get rid of them, so I created an illusion of Nuur-Karif climbing up on the bar next to them. I was about to get the illusion to signal for them to run, but just then the real Nuur-Karif opened the door and peered out. It looked almost as if the ashes grabbed hold of the illusion, twisted it and warping it around Nuur-Karif. Where they had stood was now a shifting and undulating shadow. This finally broke the ashtarites and they ran screaming in all directions. From the screams and roars, it sounded like some ran into Wolfram and someone shouted "Get TIvito!". I wondered how long it would take for Tivito to get there. We should probably be gone in fifteen minutes.

The Nuur-Karif shadow quickly retreated back into the chapel entrance and closed the door. Not long after, the bear charged out of the darkness directly into the door and shattered it. Inside, it stood for a while, looking confused by what it had just done. Nuur-Karif was screaming at it to get out of the chapel, but it did not seem to pay them any attention. I jumped over the bear and ran over to where I last saw Grogg. They were kneeling over an apeoid and trying to stem the flow of blood from a large gash across the abdomen. Next to them lay another apeoid that looked even worse off. Without medical attention, they would bleed to death.

More roars erupted from the chapel entrance and I heard Yana screaming. Shouting to Grogg about the other apeoid, I ran back to see what was going on. The bear was gone, but everything inside was covered in ashes. The shadow of Nuur-Karif was kneeling over Yana who was lying in the stairs and struggling to get up. It did not look like their skin was broken, but the demon bear was more than heavy enough to crush them.

I shouted that Tivito was on their way, but Nuur-Karif told me to take care of Yana. They did not let go before I was at their side. I told them that there was an apeoid bleeding to death outside, but got no response from the shadow form, so I started checking for internal injuries. Nuur-Karif went to the wash basin and started cleaning themselves. They had started with a normal ritual cleaning, but it appeared that the swirling ashes dissipated where they washed themselves, leaving Nuur-Karif's hands. From the chapel, we heard another roar.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 11-20-2021 at 11:44 AM.
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Old 11-28-2021, 03:32 AM   #116
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 212 since leaving The Homeland

While I worked on Yana, I asked Nuur-Karif what their plan was. They were unsure, but wanted to see if they could get Wolfram out of the chapel. I said that if Wolfram stayed possessed, it would be better for everyone that they died instead of falling into the hands of Tivito. There were some concern for the Elik, but we did not hear any signs of struggle after the last roar. We also agreed that we should evacuate the snakes.

Yana had some broken ribs, but nothing life threatening. I got them back on their feet and helped them outside. The apeoid Grogg had been assisting had come to themselves and were able to stumble off on their own. The other one had bled to death. The ashes were dissipating and we could see the interior of The Cracked Pot. Wolfram's other victims must have been able to crawl away on their own, because the only other body was the one that Nuur-Karif had been working on when I arrived. Close up, I saw that they had burn marks around a wound in the chest, indicating an Elik dagger.

I told Grogg to carry Yana to The Lame Mule and planned to disguise them with an illusion, but Yana insisted they could walk on their own. Reluctantly, I agreed and convinced Grogg to lend them their needle.

The ashes were now so dispersed that we could see the square in front of The Cracked Pot and curious apeoids peeking out from windows and around corners. I got Grogg to follow me to the kitchen in the back where they would be less visibly and asked them to prepare to set the place on fire. I had expected them to leap at the opportunity to torch an ashtarite place, but they were uncharacteristically reticent and worried about witnesses. I explained that they only had to prepare a fire behind the counter and found a bag for Nuur-Karif's snakes.

I sneaked down to the chapel again, carefully listening for signs of trouble. However, I only heard Wolfram and Nuur-Karif's voices and they were talking together when I peeked around the corner. I tried to hand Nuur-Karif the bag, but instead they sat down to pray and the snakes started crawling under their clothes. Anything beyond the most cursory inspection would reveal that they were bulging and moving in strange places, but they insisted this was how they wanted to transport the snakes. Since Tivito was on their way, I did not take the time to argue with the silliness.

