Excor (played by Cris) and Szoosha (played by Isis) found themselves escorted by the Grey Serpent pirate crew to the Western Cliffs District. The pair had surprisingly talked the pirates out of murdering Jirek right there, by selling out the Wasp. As they neared the gates to the northern half of that section of the city, they both could see Fauna (played by Jenn) waiting in a rickshaw across from the gate under the shade of an aqueduct arch. Excor had managed a Whisper spell to her during the long walk.
Essentially, the plan was to get the pirate captain to meet with Bumble who would hopefully turn on her master. It was a longshot but the mages had nothing else. Jirek and the captain walked to the gate while Excor, Szoo, and the other five pirates including the half-giant, waited a short distance away.
The two mages and the ill-tempered pirates waited in awkward silence. Fauna kept her eyes locked on the group. Suddenly, the Ferenoi cleric turned her head and locked eyes with the druid.
Ferenoi Cleric (pointing at Fauna): “YOU!
Isis: “Aw, crap.”
Jenn: “C’mon! We can take ‘em!”
Immediately, and as she approached, Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick on the Ferenoi Cleric. The cleric shrunk into a snail. Szoosha tossed an Alchemist’s Fire at the second Ferenoi, the swashbuckler, singeing her armor. The swashbuckler replied by throwing her javelin at Szoo whom parried the projectile. Excor cast Invisibility I on himself. The half-giant surged forward swinging his heavy claymore at Fauna barely missing her. The mage with the wolf-skin mantle cast Elemental Blast (water) at Szoo but the Naga’s shield protected him. The Feren pirate unslung his steel shield and ran up next to the Ferenoi swashbuckler.
Fauna stomped on the snail.
Jenn (addressing the shocked look on her sister’s face and Cris’ laughter): “Hey I was gonna let her go but she just had to keep it going!”
Szoo tossed another alchemist’s fire at the swashbuckler but the Feren pirate immediately blocked the flask with his shield. The swashbuckler pulled her falcata and slashed at the Naga but the blade was stopped by the Naga’s shield. Excor twisted his Ring of Verminous Might and grew large insect-like wings. The half-giant swung again at Fauna striking her shield. The mage waved his hands and a small ball of ice formed before him that suddenly shot at Szoo who dodged it. The shieldman readied to defend the swashbuckler with his steel shield.
Fauna cast Wind Rush forcing the Half-Giant to dodge as well as knocking down, and blowing away the mage. The swashbuckler drew her dirk, slashed with her sword, and stabbed at the same time with her dirk. Szoo parried both weapons with his flaming naginata that instantly appeared in his scaly hands. Excor cast Amber Husk on the Half-Giant instantly trapping him in a large iceberg of solid glistening amber. The shieldman continued to ready to defend the swashbuckler.
Fauna tried to cast a spell but it fizzled. Szoo used his magic bracers to use Armor Bane via touch on the shieldman’s shield. The shield immediately crumbled to dust. Excor activated his Jet Amulet of Shielding. The swashbuckler again took a double strike with dirk and sword against the Naga striking and dispelling his shield. The mage, on the ground almost 100 ft. away, melted into a flow of water that quickly disappeared down a gutter. The shieldman got a javelin from his back.
Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick on the swashbuckler transforming her into a snail. Szoo touched the swashbuckler’s leather armor, which rotted away and fell off.
Isis: “I LOVE THESE BRACERS!”
Excor used his Copper Spike and shot a bolt of electricity at the shieldless shieldman wounding him slightly. The shieldman in turn, tossed his javelin at Fauna missing badly. Fauna stomped on the snail and the shieldman cried out in grief. Szoo swung at the shieldman with his naginata but tripped over his own tail. Excor caught the grieving shieldman in an amber husk ending the skirmish.
The three mages were unable to savor their easy victory however as the alarm bell began ringing above the gates. Guards began streaming from the guardhouse surrounding the great monoliths of amber. The mages quickly realized that the guards were focused on carrying away the two large pieces of semi-precious amber. Excor, still invisible, flew over the gate and headed towards Bumble’s house. Fauna and Szoo slunk away and through the gates while the guards were distracted.
Excor made it to Bumble’s family property and dropped himself in front of the Wasp’s hovel. It was wide open and he could see both Jirek and the pirate captain tossing the place. Suddenly, Jirek shouted, “I found it!” The captain immediately ran over to him and they both pulled the iron sea chest into Excor’s view. The captain yelled, “No, no, no!” He flipped open the chest lid. “Someone opened it!?” It appeared to Excor that the chest had contained a case according to the lining, one that was narrow and long.
Excor (mumbling to disappointedly himself): “Of course the Wasp already opened it.”
Excor flew back to the front of the property in time to intercept his companions. He canceled his spells and filled them in on the news. They decided to go back to the White Prong for some food and ale and wait to see if Thorn the beggar would make an appearance.
Later that afternoon around a table in the bustling White Prong, the trio of mages sat around a table after finishing their meal and ordering a second round of dark ale.
Excor (to Fauna): “You did find Thorn right?”
Fauna: “Well, I was asking around for him.”
Excor: “Good enough. He’ll hear us.”
