Monday, June 4, 2018

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 33: Into the Citadel

Player-characters are now 7th level, 2nd mythic tier.

The Beast of Drezen. Characters shown are not the player-characters.
Image result for citadel drezen

As the chimera breathed its last breath atop the tower, large groups of human cultists and tieflings, and a smaller group of dretches rushed into the courtyard below to defend Citadel Drezen against the Crusaders. The defenders weren't armed with bows or crossbows, which left the Crusader Knights atop the tower free to heal their wounds. Jiro and Sosiel both summoned divine energies to heal Runa, who was the most badly wounded of the group.

Once the heroes had healed themselves and made an accounting of the defending force below so they could report back to Irabeth, they descended the outside of the tower and returned to meet the rest of their army. The army had now tripled in size by the addition of the captive Crusaders the paladins had set free while the Knights were disabling the catapults and battling the chimera. Irabeth ordered a tent set up across the Ahari Bridge as a temporary command post and began to plan for the Crusader army to assault the Citadel. She sent Anevia and Aron out to keep watch on the town for any sign of reinforcements for the demons. Meanwhile she introduced the Crusader Knights to the newly freed prisoners, who had all been away from Kenabres too long to have heard of the Knights' exploits there.

Then the commanders met to discuss how they would take on the defenders and gain access to the interior of the Citadel. Irabeth told the Knights to rest while she led the bulk of the army against the demons' minions. The Crusader army's morale was high with the success against the chimera and the release of the prisoners, and Irabeth wanted the Knights to be at full strength to enter the Citadel once the enemy forces outside it were eliminated.

When the Knights left the command tent, they went to see Horgus Gwerm, who had been acting as quartermaster for the army. They intended to trade some items they had recovered in exchange for other objects, as well as to see what sort of useful gear had been founded in the armory the Crusaders had seized. Gwerm reported that there appeared to be no enemies still within the town - they had all either been slain or fled. He told the Knights that he had had learned from informants that they should expect the interior of the Citadel to differ from the details on the map Aron had provided. Gwerm had also learned that the forces within the fortress included Joran Vhane, brother of the traitor Staunton Vhane, but reportedly Joran wasn't as dedicated to the demons as his sibling. Jiro and Runa both came away from this interview suspecting that Gwerm had got his hands dirty questioning the prisoners the army had taken, and that he wasn't comfortable with what he had done.

The Knights had all asked Gwerm to check the inventory of items taken from the demons' armory and let them know if he found any objects they desired. The result of this was that they each obtained several useful things. Asami acquired a rod that would extend the duration of her spells, a pair of bulette-hide bracers that would grant her the benefit of armor, and a wand that would allow her to enhance the vitality of herself or her companions. Her friends also gained various similarly useful items. Gwerm allowed each of them to choose one item of lesser value without requiring any payment or trade, and the remaining items were sold to them at half the typical market value.

Their purchasing done, the Knights went off to rest, but not before they heard that their comrade Aegronius, who had remained in Kenabres to look after his friend Dara after she was injured, would soon be rejoining them. Runa also performed a short service for the Crusaders who would be going into battle the following day, donning a chasuble over her armor rather than changing into her priestly vestments. Afterward she joined Jiro and Zosta in practicing with Bohgong, which drew a crowed of the new members of the army who hadn't seen the monkey leading a martial practice before. Asami meanwhile was presented a book of useful spells by Aravashnial, and she took that book and two others that had been taken from the armory back to her tent to study them.

That evening as the Knights all settled down to wait until the Crusader army returned victorious, they realized that like their success in reclaiming the Gray Fortress in Kenabres, slaying the chimera had brought more divine blessings upon them. Everyone felt stronger and more capable. Asami knew that the strength of her spells would be greater and they would be more difficult to identify or dispel, and her knowledge was a bit broader. Her affinity for all things of wood or plant-based had increased as well. But she also felt a greater repugnance to touch anything made of metal. Of course she didn't notice it herself, but the next day some of her companions told her that the bark-like markings on her skin and the green tinge in her hair seemed more clearly visible/

The siege against the Citadel defenders went very well for the Crusader army. Their enemies had been dismayed by the Knights' success in disabling the catapults and slaying the chimera. As a result the Crusaders were soon mopping up the courtyard to remove the last traces of the demons and their followers, at which point some of the Knights went to lend their aid. Asami remained in her tent copying spells into her spellbook. When her friends returned, they met to determine their strategy for entering Citadel Drezen.

It was Jiro who suggested that instead of entering through the front gate they should go to one of the towers at the rear of the structure and come down from its roof. He and Shim had done a circuit of the Citadel by walking along the top of the curtain wall and had decided that might be the best entry point. After the Knights took the Ahari Bridge Asami had acquired a wand that could teleport herself and two fully-laden people at a time to a nearby destination, which they decided could be used to take Runa and Zosta to the tower first since they were the best fighters. Then she would return for Jiro and Shim. Bohgong and Kirara could make their own way up the tower since the monkey could climb and the silvanshee could fly.

The map Aron had provided showed that the hidden vault where the Sword of Valor had been stored in the past was closer to that tower, and although they didn't expect the banner to still be in the vault after so many years of occupation they wanted to check there before investigating the rest of the Citadel. Aron had also told them that the top of the tower Jiro had chosen once held a summoning circle used for summoning celestial beings to aid the Crusaders. No doubt the circle had been destroyed or corrupted by the demon invaders, but it would be good to know what state it was in. Once their plan was in place it was decided that Sosiel should remain with the rest of the army to lend them healing, and Aron would be better staying with him. Only the Knights would enter the Citadel.

That evening before settling into her meditation period Asami used her new ability to restore several charges to Jiro's wand that could summon a weapon of force energy. She had already used that ability on the previous night to recharge her own wand that fired missiles of force. The next morning when everyone was ready to begin, she used the teleportation wand to transport herself, Runa, and Zosta to the top of the tower. They found the summoning circle of inlaid gold and ivory intact, but Runa wasn't able to determine if it had been corrupted. Then Asami left and went to fetch Jiro and Shim.

An instant after Asami departed, a burst of fire blasted the top of the tower. Zosta saw it in time to drop to the ground and avoid the flames, but Runa was burned. They couldn't tell where the flame had come from. Asami, Jiro, and Shim saw the fire, but that didn't deter them from going to the tower to join their companions. As they appeared on the tower a moment later, they welcomed by a much bigger inferno. Asami was momentarily exhausted by the use of the teleportation magic and had no opportunity to protect herself from the cloud of fire that engulfed her and left her a hair's breadth from death. The wand that had brought them all to the tower burned to ash. Seeing that Asami was in dire condition and Jiro would need to work quickly to save her life, Zosta picked Jiro up and grabbed Asami by her cloak to carry both of them off the tower roof to safety. Runa ran down the stairs behind her. Shim was hit by another ball of fire before he could escape the exposed roof, but he managed to stagger down the steps to join the rest of the group.

Asami was terribly burned. Jiro and Runa both called on the greatest divine power they could muster to save her. Jiro then healed Runa, Shim, and himself, and linked his life force to Asami as well as to the others so he could continue to provide healing.

After Asami was recovered enough to get on her feet again, they looked around at the chamber they had entered. It carried a strong animal smell, and they quickly realized that this must have been the lair of the chimera they had slain. A hole had been knocked through the tower's exterior wall to allow the creature to fly in and out, but the doorway to the descending staircase had been blocked up with stone to prevent the monster from entering the Citadel. The chimera had accumulated a pile of looted treasures that were heaped on the floor near the rubble-strewn area that had once been a stairwell.

The mass of fireballs that had attacked them from above led the Knights to realize that there were probably more brimoraks in the Citadel other than the tower defenders they had eliminated. Brimoraks like many demons could also summon others of their kind from the Abyss, and these summoned demons could teleport and call flames to attack their foes just as well as those who had summoned them. Concerned that she would be injured again and drain more of the party's resources, Asami cast a spell to grant herself some protection from fire.

