Saturday, September 12, 2009

Temple to Darkness: Part One

Week Three:

A week passed and the new members of House Valaryan attended their duties, slowly getting accustomed to the heat and humidity. Finally, the House Valaryan head warrior Talith approached the newest five members and told them their services would be required on a short trip to an Ashante village, Onnja, to trade steel weapons and cloth for cloves, pepper and ivory. He told them the trip would take a week, and should get them more acquainted with the area more than anything.
To celebrate their first real trip out of town, the five (Nadal, Mongo, Cadelaine, Kalphistane and Endefal) went to the Number One Inn for some drinks, but the occasion ended up being somewhat quiet as they wondered about their eventual fate in the jungle, even on such an easy mission as this. They met another newcomer to Port Maugre, a young, nervous priest of Vistna named Alando, and he talked of his apprenticeship to the temple in Port Maugre as being punishment for some deed. He was uneasy about the area and had heard several unsavory things about the flora and fauna, and was disappointed to be so far from a “real” library. He was, however, resigned to serving the church in whatever method necessary.
Walking back to their quarters that night, they parted with Alando at the Vistnan temple, but were soon alerted to trouble as Alando passed around a corner and yelled in fear. Rushing down the street, they saw a priest of Vistna being assaulted by five large, tall and primitive looking natives armed with knives and clubs. Alando was standing and watching the assault, yelling for help, as the party came upon the scene and engaged. Nadal and Mongo took on one very tall (nearly 7 ft) specimen with a giant war club, as the rest of the party mixed it up with the bandits (one who appeared to be stealing a scroll tube from the unfortunate unconscious priest of Vistna)
Cadelaine, outclassed by the swinging weapons, climbed above the fray to a nearby rooftop and spotted a shadowy figure further down the passageway on the ground, watching the combat. The native with the stolen scroll tube passed it to him, and Cadelaine let a few arrows fly, hitting the man in the shadows. He appeared to direct the native who had given him the scroll to attack her, so he ran across the street and began climbing up to her hiding place. Once there, Cadelaine quickly disposed of him with well-placed arrows, but the man in the shadows below had now taken better cover as he was warned of her presence.
On the ground, the combat went well, as the party quickly cut through the primitive native types, one fleeing heavily wounded as Kalphistane gave chase. Nadal and Mongo went to confront the figure in the shadows, but after being hit with poisoned arrows from the man, Nadal collapsed in a heap and started turning blue as the poison took effect. Producing a vial from his vest, the shadowy figure told Mongo the antidote was inside, and then threw the vial in the air as he took off running. Endefal leapt and caught the vial before it hit the ground, but at this point the leader type had disappeared without a trace. Quickly forcing the liquid down the fallen fighter’s throat, the priest of Attar was rewarded as the potion brought Nadal back from the brink of death and restored his breathing. Of the man from the shadows, and the other bandit, nothing could be seen.
Soon after the city guard arrived, led by the captain of the guard Manshu, and the native Delosian remarked upon seeing the bodies that the four dead bandits were Tcho-Tchos, and that the party would now be marked for death by their tribe. Asking who or what Tcho-Tchos were, Manshu gave them a look and said one didn’t speak of these things. Later, Mongo told them legends of a debased, primitive tribe that inhabited Delos’ highlands, who were rumored to be the inbred remnants of the ancient Shadowmasters, identifiable by their sloped heads, filed teeth, great strength and resistance to pain, and single-minded pursuit of violence.
As they left the scene, the priest of Vistna they had rescued said he would speak to Gam in the morrow about the adventurers saving his life, and might have further words with the adventurers about the scroll tube he had lost, and it’s contents. The mystery of what was inside, and why the priest was attacked, would have to remain so for several more days.

