Friday, April 30, 2010


Using Stone Shape, Endefal fashioned a proper door from the secret room to the outer room, making the area they would rest in more secure. After a few hours, the rain died down and finally stopped, and the group began taking guard shifts as the others rested. As the group fitfully tried to rest in their dirty but secure hideaway inside one of the ruins, Mongo heard sounds of furtive searching right outside the room. Peeking through the cracks in the wall, he spotted two natives talking in Delosian, surrounded by a dozen or so giant rats, which seemed to do the native’s bidding! He heard enough to realize the natives were looking for the party, as they had witnessed the destruction of the snakemen, and had even hunted down and killed the one escaping snakeman. They spoke vaguely of allying with the party, as apparently the snakemen were also enemies of their “group”. Walking out through the door weaponless, Mongo presented himself to the two startled natives, saying he would like to talk and parley with him. Several other party members also emerged, and the native types introduced themselves as Damu and Jamal, with Damu doing most of the talking.

Soon, gathered around a small fire in the main room, Damu explained the circumstances of who and what he was. Very quickly the group grasped the fact that Damu and Jamal were lycanthropes, obviously wererats. Damu did not deny this and explained it was the only reason they had survived so long in the city, as they used the underground sewers to travel across the ruined landscape. He said most were bit while they were enslaved, and the bites allowing the change to rat form allowed them to escape the clutches of the snakemen. However, he stated, snakes and rats are natural enemies, and they hunted each other through the jungle ruins of the Forbidden City. Damu stated that this was why the snakemen traveled in groups within the city, a snakeman traveling alone would be quickly ambushed and killed by many wererats and giant rats.

Mongo and the party members asked the duo many questions about the ruins, mostly if they knew where the “headquarters” of the serpentmen was, and if there was an underground way there. Damu stated that the sewers were very dangerous to travel unless one was in rat form, and that close to the western edge of the city the tunnels were guarded by weird fungoid ghouls that prevented most passage. He said he suspected the main lair of the serpent men was beyond these guards. When asked about the Necromancer Horan, Damu stated that he never bothered them, so the wererats left him alone. Asked about the swamp dragon, Damu said he rarely left the swamp, and he had personally never actually seen the giant reptile. Further conversation during the night (only interrupted by Damu pausing to go outside and kill several fire beetles for their light glands, which he said they could use for trade goods) let the party know the wererats worshiped at an old temple of the city dedicated to the bat cult (a bat, he said, is a rat with wings, so what is holier?). Also, he knew of the humans and “mongrelmen” camped at the far west side of the city, as he traded with them often, and said he would bring the party there on the morrow. For his efforts, the party gave Damu some odds and ends for trade, including a mace, some sling bullets, and some arrows with steel heads. They also asked him about ways out of the city, and he mentioned three: a switchback trail to the west always guarded by snakemen; a tall tree in the south of the city that was several hundred feet high and grew near the cliff wall; and a possible tunnel to the north in a lizardman’s cave that was rumored to lead further north and eventually emerge from the city somewhere in the jungle….

The only sinister feeling the party got from Damu was his continually asking the party members if they too wished to be turned into wererats, with Damu offering to do the deed himself, saying it would greatly help them traverse the city and avoid capture. He seemed a bit too eager to do this, and asked continually about Cadelaine (who stayed invisible all night) since he had seen her earlier when she was visible, telling her that she was very beautiful and lovely…coming from the native wererat these words did not fill her with joy.

The next morning, Damu offered to guide the party to the mongrelmen camp by the most secretive and expedient way. They took him up on his offer, as he also told them he could get them past the guards who didn’t let anyone else in due to fear of the serpentmen and others. When asked why the serpent men didn’t either attack and kill or enslave the mongrelmen, Damu said they were not “real” people and the serpentmen seemed to disdain sacrificing them. Apparently, an attack on them would result in too many losses (the mongrelmen were over 100 strong) and so they were ignored in their corner of the ruined city.

