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?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 27: A Brief Respite

After the Ruby Scarabs had cleared the oasis fort of efreet and other intruders and recovered from their many wounds, they thoroughly searched the fort for any useful or salable items. The woman who had occupied the shrine to Sekhmet, who Uto was finally able to identify as a type of creature from the Plane of Earth called a shaitan, had very little on her person. But the shrine held a locked lead-lined chest, which Kaa opened to reveal three potions, a gold necklace set with glowing red stones, six silver cups engraved with river scenes, a gold and lapis lazuli ring, and a triangular iron bar adorned with a silver eye that closely resembled the talisman the naga Zaid had given the Scarabs in exchange for recovering his crown; Uto surmised that it was a control rod for some type of construct or automaton. The necklace radiated magic, but Sula was unable to determine what manner of enchantment it held. The potions were all easily recognizable as strong curatives.

The shrine itself held a statue of Sekhmet that appeared very lifelike in the glow of the torches that lit the chamber, but the Scarabs let that be. They went out into the room above and examined the crates it held. Within those they found one crate that contained three magic arrows. The rest of the crates held ordinary goods such as dishware that held no interest for the Scarabs.

After leaving the storeroom the Scarabs went to the tower. There they found a wax-sealed tin container which was very lightweight and rattled slightly when shaken, but was not magical. They decided warily to refrain from opening the seal. The body of the efreet woman wore finer jewelry than the shaitan woman had. They also found a brass strongbox in her chamber, engraved with flame designs and set with a false ruby on the lid, which wasn't locked or trapped. Inside the strongbox were an assortment of old coins of various mintings, some gemstone chips, a few gold pieces, and a key which Kaa identified as belonging to the chest he had unlocked in the shrine. The group also found six very finely drawn maps of the Parched Dunes, and a set of map-making tools that indicated the efreet woman had been a skilled cartographer.

One item marked on one of the maps drew Uto's attention when he examined them: a depiction of stacked stone walls that formed a clear pattern. He realized that the skill with which the maps had drawn and the quality of the parchment they were on made them quite valuable.

The Scarabs went out into the courtyard to search the bodies of the two male efreet they had fought at the gate. Both of them had fine quality falchions, but nothing else. Next the group moved to the area where the drake had been lounging before it attacked. There Kaa noticed a disturbed area of sand that looked as if someone or something had tried to cover it. Kaa took out his rod that could detect metals and passed it over the area, finding evidence of gold. When he took out his shovel and dug there, he found a chest that had been heavily scarred by claws. Inside the chest were a magical kopesh, a fist-size blue gem that seemed almost like liquid, a string of very fine amber beads, a silver circlet set with a pearl, and thousands of gold coins. The blue gem was magical, but while Sula was able to recognize the enchantment on the kopesh, the gem's power eluded her. When she asked if she could take the amber beads as her part of the treasure, her companions agreed.

Kaa used his rod to search for any more precious metals in the fort, but found only six pieces of silver for his effort. Once they had satisfied themselves that there was nothing left to be found inside the fort, the Scarabs hauled the bodies of the three efreet and the shaitan out into the desert and buried them in the sand. They decided to remain at the fort overnight. After dark Sula assumed the form of a lion and accompanied Nyema outside the fort to hunt.

The next morning Azzaria advocated for staying another day at the fort to relax and enjoy the palm trees and the pond. After discussing her suggestion, the others agreed that taking the opportunity to relax for a day wouldn't harm their mission to stop the cultists. Sula was able to determine that the necklace they had found would allow the wearer to hurl balls of fire of varying potency, and Uto suggested that Azzaria take it. The blue gem again refused to yield its secrets.

During the afternoon, Sula took the shape of a falcon and flew out over the desert to the north to see what was there. She spotted a cloud of sand raised by movement and was able to make out a group of camels and wagons passing across the desert. The travelers looked like desert natives, and were not heading toward the fort. Sula flew back to the oasis to tell her friends about the travelers. The Scarabs decided that when they left the fort the next day they would go to meet the travelers.

When they reached the traveling band, they found them camped around their fires, two dozen people with camels, horses, and dun-colored tents. As soon as some of the people in the camp saw the approaching Ruby Scarabs with Tetisurah following them, they began to shout excitedly, "Naheeba! Naheeba!" A woman emerged from a tent and came out to greet the newcomers in the common language, introducing herself as Naheeba. She appeared unfazed by the presence of the sphinx or the different, inhuman members of the Ruby Scarabs.

As the Scarabs exchanged information with Naheeba, she told them that her nephew had seen people wearing golden masks a few days earlier and her tribe had expected to meet them. Uto told her that although his mask resembled those of the cultists, the Scarabs meant them no harm but the cultists were dangerous and should be avoided. That evening the Scarabs stayed with Naheeba and her people, sharing stories and entertaining the desert people with displays of their skills and special abilities. Azzaria performed acrobatics, Uto told stories, and Kaa leaped into the air and shot forth blasts of fire. Sula told them about the animals of her homeland and brought out Nyema, who had been kept as a figurine in her pouch during the journey to meet the tribe.