Before the Knights had time to look closer at the chimera's treasure, a brimorak demon suddenly appeared inside the room, teleporting in from elsewhere. The demon looked surprised, though they didn't know whether it was because they were there or because all of them appeared to be unhurt. They knew it must be sending a telepathic message to its brethren to warn them. Shim swallowed the last of a potion he had been drinking when it arrived and stepped toward it, sword drawn. Zosta rushed forward to knock the demon off its hooves and then stamped on it. Runa drew her sword and stabbed it fiercely. The brimorak breathed its last and vanished, demonstrating that it had been summoned rather than among the Citadel's regular defenders. Shim decided that getting out of the tower room was the best option to avoid being cornered by more demons and began attempting to break through the stones blocking the stairs by chopping at them with his sword.

It seemed likely that more brimoraks would be arriving soon. To prepare Asami cast a spell on herself and her comrades that would allow them to communicate with one another in whispered messages to prevent their enemies from overhearing their plans. She then went to look at the chimera's treasure to see if it held anything helpful to them. She could see at least on enchanted item in the collection of objects and coins. While she was looking, three more brimoraks appeared floating in the air beyond the gap in the outer wall. Asami failed to observe them because there was a section of broken interior wall between the spot where she stood and the gap. There was a five-foot-wide doorway through this broken interior wall, but Asami wasn't looking toward it and didn't see when Zosta and Runa both ran to defend the gap.

Zosta punched one of the demons. Runa then called on Iomedae to wound the evil creatures with her holy radiance, injuring all of them and leaving two of them blind. The third hovered there blinking its streaming eyes. Asami realized that there were enemies present and repositioned herself so she could hurl her spear through the opening in the interior wall to hit the demon who had been dazzled by Iomedae's light. The wound was minor, much of its force deflected by the brimorak's armored hide, but it began to bleed freely.

Jiro moved closer to Runa and Zosta and created a circle of protection to defend against the demons. At the same time he created a purifying effect that prevented them from causing harm with their sickening smoky breath. Two of the brimoraks spat burning blood toward the Knights, but their spit caused no harm. Asami cast a spell to create a narrow stream of strong wind blowing through the opening in the inner wall and out through the broken gap. The wind caused one of the blinded demons to be pushed away from the tower. Because the brimorak was floating on the air rather than standing on the ground, it was pushed even farther than would ordinarily have been possible. In its blinded state it was too confused to move out of the wind or return to the tower.

Jiro summoned a tetsubo of force to attack the demon nearest Zosta and drew his cold iron mace. From behind him a single bead of force shot over his shoulder to attack the same target as the tetsubo. Bohgong was part of the communication spell Asami had cast and she was amused to hear the monkey say, "Pull!" in the Tian tongue when he triggered the wand he'd pilfered from her, as if he was calling for a new target in an archery contest. He had forgotten anyone could hear him. Meanwhile, Shim realized that the stones blocking access to the stairs formed a barrier at least ten feet thick. He abandoned trying to smash through and joined the others by the gap in the outer wall.

One of the blind brimoraks created a ball of fire but centered the blast on itself. Asami was protected by the interior wall section and the rest of the Knights were relatively unscathed. Zosta grabbed the demon Asami had hit with her spear and began to struggle with it. Runa followed up with a thrust through its heart and it collapsed. Asami threw another spear at the other blind brimorak but missed her aim. Jiro transferred his tetsubo to the demon that had been blown away by the wind spell and Bohgong sent another unerring missile at it. It was still blind and unable to either escape the wind or find its way back to the tower. The wind continued to blow it further away. Its comrade who was also blind retreated, walking on air to escape.

A moment later both demons recovered their sight, and the one that had been caught in the wind was able to escape the wind and follow its fellow's example by retreating. Before it could get much farther from the tower, Jiro's floating tetsubo took it's life. Only the first brimorak that had begun to flee was actually able to escape.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 32: The Sightless Sphinx part 5

The Sightless Sphinx

The Ruby Scarabs once again withdrew from the Sightless Sphinx to recover from their battles with the two guecubu and the zombie priestess. Once outside they examined the items they had taken from the zombie's burial chamber to determine which to keep and which to sell. Sula requested that she be allowed to take one of the fine scimitars that some of the cultists had borne, as she'd seen the need for a slashing blade against creatures like the guecubu. Most of the other items proved to be of no use to the Scarabs. Then they said a brief farewell to Tetisurah and Hutt transported them back to Sothis, where they planned both to gain magical recovery from the effect of the bodaks' gaze and to purchase some additional items that might be useful in Areshkagal's temple.

During their overnight stay in Sothis, Sula acquired several potions to allow her to see in the dark in the event they met any more babau demons, and had a spell cast on Nyema to cure her of the weakness the bodak had inflicted on her. Uto purchased a number of scrolls containing spells to combat the debilitating effects of things like the bodak's gaze. Once they had been healed and made all their purchases, Hutt took them back to the Sightless Sphinx. They found Tetisurah sitting in exactly the same position she had been in when they left.

As they returned to the structure, they discussed what direction they should go in next. They met no cultists and found none of the traps had been reset. The doors they chose to open next led into sleeping rooms that had clearly been used by the cultists. Kaa opened several simple chests and found that they contained clothes and personal items but nothing of worth. But in one room he noticed a loose brick in the floor. When he pried it up he found a bottle containing a milky white potion, which Hutt told him could make the person who drank it invisible. These rooms showed no sign of having been occupied over the past few days.

After departing the cultists' bedchambers, the Scarabs proceeded down a hallway, Kaa and Azzaria taking the lead. They came to a place where the hallway turned a corner and there were two doorways at this bend. Kaa peered around the corner and saw no one. The two doors were neither trapped nor locked. He noticed that humid air was seeping through the crevice under one of the doors. When he opened it he looked into a room that held a pool in one of the far corners, with a disturbing rock formation standing in the water. On the wall beyond the pool were carvings of clawed tentacles. There were also two male girtablilu in the chamber who had apparently been enjoying the pool.

Girtablilu warrior

Uto asked his companions to wait a moment until he could try to persuade the girtablilu not to attack. He steered the bronze sentinel through the doorway to converse with them. When they greeted him with hostility he cast a spell to calm one of them, which gave him a little time to talk to them without being attacked, but his effort to convince them that the Scarabs would leave and they should remain in the pool room and not attack was unsuccesful. One of the girtablilu charged him, while the other began to cast a summoning spell.

Two giant scorpions appeared in the pool room, summoned by the second girtablilu. The girtablilu ordered them to kill the intruders. One scorpion moved toward Kaa but missed its attack while the other attempted to attack the bronze sentinel without effect. Uto stretched his hair out through one of the sentinel's portholes, holding out the talisman that he'd taken from the dead girtablilu warrior the Scarabs had found in the desert many days earlier. When he showed it to the warrior who had charged toward him, the girtablilu sneered at it, indicating that it had belonged to someone from a different tribe and he had no regard for it.

Sula, who was still in the hallway, repositioned herself so she could see through the open door and hurled a handful of flames at one of the giant scorpions. The ball of fire overshot it and landed on the stone floor. Kaa sent a blast of lightning at one of the girtablilu. Hutt cast a spell to hasten everyone's movements. As he did this he noticed that the drops of blood that had fallen on the floor seemed to have been absorbed somehow. Then the stone in the center of the pool began to move, transforming itself into a tentacled creature that seemed to be made of water vapor. Hutt recognized it as a kind of elemental creature of air, but one that had been corrupted by evil. It would be invulnerable to lightning and resistant to the elements of fire and water. He shared this information with his allies.

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Uto slammed the sentinel's bronze fists down on the girtablilu in front of him. Azzaria's form began to flicker as she attacked the same foe. Sula threw another handful of flames, again unsuccessfully, then stepped inside the room to get better aim. Kaa pummeled the second girtablilu, which had moved up to join the fighting. Several missiles of force shot away from Hutt to strike the scorpion nearest the doorway; it collapsed and then vanished. Hutt's homonculus, Little Anubis, rushed into the room and attacked the second girtablilu with its tiny spear. The elemental moved toward one of the girtablilu who was more injured that his comrade.

