Sunday, September 17, 2017

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 17: The Vault of Hidden Wisdom

Once the Ruby Scarabs had completed their investigation of the dangerous Dark Depository, they decided to spend a day away from subterranean archives and go into the marketplace of Tephu to sell some of the items they had removed from the Depository. They had acquired a number of valuable scrolls containing powerful spells, spells which none of them could cast. This netted them each a not inconsiderable quantity of gold. Sula was also able to determine that the headband they had found in the Depository was actually a cursed item, which would be illegal to sell in Tephu. But the Scarabs learned that the Temple of Thoth would pay a bounty to acquire such items and keep them out of the hands of unsuspecting citizens, so they gave the headband to the temple.

Kaa requested that he be allowed to take the silver crocodile collar they had found among the bone golem's remains as part of his portion of the treasure, as well as the golden chalice that had been given to him and Sula for coming in second place in the chariot race. He and Azzaria each took one of the vials of magical protective kohl. After acquiring so much more gold, Sula decided to purchase a headband for herself to increase her insight, and an amulet that would grant greater fighting prowess to Nyema. Uto bought himself a belt and a set of magical arm wraps that would enable him to carry a heavier load, and a wand containing a protective spell. The Scarabs also treated Abdallah and his siblings to a good meal at the Caravan's End.

When they had completed their shopping the Scarabs asked various people if they knew anything about the Tower of Ra's Glory. They had examined the scale model of Tephu in the Great Library, but found it insufficient to help them determine where the tower's shadow would fall on Midsummer's Day. Eventually they were led to an elderly dwarf named Rahmet Glyphkeeper, who had actually worked on the construction of the tower. The tower had been built some 200 years earlier, rather than during the reign of one of the ancient pharaohs. After listening to a few of the aged dwarf's stories, the Scarabs were able to elicit from him that the tower had stood 125 feet tall. The dwarf even gave them some architectural plans for the construction of the tower. This information, combined with Sula's knowledge of the sun's position at different times of the year, told them how to find the Vault of Hidden Wisdom.

The next day Abdallah showed them to the neighborhood where they believed the Vault could be found. The location of the secret library was now a bathhouse, but Kaa quickly identified a hidden door in an alley behind the bathhouse. While Abdallah stood watch for unwelcome attention, Kaa determined that there were no traps and opened the door, stepping into a passageway in which he saw a battered bronze chest. The chest stood next to a pit trap, which he suspected was a spiked pit. His companions waited in the alley while he disabled the trap. After everyone but Abdallah had slipped inside, Kaa opened the chest to find it empty, merely serving as bait to lure the unwary into triggering the pit trap.

Kaa and Azzaria could see into the next chamber, which appeared to be a reading room with a statue standing in the center. Suddenly an alarm began to sound. The walls of the Vault were thick so the Scarabs were not much concerned that it would be heard outside. But the alarm seemed to have attracted some attention from within the Vault, as they heard metallic footsteps on the stone floor. Kaa could distinguish two separate sets of footsteps. The alarm stopped sounding, and something passed by the doorway at the opposite side of the reading room. Kaa moved into the reading room as the sounds grew louder.

Two clockwork constructs rounded the corner of the passageway that ran around the perimeter of the reading room. One of them immediately approached Kaa and fired a net over him. The second clockwork creature stepped up and slammed its metal fist into the entangled tengu. Both constructs also wielded halberds. Sula realized that Azzaria's adamantine flail would harm then and told her so. Then she moved toward the construct that had ensnared Kaa, raising her spear and charging it with electricity. The spear itself didn't appear to do much harm to the construct, but the electricity damaged it. While Azzaria tried to swing her flail around the corner t hit the construct, Uto reached out with his hair and prepared to pull Kaa free of the net.

The construct that had thrown the net over Kaa pushed him, then turned and walked away. The second construct punched Kaa again twice, hitting him hard. Realizing that he couldn't take another such forceful blow, Kaa drew his nine-ring broadsword and sliced open the net to free himself. Uto then channeled healing magic through his hair to Kaa. The construct that had abandoned Kaa now walked up behind Azzaria and began to fight with her. Azzaria became enraged and cast a spell on herself that made her difficult to see. Uto summoned a spirit ally to help fight the constructs.

Sula had been damaging the first construct with her spear, but when that construct moved to attack Azzaria, she stepped back and summoned two spheres of lightning, send one at each of the constructs. As soon as the lightning struck them both constructs exploded, showering the reading room with gears and pistons and other mechanical parts. One of the pieces that fell on a table was a key, which Azzaria picked up. She observed that the 'statue' in the center of the room was probably a construct also, and it had an emblem on its chest that resembled the key.

With the two constructs destroyed, the Scarabs were able to look around the reading room and see that it showed no sign of having been disturbed for many years. They also noticed an odd light coming from the room beyond. Azzaria looked into that room and saw two bizarre creatures. Their bodies appeared to be crystalline, with four limbs, each limb splitting to terminate in two hand-like appendages. When these creatures saw her they both moved toward her in a hostile manner, and she had a disturbing vision of every possible future she might someday experience. She called out to her friends that the creatures were hostile. Kaa raised his sword and moved into the room to attack one of the creatures. He, too, experienced a vision of his potential futures. The creatures struck at him not with their limbs but with crystal tentacles.

Sula clothed herself in barklike protective armor and moved her lightning globes closer to the strange creatures, though she couldn't attack with the lightning because Azzaria was in the way. Azzaria cast a spell and suddenly there were two of her. Uto summoned to ancestral spirits to help his comrades fight the weird-looking creatures. One of the creatures emitted a cone of light that caused everyone, even Nyema who was still waiting by the entrance, to feel the same vision of possible futures that Azzaria and Kaa had already received. Uto suddenly melded into the stone wall. The creature nearest to Azzaria backed away from her. Sula moved her lightning spheres up to it, and both spheres vanished. While Kaa began punching and kicking the creature he faced, Sula shifted from her spear to her club and cast a spell to make it deal more damage. Before she could move up to swing her club at one of the creatures, Uto emerged from the stone and healed Azzaria, Kaa pummeled his foe until it dropped, and Azzaria destroyed the second creature.

With the enemies defeated, Kaa expressed how disturbing the visions of the future had been. He was so distraught that he had to sit down in the reading room for a short time to regain his composure. While he was recovering, Uto realized that the clockwork constructs' gears had been made of gold and gems, and he gathered these up. Azzaria found a sheet of magic vellum, but Sula was unable to determine the properties of it even with Uto's aid.

After he recovered, Kaa checked the hallway leading off of the room for traps and found none. At the end of the passageway he found a small dais that appeared to have been where one of the clockwork constructs had originally stood. The passage led to a rotunda with a domed ceiling, the circular pillared room lined with shelves of scrolls held behind unlocked metal mesh doors. Kaa began to examine the rotunda for secret doors, while Azzaria went back into the reading room and used the key to wind up the construct there. When she had wound as much as she could, it activated and greeted her, explaining that it was a research assistant and asking what it could do to help.

With the research assistant's help, the Scarabs found Khnenti's journal. The journal told them that reuniting Hakotep's fragmented soul might bring him back to life. It spoke of the Forgotten Pharaoh's tomb as a flying pyramid, and implied that the pyramid might also be invisible. Furthermore, the journal explained that Chisisek, the architect of the tomb, had been slain so he couldn't pass on his knowledge to anyone else. Chisisek's own tomb was hidden, but the rotunda supposedly held a fresco describing his burial. But when the Scarab's looked at the rotunda dome they saw no such fresco.