Damu led the party on a twisting, hidden path through the city, pausing at one point to show them the magnificent ruins of the Bat God temple, which still rose high in the sky with two giant stone bats on either side of the entrance, a large opening which seemed to go inside the earth. Finally, the party came upon a block long area with piled rubble, and ten horribly deformed guards came out, spears in hand , and asked what the business of Damu and this strange group was!

Damu vouched for the party, saying they were travelers to the city and wished to trade with the mongrelmen and their leader. An old, robe covered shaman came shuffling out of the rubble and cast two spells on the party; Alando identified them as Detect Evil and Know Alignment. Apparently the party passed, as she then motioned the guards to let the party through. The party was escorted inside a long tunnel of rubble, with various mongrelmen hiding in all corners waiting to ambush any intruders. They finally exited the tunnel to a large open area with many hovels built from rubble and wreckage. In the center of the area stood three stone buildings. Towards the edge of the camp was a cooking area with several cooking pits and many unidentifiable pieces of meat hanging from hooks. Nearby was a meager vegetable garden and several scraggly fruit trees. As the party entered and several of the curious creatures pointed, whispered and began following them around, they saw an area off to one end through an archway that looked cleaner and more “civilized”. Out of this area came, surprisingly, a female elf, a human fighter, and several other non-mongrelmen!

Before they could talk with the human and elf, the leader of the mongrelmen emerged from one of the stone buildings. He was a massive specimen with many scars and wielding a large two handed sword. Speaking in a halting voice, he told them they would have to trade something of use before being allowed to enter the area. Endefal and Alando got down to haggling. For two blankets, a steel dagger, some sling bullets, and a few cowrie shells, the party was able to get a magic potion (Alando identified it as Water Breathing) and get into the chief’s good will. The chief told Mongo he wanted to wrestle him, and Damu whispered that wrestling the chief was the only way to earn his respect. However, he said the wrestling could wait until nightfall and the feast they would have in the party’s honor.

Leaving the mongrelmen portion of the camp, the party passed through the archway and entered a new world. Here, apparently, were many escaped slaves and members of ill-fated expeditions that had never been able to escape the valley. The elven female identified herself as Arathea, and said she was the leader of the group. She introduced the fighter at her side as Desteri, and said they were glad to see this party as they were anxious to leave this forsaken hell hole and get back to Port Maugre, where she had much gold and gems awaiting her return (and which she would gladly give to her rescuers). Soon, several other members of the small group came up and introduced themselves: Barren, a human mage who begged the party to take him with them; he said he would loyally serve whoever supplied him with a spellbook, as he had none and could only learn spells through Aratheas’ spell book; Gart, a priest of Vistna, who was ecstatic upon seeing Alando and bade him come talk to him privately, as he had several books and more he had located in the ruins during his many years here; Tulu and Ular, twin Ashante warriors who seemed happy and cheerful and strangely deferential to Aratheas; Lithy, a female halfling who seem rather wary of the party and stayed away from the group; Aster, a dwarven warrior missing a leg from the knee down, who seemed quite ill with some sort of coughing disease, and Desteri, who seemed to be Aratheas’ bodyguard and gave the party dirty looks, never leaving her side.

The party began mingling with the individuals and heard all their stories, as the lost explorers were quite eager to hear news from outside the city. Alando cast Detect Evil on the group, but got no strong detection of any type from any of the inhabitants. Alando got together with Gart, who told him he had been trapped here after an expedition of Vistnan priests was destroyed while exploring the city a couple of years earlier. They only survivor, and two powerless to escape alone, Gart had stumbled upon the mongrelmen encampment and showed them his healing powers, which gave them a reason to take him in. Gart had decided to stay as his healing powers, as well as a daily Create Water spell, helped the inhabitants survive. He also found many old books and such in the rubble, and read and translated them in his spare time. He was preparing a package for someone to deliver to the Vistnan temple in Port Maugre, and in answer to his prayers, another priest of Vistna had arrived! Alando offered to take the package back to civilization, and tell the priests at his temple that one of their own was still in the city.

