Summary: After the bandit attack, Naímur insists everyone remain inside for the rest of the night, but Harthuk does some exploring on his own, finding the town deserted and the temple burned. A search of the temple the next morning uncovers the bodies of the villagers, many of whom the party remembers from the strange events at the inn the night before. Their deaths were caused by the smoke and collapse of the upper floors during the fire. The three sir’hibasi go into the Dream Realm to see if they can find out more while the guards and the prisoner build funeral pyres. They meet the spirits of the villagers, who have become lost in the Dream. While Naímur conducts the funeral ceremony, Vikram summons a spirit guide and Eeesekeee searches for a path to the Edge of Heaven. The summoned spirit, manifesting as a river, leads the villagers towards a gateway, where immense beings of light dance against an ever-changing backdrop of color. The duháma of the villagers flow into the light, moving and changing, taking their place in the eternal dance. Then Kailua investigates the unhealed wound of Kagyá, and extracts a piece of the crystal sword used by the leader of the bandits. Once the sir’hibasi have emerged from the Dream, Krista, Arjuna, Rizé, and Ganjan head to the bandit camp. There they find a cracked crystal singing bowl from the temple as well as a carved wooden box containing village records and a strange map written in a Sarpah language. After a long chase, the last bandit is cornered and killed by Arjuna. Upon their return they show the map to the Sarpah guards, who say that it is an old map of trading routes in the area. It shows a city that no longer exists, located to the north and east of Tiari.
Story Points: 2 (1 for Rizé)
The Pilgrimage (Part 2)
After the bandit attack, Naímur insists that everyone remain in the inn for the rest of the night while some of the guards keep watch. He is uneasy about what they will find at the temple, but believes it is better to try and get some rest before going there first thing in the morning.
Harthuk decides to do a little night exploring on his own, and manages to sneak out without being seen. The village’s only street is silent. The houses he passes are dark and their doors hang open; broken furniture, smashed pottery, and other household goods are scattered about. As he approaches the town’s center, he smells smoke.
The temple is in a cleared area, the ground muddy from the recent rains. It was originally three stories tall — the upper two wooden floors have collapsed from the ravages of the fire. The first floor, made of stone and decorated with carvings of the Devah and many suthra, is still standing, although scorched and blackened. There is a strong smell of smoke. The two main wooden doors, carved with vines and other greenery, stand open, but Harthuk decides not to enter, as he is unsure of what supernatural forces might be at work.
Harthuk continues a short way along the street until he can see the edge of the village, and goes into a couple of the houses. All have been ransacked, but he finds no villagers, dead or alive. He returns to the inn. This time he is seen and challenged, but he makes some excuse about not wanting to soil the inn any further, and the guard waves him through.
The next morning, before the rising of Edü, Naímur wakes everyone for the short walk to the temple. Arjuna, however, insists that he remain at the inn with most of the guards until he has determined that the area is safe. Naímur protests, but Krista distracts him with a freshly-lit pipe and is soon able to draw him into conversation.
A soft rain is falling as the group and five of the guards somberly make their way through the village. The scene at the temple is a grim one. As Arjuna enters the main temple doors, he almost steps on two corpses, both many weeks old. One is a Satyan priest, his saffron robes still retaining some of their color. The other is the badger Áhuli, an arrow in his chest. Áhuli was evidently trying to carry the priest from the temple when he was killed. Inside, the stone walls are intact, but pieces of the upper wooden structure litter the floor and make navigating difficult. In the inner chamber is a stone statue of Prthivívinia, goddess of agriculture and nature, represented as a weasel reclining on a bed of tree branches and surrounded by suthra. Huddled around the statue are the bodies of around fifteen other villagers, killed by smoke or the collapse of the upper floors. Their last agonies are pitiful to behold.
After Arjuna has satisfied himself that there are no bandits in the area, a guard is sent to fetch the rest of the group, including the prisoner. Naímur is distressed by the scene, and asks Kailua if she thinks this was done by the bandits. She does, and he then asks what should be done with the captive. Should he be executed here and now, or should he be brought to the authorities in Tiari? An uneasy debate follows, and the question is put aside for the time being. Instead, morning prayers are said, and then the guards and the prisoner gather wood for funeral pyres. The sir’hibasi prepare themselves to enter the Dream Realm to see if they can discover what has happened to the villagers.
Vikram draws a very precise square, sitting down with his back to the temple, as he is disturbed by recent events. Though it takes him a while to settle down, he is eventually able to enter the Dream, along with Kailua and Eeesekeee. Eeesekeee is able to draw Naímur through as well, but the rest of the party is unable to focus enough to even enter a meditative trance.