Uto levitated up to the ceiling to examine it. He realized that the dome they saw was a false one, hiding the real ceiling. By this point the Scarabs had been in the Vault of Hidden Wisdom from early morning until early evening. They were all tired, so they decided to have Abdallah show them to a nearby inn rather than making the long journey back to Caravan's End, so they could resume examining the Vault the next morning.

Early the next morning the Scarabs returned to the Vault of Hidden Wisdom. Uto again levitated up to the ceiling. He and Sula had both prepared spells to allow them to reshape the stones of the false ceiling. But when Uto pushed aside some of the stone, the entire ceiling collapsed, showering him with stone fragments and releasing two mummified big cats. One of the cats immediately rushed the rest of the group who were waiting by the rotunda entrance. Sula send Nyema to fight the cat. The second cat let out a piercing howl that caused Azzaria to flee in terror. Sula joined Nyema in fighting the two cats. A moment later a now enraged Azzaria returned to join them. Uto used his healing magic to harm the two mummies, while Kaa bit one with his crocodile mask. In a few moments both mummified cats were immobile on the floor.

With the fresco exposed, the Ruby Scarabs were able to read heiroglyphs that told them Chisisek's tomb must lie somewhere in the Parched Dunes, though the fresco didn't give its precise location. There were also strange geometric shapes in the fresco that appeared to refer to the ancient Shory weapons that Hakotep had sought. But it seemed that to find out more about the Sky Pharaoh and understand what the cultists might be after, the Scarabs would need to seek out Chisisek's hidden tomb.

As they made their way back to Caravan's End, the Scarabs saw Muminofrah's royal barge on its way down the canal. A big dark-skinned man could be seen feeding the Fan-Bearer dates. Evidently Muminofrah had lost interest in Uto. Uto did not express much disappointment at this turn of events. Even though he had never been out of the confines of a town, he was looking forward to the Scarabs' planned trip into the desert.

Gold and gems worth 2,000 gold pieces
2 +1 halberds
3,784 gold each from sale of scrolls and other items

Friday, September 15, 2017

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 16: Into the Dark Depository

The Ruby Scarabs found themselves unwilling participants in a chariot race decreed by Muminofrah, Right Hand of the Ruby Prince, a powerful but self-indulgent woman. They, along with approximately twenty other participants, were to guide camel-drawn chariots through the city of Tephu for Muminofrah's amusement. A few of their opponents were clearly experienced chariot racers, but many of the others were like the Scarabs, randomly chosen for this "honor" to entertain the nobility.

The chariots were meant to carry two people, or possibly three if all of the occupants were small. Muminofrah had declared that the race had no rules beyond a designated route the charioteers must follow. After considering their own limited driving skills and experience with camels, their personal strengths and talents, and the number of their group, the Scarabs decided that Sula and Kaa should claim a chariot together, Azzaria and Uto would be paired in a second vehicle, and Abdallah the guide agreed to ride with Igby because it would be exciting to ride in a chariot race. Magical enhancements were not prohibited so Uto cast a spell on Azzaria to aid her. Azzaria then decided to cast a spell of her own on one of their competitors, enlarging him so that he would be a heavier load for his camel to pull.

The route for the race traveled through the city streets, which had not been cleared of residents during the race. This created more obstacles for the racers to overcome. One of the first obstacles was a bridge over a canal that was currently undergoing repairs. When Sula and Kaa's chariot reached the bridge, Sula was able to persuade the camel to leap over some construction debris blocking its path. Azzaria and Uto had managed to get ahead of Sula and Kaa, and they were obliged to avoid having a chamber pot dumped on their heads from the upper story of a house. One of the other competitors tried to rush Sula's chariot and collide with it, but his own chariot hit the side of a well and he was toppled out of the car and fell down the well shaft. Sula next managed to steer the camel down a steep flight of steps, and despite the jouncing ride she and Kaa caught up with the chariot bearing Azzaria and Uto. But they were not yet free of obstacles, as a group of golden-masked members of the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh appeared on a rooftop and fired crossbow bolts at them. Kaa deflected the bolts raining down on Sula and himself. After passing by the cultists they entered a camel market and had to avoid running down a merchant in the street. More cultists appeared as Azzaria and Uto passed through a sandy area not far from the finish line. Flying sand nearly blinded them, and when they were free of sand they had to avoid being dazzled by glaring sunlight. But Azzaria and Uto succeeded in avoiding all of these traps to emerge victorious, the first chariot to cross the finish line.

As the winners were congratulated by Muminofrah, she kissed each of them, reserving a more passionate kiss for Uto. She also presented them with a jeweled statue of a camel, and at Uto's request gave the Scarabs a writ to permit them to visit the Dark Depository. The Scarabs informed the local authorities of the cultists who had tried to attack them, and city guardsmen were dispatched to search for the cultists. After departing from the palace, the Scarabs gave the camel statue to Abdallah so his family could sell it, although they advised him to wait a little while before doing so lest word of its sale get back to Muminofrah. Uto was invited to return to the palace that evening for dinner and a private visit with Muminofrah.

The morning after the chariot race, the Ruby Scarabs set out to visit the Dark Depository in search of the Scrolls of Inquiry from the reign of Pharaoh Djederet II. The Dark Depository lay beneath the Grand Library like the Spiral Archive, but it was a much less appealing location. A deep shaft descended 450 feet below the surface, accessed by iron ladders. Sula did not want to leave Nyema at the top of the shaft, so she used a spell to transform the lioness into a tiny stone figurine that she could carry in her belt pouch. After that long climb the Scarabs faced a set of bronze doors at the bottom of the shaft. Kaa found no traps when he examined the doors, but as soon as they were touched an explosion of frigid cold burst from a magical glyph, sorely injuring several members of the group. Kaa was shaken by his failure to detect the glyph. Everyone was so wounded by the cold that Uto was obliged to use healing magic so they could all recover enough to continue.

Beyond the entrance the Scarabs faced a cruciform hall. Each of the arms facing them terminated in a circular doorway, which Kaa observed could swivel on a central pivot point. Each of the doors bore a mask wearing a different expression: fear, sorrow, or disgust. The hall itself was crammed with crates, statues, scrolls, tablets, and other items. At the center stood a stack of skulls and other bones. Sula detected no sign of recent visitors in the thick later of dust covering every surface. While visually examining the heap of bones, Uto suddenly realized it was some sort of constructed being and warned his companions to steer clear of it.

Uto cast a spell on Kaa to aid him and Kaa cautiously approached one of the round doors, checking for traps and triggers every few paces and skirting around the bone construct. The rest of the Scarabs waited near the entrance. On the door with the expression of sorrow he identified what he suspected was another glyph, which would fill the entire antechamber with flames if triggered. He was unable to disable the diabolical trap as it was an enchantment rather than a pin or wire that would set it off.  Kaa moved to the door bearing the mask of disgust and found that it had a mechanical trap, a scything blade that would swing down to strike the unwary. This led Sula to comment that perhaps the masks were associated with the type of trap; it would be sad if the flames burned all of the scrolls and texts in the antechamber, and if the scythe sliced someone in two it would be disgusting.

Kaa attempted to disable the scythe trap, but because the cold trap on the entrance had evaded him his confidence was shaken and he bungled his effort. Fortunately the blade did not activate. Uto then summoned an invisible servitor and sent it to try to open the pivoting circular door. The moment the servitor pushed on the door, the bone construct in the center of the antechamber rose up from the floor, revealing a giant vaguely man-like form made of various different types of skeletal remains. But the construct, which Uto had now identified as a bone golem, did not attack the Scarabs. It appeared to take up a sentry position facing the door that had just opened. Sula remarked that perhaps it was not there to prevent someone from entering, but to prevent departing visitors from stealing anything from the Depository.