On our way up the stairs, I mentioned that we should set the place on fire. In hindsight, I should have expected them to become irrational. The concept of destroying evidence is too complicated for Wolfram and they thought it was somehow going to bring us in more trouble with the authorites, as if it could get worse than summoning a demon and mauling random bystanders. Nuur-Karif was initially open to the idea,, but were concerned that the fire would spread. That was kind of the point, as it would distract Tivito and the city guards from the demon hunt. Nuur-Karif, however, thought it was bad and would not budge, even when I pointed out that the whole city would probably burn down on the day of judgement anyway.

If Wolfram and Grogg walked back to The Lame Mule, Tivito would know exactly where to go. It probably would not take them very long to figure it out either way, but we did not have to make it too easy for them. I called on Grogg (who had not prepared a fire) and explained that I would disguise them. Even Wolfram realized the necessity and I decided to make them look like a small slave troll. The spell started out normally, with the troll appearing appearing in front of Wolfram, but I decided to give the threads a few extra twists to secure them better. When I turned around, Grogg was gone and appeared as a young human. To save energy, I had planned to make some relatively unstable images that might fail if someone touched them. I had given strict instructions to not touch anything, but Grogg/the little boy immediately started poking Wolfram/the slave troll. Whatever had happened, the illusion was much more robust than expected. Grogg claimed the troll felt like a troll and even their voices were changed. Whatever I did, it must have affected the original image, but I am not sure I can reproduce it. I will not use basic images if Grogg is in any way involved again though.
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Old 11-28-2021, 03:54 AM   #117
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 212 since leaving The Homeland

At The Lame Mule, Grogg ran up the stairs when they heard Hylda, followed by Nuur-Karif rushing to Yana. I let the illusion end and the slave troll became Wolfram again. With a bit of relief, I saw that Grogg had also turned back to themselves when we got to our room.

I asked Nuur-Karif what had happened in the chapel. In a side corridor, they had found four dead apeoids. One was the priest in the chapel, two appeared to Elik and the last was probably an ashtarite. The priest had bitten one of the Elik corpses when they died and were still attached, while the other Elik had several bite marks. The ashtarites had had gruesome wounds, but judging from the struggle, they had kept going longer than would be expected. One would have thought that Elik was aware of the danger of attacking cultists in their own lair.

Nuur-Karif had taken a total of four knives, but given the Elik daggers to Wolfram, claiming they were unpleasant to carry. Wolfram's ashes had initially covered the chapel, but they had started to dissipate and there were noticeably less by the time I got down. Interestingly, the Elik corpses had not burst into flame this time.

Nuur-Karif wanted to go to the murderers' guild and see if that chapel had been attacked as well and get rid of the snakes. I agreed to come with them. We could go by the Elik slaves if the apeoid with the green hat was still there. Besides, I did not want to sit around at the inn if Tivito came knocking.

While we talked, Hylda acted increasingly strange, as if Grogg was ignoring them, even though Grogg answered all their questions. It ended with Hylda stomping out to get food with Grogg following. So much for a low profile. When Grogg returned, they said Hylda thought they were Wolfram. I could not see anything strange about them and neither could Nuur-Karif. It was very interesting, but I would have to investigate later and told them it would probably end before nightfall.

Nuur-Karif and I grabbed some food and got on our way. We gave The Cracked Pot a wide berth and listened carefully while we passed by. It was suspiciously silent and the rest of the city appeared more or less normal. Nuur-Karif wondered what had gotten the Ashtarites to run. I answered that they had finally gotten to their senses when Nuur-Karif appeared as a shadow creature. Nuur-Karif was disappointed and had wanted them to stay and keep the demon bear away, but at the time, Wolfram was just as likely to rip them to shreds. Besides, if Wolfram had run loose in the city, someone would have had to put them down.

At the guild, two of the bartenders were busy filling a cart and it looked like they were packing up. When Nuur-Karif asked, they said they had been instructed to clear out for some time and there was nobody left. Nuur-karif wanted to see the chapel and one of them led us down. There were no apeoids there, but someone had dumped a large pile of dead mice and rats in front of the altar. Nuur-Karif did not want to leave The Cracked Pot snakes there in case someone had carefully estimated the amount of feed required. I did not point out that the pile of rodents would be a putrifying mess long before the snakes would be able to eat them all, lest they decide to bring the guild snakes as well. I am glad it is not me who will have to clean the place.