Naheeba's people also carried trade goods with them and offered to trade with the Scarabs. Sula purchased a bolt of colorful cloth for a few silver pieces. Kaa acquired a dusty rose-colored stone that would orbit his head and provide him magical armor, while Uto bargained for a magical iron spike that could create illusory images. In exchange Naheeba and her people were given four magic cloaks the Scarabs had taken from some cultists, as well as the magic kopesh they had found in the desert drake's hoard.

That night the tribespeople offered tents to the Scarabs. Sula chose to rest beside Nyema by the campfire. She was aroused by screams from within the camp and scrambled to her feet to see two very large, heavily armored creatures burst up through the sand, snapping their teeth at the people who tried to flee them. Sula recognized that the beasts were bulettes. They were surprisingly swift for their bulk. One person was immediately mauled to death by one of the creatures. Sula told Nyema to stay out of the way and began to shout and stamp to attract the attention of the bulettes and draw them away from the fleeing tribesmen. Then she transformed into an ankylosaurus, pounding one of the bulettes with her mace-like tail. Meanwhile Azzaria had burst out to attack the second bulette, and Kaa blasted Sula's foe with lightning. Kaa revealed his wings and flew over the pool Naheeba's tribe had camped beside, blasting the bulette again. Uto assumed his living monolith form and began to stomp on the earth to attract the creatures.

The bulette facing Sula bit and clawed her viciously until she collapsed. Tetisurah, who had flown up overhead when the bulettes attacked, landed beside her and cast a healing spell that allowed Sula to recover. She was about to abandon her dinosaur form when she realized that the bulette was badly injured and about to flee. She called out to her comrades to stay their attacks. The bulette burrowed into the sand and disappeared. The second creature had been affected by a spell from Uto that had caused it to lose interest in attacking the tribesmen. When it tried to follow its comrade, Azzaria dealt it a wound that left it surrounded by bloodstained sand. Kaa then finished it off.

Out of gratitude for what the Ruby Scarabs had done, Naheeba presented them with an amulet in the form of an eye of the god Horus. She also gave them directions to the ravine where her nephew had seen the cultists of the Forgotten Pharaoh. They considered whether they should go to the ravine or return to the maftets at the ruins of Kher-Ma to tell them that the shrine of Sekhmet was now available to them. In the end they decided to visit the ravine first to see what the cultists were up to.

When they made their approach to the ravine where Naheeba's nephew had seen the cultists, the Ruby Scarabs were met by a startling sight: a huge bronze figure of a humanoid male stood in a narrow point in the ravine, frozen in mid-stride. On its bald head sat a circlet in the form of two intertwined snakes. Sula spied three golden-masked cultists nearby, one on a ledge about halfway up the wall of the ravine and the other two on the floor at the statue's feet. Kaa observed that all of them were armed with bows. As the Scarabs were observing the cultists they were also being observed and one of the cultists called out, "This place is ours! Leave or we will kill you!"

The Scarabs began to prepare for a fight, casting spells on themselves and each other. Tetisurah cast a spell on Kaa as well to grant him strength. Uto took out the iron spike and used it to create an illusory sand dune to block them from view. They heard the confusion of the cultists when the dune suddenly appeared, though it wasn't quite large enough to completely hide the sphinx. Then Azzaria and Kaa moved forward to engage with the cultists, while Tetisurah surrounded the illusory dune with a cloud of mist, and Sula transformed into a falcon to fly overhead. The cultists had flaming arrows for their bows, but weren't able to successfully wound anyone. Kaa blasted the men with lightning, and Sula did the same to the man on the ledge. Azzaria used a scroll she carried to attack one man with tiny unerring missiles of force. Tetisurah summoned a wind to deflect the fiery arrows. A fourth cultist appeared, but though he was face to face with Kaa, he was unable to touch the tengu with his scimitar.

One by one the cultists burst into flames and exploded rather than die at the hands of the Scarabs. When they were gone, the Scarabs gathered up the possessions that had been left behind by their self-immolation. Each man had a good quality bow, several flame arrows along with mundane arrows, a curative potion, scale armor, a scimitar, and a gilded wooden mask. Once those items had been collected, the Scarabs turned their attention to the bronze figure. They found a panel in its back, which when opened revealed a seat and a series of levers that could be used to control the construct. Openings received the power talisman and the triangular control rod. Uto took the control seat and activated the construct, and the Scarabs decided to take it to Kher-Ma. Being made of heavy bronze it didn't move quickly.

When they reached the maftets' encampment, Erayu didn't appear to be surprised by the arrival of the huge bronze man or the sight of Uto emerging from within it. When the Scarabs told him that the efreet were gone and the maftets could go to the fort to worship at the shrine, he expressed his gratitude to the Scarabs by telling them the tale of the Sightless Sphinx, which his people had once lived in the shadow of. According to Erayu, a member of their tribe named Userib had awakened a terrible evil inside the Sphinx that had taken over some of the tribe members and turned them against their own people. Erayu continued to say that his kin still lived inside the Sphinx. He told the Scarabs that he would show them the way to the Sightless Sphinx, but his people couldn't go there themselves. It would be too difficult for them to choose to kill their own.