Kaa peered through the open doorway, seeing an arrangement of shelves that created a maze-like series of passages. He spied something moving among the stacks, a shadowy dog-like shape. Then the creature bayed, and a panicked Kaa fled from the doorway, racing around the antechamber and actually running up the walls in his desperate attempt to flee. When he ran away from the door the bone golem moved toward him, apparently assuming that he was taking something from the chamber beyond. Three of the shadowy dogs emerged from the room into the antechamber. Uto summoned two guardians made of magical force to stand before the dogs, but one dog avoided them and knocked Uto to the ground.

Sula, who was standing near the entrance to the Dark Depository, cast a spell on herself to give her skin the toughness of tree bark. She then took the little figurine of Nyema out of her pouch and set it on the floor, speaking the word that would transform it back into the living lion. But Nyema was too big to get through the crowded clutter in the antechamber. The shadow dogs and Sula's comrades filled up the space in front of her and neither she nor Sula could move forward.

The golem snapped its teeth on Kaa. At the same time Uto got back on his feet. One of the dogs moved toward Sula and knocked her down. She summoned fire to her hands and slapped her flaming palms on the dog's hide. Uto's guardians continued to hold off the dogs, and Sula called out to her friends that healing magic would harm the golem. Uto then cast a healing spell on it which caused its movements to slow. A burst of flame from Sula seriously burned one of the dogs. Kaa overcame his panic and began to punch and kick the golem. Then Azzaria smashed her adamantine flail against it and it collapsed into a heap of disconnected bones.

With the golem out of the way Nyema was able to move forward and snap at one of the dogs. The dog used its tail to trip her, but she bit it while she lay on the floor. Sula then stabbed the last remaining dog with her spear and slew it.

Kaa found a silver collar among the crocodile bones that composed part of the golem's remains. He looked through the door he had opened again, seeing the maze of passages crammed with objects. He also noticed on the wall another mask, this one wearing an expression of anger. It too was connected to a trap, which he disabled. As the Ruby Scarabs considered how well-protected the Dark Depository was, it occurred to them that the Sacrosanct Order of the Blue Feather must have been very determined to prevent anyone from learning about the Sky Pharaoh.

While Kaa looked into the archive room, he announced that he thought he saw another exit but it was blocked by stacks of things. He moved into the room among the shelves that stood 20 feet high filled with items, and found an opening only three feet tall. A secret door led into a short tunnel. He discovered a scroll that mentioned the Blue Feather in its title but was clearly trapped to harm anyone who read its contents.

The Scarabs left Nyema in the antechamber and squeezed through the tunnel, which was too small to accommodate the lioness. It emerged into a small room occupied by more shelves full of objects. Beyond that they found a room containing a dozen or more sarcophagi, all of them with faces eerily lacking any features. The heiroglyphics inscribed on the sarcophagi explained that the occupants had been punished for crimes against the library. One such crime was researching too deeply into the Sky Pharaoh. This sarcophagus had clearly been tampered with long ago. Kaa took out a pry bar and he and Uto pried it open. To their surprise it held two mummies, with mouths open as if they had been buried mid-scream. In fact, one of them began to actually scream as the lid was removed. Its eyes glowed red. It seemed to be another construct like the bone golem. Kaa attacked it with his fists and feet but his blows did not seem to harm it. Sula charged her spear with her flames and tried to strike it but missed her aim. Kaa then called his own fire and set it ablaze. Azzaria's flail harmed it, as did the fire sheathing Uto's hands. But the wrappings covering it seemed able to reach out independently of the creature and grappled Azzaria. Kaa chopped through the bandages to free her.

Azzaria flew into a rage and swung her flail at it again, while Uto burned it and Kaa pummeled it. This onslaught finally destroyed the thing. With the construct out of the way, the Scarabs were able to determine that the sarcophagus it came from had belonged to a scribe named Khnenti, whose name they had seen in one of the other scrolls during their research. Uto then suggested casting a spell to interrogate the mummy's spirit.

When the Scarabs were done with the sarcophagus chamber, they crawled through another tunnel into yet another tiny room, where they found a magic headband amid the rubbish. They were not able to determine what magic the headband held. By this time Kaa was certain that their exploration had identified all of the boundaries of the Dark Depository and there were no other rooms or secret doors to be found. He did uncover one more trap, which contained a deadly spell, but this he was able to disarm.

The Scarabs returned to the antechamber to examine what they had found. The information they had recovered told them that the Sacrosanct Order of the Blue Feather had desired to uncover the secrets of the Shory Empire, and that Khnenti had become too fascinated with the Sky Pharaoh and had been punished by being buried alive. They also discovered that the other item stolen from the Sky Pharaoh's tomb, his heart, had been taken to the city of Sothis and buried beneath something called Azhaard's Spire. Their discoveries included architectural plans by the architect Chisisek, which described a secret entrance to another library, the Vault of Hidden Wisdom, that could only be found by observing the shadow of the Tower of Ra's Glory on Midsummer's Day. Unfortunately the Tower of Ra's Glory, which had stood in Tephu, had long ago been disassembled for building materials. The Ruby Scarabs speculated that perhaps they could find out how tall the tower had been and from that estimate where the secret entrance could be found. Then they remembered that they had seen a scale model of Tephu in the Great Library - and it had included the Tower of Ra's Glory.


Scroll of animate dead
Scroll of contagion
Scroll of ray of exhaustion
Scroll of symbol of pain
Scroll of blight
Scroll of finger of death
Scroll of soul bind
Iron tablet of clone
Iron tablet of energy drain
Iron tablet of wail of the banshee
2 canisters of kohl - oil of shield of faith

Next: part 17, The Vault of Hidden Wisdom

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 15: Visit to the Grand Library

In the aftermath of recovering the funerary mask of the Forgotten Pharaoh from the necromancer Nebtah-Khufre, the Ruby Scarabs found themselves in possession of the mask after the priests of both Nethys and Pharasma declined to take responsibility for it. The priests advised the Scarabs to travel to Tephu, Wati's sister city across the River Sphinx, where the famed Grand Library might contain more information about the mysterious Forgotten Pharaoh.

The mask was a powerful magical artifact in addition to being sought after by the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, which caused the Scarabs some concern. They considered destroying it, but all indications were that it would be nearly impossible for them to destroy the mask. The only safe place they could think to leave it was with one of the temples, but as the high priests of both temples had refused it, they were obliged to take it with them. Uto reluctantly decided to wear it, since among its powers were the ability to monitor the health of his companions and to recognize undead creatures.

The Scarabs departed from Wati and took a ferry up the Sphinx to Tephu. The ferryman was a little displeased with providing transport for a full-grown lioness when Sula and Nyema boarded, and charged them extra for transportation.

On arriving at the docks in Tephu, the Ruby Scarabs were faced with the largest city any of them had ever visited before. One of the other ferry passengers had pointed out the vast blue-tiled dome of the Grand Library rising above the rooftops as they approached. The streets were thronged with merchants, peddlers, and hawkers of all kinds, selling every imaginable ware from camels to dates to boys and girls. The cacophony was overwhelming. Never had any of the Scarabs seen so many people in one place. It became apparent that hiring a guide to show them around the city would be wise. Now that they were on shore they could no longer see the Library through all of the other structures that surrounded it. There were plenty of street urchins offering to show them the way to various locations of interest to visitors, but they chose a boy named Abdallah who seemed clever and successfully played on their sympathy.

