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The Cabal of Eight Pt.36: Serpent Haunted Ruins

The group circled around the corpse of a large serpent. Fauna (played by Jenn), Szoosha (played Serpent haunted ruins indeedby Isis), Excor (played by Cris), Gornix (played by Gil), Belrae the cabal leader, Riahm his right hand man, Ilna aka Bumble, and Jirek the scribe all stood around it. Xanto the Wasp poked his head from the carriage then uninterested, went back to his book. Just outside their perimeter stood and squatted two statues their faces frozen in petrified horror. They were the last remaining crossbowman and the last driver, victims of the serpent-monster’s supernatural glare.

The serpentine corpse’s scales were a dull magenta. It had an evilly curving beak and a pair of bat-like wings on its back. Gornix the Salt-Lotus Wizard leaned in and studied the corpse a little while longer than the others did.

Gil (to the GM): “Man! What is this thing called!?”

The GM (me): “A cockatrice, it’s in the new Monster Magnus.” I was referring to the as of yet unpublished Volume 2.

Finally, after a brief description the players had a laugh, as fundamentally the creature was a snake with a rooster’s head. It had been killed on first watch when it appeared and petrified the unfortunate hirelings.

Gornix (leaning towards the carriage): “Hey WASP! You talk a big game. Let’s see what you can do for these two!” He gestured towards the two statues.

Of course, Xanto couldn’t resist so he blithely stepped from the carriage. Gornix went further and tried, mostly in vain, to humiliate the elder mage by snidely inviting him to “de-petrify” the hirelings. Therefore, the Wasp pulled out a Flesh to Stone potion and did just that with a twist of the wrist pouring the arcane libation over the driver statue. Unfortunately, he had only the one bottle.

Xanto: “But! The crossbowman will be fine as long as he doesn’t tip over. But by all means be MY guest mageling.” He motioned towards the last statue. Embarrassed, Gornix just gave a shrug.

Come morning as the red and pink horizon began to burn ever-brighter gold, Arcan cooked up the last of the remaining food for breakfast, salt pork and hard tack in lard. They also split Szoo’s 45 days’ worth of rations amongst themselves to make sure nobody starved.

The sun was directly overhead beating down upon the barren red mars-scape of the Red Waste as the cabal’s carriage rolled towards the ruins that jutted up from the red plane like bleached ribs. Just behind the pillars of the ruins, they could see a steep rise, a low hill with the remains of black columns atop it. Around the area, they saw large thickets of dense pale green broad-leafed woody bushes. Also they noticed that surrounding the ruins was a deep gorge, at least 20 ft. deep with a mostly bush-concealed bottom. Below they could smell the brackish scent of moisture and hear the trickling of water.

Eager to get adventuring the party disembarked en masse leaving Arcan and the revived driver to find a concealed location to park and set camp. The rest of the adventuring party searched around the area finding another wagon laden with supplies but deserted. Marked with the arms of the Bardic College of Ezmer, it had been hidden in the bushes in a small clearing to the northwest. Excor grilled Belrae and Riahm whom told him it was indeed a college wagon but not one left behind on their previous expedition.

Excor: “Uhg. We have company. The college seekers came back lookin’ for somethin’.”

As a matter of caution, the cabal decided to circle the rim of the gap as a group. After circumnavigating the place, they determined that the best way across the chasm was most likely in the front (south on the map). However, Riahm and the other NPCs disagreed and wanted to try to find another way across that they had pointed at during the circumnavigation. The nearly hidden path they had used during the college adventure.

So the PCs and NPCs (led by the Wasp) split with the NPC party heading west from the wagons as Belrae and Riahm said they had the sure way. The reason the PCs did not follow them or argue the point was to put some distance between themselves and the Wasp.

The player group stood at the precipice at the southernmost point of the ruins. The sides of the cliff were shear on both sides and seemed a little “crumbly” in many places with most of the face composed of compacted dirt and clay with gravel and the occasional large rock. Simply put, climbing would’ve been suicide for most of them, maybe not for Fauna though.

Cris: “Well, yeah! We’re a bunch of damn wizards!”