As the Ruby Scarabs approached the Sightless Sphinx, they were met by a sight even more awe-inspiring than the bronze construct. Before them they saw a vast structure in the form of a sphinx, lying on its belly with its paws outstretched before it. Large double doors were set into its chest. One of the forelimbs had been crushed, but the other was a substantial structure. A broad lane flanked by statues of more sphinxes led to the doors. They could also see that there were scorpion-folk apparently standing guard, as well as golden-masked cultists moving about outside. One side of the structure was in shadow, a shadow that didn't appear to be caused by the sun beating down upon it. Exploring the interior of such a structure and defeating its guardians would be an undertaking worthy of an epic tale.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

[Star Wars] Guardians of Peace, Episode 9: "Gathering Strength, part 2"

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

In one of the craters on the pitted moon Sathizaar is the monastery of the Stellite Monks. The Antarian Rangers Ren & Den Secura infiltrated the sanctuary to search for information about the SHADOW WING, while the Jedi Taanar Ryl and Nema Secura confront Master Frowd...

As eight yellow-painted TIE fighters swooped toward the ship carrying Jedi Taanar Ryl and her team, Renpoji Secura was at the controls. Ferb Skywalker and the droid FE worked frantically to fix the shields damaged by the TIE fighters' attack. During this action, Gleemo, the Rodian bounty hunter the team had rescued from the pockmarked moon Sathizaar, spoke into his wrist communicator. But no one had any idea who he was communicating with.

While Ren struggled to dodge the fighters' attacks despite the ship's damaged systems, his brother Denpoji plotted a course to the planet Glom Tho. Gleemo took over the weapons after completing his mysterious communication. The ship was affected by a power surge and the lightning flickered. Sparks burst from the control panels. Ferb was yelling, but there was too much noise inside the Fortune of Greepo for his words to be understood. The disabled vessel began to tumble helplessly.

Unexpectedly, two of the pursuing TIE fighters exploded! Two more followed in quick succession. Then the Fortune was grabbed by a tractor beam and both it and the ship pulling it went to lightspeed.

As the two ships traveled through hyperspace, the airlock doors opened and a mouse droid carrying sensors entered the Fortune. A voice called out in the Rodian language, which none of the team members understood. Gleemo began to make a sound that they quickly recognized as laughter. Then two humans, a man and a woman, appeared from the vessel that had grabbed the Fortune. The man tossed a jacket to Gleemo, who put it on. The two people introduced themselves as Glin Lokin and his wife Jade, and explained that they and their Rodian comrade, whose real name was Rydu, were representatives of the New Republic Special Intelligence forces. They had been tracking the hostages to Sathazar while Rydu went undercover.

The team from the Fortune were invited to join the Special Intelligence agents aboard their ship, the Jade Zephyr, while the Fortune underwent repairs. They explained that the monks of Sathazar had been blackmailing a Republic senator, which had led to Rydu's undercover mission. As the Jedi and Ranger team explained what they'd been doing on Sathazar, the topic of conversation turned to the darts that Veema Montari had thrown at Ren and Den. The agents' droid suddenly squirted some lubricating fluid on one of the darts. When placed under UV light, the fluid revealed a message inscribed on the projectile. The message was Veema Montari's name and a brief description of her current situation as a captive of the Shadow Wing organization.

Jade and Ferb then joined forces to analyze the data that had been acquired from the monks. Taanar was presented with a code cylinder to use to contact the agents later. One of the hostages rescued from the monks was revealed to be the sister of a Populist senator, who was being blackmailed into voting with the hard-line, anti-Imperial Centrist faction.

When repairs on the Fortune had been completed to the point that the ship could safely fly, the Jedi team took their leave of the Jade Zephyr with the confident knowledge that they had new friends in New Republic security. They then traveled to Glom Tho. There they were met by the Ranger cruiser Stellar Flare. During a meeting in the Flare's security briefing room, Ferb revealed that analysis of the data extracted from the monks' database showed a connection between the monks and Shadow Wing. The assembled group listened to a recording of a conversation between Master Frowd and a woman, discussing how disturbed he was that the Jedi were on Sathazar. They suspected that the woman was someone high in the ranks of Shadow Wing, but who was she?

It was decided that the Fortune of Greepo would go to Canyon City to have the repairs completed and rendezvous there with the Stellar Flare, after which they would return to Sathazar for further investigation. During that time, Ren and Neema learned that the venom applied to Veema Montari's darts came from space slugs, a common pest - but the slugs produced more venom when they ate slime slick, which could be found in abandoned industrial areas. That gave them a clue to the kind of places where the Shadow Wing pirates might be hiding their prisoner. Taanar Ryl sent some of this information to their Imperial contact, Magda Insco.

The Fortune was issued a new transponder code for the trip to Canyon City, where it would land under the name Alpha Star. The Stellar Flare would be just outside the Balthazar system in hypertransciever range as reinforcements. The team also learned that the Stellite Monks had a monastery in Canyon City and acquired its location. They planned to observe the monastery to see if Master Frowd made an appearance there and follow him in the hope he would lead them to Shadow Wing. They took up position at a Biscuit Baron location that faced the monastery for their stakeout.

