Tuesday, 16th August, 2011, 11:50 AM #31
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
- Join Date
- Dec 2002
- Birmingham, AL
ø Ignore Joachim
- EN World
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Acolyte (Lvl 2)
- Join Date
- Aug 2006
ø Ignore javcs
Wait, he did what?!
Yes, he burned down the reinforced adamantine gates, sir. We don't know how, but all indicators seem to support that claim.
[No fortification is safe from a psychopath with pet hellfire engines - the PC's know of at least 3]
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
- Join Date
- Dec 2002
- Birmingham, AL
ø Ignore Joachim
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
- Join Date
- Dec 2002
- Birmingham, AL
ø Ignore JollyDoc
The Azlanti Temple
The two stone doors stood open at the base of the cliff above a curling spur of rock. Seaweed covered the doors, hanging down in thick green and black sheets, just obscuring some sort of carvings on their surface. On closer inspection, the carvings were revealed to be disturbing scenes of vampiric demons feasting on human maidens. Slowly, deliberately, the castaways made their way inside. The doors gave onto a wide stone stairway that ascended up into darkness. The steepness of the incline made it obvious that, even if the waters from the lagoon made it inside, they would not be in any danger of flooding whatever lay beyond. At the top of the stairs, over a dozen stone pillars supported the vaulted ceiling of a cavernous chamber. Near the entrance, four empty alcoves, two on each side, sat in the walls, their edges carved to resemble yawning, fanged mouths. At the far side, a pair of bronze doors that seemed to drip with blood sat under a stone bridge that passed through the upper portion of the room some forty feet above. The walls were decorated with unsettling carvings of bats, human sacrifice, and the walking dead. The dismembered, skeletal bodies of three humans lay scattered on the floor. As the company moved cautiously into the chamber, a sudden sharp whistling pierced the air as a pair of javelins embedded themselves in the floor directly in front of them. As one, everyone looked up and saw two figures standing atop the bridge above. Green eyes glowed from the serpentine skulls of the skeletal creatures.
“Undead snake-men,” Agnar mused. “Fascinating!”
“Don’t stand there gawking, you idiot!” Zavasta snarled as he shoved his friend forward. “Run!”
The group began running for cover beneath the bridge, but Jask was a step too slow. A javelin hit him solidly in the belly, and he stumbled, staggering into a wall, gasping for breath. Agnar saw it happen, but didn’t slow. He just smiled to himself and ducked beneath the bridge. Gorak did pause, however. The big barbarian unslung his bow and launched an arrow at one of the skeletal snipers, only to see it bounce harmlessly off the creature’s ribcage. It still gave Jask the moment he needed. The priest clutched his holy symbol and breathed a prayer to Nethys. Holy energy filled him, staunching the blood from his wound as he pulled the javelin free, and closed the hole behind it. Nodding his thanks to Gorak, he darted beneath the bridge. The skeletons were not to be denied their quarry. Heedless of the fall, they both simply stepped off the bridge and crashed to the floor below. Despite several cracked bones, they climbed deliberately to their feet and began shambling towards the group. Gorak drew his greatsword and stepped forward to meet them. The nearest one hissed and ran at him, its boney claws tearing at his flesh, but the barbarian quickly leveled the playing field with a massive swing of his blade that completely smashed the degenerate skeleton to slivers. He turned, expecting the second one to be right on top of him. Instead, it stood placidly in front of Agnar, and at the priest’s command, it knelt before him. Agnar turned to smirk at Jask, whose face burned with anger.
After Jack tossed a rope with an attached grapnel up to the bridge, the group ascended one-by-one. Jack had reasoned, and none of the others disagreed, that if the skeletons had been deliberately set upon the span, then perhaps that was what they were guarding, and not the more obvious choice of the great iron doors below. Once atop the bridge, they saw smaller, single doors standing at each end. Arbitrarily, they chose to go left. The door was not locked, and it opened onto a long, darkened hallway. Agnar sent his new skeletal minion ahead as a scout, and as it turned out, that was a fortuitous decision. Halfway down the corridor, an audible click sounded from beneath the skeleton’s feet. The floor in front of it suddenly split in half and fell away to both sides, revealing a deep pit beneath. For a breathless moment the skeleton teetered right on the edge, but at the last second, it took a step back and avoided crashing to oblivion.
“That’s a fine dog you’ve got yourself,” Jask sneered at the necromancer.
Jack was ultimately able to reset the trap and then jam the mechanism, allowing his companions to safely bypass it. Further down the hall, however, they encountered another…then another. If the number of hazards they were encountering was any indication, then they were definitely on the right track to find someone or something that didn’t want to be found. Ultimately, the series of passages ended at a large, bronze door. It bore eerie runners of red, almost as if the metal were bleeding. Gorak pushed against the portal, and it opened easily enough. On the other side lay an octagonal room with an oval pool of what looked like softly rippling blood in its center, filling the air with a metallic tang. Four round pillars supported a ceiling decorated with crisscrossed supports and grooves, while ten small circular holes decorated the walls at chest level. As Gorak started to enter the room, Arioch stopped him.
“Wait,” the summoner said. “Blood-filled pools in ancient temples make me just a touch nervous. Let’s have a closer look first.”
The barbarian grunted as Arioch cast a simple cantrip.
“Just as I thought,” he said. “There’s magic all over the place. Minion! I summon you!”
The diminutive eidolon appeared in a puff of acrid smoke.
“I hear and obey,” he sighed.
Arioch nodded to the chamber. “Have a look around, would you?”
Minion shrugged. “I have a choice?”
He turned and peered cautiously into the room, then took a few tentative steps inside. Suddenly, a loud clang sounded from behind him. Minion whirled as a sheet of bronze began to descend over the doorway. At the same time, one of the grooves in the ceiling slid open, revealing a very large, razor-edged pendulum. The eidolon looked around frantically, and then he saw the tiny stud on the side of one of the pillars. He dove desperately towards it and pushed it. With a sigh of relief, he watched the groove reseal itself and the bronze plate retract.
“I think it’s safe now,” he announced.
“You had me worried there for a minute,” Arioch smiled.
“Have I ever let you down?” the eidolon asked.
He didn’t see what was emerging from one of the small holes behind him. He never saw the gelatinous glob ooze out of it and flop to the floor, looking like some giant amoeba sporting hundreds of toothed mouths. He never saw it because as soon as Arioch did, he dismissed his servant back to his pocket dimension.
Arioch cleared the doorway as sure as he was certain that Minion was safely away. Gorak stepped up, Agnar’s skeletal henchman right behind him. Abruptly, the creature began gibbering in an ear-splitting cacophony that set listeners’ teeth on edge. Gorak paused, his eyes glazed over. Lyrissa and Jack, who were preparing to follow after him, halted as well, their jaws going slack. Only the degenerate serpent skeleton kept going, but as it drew near to the gibbering mouther, a large pseudopod exuded from its main mass and delivered a crushing blow to the undead, smashing it to pieces. A moment later, one of the abomination’s mouths spat a large glob of mucous at Gorak, hitting the barbarian directly in the eyes. That broke his stupor, and he roared in pain, rushing forward with his sword swinging wildly before him. Meanwhile, Lyrissa began to sob uncontrollably, sinking to her knees, her head in her hands as the maddening noise filled her brain. Beside her, Jack calmly drew his saber and sliced it across his own arm.
“Has everyone gone insane?” Jask gasped as he knocked the rogue’s blade aside and used his healing powers to staunch the flow of blood.
Gorak landed a lucky blow against the amorphous blob, but as he did so, six of the creature’s mouths extended towards him, and latched onto him at various points, holding him immobile. Then, to the horror of those looking on, the gibbering horror flowed completely over the barbarian, engulfing him within its mass.
“Stand aside!” Nessalin shouted as he shoved past Jask.
The magus drew a javelin from his pack, which sizzled with crackling electricity. Cocking his arm back, he hurled it, and as the weapon left his hand, it formed a bolt of lightning that arced into the monstrous ooze. The thing shivered like jelly as the electricity coursed over its surface, and a moment later, it exploded completely when Gorak tore his way free using only his teeth and a pair of short horns that had sprouted from his sloped brow.
Jack’s and Lyrissa’s confusion gradually wore off with the destruction of the gibbering mouther, though Agnar’s disappointment at the loss of yet another undead minion took longer to pass. Once everyone had regained their composure, Gorak snorted through his flared nostrils and pulled open the door on the far side of the chamber. Judging from the décor of the cathedral-like chamber on the other side, the area must have once been a significant temple dedicated to some vile god. On one side, a few steps led up to a shrine presided over by a large statue of a beautiful, fanged woman, save that instead of arms, it possessed two upraised bat-like wings, and instead of feet its legs ended in talons. It loomed over a glistening altar of blood-red stone that seemed to weep blood into a trough below; this trough of blood ran the length of the room before disappearing on the opposite side of the chamber through a set of bronze bars in front of a wide opening in the wall that dropped away into darkness. Stone pillars supported the roof high above, and two dry fountains sat opposite each other against the wall in the middle of the room. Three large alcoves, one on the far wall and two on the near, contained wall carvings. The entire chamber felt unnaturally cold, and every so often strange, disembodied whispers slithered through the air. Standing before the altar was a serpent-headed creature clad in Varisian garb…Ieana’s clothes. On the floor below were arrayed four humanoid skeletons, each clutching a rusting sword.