Uto eliminated the second scorpion. Hutt moved toward the girtablilu to aide Little Anubis. Sula lobbed fire at the first girtablilu. The girtablilu went down, and its comrade withdrew from the fight, retreating back toward the pool. The elemental began to follow him. Uto suggested that everyone withdraw from the room and shut the door behind them in the hope that the elemental wouldn't pursue them. The rest of the Scarabs backed out. As Kaa began to lock the door, the elemental seeped out through the gap underneath it into the hallway. Sula drew her spear as Kaa's fists battered the creature. Then Uto reached out with his hair, and using the magic of an amulet he carried he sent the elemental back to the plane from which it had come. 

Kaa reopened the door to see that the girtablilu was still alive. The girtablilu mercenary responded by saying, "You said you would leave!" Uto tried to convince him that his people shouldn't be working for the cultists because they were evil and dishonorable, but the girtablilu wouldn't believe him. He did however tell Uto the name of the mercenaries' leader, and he also indicated in what part of the Sphinx the Scarabs would likely find the cultists. Uto also confirmed that the girtablilu had food and wasn't so badly wounded that he was at risk of death. After Uto left the room, Kaa locked the door again and jammed the lock. Uto sealed it with a spell that molded some of the surrounding stone over the edge of the door so the girtablilu would be imprisoned there.

Kaa then checked the next door, which like the other door was neither locked nor trapped. This door opened into a large room divided by curtains, its floor covered with green and white tiles of semiprecious stone. One wall was covered by a tile mosaic. Green flames burned atop two pillars. Beyond the curtains was a bed with a silken coverlet, and a pool of greenish water. By the pool stood a white stone statue of a faceless six-legged sphinx.

Azzaria also looked into the opulent chamber, and it was she who spotted a big creature near the pool that seemed to have the head of a crocodile on the body of a man, and fists of stone. This description confused the rest of the party. Then two cultists rushed toward Azzaria and Kaa and began to pummel them with their fists and feet. Sula and Nyema entered the room and took up position behind the cultist who was attacking Azzaria. Hutt again hastened everyone.

Rathos the broken soul
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A wail of agony issued from the crocodile-man, filling the Scarabs with dismay. When his gaze fell on them all of the Scarabs quailed from it and averted their eyes. Nyema was worst affected because she didn't know better than to look at the creature. The creature's cry left her weakened, but that didn't prevent her from attacking the cultist with her fangs and claws. Sula stabbed at him with her spear. Kaa's fists flew at the second cultist. The crocodile-man bit Azzaria and punched her with his stony hands. Tetisurah then moved into the room, asking a cryptic question that Uto realized was meant to determine who was injured.  Uto warned her to avoid looking at the crocodile-man. Then he directed the gaze of the Forgotten Pharaoh's funerary mask at the strange being. The mask seemed to have no effect on the crocodile-man.

Sula and Nyema jointly attacked the cultist again and again until at last he cried, "In the name of the Forgotten Pharaoh!" and exploded in a burst of fire. Tetisurah moved up behind Azzaria, carefully shielding her eyes from the crocodile-man, and cast a healing spell on the nagaji woman. Nyema had turned on the crocodile-man after the cultist died, and Azzaria moved into a flanking position opposite the lioness. After she struck him several times he too called out and then exploded, leaving behind only a pile of ash and his half-plate armor. Kaa disposed of the second cultist at the same time.

With the three cultists gone, Kaa searched the room, finding no traps but discovering a small opening on the far wall beyond the well. Hutt realized that the well was magical. Further examination revealed to him that it was a scrying pool which would only scry on other locations that had similar statues of the demon lord Areshkagal. The Scarabs realized that this mus have been how the cultists knew what they were doing as they first entered the Sphinx, as the entry room held the same kind of statue.

The Scarabs gathered up the crocodile-man's armor and the items left behind by the two cultists, then moved out into a long hallway that had no doorways along it. At the far end was a blank stone wall, but Kaa observed that it wasn't the same type of stone as the walls and floor around it. Hutt then exclaimed that it was actually a stone wall created by a spell. He licked it, and told his companions that it wasn't a newly-cast spell and had probably been there for several years.

Masked cultist of the Forgotten Pharaoh
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Sunday, May 6, 2018

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 31: The Sightless Sphinx, part 4

When the Ruby Scarabs had defeated the bodaks and the two maftets, they put the unconscious maftet pair in an empty sarcophagus, with the intention of releasing them later after the rest of the Sightless Sphinx was explored. The group members briefly considered leaving the temple to rest again and recover their health and spells, but they decided that their progress through the huge structure would be too slow if they retreated after only exploring one or two rooms.

The entrance to the next room was open. While the rest of the party waited, Kaa cautiously peered inside. The tengu monk saw that the room held eight tables arranged in a figure X, with a red stone altar at the intersection point. The tables had chains attached to them and showed signs of having been used as roosts by the maftets. Some of the tables had bloodstains on them. The altar had more blood on it, which looked more recent than what was on the tables. Kaa sensed no traps, and his first examination of the chamber found no secret doorways or compartments. Four daggers lay on shelves, along with manacles and other blades that appeared to have been undisturbed for a long time.

Suddenly a wave of energy filled the room and the floor seemed to ripple and distort. Two skeletal creatures, their bodies partly covered with earth and sand, emerged from the floor beside the altar. Around them the floor surface behaved as if affected by an earthquake. Kaa recognized that the creatures were a type of undead called guecubu. Like all undead things they would be invulnerable to lightning damage and resistant to to other types of energy, as well as resistant to damage from piercing or bludgeoning weapons. They would also be able to inflict a dangerous curse on their victims. When Kaa had warned the others of this, Hutt flew into the altar room and carried Kaa out. Thinking that perhaps the guecubu were tied somehow to the altar room, Sula suggested that perhaps the part should go on to one of the other doors they had seen rather than try to fight their way past the undead creatures. But before anyone else could respond to that suggestion, the two guecubu moved toward the entrance of the room, bringing their earthquake effect with them. Both of them made spellcasting gestures, and Kaa saw an area of the floor inside the sarcohpagus room fill with stone spikes that would make it difficult for the Scarabs to move easily in that space.

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Azzaria surrounded herself with her images and grew blurry as she prepared to fight them. Uto suggested that the group move back, out of the spiked area. Then he brought down a column of fire on the guecubu. But because he'd been weakened by the gaze of the bodak, his magic didn't appear to have much effect on the guecubu.

Sula backed out of the spiked area and summoned fire to her hand, hurling it at one of the guecubu. Her aim went awry. The guecubu's attacks caused two of Azzaria's images to vanish, which led the two creatures to grumble to one another in the language of the Abyss, complaining that their foes had too much magic. One of them managed to touch Azzaria, but its curse was absorbed by the scarab necklace she wore and didn't affect her. Sula decided to get out of range by transforming into a falcon and flying up toward the ceiling. Hutt backed further away. Kaa darted acrobatically through the spikes and sent a line of fire at one of the guecubu, turning it into a pile of sand. The second guecubu turned on Azzaria, leaving her with only two images. She responded by destroying the creature.

The earthquake effect died along with the undead things, but the stone spikes remained and would linger for some time. Kaa marked them to help his comrades avoid them. He then entered the altar room again to examine it more thoroughly. The four daggers that had lain on the altar proved to be made of cold iron. There were also two cultist masks on one of the shelves. Then Kaa realized that there was a hidden door in the far corner of the room. When he listened at it, he thought he heard the sound of a voice casting a spell.

