Monday, March 19, 2018

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 31: Taking the Tower

When the Crusader Knight group had defeated all of the defenders of the Ahari Bridge and healed most of their own wounds, they decided to remain together on the bridge to hold it until a unit of paladins could come take control of it. They were concerned that the bridge defenders has sent a signal to the fort for aid, though they hadn’t seen or heard any sign of such a signal. Then they removed any items of value or use from the corpses of the dead demonic tieflings. The tieflings had all carried much-valued curative potions, and their armor and weapons could be given to the prisoners once they were free.

Asami found that the tiefling sorcerer had worn a magic cloak, as Kirara had told her, as well as a magic amulet. He had also carried a wand. When she examined these she found that the cloak was of the same kind as the cloaks Rhino had sent with Shim. Zosta asked to have the cloak and presented her gift cloak to Bohgong out of appreciation for the martial training the monkey had been giving her. This seemed to please the monkey, much to Shim’s bewilderment.

The amulet proved to hold an enchantment to improve the wearer’s armor, so the rest of the group encouraged Runa to take it since she was so often in the front lines of any fighting. Asami took charge of the wand, which held a spell to allow the wielder to teleport a short distance and even take along two companions as long as they were willing and were no bigger than an ordinary person.

After the items were distributed Asami volunteered to cast a spell so they could find out how the paladins were doing against the demon cultists and tieflings who stood guard over the cache of Crusader arms and armor. She sat down cross-legged and held her wooden sword in front of her as she murmured the lengthy incantation to summon an invisible, flying sensor she could send to the South Bank.

Military tactics were not a topic Asami had ever studied, and when she saw the skirmish through her magical ‘eye’ it was difficult for her to interpret what she observed. But as she described what she saw, Shim recognized that the paladins were gaining the upper hand and that the struggle to claim the supplies would be over very soon. Within a quarter hour, a group of 20 paladins arrived at the bridge to take over from the Knights. The Knights left the Ahari Bridge in their capable hands and joined the rest of the army in returning to their encampment just outside Drezen. On the journey back they learned that sadly one paladin had been slain, and a dozen others had been badly injured in the attack on the armory. Jiro and Sosiel both lent what healing magic they had left to them toward helping the wounded paladins recover, and when the army reached camp Runa and Sosiel took charge of preparing the body of the deceased man for burial.

Later that day, as the Knights relaxed, they struck up a conversation with Shim and began to talk about how each of them had come to be with the Crusader army fighting to reclaim Drezen. They had already told Shim briefly what had happened to them in Kenabres before they accepted the mission to Drezen from Queen Galfrey. But now each of them described their earlier lives and how they had come to choose fighting demons as a vocation.

Asami told him of her parents and how they had left Jinin and gone to work with the Riftwardens at the Worldwound, where they died. She explained that she had joined the Council of the Golden Flame and been trained in the knowledge of oni, and that the Council had sent her to Kenabres to share her knowledge when they feared the oni would take advantage of the demonic activity at the Worldwound to further their own cause.

Jiro followed by telling the story of how he once encountered a demon when it destroyed the household where he was a gardener, how he discovered he was a noble lord’s illegitimate son when he was 16, and how he had always been able to talk to the spirits of place and of his ancestors. He described how it was the ancestors who had chosen him to go to the Worldwound when his noble-born half-brother had expected to be sent, and how he had seen his brother in Kenabres in the company of a very powerful oni lord.

Runa told Shim the story of her childhood as a half-orc orphan in a village where orcs were hated and feared. She described how as a child she had imaginary playmates named Io and Sara, who she eventually learned were aspects of the goddesses Iomedae and Sarenrae. She also spoke of learning that her adoptive human father was actually her real father but had kept this secret for fear of how the other villagers might react to his willing relationship with an orc woman. She finished with the story of how she received a divine message telling her to join the warrior priests of Iomedae and then go to the Worldwound.

Zosta went last, describing how she had been found by a couple who were refugees from a town in Mendev that had been destroyed by demonic forces. Her adoptive parents had later joined Cennami’s band of demon-fighting barbarians, who all believed that Cennami's destiny was to end the Worldwound. Zosta had spent her entire life learning to combat demons, alongside her adoptive brother Rhino the redeemed demon, at the very edge of the Worldwound.

After these stories were told, the Knights explained to Shim that each of them had been designated commander of a unit of 20 paladins, but one unit had lost its commander with their comrade Aegronius’ unexpected departure. When it was suggested that Shim might take over Aegronius’ unit, he became uncomfortable and told them he doubted the paladins would accept his leadership. He revealed that in the past he had been put in charge of a dozen paladins for a special mission. But he had succumbed to the temptation of drugs, and as a result all twelve had died. Aron and Sosiel had helped him overcome the attraction to drugs, but he wasn’t ready yet to take on leadership or to ask the paladins to trust him.

Despite the loss that day, the mood in the camp was high now that the army had access to a substantial supply of armor and weapons that they could use to equip the prisoners once they were set free. But before they could release the prisoners, they felt it necessary to disable the catapults on the watchtowers. As evening arrived, the Knights planned their strategy for taking the towers the following day. Asami offered to again cast her magic eye spell and examine the towers to see what sort of defenders waited there. But she couldn’t move the sensor any more quickly than an unburdened person could walk, which meant that if she cast the spell in camp she would have very little time left to examine the watchtowers after sending the sensor over the distance between the two locations. The army commanders decided it would be better if the attackers moved closer to the fortress before Asami cast her spell. Rather than approach the fort from the Ahari Bridge, the Knights and their companions would follow the dry riverbed that ran between the fort and Paradise Hill where the prisoners were being held. They would take shelter under the ruins of the second bridge while Asami used her magic to spy on the tower defenders.

That night before everyone retreated to their tents to rest, Asami used her special power to recharge the wand she had claimed. When she lay down to meditate the wand had twice as many charges as it had carried when she took it. She and her friends had discussed using it to get to the top of the watchtower, but because they didn't know what would await them there they were hesitant to try that method.

The next morning before preparing to attack the watchtowers, Runa donned her priestly vestments and performed a service. When the service was over, Jiro had a brief conversation with Sosiel, asking the young priest of Shelyn to concentrate more on providing healing to his comrades than on trying to help Aron fight their enemies. Jiro had been using his ability to absorb harm from this friends to keep them healthy, but this often left him too weak to help with the fighting. Aron was a skilled fighter, but he was hampered a little by trying to stay with his husband, and Jiro had been expending too much of his own magic to heal everyone while Sosiel tried to flank enemies along with Aron. Sosiel agreed to follow Jiro’s suggestion. Runa meanwhile was asked by the paladins to calm their horses, which were skittish. Runa only needed to walk among them to soothe them.

When they were ready the Knights set out together to attack the tower, accompanied by Shim, Aron, and Sosiel. Their journey was unopposed until they reached the riverbed and came closer to the tower they intended to attack first.  A moment later a ball of flame flew from the top of the tower to explode in the riverbed near the group. After recognizing this, Sosiel cast a spell on all the group except Kirara that would partly protect them from fire for a limited time. Asami knew the same spell and cast it on her familiar herself, which granted the otherworldly feline longer-lasting protection than Asami gained from Sosiel’s spell. Then they raced for cover against the river bank. Zosta sprinted out ahead of everyone else, followed by Kirara who could fly faster than any of the two-legged members of the party could run. Runa came last due to her heavy armor. The defenders on the tower rained more balls of fire down on them as they ran.

The spell Asami had planned to cast was now useless, as their enemies had seen them. Jiro and Asami conferred and recalled a type of demon that could hurl fireballs, a variety they had encountered before: brimoraks. These demons were no taller than a halfling, but their boiling blood could severely scald anyone who had the misfortune to be splashed by it, and the demons could vomit blood as well to cause even worse burns. They could use their blood to set their swords aflame, and they liked knocking enemies down and kicking fallen foes with their flaming hooves. The pair shared this information with their companions, as not everyone had been present for their last encounter with a brimorak.

The brimoraks would have a good view of them as they crossed from the river bank to the tower, so Asami reached out for the magic to cloak them all in invisibility as she had done the day before. Sadly though the spell hid them from sight it couldn't muffle the sounds of their movement, especially not when Asami kicked a loose stone not once but twice. Then the magic vanished as the brimoraks used their innate ability to banish their enemies' magical defenses. The group broke into a run again, this time heading for the base of the tower. Shim picked up Sosiel and carried him so he could keep up with the others.