“So you are here,” the creature stated matter-of-factly. “I suppose it was too much to hope that you would simply leave me in peace once you had discovered the light house.”
“Who, or what are you?” Arioch asked. “Where is Ieana?”
“Simpletons,” the creature shook its head. “I thought you would have at least puzzled out that one mystery. I am the one you knew as Ieana, though the real Varisian ‘scholar,’ and I use that term loosely, who bore that name died by my hand months ago. My true name is Yarzoth, and it was I who engineered the shipwreck that brought you here, although you must believe it was never my intent to leave you stranded. I had actually hoped that all of you would die at sea.”
“I don’t understand,” Jack said in confusion. “What was the point of all this? Why did you come here?”
“I hardly expect your primitive minds to understand,” Yarzoth hissed. “I am on the cusp of making a great discovery, one that your fragile race has not been able to solve since the sky fell so long ago. Now, I will grant you one mercy: leave me to my work, and you may go your own way in peace.”
“The only thing I need to understand, snake lady,” Zavasta growled, “is whether or not you’re flammable!”
Arioch saw the direction the situation was headed, and quickly began a summoning. Two short, squat stone-like creatures flowed up out of the floor in the midst of the skeletons. One of them swung a clubbed fist into the ribs of the nearest corpse, and it shattered like a pane of glass. Jack saw an opening and ran headlong towards the melee. He leaped across the trough of blood, tumbled through the scuffling skeletons and elementals, and rolled to his feet right next to Yarzoth…only to find her striking as quickly as the serpent she resembled. He felt her fangs sink into his neck, and immediately a profound weakness flowed through his body. He stumbled backwards, lost his footing on the slick stones, and fell prone at the serpent woman’s feet. She loomed over him, preparing to strike again, but at that moment the twin elementals broke free of the skeletons as Lyrissa attacked the undead from behind, and at Arioch’s command, they charged the altar. Yarzoth saw them coming at the last instant, and hastily cast a spell. Instantly, several identical copies of her appeared out of thin air and began to revolve around her, making it impossible to tell where she really was. The elementals swung blindly, and as their fists connected with the illusory images, they began to wink out. Yarzoth called her remaining skeletons to her, but one of the elementals spun and obliterated another one as it closed. Behind the skeletons came Gorak, Nessalin and Lyrissa. Yarzoth raised her hands above her, and suddenly a shockwave of sound burst from her, rolling over the elementals and the oncoming castaways. Nessalin was hurled from his feet and sent tumbling to the floor. Gorak and Lyrissa, however, kept coming. The bardess smashed aside another skeleton as one of the elementals destroyed the final one. At the same time, the last of Yarzoth’s mirror images vanished, leaving her vulnerable. Lyrissa lunged at her, slashing at the priestess with her blade as the elementals struck from both sides. Yarzoth fell back, obviously in pain. Her hand went to an amulet of a headless figure that hung around her neck, and as she touched it, black energy washed over her attackers, sending the cold of the grave coursing through their bodies. Suddenly, still laying weak on the ground, Jack stabbed up with his rapier, driving fully half of its length into Yarzoth’s belly. Stumbling, she plunged her hand into the blood on the altar, and then touched the demonic statue. In a flash, her body turned to mist and began flowing up towards a hole in the ceiling. Gorak, his eyes bloodshot with rage, hacked at her with all of his strength, and as his sword passed through her, her body simply dissipated, and her hollow scream slowly faded away to nothing.
"Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. TEACH a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime!"
Gallant (Lvl 3)
- Join Date
- Jan 2007
ø Ignore carborundum
Wow - that was excellent!
Just caught up with the last few instalments after a couple of weeks holiday. Those Gibbering Mouthers sure are annoying :-)
Great stuff, JD - thanks for the updates!
D&D, frankly, is the most fun when you get your ass handed to you but you still manage to find away to come out on top of the pile of corpses, looking like a typical Conan novel cover. - joachim
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
- Join Date
- Dec 2002
- Birmingham, AL
ø Ignore JollyDoc
"Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. TEACH a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime!"
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
- Join Date
- Dec 2002
- Birmingham, AL
ø Ignore JollyDoc
“Now where do you suppose she was going?” Agnar said as he looked towards the ceiling.
“There’s a hole up there,” Jack said, “but it’s too small for anything to fit through.”
“Unless they were made of vapor,” Arioch mused.
Agnar looked at the bloody handprint Yarzoth had left on the statue of the bat-demon.
“I wonder…,” he said, tapping his chin.
The priest then dipped his hand in the blood smeared on the altar, and placed it next to Yarzoth’s print. Instantly, his body turned to mist. He smiled broadly at his dumbstruck companions, and then began floating up towards the ceiling.
“Not so fast!” Zavasta snapped as he plunged his own hand into the blood. “You’re not going without me!”
The alchemist touched the statue, and joined Agnar on his misty flight. Together, the two of them vanished through the hole.
The pair found themselves in an x-shaped room with a low ceiling and walls dense with ancient carvings and bas-reliefs of the same bat-winged demonic woman below, including a particularly large one on one wall whose lips were smeared with dried blood. A number of supplies…food, discarded clothes, a few waterskins, and a well-used bedroll…lay in the center of the room. Agnar recognized the clothing as having belonged to Ieana/Yarzoth, and the supplies as having come from the Jenivere. It appeared that the serpent-woman had been using the hidden chamber as a safe room. Judging by the blood on the bas relief, the same magic that could render her gaseous was present upon it as well, allowing her to come and go as she pleased. Satisfied that the priestess had not hidden anything of value in the room, Agnar and Zavasta returned to their friends below.
It became slowly more apparent that what Yarzoth had been looking for in the ancient temple was hidden in the complex prayers and parables that had been carved into the walls in the large alcoves of the cathedral. They were inscribed in the dead language of the Azlanti, but among Yarzoth’s belongings were reams of parchment with translations of the inscriptions. The histories began with a cult devoted to a vampiric demon called Zura. Apparently, this cult had been exiled from their home city of Saventh-Yi, an Azlanti metropolis located somewhere in central Garund, for their vile beliefs. The cult had been forced to make a dangerous overland journey that ended on the shores of a remote island far from their homeland. During their exploration of this island, which obviously was Smuggler’s Shiv, the cult had discovered and defeated a large group of serpentfolk who had built the temple to worship their “headless god,” Ydersius. The cultists had created and enslaved many undead from their defeated foes, and then set about making plans to earn the “gift” of vampirism from Zura so that they might one day return to Saventh-Yi and pass on their “gift” to their hated countrymen.
“Saventh-Yi?” Lyrissa asked. “I’ve heard of that!”
“Really?” Arioch asked. “What is it?”
“What WAS it, you mean,” the bardess said. “It’s really only a legend, perhaps a myth. It is one of the so-called lost cities of Garund. The tales say that it was built by the Azlanti, and historians have argued about the authenticity of its existence for centuries. If it really did exist, and these writings can provide some clue to its location, then…,”
“Then what?” the summoner prodded.
“Then that information would be worth a fortune,” Lyrissa finished.
The castaways looked at one another, understanding dawning upon them all. Perhaps the circumstances and events leading to their being marooned on the gods-forsaken island would have a silver lining after all…
Several days later, the group rejoined their fellow survivors at the Thrunefang encampment. The others were amazed to hear of what had been discovered at the ancient temple, especially the news of the possible existence of Saventh-Yi. Arioch then announced that they would be firing up the lighthouse immediately in hopes of signaling a passing ship.
“What?” Gelik asked, his mouth agape. “What about me?”
“What about you?” Zavasta snapped. “You can come with us. Who’s stopping you?”
“What about the ship all of you said you’d help me find?” the gnome sputtered. “What about the Night Voice?”
“As I recall,” Agnar replied, “we said that if we discovered the wreck, which was unlikely to begin with, then we would assist you in searching it for the documentation you needed. We’ve been all over this island, and haven’t found it. Face it. It’s not here.”
“That can’t be!” Gelik shouted. “It has to be here! We have to keep searching!”
“No,” Arioch said simply. “What we have to do is get off this rock. I, for one, am not planning on staying one moment longer than I have to. If you choose otherwise, we can always send another ship back for you. It’s your choice.”
Gelik just glared at him, at all of them in turn. His face burned as he turned away and stormed off.
"Jack, I think I know what you were trying to do the other night,” Arioch said. The two stood atop the lighthouse, staring out into the darkness of the sea. “You were looking ahead to the point when we get off of this island and back to civilization. I will be honest, Jack...for a time I was not terribly impressed by you and believed that you were going to be running headfirst into the maw of Death. You're brash, impatient, and impetuous...but for some reason Fate seems to be smiling upon you for the time being. When you dove into the brine to fight a shark on its terms, and to save that damned necromancer no less, you showed me that you aren't all talk. So if you are looking to put together a team, or a ‘crew’ as you’ve put it, once we out of here, then, to use your terms, I've 'got your back'. Now...as to the others:
Gorak has a skill-at-arms that any good team needs, and he seems to comport himself with a sort of primitive, barbaric sense of honor. We need him, if for no other reason than I would hate to see him turn his fury against us.