Once Kaa had shared this information with the rest of the party, the other Scarabs all joined him at the door. As Kaa opened it, he felt something pushing it from the other side. When it swung open he found himself facing three leathery, slimy horned creatures with bodies that appeared emaciated. Beyond them he saw what appeared to be a human woman, but it was apparent that she was no longer living. He realized she was a type of particularly powerful zombie, created from the corpse of a mage. He warned his companions of this as he sent a cone of fire at the horned creatures. His flames seemed to do them little harm. Azzaria stepped up and with heavy blows destroyed one of the creatures. It appeared to melt rather than collapse as a corpse, making everyone realize it must have been summoned. Uto called out that the creatures were demons called babau. He cast a spell on himself, Kaa, Hutt, and Hutt's homonculus to protect them from fire, but Sula didn't receive that protection because she was flying overhead.

Sula threw a talon-full of fire at the zombie woman beyond the doorway, but the awkward angle caused her to miss. One of the remaining two babau murmured something and the area was suddenly engulfed in complete darkness, which only Uto could see through. Unseen by anyone but the shaman inside the bronze sentinel, the second babau teleported to appear beside Kaa. The zombie woman also cast a spell at Kaa. Hutt backed out of the darkened area, as did Kaa. As he moved the babau he was unaware of beside him attacked him. Sula cast a spell to dispel the darkness, but the restoration of light was short-lived as the other babau immediately filled the area with darkness again. Then the zombie woman sent a wave of sound mingled with evil energies from the other chamber, and a dazed Sula plummeted to the ground at the feet of the bronze sentinel.

The same energy that had brought Sula down left Uto immobilized inside the metal guardian. Hutt blasted the babau with fire. Tetisurah charged at one of the babau and those who couldn't see through the darkness heard her cry out in pain as the demon's acid ichor splashed on the sphinx's hide. Azzaria targeted the second babau, and despite being unable to see it she was able to destroy it.

Babau demon
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A burst of lightning flew out of the doorway, leaving the still stunned Sula in pain. Tetisurah continued to attack the last babau. Kaa pummeled it with his fists, but its slimy hide resisted his efforts to harm it. Azzaria moved into the other room where the zombie waited. Though that room was not within the babau's area of unnatural darkness, it was still dark. Azzaria heard a throaty chuckle, followed by the sound of a heavy door closing. The sounds from the altar room were cut off, and she realized that the zombie had trapped her inside the smaller room.

Uto found he was able to move again. He slammed the sentinel's arms down on the remaining demon, then summoned a wave of positive energy to heal his companions. Hutt used a wand to provide more healing. Tetisurah jumped up on one of the tables and continued to attack the babau. Kaa and Uto moved out of the dark area so Uto could heal some of the numerous wounds the babau had inflicted on the tengu. Sula had also recovered and flew out of the darkness, retreating to alight on Nyema.

Inside the other room, Azzaria ignited a sunrod and examined her surroundings. The room held a sarcophagus and appeared to be a burial chamber. The inside of the door had no knob or mechanism to open it from the burial chamber. Azzaria drew her adamantine flail and began to pound it against the door.

Heqet the zombie lord
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The zombie woman was now in the altar room with the rest of the Scarabs. She moved out of he darkness to reach through one of the sentinel's portholes and touch Uto. Fortunately for him the magic of the Forgotten Pharaoh's funerary mask held off the full effect of her spell, but Uto was still wounded. He had been absorbing damage from some of his companions, but due to the effect of the bodak's gaze he wasn't able to withstand as much as he normally could and was now badly wounded. Hutt attacked the zombie with a lightning bolt, which had no effect, leading the rougarou mage to realize that she must have some type of magical defenses. Kaa also tried to harm her with lightning and Hutt determined that she had specifically protected herself against Kaa's ability. She must somehow have been observing what spells the Scarabs cast.

Sula cast a spell of her own, this time one to protect her comrades, granting them all greater vitality. The zombie woman channeled negative energy to harm her enemies and stepped back into the darkness. Uto cast a spell at the babau, and it vanished, though no one but he could see this. Sula flew through one of the sentinel's portholes to cast a spell on Uto and grant him healing and protection from fire. She had been left weak by the spell that stunned her earlier, but she felt her strength return now. Her elation was brief, as a moment later the zombie's magic left her wounded. The same magic left Uto unconscious inside the sentinel. Hutt again tried to affect the zombie with lightning. Sula began to summon a beast to join the fight.

Unseen, the zombie touched Tetisurah with dark energies and the sphinx wailed. Hutt had called a storm of ice and hail in the dark area, and he now moved into the icy space to try unsuccessfully to bite the zombie. Suddenly the door to the hidden burial chamber burst open in a spray of splinters as Azzaria smashed her way out. At the same time Uto revived and attempted to grab the zombie woman. Sula's summoned ankylosaurus appeared behind the zombie and swung its tail at her, but she avoided Uto's grab and ducked under the mace-like tail. Sula abandoned her falcon form and drew her spear.

Then Hutt stepped closer to the zombie and cast a spell. All magic close to him was suppressed. The zombie lost all of her magical defenses as well as her ability to cast spells. The bronze sentinel became a statue, trapping Uto inside. Sula's summoned beast vanished. Kaa moved to Hutt's side and hit the zombie with his fist, which affected her but only slightly. Sula stepped in with her spear but it failed to connect. The zombie attacked Kaa and then moved toward the immobilized sentinel, reaching for Uto. Azzaria followed her. Tetisurah flew behind the sentinel and pulled the unresisting Uto out. Kaa slashed the zombie with his sword, and Azzaria hit her with her flail. Sula joined them in attacking the zombie with her spear. The zombie focused on Kaa again, realizing that he already had numerous injuries. She kept moving, trying to continually attack Kaa while evading everyone else.

Uto was now outside the range of Hutt's spell, which brought him back to consciousness. He used this opportunity to heal himself. Kaa and Azzaria took up positions flanking the zombie and Sula stabbed her twice, both times fiercely. Hutt kept having to follow the zombie as she moved so she couldn't escape the area affected by his spell. Tetisurah moved in to block the zombie's escape. But her repeated attacks on Kaa left him endangered and he had to retreat outside the magical effect to seek healing from Uto. Before the zombie could take advantage of the opening to get away from Hutt, Azzaria rained a series of punishing blows on her and she collapsed.

The zombie's corpse proved to carry a spell scroll, a fine quality breastplate, a heavy steel shield, a magical rod in the form of a serpent, and a holy symbol of the demon lord Areshkagal made of very precious metals. In her burial chamber they found two chests containing 500 gold pieces, a necklace of gold and turquoise that was clearly very valuable, and a pair of slippers with gold chains that were also of considerable worth.

After they claimed these items, the Scarabs realized that they were too depleted to go on, though it wasn't yet midday. The harm the bodaks had done to Uto and Nyema had seriously weakened the party's strength and capability. Uto healed everyone as much as he could, with some assistance from Hutt. They discussed whether they could risk resting inside the zombie priestess's burial chamber. While Uto could close the doorway with stone to keep out intruders, the thought of spending a rest period inside the demon lord's temple was not appealing to most of the group and they decided to withdraw from the Sightless Sphinx again, returning once Uto had recovered.

Next: part 32. The Sightless Sphinx part 5

Sunday, April 29, 2018

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 30: The Sightless Sphinx, part 3

The Sightless Sphinx

The Ruby Scarabs withdrew from the Sightless Sphinx after they had defeated the defenders of the first three chambers they entered, and set up a hidden camp beyond the broken wall that surrounded the ancient temple to the demon lord. They were able to rest that night undisturbed. The next morning Hutt prepared a spell to transport them to the capitol city of Sothis, where they could sell all of the items they had accumulated and acquire new enchanted objects to aid them in their quest to recover the remains of Chisisek.

Hutt's spell took all of the group, including Tetisurah and the bronze sentinel, to the outskirts of the great city, which only Hutt had previously visited. The rest of the party were impressed by the size and bustle of Sothis, and awed by the large structure in the shape of a scarab beetle that house the House of Law. They decided to visit the temple of Pharasma first, then the temple of Nethys, because the felt those places would be most likely to purchase the things they wanted to sell and help them find the items they wanted to buy.