When they arrived at the tower Shim cast a spell on everyone that would allow them to climb up the tower like spiders. Zosta vaulted onto the wall, clinging with magic, but a moment later she dropped as the magic was dispelled. Jiro avoided being struck by her as she fell and she landed acrobatically on her feet. Jiro cast a spell that allowed him to mold the stones of the tower to suit his desire. He formed hand and foot holds into the tower to allow him to climb up it like a ladder. Asami still had benefit of Shim’s magic, but out of fear that it would suddenly disappear and she would fall, she climbed Jiro’s stone ladder behind him.

Shim set Sosiel down and moved to another part of the tower to climb up. As Jiro reached the top of the tower, he reached out to grab one of the brimoraks and tried to pull it off the parapet. The demon swung its sword at him but missed. Jiro used his magic to cause the top of the parapet to slope in a second effort to knock the demons off. When that effort failed he realized the demons were using their ability to walk on air to prevent themselves from falling. The demons leaned over the edge and began to spit boiling blood on those climbing up from below. Asami tried to dodge the searing liquid but was unable to lean far enough out of the way to avoid all of it. She was so badly burned that she fainted from the agony. Zosta was ascending behind her and had been attaching a grappling hook to a rope so she could bypass the ladder and reach the top of the tower faster. When she saw Asami let go of the ladder she dropped her rope and heroically grabbed the falling wizard, dropping to the ground herself and allowing Asami to land on top of her.

While Asami lay insensible at the foot of the tower, her companions swarmed up over the parapet and attacked the brimoraks. Runa climbed up one side as Shim had done, and Sosiel gave her a boon of luck to aid her. Jiro bowled over one of he brimoraks and tumbled past two others as he clambered onto the top of the tower. Sosiel granted Runa a boon of luck as she reached the top. The demons exhaled choking smoky breath, which left Jiro feeling weak and sick in addition to all the wounds he’d absorbed from the other Knights. He was forced to back away from combat for a moment to heal himself.

Zosta climbed up the tower and grappled one of the brimoraks, dodging past two others. Aron darted in to stab her prisoner with his dagger, then ran one of the other brimoraks through. Shim darted behind the catapult and carefully removed some small but crucial parts that wouldn’t be easily missed but would render the device useless. Several of the brimoraks suddenly disappeared, revealing that they had been summoned from the Abyss by the brimoraks who guarded the watchtowers. Zosta released the demon she'd grabbed and punched it viciously in the face until it died. Aron inflicted a deep stab wound on another demon. One of the demons near Zosta tried to cast a spell but lost the magic due to her threatening proximity. Runa slew another demon, and the remaining brimorak decided to flee by walking on air. Its movement was slow enough that Runa was able to sear it with a blast of Iomedae’s scorching brilliance, but that wasn’t enough to slay it and it escaped.

Kirara had flown to Asami’s side and extended her divine healing ability to her companion. But her ability was very limited and it was far from enough to overcome the critical burns Asami had suffered, though it did help to prevent her from dying. When the brimoraks were vanquished Jiro and Sosiel healed her enough that she revived.

Jiro had realized that there had been only one brimorak assigned to stand watch on each of the towers; when the Knights were spotted the demons on the other towers had teleported to join their compatriot on the tower the Knights were approaching. Then all of them had used their power to summon others of their kind from the Abyss to aid them. In defeating them, the Knights had eliminated all of the sentries from the watchtowers. Now they only needed to disable the other catapults to complete their mission.

Monday, March 12, 2018

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 29: The Haunted Vault

(Retconned slightly for the introduction of a new player-character: Shim, male half-elf investigator.)

As the two scouting parties had joined and were about to return to the paladin camp, they spied a stranger approaching from the general direction they had passed on their way to Drezen. Though the person appeared to be alone, everyone tensed warily. Then as the approaching individual drew near enough to be seen more clearly, Aron suddenly exclaimed, "Shim! What are you doing here?"

The rest of the group saw a tall, slender, dark-haired man wearing a long coat and carrying a sturdy pack. He appeared human at first sight, but closer inspection of his features hinted at elven ancestry. Aron explained that he had previously met Shim through Sosiel, which allayed their suspicions that Shim might be an enemy. As the group made their way back to camp and introduced themselves, Shim explained that while he had been many places on Golarion, he had last visited Kenabres, where the leaders of the Crusade there had asked him to follow the paladin army to Drezen to lend his aid. He had met with Cennami's barbarian clan there, including meeting with Zosta's parents and with her adopted brother Rhino, the demon converted to the side of good. When he told Zosta that Rhino had sent a package with him to give to her, she lost interest in hearing about the rest of Shim's adventures.

Once they arrived in camp, Shim also explained that he'd had a vision telling him to go to Kenabres and seek out the rest of the Crusader group. He had been visited by a tortoise-like entity, which Jiro immediately recognized when Shim described him: it was another of Jiro's illustrious ancestor spirits. It was this spirit, along with encouragement from the goddess Desna, that had set Shim on the road to Drezen.

Shim was greeted by Sosiel, and introduced to Irabeth and Aravashnial. He reported that he had seen the signs of all the work the army had done on the journey toward Drezen. He had even glimpsed the terrifying giant gorupi in the distance. The others shared with him their experience with that awful creature, and with Xiao Pi, the young gnome air mage they had encountered the previous day. Then the army leaders settled down to work out a plan of attack on the community surrounding Citadel Drezen, which they would have to secure before they could take on the citadel itself.

During their scouting mission, the four companions had observed that only four of the citadel's watchtowers appeared to be manned. One of the three bridges across the dry riverbeds flanking two sides of the citadel had been destroyed, but the other two were still intact and the Crusader army would have to take control of them. The discussion turned to whether the army should try first to eliminate the threat of ghouls from the cemetery, rescue the prisoners being held on Paradise Hill, or reclaim the captured Crusader equipment being guarded by schir demons. They hoped that at least some of the prisoners would be capable of aiding in the fight for the citadel if armed, and that the captured equipment would hold arms and armor the new recruits could use. But if they didn't get rid of the ghouls the paladins might spend too much of their effort holding off he undead and the army would risk attrition to ghoul fever. It was this concern that finally led to the decision that they would attack the cemetery first, to destroy the ghouls and find out what it was that seemed to be haunting the perpetually shadowed mortuary vault.

Before the Crusader Knights retreated to their tents to rest, Asami expended a little of her power to restore a few charges to her wand. She and her friends discussed the schir demons they would eventually face, refreshing their memories about the abilities and defenses of such creatures. Shim was impressed by their knowledge of demonology.

The following morning Zosta woke later than she usually did to find Bohgong sitting on her chest, reaching toward her throat. She reacted instinctively, tossing the monkey across her tent. Unperturbed, Bohgong showed her that he had merely been fastening a cloak clasp around her neck. He had opened the parcel from Rhino that Shim had brought. Zosta chased the monkey out of her tent and went out to join him at their daily practice, which drew a crowd as usual. Then Asami emerged from her tent, followed by a white cat as she always was - but this cat was larger, and differently colored than Kirara. As her friends gaped, Asami affirmed that this creature was still Kirara, but the little white cat had undergone a transformation. She was no longer an earthly cat, but a feline creature from the realm of Elysium. Shim was awed by both the talking monkey introduced to him as Jiro's Uncle and by Asami's otherworldly companion.

After practice Zosta went back to her tent to examine the gifts from Rhino. She found that in addition to to the cloak Bohgong had shown her, the package held four more identical cloaks, all of them emblazoned with the sigil of Zosta's clan. There was also a pair of lightweight boots with the same symbol on them. But Rhino hadn't included a note to explain what these gifts could do. Zosta took them to Asami, who determined that the cloaks all held the same protective enchantment, while the boots could impart extra nimbleness to the wearer. Zosta immediately presented her friends with the cloaks, which the other Knights accepted gratefully as a sign that they had been adopted by her clan. The extra cloak had been meant for Aegronius, who had disappeared back to Kenabres while they were on the road to Drezen. But Rhino had already sent the cloaks out before Aegronius returned there, so Zosta gave the last cloak to Shim.