Nessalin is an interesting subject. For these several weeks, he has been nothing more than a simple crewman aboard a third-rate sea vessel...now we see that he controls some fairly potent magics. There is more to him than meets the eye, and I wouldn't mind being there when the secret is revealed.
I am very uncertain about Zavasta. His skill with alchemy and his bomb-throwing has been useful at times, but he seems to carry some ill-informed grudge against me and my Order, and he listens to no reason or plain evidence to the contrary, such as the fact that I was not sacrificed on some dark altar and I, to, am an arcanist of orcish blood. Perhaps his mindset will change towards me with time and experience, but I am not convinced that I want to be traveling with him in the future, and if I do it will be at arm’s-length.
Lyrissa thus far seems to have her place, and her abilities are useful, but she keeps to herself too much for me to get a good read on her and her motivations.
Now Agnar...frankly to this point I have had no use for him. He seems to bring little but trouble, and his dark powers sow nothing short of dissension in the ranks and have not been put to any use that I would judge beneficial. Simply put, I am going to have to be convinced that we should not simply part ways with him once we get off this damned rock, whether it is by someone else's words or his actions.
The other wreck survivors would seem to already have plans once we escape this place, but they may have their uses in the future as contacts.
As to your belief that we need a leader, I would agree, but I will also withdraw my name from any consideration. For one, while I enjoy controlling a given battlefield like any good dragonchess player moving pieces into position, I am not the big-picture strategist required for that position. Secondly, I am interested in staying incognito and out of the range of vision of my Order for a while, and positioning myself as a figurehead leader of an adventuring company is not the best way to maintain that. What are your thoughts?"
"I'm glad you have come to me about this," Jack replied.
He reached out and shook Arioch’s hand as he leaned in and spoke in a low whisper.
"Look, between us, I don't really care if we have a "leader" or not. However, there are a few reasons I feel the crew needs some sort of leadership. Honestly, most important to me is that I want some way of making sure that I don't wake up with a knife in my back over a few shiny coins or coconuts or whatever we find on this island. Hells, we have already seen encampments of others who have been stranded, with a lighthouse no less, and it has done them no good. Why die over a coconut? If we do get off this island, I would like a group of people that we could use to gain wealth and power. We have made more coins on this island than I made in a year working as a messenger for the Council. We have shown that under duress we can work together and that,, in my eyes is the making of a decent crew. IF, and that is a big IF, we get off this rock then we could become rich and powerful beyond our wildest dreams as long as fate continues to smile on us. We need some level of trust in our group, because if we are always looking out for our own blades, then we will not be able to take the heads of those that stand against us on this island and beyond. I agree with most of your thoughts on the rest of the crew with a few exceptions:
Gorak, I feel, will follow whatever group will lead him off this island, and I hope we will be able to keep him with us. That blade of his is too important in a fighting situation. He does need to learn to swim, however.
Nessalin seems to be all about himself, and I think he will be one of the more difficult members to convince to go with us. I to am curious about his magical background, since I never once saw him toss a spell while on the ship for all those months. There seems to more to him than he is showing.
Zavasta I like. His bombs tend to have a mind of their own, but I think if he can get some time he will be able to provide very usual alchemical potions. Keep an open mind about him and remember time heals all wounds.
Lyrissa I also like at the moment. You are not the only one who is unsure of what motivates her. But I would like her on my side in a battle.
Agnar has not really done it for me either, even though I do not want to see him perish just yet. So far he has ‘controlled’ some of these undead that have tried to attack us. I am just not comfortable with him keeping these grotesque creatures in tow. As long as we keep finding these abominations on the island I say he is useful. However, after that I think that living sailors are smelly enough. I wouldn’t want those things kept in close confines on a ship. Plagues start that way.
As for myself, why not? As for you Arioch, I think you underestimate your ability to think long-term. By just starting this conversation you are assuming we make it off this island. It seems you already have plans to grow your powers and to find and kill this mark that you failed to take out the first time. And that to me is long term thinking. I for one can completely understand hiding in the shadow for an opportunity to surprise you next target. Thank you again, my friend, for starting this conversation and helping form this crew for the future. I am assuming I can call you that now?”
“Let's just say that you and a couple of the others are the closest thing that I have to friends,” the summoner replied, “outside of Minion, of course. I think at this point we should speak privately to some of the others, and see if we can't firm up some alliances here. We may be on this island for an extended period, and if we can form a close cadre of willing blades, I think that we might be able to keep some of the wild cards in check. I will speak to Nessalin and feel him out...his interests in the arcane mirror mine and I can use that common ground to initiate discussion. Following that, I will try to make sure that Jask if firmly with us...I already have some sway with both Aerys and Ishirou, so I will speak with them as well. It might be good for you to find an opportunity to sway Gorak to our side...you and he share the front lines frequently, and I think that your personality will be suited better to bring him over to our way of thinking. No pressure, but Gorak is the key. I have seen you in quiet discussion with Sasha as well...perhaps you could work on her to. If we can establish that core group...no mean feat I am sure...we should be able to somewhat keep the others under control, at least until we get back to civilization...IF we get back to civilization."
As it turned out, it was only a matter of days before a passing ship did see the light from the north shore of Smuggler’s Shiv. It was the Red Gull, captained by one Aulek Tegerten. Needless to say, he and his crew were shocked to find anyone actually alive on the island, and though they were willing to take the castaways aboard, they were not willing to lay off shore of the Shiv for a moment longer than necessary. The Red Gull was bound for Eleder. The survivors of the Jenivere were finally on their way home.
“So that’s our plan,” Arioch announced. “Who’s in?”
The castaways were seated in the ship’s galley on their second night off the Shiv, and the summoner had just outlined his idea for how to cash in on the information they’d discovered about Saventh-Yi: by looking for it themselves.
“Huh,” Ishirou grunted. “Not sure. I finally free of Consortium after many years. Might want time to see how freedom taste.”
“Yeah, and I’ve still got some ‘Red Mantis’ issues to clear up before I end up dead in an alley,” Sasha added.
“Not to mention the outstanding warrant for my arrest,” Jask said.
“Yeah, and I still have to find some way to get back into the good graces of the Pathfinders,” Gelik said bitterly.
“As stupid as this sounds, seeing as how we just got off an island,” Aerys said, “I feel like I’ve been away from the sea too long. The only thing I want to do is find the first ship out of Eleder.”
“Well,” Arioch shrugged, “if that’s all of your decisions, then so be it. Who knows? This is probably all going to be a wild goose chase anyway.”
Sargava’s capital was a city of contrasts. Though second in size to Kalabuto, Eleder remained a stronghold for the nation’s political structure. This was due in large part to two facts: first, the city’s harbor was one of the biggest along the southeastern coast of Garund, allowing it to handle the deep drafts of massive merchant vessels and similar ships too large to travel up the Korir River; and second, Eleder had an enormous workforce to draw on in the form of the large Mwangi population that, though they outnumbered the Chelaxian colonials by nearly two to one, remained an impoverished underclass. “Chelaxian,” was actually a misnomer. It had been many decades since the elite of Eleder had been a part of the empire of Cheliax, yet their descendents still clung to that ancestry like a security blanket. They still dressed in styles a hundred years out of date, and clung to outmoded customs that modern-day Chelaxians would have considered quaint at best. And they had no love for so-called “adventurers.” The nobility considered such low-lifes rabble-rousers, spreading their tales of glory and freedom, upsetting the status-quo, and causing the Mwangi to question their place. Welcome home indeed for the twelve castaways.
Captain Tegerten’s unexpected passengers disembarked and thanked their host before pausing to gather together one last time. The goodbyes were awkward and perfunctory. Hands were shaken and empty promises were made to see one another again. Then, just as they’d been unceremoniously thrown together, they went their separate ways. Agnar was the last to depart the docks. As he watched Jask disappear into the crowd, the priest grabbed a passing beggar by the arm. He whispered into the man’s ear, and then pressed a coin into his hand. The vagrant nodded eagerly and vanished like a flash into the throngs.
Arioch, Jack and Nessalin found lodging at the Sargava Club, a two-story mud-brick building covered in plain whitewash that was set back from the Portside docks in a narrow alley facing the harbor. The bottom floor was split between a shop and a tavern, while the top floor served as an inn. The proprietor was a feisty, outspoken half-orc named Briga. She and Arioch hit if off immediately. In the days following their arrival in port, the trio frequented the Colonial Archives, researching the information laid out in Yarzoth’s notes, and trying to authenticate the information. What they found served to convince them completely that the serpentfolk priestess had been onto something. It seemed that the Zura cult could not simply return to Saventh-Yi once they’d left, for the city was hidden behind powerful magical wards. Instead, they had planned to journey to a smaller outpost called Tazion, wherein they hoped to used something called “the pillars of light” to finally make their way back home. Frustratingly, the notes did not reveal the location of Saventh-Yi itself, but with the aid of one of the librarians, the trio was able to place Tazion in the southernmost reaches of the Mwangi Jungle, north of the Bandu Hills, between the Upper Korir and Ocota Rivers.