Before they left Wati, Ptemenib had told them to seek out the Caravan's End, which was run by his cousin. But they decided to seek the Library first. Abdallah showed them the way into the Old City where the Library stood. No peddlers were permitted there, but the streets were still busy with people going about their business. The Scarabs all noted that the guards at the Sun Gate seemed to be admitting only well-to-do pilgrims or beggars. Abdallah showed them the way to the Plaza of Bright Horizon, which separated the Grand Library from the Sanctuary of Nethys. They also saw the Houses of Order and Wisdom, the temples to the old gods Maat and Thoth, which pleased Azzaria as her people still followed the old gods. She had chosen Abdallah as guide in part because he wore the emblem of Ra.

The Library was an enormous building, towering the height of six ordinary houses above them. As the Scarabs approached the entrance Kaa observed that there were traps set there. The entry was flanked by two large statues of sphinxes, and they saw a lantern that appeared to be somehow made of water. On approaching one of the Library curators they learned that the Library commanded a fee of 50 gold pieces per visitor per day. This was far more than they had expected to pay, though it was not beyond their means. Uto showed the curator the letter of introduction sent by Sebti the Crocodile, but that made no difference to the fee. The Scarabs discussed the cost among themselves, and decided to return on the following day to begin their research after Uto had re-attuned the mask's powers to make it more useful for that purpose.

Abdallah showed them to the Caravan's End, which lay on the northern edge of the city not far from the reed beds that had given Tephu its nickname of 'City of Papyrus.' The inn was quite large and boasted a spacious stable and paddock area, where the group saw giant birds and huge reptiles in addition to horses and camels. Ptemenib's cousin, Ptolemny, greeted them pleasantly and when he learned that Ptemenib had sent them he offered them three days lodging and meals free of charge - though that offer did not extend to Nyema. Ptolemny also requested that Nyema sleep in the stable to avoid frightening the other guests.

While showing the Scarabs around the city, Abdallah had mentioned other libraries in addition to the Grand Library. That evening in the common room of Caravan's End, Kaa asked if any of the other guests knew of such libraries. He was told of a library called the Spiral Archive that was reputed to lie beneath the Grand Library, as well as a place called either the Shrouded Path or the Shrouded Walk, and the library of the Temple of Thoth. Later, Uto went with Abdallah to his family home to recruit his brothers and sisters to watch out for anyone following or asking about the Ruby Scarabs. While he was there he offered healing to any who were ill, used his magic to provide water for them, and arranged with Abdallah's father for Abdallah to serve the Scarabs for an entire week.

The next day Uto attuned the Forgotten Pharaoh's mask to help him research in the Library. They found that the outer area of the Grand Library's innumerable shelves could be accessed without paying the fee. The Scarabs gleaned all the information they could from these outer stacks that day, and returned to them on the following day to go to the upper levels. Uto fell from a ladder, but was able to cast a spell to prevent himself from coming to harm. Among the scrolls discovered in the upper levels was a six thousand year old scroll that referenced, Hakotep, the Forgotten Pharaoh. This scroll led them to yet more documents that could only be found in the Spiral Archive. They soon found that the Spiral Archive did indeed lie beneath the Library as they had been told. The bronze Door of the Eye, where the heiroglyph of an eye formed the keyhole, led into the Spiral Archive. Kaa detected a trap on the door. A curator explained that access to the Spiral Archive could only be granted by the high priestess of Nethys, Deka An-Keret, hat-ya of Tephu. To gain an audience with the hat-ya, the Ruby Scarabs would need to see Deaconess Hekhek.

That evening while her comrades slept in Caravan's End, Sula transformed into a young lioness and went hunting outside the city with Nyema. When they returned, the two slept together in the stable. The next morning the Scarabs went to the temple of Nethys to find out if they could see the hat-ya, but there had been no response to their request. They went out into the city to seek a way to earn some coin. Uto couldn't refrain from offering healing to the sick and was nearly mobbed by beggars. The party went back to the Temple of Nethys later, and were pleased to be told that they could see the hat-ya. But their elation was quickly lost when they saw Deka An-Keret themselves, and despite their letter of introduction from Sebti the Crocodile and the Temple of Nethys in Wati, the hat-ya refused to allow them entry into the Spiral Archive. Before the Scarabs could leave the hat-ya's office, she was interrupted by the arrival of an oiled slave boy, who told her that Muminofrah, the Fan-Bearer at the Right Hand of the Ruby Prince, commanded her immediate attendance. It was apparent to the Scarabs that the hat-ya was not pleased by this summons.

After the hat-ya left, Uto and Kaa asked the slave who Muminofrah was. The boy explained that she was the representative of the Ruby Prince, currently staying at the royal Palace of Gentle Reeds. When the slave had departed, Kaa suggested that perhaps the Scarabs should seek an audience with Muminofrah to ask her for permission to visit the Spiral Archive. Uto went outside and took flight in search of the slave. He found the boy near the Gate of the Moon and landed in front of him to ask him how to gain an audience with the Right Hand.

Once he had acquired the information he sought, Uto returned to the others and they had Abdallah lead them to the palace. There they found that Muminofrah was on her pleasure barge on the river. When the guards stopped the party, Uto told them that the Ruby Scarabs were the Heroes of Wati, and they were allowed to board the huge and ornate barge. They didn't see the hat-ya. After waiting for some time among a group of other people seeking an audience with the Right Hand, the Scarabs were called into her presence. After they were announced, Muminofrah appeared to be quite taken with Uto and summoned him to her side. Her behavior toward the tall half-orc was very flirtatious.

Muminofrah asked if the Ruby Scarabs had entertaining skills. To please her, Azzaria tumbled acrobatically, Sula transformed into a lioness, Kaa performed some martial katas and concluded his display with a burst of fire, and Uto demonstrated his magical hair. While this was going on the hat-ya arrived. Muminofrah then asked Uto to return later, after she had bathed. At Uto's request, she commanded a scribe to prepare a writ giving the Ruby Scarabs admission to the Spiral Archive for three days. The writ was to be given to the hat-ya, so as he passed the hat-ya on the way out, Uto used his hair to hand her the writ.

That evening Uto returned to the palace as Muminofrah had suggested, but he never saw her. The next morning the Scarabs went to the Library to visit the Spiral Archive.

A curator admitted them through the Door of the Eye. The heavy bronze door moved surprisingly easily. The curator told the Scarabs they must return before sunset, and advised them to avoid the antechamber which held a demon guardian that had once slain some previous visitors to the Archive. They set up an hourglass to tell them when to leave, for the Archive was underground and lacked any windows to show them the time of day. When they passed by the antechamber the curator had warned them against, they spied a demon that resembled a minotaur. Igby realized that the creature was actually a daemon, not a demon. They all heard a voice in their minds demanding, "Tell me your names so I can scrawl them on the wall of the dead."

Ignoring this menacing welcome, the party passed on to a reading room that stood to one side of the passageway. They were surprised to find a woman wearing a voluminous red hood sitting there, as they hadn't expected anyone else to have been given access to the Archive. They wondered if she might be another guardian creature. When the Ruby Scarabs entered the reading room, the woman introduced herself as Udjebet and told them she sought the Uraeus Ring. None of them had ever heard of it. Udjebet didn't elaborate on why she sought it, but Kaa observed that she wore a ring on every finger. When Udjebet asked the Scarabs to bring her any information they found about the Uraeus Ring, they agreed, and Kaa offered her a ring he had found in Wati, which she accepted.