When everyone was prepared, the army set out for the cemetery. Aron had scouted the area during the night and found that even the demons and their allies avoided the place. The ghouls also roamed beyond the cemetery at night, posing a danger to the few ordinary citizens who had remained in Drezen after the demons took control. The Crusaders worried that whatever was occupying the vault was also creating the ghouls.

The vault was in shadow even in daylight, though of course the daylight of the Worldwound was not bright sunlight. Jiro extended his pole lantern toward the heavy bronze doors to dispel the darkness. Shim examined the doors for traps and found none though they were locked quite securely. Shim was able to pick the lock. Zosta pulled them open. They admitted the group into a foyer, with another set of double doors on the opposite side. The foyer was strewn with bones.

Zosta and Shim approached the second set of doors, followed by Jiro and Runa, while Asami, Aron, and Sosiel waited outside. Jiro examined the bones while Shim checked the doors. The second pair of doors were neither trapped nor locked. As soon as those doors were opened, a creature inside the vault demanded, "What are you doing in my house?" Jiro stepped forward. "We are purifying it," he replied. He recognized that the winged creature inside the vault was not a demon but a kind of undead creature called a berbalang. It lacked the defenses of a demon, but would require special weapons to harm it. Jiro asked the berbalang, "What are you doing here?" as the rest of the group entered the burial chamber.

"I have an agreement with the Citadel," the berbalang said. It occurred to Jiro that perhaps the demons had been allowing some prisoners to 'escape' to feed the creature, hence the bones in the foyer. Shim asked the berbalang, "Do you have a name?" The undead creature replied, "I've forgotten it," to which Runa remarked, "Dead is a good name."

The berbalang began to gesture as though casting a spell. It murmured something to Zosta, who suddenly stepped in front of the berbalang and took up a defensive position. Shim swallowed some liquid from a vial he carried and drew his elven curveblade. Sosiel cast a protective spell on Aron. Asami recognized the spell and realized that its effect could overcome the magic that had made Zosta see the berbalang as a friend. She reached out to touch Zosta with the same magic. Zosta glared angrily at the berbalang and stepped away from as she became aware of what it had done to her.

Runa stepped up to attack the berbalang with her sword. In response the creature touched her and her friends saw her sag as if she had suddenly been struck by some wasting disease. Zosta kicked the creature's legs out from under it and tried to stomp it, but her blow seemed to have little effect. Sosiel directed divine energy at the berbalang to harm it but that too appeared less effective than it might have been. At the same moment Jiro and Runa both recognized that something inside the vault was hampering them from harming the creature.

Asami had drawn her wand before entering the vault and she now sent three beads of force at the berbalang. The missiles all struck it and seemed to injure it. Jiro spoke, telling his comrades that weapons blessed with the power of good or made of silver would do it the most harm and that the vault must have been unhallowed which was making their attacks less effective. Runa called out for Iomedae's blessing to aid them. Jiro summoned a tetsubo of force to attack the berbalang. Though the creature looked solid, blows directed against it made it seem insubstantial. The berbalang touched Runa a second time, weakening her even further. Zosta dealt it a pounding blow and it abruptly vanished.

From a side chamber of the vault emerged a second berbalang, though some of the attackers realized that it seemed to have the same wounds as the creature that had just disappeared. Asami wondered if the creature had used some magic to transport itself a short distance away. Before she could ponder that further the berbalang clawed her and she was immobilized. She felt herself being lifted as Shim grasped her from behind and shifted her out of range of the creature's claws. Sosiel channeled Shelyn's divine energy to heal some of the injury its claws had done to her.

Jiro summoned the spirit of one of his ancestors and the figure of an old white-haired man bearing a katana appeared, slashing with his blade at the berbalang. The berbalang managed to claw Zosta as it had Asami and she too froze in place. Shim took the same action to move her away that he had taken for Asami. Sosiel and Aron moved in to flank the creature with the aid of Jiro's spirit, but their attacks were still ineffective. The berbalang began to shriek. Asami felt something rummaging in her pack as she recalled that the silver dragon scale she carried could grant a weapon the power of good, but she couldn't tell anyone. She was still unable to move. The berbalang scratched Shim and left him frozen just like her.

As Sosiel cast a spell on his glaive and prepared to attack, Asami felt her rigid muscles relax. She brought her wand to bear on the berbalang again. Runa murmured a blessing over her sword and filled herself with religious fervor to move in on the still screeching berbalang. It had paralyzed Sosiel now, but Zosta like Asami had recovered from paralysis and slammed her fists into the undead creature. Asami expended one more charge from her wand into the berbalang and it collapsed, its scream silenced.

Zosta punched the berbalang a few more times to be certain it was truly dead, then went to look outside the vault to see if its cries had summoned the ghouls. She found that the paladins were engaged in mopping up the last of the ghouls and went gleefully out to help them. While she enjoyed herself outside, the other Knights examined the interior of the vault. The vault had once been the burial place of generals of the first Crusade, but their funerary urns had all been smashed.

Sosiel and Runa cast spells on her to restore some of the strength she had lost to the berbalang. Jiro thought carefully and determined that he knew a spell to counter the effect in the vault. As the last of the ghouls died they watched as ghostly figures entered the vault, each gliding up to one of the niches and vanishing into it. In the cemetery more spirits flowed into the grave sites as the last of the ghouls were destroyed. Everyone present felt a sense of hope return to the area.

Next: part 30, Taking the Bridge

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 30: Taking the Bridge

When the Crusader Knights had finished off the last of the ghouls and made sure that the vault was no longer unhallowed, they returned to the army encampment for a night of well-deserved rest. Each of them dreamed that night of the spirits in the cemetery showing them gratitude for removing the befouling influence of the berbalang. When the woke the next morning they all felt heartened and experienced the demoralizing quality of the Worldwound a little less.

The Knights had come to the conclusion that after clearing the cemetery their next step should be to take control of the Ahari Bridge that crossed over the dry river and led to the Citadel. During the previous evening Anevia and Aron had scouted the bridge. They had found that in addition to a small force of tieflings holding the bridge's watchtowers, there were also four large creatures chained to the piers beneath the bridge. But Anevia and Aron had been unable to determine the nature of the creatures.

Jiro and Shim decided to undertake a reconnaissance mission to find out more about the chained beasts. When they crept up within sight of the bridge Shim recognized that the beasts were aurochs, but these four were no ordinary herd animals - they had been magically enhanced to become man-eaters, which would make them tougher, stronger, and smarter than ordinary aurochs. He and Jiro also observed that the aurochs were yoked on heavy chains perhaps 30 feet in length, which led them to realize that the aurochs were there to pull the bridge down if a force attempted to cross it to attack the fort.

The pair returned to report this to the rest of the Knights, which provoked a discussion of whether they should attack the bridge defenders first or try to eliminate the man-eating aurochs. In the end they decided that they would approach the bridge and defeat the tiefling defenders before taking on the aurochs. Their hope was that they could find whatever would be used to signal the beasts to pull the bridge down before the defenders could sound it. They also planned to approach the bridge directly rather than climbing down the river bank, relying on Asami's magic to hide them from sight.

Asami used her divinely-granted power to cast a spell that her spellbook didn't contain and surrounded the group with a sphere that rendered them invisible as long as everyone remained close to her. She and her four friends, along with Shim, Aron, and Sosiel approached the bridge cautiously, making every effort to remain quiet as her spell only hid them from prying eyes but not from ears. Fortunately even when Zosta stepped on a stone they went unnoticed by the tieflings guarding the bridge.

The Ahari Bridge was lined on both sides by walls 10 feet high, with a watchtower mounted above each of the support piers to which the aurochs were chained. A heavy gate barred easy access, but Shim had little trouble unlocking it. After they passed through the gate, Shim opened a door that gave access to the watchtowers along one side of the bridge to allow Zosta, Aron, and Sosiel to enter. The rest of the group remained on the bridge outside. As soon as they stepped onto the bridge, a volley of arrows met them, though none found their target. Then the area was swallowed in unnatural darkness. In the narrow corridor than ran inside the wall, Zosta knocked down a tiefling and left him behind.