Lyrissa found different diversions for herself in the city. With Gorak following her around like a loyal puppy, she visited some of the more upscale entertainment establishments in Eleder, looking for work. Ultimately, she found steady income dancing for the patrons of the Adventurer’s Club, an ironically named gathering place for the city’s more influential aristocrats. They considered the pretty half-orc bardess something of a curiosity, and word of her talent spread quickly. Before long, she was playing to packed houses three nights a week. Gorak waited in the wings, serving as her self-appointed body guard.
That left Agnar and Zavasta. The alchemist set up shop in a stall located in the barter markets of Lower Harbor, hocking potions and minor pyrotechnics at bargain prices. The business allowed him the freedom to ply his trade, and still earn coin enough to pursue his own private experimentations. As for the dark priest, he bided his time. He made several contacts among some of Eleder’s less savory elements, putting out feelers and cautious inquiries. He began to feel the city’s pulse, and felt that, given time, he might grow to like the cesspool.
“There’s someone here asking for you,” Briga said as she stood over the table Arioch shared with Jack and Nessalin. “Over by the door.”
She jerked her head towards the entrance. The summoner glanced over her shoulder and saw Aerys standing near the bar, her tricorn perched jauntily on her head.
“It’s ok,” Arioch told the proprietress. “Send her over.”
Aerys nodded in greeting as she pulled a chair out from under the table, turned it backwards and straddled it.
“Thought you’d be back at sea by now,” Nessalin said.
“I did to,” she shrugged, “but something’s come up. Something that involves you all as well.”
“We’re all ears,” Arioch said.
“As you may recall,” Aerys began, “I was originally bound for Eleder aboard the Jenivere to meet with one of the captain’s of the Shackles. Well, I kept that appointment when we finally reached port, but I had some explaining to do about my tardiness. As it turns out, my captain was sympathetic…especially when he learned about what we discovered in that old temple on the Shiv.”
“What ‘we’ discovered?” Arioch raised one eyebrow.
“Semantics,” Aerys replied. “Anyway, it seems that my captain is now putting together an expedition to find Saventh-Yi, and he’d like to have you and the rest of the crew along.”
Arioch stared at her, unblinking.
“And just what makes you think we would be interested in sharing our discovery with anyone?” he finally asked. “In fact, I should kill you where you sit for not keeping your mouth shut.”
“You didn’t really think you could keep something like this a secret, did you?” Aerys asked. “This might be the greatest discovery in an age! The way I hear it, I’m not the only one that’s been telling tales either. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from more of our fellow castaways before long. As far as the reason you should consider my proposal, it’s this: my captain is very well connected and funded. He is willing to outfit and organize the expedition, paying all costs involving food, water, supplies, porters, guards, et cetera. He also offers each of you a signing bonus of 500 gold crowns in advance. When and if we find the city, he offers and additional thousand. Finally, since we are old friends now, the captain also offers each of you an additional 500 coins, or command of a small crew of able-bodied buccaneers to aid you in the journey. Your choice.”
Arioch paused again, then glanced at each of his compatriots.
“I suppose you haven’t left us much choice, have you?” he said to Aerys. “Tell your captain we’ll consider his proposal. You said we might have other offers. Who knows? They might be more lucrative.”
“I understand,” Aerys said as she rose from her chair. “Here’s one more thing to take into consideration: Jack… my captain? He only has one eye…”
Aerys had been right. As the day progressed, the three companions entertained a series of guests at their corner table. Ishirou, though his debt to the Aspis Consortium had finally been paid off, had been returned to active service when they’d learned about Saventh-Yi. Gelik, despite not having been able to discover the fate of the Night Voice, found that the Pathfinders were quite eager to reinstate him in good standing if his information about Saventh-Yi proved true. Jask had managed to clear his name with the Sargavan government, and when the Baron heard the details of his shipwreck and rescue, he went one step further: he offered the priest a prestigious position within the city council…provided that Jask would be willing to join an expedition to Saventh-Yi first. Sasha Nevah was the last to pay a social call. It seemed that the Red Mantis was more than willing take her back into their fold when they found out what she’d discovered. It seemed also that their ancient texts hinted at the existence of a temple to their demonic god Achaekek within the legendary city.
Each of their former castaway companions offered a similar to arrangement to that proposed by Aerys, but each faction also offered its own unique advantage. One thing was universally clear, however. With or without them, the five factions were going to seek out Saventh-Yi one way or another. If Arioch and his companions wanted to be able to claim any part of the legendary city’s storied wealth, they would have to choose a side.
“Well boys,” the summoner said to Jack and Nessalin once Sasha had departed, “it looks like it’s time to get that crew together that we talked about.”
“So here we are again,” Arioch said to those assembled, “and this is our dilemma. We now have a very important choice to make.”
“I choose to set this whole gods-damn town on fire!” Zavasta snarled as he pounded his fist on the table.
“We risked our lives finding that snake-headed bitch, and our reward was the secret she was looking for. Why should we have to share it with anyone??”
“Because we really don’t have many other options,” Nessalin answered. “Each of the factions organizing an expedition are very wealthy, and very powerful. We can’t hope to compete against them, and if we don’t go along, then this valuable secret we discovered is going to be worth exactly nothing to us. Once we’ve found Saventh-Yi, if it even exists, then we can decide what our next move will be. Until then, we need to weigh the pros and cons of each offer.”
“Which are as follows,” Arioch joined in. “The Aspis Consortium is an open book. They want what they always want: profit. I must say, I admire the eloquence of their simplicity. The Free Captain’s motive is more personal: he wants to make a name for himself to improve his standing among the Pirate Lords. I don’t see him sharing that glory to any great extent.”
Jack glowered at this.
“The Pathfinders,” Arioch continued, a tone of mockery in his voice, “do-gooders as always. They’ll want to take whatever we find there and preserve it for historical posterity. Bah! The Red Mantis can be ruled out immediately. Once they’ve gotten what they want, they’ll eliminate us. Then there’s the Sargavans. They want to extend their influence and hope that by claiming Saventh-Yi’s treasures they can finally free themselves from the Free Captains. Again, not likely to be exactly equitable in their dealings with us.”
The issue was discussed and discussed again for hours. The Pathfinders and the Red Mantis were eliminated out of hand. Jack argued vehemently in favor of the Free Captains, but Arioch’s contention was that the rogue’s personal feelings were clouding his judgment. Ultimately, it was a majority decision that the Aspis Consortium was the least of all evils, and Arioch volunteered to notify Ishirou the next morning. Jack stormed out of the room without a word.
“So that’s where it stands,” Jack said.
He and Aerys Mavato stood in the shadows of a secluded alley.
“Your father will be disappointed,” the half-elf said.
“Tell him I’m sorry,” Jack bowed his head. “I promise you, though. I’ll do what I can to help you. I’ll leave signs along the way. Look for them. Besmara willing, we’ll meet again in Saventh-Yi.”
"Solve a man's problems with violence, help him for a day. TEACH a man to solve his problems with violence, help him for a lifetime!"
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
- Join Date
- Dec 2002
- Birmingham, AL
ø Ignore JollyDoc
Once the former castaways, who had, at Arioch’s suggestion, taken to calling themselves the Glorious Bastards, informed Ishirou of their decision to join the Aspis Consortium, they had been immediately contacted by Dargan Etters, the expedition’s leader. He was charismatic, but made it clear that the undertaking to find Saventh-Yi was purely a business venture, and he was going to insure its success no matter the cost. The expedition was going to be ready to depart Eleder within the week, and all of the preparations were being made in a warehouse in the New Haliad district. The following day, as the group was making its way towards the warehouse to oversee the proceedings, they were startled to hear screams and shouts coming from about a block away. Moments later, a panicked mob came tearing around the corner and down the street, fearfully pushing past the companions.
“Run!” one terrified citizen shouted as he past.
“What’s happening?” Jack asked.
“It’s the Freemen!” the man shouted. “They’ve let loose rabid dogs in the streets! Run!”
A pack of half-a-dozen slavering curs came bounding and howling behind the fleeing crowd, taking down one unfortunate fat man and tearing his throat out before bounding forward. The Bastards stood their ground, and as the first dog leaped for Gorak, the big barbarian cut it cleanly in half with a slash of his massive sword. Agnar, standing a few paces back, growled a prayer to his dark god, and a small, concentrated thunderclap sent the pack flying, leaving several sprawled, stunned on the ground. Nessalin picked off one still on its feet by channeling an acidic cantrip through his scimitar. Zavasta cleaned up the remaining mongrels by lobbing an unsubtle bomb into their midst, setting them all ablaze, and ending their lives in agony.
“Who are these Freeman that man mentioned?” Nessalin asked.
“Freed slaves,” Agnar replied. “I’ve heard about them in my dealings with the locals. They try to stir up the Mwangi against foreigners, merchants and others they believe stand behind the slave trade. Ingrates! They should be thankful for their own freedom, and leave well-enough alone.”
“Do you smell that?” Jack asked abruptly. “Smoke.”
“There,” Gorak grunted, pointing towards a greasy, black column rising several blocks away.
“Isn’t that near our warehouse?” Lyrissa asked.
“Hells!” Arioch snapped. “Come on!”