After an hour of observation, they were rewarded by the sight of Frowd and five acolytes heading toward the city's lower levels, where the docks were located. Their pursuit led them into a seedy area. Ren noticed that there were other people watching the acolytes. Then Taanar spotted the Herglic Shadow Wing member they had run into twice before. This time the Herglic carried a heavy blaster. He was in the company of a Devaronian. There were also more Stellite acolytes hiding in the alleys.

Abruptly the Herglic and the Devaronian began to blast the acolytes. Ren overheard the Herglic telling the Devaronian to kill Frowd, who had entered a nearby building. The Jedi team quickly decided that they didn't want Frowd dead. Den contacted the Alpha Star and then fired on the Herglic. Ren crept surreptitiously into the hall. Moments later the interior lights went out.

Taanar headed toward the hall, but as blaster fire filled the alleys she took cover. The pirates spotted and recognized Den. Inside the hall, Ren hid as he heard the sound of someone falling. Suddenly Master Frowd appeared on the roof of the building. He spotted Taanar in the alley below and exclaimed, "You! I knew you were here!" Taanar attempted to use the Force to grab him but he deflected the attempted and retaliated with a move that knocked her off her feet. Den fired on him.

Meanwhile Neema disarmed a pirate and began firing on the Herglic. Frowd said, "I've had enough of you Jedi interfering!" and knocked Neema down forcefully. Without getting up, Taanar thrust him back across the rooftop. Ren, who had just climbed up the ladder to the roof, was hit by Frowd as he hurtled across the roof and knocked partway back down the ladder. Ren climbed back up to find Frowd lying spread-eagled on the roof. As he popped his head out of he opening he fired at the Stellite master, saying, "We'd like you to assist us in our investigation!" Frowd began choking Ren. Taanar vaulted onto the roof. When she saw Frowd choking her Ranger cohort, she slashed him with her lightsaber. Frowd collapsed, dropping Ren.

Down in the alley, Neema and Den had continued fighting with the Shadow Wing members who were trying to wipe out all the Stellite acolytes. Seeing that the fight wasn't going their way, the Herglic fled. Den and Neema took down one of the pirates. Then sirens began to sound as the Canyon City security forces arrived.

(Glin Lokin, Jade, and Rydu were characters played by in a previous campaign by the players currently playing Den and Neema and another player not participating in the Guardians of Peace campaign. The other campaign was set in the 'canon' Star Wars universe of the movies, but the characters appearing here are alternate versions.)

Next: Episode 10: "Gathering Strength, part 3"

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 26: Tower of the Efreet

After the Ruby Scarabs returned the naga's crown to him and bid him farewell, they decided to continue their search for the Sightless Sphinx, exploring the desert around the river and beyond. They directed their search first to the southeast. Gradually they passed beyond the rolling dunes into an area of flat sandy land. Tetisurah the sphinx expressed regret that they had left the dunes behind. Both she and Sula found them more diverse and beautiful than their companions did.

When they entered the flat lands, the Scarabs could see off to the east the obelisk they had observed previously during their travels. They decided that it was time to investigate the structure and see if it might mark the location of the Sightless Sphinx. When they came close enough to the obelisk to see it well, they spied a burnt corpse at its base. Approaching nearer they could see that it was the corpse of a person, but there was no sign on the harder ground that anyone else had been nearby. When Kaa examined the obelisk he realized that it had been equipped with a magical trap that would blast the unwary with lightning. The friction of blowing sand would recharge the trap after it was triggered, though it would require a week or more for it to be fully recharged. Such obelisks as this had once represented the boundaries of the ancient Osirian empire, Uto recalled.

Kaa also realized that the charge from the obelisk could be captured in weapons and used to temporarily empower them with lightning. The group members decided that they should all take advantage of this, and each of them offered up a weapon to be charged with the power of lightning for a week. After this had been accomplished, Kaa spent a little while making drawings of the obelisk as he found its construction very impressive. Uto also took a rubbing of the corpse of the poor person who had fallen afoul of the lightning so the unknown individual could be remembered.

The Scarabs rested that night beside the obelisk, and continued on their quest the following day. A few hours after they left the obelisk behind them, Tetisurah returned from a reconnaissance flight to report that she had seen some ruins approximately an hour's walk to the north of their current location. The Scarabs decided to go to look at the ruins.

When they reached the spot that Tetisurah had seen, they found a cluster of low broken walls that showed signs of current habitation. Blue and white striped cloths had been suspended from some of the more intact walls to create shade, and there were sealed barrels stored among the walls. They also saw creatures there, winged beings with legs that bent the opposite direction of humanoid legs. At first they thought these creatures were harpies and they began to discuss how they could protect themselves from the song of the harpies, though none of them could remember much about harpies beyond that they had a dangerous song. Tetisurah then offered to use her ability to magically spy on the creatures to find out more, and she discovered that the inhabitants of the ruins weren't harpies but instead were moftets, a race of beings with the upper bodies of humans and legs like the hind limbs of lions. Maftets were somewhat related to sphinxes, and Tetisurah informed her traveling companions that maftets were typically more contemplative than combative. The Scarabs decided to approach the maftet camp and ask if the maftets knew anything about the Sightless Sphinx or the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh.