A group of tieflings stood at the opposite end of the bridge, armed with bows. As Jiro raised his pole lantern to dispel the darkness, Asami cast a protective spell on herself, granting herself some of the blessings of an angelic being. Shim heard one of the tieflings casting a spell that he recognized as a summoning. Runa moved toward the midsection of the bridge to attack one of the defenders. Shim followed her. More tieflings ran out onto the bridge, leaving the interior of the wall almost devoid of defenders.

Asami began to summon an ally from another plane to aid them. When she completed the spell Shim was startled to see a a thorny being of wood with a dog-like face wielding a large sword which it used to slash one of the defenders. The sword was made of wood but inflicted harm like a steel sword. After this being arrived Asami sent a bolt of lightning the length of the bridge at the cluster of archers, but she was dismayed to see that all of them nimbly leaped out of the way. Jiro called a tetsubo and a great katana into existence to attack the tieflings, just as three dretch demons appeared on the bridge between the Knights and the cluster of tieflings. Jiro saw that they had been summoned by a shadowy figure among the tieflings, but no one else observed this. An arrow of acid struck Asami coming from the same area.

Inside the wall, Zosta and her two companions broke through door after door as they headed toward the far end. Outside, the tiefling that had been attacked by Asami's summoned ally withdrew to the safety of his comrades and one of the archers fired an arrow at the otherworldly wood creature, amazing Shim when the arrow bounced off its wooden flesh. Asami retaliated by sending a ball of burning wood into the group of tieflings to explode in a blast of flames. The flaming globe struck the spellcaster full in the face. Runa called on Iomedae and a flare of dazzling radiance engulfed one of the tieflings and the three dretches, leaving one dretch blind and the other two seeing sparks and all three of them writhing in pain from the divine magic. One of the dretches released a cloud of nauseating gas which surrounded Runa, Jiro, Shim, and their summoned ally. Jiro and Runa had prior unpleasant experiences with the noxious gases exuded by dretches; this time was not as bad, but the gas did obstruct their view of the group of tieflings at the other end of the bridge.

Asami, who was far enough behind her friends that the gas didn't reach her, summoned a flowing river of strong wind through the area occupied by the gas. It didn't blow all of the gas cloud away but the center portion began to clear. Jiro called on healing spirits and then drew his weapon and moved forward. The gas cloud had cut off his line of sight to his weapons and they returned to hover at his side. The cloud dissipated and Runa set off another blinding radiance. Some of the tieflings withstood the light and fired at Shim. They could all hear someone in the defender group shouting in the language of the Abyss, as if ordering a team to pull a wagon. They realized that the shouter was ordering the aurochs to begin pulling.

 Inside the wall, Zosta knocked down a tiefling she encountered near the far end of the structure. The tiefling darkened the area and rose to his feet again. Some of the darkness bled out through a nearby murder hole, letting her friends outside see a little of what was taking place inside. Asami threw a spear at one of the dretches. The creature she had summoned, a hound archon despite its unusual appearance, vanished as it took too many wounds to remain on the Material Plane. A ball of fire flew toward Asami and she barely avoided taking the full brunt of the blast. She called a storm of icy chunks of wood to rain down on the tiefling defenders, creating an area of poor visibility around them and making the ground difficult to walk on. While she did this, Jiro used his magic to help him climb up to the top of the wall. He wanted to see what the aurochs were doing, and he had taken a great deal of harm from the wounds suffered by his friends. When the tiefling sorcerer aimed two rays of fire at him he was barely able to summon a shield of stone to deflect it.

Zosta finished off her foes inside the wall and opened the door to the outside. Three arrows embedded in the wood frame of the door. Zosta charged out, knocked the archer's feet out from under him, and punched him to death. Behind her Aron and Sosiel emerged to join the battle with the last of the tieflings.

Bohgong pulled a vial of oil from Jiro's pack and applied it to his wounds. Down below the wall, Zosta's fists eliminated another tiefling, this time the sorcerer who had just attacked Jiro. Jiro climbed down from the wall, lost his footing and fell, but he used his ancestral power to heal Shim and then asked Bohgong to deliver more healing to the half-elf, who was near death. Asami encouraged Kirara to give her divine healing to Shim as well, but the flying cat refused and instead healed Asami. Aron brought down the last of the tieflings. Zosta then began to shout in the Abyssal tongue for the aurochs to stop, but they could still hear the beasts' chains clattering as they were drawn out to full extension.

Runa took out the silver dragon scale she carried and used its power to transform herself into the likeness of the hunchbacked tiefling sorcerer. Mimicking his voice, she shouted for the aurochs to halt. While she shouted at them, Asami examined the sorcerer to see if he carried any object or device to exert control over the beasts. Kirara flew up beside her and murmured in her ear that the tiefling's cloak and amulet were magical. There was also a wand that had fallen from his hand when he died. Asami examined the amulet, but it carried only an enchantment of protection.

One of the aurochs stopped in response to Runa's orders, but the other three continued to haul on their chains. Shim clambered down one of the piers and began trying to distract an aurochs by presenting himself as potential food. The aurochs that had stopped pulling seemed confused. Runa jumped down to join Shim on the dry riverbed, but landed badly. Zosta vaulted off the bridge and landed on top of one of the aurochs on the other side. Jiro meanwhile encouraged Aron and Sosiel to throw the corpses of the dead tieflings off the bridge to distract the aurochs, but the animals showed no interest. The aurochs nearest Runa tried to gore and trample her. Zosta's aurochs fell, but she rode it down and killed it with her bladed knuckles. She shouted out to the other Knights that the aurochs weren't as difficult to slay as they had feared. Asami flew to the top of the wall and hurled a spear at one aurochs. Shim realized that now only one aurochs was still pulling at its chain and tried to attract its attention, but it ignored him. He stabbed it and it began to stagger. Asami flew down and threw another spear. Jiro joined Zosta in attacking the remaining aurochs on the opposite side of the bridge. Finally with Shim and all four of the Knights working together the aurochs were vanquished. The Knights had taken control of Ahari Bridge.

Next: part 31, Taking the Tower

Sunday, February 25, 2018

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 28: Terror in the Forest

Before the Crusaders left the vescavor lair, they examined the rift they had found carefully to make sure they understood what it was and how they might be able to deal with it. As they were looking at it, Zosta spied a creature on the other side that seemed to have noticed the rift, though it didn't give any indication that it saw the people in the cavern. Her training on demons and evil creatures of the Abyss told her that the creature was a type of demon called a vrock, which resembled a vulture but walked on two legs like a humanoid. She also knew that such a demon wouldn't have posed a difficult foe to the group had they been at full strength, but in their current state they would find it a challenge to combat such a creature.

When Zosta told her companions what she'd seen, Jiro realized that while they lacked the ability to permanently closed the rift, they could cast a spell that would prevent the vrock from emerging, at least temporarily. He also recognized that the rift could only be passed through in one direction, from the Abyss to the Material Plane, so while the vrock could come across none of their group could go through in the other direction. The vrock showed no indication of wanting to come through at the moment, so the group members decided to move away from it, keeping an eye on it as they did so, and take the opportunity to heal some of the wounds the vescavors had inflicted on them.

While Jiro used his magic to heal his friends, they all discussed what they could recall about vrock demons. Asami remembered that they were resistant to magic and capable of casting some spells themselves, as well as able to summon others of their kind. Like all demons they were immune to harm from electricity or poison, and resistant to injury from other forms of energy such as fire.

They moved closer to the rift again after Jiro had expended his magic, and Jiro cast a spell in front of the rift that created a circle to block evil creatures. He then drew the symbol of Iomedae on the floor and placed a vial of holy water on it in the hope that if the vrock did come through the rift it would tread on the vial and break it. That was intended to tell them if the vrock had come through later on, after the magic circle spell faded.

With their preparations completed the group returned to the paladin army camp. The caves and the valley weren't completely clear of vescavors, but the foul insects were no longer swarming and made no attempt to attack. The army scouts told the Crusaders that they knew the queen must have been slain because the numbers of vescavors had decreased as the creatures wandered off. When they met with Aravashnial to talk with him about the rift, he told them it was good they had chosen not to try to wait for the vrock and attack it. It was only midday by this time and the paladins were ready to leave so the camp was packed up and they resumed their journey to Drezen.