Once in the Dream Realm, the four perceive a small crowd of glowing lights, which they are able to determine are the villagers. The badger Áhuli approaches Kailua, thanking her again for her kindness and asking if she can help them further. The villagers do not know where to go, or what to do. The violent nature of their deaths has stranded them here. Naímur finds the spirit of the village priest, and speaks to him for a long time. He tells the sir’hibasi that he and the priest feel that Naímur should leave the Dream Realm and conduct the cremation ceremony, while the village priest, Tanvir, leads the prayers here. While the prayers are being chanted, the sir’hibasi can figure out a way to lead the villagers to the Edge of Heaven. With that, Naímur wills himself to awake, and disappears from the Dream.
The three sir’hibasi pool their powers, and with Eeesekeee as the focal point, attempt to pierce the veil of illusion and find a gateway to the Edge of Heaven. Although it is difficult, they are ultimately successful. Vikram then summons a spirit to help guide the duhámas of the villagers on their way. It comes in the form of a white light, constantly shifting form and never staying still. He asks it to lead the villagers to the gateway, and guard them on their journey. The light bobs and dips and then becomes a glowing river, flowing towards the distant portal. The souls are swept gently along in its current. As they approach, huge dancing forms can be seen across the boundary, filled with a light that is almost too brilliant to look at. The villagers are swept through, changing as they go to dancing figures of light, at once larger and more distant. Vikram looks on in awe. As the last one disappears, the river of light reverts to its ever-shifting form and returns to Vikram, who dismisses it. He then leaves the Dream.
Eeesekeee stays behind to watch Kailua as she turns her attention to the coyote Kiagyá, who has a wound that has resisted all her (and others’) attempts at healing. She examines his life force (prana) carefully, and sees an angry red spot that has interrupted its flow. Here is where she concentrates her efforts. As she works, those observing outside the Dream see Kiagyá, who is resting near the temple, surrounded by a golden light. Suddenly a small bit of something emerges from the unhealed wound in his leg, and falls to the ground. It is small and red, and after a moment Ganjan recognizes it as a piece of the red crystal sword that had been wielded by Dalmékur, the gorilla leader of the bandit group. He retrieves it, and upon close examination, discovers that the sword is notched in one place. Deciding not to use the sword until he has some idea of what this means, he stores it away.
Kailua, seeing Kiagyá’s prana now flowing uninterrupted, emerges from the Dream to see the results of her healing. Kiagyá addresses her with great respect, saying that although his wound still pains him slightly, it is already much improved. Eeesekee emerges from the Dream as well, as it has become a bit boring now that everyone else has left.
Naímur questions all three sir’hibasi closely about what they saw in the Dream Realms, praising them for their efforts and regretting that he too was not blessed by a glimpse of the Edge of Heaven. Most of the company then returns to the Inn so that the sir’hibasi can have a meal, provided by Ganjan, who led a hunting and foraging expedition while the ritual took place. Although they were not able to find mangoes, they did manage to find some fruit for Eeesekee, which is much appreciated.
Arjuna, Ganjan, Rizé, and Krista, however, take four of the bandits’ chinti and ride off to find the bandits’ camp and track down the escaped bandit. They are given directions to the camp by Harthuk and Eeesekee, and Krista manages to lead them there with only one wrong turning.
The bandits have obviously been at this camp for some weeks. There is a strong odor of chinti and rot, as they have piled their garbage at the edges of the camp. The camp is sparse — obviously these bandits were not very successful. There are two firepits, bedrolls, two tents, and some plunder from the village — a couple chairs, some eating and drinking vessels, blankets, and a crystal singing bowl with a large crack running through it that had been used as a communal serving dish. As this must have come from the temple, they decide to bring it back so it can be properly disposed of.
Inside one of the tents they find some small stores of food and more goods from the village. The other tent was evidently the home of the gorilla Dalmékur, and has an actual cot, some slightly better looking plunder from the village, and two sacks, one big and one small. The small one holds about 50 dalán, most pieces minted in Tishínia and Gilárhi. The other sack holds a beautiful wooden box carved with vines and leaves, which smells a bit smoky. Ganjan concludes it must have come from the temple. Inside are a copy of the Pattakám, village records (births, deaths, marriages), and an old paper that seems to be a map. However, since all of the writing is in the Sarpah script, no one is able to interpret it, although Krista is fairly sure that one of the cities marked is Tiari, and that some of the markings indicate distances or perhaps how many days’ travel between waypoints.
…to be continued…