Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Forbidden City: Part Two

After resting the night and curing themselves, as well as stocking up on supplies, the adventuring group made ready to pursue the snakemen slavers deep into the jungle, perhaps into the Forbidden City itself. Traveling light, they would leave their beasts of burden behind, hoping to move fast enough through the jungle to overtake the caravan with Ardu and the others, even though the serpent people had a few days head start.

It was thus that Kalphistane, Cadelaine, Endefal, Mongo, Alando, Nadal, Kumar, Sholo and the loyal ape Gra-Gra made their way into the wilderness. Outside of the Valley of the Elephant, they back-tracked their way to the site of the ambush, and from there, began following the trail left behind by the serpent men.
The small group made good time through the jungle for the next three days…traveling quickly and quietly, they were able to avoid any dangerous encounters. Covering almost 30 miles in three days, they were able to eat up the distance between themselves and the captured slaves, but still the serpent men stayed maddeningly ahead of them. On the 4th day, resting inside a cavern, they were attacked by a large group of Carrion Crawlers who proved tough foes, having honeycombed the cave complex with many tunnels they used to attack by surprise. However, Cadelaine’s Web spell, as well as summoned and enlarged giant ants from Kal, turned the tide and allowed the party to kill all the crawlers and discover a small amount of treasure.
The next day the party traveled yet deeper into the jungle, and going began to get tough. It became obvious they were far, far off the beaten path, perhaps going where no outsiders had ever traveled before. Soon they began to see signs of the snake people, along with marks like beasts of burden and wagons. The next day, early on, they heard sounds of a large group heading through the jungle. Cadelaine and Mongo very stealthily scouted ahead and saw a small caravan of serpent people leading a group of slaves! Unfortunately, after following them for awhile they realized the slaves were not Ardu and the rest of the members of House Valaryan. Nevertheless, they hurried back to the group, where plans were made to rescue the slaves and kill the slavers.

Quietly and carefully scouting, the party numbered the enemy at around 20 tasloi, the same amount of ophidians, and nine pureblood serpentmen with three wagons and around a couple of dozen men in chains. Traveling ahead and setting up an ambush, the party hit the wagons with Entangle and Web as soon as they got near, and commenced with missile weapons on the serpentmen driving the wagons. The first two serpentmen drivers threw up darkness spells to shield them, but their allies the tasloi and ophidians were not as lucky and several were brought down with arrows and slings.

As Alando, Sholo, and Kumar stayed in cover of the jungle and used missile weapons, the rest of the party attacked. Cadelaine used several poisoned arrows and invisible attacks to confuse the enemies, while Endefal, Nadal and Mongo rushed in for hand to hand combat. Kal changed into leopard form to attack and destroy half a dozen tasloi, chasing them through the jungle and bringing them down. Mongo attacked his hated enemy with a fury, downing three ophidians and working towards the serpent men leaders themselves, as he and Endefal attacked their sworn nemesis. The druid Kal’s spells of summon insects and giant insects worked well as several giant wasps also aided the party members in stinging and killing serpent men, and Gra-Gra battled one serpent man to the death.

The battle was long and hard, and before it was over the middle wagon had been set afire by Endefal during the heat of battle, and the serpent and their allies were scattered. Mongo and Endefal managed to bring down three of the serpent men leaders each, and once the leaders were down their servants were no match. Several tasloi escaped into the jungle, but the ophidians and their masters were butchered to the last snake. Unfortunately in their anger the party had managed to destroy every reptile, with no one left to question! After the battle, as Endefal made his usual pyramid of heads, the enslaved merchants were released. Their leader, Marsh, was a fighter with House Tarn and thanked them profusely. He told the party members that they had been ambushed while trading with some of the more distant Ashante tribes, which was very lucrative since the attacks by serpent men had become worst in the last few months. Marsh mentioned the snake men, when attacking them, made sure not to try not to kill anyone and he had caught snatches of conversation that the party was destined to be sacrificed to some great evil! He affirmed their destination was a place called “The Forbidden City”, and from some notes and maps found among the serpent men’s supplies they soon pieced together where it was relative to the information they already had…not five miles distant, almost to the western edge of the Great Plateau itself!

Marsh stated that now rescued, he would take his decimated merchant train straight back to civilization, trying to avoid all conflict and ambushes, and let the leaders of House Mith and House Valaryan know of the dangers here. He rewarded the party members with a small bit of treasure and a small horde of potions he had kept hidden in a wagon, grateful as he was. He also gave them anything from the wagons they needed, and the party loaded up on flour, dried figs and dried pears as they might need the supplies in the future. Marsh also mentioned the village of his last trading partners, and drew the party a map to the heavily fortified location. He said the chief, Juma, had managed to hold out against many serpent men attacks and was now avoided by the scaly ones….the party would find a place to rest, recover and re-supply there if they wished. He gave them a note, written in Ashante, and told them to give it to Juma when they saw him so the native chief would recognize them as friends. At this, he and the survivors of his merchant train quickly began heading NW back to civilization. The party moved towards Juma’s village and camped for the night off the trail in case the escaped tasloi brought trouble. Another wave of Remove Curse and Cure Disease spells would follow the next day for the party members bitten by the ophidians, and after curing they slowly and carefully made their way through the jungle towards Juma’s village….