Kaa was put in touch with a person named Rezillo who he was told could help them. Once Uto had negotiated the sale of all of the things they had claimed from the cultists, the Scarabs found themselves well supplied with coin and beginning to draw a bit of unwanted attention. That evening they met the cultured and knowledgeable Rezillo at an expensive eatery to talk about the enchanted objects they hoped to purchase. Rezillo was able to help them find everything they desired, for a fee.

Sula purchased new armor made of ironwood and was connected with someone who could reshape it to her taste, as its original form had been rather nautical in theme. Her new armor would remain with her when she assumed the shape of an animal, unlike the ankheg chitin armor she had previously worn, and she also acquired a garment that would let her become a beast more often than before. She also claimed two of the strengthening belts they had taken from the cultists, one for herself and one for Nyema. Uto purchased an enchanted shield and a scroll to resurrect the dead. Kaa acquired a magic ring that would protect him like armor and a pair of goggles that gave him keener sight, in addition to an adamantine sword. Azzaria bought an adamantine weapon too.

At the end of their second day in Sothis, Hutt transported the Scarabs back to meet Tetisurah. The sphinx seemed a little disappointed that they had returned so soon, as she was enjoying the experience of dunes she had never seen before. Then the whole party went back to the Sightless Sphinx. Kaa preceded the others in approaching the entrance, finding that the trap between the Sphinx's forelegs had been reset. After he disabled it and unlocked the doors a second time, he heard voices of new defenders preparing for the Scarabs' entry. He warned the others and everyone moved toward the doors, ready for a fight. Sula used the ring and collar she'd gained from the supply sledge to armor both herself and Nyema with skin as hard as tree bark.

Kaa opened the doors before his companions joined him. Two cultists were immediately visible inside the statue chamber. Kaa attempted to dissuade them from fighting by pointing out that he and his friends had slain the other cultists and girtablilu mercenaries whose remains they must have removed from the entry hall, but they fired flaming arrows at him in response. Two more cultists appeared from behind the reed curtains. Hutt approached the doorway and send tiny missiles flying unerringly at one of the cultists. The bronze sentinel took flight and Uto steered it toward the doorway. Kaa burned one cultist with lightning, and more of Hutt's missiles caused a cultist to explode. Nyema had run ahead of Sula, and was struck twice by one cultist's spear. Sula rushed in and used her own spear against the attacker. One of the remaining cultists was shouting information to someone else, though there was no one in sight. Kaa attacked him and he too exploded. Nyema and Azzaria eliminated the last man and Uto quickly gathered up all the equipment left behind when the cultists self-immolated. He distributed the healing potions the cultists had carried and Sula used one to treat Nyema's wounds.

The next room was empty, though the eye trap had been reset and Kaa had to disable it again. Azzaria jumped up on the sentinel's shoulder and checked over the low walls to make sure no one waited in ambush as they had on the Scarabs' first visit to that room. The next set of doors were both unlocked and free of traps, and they found no one waiting for them in the chamber where they had previously fought with two girtablilu. In one of the side passages they found chips in the stone where it had been struck by arrows, and stains on the floor of blood and other substances. The stains were not new, but they were relatively recent.

In the chamber where they'd fought the last two girtablilu mercenaries, there were several sets of double doors leading out on all sides. Rather than open any of those, the Ruby Scarabs approached a set of doors that led out of the side passage where they found the stains. Kaa carefully opened the unlocked doors using an extendable tool from his pack, so that he could avoid standing directly in front of them. As he did so, he heard the sound of wings flapping from beyond the doorway, and several of the other party members heard a voice speak the words of a spell.

Kaa peeked cautiously around the corner to see a long, wide chamber with a high ceiling, its walls lined with alcoves containing standing sarcophagi in human forms. A smoky vapor exuded from the eye holes of these sarcophagi. At the far end he spotted two maftets hovering above the floor, their leonine legs dyed blue and their feathered wings colored red. Kaa shouted to them that they should leave and their lives might be spared, but they both refused. Hutt then cast a spell on everyone to give them greater speed and better defenses. Sula began to summon the lightning. Azzaria flew into the room, drawing a wand as she went. The maftets, a male and a female, rose up toward the ceiling and began casting spells on the scimitars they wielded.

Kaa detected no traps in the engraved floor of the chamber, so he moved into the room on foot. Uto steered the sentinel inside. As they entered, two of the sarcophagi burst open and creatures that clearly were not human emerged from them. Sula recognized them as bodak, a type of undead creature, but she could recall little else about them other than their immunity to electricity and resistance to fire and acid. As she tried to remember more, Hutt put his arm around Azzaria and magically transported both of them to the other end of the room to meet the maftets. Sula sent a bolt of lightning at the male maftet, but he nimbly it. Azzaria attacked the female, while the male suddenly vanished.

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The bronze sentinel had arrived near one of the two bodaks, and it now turned a baleful glare on the automaton, which Uto could see through the transparent porthole. He felt himself weaken under the creature's gaze and called out to his companions to avoid looking at the things. Then he activated one of the powers of Hakotep's mask to protect himself. One bodak charged Nyema, who had followed Sula when she moved into the chamber. Sula averted her gaze and moved away from the undead creature, but Nyema was affected by its gaze and ran out into the hall to seek solace from Tetisurah. The sphinx summoned a mist to hide the hallway from the bodak's gaze.

The female maftet fell to attacks from Azzaria and Kaa. Wings were heard closer to the center of the chamber as the male reappeared. One of the bodaks began to move toward the group at the far end of the hall. Uto flew the sentinel closer to the ceiling, concerned that if he got too close to one of the still closed sarcophagi it would open and release more bodaks. Kaa flew toward the sentinel, but as he passed by a sarcophagus it burst open and disgorged another bodak.

Sula tried again to strike the male maftet with lightning but he evaded the bolt. She realized she had no spell or weapon to fight the bodaks and retreated into the passageway to begin casting a spell to summon another creature that might harm them. Hutt attempted to transform the maftet into a duck but his spell failed to affect it. Kaa blasted two of the bodak's with fire from above. Azzaria took down the male maftet, and Kaa blasted the third bodak with cold while Uto stretched his prehensile hair out through the sentinel's porthole to touch it with harmful positive energy. Then Uto channeled more positive energy against the undead creatures. Hutt flew up near the ceiling and aimed missiles of force at the two bodaks nearest the bronze sentinel. Azzaria eliminated the third bodak. Uto attempted to drop the sentinel on one of the creatures while avoiding looking at it. The sentinel hit it a glancing blow and toppled over. Kaa's flames destroyed the second bodak and then the third, after the ice elemental Sula had summoned failed to hit it.

Taking great care not to get too close to the remaining unopened sarcophagi, the Scarabs removed two amulets from the bodies of the maftets, who had not exploded at death like the cultists. Then they considered what sort of other dangers they might meet and whether they should retreat from the Sightless Sphinx again to seek out more magic to defend against creatures like the bodaks.

Next: The Sightless Sphinx, part 4

Saturday, April 28, 2018

[Movie Review] Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo
Starring: Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Wong, Tom Holland, Tom Hiddleston, Chadwick Boseman, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olson, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Zoe Saldana, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Samuel L. Jackson, Coby Smulders, William Hurt, Jacob Batalon, Winston Duke, Idris Elba

If that cast list is daunting, it's because literally almost everyone who's played a major lead role (and several important supporting characters) in a Marvel film since 2008 is in this movie. All but one of the Avengers, all of the Black Panther major cast, all of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange. The only missing characters are Hawkeye and Ant-Man. It's like we've had an entire comic book multi-title year-long crossover extravaganza dropped on our screens - and it's glorious.

It's a struggle to review this without spoilers, but I'll do my best. Marvel Entertainment has spent the past decade working up to this, slowly getting audiences acquainted with these characters while teasing the presence of Infinity War's villain in almost every film. The payoff had to be big, and it is. The film starts out with a surprising opening, then rapidly brings all of the heroes together and acquaints them with what they're up against. Naturally that villain has to be very big, and he is. I don't think it's a spoiler to state that it's Thanos, since they've been teasing him in movie after movie and he's mentioned in all the trailers.