As they continued their travel, the Crusaders preceded the slower-moving army by a short distance. The surrounding terrain continued to be desolate and devoid of life, which both Asami and Jiro found oppressive and disheartening.

Suddenly Zosta heard something that sounded like a cry for help coming from among the thicket of dead trees that bordered the road.  After she heard what sounded like a scream, she left the road and went among the trees to investigate. Her companions followed her while Aron and Sosiel lagged behind. Ahead of her she saw what appeared to be a human woman surrounded by six dog-size creatures that had fat round bodies and many spindly spider-like legs. These creatures, which she didn't recognize, kept leaping out one at a time to bite the woman before hopping away from her. On closer inspection Zosta observed that the creatures had somewhat humanoid-like faces with large, toothy mouths, and one pair of their spidery limbs was equipped with small hands.

Zosta approached closer with the intent of rescuing the woman the spider-creatures were attacking. When she did so the creatures spat webbing at her, immobilizing her. Jiro moved up behind her, drawing his morningstar as he did, then exclaimed, "Demons of the East! Gorupi!" as he recognized that such creatures were sometimes seen in Tian-Xia. Asami followed him cautiously. As she stood at a greater distance she couldn't identify the creatures herself, but she sensed that Jiro was correct and they were not creatures native to this part of the world.

Zosta cried out that the spider-creatures' webs were coated with poison. Asami had readied her wand and now fired missiles at one of the monsters, but the missiles failed to strike it, indicating that they were resistant to magic. Several of the creatures responded by spitting on Asami and on Zosta. Asami was unable to move. Jiro summoned up a barrier of wind to prevent them from spitting more webbing on the party. Now that several of the party members were closer to the creatures' victim they could see that her clothing had been torn away and her arms and legs had been severed.

Runa uttered a short blessing from Iomedae to protect her comrades and moved forward. The gorupi seemed to be communicating with each other, though they didn't speak or make sounds. Then several of them simultaneously spat out globs of webbing with great force, directing it up and over Jiro's wall of wind. Fortunately their aim was poor and the webbing failed to find a target. Jiro moved to pull the webbing off Zosta, but nearly managed to get himself entangled as well. Aron and Sosiel tried to do the same for Asami with no more success. Asami was unable to move, but she could still activate a change from her wand. Again the missiles failed to harm the gorupi. Runa touched Zosta's weapon, imbuing it with divine power, then stepped up to attack the gorupi.

As Asami pulled partly free of the webbing with aid from Aron and Sosiel, Zosta broke free and attacked. The female victim began to scream and wail in a frenzy, demanding to know why the group weren't saving her. Then she began to rise into the air and Zosta realized that there was something connected to the back of her head. The ground shook, knocking everyone but Zosta off their feet. A huge creature burst forth from beneath the earth. It looked like a giant version of the gorupi, dangling the limbless, screaming woman in front of itself from a branch-like protuberance. Some of what the Crusaders had taken as dead trees in the area proved to be the creature's limbs. It radiated immense power and ancient evil.

Zosta slew one of the gorupi while Runa regained her feet. Aron and Sosiel helped Asami up. The wall of wind vanished. Then a wave of paralyzing terror spread over the group, leaving everyone but Zosta helpless. Asami tried to reason her fear away but failed and stood frozen as the creature stepped over her. At first it seemed disinterested in the group of people at its feet, but then it appeared to take notice of Zosta. Its face and huge, long-fingered hands had been turned away from her, but its body metamorphosed, eliciting a scream from the captive woman, as its face and front limbs reformed to point toward Zosta. Zosta realized that the bite wounds the gorupi had inflicted on the woman were healed as she was momentarily absorbed into the giant creature's body. It also manifested numerous eyes that turned their alien gaze on Zosta. It stared at her briefly, seeming to see something in her that made her interesting to it, before it morphed again and its face pointed once again to the direction it had originally been looking as it strode away. Zosta struck out at several of the gorupi as they ran past her following the huge demon, hopping up to bite at the dangling woman. All of the members of the group sensed that even had they all been able to move they would have been no match for the power of the huge spidery demon.

It wasn't until some time after the demon and its madly screeching prisoner had departed that all of the Crusaders recovered from the abject horror it had inspired in them. Asami was also seriously weakened by the gorupi poison. Sosiel was able to neutralize the poison so it didn't weaken her further. As the group went to rejoin the army, Zosta suggested that perhaps they shouldn't speak too much about the demon's captive. Runa in particular was extremely disturbed by the thought that they had been unable to do anything for the woman, and Zosta didn't want to demoralize the paladins. After they rejoined the army and told Irabeth what they had experienced, she called for camp to be set up.

The following morning Irabeth made a speech to encourage the paladins and prepare them for what lay ahead. Runa was harder on the squad under her command than usual. The mood among the army was one of grim determination as they set off for Drezen. As they marched toward their goal, the Crusader group at the front of the line noticed a disturbance coming from the rear but moving toward the front. Most of the group simply saw a blur flying past them. The flying shape resolved itself into a small female humanoid, either a child or a small adult woman, accompanied by a large air elemental. This girl or woman paused in her flight, hovering as she looked over the group and observed that Asami and Jiro both wore clothing somewhat similar to hers. "You're not from here," she said.

Jiro introduced himself and asked for her name, which she told him was Xiao Pi. When he asked what she was doing there she explained that she was looking for a creature that sounded very much like the horrifying demon they had encountered the previous day. Xiao Pi explained that the creature had taken her mother and she had to find it. After she confirmed that she had come from the East and not from the vicinity of the Worldwound, the group members sadly explained that the woman they had seen held captive by the demon had not resembled a person from Tian-Xia but had appeared to be someone from Mendev or its surroundings.

When Xiao Pi heard this news she seemed distraught, and Zosta and Jiro both noticed that the sky had grown stormy overhead. Zosta tried to comfort Xiao Pi by embracing her. At first the air elemental seemed ready to come to her defense but Xiao Pi waved it away. Gradually the clouds dissipated and the air elemental grew smaller until it vanished, seemingly as a reaction to Xiao Pi's emotional state.

Xiao Pi agreed to accompany the group to talk to Aravashnial, who was riding in Horgus Gwerm's wagon. Xiao Pi told them that she had been born in a small fishing village in the southern part of Tian-Xia. Her mother had been powerful in the element of water, which had meant that her father was a very successful fisherman. But one day the huge demon had appeared, heedlessly destroying their village as it lumbered through, and had taken Xiao Pi's mother. Most of the villagers had been slain by the gorupi as the larger creature had been uninterested in them. Xiao Pi had been knocked unconscious by the creature and hadn't awakened until after the demon left so she hadn't seen where it went. She had been tracking it ever since.  As Runa observed her, she realized that Xiao Pi was probably more powerful in her magic than Aravashnial or any of the Crusaders.

Aravashnial cast a divination spell to locate Xiao Pi's mother after Xiao Pi explained that her mother had been born with a vividly-colored birthmark that resembled a wave spreading across her back. With the description of the birthmark to guide the magic, the elven wizard was able to determine that her mother's last resting place lay some forty miles away from the army's current location. Xiao Pi thanked him, and in return offered the group a diamond-like crystal, which could be used to call her to their location if they wished. She declined to remain with them despite their warnings of how powerful the demon was. Instead she demonstrated her own power by calling lightning from the sky to split a dead tree. Aravashnial gave her a map describing the area where his spell had located her mother, along with markers to point out the locations of Drezen in case she wanted to find them again and Kenabres if she chose to go there. Then Xiao Pi bid them farewell and set off to find her mother.

The army continued its journey toward Drezen after seeing off Xiao Pi. A stench of smoke and decay rose from the town surrounding the citadel as they neared it. Most of the inhabitants had left to fight the main Crusader army, leaving behind only enough residents to populate a small town. Aron reported that there were rumors of a marilith inside Citadel Drezen. When Aron and Anevia went forward to scout the area, Asami and Runa went with Aron while Jiro and Zosta accompanied Anevia.

Their observations found that on the south bank of the dry riverbed was a cluster of tieflings and cultists standing guard over a cache of captured Crusader gear. In the area known as Paradise Hill, schir demons guarded a prison holding captive Crusaders. A cemetery was infested with undead, including many ghouls, and one of the vaults showed signs of something more powerful and sinister inhabiting it. Only one of the two bridges across the river was still whole. On the watchtowers they could see that large catapults were still in place and intact.