When the Bastards reached the row of warehouses, they saw that indeed it was theirs that was already in flames. Two hooded Mwangi men stood nearby with lit torches in their hands. When they saw the companions, they shouted in their native tongues and dropped their torches as they pulled shortbows from their backs. Gorak growled low in his throat, horns sprouting from his brow as he started forward. The two Freemen loosed arrows, and both took the barbarian in his left thigh. Gorak snarled, but kept going, dragging his injured leg behind him. As he closed, the Freemen dropped their bows and pulled cudgels from their belts. They circled the half-orc warily, and then both darted forward, clubbing the barbarian once in the head, and once across his shoulders. Gorak howled like a feral animal, and electricity crackled around his horns. Lowering his head, he charged one of the thugs, tossing the man several feet back, sparks spitting from the man’s wounds. The second man struck Gorak again, but the barbarian shrugged off the blow, stalking forward to finish off his victim. As the wounded Freeman started to rise, Gorak impaled him to the ground with his sword. He then whirled towards his second assailant, only to find Nessalin already there. The magus slashed with his scimitar, and electricity surged through it as it struck, electrocuting the thug as it simultaneously opened his belly.
Arioch quickly opened a summoning circle, and an elemental formed of water erupted from it. At the summoner’s direction, the creature leaped for the roof of the warehouse, extinguishing the flames before they could do further damage. As he watched the creature work, a warehouse worker rushed up to Arioch.
“Sir!” he shouted, gasping for air. “It was the Freeman!”
“We know,” the summoner said tersely.
“Yes, but they’ve taken the Tian man!”
“Ishirou?” Arioch snapped. “How? Where?”
“The Freeman have taken over the South Arcadian Whaling Company!” the worker said. “Their leader, a man named Umagro, is calling for the slaughter of all foreigners, and the overthrow of the government! That’s where they took your friend!”
Arioch turned angrily to his companions.
“The elemental can finish up here,” he said. “We’ve got some insurgents to kill.”
The South Arcadian Whaling Company was easily located at the end of Whalebone Lane by the pungent stench that surrounded it. It was a large complex of whitewashed stone and brick, walled on all sides, including the beachfront. When the Bastards arrived, a large crowd had already gathered outside the complex, staring up at the roof of the main building. Thirty feet above, a man stood on the rooftop. He was Mwangi, and his face was decorated with fierce tribal war paint. He held another man, barely conscious, in front of him, a wicked-looking kukri at the second man’s throat. Arioch could tell immediately that the hostage was Ishirou.
“Fight back!” the Freeman exhorted the crowd below. “Take back your freedom from the colonial oppressors! They have brought the foreigners here to make slaves of us all! We will kill them first, starting with this one!”
The spectators, mostly Mwangi workers, but with a handful of Sargavans among them, murmured a mixture of approval and dismay.
“We’ve got to work quickly,” Arioch said quietly to his companions. “Jack, you stay with me. The rest of you try to find another way into this place. Be unobtrusive. I don’t want this crowd to turn into a rioting mob.”
“If they do, then they’ll burn with the rest of them!” Zavasta snarled.
“I would prefer that be our last resort,” Arioch replied. “Now go!”
As the group split up, Arioch and Jack made their way around the seaward wall of the compound, out of the direct view of most of the crowd. There, the summoner opened a small circle, admitting a crackling elemental composed of pure lightning into the material world. As Jack watched in amazement, Arioch spoke to the elemental in its own unintelligible tongue. The creature pulsed once, then ascended towards the rooftop as Arioch began another summoning.
Gorak led the others around the front of the complex, where they found a single door leading into what was probably an office for the company. Unfortunately, the door was locked. That didn’t deter the big barbarian. Lowering his shoulder, Gorak smashed into the door, knocking it from its hinges. Two Mwangi Freeman stood startled on the other side, but as the half-orc rushed in, they quickly regained their composure and drew clubs from their belts. To their credit, they held their ground in the face of the hulking barbarian, pummeling him repeatedly as he tried to bring his greatsword to bear in the cramped office space.
“Fire in the hole!” Gorak heard Zavasta shout, and he instinctively flattened against a wall.
A moment later, a hissing bomb landed between the Freeman and exploded, showering them both with liquid fire.
Arioch’s elemental rose silently above the edge of the roof behind Umagro. The Freeman leader was still preaching to his audience when he heard a sudden rush of air and smelled ozone. As he began to turn, the elemental bowled into him, knocking Ishirou from his grasp. The semi-conscious rogue stumbled two paces, and them toppled over the edge, plummeting towards the ground below. The crowd gasped, but at the last instant before Ishirou smashed into the paving stones, he abruptly began to float slowly the last few feet. He settled softly to the ground, but before he lost consciousness completely, his blurry vision found Arioch standing behind the onlookers.
Back on the rooftop, Umagro was enraged. He roared inarticulately, his teeth elongating into fangs. As the elemental spun back towards him, the Freeman leaped at it like a savage beast, hacking and slashing with his kukris, while biting and tearing with his teeth. Within seconds, the elemental winked out of existence, banished back to its home plane. Umagro raised his face towards the sky and howled his fury. He never saw the second elemental, this one made of air, rise quietly to the roof behind him and deposit Jack gently upon the shingles. Jack swallowed once, his pulse pounding as he watched the murderous Freeman, waiting for just the right moment. As Umagro began to turn towards him, the rogue realized it was then or never. Shouting his own battle-cry, Jack rushed across the roof, closing the distance to Umagro. He hit the big man at a full charge, and to his own amazement, managed to take Umagro off his feet and send him tumbling over the edge of the roof towards the courtyard of the compound.
“I did it!” Jack crowed. “I really did it!”
Suddenly, a whistling hiss split the air, and the rogue felt a searing pain in his leg. He looked down and saw an arrow protruding from his thigh. When he looked up again, he saw on the roof of another building across the compound a Freeman sniper. The man was even then knocking another arrow. Jack threw himself flat, and quickly scuttled back behind the peak of the roof. He spotted a hatch several feet away, and he crawled over to it, and lifted it slowly and quietly. He found himself looking down into the interior of a large building with one side, the one facing the courtyard, completely open. At the front of the area, huge winches hung from the ceiling, rigged to oversized wooden blocks dangling hooks and straps. Toward the back, directly below him, a metal and wood grid bisected the building, acting as a second floor. Atop the grid, a series of long, trough-shaped vats lined the back wall. Below the grid stood three tremendous cast-iron boilers. A ladder led down to the grid from the trap door, and standing at the bottom of it were three more Freeman. Jack cursed softly to himself, and eased the trap door closed again.
As the two thugs in the office struggled to extinguish the flames that clung to their cloaks, Gorak finally managed to skewer one of them with his massive sword. Behind him, Nessalin darted into the room and quickly finished off the other. The pair then opened another door on the far side of the office, and found themselves in the courtyard. To their amazement, Umagro was already there, hauling himself to his feet, bruised and bloodied, but still with nothing but feral fury in his eyes. Above them, they saw the miniature whirlwind of Arioch’s air elemental streak across the yard towards another building on the far side. Once there, it bowled into a Mwangi bowman, sending the man screaming off the roof to his death on the rocky beach below. Gorak barely noticed. He lowered his head, snorting, as horns grew from his brow. With a snarl, he charged across the courtyard towards Umagro. He hit the Freeman full on, but Umagro was ready this time. He took the blow, but held his ground and threw the big half-orc back. His kukri flashing, he rushed the barbarian, forcing him backwards into the flensing house.
The broad, cobbled courtyard was surrounded by buildings. On the side facing the beach, a wide ramp led down to the shore through a gated arch. Wedged into the passage lay the bloody carcass of a tremendous whale. The carcass was bound with thick cables that led to a crank hoist at the top of the ramp. The entire complex reeked of burnt fat and slaughter. When Agnar entered the courtyard from the office, he smiled.
“Ah, this smells like home!” he sighed.
He looked longingly at the massive corpse of the whale.
“If only…,” he shook his head. “Still, all is not lost.”
He gestured towards the body of one of the dead Freeman.
“Rise!” he commanded.
The flesh dissolved from the man’s bones as his skeleton clambered to its feet. At that moment, another Freeman insurgent dashed into the courtyard from the far side. When he saw the animated corpse of his former companion, he was horrified. He was jarred out of his shock a moment later, however, when the skeleton slashed him with the same club it had wielded in life. The Freeman rocked back, but then gripped his own club more tightly and smashed it into the skeleton’s skull, which promptly shattered.
“Oh well,” he said. “I’m sure there will be more.”
As Umagro continued to drive Gorak deeper into the flensing house, Nessalin dashed across the courtyard to his friend’s aid. When he entered the building, however, the men on the scaffolding above suddenly upended a barrel of whale oil, drenching both Gorak and the magus. Just then, Zavasta entered the courtyard and saw the target-rich environment in the flensing house. He grinned evilly as he ignited one of his bomb and cocked his arm back to throw.
“No!!” Nessalin cried, but it was too late.
Zavasta let his bomb fly, and it scored a direct hit to Umagro. Unfortunately, the splash from the explosion set the spilled oil ablaze, and within moments, Umagro, Gorak, Nessalin, and the three Freeman above them all found their clothing in flames.
Lyrissa wasn’t far behind Zavasta, and when she saw the chaos in the flensing house, she just shook her head in exasperation. Her attention was redirected quickly, however, as the Freeman still in the courtyard charged towards her and Agnar. The bardess shouted an ululating battle cry as she met the charge, her fervor inspiring her companions around her, filing them with renewed confidence. Lyrissa speared the Freeman on the point of her blade, and then spun away, disemboweling him in the process.
