Monday, March 1, 2010


After a day’s journey and a short tropical rain, the party came to the spot marked on Marsh’s map where the trail to Juma’s village would begin. Carefully walking the trail, they soon came to an unusual sight: a network of large (20-50 feet high) totem poles, each within about 100 feet of the other, stretching to either side of them in the jungle. Very carefully they made their way past the poles, which were decorated with religious symbols (the priests could detect many images of the native Delosian god Umgawa in the imagery), feeling a slight tingling as they did so. The druid soon noticed that on this side of the totems, no reptiles of any sort (snakes, lizards, turtles, etc) could be seen. He told the others of this unnatural phenomenon, and the group speculated that this powerful magic is probably what let the tribe survive so close to the Yuan-ti stronghold and the Forbidden City.

After walking awhile, the party noticed several shapes in the trees, and soon they were surrounded by almost 100 native warriors. A jovial, fat native and what looked like a phalanx of bodyguards and shamans came out of the trees, approaching them while shouting in Ashante. Mongo and Alando both spoke the tongue and came forward to parley. The large man turned out to be the chief they sought, Juma, and he questioned them carefully as his shamans cast spells on the pair. After showing him the note written by Marsh, and assuring him the party did not have evil intent (backed up by the results of the scrying spells cast by the shamans), Juma happily invited them to the village for a feast.

As they reached the village, the party could see it was very isolated, not used to outsiders or visitors (particularly any with white skin except for Marsh and his associates). The elf drew particular attention, with Kal and the ape Gra-Gra coming in for many looks of fear and astonishment (apparently a full-blooded elf had never made it this far into the interior of Delos, and what legends of elves survived among Juma's people did not paint them in a flattering light). Cadelaine also drew attention, for her white skin and half-elvish features, which made her exotic indeed as this tribe possibly had never seen a light-skinned woman.

A feast and entertainment (music with drums and dancing) was soon begun, with Mongo and Alando acting as translators for Juma’s questions. As they had guessed, Juma told them that the network of totem poles that surrounded the several square miles of jungle the village was set on kept out all reptiles, including the deadly serpent men (who could not come within 10 feet of a pole, and when passing through them suffered great pain, forced them into their true serpentish form, and incapacitated them until they could be killed). He said the poles were centuries old, a gift from the god Umgawa, who placed them around the village one day after sending the secret of their creation to the village shaman in his dreams. Over the years more poles were made and the originals and the new ones were slowly moved outward, expanding the village’s area of protection from a few hundred yards to a few miles. More and bigger poles were continually being made and enchanted by the tribe’s shamans, and these were used to expand the ring of protection still more, and some were even used to form “rest stations” here and there in the jungle where no reptiles could enter. Juma indicated that the first shamans that created totems were guided by dreams of Umgawa, who told them their village would be needed close to the Forbidden City in the year’s ahead to help others who explored there, and they were always told to give aid and succor to those who braved the evil city to destroy the reptiles within. As the year’s went on and the city became infested with the scaly ones, the village's purpose was fulfilled.

Juma told them that often the serpentmen’s allies and servants (particularly the hated tasloi) would attempt to destroy poles, so much time and effort was spent building protecting the old ones and constructing new ones. In fact, one of the main trade items the tribe sought were long smooth tree trunks. Marsh’s group (from House Mith) were the only “outsiders” the tribe did any commerce with, giving them dates, exotic fruits and animal hides in exchange for beads, cowrie shells, tools and steel weapons (with which to hunt and combat snakemen)

After a few amusing interludes (one where Juma attempted to marry off Mongo to one of his fat daughters, and another where he tried to purchase the “exotic” looking Cadelaine until Mongo made clear that Cadelaine was “his” and not to be bartered away), the darkness came and fires were lit, and Juma got down to business. After hearing the adventurer’s stories about the yuan ti slavers and the search for House Valaryan’s men, he told the party that the serpent men slavers were getting bolder in recent years, seeking more humanoid victims for sacrifice, food, or to be changed into histaachi or ophidian servants. He admitted that he recently had lost one of his many sons (a young man named Zura) to the claws of the serpent men, and would pay dearly to get him back. He had many tales to tell about the Forbidden City, although most sounded like tall tales or legends as he admitted he had never actually been to the city, and those that had survived and returned could not be trusted with their bizarre tales! Juma said none of his tribesmen had been into the city in many decades, and those poor souls who escaped the city that were found when out on patrol were often insane or died quickly from disease or poison; only a few lived and those quickly put the horrible experience behind them and became members of his tribe. Only glimpses of the city could be seen if one climbed the cliffs surrounding the valley the Forbidden City was located in…and these alone were frightening enough. Legends of a Black Necromancer who raised the walking dead, and a flying black reptile that could be a black dragon, as well as tales of hordes of frogmen and of course the serpent men and their allies attacking those in the ruins, were told around the fire until it was time for bed. The chief gave the party members community huts on the edge of the village and bade them good night.