In return for their agreement and the ring Kaa presented to her, Udjebet then escorted them down a winding passage to where a silver statue that resembled a human form made of cloud or mist stood. Udjebet then showed the Scarabs the actual Archive - a circular chamber descending deep beneath the earth, designed to resemble a rolled-up scroll. A spiral stone staircase gave access to each level, but the levels were also joined by narrow bridges made of magically-strengthened papyrus. After guiding the Scarabs to the Archive, Udjebet returned to the reading room.

The floors of the Archive and the bridges were so narrow that it was awkward to stand on them. Uto nearly had a fatal accident when he fell, and was only saved by his own magic. As the hours passed, Kaa and Uto found that the copies of scrolls from Hakotep's tomb that they sought had been moved from their appointed location, but further research revealed where they rested. These texts, written in ancient Osiriani, told of the Sky Pharaoh and displayed the symbol of a winged pyramid. The scrolls also mentioned a war in a city in the clouds, and a powerful weapon, but additional information was missing. It appeared that the Forgotten Pharaoh had been seeking stolen magic left by the Shory Empire, which had once been involved in a war with the Osirians that had ultimately led to the Keleshite takeover of Osirion. Other texts mentioned a sky burial and a winged tomb, and an organization called the Sacrosanct Order of the Blue Feather. The texts revealed that the Sky Pharaoh's heart and mask had been stolen from his tomb, and that his successor Djederet II had made efforts to round up all of the Order of the Blue Feather members and question them. The results of that questioning could be found in the Scrolls of Inquiry. The Scarabs searched for the Scrolls of Inquiry but they could not be found in the Spiral Archive. They had been moved to another library known as the Dark Depository. This was a disappointment to the Scarabs. But they did learn in their research that the Sacrosanct Order of the Blue Feather were a group of priests of Nethys dedicated to preserving knowledge. In this case, it seemed that the Order might have been dedicated to preserving - but not sharing - their knowledge of the Sky Pharaoh.

As their time limit was approaching its end, the Ruby Scarabs headed back toward the Door of the Eye. As they passed the antechamber, Kaa paused to converse with the daemon, trying to to engage it and provide it with a distraction from its endless servitude, but he found no success.

The following morning, a slave arrived at Caravan's End to deliver to the Ruby Scarabs a summons from Muminofrah the Fan-Bearer at the Right Hand of the Ruby Prince. When they arrived at the Palace of Gentle Reeds, they were told that Muminofrah had declared this day a public holiday and decreed that there should be a chariot race in celebration. Chariots drawn by prized racing camels would race through the city for her entertainment, driven by those whom she had summoned to the palace - which included the Ruby Scarabs.

Next: Part 16: Into the Dark Depository

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

[Movie Review] Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman (2017)

Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, David Thewlis, Daniel Huston, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, Elena Anaya, Lucy Davis, Said Taghmaoui, Ewen Bremner, Eugene Brave Rock
Directed by: Patty Jenkins

Wonder Woman is a special film. It’s not the only superhero film being released this year. It’s not the only action film directed by a woman. But it is the only successful big-budget superhero action film based on a popular comic book that both stars and was directed by a woman. As a fan of comic book superheroes and a woman, that set the expectation bar pretty high for me. But Wonder Woman delivered.

There have been some complaints by reviewers that too many comic book films are origin stories, telling the audience how the character gained his powers and chose to become a superhero. Wonder Woman is an origin film, too, but in this case it was the right thing to do. The first portion of the film explains not how Wonder Woman gained her powers or what those powers are, but the culture and family that made her who she is. Princess Diana of Themyscira was raised to be a warrior, even though her mother Queen Hippolyta didn’t want her to be one. Her entire culture is one of warriors. Diana was also raised to have a fairly black-and-white view of right and wrong, and to believe that it is her duty to protect others. This all comes into play when she meets the first man she has ever seen in the flesh, American spy Steve Trevor, and decides that she must go to the world beyond Themyscira to stop the First World War.

I was really pleased that the filmmakers chose to set this in WWI. It was a turning point in warfare, the first time that airplanes, tanks, and long-range artillery were really used in an international war. War had become impersonal. Earlier wars had artillery, but soldiers often still fought hand-to-hand. WWI changed all that, in addition to adding chemical weapons to the horrors of warfare. Wonder Woman touches on that by making one of its villains ‘Doctor Poison’, a scientist engaged in creating gas weapons for Germany. 

Interestingly, this scientist is a woman, which wouldn’t actually have been that strange in the real world, although in real life her contributions would likely have been credited to her male partners. Despite the horrible things Doctor Poison does throughout the film, the story treats her with surprising compassion and empathy instead of making her a cardboard heartless villain. 

As Diana gets to Europe she deals with culture shock, especially rampant sexism, but the film doesn’t spend too much time focusing on that. The point of the film is for Diana to become Wonder Woman, protector of the Earth, and for her to recognize the full extent of her powers. It’s also important for her to recognize that even though people do bad things, that does not always make them bad people. She learns to broaden her world view and to maintain her great compassion and desire for justice in the face of overwhelming odds.

The choice of a relatively unknown actress in the role of Diana is a good one. It sets aside any viewer expectations of that actor, and allows the audience to get to know the character without being burdened by thinking of other parts the actor may have played. It’s also satisfying to me personally that they chose someone who isn’t American, who has a more ‘Mediterranean’ look. I’m sure there are some fans who are annoyed that she didn’t wear blue contact lenses to make her look more like the iconic comic book character, but I personally have always thought it odd that someone from a Mediterranean island would have blue eyes; I’m sure it’s not impossible for people of Mediterranean ancestry to be blue-eyed, but it’s probably uncommon. The production team also didn’t require the actor to become as muscular as a competitive bodybuilder, something that often happens in male-dominated action films and has become an irritating cliché in recent years. Wonder Woman has the power of the ancient Greek gods; she doesn’t need overdeveloped muscles to be powerful. It was also nice to hear a voice that didn’t speak in flat, generic American accent. Wonder Woman may have been created in American comics, but she’s a global hero.

The film also achieves what many reviewers have blamed its predecessors Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice for failing to do: bring humor to the DC Comics cinematic universe. I disagree with the oft-expressed opinion that the other two films are awful; I enjoyed them. But they do have a grimness that I would be glad to see less of in future DC films. Despite being set during a very grim period in world history, Wonder Woman isn’t dark. There are moments of laughter and tenderness, and during the introductory scenes set on Themyscira everything is very bright and sunny and optimistic. It’s important to the character of Wonder Woman that while she faces darkness, she doesn’t lose that optimism and compassion she learned in her homeland.

Wonder Woman includes some incredibly exciting and beautifully imagined action scenes. In fact, I’ll admit that some of them literally brought tears to my eyes with their beauty. A battle scene that takes place on Themyscira wonderfully demonstrates what incredible warriors the Amazons are. And probably the best action scene in the film comes when Wonder Woman decides to take the battle to the enemy after she travels to Europe. It’s a brief scene, but an overhead shot of her using her shield to deflect machine gun fire in No Man’s Land is just awe-inspiring to me.

If I have to find anything to complain about in this movie, it’s the implied budding romance between Diana and Steve Trevor. I don’t want romance in my action movies most of the time, unless it really propels the story, and I think that having them become friends could have been enough to do that. I’m glad that the romantic element didn’t go any further, and that Diana didn’t end up marrying Steve. But I wish that the filmmakers had looked at the fact the Amazons are all women and accepted that women in a situation like that would not be looking for male romantic companionship. I suppose I can accept that Diana might be curious about having a relationship with a man as a new experience. But that plot element points out that our filmmaking industry still has far to go in accepting other kinds of romantic and sexual relationships beyond heterosexual, and other kinds of male-female relationships beyond romance.