Jack watched the mayhem below through the trapdoor and realized that if he was going to make his move, it had to be then. Taking a deep breath, he threw the door open and leaped through. He dropped thirty feet, directly to the ground level, only his natural athleticism preventing him from breaking any bones. Still, he landed hard on his back, forcing the breath out of him for a moment. His weapons were in his hands, however, and he was directly at Umagro’s feet. The Freeman leader was still preoccupied with putting himself out, so he never saw the attack coming. Jack thrust his rapier upwards, straight through Umagro’s back. The Freeman roared in pain and fury, but then Gorak hit him head-on, his horns lowered and driving into the big man’s belly. As Umagro fell backwards, Nessalin rushed in, his scimitar sizzling with electricity. The blow was telling and fatal. Umagro died with his clothes still on fire.
When the other Freeman saw their leader fall, their resolve faltered. They broke off the fight and fled the compound, disappearing into the crowd gathered outside. The Bastards were injured and fatigued, or else they wouldn’t have let their assailants escape with their lives. They tended their wounds as well as Ishirou’s. The older man was still alive, though only barely. He didn’t recall much of what had happened, only being ambushed at the warehouse. Among Umagro’s gear,however, Jack found a folded note. It was addressed to the Freeman leader, and insinuated that the Aspis Consortium was funding the expedition into the Mwangi interior in order to increase the slave trade in Sargava. There was no signature, just a symbol crudely drawn at the bottom…the Glyph of the Open Road. When Ishirou had recovered, he also found a small scrap of parchment hidden in his own pocket. On it was written a single sentence: “Who’s hungry now, bitches?”
“Gelik!” Agnar snarled.
“So you think it was the Pathfinders?” Dargan Etters asked. “Well, that makes sense. I’m a little envious I didn’t think of the idea first. Still, a scrawled glyph isn’t enough evidence to go to the authorities with. It just means we need to speed up preparations and get things moving a little ahead of schedule. It also means that you need to grow eyes in the back of your heads. If the Pathfinders have balls enough to try something like this, then there’s no telling what the Red Mantis or the Free Captains might try. There’s one more thing you need to take care of before you set out. You’ll be needing a seasoned guide on the road. There’s a priest of Gozreh named Nkechi. The locals call him the Tempest. He’s supposed to be the most knowledgeable man in these parts about the dangers of the Mwangi Expanse, plus he’s known and respected among the indigenous. He’s something of a hermit. He lives in a cave a few miles north of here, in the cliffs called the Pallid Bluffs. I suggest you seek him out and see what it will take to secure his services. Barring that, then he needs to be eliminated. We don’t want to give our rivals any advantage.”
The jagged seaside cliffs of pale limestone towered over the rocky shore. Gulls wove overhead in the updraft, while from below rose the deafening echoes of the rolling surf as it beat against the rocks. The cliff face of the Pallid Bluffs looked to be at least three-hundred feet in height, and the beach below was narrow, never more than twenty-feet wide at any point. Though the waters were shallow, the rock and sand beneath the surface made for uneasy footing, and the pounding surf produced a strong undertow. As the Bastards made their way along the inhospitable shoreline, the water beside them began to churn even more violently. A pair of enormous crabs, each the size of a pony, crawled out of the surf and began scuttling towards the companions. Though the animals appeared fierce with their snapping claws, they were no match for Gorak and Nessalin, who dispatched them easily, and then shoved their bodies back into the ocean.
A bit further down the shore, the group came upon a horn made from a conch shell tethered to the rock wall. High above, a cave mouth could just be seen from the ground, its entrance covered with gates of woven bamboo and palm leaf. Lyrissa stepped forward and winded the horn. Several minutes passed before a dark-skinned man appeared upon the high, narrow ledge before the cave. Dressed in nothing but a loincloth, his wild, knotted hair whipped about in the wind. Shouting above the crashing surf, he called down.
“Who are you, and for what purpose do you seek me?”
“We seek to hire your services!” Lyrissa called up over the howling wind. “We are part of an expedition into the deep Mwangi, and we need an experienced guide!”
“Indeed you do, if the only solution you’ve found to dealing with the local fauna is to kill them!” the man snapped. “Still, wait there. I’ll be down.”
The old man climbed like a giant spider down the cliff face, sure-footed and confidant. Within a couple of minutes, he stood on the beach before the companions.
“So, off into the wilds are you?” the old man snorted. “In truth, I am skeptical of your abilities. At best you seem to me blissful incompetents. I doubt you even capable of finding your way back to town, much less through the jungle. But Gozreh may have different ideas, and it may serve his purpose for me to accompany you. I am willing to accept your proposal if you first prove yourselves by completing two simple tests, one of wind and one of water. Of course, you may decline, but I must add that if you fear performing Gozreh’s simple tasks, there is no way you will survive the jungle.”
Arioch glanced around at his companions, and he could see that immediately that Agnar and Zavasta would have no qualms about killing the man now. If it came down to it, he would do the same, but it would be best for all involved if they could get the priest’s cooperation.
“Very well,” the summoner agreed. “What are these tasks?”
The challenge of water is hardly difficult,” Nkechi said. “Mostly, it is a test of patience and fortitude. Gozreh requires that you retrieve for him a single black pearl. Head north a bit, out by the crags of the cape. Those shores are filled with oyster beds, and such pearls are not uncommon to those who know where to look. The task of wind is simple as well. All Gozreh requires is a simple, complete feather from a humble stormbird. One such magnificent creature, named Chirok, lives but a day’s walk east. There, at the end of the peninsula, you’ll spot a lone promontory known as Gozreh’s Crest. The bird nests at the top of the cliff. Return when you have a feather. “
The Bastards chose the water task first, since the oyster beds were closer than Gozreh’s Crest. As they traveled up the coast, they came upon a village of indigenous pearl divers. They were friendly, and offered the companions advice on how to dive for pearls. They warned about the strong currents off shore, and of the sharp edges of the oyster shells and coral. They were even willing to barter some of their diving equipment, such as sandbag weights and diving floats. When the group reached the point along the shore adjacent to the oyster beds, Gorak, Jack and Nessalin volunteered to go out. Since they had no boat, and none of them were great swimmers, Agnar cast a prayer on the three of them that allowed them to temporarily breathe water. Then, the trio roped themselves loosely together so that they would not get separated by the current, and then strung together several more lengths of rope to tether them back to those on shore. When all of the preparations were made, the three waded out into the surf and vanished beneath the surface. The oyster beds lay some sixty-feet down, about one-hundred feet off shore. Once the companions reached the beds, they set about the tedious task of prying up and opening the oysters. They found many mundane pearls, and even the occasional black one, but none where of the quality Nkechi had specified. After several minutes of searching, something caught Gorak’s eye. The barbarian looked up and blinked several times. He couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing. A beautiful woman floated languidly several yards away from him. As his gaze met hers, she smiled at him and beckoned to him. The oyster in his hand slipped, forgotten, to the sea floor as he walked towards her, drawn by her overwhelming allure. When he reached her, she reached down and slowly untied the rope around his waist. Then she leaned in closer and placed her lips to his.
Nessalin felt the rope go slack, and he looked up, searching for Gorak. What he saw shocked and horrified him. Gorak was trapped in the embrace of some sort of horse-headed creature who’s body seemed to be made out of seaweed. As Nessalin watched, the thing continued choking the life out of the barbarian. The magus called to Jack, his voice audible due to his ability to breathe water, and then he began moving as quickly as he could towards Gorak and his attacker. When he reached them, he quickly retied the rope around the barbarian, then cast a spell that imbued his scimitar with electricity. The blade sparked and hissed in the water, and when he swung it at the creature, it screamed as the steel channeled electricity into its flesh. It reached out and slammed one arm into the side of Nessalin’s head. He reeled, but managed to infuse his sword with lightning once more. He struck again, and the sea creature shrieked and darted off into the depths. To Nessalin’s dismay, however, Gorak began swimming after it. The magus hauled on the rope, but it was useless. Gorak was easily twice as strong as he, and he found himself being dragged along behind.
Back on shore, the others felt the rope go taught in a series of quick jerks.
“Grab it!” Arioch shouted. “Pull!”
He, Agnar, Zavasta and Lyrissa hauled for all they were worth, yet still they were pulled inexorably into the water. Arioch quickly opened a circle, and two water elementals came through. At his command, they seized the rope as well and pulled. With their assistance, the companions were gradually able to pull the rope in. When Gorak finally breached the surface, Arioch was stunned to see him struggling mightily with Jack and Nessalin.
“He’s bewitched!” Nessalin shouted. “Help me!”
Agnar released the rope and chanted a prayer. Power emanated from him and washed over Gorak. Immediately, the barbarian calmed.
“Let go of me!” he snarled. “What are you doing?”
“The spell is only temporary,” Agnar said. “Once it wears off, the enchantment will take hold again.”
“Gorak, listen!” Nessalin snapped. “You were under the spell of some creature. It tried to kill you out there! Now, you have to be still and cooperate. We’re going to have to tie you up for your own good until we can get you back to town. Do you understand?”
Gorak didn’t really, but he trusted Nessalin. He nodded once. He walked to shore and allowed himself to be bound and restrained.