When they returned to camp, they discussed their plans for getting into the Citadel to search for the Sword of Valor. They agreed that the plan that seemed likeliest to succeed and most beneficial would be to take the south bank, capture the intact bridge, and free the prisoners.

Next: part 29, The Haunted Vault

Saturday, February 24, 2018

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 22: Approach to the Pyramid

The following morning after Sula did her flyover of the canyon that contained Chisisek’s pyramid, the Ruby Scarabs prepared for an assault on the cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh. They determined that it would be most advantageous if they could ambush their foes from above rather than trying to get through the narrow entrance to the canyon on the ground.

With that plan in mind, Sula equipped herself with spells to allow her to blast the cultists with lightning and armored both herself and Nyema with magical protections, transformed Nyema into a tiny stone figurine, and took the shape of a falcon herself. She and Azzaria then poised themselves above one of the ledges where some of the cultists were standing watch, Azzaria prepared with magic that would allow her to drop off the cliff edge and float safely to the canyon floor, which she could also extend to Nyema after Sula returned the lioness to her true shape. Kaa revealed his wings and took position above a second ledge containing another cultist. Uto took magical flight and used his powerful hair to carry Igby across the canyon to where the desert giant was playing senet with some of the human cultists. When everyone was in place, Sula flew over the giant and blasted him with lightning as the signal to attack

The giant shouted out a warning as the lightning bolt suddenly drew his attention to Uto and Igby flying over his head. Uto set Igby down so he could ply his sword against the giant, while Sula blasted the two cultists who had been gaming with the giant. The cultist on the ledge below Azzaria fired a crossbow bolt at Igby, but a spirit summoned by Uto shielded him from the projectile. Azzaria dived from her perch and attacked the cultist sentry, who was startled when he also saw a lioness leaping past him toward the canyon floor. Kaa swooped down and knocked the second sentry off his ledge, though the man survived the fall and regained his feet until the tengu dropped down on him and attacked him again, at which point the cultist sacrificed himself to his god by bursting into flames.

Uto used the pharaoh’s mask to attack the giant, but the giant appeared to resist the mask’s magic. The two cultists who were with the giant cast shielding spells on themselves and ran to join him against Igby. Azzaria nearly sliced her opponent on the ledge in two, causing him to be consumed by fire like Kaa’s foe. She then floated down onto the extremely narrow bridge that ran across the canyon to the second level of the funerary temple. Nyema had also floated down from the ledge to the canyon floor, and once her paws touched the earth she charged the giant, who was still the primary target of Sula’s lightning bolts. Unfortunately for her the giant was able to dodge out of the way of her slashing claws. Igby then lunged at the giant and the giant toppled over in the sand.

Kaa’s attention was attracted by a loud rasping sound coming from a narrow curved ravine at the far end of the canyon, but the curve of the walls meant he couldn’t see yet what was causing the noise. Meanwhile several cultists emerged from the second level of the mortuary temple and began to fire crossbows down on the Scarabs on the floor of the canyon. Azzaria, enraged, blurry, and equipped with incredible speed, raced across the tiny bridge to attack the crossbowmen. Sula summoned up a wall of wind to block the crossbow bolts, and Uto turned the mask on one man, causing him to flee in terror. Igby sent another cultists to his fiery doom, with help from Nyema.

As the rest of the Scarabs engaged these new attackers, Kaa climbed up the canyon walls to get a better view of whatever was approaching from the ravine. He was shocked to see a massive armored serpent slithering down the ravine toward the canyon. When he first heard the snake coming Kaa had called out to his companions, and Sula now flew toward the ravine to see what was there. The rest of the group remained in battle with the cultists, eliminating the two men who had been with the giant as well as several of those who emerged from the temple. Kaa and Sula began to blast the snake with electricity. Kaa’s memory told him the creature was not resistant to any element, but its venom would digest a victim from within and its blood was acidic and would harm any weapons that pierced the vast creature’s tough hide.

Upon having seen her other victims fall and Sula start attacking the giant snake, Nyema charged across the canyon toward it. The snake darted its head out like one of its much smaller cousins to bite her and its corrosive poison began to course through her body. Igby moved to stab the snake and was also bitten. Uto was able to cast a spell on Igby to neutralize the poison, but he didn’t have access to enough of that kind of magic to be able to aid Nyema also. Azzaria jumped down from the temple and headed for the snake, surrounding herself with multiple images for protection and drawing her adamantine flail to withstand its acid blood. The snake bit Nyema again, and the lioness faltered. Kaa rushed to her side with a potion, but it wasn’t enough to halt the damage caused by the venom. The combined attacks from Azzaria and Igby brought the snake down. Uto and Sula both used healing magic on Nyema, but Sula could tell that her beloved companion was near death. To protect Nyema until Uto could neutralize the poison on the next day, Sula transformed the lioness into an inert figurine again.

Kaa flew down the ravine to check for any other dangers. He found a cave that the snake had evidently been using as its lair, which contained a small spring of good water. He also saw various carvings that appeared to tell the story of the construction of Chisisek’s tomb and frequently featured images of sphinxes. He was able to determine that the ravine did not provide a way to approach the pyramid. While he was gone the rest of the group gathered up what useful good they could find left behind after the cultists self-immolated – fortunately for the Scarabs, the magic the cultists used destroyed only their bodies and left behind the weapons and other items they had carried in life. They collected an assortment of crossbows and falchions, potions, scrolls, cloaks, masks, and a small quantity of gold.

When the tengu had returned to his companions the Scarabs went to investigate the interior of the mortuary temple. They entered through the ground level, where they found an area that the cultists had been using as sleeping space. They also found various pieces of digging equipment and food and water supplies. As they made their way up to the second level, they found that the large central portion of the chamber was occupied by two lamias and a cultist who seemed to be under the sway of one of the lamias. On the far side of the chamber was what appeared to be a sphinx, surrounded by a field of golden energy that Igby was able to identify as the effect of a particular spell that served as a magical trap. The immobilized sphinx held a scroll, which had probably contained the spell to entrap her.

The Scarabs decided to approach the lamias as friends rather than immediately act in aggression. They wondered if these lamias might be related to the three sisters who lived in the Necropolis of Wati. Uto spoke first, greeting the lamias respectfully and asking if they knew the three sisters. Both of them responded that they had never heard of those three. The lamias also told the Scarabs that this site belonged to someone or something named Jamirah, to whom they were loyal “for her blood,” and who had ordered them to kill anyone who entered who was not one of the cultists. But one lamia suggested an “arrangement” with the Scarabs, saying that they all sought the same thing – reunification of the Forgotten Pharaoh’s shattered soul, or so the Scarabs assumed. As the lamia spoke of this to Uto, she attempted to cast a spell to charm him to her will, but he withstood her magic. Dismayed, Uto caused the eyes of the Forgotten Pharaoh’s funerary mask to glow menancingly. The two lamias then drew their paired knives and attacked the Ruby Scarabs.

Sula had remained in falcon form after the earlier fight with the cultists, and she had flown up to perch among the pillars of the temple while the rest of the Scarabs approached the lamias. She now unleashed two spheres of electricity at the lamias. Azzaria moved to face one lamia wielding her adamantine flail. She was met with a touch that drained away some of her sense but didn’t prevent her from continuing her attack. The second lamia used this same technique against Igby. Kaa blasted the first lamia with lightning breath, which left her staggered, and when Uto’s spirit ally struck her she fell dead. The cultist shielded himself and ran to the aid of the second lamia, who he had attended when the Scarabs arrived. Azzaria moved toward the second lamia, and at the same time Sula realized she still had lightning bolts at her talons and sent one at the lamia. But she did not prevent the lamia from draining away yet more of Azzaria’s willpower. Kaa then leaped and bounded off a pillar to strike the lamia hard. Uto attempted to persuade her to surrender at this point, as she was sorely wounded, but she refused. The cultist attempted to slip past Kaa to attack Azzaria, but this only put him in reach of Uto’s spirit. Igby then attacked the lamia and slew her, and Azzaria finished off the cultist.