Even in the relative safety of the village, the party set out a watch, so it was that after midnight strange noises were heard by Mongo and Sholo when on duty. Sounds of cries cut off, as well as rustling in the bushes, caused them to summon the rest of the sleeping party. Suddenly, half a dozen shapes came towards them in the darkness, with eyes lit by a red glow, obviously undead zombie men! The battle was joined, and the walking zombies proved to be terrible foes. The rest of the party joined the battle, and were dismayed to find the zombies had many powers including resistance to non-magical weapons, and the ability to ignore illusions (even Cadelaine’s invisibility, as she found after one chased her around and around the battle area). Endefal was able to turn five more that showed up through the bushes, but the ones remaining were tough and deadly foes. Village members that showed up to battle them were quickly killed as most of their weapons were non-magical and ineffective, so the party took the lead in battling the undead horrors. Soon, all the zombies lay chopped into pieces as the chief and his bodyguards arrived, solemnly telling the party that the patrolling guards had all been killed stealthily by the “ju ju zombies”. Juma told them that this appearance of the undead was unprecedented, which got the party to wondering if someone was keeping their eye on or following them…and had sent the zombies hoping to catch them unawares.

The next morning, the party got ready to leave, and Juma gave them gifts….magical arrows effective against serpentmen, many sacks of supplies consisting of dried fruit and water (to be stored in Endefal’s bag of holding), a Ring of Jumping, a magic stick that fired lightning bolts (happily taken by Cadelaine, who was slowly getting quite a collection of magical wands!) and one rather large gift: a 50 foot totem pole to act as a ward against reptiles! Although the gift was large, bulky and impractical, the party realized that the protection it offered was worth the trouble of hauling it through the jungle. Bidding Juma and the village farewell, the party started off the five miles or so to the only known entrance into the Forbidden City, guided by the many maps they had (including a new one penned by Juma’s chief shaman). They stayed off the well-trod path, and soon found the totem pole a huge problem to haul as it took all the strength and hands of Mongo, Nadal, Sholo and Kumar. Cadelaine quickly solved the problem by casting levitate on the pole, and this was very effective as the object could then be pushed through the air, leaving the fighter’s hands free for combat.

After a few hours, the party found many signs of the serpent men’s spoor and tracks. They stealthily crept to the entrance marked on the map, which stood inside a giant, mountainous cliffside covered with lianas, vines and bushes. The forbidding entrance was sure to be guarded, so while the party rested, Mongo decided to use the flying power of the sword Sentinel to fly up the cliffside and look at what lay at the top.

Borrowing Cadelaine’s invisibility ring, the flying fighter was astonished at what lay in front of him as he flew above the tall trees (some more than 100 feet tall) and cleared the cliff walls. On the other side of the large hill was an entire city in a huge rift there in the jungle! Perhaps a couple of square miles in circumference, from his vantage point 400 feet above Mongo could make out many buildings, towers, pyramids, pillars, and streets…all strewn with rubble and overgrown by foliage. The entire eastern end of the city was a gigantic swamp and lake, and looked quite formidable. The cliffs looked almost vertical and practically unclimbable…it would take quite an effort to enter the City not using the main entrance.

From his vantage point high above, Mongo could make out creatures moving on the thoroughfares….serpentmen, leading slave trains! He also made out several hopping figures near the swamp and the areas near there, obviously the horrible frogmen. As his power of flight only lasted an hour, he quickly looked around for any suitable area that the adventurers might enter the valley, and make camp. Seeing a likely spur of the valley a mile or so north, he quickly flew back down to the party and told them they were in for a long hike….

Talking together, the party discussed their next move, and decided entering through the main entrance would be foolhardy as it was likely to be well-guarded. Instead, they would climb the hill, and head around the cliff tops until they reached the small wooded area Mongo had glimpsed, which was separated from the Forbidden City by swamp. It would make a good camp spot, he told them, as they could be reasonably sure that no one from the city would cross the swamp to attack them (or if they did, there would be sufficient warning).

The rest of the day was hard going. The party hiked their way up the very steep mountainside perhaps 300 ft, then stood at the rim of the cliffs over the valley to take in what Mongo has described. Several features jumped out at them…the massive swamp, a large fortification of frogmen in the swamp, serpentmen walking the streets (the sight of them driving slaves in chains before them burned at Endefal’s very being, but patience was called for so he stood there fuming), the obviously ancient lay an entire "lost" city awaiting discovery!