Thanos is one of the biggest villains in the Marvel comics universe, and he's a major challenge for all of these characters we've come to know. They must fight harder than they've ever fought before - and oh, boy, do they fight. This film is full of massive, jaw-dropping combat scenes. The use of various characters' powers and abilities is inspired. I think I did spend a good third of the movie with my mouth hanging open.

But despite the vast battles, the movie makes time for intimate moments and gives every one of the main characters a chance to shine. There's a greater focus on certain characters, which I suspect will come into play in the next film. But no one was completely ignored. Best of all, Thanos isn't a typical revenge-obsessed villain; he's actually a fully developed character who is even sympathetic in some scenes, and he has a believable if misguided goal beyond "kill (insert name here)". He looks really good, too, like they spent a lot of time and effort making that character convincing even though he's probably 85% CGI. I'm not as disappointed with the DC films as some are, but I do admit that Thanos is a vast improvement over Steppenwolf from Justice League.

I noticed the music much more in this movie, too. I've heard Marvel being bashed for not producing really memorable scores, but I don't think anyone can say that about the score for Infinity War. It was another perfect piece in a very well-crafted movie.

My only problem with Infinity War is that its sequel isn't due to be released until next year, and I want to know what happens next now, not a year from now!

If you've enjoyed the other Marvel films and want to see a superhero film where the heroes truly have superpowers and are fighting against epic odds, you'll definitely want to see Avengers: Infinity War.

Be sure to stay for the after-credits scene. If you don't get it, ask me and I'll tell you what it means.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 29: The Sightless Sphinx, part 2

After they had eliminated the Forgotten Pharaoh cultists and girtablilu mercenaries who guarded the exterior of the Sightless Sphinx, the Ruby Scarabs took a few moments to search the bodies for anything of value before proceeding to the double doors that would take them inside the temple of Areshkagal. Some of the cultists they had faced were equipped differently than other cultists they had encountered previously, carrying well-made javelins and wearing breastplates. But as they had found in the past, the members of the cult carried little coin, though they did have curative potions. Each of them took a potion.

They had only just finished gathering up the spoils when three more girtablilu warriors confronted them. The warrior who took the lead warned them, "We are the guardians and we must defend this place from all." Uto then emerged from within the bronze sentinel, flying, and transformed into his living monolith form before addressing them. He attempted to persuade them that there was no need for them to keep defending those withing the demon lord's temple. When they wouldn't listen he tried to intimidate them into abandoning their post, but they refused to be swayed. Impatient with the conversation, Azzaria pulled a bead from her necklace and hurled it among the girtablilu, engulfing all three of then in flames.

Hutt followed Azzaria's attack by granting all of the his new comrades the ability to move much more quickly than normal. Azzaria became hard to perceive and surrounded herself with images of herself.  Sula took the shape of a huge macetail dinosaur and moved up to attack one of the girtablilu. One of the girtablilu warriors grabbed Uto in its pincer and was attacked by Azzaria. Its defensive attacks caused several of her images to disappear. Uto was also hard to see, his outlined blurred, which protected him when the girtablilu tried to sting him with its tail. The first warrior fell to the combined attacks of Azzaria and Sula.

Hutt cast a spell that left another girtablilu blind, but the scorpion-man refused to yield and crept toward Kaa. Nyema joined Sula in attacking one warrior and was stung for her efforts. Uto sent two of his ancestral spirits to attack the same foe. Uto was as usual absorbing some harm from his companions and thus suffering many wounds. Tetisurah moved closer to him to heal him. Kaa pummeled the blinded warrior with his fists. Azzara pounded the warrior that had stung Nyema and he collapsed. She then charged toward three more girtablilu who were approaching. Hutt sent a ball of flames into their midst, which stopped two of them from casting spells. But one of them managed to successfully summon a giant scorpion to aid them.

Another girtablilu grabbed Nyema but then released her. Weakened by the poison from the scorpion-man's sting, the lioness retreated, running to Tetisurah for aid. The sphinx healed her wound, but could do nothing to remove the poison, though she cast a spell on the lioness to aid her in withstanding the effect of the poison. Only one of the first trio of girtablilu warriors remained on his feet. The giant scorpion appeared near Azzaria and attacked her. Uto cast a spell on one of the approaching scorpion-men, setting him ablaze and also burning him with acid. Kaa stepped forward and sent a bolt of electricity at two of the warriors who hadn't reached the Scarabs yet.

Azzaria now faced both the giant scorpion and a girtablilu warrior. The warrior was already badly hurt. Hutt moved to attack the blinded warrior with his staff, while it stabbed at Kaa. Another warrior attacked the rougarou wizard. Uto flew the bronze sentinel over to the blind warrior and slammed both of the automaton's fists down on him. Hutt then engulfed the warrior in flames, and after his homonculous stabbed the warrior with its tiny spear, the girtablilu slumped to the ground. Sula's opponent also collapsed from his wounds after exerting one last unsuccessful effort to sting her, and Uto's spirit guardians finished him off.

Sula moved her huge form to attack another warrior. Uto blocked an attack on him by summoning a shield of stone, but was struck by a tail sting. Hutt was clawed and grabbed. His enemy pulled him close and squeezed him. Azzaria's opponents had eliminated all of her images and were becoming more successful at actually striking her. While Uto moved out of reach to cast a healing spell on himself, Tetisurah flew toward Azzaria and clawed one of her foes. Kaa sent more electricity at one of them, and then Azzaria dropped the girtablilu that Uto had set on fire and coated in acid. Still burning and sizzling, the warrior fell. Sula moved up to smash the giant scorpion with her club-like tail, which was also wreathed in flames. Azzaria hit the scorpion herself and it stopped moving. Then Uto called on the spirits to heal all of his comrades at once. In the space of a few minutes they had defeated six girtablilu warriors and a giant scorpion.

The leader of the girtablilu proved to have a few valuables which the Scarabs claimed, especially an ointment that could neutralize poison, remove diseases, or cure wounds. Uto used a wand he possessed to remove the effects of the poison from Nyema. The Scarabs then checked the tents that stood inside the broken wall around the Sphinx, finding that they had been the camp of the girtablilu mercenaries and contained nothing of value. While they investigated the tents, Tetisurah avoided getting too close to the grove of stone palm trees, which proved to have fronds made of sphinx bones.

The doors in the chest of the Sightless Sphinx proved to be constructed of the same sandstone as the rest of the structure. They were inlaid with ivory and lapis that reflected a little of the sunlight that could penetrate past the huge forelimbs of the Sphinx. Kaa immediately recognized that the doors were trapped and told the others to stay back while he examined it. He bypassed the deadly spell that would have triggered had they opened the doors, and unlocked the lock, but he found that the doors were also magically secured. Tetisurah used her magic to dispel the magical lock.

Beyond the doors lay a shadowed hall lined with pillars decorated with carved eyes. In the center of the chamber was a white stone statue of a six-legged faceless sphinx with dragon wings and a scorpion tail, a representation of Areshkagal. The chamber looked surprisingly clean for having stood in the desert for centuries. The walls were draped with reed curtains. Kaa noticed something beyond the curtains. As soon as he called this to the attention of the rest of the group, the curtains were swept aside to reveal two girtablilu and two cultists lying in waiting. One of the girtablilu warriors roared a battle cry.

Hutt sent a missile of force at one girtablilu, while Kaa stunned the other with his blows. One of the cultists exploded in flames after Azzaria mortally wounded him. The second cultist stunned Hutt and kicked his homonculus aside. Uto healed the wizard by casting the spell through one of the bronze sentinel's portholes. Sula directed Nyema to attack the cultist, while she herself slew the second girtablilu. Tetisurah picked up Hutt and moved him out of reach of the cultist who had stunned him. Uto emerged from the sentinel just in time to see the cultist wound and stun Nyema. The half-orc shaman sent his invisible servant to remove the spear that had been dropped by the remaining girtablilu when Kaa stunned him, and the servant pulled the sword toward its master. Sula meanwhile moved to strike the cultist with her tail. Then Azzaria eliminated the stunned girtablilu warrior, following up by hitting the cultist, who exploded.