We returned to the place I had last seen the apeoid in the green hat, but there was nobody there. It would not be surprising if they had retreated, so we decided to wait around a bit in a quiet corner in case anyone were still around. Nothing happened for about a quarter of an hour and we were about to leave when an apeoid in a cloak and hood came hurrying down a street. Reaching the corner where the apeoid with the green hat had stood, they produced a green hat with a brownish red feather. This was not the same apeoid, but we approached carefully. If this was a trap, Nuur-Karif and I should be able to spot it.

Walking past the apeoid, I said to Nuur-Karif that we had to find a table somewhere else since The Cracked Pot was closed. The apeoid started coughing wildly, but under the coughs, I heard my name. I asked them if they were fine and said that Nuur-Karif was a doctor and could take a look. After I let them touch my hand, they told us that a wagon would come to pick us up from The Lame Mule in less than half an hour. The wagon could take us to Nulius on their ship so we could evacuate. To prove who they were, they gave me a gold coin originating from the west before running off. Nuur-Karif thought we still had things to do in Byblos, but I convinced them that we could not stay at The Lame Mule either way, so we hurried back.

Back at the inn, Hylda was already busy packing. They still thought Grogg was Wolfram and vice versa and they did nothing to clear up the confusion. Both Nuur-Karif and I had kept our things in their bags, so we were ready to go when we heard a wagon approaching in the streets. Soon after, one of the servants knocked on the door and told us our transport was there.

Downstairs, a large couch was parked in front of the back door with two armed guards. I greeted them with "beautiful day" and got a nod to approach. Inside, the apeoid who originally brought us to The Lame Mule was waiting. I greeted them and motioned the others to enter before getting in myself. The apeoid signaled for the couch to move and we set off at a leisurely pace.

While we moved, the apeoid informed us about what was going on. They had heard that something had triggered Tivito and rumour had it that they had commandeered enough of The King's Guard to shut down a large part of the city. If we wanted, we could go to Nulius now and sail away with the fleet in three days. If not, they could stay around until nightfall, but after that, we would be on our own. If we went to Nulius, we could probably not return. Grogg mentioned a note they had received that had got Hylda packing. The apeoid said that this was a normal warning system they had in place for their agents and it would be very cryptic for.

We discussed what we should do and Nuur-Karif again said that we were not finished. I wondered what they meant and they brought up the law again. I again pointed out that it did not matter, and they again protested, Wolfram saying there would be a new king and Nuur-Karif saying something about other apeoids.

I changed the subject to Elik instead. We had specific leads on how to contact them and getting Elik to start stabbing Tivito instead of us would be useful. Nuur-Karif agreed and I suggested that we go by the northern gate to drop of the snakes that were still making Nuur-Karif's dress writhe and bulge. This suited the apeoid well because they knew a place they could park nearby. Wolfram, Grogg and Hylda wanted to stay in the wagon, while Yana was put under with the needle. On our way, I switched to my other cloak and asked Nuur-Karif to do the same, but they refused. Luckily, we were not going far, so the chances of anyone recognizing them from The Cracked Pot were relatively low.

At the northern gate, things seemed normal, except one of the guards looked sad, and we made our way down to the temple. There were six apeoids sitting in a circle near the altar. When they saw Nuur-Karif, they said they had something to tell them. One of them was shedding tears and said that they had been out patrolling with Audria when a Mitra priest and some of The King's Guard had approached. They had claimed that Audria were suspected of being in a conspiracy and had to come to the palace for interrogation. The other ashtarites had wanted to fight, but Audria had agreed to go. The name of the Mitra priest had been Iloro, the one who is also an Elik priest.