“What about the pearl?” Arioch asked.
“We didn’t find one,” Nessalin replied.
“Speak for yourself!” Jack smiled as he held up a perfect black pearl.
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
- Join Date
- Dec 2002
- Birmingham, AL
ø Ignore JollyDoc
...Ask Questions Later
As the Bastards neared the rocky outcropping of Gozreh’s Crest, the sky darkened menacingly and rain began to fall heavily. As Nkechi described, the Crest sat at the very edge of the peninsula, an ominously scarred chunk of dark granite worn into a steep, wave-like shape by centuries of wind and rain. Its face caught the ocean, creating a natural wind tunnel that amplified the wind and created howling updrafts. Overhead, large seabirds rode the winds, hovering above the waves in search of prey. It seemed that Nkechi exaggerated the simplicity of the task he set the companions, as the nest of the stormbird sat some three-hundred feet above the water, at the very peak of the crag. The climb looked to be a daunting one, and the howling wind and driving rain didn’t make the prospect any more appealing.
“All we need is one feather, right?” Arioch shouted over the wind.
“Yes. So?” Nessalin asked.
“So why don’t I just summon an elemental, have it fly up there and get us one?” the summoner shrugged.
“That sounds far too easy and reasonable,” Jack shook his head. “I’m sure it won’t work, but what do we have to lose?”
Arioch nodded and opened a circle. A moment later, a halfling-sized whirlwind came buzzing out.
“There is a nest above,” Arioch spoke to the elemental in its native Auran tongue. “Fly there, grab a feather, and return to me.”
The elemental lifted into the sky and was quickly lost in the darkness. No more than a minute passed before it came spinning back to the ground and deposited a partially shredded, bright blue fragment of a feather.
Arioch sighed. “A WHOLE feather!” he commanded. “Go again!”
The elemental ascended again, and Arioch rolled his eyes. “They’re useful, but dumb as posts. That’s probably for the best, otherwise they probably would have overrun the Prime a long time ago.”
Minutes passed, but the elemental did not return. Finally, after some five minutes, Arioch cursed.
“The summoning’s expired by now,” he said. “It’s not coming back. Something must have happened.”
“Hate to say ‘I told you so,’” Jack said.
“I’m not done yet,” the summoner snapped.
He opened another circle and called another air elemental to him. Then he closed his eyes in meditation for a full minute, and when he opened them again, Minion stood beside him.
“You always bring me to the nicest places,” the eidolon sighed.
“I have need of you,” Arioch snipped, ignoring the snide tone. “We need a feather, an intact feather, from that nest above. I’m going to have this elemental carry you aloft, and I want you to find one and bring it back. Don’t worry, I’m going to weave an invisibility spell around you. You’ll be safe.”
“I believe I’ve heard that before,” Minion sighed. “Let’s get this over with.”
The nest was huge, fully ten-feet across, and Minion saw immediately what the problem was. There were many feathers in the nest, but they were all shredded, torn, and woven into the fabric of the nest itself. Finding a whole one was going to take time.
“Keep a sharp eye out,” he told the elemental, though he wasn’t certain the creature understood him.
The eidolon then set about searching for a single, intact feather. Several minutes had passed when he sensed the elemental moving behind him. He whirled in time to see a truly enormous bird hovering on the wind above the nest. Its wings were a rainbow of color, and the tips of its feathers and its eyes burned with green light. It was only then that Minion noticed the clutch of large eggs at the far side of the nest, and then the elemental was airborne, and the stormbird came screeching in. It landed on the edge of the nest, and as the elemental flew by, buffeting the bird as it passed, she stretched out her neck and snapped at the outsider, ripping a large, wispy tendril from its body.
‘Master!’ Minion called through the mental link he shared with Arioch. ‘The bird’s back, and it’s a big one! The elemental’s keeping it busy at the moment. I think I might be able to sneak up and snatch a feather.’
‘Be careful!’ Arioch called back. ‘You won’t last long if it senses you!’
“Thanks for pointing out the obvious,” Minion muttered to himself.
He crept forward, still invisible, until he stood just beneath the stormbird. He reached out a hand and carefully gripped one tail feather. Then, with a mighty tug, he yanked. Nothing happened. Rather, almost nothing. He immediately became visible, his aggressive action cancelling the enchantment.
‘Uh-oh!’ he shouted through the link.
‘Dismissed!’ Arioch commanded.
In an eye blink, Minion vanished, returned to his home dimension.
“Plan C?” Nessalin asked.
“Gorak go,” the big barbarian spoke abruptly.
“What?” Arioch asked.
“Gorak go up,” Gorak nodded towards the nest. “You make dust devils take Gorak up there. Gorak get feather.”
Arioch just looked at him for several moments, and then he smiled, his lips peeling back from his pointed canines.
“You know,” the summoner said, “I think this just might have a chance!”
Several minutes later, six more air elementals surrounded Gorak.
“Hold on tight,” Arioch told him. “It’s a long way back down.”
Gorak nodded, gripping his sword tightly in both hands. At Arioch’s instruction, two of the elementals grabbed the barbarian, one on each arm, and lifted him skyward. The other four flew quickly ahead, their instructions to keep the stormbird occupied until Gorak reached the nest. In short orders, the elementals came within sight of the nest, as well as the great bird who still sat perched vigilantly on its edge. The stormbird’s lantern-like eyes immediately fixed on the approaching cadre, and it opened its beak to unleash a deafening screech. The leading quartet of elementals scattered, but the sound buffeted Gorak and the whirlwinds the bore him. Gorak felt a wave of vertigo wash over him, jumbling and confusing his thoughts. Suddenly, the elemental on his left released his arm and began to weave drunkenly around the peak, as if it didn’t know where it was. Gorak swung free, and felt his right arm almost pulled out of its socket as the remaining elemental strained to hold him. It careened towards the cliff face, and just as it lost its grip on the half-orc, deposited him precariously on a narrow ledge there. The air elemental then flew away to join its brethren who were already engaged in a fierce melee with the stormbird. The confused elemental, however, came back down and hovered a few feet away from Gorak, staring at him stupidly. To the barbarian’s addled mind, the elemental looked like a smaller version of the stormbird…maybe one of its chicks.
“Go away, stupid bird!” the half-orc yelled, and he lashed out with one fist, trying to force his tormentor away.
The elemental easily avoided the clumsy blow, but now its own befuddled brain saw Gorak as a mortal enemy. It rammed the barbarian, coming dangerously close to knocking him off his perch. However, just as quickly, the summoned creature seemed to forget where it was again, and blundered off into the gathering darkness. Gorak shook his head in confusion and began to climb. He couldn’t see what was happening above him, but he could hear the continued screeching of the stormbird, and occasionally he would see an elemental plummet past him before vanishing, banished back to its own plane by its death. By the time Gorak reached the nest, the great bird’s shrieks had become fewer, and weaker. He lifted himself over the edge just in time to see the last pair of elementals slam into the stormbird from both sides, snapping its neck back sharply. The great bird collapsed into the nest, broken and dying, still struggling to shelter its eggs with its body. Gorak stood above it, his head finally clearing. As the stormbird took its last breath, the barbarian reached down and plucked a single feather.
As the Bastards made the return journey back to the Pallid Bluffs, they found their path along the shore barred by a quartet of warriors from a local Zenj tribe known as the Ijo. They did not look happy.
“We saw what you did!” the leader of the warriors shouted angrily. “You killed the sacred Stormbird! We demand retribution!”
“Oh?” Agnar asked. “Was that your bird? I can reanimate if for you if you like.”
“Agnar!” Arioch hissed. “That isn’t helping.”
“Life for life!” the Ijo warrior demanded. “We take one of yours in exchange for Chirok!”
“How about we just take all of yours instead?” Zavasta snarled.
A moment later the alchemist let fly with a bomb that had suddenly appeared in his hand. The bomb exploded among the Ijo, and immediately after, Agnar unleashed a sonic burst that sent the warriors scattering in all directions. Arioch tried to calm his companions, but it was too late. Gorak, Nessalin and Ishirou were among the stunned natives before they had a chance to recover from the twin blasts. It was over very quickly, the four warriors laying dead on the ground.
“Well that could have gone better,” Arioch sighed.
“I think it went perfectly,” Agnar shrugged. “Look, we are about to embark on a three month journey across a hostile, savage land. If we have to worry about offending every piss-ant tribe along the way because we step on some sacred flower, or drink from the holy watering hole, then the other factions will reach Saventh-Yi weeks ahead of us! You need to get your priorities in order.”
The priest turned away, Zavasta on his heels. Arioch stared silently after him, and then the summoner’s eyes met Jack’s, and a flash of perfect understanding passed between them.
It was with great skepticism that Nkechi accepting the offerings when the Bastards returned to his cave.
“Wait here,” he ordered, and then he disappeared into his hermitage for over half an hour.
When he finally reemerged, the old priest was smiling. He invited the companions inside, and then instructed them to sit in a circle on the floor around a large clay brazier filled with herbs. Nkechi picked up a wooden mortar filled with reddish paste, and proceeded to dray mystic symbols on each their faces as he walked around the circle chanting esoteric words. Finally, he pulled out a pouch filled with some small roots. He ate one piece, then offered the rest to the companions.
