Excerpt from “Letters to Tseni,” by Iktomi Nantlah
“… As for my new companions, dear brother, learning to work as a team has been a challenge. Sometimes I think our success so far has been some sort of blessing from Tihitabaha himself, rather than a testament to our teamwork. This city – and the games its leaders play – change people, and I fear such changes among some of our group are for the worse. Perhaps, however, the constantly simmering cauldron of intrigue that is Ahtenko only brings out what has long lain dormant in each of us…But maybe I’m being too hasty in judging anyone – and maybe I should start at the beginning.
To refresh your memory: our latest challenge, which we have only just completed, was some sort of shadow game played by the Jubilant Knives during Ahtenko’s Bazaar Days, with groups of adventurers competing for the favor of any of the three factions within the gang, and the gang’s leadership betting heavily on the outcome. The Knives’ leadership secured three thread items – a pair of leather gloves, a pair of silvery-green bracers, and a fine dagger – and ‘hid’ them in Ahtenko through a variety of methods.
Our various mentors had given us advice, or secondary tasks to perform during the market days, but it was after we had secured those ancient books I mentioned in my last missive that Tywon shared his pointed advice, straight from Danon Rofi, with us – elementalists seek balance in all things, and one such form of balance is in the seeking of balance itself. An adept could focus on one thing to the exclusion of others, limiting their ability, or they could spread their efforts to maintain balance among many things, excelling in none. With two artifacts remaining, such advice was particularly timely.
Picking up where my last letter left off, we returned to the estate of Aya Siropese to exchange the books we had obtained for the item she held, and I tried to maintain composure after the extended quibbling while trying to secure those books. We managed to negotiate our retrieval of additional tomes on shelter construction (and other arcane topics) into a discount on the purchase of that book on ancient Tenko we sought to give us a lead on Foundation Stones. Aya is a formidable woman, brother, and Tseni could use someone of her talent and determination if it is to thrive. Your teasing aside, I do greatly admire her. She may be callous, but none question her commitment to unearthing the past and building a future. But I digress. She presented us with a fine wooden box, within which found a pair of finely-crafted leather-and-espagra-scale gloves. She instructed us to proudly display these gloves as a trophy of our achievement, and noted that members of the Knives would approach us on the final day of the great Bazaar to provide further information on them.
We dropped our new-found tome off with our sage friend, Jonah Gripsley, and instructed him to stay in the Snore & Boar to avoid having his research fall into any competitor’s hands; Gen and I then hit the streets to ask some of the less savory types we’ve met in our time here about those cultists with the bramble tattoos we learned had robbed the High Plains orks earlier. Having learned that a violent group of cultists of Maz had set up a base somewhere in the unexplored southeastern blocks of Ahtenko, we opted to explore the less wild blocks while Jonah found us a lead on Foundation Stones. Our explorations led nowhere, and we returned to Atsin’s tavern late at night to rest and continue our pursuit the following morning.
We awoke late the following day and Jonah presented his findings to us, noting a still-lost estate in Southeast Ahtenko that prominently displayed a Foundation Stone in a central courtyard near a fountain. After obtaining a sketch of the symbols that would be found this stone (which would weigh between 50 and 100 pounds), we quickly gathered our things and made for this area, hoping we might secure both items that day. Of course, as my previous missives have shown, nothing is ever quite so simple.
Ancur, the yaguarete from Enlightened Materials, was in a side alley on our way to the estate, and motioned for Gen to follow him into a nearby building. After a bit of reconnaissance from our stealthier set, we strolled in with a look confidence that I didn’t quite feel – we’d effectively double-crossed (and even threatened) these Namegivers a short time before, and squandered whatever prior goodwill or tenuous reputation we had established. In the viper’s nest that is Ahtenko, we may have just crossed the path of another snake.
Inside the abandoned building, we found the yaguarete, as well as Melison and Greng. The elf Wizard made us an offer – she wished to eliminate this cult of Maz, but didn’t have the numbers as En’kik, her t’skrang compatriot, had been wounded in the battle in the library. She heavily implied this was a result of our premature withdrawal, and Gen tried to smooth her ruffled feathers. I must confess that at first, I had feared these appetites toward so many of the people we have interacted with. But he seems to wield a wink and a smile as cunningly as Tala does her broadsword, and I am relieved to have someone of a like mind with us, a keen thinker who sees more of the battle to come and not just the next blow, as we campaign to establish the Silver Linings Trading Company.
Returning to the topic at hand, Melison shared what her group had learned – the cult numbered a dozen, led by a human male and human female who appeared to be Questors of Maz. As our own group numbered five, and hers was reduced to three members as one convalesced, she proposed we ally to take them down and swear a blood oath to do each other no harm and not act to deceive one another in a way that would lead to harm – all this until sunset that day. Lokan, as with previous attempts to build bridges (perhaps not seeing the leverage we might be able to glean through such cooperation) recoiled at such a notion, hoping to create a binding oath that would, through a trick of language, harm the others. He struggled, however, to find convincing language to do so. As I mentioned in my last missive, the young Thief seemed to find discretion the better part of valor when we first began this great undertaking, but more and more he seems to be a bloodthirsty type with a chip on his shoulder when it comes to Enlightened Materials. The boy has secrets, brother, and I cannot say I fully trust him.
We swore the oath as proposed by Melison, and agreed to fight together to overtake the cultists within. Among our own group, we agreed that one of our stealthier members would sit out the battle and seek out the weapon hidden among the Shinumetu shipment while the rest of us engaged in the main battle and hopefully rushed for the Foundation Stone before Enlightened Materials could get to it. After all, in the confused mess that was our library delve, this had miraculously worked out in our favor. But aside from trouble agreeing on a plan, we also appear to have a difficult time sticking to one, as well – but I’ll speak more on that shortly.