The had not heard anything about the guild chapel and they did not know where Enani was. They did not know where Iloro was either, but thought the priest had gone with the guards to the palace. After a short discussion, we told the ashtarites about Iloro being an Elik and that they should inform the Mitra priests if they did not hear from us. I am not sure how effective it will be as an insurance, but it probably will not hurt. Nuur-Karif handed the ashtarite daggers from The Cracked Pot to the other ashtarites and we set off towards the Mitra temple to see if we could find Iloro.
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Old 12-17-2021, 10:58 AM   #118
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 212 since leaving The Homeland

The Mitra temple was by far the largest in the district. Its central structure was a large rotunda with a gilded dome. The dome was open at the top though, letting Ajaw shine in. On the outside, the rotunda was connected to other buildings, while colonnades made up two of the sides. This made it possible to see in. While the dome looked relatively impressive, I doubt it could have withstood the stirring of Vaxo for very long.

A large queue of apeoids had formed in the rotunda, leading in to one of the connected buildings. A few Mitra warriors were watching them. From what the ashtarites had said, it sounded like Iloro had left for the palace, which would complicate things. We should look for them at the temple first though and Nuur-Karif approached the warriors. They looked a bit confused when Nuur-Karif wanted to meet Iloro without an appointment and responded that Iloro was very busy that day. However, if we gave them a written message, they would make sure Iloro got it.

Nuur-Karif and I retreated to a bench outside the rotunda and discussed what to write. Nuur-Karif wanted to write that they were not vengeful for the events at The Cracked Pot because it was caused by a lie and if Iloro was willing to meet them, they would tell the truth. We would be waiting at the bench, but not for long. I thought it sounded reasonable enough, but if Iloro was not at the temple, it could take time for the message to reach them and the response to return.

I folded up the note so it would not be possible for anyone to open it without tearing it and we returned to the guards. They wondered who Nuur-Karif was and looked suspicious when Nuur-Karif said that they were an ashtarite. Still, they took the note and said they would make sure it reached Iloro.

We returned to the bench, but the warriors did nothing and Nuur-Karif went back to them. When Nuur-Karif returned, they said that the warriors might not send the note before their guard shift ended three hours later. We started considering other plans, but just then, an apeoid in Mitra uniform came running and one of the warriors almost forcibly stopped them. We could not hear what they said, but saw the note getting handed over to the runner who entered a side building not connected to the rotunda.

Nuur-Karif asked me to find a hiding spot to look for Elik or Tivito in case they were planning an ambush. Looking around, it was clear that the Mitra temple was not designed for skulking around and trying to hide would look very suspicious. However, there were lots of apeoids meandering around, and disappearing in the crowd should not be a problem. I got up and explored the square, always keeping Nuur-Karif and the building in view.

After about 20 minutes, a warrior exited the building and strode towards Nuur-Karif. They wanted Nuur-Karif to follow them. I drifted up to a column and leaned against it where Nuur-Karif could see me and signaled discreetly if everything was fine. They said loudly enough for me to hear that they were fine with following the guard and set off towards the building.

While Nuur-Karif was gone I idly wondered if they had finally gotten themselves killed and whether the dome would survive the dragons. The spire on the Mitra temple in Sulla had fallen down, but this construction seemed a bit sturdier. I would still bet on the dragon though.

Nuur-karif returned after about an hour and said they had had a peaceful conversation. Now they wanted to arrange a meeting between the Azura priest and Iloro. Somehow this was going to help with freeing Audria. This was all very vague, so I asked more about what had happened and they gave some more details.

Apparently, the Elik were not as stupid as the ashtarites and were fully aware of the nature of Tivito's offer. However, they were willing to accept the terms in exchange for any kind of official recognition. Exactly the kind of striving one would expect when nobody knows their place. They had also received Mir's offer, but were concerned with the stipulation that Mir's proposal only affected the areas Mir ruled. According to the law, Mir cannot rule anything. This is of course irrelevant if Mir's armies crush all opposition, but as I have mentioned before, the apeoids are strangely unimaginative when it comes to laws.

Iloro had also been told by Tivito that ashtarites had been associating with demons and believed it for some reason, though it was unclear why. Nuur-Karif thought this was impossible. The ashtarites are apeoids, so I would not put it past them, but in this case, there was a much more obvious explanation. Nuur-Karif had let Gritt take control of them, helped free Darwan and Krull, and were consorting with Wolfram's demon bear. When I pointed this out, they insisted it did not count as associating with the demons.
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Old 12-17-2021, 11:11 AM   #119
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 212 since leaving The Homeland

We walked to the temple under the north gate and Nuur-Karif sat down to pray for a while before asking the three apeoids there were Enani was. They did not know anything, so we went to look for the Azura priest in the Tiri tower. The tower was completely empty except the top chamber. There, the priest was sitting alone in their rocking chair, staring at blue sky with their unseeing eyes.