The next morning, a small group consisting of the adventurers, a few other mercenaries, 25 or so native Delosian bearers, the fighter Talith, the ranger Ardu, and a priest of Akadi named Derk started off with many heavily packed water buffalo for the village of Onnja. Nervous yet excited, the group listened to what Ardu had to say, which mostly consisted of nearly useless advice of “Watch the trees!” or “Watch your feet, where you step!” or “Watch were you piss!” Along the way, a small flight of a dozen jungle stirges (horrible variations of the regular variety with sharp tails and poisoned bite) attack the rear of the caravan and the party fought them off after killing a few.
For the next few days, the travel became monotonous as nothing out of the ordinary was seen, heard or encountered. Suddenly, on the third day, Ardu took Mongo aside and pointed out several bare footprint tracks on the ground….”Tzulan warriors, a war party on a manhood rite, very bad!”. He went on to explain to the party that occasionally a large group of young Tzulan warriors invaded Ashante territory to collect “tokens”…ears, noses, eyes, even genitals….of Ashante warriors as a rite of manhood. Tzulan warriors were quite skilled and deadly, and even worse this looked like a large group. The native ranger told the party to keep their eyes and ears open, and passed the bad news along to Talith.
Talith looked grim, and quickly ordered double-time to perhaps reach the village of Onnja before nightfall. Alas, luck was not with the party. Several hours later, a horde of almost 100 screaming Tzulan warriors threw a rain of spears into the caravan, killing bearers and animals alike, and descended on the survivors with a fury! Ardu had stayed close to his charges, and they were immediately cut off. He yelled at them to run as he grabbed a backpack from an animal, and followed them as they ran pell mell into the jungle wilderness.
As they left the path and quickly became lost in the vines, grasses and plants, almost a mile away from the screaming and fighting, suddenly the party ran smack into a group of ten Tzulan warriors, obviously some sort of rear guard assigned to prevent stragglers or runners from escaping! Battle was joined, but the party quickly realized that the warriors entirely outclassed them all but for Ardu. Cadelaine quickly slept two, and the battle got nasty after that as the hide and wooden shield wielding natives armed with javelins and spears quickly began striking dangerous blows again and again. Soon, Ardu was surrounded by four warriors, and the rest of the party was barely holding their own as they each had a warrior fighting them. Their cures were quickly used up, and quick thinking allowed Kalphistane to cast a Entangle spell that caught four of the warriors and Ardu, giving the party a brief respite as they then only faced four of the Tzulan warriors. Two were quickly killed by Cadelaine’s arrows, and she butchered the two still asleep by her spell, evening the odds somewhat as Nadal and Mongo struck down two others. Unfortunately, a plan by Kalphistane to unnerve the warriors went awry as after beheading a dead warrior and holding up the head, he was set upon by a vengeful warrior, and a spear was run completely through his stomach. He fell to the ground nearly dead, and Endefal had to bind him up before he bled out.
However, the Entangle spell had given the party a much needed break, and they were given time to heal and ready themselves as they peppered the entangled warriors with sling bullets and arrows. By the time the remaining four warriors escaped the vines, they were all bleeding and injured, and much easier prey for the four and Ardu (minus the unconscious Kalphistane). After a short and violent battle, the warriors all lay dead around the exhausted and bleeding party members. They were victorious, but there would be no rest. Ardu told Mongo to grab the unconscious Kalphistane and follow him, they still had much ground to cover to put space between them and the blood mad Tzulan war party!