While the others planned and argued about how to cross the gorge Fauna found a small depression on the cliff that allowed egress down onto a very narrow ledge in the face. It was a fissure carved by ages of rare rainfall. Of course, she began to climb down without alerting the others. So unnoticed she moved carefully and somewhat clumsily down. Without a rope.

Jenn: “Druid-style!”

She slipped and fell all the way to the bottom landing in knee-deep mud with about a foot of water on top. Completely hidden from those on cliffs edge by a canopy of leaves she got to her feet. Gornix noticed that the druid was suddenly gone. Szoo had heard the tumbling gravel and the splash. The next thing that the three mages atop the cliff could see was Fauna backing out into an area where they could see her in deeper water surrounded by four giant frogs.

Though the unnaturally sized animals were unexpected Gornix, Excor, and Szoo managed to collectively kill two of them. Fauna put the other two under her mystical control. The druidess then used her new giant frog mount to take her to the top of the other side. Gornix cast Mass Nature’s Ability: Winged Flight allowing him and the other two to get across.

They all landed on a paved area covered with several inches of dirt and debris. What they were standing on was an elevated solid stone foundation that set about 10 ft. above the actual cliff. Those that had flown had barely made the miscalculated journey before the spell expired. Before them was a depressed area that sank about 5 ft. via steps and had a dry fountain at its center. On a hunch, Excor pulled out the Amber Bee, Bumble’s paperweight, and noticed that it was vibrating in pulses. They proceeded.

The fountain was certainly dry but the thick layer of dirt and stone debris had been carefully cleaned from its basin revealing a tiled mosaic. The fountain mosaic portrayed gold lotuses and beehives in gold, brown, white, turquoise, and dark blue tiles.

Fauna: “Well. We’re in the right place.”

Excor: “Too bad we can’t ask Belrae if they didn’t clean this out when they were out here.”

Szoo: “We have the medallions.”

Fauna: “Oh yeah.”

Cris: “Okay. You use the once a day charge on yours then.”

Isis: “Um. No?”

Gornix began to work his way carefully up the steps at the far north side of the fountain courtyard when he suddenly stopped. He had spotted something, as did Fauna.

Fauna: “Guys watch it we have company!”

Gornix: “They’re Nagas!”

Excor moved towards Gornix and activated his Shield. Fauna cast a Lightning Bolt at a warrior Naga crouching behind the other side of a nearby column. The warrior wore a peaked bronze helm, a bronze pectoral plate, and was armed with an Eagle Rake polearm. The lightning bolt had injured him. Gornix made it to the top of the steps and spotted a shaman just about 20 feet from him to the west. He cast Cloud Memory but the Shield from the shaman’s fetish that hung around his neck absorbed it. Another naga wearing only a bronze pectoral plate stepped out from behind a pillar and whipped his bullwhip at the second of Fauna’s frogs scoring its soft hide. A serpent creature slithered from out of nowhere towards Excor.

Excor: “STOP that Shaman!”

The shaman tried to cast a spell but failed (it was Mass Animal Form). Staying on the higher ground the warrior moved to where Szoo would be in his reach. Szoo hit the Shaman with a fire ray again hitting his Shield.

Excor cast Energy Tentacle at the long-snouted dull earth-colored serpent. It dodged easily moving closer to him. It struck suddenly wiping out his Shield. Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick at the Shaman; the fetish around his neck stopped her spell via the Shield spell. However, it fell apart and dropped from his neck. Gornix again tried to cast Cloud Memory on the Shaman who barely was able to resist its magic. The whip baring naga snapped at Fauna’s second frog again laying more of its soft skin wide open. The Shaman again tried to cast Animal Form Mass the players held their collective breath but he failed. The warrior used his rake to slaughter Fauna’s second frog. Szoo summoned his flaming naginata but stayed put.

Gornix turned and seeing that the warrior was bearing down on Szoo cast Paralyze I at him but the naga warrior was able to resist. The serpent reared and struck at Fauna. She parried its needle fangs with her dagger. Gornix slung Chrono-Missiles at the Shaman wounding him.