Walking the precarious ledge of the cliffs, the adventurers made their way around the edge of the cliffside towards the spot Mongo had found from the air. Luckily they had no encounters, but did notice a lot of giant wasps flying to and fro in the air above the city, and uncomfortably close to the cliff tops. It was 400 feet at least from the clifftops to the city below, and it was very steep in many spots. They passed most of the swamp, and observed a lake there that seemed to go into the very cliff itself, with a waterfall coming from some underground river falling into it. Although numerous crocs were seen sunning themselves and swimming in the waters, no sign of a dragon-like being was witnessed.

Finally they made their way around the valley, and saw the area Mongo had looked perfect, with a profusion of giant vines extended all along the cliff face the entire 350-400 feet of the cliff side. Only one problem: the nests of the giant wasps they had seen seemed to be congregated in the very spot! Careful observation showed the wasps nested in holes and caves on the side of the cliff obscured by vines….which was the only safe way down! Putting their heads together, a complicated but sure plan was developed. Making use of Cadelaine’s ring of invisibility and the ring of feather falling, each person in turn would put them on, jump off the cliff, and invisibly float to the ground. Mongo would then fly down, collect the rings, fly them back up, and the ritual would begin again. The totem pole, still under influence of one of Cadelaine’s levitation spells, could be levitated down also. As long as they were careful and Mongo did not attact any attention, they would be protected from wasp attacks (they hoped!)

The party decided on this course of action, and one by one the party went down into the valley spur, into the tall green trees and foliage. (Even the ape Gra-Gra, after much prompting by Kal, wore the rings and floated down, seemingly much amused by the procedure). They attracted a small bit of attention from the wasps when the totem pole was lowered, but the curious insects quickly buzzed away after finding it of no interest. Finally on the floor of the valley, the party almost immediately came upon perhaps a half dozen caves in the walls of the cliffs there. Inspecting one of the larger opening, they found they cave inside cool and dry, with a sandy floor, and nothing inside except for various bugs and bats. The interior was large (40x30) and contained a spur that lead to a freshwater pool fed by an underground stream! Surely the blessings of their various gods were upon them, and they claimed the cave as their “base” for further exploration. The totem pole was erected at the entrance of the cavern, after the fighter’s dug a deep pit to place it securely. It’s position would allow it to ward against any reptiles entering the cavern as it was placed within 10 feet of the opening. Kal and Endefal used the spell Stone Shape to mold and transform the entrance of the cavern….soon, they had the very wide opening down to a manageable 10x10 by shaping the stone, adding boulders, and sculpting the rocks down to a smaller entrance (to prevent any larger creatures from inspecting the opening or coming inside). The rest of the party was kept busy clearing out the cave, where they found large, gnawed bones indicating the presence at one time of a large predator….but the tracks and spoor were very old, and the cave apparently had not been used as a lair for some time.

A cursory look around the outside area (which was perhaps 100 yards wide and 500 yards long) showed signs of some creatures, as Mongo found tracks of wild boar, hyenas and lizardmen….but exploration would have to be put off until the next day as night was quickly falling, and in the valley with the steep cliffs, large vines and tall trees (some growing over 100 feet to reach the sunlight) it was soon pitch black as even the stars could not be seen! Setting their watch, and starting a small cook fire, the party indulged after their strenuous and difficult day with the last remaining fresh meat and cheese on hand…unless they found fresh meat they would be stuck eating dried fruit or biscuits from the flour they had been given by Marsh. Even a rare chance to bathe and wash the dirt and grime from their bodies was possible by hauling water from the freshwater pool into one of the smaller spurs, a luxury they had not had in the last week (the stench from Kumar was particularly awful; for some reason, the native priest seemed not to notice the eye-watering effect it had on nearby people and was encouraged to bathe by Endefal and the others).

Endefal cast a divination spell that evening; out of curiosity he asked “Where is the dragon?” and his deity showed him an image of the swamp, and especially the lake portion, and a voice said to him “Underneath the water”…which prompted Endefal to think perhaps the dragon had a lair behind the waterfall or in a underwater cave there. Although not talking of it much, the idea of a dragon being so close both intrigued and perhaps frightened the party of adventurers, as they felt it’s might would perhaps have to be dealt with if any exploration of the swamp was to take place. For this evening, however, they had a protected area for the first time in many days, and took advantage of it…tomorrow they would inspect the rest of the valley spur, checking the other caves to make sure no threats existed in their immediate vicinity, before crossing the swamp to investigate the city.

No comments:

Post a Comment