After several hours hacking through the trackless jungle, finally as dusk came, Ardu told them to halt. They had reached a small stream, and nearby was a rock overhang where they could rest for the night. Kal was made comfortable, and Ardu showed the remaining four what he had rescued from the caravan: a backpack containing rations, some weapons (including magical arrows and a sword), and a small Bag of Holding with a few potions, scrolls and other needed items for survival. Distributing a clerical and magical scroll, the magic arrows, and the potions, Ardu said these plus the rations might be the difference between life and death as they were now alone here in the jungle. Ardu said that travel to the village of Onnja was going to be closer than a trip back to Port Maugre, so they would start in the morning. First, he took Mongo as they went downstream attempting to hunt some wild game for food and save their rations for when needed.
As it became dark, Ardu and Mongo managed to kill a antelope that came to the stream to drink, but as they began butchering it for the meat, another predator announced himself. Suddenly, a large tiger leapt from the brush and landed on Ardu, biting him several times! Ardu and the big cat rolled around until the ranger fought free, then Ardu and Mongo managed to kill the tiger. They finished butchering the antelope and brought the meat back to the waiting camp, but that night Ardu became feverish and ill from infection. The next morning, he was worse, and heal spells were not working to banish the sickness (although at this point Kal was up and functioning with the help of rest and heal spells, carrying a scar across his belly from the Tzulan’s spear) The day was spent searching for herbs in the jungle that would cure his affliction, but the best the party could do was find some Sleepthistle, which when brewed in tea has the effect of causing a long and restful sleep. This was given to Ardu, with the hopes that the next morning his fever would break.
That night there was a scary encounter with a 12 ft bushmaster snake that crawled into Kalphistane’s bedroll as the slept, looking for an easy meal (under the eye of Mongo who had fallen asleep on guard duty). Kalphistane was able to talk to the snake and convince him to go elsewhere for food, and when he began sliding towards Endefal, he was attacked and driven off by Kal, Mongo and Cadelaine.
The next morning, Ardu still slept, his body healing as the ranger was in a semi-coma from the sickness and the Sleepthistle. Truly on their own, the party decided to head downstream to eventual civilization, with Nadal rigging up a stretcher for Ardu to drag behind them as they traveled.
Into the afternoon, they soon noticed they were being paced and hunted by a large tiger, possibly the mate of the one Mongo and Ardu had killed. The great cat was careful to never come out in the open for missile weapon fire, so the party picked a good spot for a trap, and Cadelaine (who had experience in this sort of thing) directed the men to dig a tiger pit, with sharpened stakes at the bottom, and cover it with palm fronds. As they worked, they notice a few yards behind them a very ancient looking stone arch and fence surrounding an overgrown area. Investigating, they found as soon as they entered the courtyard all jungle sounds were silenced, as there seemed to exist none of the small bird, insect or animal sounds elsewhere in the jungle. The tiger was soon seen on the outskirts of the stone wall, but would not enter the area the party had just entered. In the center of the overgrown courtyard stood a large dark temple, covered with thorns, brambles and briars, and investigation found it covered with disturbing death and dark imagery…..the priests and Mongo recognized the seal on the opened door as that of the God of Shadow, and apparently they party had discovered one of the ancient temples to this blasphemous god! The place looked long abandoned
After battling and chasing off a giant constrictor snake inhabiting the courtyard that had tried to attack Endefal, the party looked around and found only rats and giant rats inhabiting the ruins of the courtyard. Kal was able to speak to a giant rat (and later a bat) about what kinds of creatures inhabited the abandoned temple. The adventurers deduced from the animal’s descriptions that the temple was mostly inhabited by undead (perhaps shadows and some king of walking dead) and that nothing human had been there for quite awhile. Learning that nothing from within the temple ever left the temple, they felt somewhat safe about spending the night there rather than leaving the relative safety of the courtyard and perhaps facing the tiger at night.
The gold-nugget studded bronze door spoke of treasure within, and Mongo told them that legends among his tribe told of giant treasure hordes secreted by the evil priests of Shadow who had demanded all sorts of tribute from subjugated tribes. The opened front door ended in darkness beyond; as it was now dusk (and as swarms of bats began flying out of the opened door into the night air beyond) they decided to postpone any exploration of the temple until the next day and morning’s light. A watch was set up (for anything leaving the temple, and perhaps the return of the giant serpent), and Ardu was placed within a small tent to rest and hopefully recover soon. By the light of the Continual Light torch and stone, the party quietly discussed their plans and distributed the magic weapons among themselves (including Ardu’s magical longsword, which went to Cadelaine, some magical arrows, and the magical short sword from the bag which Nadal appropriated) and took stock of their meager magic and holy water. The proximity of the temple kept sleep at bay until exhaustion finally caused those not on watch to, one by one, drop off to a fitful rest.

Suddenly, as clear as day, the party stands in the courtyard in full daylight…but does not. A dream? Perhaps, but it seems so real. The temple, unlike the sunken, razed pile of rocks in the present, stood tall and gleaming, light seeming to be sucked in by the absolute darkness of the basalt and obsidian walls. No vegetation mars the smooth stamped rock surface of the courtyard, and nervous dark men wearing symbols of darkness and death begin to file out of the doorway to man the stone walls of the holy place. They cringe in fear at the light, and you realize only dire necessity would draw them out of their cold, dark home to face whatever is coming. A yell is heard, along with booming drums, and the distant yelling of hundreds of screaming natives gets closer and closer.
Suddenly, a large group of Ashante warriors, well armed with weapons, and led by a proud warrior carrying a spear that licked with an unearthly flame, howled like madmen as they swarmed over the walls like ants. Priests in black leather and cloaks, armed with staves made of black wood and knives of some dark metal or stone, tried to stop the advance, but though their spells took their toll they were all eventually brought down and hacked to pieces by the wild eyed mob.
Afraid to brave what was beyond the door, the warriors used thrown rocks and crude catapults, pulled up from the jungle, to hurl stones against the shadowy walls, finally bringing down the roof which collapsed into the first story. Eventually the leader with the flaming spear calls upon his men (in Ashante, but even if you cannot speak that language you can here him as clear as any orator in your native tongue), to finally show their courage and brave the depths of this hellish temple to drive away the shadow demons who have ruled this land for too long. Only a quarter of the warriors have backbone enough to follow their leader inside, and they are accompanied by a wise looking shaman holding a lantern that seems to burn brightly without any fuel source.
Violent scenes flash across your eyes, of cold and darkness and death, the brave warriors going from chamber to chamber killing the priests and their unearthly servants. The images begin to blur, and you are back outside. The remaining warriors have waited a day and longer for their brothers to return to the light, muttering to themselves and praying to their gods, until finally they gasp in sadness and fear as only a small fraction of the invading warriors exit the doorway, all wounded and bloody, and without their spear-wielding leader. Finally the old shaman exits, without the lamp, and you see him face the stunned crowd to tell them that many gave their life but the priests are dead, their servants destroyed or banished, and their demon ally imprisoned for all time.

You awake with a start, a low moaning in your ears…but it is only the wind.

No comments:

Post a Comment