Uto healed Nyema's injuires and gave Azzaria a potion, and the group waited while Hutt cast a spell to repair the damage the cultist had done to his homonculus. Then they gathered up the items left behind by the dead, finding that the two cultists inside the first chamber had both worn enchanted amulets and belts in addition to having the cloaks and masks the Scarabs had come to expect.  The amulets and belts both granted greater strength to the wearer. Uto claimed one of the amulets and put it on the sentinel, while the other was offered to Hutt. Then the Scarabs discussed whether they should continue to explore the Sphinx or withdraw to recover and replenish their spells. They decided they would see what was beyond the next set of doors before making up their minds.

The next doors were not locked or trapped when Kaa examined them. They opened into a smaller chamber, the walls on each side not extending to the ceiling and decorated with carved eyes. The doors on the opposite side of this room bore an image of Areshkagal. Kaa realized that they eyes on the walls were a trap that would be set off if something interrupted their gaze, summoning something. With caution the tengu monk disabled this trap. But as he finished, two cultists wielding crossbows suddenly appeared at the tops of the short walls and fired on the Scarabs. Kaa was hit by a bolt.

Uto maneuvered the hulking bronze sentinel into the room, while Kaa vaulted over the wall to face his attacker. The other crossbowman fired on the sentinel but the bolt bounced off its bronze skin. Uto's hair extended out of the sentinel to grab the cultist. Sula pushed her way into the room past the sentinel and swept her tail over the low wall at the cultist Kaa faced but missed him. She then moved to the opposite side of the room to attack the other cultist. Azzaria moved into the room and fired her bow at the cultist as Sula hit him.

Kaa discovered that behind the wall was a narrow hall and a flight of descending stairs. After the cultist he faced exploded, Kaa went down the stairs and looked into the next room, a large chamber lined with pillars and occupied by two girtablilu, who immediately spotted the tengu and moved to attack him. The second cultist exploded as well, and Uto pulled open the doors to the next room. Sula and Nyema moved inside to attack the girtablilu. Kaa was stung by one of them but managed to withstand the poison. Sula was stabbed by a longspear. Hutt tried to blind one of the scorpion-centaurs but the spell failed to affect the target. Uto smashed the sentinel's hands on one warrior, while Sula also slammed him with her tail. Kaa punched the girtablilu with a flurry of flying fists, which made the warrior's attacks on him all miss their mark. Azzaria shot the same target, and Nyema clawed him which caused him to turn on her and claw her back. Kaa then struck him a tremendous blow and he toppled over. The other girtablilu had already fallen to a crushing blow from Sula's tail.

Uto's healing magic was now depleted, as were Hutt's spells, so the Scarabs decided it would be wise to withdraw and recuperate before exploring any more of the vast structure. The two cultists who had attacked from behind the walls both had the same kind of amulets and belts and the two they had met in the first room. Hutt told them he could teleport himself and four other people to the nearest city to sell their loot and purchase other items, so they decided to set up camp outside the Sphinx for the night and pursue that option the following day.

Before they made camp, Hutt examined the Sphinx and realized that it was warded against teleportation or divination spells. He might be able to get past the failing wards, but he would have to find a weakness to be able to teleport in or out of the temple. Hutt and Sula then combined their spells to create a hidden shelter, after which Uto used an enchanted spike they had previously acquired to further protect the camp. They would decide in the morning if they wanted to risk going away for a day to sell equipment.

Next: part 30, The Sightless Sphinx, part 3

Sunday, April 15, 2018

[Pathfinder] Mummy's Mask, part 28: The Sightless Sphinx, part 1

Slight revision of the conclusion of part 27, to allow for introduction of a new player-character.

As the Ruby Scarabs made their way in the direction Erayu of the maftets had indicated would take them to the Sightless Sphinx, they came across a set of tracks crossing the dunes. Sula examined them and determined they represented two laden sledges being drawn by a pair of large reptiles that walked with a gait similar to a crocodile. The tracks were headed in the same direction as the Scarabs. Sula assumed the shape of a falcon and flew ahead to gather information. She saw that there were indeed two sledges loaded with supplies, hauled by a pair of large reptiles she didn't recognize. But she did recognize the gilded masks worn by the four people who accompanied the lizards. She circled over the sledges to see as much as she could before returning to her friends. In addition to an assortment of crates, boxes, and jars that probably held water, her sharp sight was attracted by a small golden cage on the front sledge. Inside the cage was a tiny metal figurine in the likeness of the jackal-headed Osirian god Anubis. But to her surprise, the figurine was moving, like the tiny people she and her comrades had encountered in the tomb of Akhan-tepi in Wati's Necropolis. Before she flew back to the others, she also noted that the rear sledge held a sarcophagus. Could it be the stolen sarcophagus of Chisisek?

When Sula rejoined the other Scarabs she told them everything she had seen, including the sarcophagus and the tiny cage. The masks the people had worn meant they were members of the Cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh. That made it simple for the Scarabs to decide to attack them and prevent the other cultists from gaining whatever supplies the sledges carried. Because the sledges were avoiding the ridges of the dunes and couldn't move quickly, it wouldn't be difficult for the Scarabs to get ahead of them and carry out an ambush. After discussing the possibility of making a two-pronged attack with Uto and his bronze sentinel bringing up the rear, they decided they would all attack from the front.

They positioned themselves at a point where the sledge drivers would have to decide whether to go right or left to remain below the tops of the dunes. Sula prepared Nyema for battle by armoring her with bark and casting a spell on her claws that would cause anyone wounded by them to bleed profusely. Sula herself abandoned her falcon form and resumed her natural shape. As the cultists approached the place where the Ruby Scarabs awaited them, they called out to the Scarabs to stop. Kaa stepped forward and asked them to allow the Scarabs to look inside the sarcophagus, but the cultists responded by calling the Scarabs bandits. Azzaria surrounded herself with six duplicates of herself, leading one of the cultists to fire his bow at her. Another cultist freed the reptiles from their traces and one of the beasts moved toward her.

The bronze sentinel suddenly appeared from between the dunes, flying over to land behind Azzaria. Uto spoke from within it, telling the cultists that it wasn't necessary to fight, but they didn't listen. Kaa sent a bolt of lightning at one cultist, and Sula followed with a lightning bolt of her own. Behind the rear sledge, a magical portal unexpectedly appeared, disgorging a man-like figure with the head of a jackal like the figurine of Anubis in the cage - but this being's head was not a mask. This jackal-headed person let out a howl as he arrived. The cultist nearest to him turned and fired on him.

Azzaria snarled in rage and her body became difficult to see and began to move with greater alacrity. The lizard that had moved toward her attacked the bronze sentinel instead. Uto used the sentinel's controls to have it strike the lizard with its fist. Meanwhile Kaa dispatched the second reptile. The remaining lizard grabbed the sentinel in its teeth and began to shake it, but because it wasn't actually biting Uto, this didn't disrupt his spellcasting as much as it might have. Nyema charged one of the cultists who stood by the front sledge and began to maul him. A blast of electricity shot from the direction of the jackal-headed person to strike the cultist Nyema attacked, forking to avoid the lioness. The cultist who had fired on the jackal-man charged toward him. The tiny Anubis figure began to bite the cage in an effort to get free of it.

Azzaria and Kaa flanked the cultist nearest to the sentinel. The cultist shouted at the lizard to drop the bronze construct and attack Kaa instead. Uto summoned lightning to strike the man twice, and when Kaa also brought electricity to bear on the reptile it released its jaws from the sentinel. Nyema continued to savage the man she had charged while Sula hit one of the other cultists with lightning and moved closer. Uto slammed the sentinel's hands down on the lizard. Tetisurah, who had hung back, now moved to cast a healing spell on Kaa, who had taken some serious wounds from the cultists. The tiny Anubis broke free of the cage.