Despite that one minor quibble, I give Wonder Woman five stars out of five. I made an effort to go back to a theater to see it a second time, and I have no doubt that in future years it will fall into that category of movies that I will watch whenever they are on television, along with Captain America and Iron Man, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and The Fifth Element. In my book, residing in that company is high praise indeed.

[Movie Review] Warcraft

Warcraft (2016)

Directed by Duncan Jones
Starring: Travis Fimmel (Anduin Lothar), Dominic Cooper (King Llane Wrynn), Ruth Negga (Lady Taria Wrynn), Tobey Kebbell (Durotan), Ben Schnetzer (Khadgar), Robert Kazinsky (Orgrim Doomhammer), Clancy Brown (Blackhand), Daniel Wu (Gul’dan), Paula Patton (Garona), Ben Foster (Medivh)

Note: I wrote this review over a year ago after I saw the movie in a theater, but I somehow never got around to posting it. I've acquired a copy of the movie and have watched it several times since then.

For those who aren’t aware of this film’s origin, it is based on the hugely popular online multiplayer game World of Warcraft, which has ruled the fantasy MMO field for years. For many people, that’s an immediate negative. There has never been a truly successful and critically accepted adaptation of a video game property. But WoW has a huge world setting with numerous geographic locations, many races, and a lengthy fictional history, which offer more for a filmmaker to work with. In some ways it’s comparable to the Lord of the Rings in scope, though it lacks similar iconic characters. It also has perhaps too many important events to choose from as the main plot conflict – should it be set during this demonic invasion, or that major war with the orcs?

Setting aside whether the production team’s choice of conflict event was wise – I don’t know enough about what happens in the game to make a judgement – I am reviewing this as someone who knows very little about WoW but enjoys high fantasy and wants to see more of it portrayed on-screen. 

Director Duncan Jones, who co-wrote the screenplay, chose an early period in the history of the game world as the setting for his film. The film begins as the game’s long-term antagonists, the orcs, are arriving for the first time on the world of Azeroth. 

Interestingly, the screenwriters chose to make one of the film’s main protagonists one of the orc invaders. After having my primary exposure to cinematic orcs be the two-dimensional innately evil orcs of LOTR, it was refreshing to see an orc portrayed as a three-dimensional individual. The orcs were created by a mixture of motion-capture and CGI rather than prosthetics, because in WoW orcs are much bigger than humans and Jones couldn’t very well cast only 7-foot-tall bodybuilders as his orcs. But the CGI works extremely well. I very quickly forgot that the orcs were digital as the animation was so well done. The same goes for other CGI effects in the film, such as the gryphon mounts, massive cityscapes, and floating buildings. I know they’re not real but they didn’t appear obviously computer-generated. It’s all thanks to Industrial Light & Magic that everything looks so good.

The film presents four main POV characters: Durotan, chief of the Frostwolf Clan, an orc who doesn’t agree that they should be invading Azeroth; Anduin Lothar, human military commander of the Stormwind Kingdom on Azeroth; Khadgar, a young mage who discovers that there’s more to the invasion than just massive orcs appearing out of nowhere; and Garona, a half-orc slave torn between the world of her birth and the opportunities presented by this new world. As I mentioned above, the animation of the orcs was so convincingly done that Durotan is completely believable as a living character, and he’s presented well as a protagonist that the audience can empathize with. Khadgar is also an engaging character, though the script or the editing left some unanswered questions about him that I would really have liked to see answered onscreen. Garona, too, is interesting enough that I wanted to see more of her, and is given a decent development arc. But Anduin Lothar didn’t really appeal to me as a character and I wish that he had been handled differently. I have the feeling that much of his development arc, along with some of Khadgar’s backstory, ended up on the cutting room floor.

Now to the things that I really liked about this movie, in addition to the quality CGI: 
There’s magic. Lots of magic. I’m a great fan of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in both its cinematic and literary forms, but it just doesn’t have enough magic to satisfy me. Warcraft has my kind of magic. There are three magic-using characters who are integral to the story: Khadgar, Guardian Medivh, and the orc leader Gul’dan. The story does some very nice things with the magic that appeal to me as a long-time player of Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy roleplaying games. Khadgar casts lots of spells. He has to speak some words and sometimes make arcane markings or gestures. The results are always accompanied by digital lighting effects that say ‘This is magic!’ to me, though I suppose to an extent I’m influenced by everything I’ve seen in video games, which are usually the places where the magic is most fun. In addition to big showy spells, and some smaller spells, Warcraft also features an enormous clay golem, which just warms my little D&D-player heart to no end. 

The setting also offers different types of magic – Khadgar and Medivh wield the same variety from the same source and training, while Gul’dan’s magic comes from a different source and doesn’t seem to require any verbal or somatic components. Gul’dan’s magic is evil, because it draws on the life force of other unwilling creatures to fuel it. This is amply demonstrated in one scene: while Gul’dan talks with another orc, an emaciated human prisoner sits beside the orc leader, and periodically Gul’dan draws life energy from his captive with a casual gesture, like a smoker taking a puff from a cigarette. I found that very effectively done, and it did a good job of emphasizing why his magic was evil and how scary he was. The way he keeps sucking out the man’s life, not because he needs the energy for anything but just because he can, makes him seem like an addict.

In addition to the magic, the Warcraft setting has numerous other races/species besides humans (though I'm glad they decided not to use the anthropomorphic pandas in this movie). Near the beginning of the film we see some of the Draenei, a species from the game world that resemble tall blue satyrs. They aren’t onscreen for long, but at least they are shown. There are also elves and dwarves, those staples of magical fantasy worlds. Like the Draenei, the elves and dwarves don’t get much screen time, but at least the audience is reminded that they exist and are important to the world in which the story is set. In addition, the filmmakers went to a great deal of effort to make them look like all of the abundantly available artwork showing how elves and dwarves look in WoW. If you’re going to make a movie set in a game world, the least you can do is keep the visuals consistent with the game world, and Warcraft does that quite successfully. 

Not only are the non-human characters made to look distinct from each other, as close to their game appearance as the filmmakers could make them, and not at all like people just wearing silly prosthetics – even the armor and weapons look those seen in the game. WoW, like many console and online fantasy games these days, hands out some pretty ridiculous armor and weapons to the characters: swords as tall as a man with foot-wide blades, plate armor covered in spikes and flanges and protruding shoulder guards, or armor that protects without actually covering any vital organs. Maybe the production crew should have gone for a more realistic look for the equipment, but if you’re going to make the movie look like the game come to life, why not go all the way? So what if King Llane rides into battle in shiny gold armor covered with embossing that would easily catch a sword, wearing a crown on his head and carrying a shield that would be too heavy to lift. He looks really cool doing it. And he rides into battle astride a gryphon that looks like you could actually go up to it and stroke its huge feathery wings. Perhaps the only place where the cool visuals factor weakened for me a bit is in one scene early in the film in which we see an orc throw a horse at some Stormwind soldiers, but a few minutes later an orc mounts a horse and rides away. Ridiculously impractical weapons I can handle, but non-magical, conditionally-variable physics annoys me.