Gornix cast Chrono-Missiles at the serpent blasting a large section of its dull brown scales away exposing raw bleeding muscle. The warrior slithered down into the courtyard and swung his Eagle Rake at Fauna who parried his blow with her dagger. Szoosha used his polearm to strike at the Shaman’s throat but stopped short holding the burning blade to his throat.

Szoo: “Don’t you move!”

The serpent reared again and struck at Excor sinking its fangs into his arm. He took the full dose of its venom. It significantly weakened and horribly injured him. Excor took a step back and was able to cast Slow on the creature. The naga with the whip slithered down towards Fauna and tried to entangle her with his bullwhip but missed. Fauna tried to cast Lightning Bolt at the warrior but he took an attack of opportunity narrowly missing her. She failed the casting still distracted by the crack of the whip.

Gornix moved to a pillar for some cover. Szoo singed the shaman’s neck with his weapon holding him hostage. Excor pulled his copper spike and shot a bolt of electricity at the serpent killing it. The naga with the whip cried out in sorrow as he watched his pet die and seeing his shaman at the enemy’s mercy threw down his whip and surrendered. Fauna shouted threats to the warrior but was not at all intimidating in the delivery. However, seeing his shaman with a flaming blade to his throat, he too surrendered.

The mages grilled the nagas, they appeared to be Scael naga though of the lower classes. Their scales were a pale green scattered with black, brown, and pale yellow. A pair of corrupt college officials, a high-ranking curator and a seeker, had hired them as mercenaries. They were paid to protect them and guard the ruins while they were within. The mercs pointed to the northeast and said that a newly unburied passageway lies not more than 50 ft. away. The mages let the nagas slink away with their lives but not their weaponry.

The cabal mages moved into the large courtyard further north. It was dirt floored but they were positive paving lay under a thick layer of the earth. They all touched down from the 15 ft. height of the previous foundation; Fauna on her frog and the others using their wings from another Nature’s Ability spell from Gornix. By a large copse of dense bushes, they spotted a number of white rabbits tied to a stone near a pile of iron shackles. Fauna stooped down to talk to them.

They had been slaves brought to dig out the passage to the east transformed by the shaman after they completed their work. All Fauna could do for them was to free them.

Fauna: “I knew we should’ve killed those guys when we had the chance!”

Cris: “Says you! They would’ve killed me!” Excor cast Close Wounds on himself.

Fauna investigated the marble statue entangled half-hidden in the copse. The head recently hacked from the shoulders.

Over this courtyard towered a stony conical knoll with a black foundation and broken black pillars crowning it. The steep wide white steps that led up from the courtyard to the top were badly damaged ceasing to exist halfway up. The mages discounted going up the hill, as they’d have to climb or fly. They didn’t want to waste any more spells or risk the climb. They found some steps going up from the courtyard between two foundations headed east.

Gornix cast Alter Self to give himself winged flight and on a hunch flew up the hill to “check out” the black pillars. However, he didn’t see anything special. He had failed to spot the egg-shaped hollow in the black stone altar up there. He flew back down to rejoin his fellows as they moved up the steps to the east and onto another detritus strewn foundation. This one however had an open passage and steps leading down at its center. Freshly unburied piles of dirt and stones surrounded it along with the discarded tools. Gornix elected Szoo to take lead.

Szoo: “Fine! I’ll LEAD then!”

Excor used his medallion to communicate with Belrae. The other party had found another entrance and was heading down also. Gornix cast Magic Globe and Illuminate in tandem a glowing globe of light appeared before him under his mental control. With Szoo in the lead, they began their descent below the ruins and the broken black pillars.

To Be Continued…

 

Sick Day – No Post This Week

Unfortunately, the Cabal of Eight actual play blog will have to wait another week. I’ve come down with a nasty cold. I really hate being sick.

However, that gives me an idea for another Tabletop Meditations entry. Actually I have another as well. The Cabal of Eight will continue next week. That campaign blog is reaching its terminus soon btw.

More bad news it looks like there will be no new books for this year. The Dwarven project has fallen through and the company coffers are at an all time low. Life also became very busy this year swallowing up all of my time.

Next year the aim is to release 3 new books. Among those is the Ezmer Gazetteer for the Arvan campaign setting. The Dwarven project is on hold until late next year or until I can muster some resources.