The priest turned towards us when we entered, but said nothing. Nuur-Karif announced that Iloro, the Elik cultist wanted to meet them. The priest was unimpressed, saying that there was probably a reason why Iloro had been kept away. They wanted to be left alone and sit in the light of Ajaw, because they thought their time was running out. Nuur-Karif pretended that they listened and said they would try to find out why Iloro wanted to meet the priest. As we left, we got a blessing of peace and a reminder to remember the stars. Down in the the tunnels, Nuur-Karif instructed me to fetch Grogg. They would put a blindfold on Iloro and get Grogg to carry them to the tower. They did not want Wolfram to come along, though. I was curios to see what Nuur-Karif and Iloro was up to, so I played along. Nuur-Karif would go and pray in the meantime.

I made my way to the wagon. It smelled of beer and Grogg, Wolfram, and Hylda were there with a sleeping Yana. I presented the situation and Wolfram insisted that they should come along and I agreed. I do not think Nuur-Karif can tell the difference between the interests of Ashtar and the ashtarites and they would probably murder the Azura priest themselves if they thought it would get Audria released. Having Wolfram around would be an extra discouragement of any trickery. Then again, my impression is that the Elik cultists care even less about their own survival than the ashtarites, so if Iloro was determined, it would be difficult to keep the Azura priest alive.

We asked the couch driver to fetch the spy and the spy knocked on the door after a few minutes. After a brief conference, we decided that we could take the couch to the Anati garden and walk through the hedge to the Tiri tower. Grogg and Wolfram would be recognizable, but I could put an illusion on them. En route, Grogg told me that Nuur-Karif was wanted by the authorities, but not for murder for a change.

When we reached the garden, I began conjuring an image of a small troll. Hylda still saw Wolfram as Grogg and vice versa, so I briefly considered if whatever was causing that illusion could interfere with the new illusion. However, an image of a small troll formed as it should and wrapped around Grogg. I then began on an image for Wolfram, but as I worked, I felt the image on Grogg slipping and had to to abandon the new image to save the old. After stabilizing it, I made Wolfram's troll and wrapped it around them. This took more energy than I had expected, even though I had used the energy in the shimmer coin. I had to settle for some rather brittle images, but this time, Grogg were able to follow instructions.

Hurrying to the hole in the hedge, I had to focus to maintain the images. At one point, it felt like I was about to faint, but luckily I had brought my staff and was able to steady myself. Still, we did not reach the hole a moment too soon and Grogg had to steady me when walking through the remains of the Azura temple.

I was in no condition to fetch Nuur-Karif, so I asked Grogg to go and get them. They did not want to enter the Ashtar temple, but I told them they could go the wash basins and shout for Nuur-Karif. That way, we would not risk Grogg forgetting to wash and being forced to swat any outraged fanatics. Wolfram and I climbed the stairs to the priest's room. They did not appear to have moved at all and I plopped down on the floor next to them. I did notice that they appeared to look to the east, away from Ajaw and towards where the first stars would appear.

It took maybe 30 minutes before we heard Grogg's heavy steps in the stairs. They stopped in the room beneath us and we heard voices before Grogg, Nuur-Karif, and a male apeoid appeared in the hatch. The apeoid walked towards the priest, but I ordered them to stop before they got within jumping distance. The apeoid looked confused and started babbling about a private meeting they had been promised, but complied. The priest did not seem to care, stating that Nuur-Karif had arranged the meeting so they could see what they wanted to see. Nuur-Karif searched them for weapons and I kept a close eye in case they "missed" something. As far as I could tell, they did a thorough search. In the process, they showed me an amulet Iloro was wearing formed as a circle, a spiral and a dagges in a triangle. They then proceeded to search the Azura priest. Presumably as some kind of courtesy to Iloro, because it looked silly. The priest tolerated the handling with quiet irritation.