“What is it?” Nessalin asked suspiciously.
“It will take us to meet Gozreh,” Nkechi replied solemnly.
“Not me!” the magus shook his head and tossed the root aside.
Nkechi quirked one eyebrow and looked around at the others. One by one, they looked to each other. Arioch was the first to put the root in his mouth, and then the others followed his example.
Almost immediately, the companions fell into a dream-like trance, and saw themselves leaving their bodies and drifting as smoke through the night sky. They could each sense their friends nearby, but could see no one. They could see all of the Mwangi Expanse below them. Slowly, the sky turned red, and their bodies reformed, but as strange spirit animals in pale, translucent colors. Arioch found himself in the body of an eagle, while Jack was a monkey. Agnar was a gorilla, and Gorak was crocodile. Zavasta resembled a buffalo, and Lyrissa and Ishirou were both great cats….a cheetah and lion respectively. In the middle of them all, Nkechi took the form of an enormous crab.
“I see the unveiling of the ruins of a forgotten city from ancient folklore,” the priest intoned. “Many rivals seek it as well. It is unclear who shall be the first to claim it. Yet there is a darkness with this city, and I see ominous storm clouds gathering on the horizon.”
Suddenly, a monstrous serpent appeared in the midst of the companions. It immediately struck out at Arioch, and the summoner felts its fangs, and then a burning poison invaded his flesh. As the snake began to wrap its coils around him, however, Gorak leaped on its back, hammering at it with his fists. Then Ishirou was there, pouncing like the king of beasts he resembled, clawing and tearing with his claws. Finally, Gorak clamped down on the serpent’s neck with his powerful jaws and shook until its head severed from its body. The creature began to writhe and thrash violently before it gradually faded away. As it did, Arioch abruptly recognized the markings on the snake’s body: they were the same as those of Yarzoth, the serpentfolk priestess that had marooned them on Smuggler’s Shiv. As the trance began to fade, the summoner had one last revelation: the dream snake’s death throes were reminiscent of the decapitation of the ancient snake-god Ydersius.
Nessalin watched as his companions broke free of their torpor. Nkechi looked around and nodded his head decisively.
“I will guide you,” he said. “Whatever you face is a threat to Gozreh, or at least to what Gozreh holds sacred. Gozreh commands me to make this journey with you. When do we leave?”
Three days later, the Bastards, along with Ishirou and Nkechi, were finally ready to depart Eleder. Dargan Etters met with them one last time. He instructed that they should travel several days ahead of the main expedition, blazing the trail so to speak. He provided them with a map of Sargava and the southern Mwangi Expanse. He suggested that they travel light, and stop in the city of Kalabuto to restock on supplies. The Aspis Consortium had contacts there who would make arrangements for the companions stay there, and their continued journey. Etters warned them not to stay at the inn in Kalabuto, and to limit their interactions with the locals, who might be working for the rival faction. Instead, they were to make contact with a dwarf named Cheiton in the Shrunken Head, one of the city’s most popular taverns. He would be recognizable by a distinctive cave-and-pick tattoo on his shoulder. According to the map, the fastest route to Kalabuto lay in traveling overland through the wild scrublands and savanna, along the older trade routes that skirted between the Bandu Hills and the Laughing jungle. The remoteness of the routes would lessen the chance of the Bastards encountering the allies of rival factions seeking to block or sabotage their mission. The trade routes led to the edge of the M’neri Plains, and from there to Kalabuto. Beyond the city, Etters advised them to follow the Upper Korir River north into the Screaming Jungle, and then to the northeastern Bandu Hills until they reached the southernmost reaches of the Mwangi Jungle. Somewhere beneath those trees lay the supposed Azlanti outpost of Tazion which, they hoped, would show them the way on to Saventh-Yi.
After five days of travel through the foothills between Eleder and the Bandu Hills, the main trail the companions followed snaked northeast around a tall section of hills, and then detoured north connecting with several of the region’s more profitable and still operating mines. However, the map showed the location of an abandoned mine to the southeast, marked as the Fzumi Salt Mine. It appeared to lead to the edge of the M’neri Plains.
“This route, it be shorter by a day,” Nkechi remarked as the group paused at the fork.
“What do you know of the mines?” Arioch asked.
“Nothing,” the old priest shrugged. “I'm just saying it's a shorter path.”
The summoner sighed impatiently, then looked at the others. “Fine,” he snapped. “We’ll take the short cut.”
Soon after they’d set out into the hills, Gorak, who’d been leading them, abruptly came to a halt, he head up and his nostrils flared, sniffing the air. Suddenly, a woman leaped out of the trees beside the trail. She stood nearly six-feet tall, with a perfectly muscled figure and stunning features. Her dark hair was woven into clumped tangles, and she was dressed in scraps of animal hide. She bore a pole-arm crafted from the toothed jaw of some fearsome jungle beast. Crouched behind her was a bipedal reptile the size of a man, and with a mouth full of sharp teeth.
“You no belong here!” she hissed in Polyglot. “This my land! No hunting here!”
“What did I tell you?” Agnar sighed.
“I assure you, Madame,” Arioch said, inclining his head slightly, “we are not poachers. We are merely passing through. Now, if you’ll stand aside then we shall be on our way.”
“No!” she shouted, as she leaped into the middle of the trail.
“I’ve had enough of this!” Nessalin hissed, drawing his scimitar from its sheath.
Before he had it clear, however, the woman charged. She thrust the sharpened point of her pole-arm into the magus’s gut, and he doubled over from the force of the blow. At the same moment, the dinosaur leaped into the air, clearing the distance between itself and Gorak easily. It landed upon the barbarian like a cat, ripping and tearing at him with tooth and claw. The feral woman stood over Nessalin, preparing to finish him off, when Agnar hurled her back with a sonic blast. As she staggered, Zavasta hit her full in the chest with a flaming bomb. She screamed in pain, and flailed about like a wild animal. Nessalin, his sword still in hand, stumbled towards her, howling in rage. As he swung, his blade sparked with electricity, and as it struck her across the brow, she fell dead in a heap. Meanwhile, Gorak hurled the snarling dinosaur from him, but it quickly gathered itself for another leap. Before it could, however, Ishirou drove his katana through its spine from behind. The beast squealed and thrashed on the ground for several more moments before it was finally still.
From further down the trail, Nkechi watched the entire battle through heavily lidded eyes. He shook his head slightly when it was over.
“Is that really necessary?” Jack asked, nodding towards Gorak.
“Absolutely,” Agnar laughed. “If it bothers you, don’t look at it.”
“It’s not the looking,” Jack groused, “it’s the smell.”
“Gorak not mind,” the big barbarian said as he shifted the carcass of the velociraptor to his other shoulder.
The group had finally reached the site of the old mine. The sagging and overgrown remains of a small camp encircled the gaping entrance visible in the hillside adjacent. It didn’t look like anyone had been there for many years. Most of the buildings were ruined and empty, but inside what had seemingly been a small office, Zavasta found a moldering logbook. The last few entries were dated fifteen years ago, and documented the mining company’s downfall. It appeared that the mine’s owner, a man named Feran Crinhouse, was looking for new salt deposits and decided to secretly try connecting his mine with another mine of the far side of the hills, abandoned earlier under mysterious circumstances and rumored to be haunted. Just as the miners broke through to the abandoned mine, they unearthed a strange orb that glowed with a pulsing blue light. Crinhouse decided to go down into the mine to personally investigate. The final entry was in a different handwriting, and read: “They’ve come up from below! They’re all dead, and their touch withers the flesh! May the gods have mercy on us!”
The wooden beams supporting the mine’s main entrance were weathered and sagging. Water trickled down the sloping floor among the wooden footholds leading down the main shaft. The group made their way into the darkness, two abreast. As they crossed a partially flooded cyst in the shaft, the water in front of Jack suddenly began to roil, and the rogue cried out in pain, and then went completely rigid, unmoving. Some…thing reared up out of the water, looking like nothing so much as a crystalline amorphous blob. Gorak, walking next to Jack, was startled and taken aback by the sudden appearance of the creature, and he reacted the way he normally did when caught off guard…with rage!
“Get out of there, you half-wit!” Zavasta shouted as he hurled a bomb at the ooze.
The incendiary struck and splattered across the creature, but its semi-liquid form quickly extinguished the flames, leaving not even a scorch mark. Ishirou quickly made his way to Gorak’s side, and the pair of warriors hacked and chopped at the blob, unsure if they were actually causing it any harm. Suddenly, a pseudopod lashed out at Ishirou, and he too was instantaneously paralyzed. Behind them, Arioch called a pair of elementals from the paraelemental plane of mud. The creatures looked like slime covered dwarves, but they moved through the flooded chamber with ease, and quickly flanked the ooze. Their muck-covered fists rained blow after blow down upon the creature until it finally sank back into the water and did not emerge again. Agnar moved quickly to Jack and Ishirou to examine their condition.
“They’ll be fine,” he pronounced. “It’s a temporary toxin. I imagine the ooze used it to immobilize its prey before it dined. Fascinating!”
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
- Join Date
- Dec 2002
- Birmingham, AL
ø Ignore Joachim
I like how in the story we were the aggressors with the druid and her pet dinosaur, when in reality we just ignored her and she attacked us. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, eh?
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