As the priests talked, Endefal began talking to the dwarven warrior, who boasted that he by himself had killed a giant snaked the last week, even missing a leg! He seemed like he had once been a formidable warrior before the loss of his leg. He told Endefal and Kumar that he had been a mercenary guard of a merchant train that had gone too near the city and been attacked by serpentmen and their tasloi allies. In the battle his foot had been bitten by a snake, and the wound began to swell and fester. Delirious, he somehow found himself wandering in the Forbidden City days later, and was found by Mongrelmen and brought to the camp. The wound being beyond Gart’s ability to heal, he had to amputate instead, and now the dwarven fighter had to get around with a “peg leg” instead of a real one. Listening to Aster’s story, Endefal could hear a rasping far back in the dwarves’ throat. He asked him if the dwarf felt out of sorts, and Aster confirmed that he was often weak and had a bad cold. Casting cure disease on the dwarf, suddenly the warrior could breathe fine, and his sickness immediately disappeared! Extremely grateful, Aster thanked the priest of Attar, and said if only some way could be found of regenerating his leg, he would loyally follow and serve the priest. Endefal and Kumar however did not have this level of healing on a scroll, but they told the dwarven warrior they would return to heal him should they ever run across such healing.

Mongo was speaking with the native twins, who were eager to talk with a fellow Ashante warrior. They said they had been captured by slavers but escaped and came to the city, and helped out the group with their fishing and hunting skills. Mongo asked them if they wished to leave, but they said that they wished to do whatever Aratheas wanted them to. Suspicious, Mongo began questioning them further and soon decided that the female elf may have charmed the twins.

As for the elven mage, she greeted the party and asked them if there was any spot for herself and her bodyguard Desteri in the group, as they wished to escape this disgusting place and head back to civilization. Aratheas was beautiful and apparently a powerful mage, but something about her seem to grate on the party’s nerves. She seemed very imperious, and would only address the elven druid Kal and not the others of the party, assuming as an elf he was the leader. Barren, the human mage, whispered to the other party members that Aratheas was a egomaniacal bitch, and that she had tried to escape with other groups but had always been booted out of the group because of her imperious ways. He said she had charmed Desteri to serve and protect her, and lorded herself over the group because of her power. Incensed that beings were serving her against her will, Kumar and Endefal began casting Free Will spells on all the beings in the camp. Soon, Desteri and the twins had their own free will, and the human fighter Desteri was not happy! He yelled and insulted Aratheas because he now realized his feelings for her were a lie created by the charm. At the sudden loss of power, Aratheas sulked and pouted, upset at losing her charmed servants.

As this drama went on, Cadelaine decided to do a little sneaking about and searching. Still invisible (she had never appeared during the entire day to anyone), she snuck inside the largest area there in what was apparently Aratheas’ and Desteri’s quarters. Searching around, she managed to find a something buried beneath the ground under the blankets piled in the room, and inside found a container. Wary of runes written on the surface, Cadelaine used a long held scroll of Erase to destroy the runes, and then opened the box. Inside, she found three large diamonds, which she quickly pocketed, and a large spellbook…obviously Aratheas! Slipping the book into her backpack, Cadelaine covered the area best she could and snuck back out of the room.

Outside, Endefal was lecturing Aratheas on the folly of charming people to serve against their will. Obviously upset, Aratheas stomped off to her quarters. After she left, Barren again begged the party for a chance to leave with them, saying if only someone gave him a spellbook, he would serve them loyally. He said he was here because of an ill fated expedition to the swamp dragon’s cave, where the rest of his party had died under the jaws of crocodiles, with himself the only survivor (but at the cost of his spellbook). Meanwhile, Mongo had managed to convince the now un-charmed Ashante brothers that they should leave when he left, and the cheerful duo agreed they would love to finally make their way back to their tribe now that they suddenly did not wish to stay with the pretty elven lady any longer! Gart turned down the party’s offer to leave, as he said he was needed to help the mongrelmen survive, and the halfling Lithy said she was too frightened of the creatures of the city to ever leave. Aster said he wished he could leave but without his leg he would only slow the party down. Desteri said that now that the elven bitch didn’t have a hold on him, he was free to go as he pleased. He said he was a mercenary fighter hired to guard a caravan that had been captured (and escaped) from the serpentmen, and since that was months ago he was free to go with the party for a share of treasure or a flat payment.