I mentioned before that there are some things I was less than satisfied with in this movie. The character of Anduin Lothar is the main one. I just didn’t have any interest in his part of the story. He either needed more time spent on his character, or that character should have been made secondary so more time could be devoted to one of the others, like Khadgar or Garona. Clancy Brown didn’t get enough screen time, either, though I’ll admit that’s just a personal complaint because I’ve been a fan if his for decades. A fair amount of the interactions between Anduin, King Llane, and Guardian Medivh implied that they used to hang out together, perhaps as adventurers before they all acquired such important positions. I would have liked to see that story, one describing those characters before they all became so boring. Medivh does get a couple of good scenes that hint at something more to him, but Llane doesn't have much personality. And it may be that Anduin Lothar is so uninspiring to me because I just don't think Travis Fimmel is a very good actor. But everyone else was quite good, considering that half the cast weren't actually visible onscreen.

But probably the most disappointing thing about this movie for me is that other people didn’t go see it. Which means that Hollywood  - and audiences – will continue to think that movies based on video game properties are terrible, and the big studios may be unwilling to fund more Warcraft movies. I liked it enough that I’d go to see more. I don’t really care about seeing more of Anduin’s story, but I want to know what happens to Garona and Khadgar. The film ends with a teaser for a possible sequel, which would presumably focus on the fate of Durotan’s infant son. I’d probably watch that, too, if anyone ever gets to make it. Let’s hope that perhaps the high box office figures from China will encourage the studio to proceed. I want to see more of those elves. In the meantime I'll keep re-watching Warcraft and enjoying the parts of it that I really like.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

[Star Wars] Guardians of Peace, Episode 2: "From the Shadows"

Episode 2: From The Shadows

The galactic civil war is over. Despite continuing tensions, a tenuous peace exists between the EMPIRE and the NEW REPUBLIC.

The Jedi Knight Taanar Ryl and her team have gone to survey the lost planet of Ilum. Landing on its ravaged surface they discover that pirates had attacked a group of Imperial Knights. After finding a survivor, they infiltrated a derelict orbital station in hopes of rescuing more pirate captives…. 

Flashback: Taanar Ryl stood before Jedi Master Neranye Rep. Master Neri held something out to her, a small object that would fit in the palm of a hand. "Take this." 

Taanar reached for the object. As she did so she recognized that she had seen it before. It was a star-shaped pendant, which Neri had told her she had acquired at Point Nadir before the two of them met. It was a kind of Force talisman, but Neri had never discovered its true purpose. "I want you to have it. Perhaps you'll be able to discover what use it has," said Neri. Taanar folded her fingers around it. "I hope I'll be able to," she replied.

One month had passed since the Fortune of Greepo visited the former Jedi temple on Ilum. Their prisoner from the pirate group had been handed over to the New Republic authorities. He had claimed his name was Ferbarton Skywalker, though he denied any relationship to the Imperial family. He had been sentenced to hard labor in a Republic prison camp.

The Fortune of Greepo emerged from hyperspace at RESH-9376, otherwise known as Point Nadir. Initially the port authorities refused the ship permission to land, until her crew mentioned they had come to visit their friend Dexter Vex. 

After some initial friendly chat between Taanar and Dexter, she asked him about the Shadow Wing pirates. He couldn't offer much more information about the pirates than what they already knew: the Shadow Wing had been a relatively minor gang until recently, when they had suddenly acquired better ships and weapons. But Dexter's sources couldn't say who was supplying them. 

During their visit the Fortune's crew found that Slash Buzzburn was still drawing crowds to Point Nadir, which was a source of excitement for young Ren Secura. Taanar agreed to allow time for her young charges to enjoy a performance. While the quartet were on their way to the venue, they were accosted by two large blue aliens who threatened them on behalf of the Hutt crime syndicate. When the twins failed to be intimidated, one of the thugs shoved Den. Ren then slipped surreptitiously around behind the hired muscle. The brewing altercation was interrupted when their droid R2-FE 'Effie' contacted them to notify them they had received a transmission. Ren managed to trick the two thugs into thinking that one of them had provoked the other, and the Fortune team left them in the street shoving each other as the headed back to their ship.

The message proved to be from the New Republic Ministry of Justice, informing them of a pirate attack on the mining and agricultural world of Anobis. The attack had been so recent that the site was still in flames. The Fortune headed immediately for Anobis to investigate.

No sooner had the team begun to examine the remains of the attack than the twins spotted a human woman they had seen at the sites of two prior pirate raids. Ren stealthily followed her when she left, but lost the trail. Den then encountered the red-haired woman, who introduced herself as Magna Inscoe, an enforcement officer for the Imperial Ministry of Justice, a holdover from the earlier Republic that had maintained a good reputation despite the previous excesses of the Empire under Palpatine. 

Magna met with the rest of the Fortune team, and they discussed how the pirates never seemed to leave anyone behind in their attacks. They appeared to be adept at looking after the members of their gang, which led Magna to fear that they might try to break 'Ferb' out of prison. Taanar agreed to a cooperation and sharing of information with the Imperial officer and shared comms details with her so they could contact each other. She sensed that Magna was hiding something, but didn't press the officer about it.

After parting from Magna, the Fortune team sent a message to Ord Mantell to warn about the possibility of a prison break. Attempts to contact the prison received no response. The team members assumed the worst and headed for the Reclamation Center where Ferb was serving his sentence.

On their arrival, the prison commander was uncooperative and refused to allow them to see the prisoner. Ren tried to pressure him into relenting, but had no success. Taanar decided they should contact both the Republic Ministry of Justice and the Jedi Order to get official permission to see Ferb. While they awaited a reply, they kept an eye on the prison. 

Finally the necessary permission was granted, but when they asked to see Ferb they were told he had escaped on the same day they arrived. A prison transport had been attacked by two well-armed thugs, a Rodian and a Besalisk, whose identities were known. The Rodian was Sneef Grimm, and the Besalisk's name was Sazsno. After learning about these two the team spoke with local security representatives, who told them where to find people who might be able to help them locate Sneef and Sazsno.

At a location called Clem's they learned that the two often frequented a bar called Bucket of Blood. At Bucket of Blood they were met with lies, denying that the duo ever came there or had even been heard of by anyone present. But Nema spotted one of their targets ducking out - it was the Rodian, Sneef. On following him they found Sazsno there too, wielding four blasters in his four arms. He immediately fired on Ren. Taanar used the Force to deprive him of one blaster. He aimed a blaster bolt at her, which she was able to deflect but not back at him. Nema then disarmed another of his weapons. Sneef ran for a speeder parked at the other end of the street. To prevent him from escaping, Taanar lifted the speeder onto the roof of a nearby building and turned it upside-down. Ren charged the Besalisk, stabbing him with his vibroknife, while his brother fired his blaster at the four-armed creature. Sneef then bolted toward a bantha that was waiting not far from where the speeder had originally been parked. Taanar used her Force skill to stun him before he could commandeer the bantha as his escape method, and Nema secured him while Den and Ren finally took down Sazsno.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 21: Keeper's Canyon

In the aftermath of the battle at Vilareth Ford, the queen's paladins refused to bury the remains of the dead tieflings, declaring them unworthy of burial. Jiro objected, saying that if the bodies were left unburied they might rise as evil spirits. Runa offered to say a prayer over them to set their souls to rest, to which the paladins grudgingly agreed and gathered all the corpses in one place to make that possible. Searching the bodies and the fortified camp at the ford garnered the Crusader army very little, only a few rations, a small amount o gold, and a few healing potions.

The Crusaders set up their own encampment by the ford and remained overnight so that everyone could recuperate from their injuries and Aron and Sosiel could recover from their plunge into the river. Sosiel reported that he had heard a voice in his head telling him to jump in the water.

On the previous night Asami had been unable to concentrate enough to scribe any spells in her spellbook or write any new scrolls, but this night she was able to copy the scroll she had purchased into her book. She also talked to Aravashnial about what spells he might have access to that he was willing to share with her.