Nuur-karif asked if there was enough sky and then made to leave, but Iloro asked if they were a prisoner. Nuur-Karif did not answer, but said they would be within earshot. I said I would not leave unless the priest desired us to leave and did not get an answer. Kra cawed, and the priest turned towards the spirit raven and said that Kra could stay as long as they wanted. This was enough for Grogg and they left through the hatch. When I "shared the knowledge" that Iloro was part of a cult that collaborated with Tivito and that I did not know Nuur-Karif's intentions with the meeting, the priest responded that they did not know the reason either, but did not express any opinion. They did not sense any bad magic from Iloro though, but casually turned towards Wolfram for a few seconds when they said it. Reluctantly, I agreed to follow Nuur-Karif and Wolfram followed me. If Kra was there, Grogg would turn Iloro into pulp the moment they heard a distress call.

After the hatch was closed, Nuur-Karif took up position underneath it to listen and gestured for me to do the same, while motioning for Grogg and Wolfram to continue. Iloro tried to flatter the priest, claiming that they were impressed by how the priest had hid all these years in the Tiri tower, so close to the Mitra temple. The priest did not respond, but told them to wait until the stars were up. Judging from Ajaw's position, that would take about three hours.

After a whispered discussion, I went down to the others and told them that we would have to stay until nightfall. They were fine with it and I continued out to where the wagon had left us. After a few minutes, it came driving through at a sedate pace and the driver stopped right next to me, pretending to check the wheels. I slipped in and informed the spy. They were not thrilled with having to wait for us, but we agreed to meet at the wagon shed by the north gate. I also asked them to fetch some food which they accomplished in a few minutes and they also brought a small keg of beer. I still felt exhausted from the illusions, so I rolled the keg on the ground when returning to the Tiri tower. Grogg was delighted when they saw the keg, while I climbed the stairs to Nuur-Karif and handed them a bun. They signaled that nothing had happened and I gestured that I had to sleep a bit and returned to Grogg and Wolfram.
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Old 01-26-2022, 12:53 PM   #120
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Day 212 since leaving The Homeland

Grogg and Wolfram where drinking when I got down so I found myself a shelf to sleep on. It was the closest thing to a tree available. Come to think of it, there were less trees than expected in the ruins of the Azura temple, considering how long it was supposed to have been abandoned.

It did not take long for the others to finish their beer and leave the building, talking about finding a place to bury Iloro. They probably would not cause any incidents if they stayed in the ruins and somewhere to hide a corpse might be useful, so I did not object.

I got maybe an hour's rest before Grogg and Wolfram returned. It sounded like they had found a good spot, but before I could pick up any more of their conversation, we heard the cawing of Kra from above. It sounded like they came from outside, so Grogg rushed out followed by Wolfram. I was more concerned about what was going on in the tower and rushed upstairs. There were no signs of Nuur-Karif when I reached the hatch, so I approached it carefully and slowly lifted it. I had half expected Nuur-Karif to have murdered one or both of the priests, but all three were alive.

Before I could ask what was going on, I heard a shriek from a large bird of prey. Kra kept cawing and it sounded like they were circling the tower. Nuur-Karif asked what was going and acted oblivious to the birds outside. I ignored Nuur-Karif's willful ignorance and addressed the priests instead. Iloro looked very nervous, but the Azura priest said it was just someone making sure they were fine. However, they hoped nobody would kill each other.

With Grogg and Wolfram outside, there were no guarantee, so I climbed to the opening in the roof. The last part I had to climb under the overhang, but by pinching the beams, I made it up without too much trouble. From the roof, I saw Grogg and Wolfram below me on one of the lower roofs. Grogg had ripped a tile from the roof and was aiming it at a large hawk flying above. I considered shouting for them to let go of the tile, but estimated that their odds of hitting were very low and shouting might attract attention from the streets outside the walls. Instead, I climbed down rapidly. As expected, the tile went short of the bird and ended up in the field below.

I was a bit concerned that the roof would give way, but Grogg and Wolfram stayed apart and it held. I made it down just in time to hear someone approaching through the hedge on the far side of the field. Whoever it was, they would probably not like a big, rock tossing troll, so I told Grogg and Wolfram to get down and inside and, thankfully, they complied.