Sincerely,

Robert A. Neri Jr.

The Cabal of Eight Pt.35: The Black Pillars

The group had traveled with no incident from the city of Ezmer. The train of two wagons and Helpful map for a wagon tripcarriage rolled along the Trade Road West out of the Ezmerian Headland. Under the experienced guide of Arcan the Wanderer, they were seeking the Black Pillars. All the while Excor (played by Cris) kept his eyes peeled for any shenanigans coming from the Wasp.

Cris (to the other players): “All of us, each of us, need to make spot checks constantly on the Wasp.”

Their first stop was within a few miles of the Necropolis. A driver was killed during the night, torn apart by some animal. The footprints into camp and around the corpse resembled a lion. However, Fauna (played by Jenn) couldn’t identify the creature though it seemed similar to a lion it had walked two feet as much as four. Unlike a lion it had not killed to eat, it seemed to have just killed the man then left the campsite. They buried the mutilated body after breakfast. Arcan took some time to get his bearings in guiding the adventuring party to the pass into the Mezrin Valley.

Around noon, they stopped the caravan to allow the horses to rest. As they munched on their rations, Xanto the Wasp regaled Belrae and Riahm with tales of his adventures. The thin villain claimed that he had slain a dragon rescuing his companions, a gaggle of sloppy, blundering dragonslayers in the process. Excor and Fauna shot him suspicious narrow-eyed glances. Soon enough the caravan moved on along the narrow path south.

Mountains rose to the immediate west and dense clumps of trees and thickets began to multiply in the distance. A few miles northeast snaked the Dragon’s Tail River. The road was a mix of yellow and white with large patches of mundane earth brown. The wagons came to a stop at Arcan’s signal. It was again time to camp.

On first watch, a scorpion stung a footman and on the second, a thunderstorm moved in dumping hot rain onto the brave adventurers. At first, the rain released the sweet scent of the prairie from the arid soil. It was fresh, a mix of rich clay and the mild reek of straw and yellowed grass. However, shortly after their departure, the desert freshness was gone and the atmosphere in the carriage cab was stifling. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

Trees, yellow and scrub pine, approached the road in clumps and patches. After a few hours, they began to encroach upon the road itself and soon the travelers were rolling through a thin wood. Shortly after they spaces between trees again began to increase and sun drenched glades started to break the wood apart more and more frequently. Another day passed as they traveled on. When they broke through the last clump of trees The mountains and low hills were close poised on either side of the road .  It was the pass into the valley.

Arcan guided the wagons slowly and carefully off the bend of the trade road as it turned west. The terrain flattened out though high purple mountains could be seen to the north and west with a distant ridge of hills rising in the south. The ground became lush with long pale green grass. Soon they surrounded on all sides by the tall grass. When they stood to see over the tops of the blades, they saw a seemingly endless shimmering sea of pale green. Arcan found a small clearing approved by Fauna for their campsite.

During the night, a pack of four dragonsauri attacked the camp during Gornix’s (played by Gil) and Szoo’s (played by Isis) watch. The mages managed to kill two while the other two were spooked away. They only lost a single footman who was dragged away by an unseen fifth during the fray. The only trace left of him, a long ragged red trail of blood leading deep into the tall grasses. Belrae had been wounded but healed himself after.

Morning. Arcan said he estimated about a day or two through the tall grasses when asked by Excor how much further the Red Waste was. The billabongs and hidden mires aside from the dragonsauri would be the worst risks now.

By around 3 pm they broke the grass and a light hot rain started as they rode out onto the Red Waste. The drizzle awakened an alien scent, a bitter smell with only the scant metallic hint of dead soil underneath it. Before them sprawled the Red Lowlands in every direction.  It seemed lusher with the harsh and fibrous flora of the desert than would be hinted at by the name the Red Waste. The sand was not even that red being more of a rocky reddish brown. Arcan assured them that the red waste was closer to the center of the Red Lowlands.

Arcan the Wanderer: “You’ll know when we’re within it. It’s unmistakable.”