When they were within perhaps thirty yards of the camp, a female maftet emerged and commanded them to halt, asking who they were. Uto and Azzaria both explained in the Osirian language what it was the Ruby Scarabs sought. In response the maftet asked what gods they followed. She told them that they could meet with the elder of the maftet pride, but only if they would lay down their weapons. The Scarabs decided to comply, so they set down their weapons before approaching closer to the ruins. An elder maftet came out to meet them, a male with white hair whose wings had also begun to whiten. He introduced himself as Erayu. When he welcomed them to the camp, he mentioned that while this was where his pride lived, it was not their home. This provoked Kaa to ask where their home lay and why they weren't living there. Erayu explained that the pride had lived near the Sightless Sphinx, but their home had been invaded by red-skinned horned creatures twice the height of a man who carried burning blades, who had driven the maftet pride away. He wasn't willing to tell the Scarabs where to find the Sightless Sphinx until he knew what their intentions were. As a test, he asked if they could get rid of the creatures that had driven the pride away from their home. The maftets worshipped the lion goddess Sekhmet, and the creatures were also denying them access to a shrine to their goddess. The Ruby Scarabs didn't know what manner of beings Erayu described, but they were angered when they heard these creatures had driven the maftets out, and readily agreed to try to remove them.

The shrine the creatures had claimed access to lay thrity or forty miles to the east from the ruins. For the next two days the Ruby Scarabs traveled to the east, until they found themselves looking at a stone fort with a round tower at one corner. They could see palm trees rising above the walls. Sula transformed herself into a falcon and flew over the fort to see what lay inside. She saw only one humanoid creature, which didn't meet the description that Erayu had given, and what appeared to be a dragon lounging beneath the palm trees beside a pool of water.

After she reported this to her friends, the Scarabs decided to approach the fort as travelers seeking the oasis. But they cautiously armed themselves with spells before they did so. Sula gave Nyema armor of bark and then turned the lioness into a figurine and put her in her pouch so that whoever was inside the fort wouldn't see the big cat. Uto cast several beneficial spells on Azzaria to make her stronger and better able to withstand enemies. Then the whole group, along with Tetisurah, approached the gate of the fort.

The single sentry Sula had seen suddenly flew over to the wall above the gate and shouted at them in a booming voice, "Leave this place, there is nothing for you here." When Uto replied that the party wanted to visit the oasis and the shrine of Sekhmet, the guard repeated, "There is nothing for you here," and added, "Turn away or pay the price." Uto asked him what the price was. A wall of flames sprang up between the Scarabs and the fort. After hearing that the creatures the maftets had encountered were fiery, the Scarabs had prepared themselves with magic to resist harm from fire, and the wall did nothing to them. Uto walked through the flames unharmed.

When Sula stepped through the flames a moment later, she saw that the person on the wall wasn't an ordinary person but an efreet. The efreet hurled a ball of flames at Kaa, but like the rest of the group Kaa was protected and the flame didn't injure him. Azzaria and Kaa both began to fly, as did the efreet. Uto had already begun flying, and he now summoned lightning to strike the efreet. A second efreet appeared and Azzaria flew at him in a rage, her image blurred and moving at great speed. Tetisurah flew up near the top of the nearby tower. The second efreet sent three rays of fire at Tetisurah, while the first did the same to Kaa. Neither attack did any harm. Uto continued to blast the first efreet with lightning. Sula followed his example, blasting both efreet with lightning of her own. Azzaria attacked the first efreet repeatedly until he went limp and dropped to the ground motionless.

The dragon Sula had seen under the trees rose and flew toward Uto, blasting him with its breath and surrounding the area with a cloud of sand that blocked sight. Azzaria finished off the second efreet and moved to do the same to the drake. After she pounded it with a few fierce and well-placed blows, it lost consciousness and fell slowly to the ground. By the time it landed it was dead.

The Ruby Scarabs entered the courtyard of the fort, observing heaps of bones around the pool and a canopy providing shade to two chairs. The door of the tower was open. Erayu had mentioned four creatures when he told of the interlopers who had driven the moftet pride away, but there was no sign of other efreet. The Scarabs decided to enter the tower first. Inside they found a table with four chairs, and a staircase leading upward. Sula had tried to peer through the arrow slits in the tower when she flew over the fort, but had been unable to see inside. The Scarabs climbed cautiously up the stairs. At the top Kaa disarmed a trap that would have blasted them with fire, and Azzaria smashed the door to splinters. Beyond it lay a chamber completely engulfed in flames with a floor covered in lava.

A spark of heat from above the door exploded into waves of fire around Kaa, Azzaria, and Uto. Then a feminine voice spoke in the language of creatures of fire, "Interlopers you will die!" The warning was immediately repeated in the common tongue. When the Scarabs put their heads through the trapdoor they saw a female efreet. Kaa offered her a chance to surrender rather than suffer the same fate as the other two efreet outside, but she sneered that they were pathetic. The room filled with another burst of flames, and Uto blasted the efreet with lightning. Kaa began to fly again, and as he prepared to blast her with cold the efreet hit him with a backhand blow that disrupted his attack. Then she vanished. Three rays of fire appeared from the center of the room to strike Azzaria. Azzaria cast a spell on herself to enable her to see invisible things and spied the efreet by the trapdoor that led to the roof. She called out to her comrades to tell them where their enemy stood. Sula sent her lightning toward the place Azzaria pointed to but Azzaria saw it glance off the efreet's crimson hide. Kaa sent a spray of frigid cold at the same area and heard an angry response as his attack connected.