Once the lamias and their paramour were dead, the Scarabs gathered up what goods their foes had possessed, which included a valuable chunk of amber and a gilded dragonne skull. They investigated the side chambers, which proved to be more sleeping spaces, before finally approaching the paralyzed sphinx. As they examined the area around her they realized that the cultists had apparently been using her as target practice for several days, for there were splashes of dried blood on the floor beside her and she had been impaled by several bolts. As a result of the cultists’ cruelty the sphinx was near death. Upon realizing this Uto immediately channeled some of his divine magic to heal her injuries. But the Ruby Scarabs were uncertain how they could free her from the effects of the spell that held her.

Next: part 23, To Free a Sphinx

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 23: To Free a Sphinx

The Ruby Scarabs spent some time attempting to determine how they could release the entrapped sphinx from imprisonment, but were unable to find any way to set her free. Uto did what more he could to heal the injuries the spiteful lamias had inflicted on her. When the Scarabs realized that they didn't know what else they could do for her beyond waiting for the spell that held her to dissipate, they decided that they should climb up to the tent they had seen on the ledge above where the enormous serpent had appeared.

There was no way to reach the ledge from inside where the sphinx was held. They would have to cross over the bridge to climb up. Sula had remained in falcon form and could fly up to the ledge, but her companions would have to go on foot. While they were making their way across the narrow bridge, Sula armed herself with a spell to summon lightning from the heavens and flew over the tent to see what was there.

As Sula approached the tent, she detected movement inside it. On approaching closer she could see a serpentine figure, and what appeared to be some type of female giant. She felt some magic wash over her and realized that one of the creatures in the tent had noticed her and detected the magic of the spell she had ready. She flew away from the tent and sent a blast of lightning at it, signalling to the other Scarabs that there was something dangerous within the tent. Kaa began scrambling up the bridge supports, and Uto floated up into the air. In response, a large snake-woman creature slithered out of the tent into full view, revealing that the serpent and giant Sula had thought she saw were the same single creature. She also observed that the snake-woman showed no sign of having been harmed by her bolt of lightning.

Kaa stepped onto the surface of the bridge and called out to the snake-woman, asking her to surrender. He realized that although she resembled a serpent rather than a lion, she was a kind of lamia, a matriarch among her people. He breathed out a lightning bolt of his own, but the lamia evaded his attack. Sula tried the same tactic and experienced the same result. Then the lamia cast a spell on herself that made her movements appear more swift. Uto summoned a storm of hailstones down upon her. Kaa then raced across the bridge to come within arm's reach and pummeled her with his fists, while Sula brought down another lightning bolt that the lamia dodged. The lamia retaliated against Kaa by slapping him twice with her tail, leaving him stunned.

Azzaria's form became blurry and she crawled spider-like up the side of the bridge to pass Kaa. Suddenly just after avoiding another burst of lightning from Sula the lamia vanished. While Uto summoned a creature from another plane to pursue the lamia, Kaa recovered and drew his sword, running down the ledge where the tent stood. The lamia reappeared a moment later and struck him again with her tail. She had been wielding a bow, but when Kaa's sword connected with her flesh she dropped it. Kaa shouted to his companions, "She's stunned! Get her!" Sula flew to the bridge, prepared to use her magic to create a gap in the stone in the hope that the lamia would fall through it. The creature Uto had called attacked the lamia.

Igby, who had been slow in following his companions, slipped and nearly fell from he bridge, dropping his sword. He caught himself and scrambled back up while Azzaria and Kaa both attacked the lamia. Sula created a gap in the bridge beneath where the lamia stood. The serpent-woman grabbed at the ledge but fell.

As the lamia matriarch fell, the scale armor she wore transformed into a cloud of locusts, which lifted her up. She cast a spell toward Azzaria, while the otherworldly creature Uto had summoned aimed a blinding light at the lamia. Azzaria clambered down toward the canyon floor where the lamia's locust armor was carrying her. The stressed stone bridge began to crack, causing Azzaria and Kaa to fall toward the lamia. As she fell past him Igby managed to hit her with his morningstar. Kaa stabbed her, then Azzaria struck her, and she ceased moving. An instant later she burst into flames and was turned to ash within moments, leaving behind only her armor, mask, and the spear she had carried.

The Scarabs claimed as their spoils the magical cuirass, mask, and spear the lamia left behind. Then they climbed up to see if there was anything of interest within the tent. Inside they found a silver kettle, bottles of perfume, fine dishware of silver and gold, and three old chests containing numerous coins of various metals and a pair of magic boots that would have been little use to the legless lamia.

Beyond the tent they found that hole had been opened in the pyramid, surrounded by rubble and tools. Kaa checked the opening for traps but found none. Once inside the Scarabs found a doorway leading into a sloping corridor. Kaa detected a trap with a pressure plate that would cause a large rounded boulder to roll down the slope and crush anyone in the way. But when he tried to disable the pressure trigger he failed, sending the boulder rolling down the corridor to hit him and then block the doorway at the end of the passage. Uto could sense that Kaa had been injured.

Azzaria took out her adamantine flail and began bashing the wall of the corridor next to the blocked door. When she smashed her way through the wall she saw a defaced tomb lay beyond it. Uto looked into the tomb and spied a statue resembling the god Ptah. But the statue suddenly began to move, revealing that it was actually a golem of stone. The golem's eyes flashed and a wave of magic spread over the assembled Scarabs, but the spell didn't affect them.

Uto attempted to talk to the golem and persuade it not to attack the intruders, but it didn't respond. Azzaria, Kaa, and Igby all attacked the golem. When Sula flew closer the golem hit her. Azzaria's flail finally destroyed it. After Uto had healed some of his comrades' injuries, they looked around the tomb, and those members of the group who could read the ancient Osirian language recognized that the inscriptions referred to Chisisek's life but said nothing about the marvelous flying pyramid. Nor was there a mummy in the tomb. The Scarabs wondered if the cultists had already removed it.

Kaa explored the tomb chamber and found a well-concealed doorway that hadn't been opened. It led to a short hall, which opened into a room full of treasures. In the center of the room stood another statue, which came to life when the Scarabs entered. It grew and spread until it formed a wall blocking the doorway. Igby recognized that the peculiar construct was a kind of clockwork golem rather than stone like the one they had encountered a short time earlier. Uto summoned a weapon of force to attack the golem while his ancestral guardians were positioned behind it. Azzaaria hit the golem with her flail, but as Kaa moved in on it cables extended from the golem to snatch at him. Sula attempted to burn it but it seemed to be resistant to her magical flames. The cables caught hold of Azzaria and Kaa was lifted off the floor. Sula summoned an elemental of earth to fight the golem while she cast a healing spell on Azzaria. The golem's gears began to grind as Azzaria struggled free of its grasp. Azzaria then pounded it with her flail and it flew apart, showering the chamber with bits of metal.

Within the chamber the Ruby Scarabs found several flasks of a magical unguent, some quality masonry tools, an enchanted effigy of Anubis, a pair of magical goggles, a rod that could detect the presence of different metals, a scarab that provided protection against animated mummies, a spell scroll, a wand, several masks, coins, urns, ivory figurines, a model galley, and three mummified cats. They also found a library of scrolls and tablets containing non-magical texts. A review of the documents provided clues that Chisisek had indeed made a flying pyramid for the Forgotten Pharaoh, created from technology that originated in the Shory Empire. The scrolls and tablets also told of how at the end of his life Chisisek had made great earthworks to defend against the Shory. The Scarabs gathered up the the items from the tomb and returned to the temple where the sphinx was imprisoned.

Next: part 24, Search for the Sightless Sphinx

Monday, February 19, 2018

[Star Wars] Guardians of Peace, Episode 10: "Gathering Strength, part 3"

After the failed coup attempt and attack on the crystal mines of Glom Tho the SHADOW WING has retreated to the hidden reaches of the Unknown Regions. Biding their time, the pirates gather strength and make new plans.

A dramatic rescue saves the crew of the Fortune of Greepo. New information is learned and new contacts are made. Using the data taken from the Stellite Monks, the Jedi Taanar Ryl and her companions follow Master Frowd to a meeting with the SHADOW WING...