The great purple moon appeared on the horizon as the sun slowly melted into an orange and red sea in the West. The ever-diminishing Wuhzigvir Mountains were sinking into the eastern horizon. Excor and Arcan were on the lead wagon along with a crossbowman and a footman. The carriage following the lead contained the cabal along with a driver and a crossbowman. Bringing up the rear the last heavily laden supply wagon had a crossbowman, driver, and the last of the footmen. The adventurers were shouting back and forth while the wagons slowed about where to set camp when a giant winged silhouette swooped out of the purpling blue of evening. It was a dragon.

The creature swooped down and blasted the last wagon with its fiery breath killing the horses and all aboard. The remaining drivers and Arcan spurred their horses on hoping in vain to try to outrun the dragon.The dragon had bronze colored scales and glowing jewel-like eyes, it was a Wher.

Fauna readied a spell in case the dragon should target the carriage. Excor pulled his Lightning Spike and activated his Jet Amulet of Shield. Gornix cast Amplify Magic on the dragon successfully enchanting the creature despite its resistance. The carriage driver spurred his horses on and turned away from the lead wagon. The wher swooped in again with its gnarled claws at the lead horse on the last supply wagon. Arcan tried to drive the animal to avoid the dragon’s talons but failed. It got the horse. He was able to maintain control of the wagon. Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on himself.

Fauna cast Wind Rush at the dragon to try to push it to the ground but it had no effect. Excor shot a bolt of electricity from his spike also without effect. Gornix cast Force Ram nailing the dragon badly injuring it. The Wher unleashed its breath at eh carriage but Szoo was able to divert the draconic flames harmlessly away. Arcan tried to turn the supply wagon in a directin directly opposite the carriage but instead flipped the wagon and crashed throwing him and Excor to the ground. The footman and crossbowman were killed.

The rough ride as the driver tried to outrun the dragon caused Gornix to fail in casting another spell. The wher with a mighty flap of its wings landed with a crash onto the roof of the carriage. Its claws pierced the ceiling visible from the inside of the cab. Gornix cast Force Ram through his wizard’s staff. He tapped the creature’s side as he leaned form a window crushing its ribs. They heard a sickening sound like a water-filled drum hit with a sledgehammer.

The dragon used its tail to batter at the carriage door causing splinters to fly but the wood held.

Excor stood up and dusted himself off. He survived the crash without injury due to his shield amulet. The carriage was a few hundred feet away. Gornix again channeled the same spell through his wizard’s staff but the dragon was able to resist his magic this time around. Distracted by the chaos of the fight Fauna found it impossible to cast Lightning Bolt. However, Szoo summoned his flaming naginata and dealt the deathblow causing the creature to unlatch its claws from the roof of the carriage and lurch into the air before it came crashing back down.

The carriage came to a stop and Gornix immediately jumped out. Fauna followed and they both raced to “harvest” the dragon’s corpse. Szoo saw that the Wasp had been gripping a medallion under his robes and had one of Bumble’s hands clasped tight. When he let go of the medallion Szoo could see that its gem seemed to be amber that contained a piece of what looked like mushroom.

Bumble ordered the driver to circle around and scoop up any crash survivors. Meanwhile Excor and Arcan inspected the wreck. One horse was fine. They gathered some essential supplies and waited for the carriage. Arcan was dirty and bloody but his wounds were mostly superficial. After an hour, the group left in search of a safe campsite far enough away from the dragon-corpse to avoid monstrous scavengers. Szoo bummed a jar of Hill-lander whiskey from Gornix so he could preserve the Wher eye he had cut out.

Come morning they left their campsite and a few more of their number behind after breakfast. They were now short of supplies, especially water, but were close to their goal. Arcan had wedged himself between the driver and the crossbowman.

The land had become increasingly desolate as they traveled on at an alarming rate. Any vegetation seemed to recede and shrivel away to nothing. Before they knew it, the land was flat and mostly barren save for the numerous rocks and gravel of varying size. The earth here was as red as blood. At the advice of Arcan they made a wide berth around a large and dense area of woody bushes that were very out of place against the barren prairieland. By evening, they could see the Black Pillars in the distance. Fauna cast Commune with Nature. In the direction of the Black Pillars, her spell was blocked.

With one more day of travel to go they set camp and settled in for the night.

To Be Continued…