Azzaria looked toward Sula and called out to her that since the jackal-man appeared not to be an enemy perhaps she should help him. The cultist who was directing the remaining lizard shouted desperately for it to finish off the bronze sentinel, but the lizard was too wounded. While Azzaria ran toward the jackal-man, Uto slammed the lizard again and told Kaa to hit the cultist. The lizard fell over. Tetisurah cast another healing spell on Kaa, then flew back to the sledge that held the sarcophagus.

Abruptly the jackal-man appeared next to the first sledge, and the cultist who had been attacking him found himself facing the tiny Anubis. He was even more surprised when it stabbed him with a tiny spear it had retrieved from one of the chests on the sledge. He turned and moved toward the approaching Azzaria, who was accompanied by her three remaining duplicates. When the cultist attacked her another image vanished. The cultist Nyema had mauled collapsed in a pool of blood. The man facing Azzaria suddenly cried out and exploded in a burst of fire. Now only a single cultist remained on his feet. Kaa tried to grapple him but failed to achieve a hold. Sula ran up with her spearhead crackling with electricity to stab the masked man. Kaa grabbed him, and Uto brought the sentinel's heavy bronze hand down on him. Azzaria then ran up to hit the man and he too died in an explosion of flames.

With the cultists all dead, Uto channeled divine healing to his companions and extended it to include the jackal-man. Azzaria was the first to introduce herself to him. The jackal-headed man told the Ruby Scarabs that his name was Hutt, of the Fang clan of rougarou people, who were all like him. The cultists had slain all of his comrades and stolen his homonculus, Little Anubis, and he had been pursuing them to recover the homonculus and take revenge. Uto then climbed out of the sentinel to introduce himself, followed by Kaa and Sula also telling him their names. Uto explained briefly what the Ruby Scarabs were doing and who the cultists were, and offered Hutt the opportunity to join them in their attack on the cultists they expected to find at the Sightless Sphinx. Hutt was willing to join them.

Kaa searched the containers on the first sledge while Hutt looked on, using his special ability to detect enchanted objects. Some of the things on the sledge were clearly supplies for the cult, but there were also items that were clearly stolen funerary goods. Among the enchanted objects that Hutt identified were a kopesh, a ring, the sarcophagus itself, a ring worn by the mummy inside the sarcophagus, a collar worn by the mummified cat with her, and another object inside the cat. Tetisurah was disappointed that the sarcophagus didn't belong to Chisisek.

Hutt revealed that the kopesh could create a wave of force against an enemy, and also granted the bearer the ability to wield it as if they had been trained in the use of such a blade. Azzaria claimed the weapon. The first ring Kaa had found proved to hold powers that would benefit him but not any of the other Scarabs, so they gladly allowed him to take possession of it. The ring and collar in the sarcophagus were meant to aid any person with a familiar or companion animal, so Sula was encouraged to use them for herself and Nyema. Uto removed the object from inside the cat mummy, a sphere of marble which when swallowed offered more benefits to a companion like Nyema. Kaa had also found a spellbook written on stone tablets that were unusually light; because none of the Scarabs could read the book they gave it to Hutt. Uto took charge of the enchanted sarcophagus, which could be made small enough to hold only an object the size of a cat, but could be enlarged to the size of a person and would then carry objects that weighed more than the bronze sentinel.

When wounds had been healed and items had been distributed, the Ruby Scarabs resumed their journey toward the Sightless Sphinx. Sula had seen a large structure in the distance when she spied on the cultists. It took three or four hours for the group to reach their destination. When they approached, they saw an enormous structure in the form of a six-legged sphinx, its face missing. They knew from their conversation with Erayu that it represented not a sphinx but the demon lord Areshkigal, lord of portals and riddles. The vast edifice had a large door hewn into its chest. It was approached by a broad avenue flanked by statues of actual sphinxes, each of them as broad as ten men lying head-to-foot. The Sightless Sphinx's forelimbs were longer than the avenue was wide, and the avenue could have held two of the sphinx statues place head to tail.

The temple of Areshkigal was surrounded by a broken stone wall, and on one side they saw the unnatural shadow Erayu had described, which could not have been cast by the structure itself because the sun was at the wrong position to create such a shadow. Sula volunteered to fly over the structure in falcon shape to find out what other objects or beings might lie on the other side of the Sphinx. She observed a pavilion which held a giant scorpion, as well as one of the girtablilu scorpion-centaurs they had encountered in the desert. There were a number of cultists lounging under the shade of a grove of palm trees that appeared to be made of stone, and in the shadowed area she saw a scaffolding on which two more scorpion-centaurs appeared to stand watch over a brass spyglass.

When Sula had reported her information back to the rest of the party, they decided they would camp a distance away out of sight to rest before taking on the cultists. Hutt created a magical shelter for them to sleep in. In the morning Hutt suggested that they could use the cultist equipment they had acquired to try to convince the cultists that they were delivering the supplies from the sledges, but they soon decided they preferred to make a direct assault. After everyone had prepared, a spell was cast on Sula that allowed her to communicate what she saw back to the others while she flew overhead as a falcon. The rest of the group followed her directions to creep up behind the sphinx statues along the avenue, out of sight of the guards. But as they crossed from the avenue toward the broken stone wall, one of the girtablilu spied them and shouted a warning to his comrade, who then ran to strike a gong and alert the rest of the camp.

Azzaria raced forward through a gap in the wall, pulling a bead from the necklace she wore and hurling it among the stone palm trees. It exploded in a ball of fire, burning several cultists. Overhead, Sula summoned a column of flames on the same spot. Uto walked the bronze sentinel past the wall and used its hands to eliminate a cultist. Another cultist had climbed on top of the wall when the gong rang, and Azzaria moved to face him when he jumped down. Nyema ran around the nearest section of wall to join Azzaria, but by the time the lioness reached the spot Azzaria had already eliminated her foe and he exploded. One of the girtablilu scorpion-centaur people appeared nearby and Sula struck it with lightning. Sula spied the giant scorpion approaching and blasted it as well. Uto followed her example by inflicting a burst of electricity on the scorpion-centaur, while Kaa moved among the palms to fiercely pummel one of he cultists who had managed to escape the flames. Only two men were left of the five who had been there when Sula first flew overhead.

A flurry of hailstones and snow appeared over the scorpion-centaur, summoned by Hutt. The scorpion-man rushed the rougarou wizard. A second scorpion-centaur appeared near the trees. Azzaria took out a wand and aimed it at the giant scorpion as it neared. Nyema pounced on one of the two remaining cultists, and he disappeared in a burst of fire. Kaa slew the last cultist, while Uto sent more lightning against the scorpion-centaur facing Hutt. The scorpion-centaur grabbed Hutt in one of its pincers. The second scorpion-warrior moved up to Nyema, stabbing her with his spear, and as the giant scorpion grabbed Azzaria, Sula attacked the huge scorpion and it expired. Kaa flanked the warrior attacking Nyema and was stung by his scorpion tail. Hutt escaped the pincers of the first warrior by exchanging places with his homonculus. His attacker turned on Uto inside the bronze sentinel, but the shaman blocked his blows with a shield of stone. Tetisurah then joined the battle and slew the girtablilu warrior.

A third scorpion-centaur arrived, dodging the icy area Hutt's spell had created and running toward the bronze construct. Sula met him with lightning, as did Uto. Kaa's opponent died. Tetisurah flew up and landed by Azzaria to heal her. The scorpion-centaur who had just arrived moved to attack Azzaria, and the sphinx pounced on him, killing him. When his brother-in-arms died, the remaining girtablilu warrior ran back toward the unnatural shadow at the side of the Sightless Sphinx.

Next: part 29, The Sightless Sphinx part 2