As the crew of the Fortune of Greepo - or Alpha Star, as it was currently known - stood over the unconscious form of Master Frowd of the Stellite Monks, they were joined by the team of additional Antarian Rangers who had accompanied them to Canyon City. One of these Rangers, a Kaminoan named Ayja, was a trained medic and she immediately began to use med packs to treat the injuries that Ren and Nema had suffered. At Taanar Ryl's direction, Ranger Ayja kept Master Frowd under sedation.

Moments later, the local Canyon City constabulary arrived, demanding to know what was going on in the alley. Taanar Ryl introduced herself to the lead constable, Inspector Bek, using her full title, which seemed to cow him. Bek still insisted that the constables should take Master Frowd into protective custody. As a contingent of constables began to escort the team to the docking bay where their ship awaited them, Taanar's commlink beeped. It was Ferb aboard their ship. He anxiously reported that Stellite monks had surrounded the docking bay, though at present they weren't trying to get inside or making any hostile moves. Ayja then murmured to the rest of the team that she had used her datapad to tap into the constables' comm channel and had heard them receiving orders to detail the Jedi Order team. Ayja added that she was unable to contact the Stellar Flare. Communications were being jammed.

Inspector Bek announced that they needed to stop and wait for a moment due to a "disturbance." Realizing that they were being set up for an ambush, Ren slipped behind one of the constables and held his vibroknife to the man's back, ordering him to drop his weapon. The constable responded by grappling with Ren and pinning him so he couldn't move. Taanar quickly told Ferb to take off immediately, but he responded that someone had attached docking clamps to the Alpha Star. Taanar then turned on the constables, demanding, "Are you attempting to detain representatives of the Jedi Order?" Her demeanor intimidated the constables enough that they all abandoned their posts and fled.

Ayja pulled up detailed maps of Canyon City on her datapad as the group attempted to plan their escape. They needed to get outside the city to a location where they might be able to overcome the signal jamming, which Ayja estimated reached 500 kilometers. The Kaminoan Ranger suggested that they take a hovertrain out of the city into the countryside and find a way to get to the top of the canyon, where they might have a better chance of reaching the Stellar Flare. Taanar agreed, and Ayja purchased tickets for them. Taanar told Ferb to remain calm and sent the other Rangers to the Alpha Star's docking bay to keep an eye on the monks and look for an opportunity to release the docking clamps.

The hovertrain took them along the river that flowed at the bottom of the canyon, carrying them out into rural areas. Ayja applied her medical skills to Nema and Ren's injuries on the way. Taanar received a communication from the Ranger contingent at the docking bay, informing her that the monks had suddenly departed and boarded speeders heading down the canyon in the same direction as the train. Ren searched Frowd thoroughly for tracking devices but found nothing. Taanar explained to her companions that if other monks were Force users like Frowd it might be possible for them to detect his location through the Force, but the Secura brothers were convinced that it had to be a device and even looked for surgical scars on Frowd that could indicate the presence of an implant.

Since it seemed that the monks somehow knew where the Jedi and Ranger group were, Ayja suggested they disembark from the hovertrain and hire riding animals called thumpers to ride down a side canyon in search of a way to the top. Nema and Den bought a service droid's entire supply of protein bars and a large quantity of sib in resealable containers, some of which they emptied and refilled with water.

The narrow side canyon that led away from the train stop required the party to ride their thumpers in single file. Ayja took the lead because she had the maps. She was followed by Ren, Taanar, the still-unconscious Frowd strapped securely to his mount, then Nema and Den at the rear of the line. As they rode along a narrow path climbing the canyon wall, Den lost his balance and fell off his thumper. Ren teased his brother, saying, "Can't hold your sib?" Neema asked her cousin, "Is the trip too boring? Did you fall asleep?" Den got up sheepishly, unharmed, and had just mounted his thumper again when three wamp rats suddenly appeared from a pile of rocks and leaped out, one attacking Ren's mount and the other two going after Den's thumper. Both brothers managed to stay in the saddle, but Den's mount lost its footing and fell, landing on Den's leg. Ren activated his vibroknife to defend himself and his steed. Nema drew her blaster and fired on the two wamp rats attacking Den's fallen thumper. Ren turned his thumper around, leaped off, and hit one of the rats. Taanar reached out through the Force and sent the rat by Ren plunging into the canyon. The remaining rat, left without a pack, fled back into the rocks.

Ayja treated the injuries to Den's thumper, and he remounted to continue the journey up the canyon. As the path neared the top of the wall, the party found an alcove inset into the rock that showed signs of recent activity by sentient beings. An opening at the back led up onto the land at the top of the canyon walls. Just as they reached this point, they heard the sound of repulsor engines echoing off the canyon walls, drawing nearer to their location. The alcove provided little cover.

A voice on a loudspeaker called out, "Release our comrade and we'll let you live!" Den looked at Frowd and realized that the Stellite master was awake. He held his blaster to Frowd's head and threatened to kill him, but he suddenly felt that he didn't want to harm Frowd and instead wanted to release him. When he moved to free the monk from the binder cuffs that restrained Frowd, Nema realized what was going on and shouted out for Den to stop. Ren then grabbed his brother and began struggling with him, trying to restrain him. Nema threw the contents of a container of sib in her cousin's face, which caused him to stop fighting Ren but didn't eliminate the compulsion to release Frowd.

Taanar spoke to her comrades, warning them that they couldn't accept the monks' claim that they would be set free if they released Frowd. She turned on Frowd, telling him, "Release the Ranger or I'll throw you off this cliff!" To emphasize the threat, Ren held a knife to Frowd's throat.

Frowd responded by using the Force to throttle Ren. This broke his control over Den. Ren responded to the threat on his life by stabbing Frowd in the neck. Ayja hadn't given Frowd any treatment after the earlier fight beyond sedating him, and no one had realized how badly he was hurt. The stab wound was fatal. Released from the choking invisible grip on his throat, Ren shoved Frowd over the cliff edge, his body falling into one of the open-sided speeders the monks had arrived in.

Most of the Stellite acolytes had vaulted onto the cliff ledge by this point. One of them, a reptilian Falleen, threw a sword at Ren and it began to attack him as though of its own will, revealing that there was a second Force user among the monks. Den hurled a grenade into a group of four acolytes just outside the alcove. Nema sensed a wave of cold rage from the Falleen but experienced no ill effect. Taanar lifted a huge boulder at the opening of the alcove and tried to crush the Falleen and an acolyte with it. The Falleen dodged.

At the back of the alcove, Ayja drew her blaster and fired on one of the acolytes close by, seriously wounding him. Nema then used the Force to yank the blaster out of the acolyte's hand and pull it to her. The acolyte who had been disarmed switched places with one of his comrades and took up a position near the Falleen at the edge of the ledge. The Falleen reached out through the Force and began to choke Taanar, who was better able to withstand the assault than Ren had been. But she lost control of the boulder and was unable to lift it again. That didn't stop her from leaping over the boulder to land beside the Falleen, igniting her lightsaber as she jumped and slashing at him when she landed. The acolyte Nema had disarmed tried to attack her with a knife but wasn't able to touch her.

Ren scrambled over the boulder to position himself on the other side of the Falleen. Taanar was hit by blaster fire when she failed to deflect it. She slashed the Falleen with her saber. Then Ren stabbed him in the neck as he had done with Frowd. The Falleen collapsed, green blood pumping from the wound for a few moments before his heart stopped.

Taanar turned to the acolyte behind her. "Find another way of life," she said. The acolyte leaped into one of the speeders. Taanar repeated the same message to the remaining Stellite acolytes, and the speeders departed. While Ayja treated everyone's blaster burns, the brothers searched the Falleen's body, finding a code cylinder that Ayja identified as being for a secure commlink. The group then climbed up to the top of the canyon and contacted the Stellar Flare for pickup. A contingent of Rangers returned the thumpers to their owner.

Aboard the Stellar Flare, the team reviewed the secure commlink they had taken from the Stellite master. It led to a hypertransceiver directed at an unknown planet in the Unknown Regions. But that link led back to the planet Taris, which lay well within the boundaries of the New Republic. Taris had been devastated during the war, but there were still industrial areas where space slugs and slime slick could be found, suggesting that might be where the Shadow Wing pirates were holding Imperial Knight Vima Montari. The question now was, would the Fortune team go to Taris or to investigate the planet in the Unknown Regions?