Tetisurah made the mistake of poking her head through the trapdoor just as the efreet filled the room with flames again. This time the fire was powerful enough to overcome the magical resistance and Sula was burned. Azzaria and Kaa both attacked the efreet, while Uto attempted to use the touch of his hair to curse her. But he couldn't see her, and even with Tetisurah's help he wasn't able to touch her. Then Azzaria saw the efreet transform into a gas and float toward the roof trapdoor. Determined not to allow her to escape, Azzaria struck her, and she became solid again, trapped partly in the roof of the flaming room. She was unconscious. A minute later she became visible again and it was apparent that she was dead.

The Scarabs found nothing of interest in the burning room but a well made map. The flames and lava proved to be an illusion designed to make the efreet feel more at home. The Scarabs decided to move to the low square structure in the opposite corner of the fort. That building held various sealed clay vessels and crates, but Kaa noticed an arrow trap and realized the crates were sitting on a trapdoor in the floor. He disarmed the arrows and the crates were moved aside to give access to the trapdoor. The room beneath held a small pool or well. When Kaa put his head through the opening, he saw a large figure of stone which spoke to him in the language of earth creatures, warning that it would not allow him to pass. Kaa asked, "Who can pass?" to which the elemental replied, "She who passes through stone." Kaa's efforts to find out who that was gained him nothing. Uto wondered if it could be a god, but couldn't think of any entity know by the name 'She Who Passes Through Stone.' Kaa tried to elicit more information from the elemental, which told him that this person was "stone and flesh with the ability to pass through stone."

Uto then decided to use his own ability to pass through earth and stone to descend into the underground chamber and see if the elemental would accept him as the person it referred to. The elemental responded by slamming its stony arm into him while half its body sank into the floor. Sula tried blasting the elemental with lightning through the trapdoor opening, but the lightning didn't seem to have much effect. Uto used his wand to try to reshape the elemental's body, but it did little beyond smoothing out the surface. Azzaria raged again and descended into the room to attack the elemental with her adamantine flail. Only some of her strength seemed to carry through to the creature as harm. Uto cast a spell on her weapon to give it more ability to harm such a creature and moved into one of the corners of the room, shouting that he needed a distraction. He has absorbed a great deal of injury from his companions by this time and was sorely wounded.

The elemental appeared to be guarding another door on the far side of the room. Kaa darted over to this door, provoking the elemental to swing at him. The door wasn't locked, but appeared not to have been opened for some time. When Kaa pulled it open he saw that at the far end of the next room stood a statue of Sekhmet in a red dress. The room was also occupied by a very tall woman with marbled skin that had a stony appearance. She didn't look like an efreet. There was a huge bed in the room that presumably belonged to her. The woman said, "My guardian wasn't enough to deter you," and charged through the wall next to the open door. Kaa attacked her but his attack appeared not to do her much injury. She pushed him downward, and Kaa sank into the floor! Fortunately he broke free and emerged a moment later. Sula dropped into the room and immediately took the form of an ankylosaurus, lashing out at the woman with her tail, but failed to connect. Uto blasted the woman with lightning, which she evaded. The elemental, evidently unwilling to die for the woman, withdrew into the floor and disappeared.

The woman pummeled Kaa with a series of rapid blows very like what the tengu could do. She also hit Sula several times and left her on the edge of death. Sula abandoned her dinosaur form to get out of reach. She had realized that the woman was protected by magical armor of stone, and she now used her own magic to dispel it, leaving the woman vulnerable. Azzaria dropped her flail and drew her other weapons before rushing the woman, defended by blurring and a series of magical images of herself. Uto assumed his living monolith form. The woman missed a strike against Kaa and stepped backward through the wall into the shrine. Kaa pursued her through the door and hit her, followed by Azzaria flying through and losing one of her images to the woman's attacks. Uto flew into the doorway, realizing as he did so that if he used a spell to turn the stone wall into some other material when the woman tried to pass through it, he might be able to trap her. Just as he thought of this she tried to walk through the stone again. Uto turned the wall from stone to flesh. Entangled, the woman began to tear a gaping bloody hole in the fleshy wall. Bits of mica and other sparkling minerals sprayed from her. Sula realized that the woman was a creature of earth and might be vulnerable to fire, but her attempt to hurl a handful of fire at the woman missed. Then Azzaria stepped in and for the fourth time that day finished off an elemental creature. When they were sure the woman was dead, Kaa vindictively urinated on her corpse.

Next: part 27, A Brief Respite

Sunday, February 4, 2018

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 25: Lair of the Serpent King

As the huge serpent reared its five human-like heads above them, the Ruby Scarabs tensed for battle. But both Azzaria and Uto first attempted to defuse the naga's anger with diplomatic words. One of the naga's heads seemed to be considering their request for conversation rather than combat, but the other heads appeared closed, and the face that Zaid Faad had worn was still angry. Then the five heads looked at each other and the naga appeared to grow even more terrifying. Three of the heads spoke in unison, "You must make penance for disrespecting us. Kneel," glaring at the Scarabs as they made their demand. Tetisurah exclaimed something about the moon, her voice sounding panicked. Kaa called out, "I can't hear!" Nyema growled and began to paw at her ears.