Through a crack in the door, I could see across the field as a young apeoid dressed like a soldier came running into the open. They immediately grabbed their sword and were soon followed by an older looking apeoid. After emerging from the hedge, the older apeoid shrieked like a hawk and got a reply from the bird in the sky. They then started gesturing and it looked like the air around them started moving. After the ritual was complete, they both sprinted towards the door I was hiding behind and I told the others to run upstairs and set off with them. We had just reached the bottom of the stairs when something outside made a loud squeal like a boar and slammed into the outside door. I had not locked it, so they were able to open it normally a few seconds later.

Whatever the apeoids had turned into, they were moving unnaturally fast. Just as we made it to the top floor, the hatch below was ripped open. The young apeoid appeared in the hatch and hauled themselves up, landing on their feet. Nuur-Karif was standing right in front of the hatch were the young apeoid could see them, so the apeoid demanded to know who they were. The other apeoid appeared right after and shouted up, asking if everything was fine. The Azura priests responded that everything was fine and apologized for the unannounced visitors.

Not satisfied, the young apeoid made it up the ladder in two jumps and looked suspiciously at us. I got the impression that they dared anyone to make a move and would relish the opportunity if anyone did. They focused on Iloro and began questioning who had invited them, while the more senior apeoid followed up the ladder at a more sedate pace.

Iloro had looked very worried, but now they gathered themselves and said that their presence was none of the apeoids' business. The young apeoid wavered for a moment, but proclaimed that Iloro had no authority in the tower. They did not push for an answer, however, but made a round and looked closely at each of us, looking a bit shocked when they realized I was not an apeoid. Finally, they reached the Azura priest, who told them everything went according to plan and they could leave. They almost looked disappointed, but the apeoids withdrew down the ladder.

On their way down the stairs, we could hear the young apeoid complaining about the affair and insisting that they had to report it. We could not hear the response from the senior, but it sounded like they disagreed, which frustrated the junior. When we could no longer hear the apeoids, Wolfram and Grogg went down again, while I stayed upstairs and sat down to meditate.

From their behaviour, I suspect the two apeoids were Varatka followers. They are supposed to value prowess and bravery and especially the younger appeared eager to prove themselves. Overall, they seemed quite agreeable for apeoids.

Iloro asked Nuur-Karif if they had said anything about a dragon. Dragons were what concerned Iloro the most, but they seemed unsure and said they could not see clearly. The tower was not made for their kind. Almost to themselves, they muttered that the Azura priest was probably right.

I got curious if they could see connections, similar to the Ajaw priests and said I thought there would be two. They misunderstood me and thought I meant that both priests would survive, but I specified that there would be two dragons. They had heard something similar before, that the dragons would arrive on the day of judgement, but that there was something strange about their visions. Before they met Nuur-Karif, they claimed they could grasp connections clearly. Now, however, everything was blurry.

I asked them if Ajaw would show them things and they responded that Ajaw would only show them things that were true and decided while throwing a glance at the sky. Somehow, they understood intuitively what I meant when I used Ajaw's name. They then wondered if Ajaw was our main good and I explained that they are one of our main gods. Interestingly, from the way they asked, they understood that Ajaw is a god and not some invisible ape in a chariot like the Mitra priests seem to think.

Iloro thought we were disturbing their visions, similar to what the Azura priest said, and wondered if we were planning to change anything in the future. Nuur-Karif gave a non answer and Iloro was satisfied with that, but wanted to give us some advice. Either we should decide what we wanted to do, or we should leave as soon as possible. We could not stay in the city without affecting events they claimed.

Ajaw had reached the horizon and Iloro turned westwards, muttering a short prayer. They then asked if it was fine if they lit a candle. The Azura priest said nothing and Nuur-Karif said it would be fine. Iloro lit a candle and placed it on the ground before walking around in the room. After a few minutes, they said the hunters were out and looked at each of us through the flame before extinguishing it. They then sat down in front of the Azura priest who gave a contented sigh and turned to the stars. I sat down next to them and sensed that the Azura priest was studying the star threads.
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