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Forbidden City: Part One

The next week was a whirlwind of activity for the adventurers, despite finally being given time off the rest by the head of House Valaryan, Gam. After being allowed to rest for a few days, they were called into a conference with Gam, Talith, Ardu, and the Vistnan priest Vespasian. All the adventurers were there, including Alando, and the “tag alongs” Kumar and Sholo.

Gam quickly got down to business, telling the party that he had spent the last few days quickly getting together a large group to return to the valley to both set up a permanent camp there, and continue gathering the ivory tusks. He told them that per House Valaryan rules, they were entitled to a percentage of the ivory they had brought back. He brought several sacks of gold onto the table and said it equaled 36,000 gold pieces to be divided however they wished!!! He assumed the party (Endefal, Cadelaine, Kalphistane, Nadal and Mongo) would split the money evenly, and they voted to give Alando a share since his spells and healing had come in handy. Also out of their profit was taken weregild for the dead native porters, as well as payment for the caravan leader Ajada, and payment for the lost mules. He told them Kumar and Sholo must be paid out of their own shares, as they did not work for House Valaryan and were the adventurer’s responsibility. All in all, each adventurer received a sack of 5000 gp in coins and gems, a huge amount even after paying off Alando and Ajada. Gam told them that they had a week to rest; he was sending his best men, Talith and Ardu, to lead the next expedition and he wanted the characters to go along as scouts (since they knew the way there). However, he was giving them a bit of relaxation time to have a bit of fun.

While in the meeting, the subject was brought up of living arrangements; did the party members still have to stay in the House Valaryan barracks now, and what was the status of their servitude towards the house? Game explained that Mongo and Kal were free to go as they would; they were only employees of the house. Endefal was paying off his “rescue” from the sea by working for the House, but due to the vast amount of profits he had helped generate for them Gam declared him also free to go, to be employed by House Valaryan as he chose. Nadal must stay, he declared, as his father had given him to Gam to watch over; Cadelaine, also, was told to stay, as it appeared she might be the target of those who would wish her harm due to her “connections” to House Valayan (being the merchant prince’s bastard daughter). Cadelaine gladly said she would stay, as she knew it would be safer for both her and her adopted family if she lived within the walls of House Valaryan.

Kal immediately began making plans for a place of his own outside the walls of Port Maugre, in the shanty town of fishermen on the beach. He used much of his money to begin building a large, reinforced grass hut where he and his animals (the ape Gra Gra and the captured water buffalo of the cannibals) could live in peace. After getting rip roaring drunk in town, Nadal, Mongo and the wide-eyed Sholo decided to purchase a “bachelor’s pad” at the Number One Inn, keeping their own rooms in the inn with the tavern close by, so time spent in town could be spent enjoyably. Endefal and Kumar went to the small shrine of Attar and Endefal presented the head priest Jerrod with a massive offering of gold to further the aims of the god Attar. Jerrod gratefully accepted the offering, and rewarded his faithful servant with magic items (potions and magic sling bullets) and the knowledge that slavers were on the move. Scuttlebutt around town said that snakemen and their servants had been spotted nearby and several expected merchant trains had not shown up in the past week. Jerrod told the pair that the worshipers of Set were notorious slavers, and had been active for years, but only recently so bold as to kidnap entire caravans. Endefal and Kumar vowed to keep their eyes open in the future. Cadelaine spent most of her time to herself, sending gold and a generic message to her family back in the Empire.
Finally, after a week, the adventurers were once again called into Gam’s presence. His expedition back to the Valley of the Elephants was ready, and he once again needed the party. He told them that he wished to hire them to lead the larger caravan he had assembled back through the jungle to the Valley, as they had already blazed the trail. Their job would be to lead the merchant train to the valley, guard them as they loaded up ivory, and then lead them back….Gam assured them that this time, other mercenaries would go along to watch the caravan, their job would be scouts only. Although they hadn’t been back long, the party quickly agreed, as they already missed the simple Armec tribesmen and were eager to see how much they had progressed in the last few weeks in the valley.