Azzaria moved acrobatically past the naga, ending her movement inside the temple resting on one knee. The eyes of Uto's mask glowed red as he said, "You look into my eyes!" The naga slithered backward slightly and began to mutter an incantation. Kaa sent a blast of lightning through the doorway of the temple to strike the snake. The naga turned one of its heads toward Azzaria and said to her, "You have entered what is mine." One of the other heads spoke to the rest of the group still outside: "If you cannot obey you will be punished!" The naga's form began to blink in and out of sight.

Sula had been outside the temple comforting the deafened Nyema. She had realized that the huge serpent had an ability to cause harm with its gaze, and she had shouted out a warning to her companions though of course it was too late for that to save Kaa. Now she realized that she could help her friends fight the naga. She sent her magic toward him and suddenly the snake became clearly visible again. The naga glared at Azzaria, but his gaze didn't affect her. Uto once again triggered the power of the pharaoh's mask to no effect.

Azzaria began to rage with battle fury, her form becoming blurred and moving with exceptional speed as she drew her weapons and attacked the naga. Uto summoned a mist to surround the serpent, making it more difficult for it to turn its gaze on her. Azzaria was also surrounded by six images of herself to confuse her opponent, but as the naga fought with her one image after the other disappeared.

Outside the temple, Tetisurah suddenly flew up and swooped over the roof of the temple toward the cliff face it stood against, her flight unsteady. Kaa sent another burst of lightning at the naga while Azzaria tried to breach its armored hide with her weapons. Uto's also became difficult to see and entered the area he had filled with mist, stretching his hair out to heal some of the wounds the naga had inflicted on Azzaria. He activated his mask a third time, and this time the mask's power overcame the naga's hardiness, leaving it sickened. Uto could see that Azzaria had been able to pierce its hide. The naga turned all five of its heads on Kaa but only one successfully struck him. Kaa's wound bled excessively.

Sula summoned lightning from the heavens and a bolt shot down from the ceiling of the temple to strike the naga even though she couldn't clearly see him. After two more such bolts struck him he looked ragged and ready to collapse, and when Azzaria hit him again he slumped to the floor of the temple.

Because the Scarabs had never really desired to do the naga harm, Uto used his shamanic magic to prevent the creature from bleeding to death. Then Kaa entered the temple to search it briefly before going outside to find out what had become of Tetisurah. Sula had seen her fly toward the cliff. Kaa discovered an unlocked secret compartment behind the altar which held sculptures, jewelry, and pottery, but left to find Tetisurah without examining the contents any further. He found her with her back against the cliff face, trying to hide behind a rock that was too small to disguise her. The naga's gaze had left her both blinded and deafened. Kaa soothed her with gentle touches until she came back down to the temple entrance.

Meanwhile Uto and Sula examined the things from the compartment, finding that while most of them were somewhat valuable only one object was magical, a triangular amulet of iron with a feather in gold along each edge. Sula determined that this thing was a power source for some type of automaton or construct. Once the objects had been discovered and examined, the Scarabs, with the exceptoin of Kaa, began to discuss what they should do with the naga. Would it be best to slay him and protect others from the danger he posed? Should they simple leave and let him live or die as fate willed? Or should they heal him enough that he wouldn't immediately die and leave him behind? They also wondered if they should take the things from the compartment. These seemed to have been made during different periods of Osirion's history and the trio  felt that the items hadn't been left behind when the temple was deconsecrated. They suspected that the items might have been collected by the naga.

Azzaria, Sula, and Uto all wanted to leave the objects with the naga and heal him enough that he wouldn't be in danger. Uto was concerned that when the naga regained consciousness he would still have his baleful gaze active and they considered blindfolding him to prevent him blinding or deafening anyone else. But in the end the didn't cover his eyes. Instead Sula went outside and prepared to call the lightning again if the naga attacked, while her three friends all turned their backs to the huge serpent and Uto healed more of its wounds.

Once the naga was awake enough to converse, Uto told him that the Scarabs only wanted to talk to him and warned him against making any hostile movements. The naga responded by saying, "I will not serve you." He rose up, and even from a distance Sula could see that he looked at Uto and Azzaria with hatred. Then he glanced toward the altar, confirming that the things hidden there were probably his possessions. When Kaa returned he was disappointed that they weren't taking any of the things they had discovered, as he was attracted to a gold statuette, but he agreed to abide by the decision his three comrades had made once he was able to lip-read what they said. Uto asked the naga to cease its harmful gaze, and it did so, but not until it had accused the Scarabs of being thieves and brigands.

When the threat of its gaze was gone Uto and Azzaria turned to face him and asked him if he had seen any representatives of the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh, sphinxes, or knew of the place called the Sightless Sphinx. The naga denied having seen anyone like the cultists, or any visitors at all recently. He also told them he had never heard of the Sightless Sphinx, but he had heard a rumor that somewhere nearby lay an ancient temple to the demon lord Areshkigal, who was depicted as a faceless sphinx.