Suddenly, a screaming was heard from Aratheas’ cave! She came storming out, holding an old looking scepter in her hand, demanding that whoever had stolen her spellbook give it back. Barren began laughing at her and said now she would see what life was like without a spellbook! Nearly incoherent with rage, she stated Barren must have stolen it, and it must be returned or he would die. Endefal quickly pulled out his Wand of Negation and zapped her scepter, but Aratheas in her rage didn’t even notice. Screaming something in elven, she pointed at the still chuckling Barren, and a lightning bolt zapped forth to incinerate him on the spot! All around stared in horror as the charred body of the mage fell to the ground, and at that the invisible Cadelaine attempted to stab the enraged mage. Unfortunately, Cadelaine barely scraped Aratheas, who turned in her fury and pointed a finger at Cadelaine, with another bolt flying out to slam the half elf hard against the rubble, knocked her unconscious! At this, the party sprang into action, with both Endefal and Kumar hitting the out of control mage with Fists of Faith, killing her on the spot. Alando quickly rushed to Cadelaine’s side, as smoke rose from the unconscious body. The bolt had struck her at a length of no more than five feet, melting several of her magical items (including her charm against disease and stone of silence) that had hung around her neck, as well as snapping her bow in half with the force of the bolt. Alando ministered to her as Kal and the rest took her scepter and other items from her body. Of the unfortunate Barren, nothing could be done, as he had been killed instantly and was far beyond any help.

At this commotion, the mongrelman leader and four huge bodyguards pushed into the enclosure, demanding to know what had happened. Seeing the dead bodies, especially that of Aratheas, the mongrelman leader went berserk. Saying they would pay for killing the “pretty lady”, he and his cohorts began swinging at Mongo, who stood in their way. The twins Tulu and Ular said they knew of a back way out, one they took when they went hunting or fishing, and the party (grateful they wouldn’t have to hack their way past 100 attacking mongrelmen) began heading out through the opening, with Mongo taking several savage blows as he covered for them. The wererat Damu was nowhere to be seen, but there was no time to look for him as the party (along with Desteri and the twins) quickly made their way out of the back entrance and across the rubble to the north.

After several minutes of running, they noticed only lackluster pursuit (mostly rocks and such being thrown), and the twins said they knew of a safe place to rest. Heading north, the small group found themselves in an enclosure open to the sky that looked a hundred yards or so around that was thickly grown with vegetation. Wary of the growth, the party was assured by Tulu and Ular that the area was safe, as they came here often. Sure enough, slipping through the very thick foliage about 50 yards, they came upon a beautiful, placid pool of what looked like fresh water in a small clearing inside the trees and vines.

The brothers said they often came here to fish and hunt (they said several birds and small mammals were within the wooded areas, and fish in the pool) and that they had never had an encounter with a monster within the area. Suspecting some greater power held sway here. Kal examined the foliage and found nothing of a poisonous or deadly nature, and that the water was fresh and pure, and the fruit and berries that grew within the garden like area were good and tasty. Questioning the brothers further, they admitted that a “beautiful lady, covered with a feathered cloak” would sometimes emerge from the water when they slept to talk to them. They had dreams about her they said, and the dreams seemed to make them fully rested.