Cadelaine asked Gam about whether Alando would also accompany them, and Gam said that unlike the first time he was not being supplied by the Vistnan priesthood, so he wasn’t being hired. Cadelaine then took it upon herself to travel to the Vistnan temple and meet with Vespasian herself. With Alando in tow, Cadelaine had an audience with the high priest, who surprised her by agreeing to not only meet with her, but to give her and Alando important information. First, he said he would release Alando again to travel to the Valley, and he also wished to “hire” Cadelaine for a job. Intrigued, the thief/magess wanted more details. Vespasian said that he had gone through the papers and books Alando had returned to them, and inside Honapo’s journal he had found several unusual tidbits. First, it appeared that whatever madness had overtaken Honapo was the result of some ancient tome he had found while in a library somewhere he referred to as “The Forbidden City”. This notation greatly intrigued Vespasian…an entire library of ancient knowledge somewhere in the depths of the jungle? He and the Vistnan priesthood wished to know more. He told Cadelaine (and Alando) to keep their eyes and ears open, and gave them a crude map he had transcribed from the notes of Honapo from the journal. If they were able to locate the location of the city itself, Vespasian promised great rewards in treasure and magic! On parting, he gave Cadelaine and Alando some minor potions and scrolls to help them on their journey, and told the adventuress she was free to keep this to herself, or share with her friends, but to be circumspect about who she trusted with the knowledge. For his part, Alando was ecstatic on being able to spend more time with Cadelaine and travel by her side once again for a long period of time.

As for the rest of the adventurers, after making donations to local temples in exchange for Healing potions and scrolls, they were once again ready to head out into the jungle. The caravan itself consisted of twice the mules, buffalos, and bearers as last time. It included a complement of a dozen mercenary fighters and priests, and the main House Valaryan fighter Talith (along with the ranger Ardu and the fighter Ajada) was in charge. Traveling a half mile ahead of the main caravan, the party picked up their old trail easily, and readied themselves for any sort of foe on the return to the valley.

For the next few days, travel was easy as they struck out over their well-marked trail, and the party noticed little activity in the jungle. As a matter of fact, they traveled almost the entire way to the valley with no opposition or monstrous battles. The only things that put them on edge were the complete lack of larger creatures (mammals or other) in the jungle, and the appearance of what appeared to be a large battle fought with the cannibals by snakemen, with no survivors on the cannibal’s side. Increasing they became suspicious of the lack of creatures in the jungle, and became super-vigilant of any sort of attack.

Within a day of the valley, the tension was finally broken. While traveling, the scout party of adventurers heard screaming, shouting, and the sounds of battle half a mile back at the caravan’s location. As they made to hurry back, they were attacked by a large undetected group of snakemen and their servants! Several dozen tasloi and ophidians, led by eight human looking snakemen and three “halfbreeds”, attacked from ambush. A giant snake/man crossbreed abomination commanded them from behind the battle lines, and began casting spells on himself to prepare for battle.

Quickly the battle was joined with a Sleep thrown by Cadelane taking out several of the tasloi, and a well placed Web spell trapping three of the pureblooded snakemen. Kal also used his Entangle spell to trap several other tasloi, and then hand to hand combat was joined. Cadelaine and Kal battled a snakeheaded half breed, while Mongo quickly chopped through another halfbreed with a long constricting tail. Endefal and Sholo battled another halfbreed with scales instead of skin, as the rest of the paty took on the pureblooded snakemen and opidians. Unfortunately as Mongo went to help another he was trapped with the nets and lassos of the tasloi, and those bitten by the snake-headed halfbreed were quickly saved with applications of the spell Slow Poison. The snakepeople and their allies fought expertly, and managed to bite most of the party members during the battle. It wasn't until Mongo got loose not once, but twice, from the nets of the tasloi that he was able to lead the charge against the reptilian foes. Finally only the leader was left, and he was brought down through the combined efforts of Mongo, Kal, Cadelaine and Endefal in a hard fought battle. The party was quite injured and unable to chase the few escaping tasloi and ophidians. Beaten, tired and bleeding, they finally made their way to the caravan to find chaos everywhere.

The attack here had consisted of twice as many snakemen and their allies, and Talith and his men had barely fought them off. Half the caravan’s native porters were dead or had been dragged off, and this included Mongo’s uncle Ardu! Many of the bearer animals had been slain also, it was quite a disaster. It appeared that an effort had been made by the snakemen to take prisoners rather than kill the caravan members. Quickly taking charge, Talith got the survivors together and with a couple of snakemen captives, made way through the jungle before dark to the abandoned Armec village ahead where they made camp. The surviving snakemen were charmed and made to tell much of their plans and the destination of the captured people before they were executed. Through this knowledge Talith and the rest were able to draw a crude map showing a location many miles deeper into the jungle, almost to the base of the great plateau!
In the day ahead, as Endefal, Kal and Alando cast Cure Diseases and Neutralize Poisons on the snake bitten party members, Talith called for the group. He told them that his job was the same as before….to harvest the ivory, even under such awful circumstances, even now that he was short of men. However, he gave the party leave to pursue the escaped snakemen through the jungle to rescue Ardu and the others taken prisoner by the reptiles. Cadelaine and Alando looked at each other, realizing the same thing: the map given them by Vespasian and the location indicated by the charmed snakemen led to the same place. It appeared that the so-called “Forbidden City” would be their destination! The party took the day to rest and interact with their friends in the Armec village, who had done much to start rebuilding their town and plant their crops, before taking what meager supplies the main caravan could spare and make their plans to track down and kill the hideous snakemen!