Lokan and Dave moved ahead of us, scouting the ground floor of the building through the ruined windows and spotting half a dozen Namegivers milling about in the various rooms of the estate. Once they related the positions of the troops they could find on the ground floor, Tywon began weaving protective spells on those of the group who would be caught in battle, and empowered my own fine blade with elemental flames. Maybe you remember my earlier alarm at his agitation around the children we had rescued from the High Plains orks, but now that they are out of our care, he seems far more focused on the task at hand, and not… fatherhood? I still haven’t figured it out. But make no mistake – his magic is potent, and may have just saved my life that day. Our two adventuring groups moved in for the frontal assault, Dave bursting through the door and firing a shot from his bow at the nearest foe. The rest of us rushed in soon after, dispatching a few more cultists with relative ease, and as the battle was joined in earnest.
While I fought with sword and shield, Greng and Ancur rushed in to hold the line with me. Dave and Lokan fired from outside the windows at any cultists they could see, while Gen and Tywon flung spells left and right, both in support of our group and to harry the foe. Now, if there is one trait I can admit this city has brought out in me, it’s hastiness, and I began to regret this new-found impulse right around when I charged headlong at the two Questors who had emerged around the corner. The cult leaders appeared to be a man wearing blood pebble armor and cloaked in some illusion, with two body doubles flanking him, and some sort of spellcaster; from the look of the spells she wove, she had trained as an Illusionist. This Illusionist wove some foul magic, a dark gift from her patron Passion, and I felt the very lifeblood getting sucked out of me as I crashed to the floor. Truly, the Deceiver had given these humans some fell powers.
The leaders of this coven continued to wreak havoc among our ranks, but we held. Dave was afflicted with some sort of magically induced bloodlust (though to tell true, I could see little difference in his behavior from the usual, but for some added focus) while Greng received a grievous wound at the hand of the male Questor, having to withdraw. Having quickly gotten to my feet after experiencing the unnatural withering, I knocked the illusionist out of the fight and turned my attention to the warrior, scoring a major hit that knocked him down just enough to turn the tide as Ancur, Tywon, Melison, Gen and Lokan supported us with spells and precise fire from their bows. With some effort, we defeated both of the cult leaders and ensured they would not be free to terrorize Namegivers elsewhere. I feel no small amount of pride at having removed this threat to Ahtenko and the world.
This battle alone would have been worthy of song or story – and do feel free to spread the word of my exploits to the folk of our hometown – but the crowning achievement of the day was not ours, in my humble opinion. As we fought, we heard a racket from the courtyard, where Sen Anoranfei and his underlings from the Great Adventure had infiltrated via the sewers and were fighting off more cultists. Tywon then spotted none other than a hale and hearty En’kik running out of the building, off into the distance. Noting the speed of the t’skrang and the futility of chasing him, he focused his attention on the battle and supporting his comrades (a commendable attitude).
Enlightened Materials had, of course, forged a deal with the Great Adventure to coordinate an attack on the compound, in parallel to our own arrangement. With the distraction in and out of the building that the combined forces of the three groups created, it was no great matter for En’kik to make straight for the third artifact and claim his prize. Melison’s group had learned from our own chaotic behavior when we claimed the tomes of shelter construction, and built upon these lessons to concoct and execute a truly devious plan. That our own slightly less refined plan – with most of us fighting the main battle and someone slipping away to conduct our own search – had fallen apart almost immediately only reinforced what a key role proper teamwork can play.
But worry not, dear brother. We rushed to the courtyard after defeating the cultists, staring down the Great Adventure, whose leader immediately launched an attack on Tywon and Lokan. When the rest of our group surrounded them, they made a hasty escape, and we were able to unearth and claim the Foundation Stone (as well as arms, armor and trade goods) at our leisure. Most notable of the goods we secured in the old estate was a crescent moon amulet called ‘Spellthief’, possessing some sort of magic-enhancing power.
We returned quickly to the Bazaar to claim the bracers, spending the rest of our time recuperating and helping Atsin’s operation as well we could, prominently displaying the two items we had secured. There was brief talk of trying to claim the third item from Enlightened Materials, but we quickly decided against such a course. Upon the final day, we were approached by agents of the Jubilant Knives who identified the gloves as Vicegrips (which aided the wearer in close combat), and the bracers as Balance Bonds (which enhanced the social abilities of the wearer). Our sage, Jonah, had also identified Tala’s enchanted mail as Heart’s Sacrifice. And perhaps most importantly for the trading company, we had secured boons from two of the three factions of the Jubilant Knives, which would no doubt be of great help in the journey ahead. Truth be told, I have no taste for such games, but I believe this was a good investment nonetheless.
Speaking of the journey, brother, we are making our final preparations soon, and Tseni will be one of our first stops. Kzizh is likely seeking weapons, of which we will have plenty, but do let me know what other goods I can help supply when we pass through. Give my regards to Keya, Manalo, the rest of the family, and to Mayor Kzizh. I hope the commissioned sculpture is coming along well and is a fitting tribute, and I’ll be there to see the result myself shortly. It will be my last time in Tseni for months, if not a full year.
I hope the tale I wove in this latest letter is a good one, though you were always the better storyteller – have you thought any more about my suggestion to train under a Troubadour in Ahtenko? We’ll speak in detail when I return.
Strong walls, strong hearts,
P.S. I’ve included a charcoal sketch of the emblem I designed for the Silver Linings Trading Company – forgive the roughness, but you’ll see I incorporated your suggestions. Look for the symbol when we come to town soon.