The journey to the canyon was expected to take another day. As the Crusaders proceeded west the land they passed through grew ever more barren and desolate, which took a toll on the army's morale. The army camped again the following evening a half day's travel from the entrance to Keeper's Canyon. While walking through the camp that evening Zosta and Asami happened to observe that the paladins were grumbling about something, though neither of the women could discern what precisely they were complaining about. They mentioned this to Runa and Irabeth. Irabeth then called on the leaders of the five squadrons to come to the command tent so they could be questioned about the state of the men. Only one of the squad leaders, Loughlin, mentioned having noticed any discontent among his men, though he dismissed it as the ordinary complaints of soldiers on the march. When Irabeth dismissed the other leaders, she asked Loughlin and another man named Tomas to remain behind. Jiro and Asami had been present up to this point, but when the other squad leaders were dismissed they departed. Runa and Zosta remained to find out what Irabeth wanted to discuss with Loughlin and Tomas.

Irabeth gave Tomas a brief, peremptory recommendation and then let him leave, which led Runa to realize that Irabeth had only asked him to stay so Loughlin wouldn't feel singled out. Irabeth, Runa, and Zosta then questioned him. Before reporting the grumbling to Irabeth, Zosta had taken a closer look at the paladins and thought that she had identified the man who was responsible, a man named Arles Jhestander who served in Loughlin's squadron. Loughlin admitted that he had heard most of the complaints coming from Arles, who seemed always to be predicting failure and telling the other men that they could never win. Once this was revealed, Irabeth sent him to bring Arles back to the command tent. While Loughlin was gone, Runa quickly donned her priestly vestments so she could act in the role of the small army's chaplain.

Arles proved to be a seasoned Crusader, one who had served in many battles. The group in the command tent met him seated so that he wouldn't feel he was being interrogated or punished. When first questioned about his complaints he tried to pass them off as nothing of concern, but as the others chatted  with him further, Loughlin suddenly asked him, "When did you lose your faith?"

Arles initially refused to admit that he had lost faith in Iomedae, but Runa was able to gently draw him out until he confessed that Loughlin was correct. Runa and Zosta both gave him encouragement, Zosta telling him that he could still follow his calling to fight the demons even without his special relationship to Iomedae, and Runa offering whatever help she could give as a priestess to finding his way back to his faith. When he left the command tent his mood seemed improved.

Early the next morning Anevia and the other scouts went ahead to see what awaited the army in Keeper's Canyon. Runa put on her vestments and performed a service in the name of Iomedae to encourage the paladins, and both she and Zosta thought that Arles Jhestander received it well.

Jiro, meanwhile, had awakened to discover that his trousers had been shortened during the night, and someone or something had left a bowl of soured milk in place of his usual offering to the kami. Before Runa's service, he sat down to adjust the hem of his pants.

When the scouts returned to report, Anevia told her companions that they had seen a number of familiar lesser demons ahead, though she couldn't recall what sort of demons they were. After she described them as vaguely porcine, the others realized that she referred to dretches, which they had encountered together while making their way through the caverns beneath Kenabres. There was also another force of tieflings. It was decided that the paladins would deal with the tieflings while the army's leaders went forward to face the dretches.

After separating from the paladins, the six companions, along with Aron, Sosiel, and Nurah, approached the ruins of the town that had once stood in the canyon and observed half a dozen dretches partially hidden among the remains. Asami recalled that dretches could create clouds of poisonous gas, which she and her friends had found very difficult to overcome during their previous encounter with such lesser demons. Fortunately dretches could only do this once each day. She also knew that they were resistance to harm from acid, cold, or fire, and they were not especially vulnerable to any kind of harm. Prepared to combat the gas, she began to summon a small air elemental to aid her friends.

At the same time, Jiro initiated an aura surrounding himself that would give his companions the ability to ignore the poisonous cloud, but only if they remained very close to him. While Asami continued casting her spell, Runa summoned the power of Iomedae to blind one of the dretches and wound two others. Another dretch surrounded the group with its cloud of gas, but it didn't affect them due to Jiro's aura. It did, however, mean that the dretches couldn't see the group of people within the cloud, nor could the Crusaders see their enemies.

When Asami's air elemental appeared, it arrived in between where the dretches stood and where the Crusaders were hidden within the cloud. It immediately attacked one of the dretches, but failed to harm it. With the cloud in the way, no one could see that this elemental strangely appeared to be made of wood.

Jiro told his companions, "Stay close to me," and everyone stepped forward, moving slowly so that Nurah and the heavily-armored members of the group would not be left behind. Nurah had begun to sing an inspiring song that made them all feel more courageous. Jiro heard the sound of someone speaking the words of a spell, and spied another creature beyond the dretches. Asami's summoned elemental suddenly fled farther into the canyon. Asami then paused for a moment to cast another spell, this time creating a whirling sphere of wind that she thrust at the spellcaster. She was unable to tell if the enemy mage was harmed by the sphere's attack.At the same moment, Zosta suddenly abandoned the fight and ran back toward where the paladins faced the tieflings.

Nurah began to flicker from place to place, having cast a spell on herself that would make her difficult to attack. Runa then sent out another blinding light, depriving two more dretches temporarily of sight. Jiro's tetsubo of force appeared to attack the enemy spellcaster, which Jiro identified as an incubus. Sosiel moved beside Aron to cast a spell of protection against evil creatures on him.

The incubus backed away from Asami's sphere of wind and began making spellcasting gestures. Two of the dretches charged Asami, one managing to bite her though not seriously. Asami had begin to call the sphere toward her to combat the dretches, but then she noticed that several dretches were standing in a line between her and the incubus. She summoned a bolt of lightning from her wooden sword and sent it through the demons toward the incubus. All three of the dretches in its path exploded when struck by the bolt but the incubus appeared unharmed.

One of the dretches that Runa had blinded lost its footing and fell on its back, flailing its legs in the air like an overturned tortoise. Aron and Runa each slew a dretch, Runa lending Aron one of Iomedae's blessings that gave him strength. Jiro directed his floating tetsubo to strike at the incubus again.

The incubus flew toward the group, slashing at Runa with his sword as it passed. Jiro granted Runa another attack so that she could strike back at the creature. It then landed beside Asami. He stabbed at her three times, inflicting two vicious wounds on her left arm and opening up the big vein in her right leg. She fainted immediately from blood loss. One of the dretches that was close by moved forward to bite at her prone form but despite her state the bite didn't connect. Sosiel and Runa attacked the dretches and Runa slew the one that was trying to bite Asami. Jiro's tetsubo hit the incubus twice.

Sosiel moved to Asami's side and cast a spell to heal some of her injuries. A dretch attacked her again, directed by the incubus. Runa also summoned healing magic to treat Asami. Jiro swung his morningstar into the incubus' chest leaving a noticeable wound. The incubus glared at him, hen looked at Asami, who had recovered consciousness. "I'll see you again," he said, just before teleporting away.

Three dretches remained, still attacking the Crusaders as they had been commanded by the incubus. Asami moved her sphere to send the nearest one tumbling a short distance away. Zosta suddenly returned and charged the dretch, slaying it with a single well-placed kick. When the spell that compelled her to leave wore off, she had turned around and headed immediately back to join her friends.

Aron and Runa killed the last two dretches, one of them the dretch that had been blinded and fallen over. It had recovered in time to die on a blade. When all the foes were dispatched or gone, the Crusaders turned away from the ruins and went to rejoin the paladins.