Kal knew of certain creatures of the wood that may be protecting a place like this, but whether evil or benign it was often hard to say. However, since the being had treated the twins well, Kal suspected the spirit of this jungle area meant them no harm. Wishing to avoid a possible conflict, he found Desteri peeing against a tree and quickly charmed him, telling him not to despoil the forest, and to keep quiet…while apparently an accomplished and skilled fighter, his conversation since he had been rescued was mostly profanity laced cursing along with lewd and disgusting comments about women, especially the unconscious Cadelaine who was being carried along by Alando. Kal began to feel just a bit more understanding as to why Aratheas had charmed the noisy, not so smart fighting man…..better to have him under control than running around upsetting whatever spirit of the jungled lived here.

With Cadelaine barely conscious after the electrocution, Alando volunteered to take care of here while the others patrolled the area looking to see if there was anything they needed to guard against. Kal commanded the charmed Desteri to also stay, and the rest of the party went through the area to the other side and searched the rubble there. They found a building with trees and plants growing out through the center, complete with a skeletal body hanging from a limb. The party was suddenly attacked by deathfangs, undead flying snakes, but they were quickly disposed of with Endefal’s turning ability and Kal’s entangle spell. Nadal took possession of the dead warrior’s sword, which gleamed like it was new, indicated it was magic (a fact Alando verified when they brought it back to the hidden pool).

Returning to the pool as evening fell, the party soon fell into a deep, restful sleep. After awhile Kal awakened to find everyone around him overcome by sleep. He looked out in the moonlight and saw a beautiful maiden, clad in a white feathered cloak, emerge from the water and walk towards him. She smiled and introduced herself as Safania, and told Kal that she was the guardian of the pool and this area of the city. She said she was a swanmay, a magical creature that had lived for centuries here in the city, ever since it’s “fall”. She wouldn’t elaborate much, except for telling Kal that the once great city fell due to worship of “devils”, which could have been literal or figurative, and the machinations of the serpent men. She said her only purpose was to guard this area, and she had done so successfully for hundreds of years, destroying all invaders. Now inhabitants of the city knew better than to enter her grove, and this was one place in the city where beings could rest without fear of harm. She told Kal she only asked that the adventurers respect the woods and pond, and not to defile or desecrate the area in any way, and they would be free to drink the water, eat the fruit, and hunt some of the animals within. Kal asked her if any other beings like her inhabited the city, and Safania said she only knew of one, a water naga that once inhabited the lake on the east side of the city before it became the large swamp it was now. Safania said she had no contact with the naga in many, many years, and did not know if she still lived within the swamp. However, if she did, Safania told Kal she would also be an ally if approached with friendship.

Kal vouched for the behavior of the party, and told Safania he would make sure the adventurers obeyed her rules while in the sacred area. He noticed the holy symbol of Sybaris, god of lakes and streams (a servant of Kal’s god Faerel, but he did not mention that fact) hung around her neck and suspected she was a high level priest of that god, long forgotten here in the jungle city. After speaking with her, Kal went and laid down with his fellows and also fell into a deep sleep, after watching the woman change into a large swan and swim off across the pond….

The next morning, which was clear and warm, saw the party well rested and healed up after the most restful and deep sleep that had experienced since entering the city over two weeks earlier. Kal told the party what he had experienced that evening, and the group agreed this “safe place” must be protected at all costs. It would be a perfect base for rest and replenishment while exploring the rest of the city.

The little group had grown with the addition of the warriors Desteri, Tulu and Ular, and along with Kal, Endefal, Mongo, Cadelaine, Alando, Kumar, Sholo, Nadal and Gra-Gra, they were now a formidable fighting force. However, they faced even more enemies as they had angered the swamp dragon and his minions, the Necromancer Horan and his undead, the mongrelmen, and of course the evil serpent men. Perhaps only the wererats, along with the swanmay, had become allies of the group. They seemed to be no closer to rescuing their friend Ardu and time could be running out.
Alando faced the party and stated “We can’t keep running around with no goal or purpose. Today I have prayed for spells of guidance and divination, and we need to ask the right questions to find out what our next steps are here….”

No comments:

Post a Comment