Kaa asked loudly if the naga had the power to banish the deafness caused by his gaze, but Zaid lacked that ability. Uto meanwhile considered what Zaid had said about Areshkigal and recalled that the demon lord was said to be a six-legged sphinx without a face and was considered lord of greed, portals, and riddles. It certainly seemed likely that the Sightless Sphinx they sought might also be the temple to the demon lord.

Uto then asked Zaid if he knew what the triangular object in his stash was. The naga didn't know, but when Uto expressed interest in acquiring it Zaid offered an opportunity: he had lost his crown near a river a few days earlier, and offered to give the triangular object and other items to the Scarabs in exchange if they would recover the crown. He gave only a vague description of the place where he had lost it, and no description at all of the crown itself.

By this point it was clear that the naga was too arrogant to express gratitude toward the Scarabs for sparing his life, and he wanted nothing more than for them to leave the temple and let him be. But he agreed they could camp outside that night before going off to seek the crown. Poor blind and deaf Tetisurah spent the night leaning against the temple facade, which she seemed to find soothing. The next morning Uto asked the spirits to grant him the ability to remove the blindness and deafness suffered by the sphinx. He was also able to restore hearing to Kaa and Nyema. When everyone had recovered, the Scarabs and Tetisurah made their way to the north of the temple to the river where Zaid had misplaced his crown.

By good fortune, Kaa possessed a magic rod which could detect metallic objects if he willed it. The Scarabs worked their way along the river, Kaa scanning the area with his rod as they went. The river was narrow but deep and slow. They found it pleasant to be near water after having traveled many days through the desert. As they came to an area where the bank was rocky and higher on one side, they beheld a wondrous site: four birds stood in the water searching for food, birds that resembled ibises but were twice Uto's height, their gleaming feathers apparently made of silver and brass.

With encouragement from Uto, Sula recalled that these birds were magical creatures called stymphalidies. She warned her companions that the birds were very territorial and aggressive, and that they could both use their shiny feathers as projectiles and as reflectors that could blind the unwary. The Scarabs considered whether to go on and leave the stymphalidies be, but they needed to search that part of the river. They decided to approach the birds and try to drive them off, but they were prepared for a fight if the birds reacted poorly to their presence.

While Sula's skin took on a stony appearance, Kaa sent a blast of lightning at two of the birds. The lightning didn't appear to penetrate the metal feathers, but the birds became agitated. One bird fired some of its feathers toward Uto, two of them slashing his flesh. Another razor-sharp feather aimed toward Kaa but he deflected it. Sula brought down a rain of pebbles and small stones on the birds, which seemed to have no effect on them but made the area around them difficult to walk through. Azzaria flew into a rage, her body flickering from place to place. Tetisurah hurled a pawfull of fire at one bird but it washed over the metal feathers without doing any harm.

One of the birds hopped over Sula's stones toward Azzaria and Kaa, while a second flew awkwardly up to Uto. Kaa continued to blast them with lightning. Sula moved to attack the bird nearest Uto with her spear, which she charged with lightning, but her spear blade bounced off its unusual plumage. Uto summoned the lightning to strike it and stepped away from the bird. Tetisurah put her paw on Sula's shoulder and Sula felt herself infused with greater strength. When the bird slashed at the sphinx, Sula stabbed with her spear. The blade couldn't pierce the feathered armor, but her lightning did, and her stony skin protected her from most of the slashing feathers. Nyema tried to help her master by unsuccessfully attempting to bite through the bird's feathers.

Then one of the birds folded its wings around itself and a dazzling glare shone from its feathers. Nyema snarled in fright as she was robbed of her vision. Sula called out to the lioness to get away from the birds. A second bird performed the same action, leaving Azzaria and Uto blind. Sula's sight, accustomed to the glare of the sun on sand, was unaffected. Kaa continued to blast the birds until two of them fell. He had already brought one down. Despite being unable to see, Azzaria slew the fourth of the stymphalidies.

When all of the stymphalidies had fallen, Kaa cut their throats to ensure they were dead. Azzaria had dropped her weapon in the mud when the bird blinded her, and Uto sent his invisible spirit to fetch it. Uto had absorbed many wounds from his friends during the struggle with the birds and he now focused on healing his own injuries. A short time later the blindness wore off and everyone's sight was restored. The Scarabs decided to remove the hides of the birds in the hope that their marvelous feathers could be made into cloaks or possibly weapons; and Kaa decided to remove their feet to be turned into metallic footwear for avian feet.

While Uto and Sula removed the birds' feathers, Kaa continued searching the river with his rod. Eventually he discovered the crown in the silt. He couldn't resist trying it on after he rinsed it clean, but it was far too large for his head. After the crown was recovered the group decided to search the rest of the area around the river so they would know what lay there. Then they made their way back to the temple to return the crown.

Zaid looked a bit healthier when they returned, though he declined to allow Uto to heal him any further. In exchange for the return of the crown, he gave the triangular amulet to Uto. Kaa told the naga how he had been asked to find a golden statue and requested the statue he had seen in Zaid's collection, offering the naga another object that he had been told to replace the statue with. Though Kaa's item wasn't of much value, the naga appeared to like it and agreed to trade the statue for it.

Next: part 26, Tower of the Efreet