As if on cue, a young street urchin wandered into the tavern and walked up to the mages’ table. He introduced himself as Xete and told the mages that Thorn’s coin has been bought but he could help them granted they could buy his coin for the day. Excor promised him a platinum piece if he could locate Xanto the Wasp who was probably in disguise and traveling with his protégé Ilna of Nezorik aka “Bumble”. It was test to see if his coin was worth purchasing of course. The boy bowed and jaunted off.
For a few hours the mages sat and drank, Excor smoked his pipe. It was nearing evening when the street urchin seemingly appeared at their table. The Wasp and his apprentice were sitting in the barroom of the Red Helm. Excor flipped the boy the promised platinum piece with the promise to buy his coin tomorrow morning.
The three mages virtually ran to the Red Helm and as soon as they were inside of the door, Szoo spotted an old man sitting at a table nearest the bar and a young girl pacing back and forth next to a black leather case that leaned against the table. The pair looked nothing like the Wasp or his apprentice but the three mages surmised they were under a Disguise spell. Excor took up a position at table exactly opposite them. Szoo slithered up to a position next to the front window in case they made for the door. Fauna sauntered up to the bar; she caught the young girl eyeballing her from the corner of her eye.
The three mages were just starting to decide a plan of action when the Black Eagle pirates with Direnda in the lead filtered into the place. They crowded the space just in front of the bar their hands on their weapons.
Isis: “Oh no.”
Three warriors in blue followed by the blue dragon in her noblewoman form strode in. The warriors immediately took fighting stances at the sight of the pirates.
Jenn: “aw man.”
A few seconds later, Jirek, the Grey Serpent Captain and his Mage jogged in through the door and spotted Excor but as the captain’s hand met his weapon, he noticed the crowded room as did his companions.
At that moment, Draega fluttered in from behind the bar on his way towards the blue lady but then noticed the full and very tense room.
The wheels of the rickshaw were clattering on the wet cobblestones as it zoomed through the dark streets. Intermittent drizzles had glazed the city deepening the shadows and causing even the smallest candlelight to glare off the wet stone and plaster. Great clouds of steam rose all around from sewer grates helping the mages’ rickshaw to stay hidden in their pursuit of the dragon’s coach. Szoo (played by Isis) slithered at top speed next to his companions ridding in said rickshaw. The rickshaw-puller was pumping his legs furiously and panting heavily.
Eventually, the carriage slowed after arriving at the far northeast sector of the city. The rickshaw in turn kept at a two-block distance. The coach turned onto Slavers’ Circle and into the Slavers’ Quarter. It stopped in front of a slave mart flying the flag of the Golden Devil Company the gravel of the auction yard crunching under the iron-shod wheels as it pulled alongside a colonnade.
The rickshaw stopped around the corner from the coach on North Avenue, a drift of sewer-fog helped to hide the three mages from the coachman’s view. As Fauna (played by Jenn) and Excor (played by Cris) leaped from the rickshaw, Excor dropped another 2 silver pieces into the puller’s sweaty palm who then immediately took off in the opposite direction.
Excor and Fauna cast Invisible to Sight on themselves and Szoo with little trouble. They waited and watched. The carriage departed shortly after a footman from the mart appeared and guided the lady dragon inside the yard. As far as the mages could tell the mercenaries in blue left with the carriage.
Isis: “What’s she doing here!? Looking for slaves?”
Cris: “Maybe, we did put her guys on ice er, in amber. Ha, ha, ha!”
Jenn: “She’s in league with the slavers?”
Cris: “Naw! Yes she is! We know who made those collars!”
The mages hurried, invisible, to the iron gates. The lock was built into the gate and very solid. The gates themselves were set in a whitewashed adobe wall, twelve feet high, behind a gallery its roof supported by a colonnade. The gallery roof was tiled in copper rather than the typical red terracotta or blue slate so common in the city. Szoo easily slithered over the wall next to the gallery and helped Fauna over. They kept hold of each other’s hands in order to stay together. Excor used his gold Ring of Verminous Might (The Cabal of Eight Pt.44: Betrayed At Last!) growing insect wings and flying over the fence.
They were now in the gravel yard within the bleach-white walls of the slave mart. The yard, bounded by the 12 ft. tall adobe wall, was large and of packed gravel. To their immediate right was the locked iron-gate and to the left was a longhouse, with whitewashed plaster walls and terracotta roof. It had small barred square windows and a large barn door on the front and back. From it oozed the hideous stench of rotting corpses. Further away at the center of the yard, was a large round stone-lined pit surrounded by a collapsed wooden structure, probably a fighting pit and collapsed bleachers.
Immediately to the right of the pit sat another longhouse that boasted three smokestacks, a kitchen the mages surmised. Further north of that was a smaller longhouse, yellow firelight shone from the two square windows that the mages could see. The footman and the blue lady were just entering this building. Fauna and Szoo hustled towards it. At around 100 ft. above them, hovered Excor.
He saw that a larger building took up the rear of the yard built right up against the rear wall. Its tiny windows were barred and the arched front entrance appeared as the caged face of a prison. From this building, the reek of human misery drifted. This was the slave barracks. Excor sneered and realized that the rear wall abutted against the crenulated wall of the Slavers’ Castle. He gazed up at the massive stone structure only a few windows lit in the pitch black of night. Then he saw the thing that froze his blood solid in his veins.
Resting atop the large keep was the shadowy outline of a full-grown dragon. It was the resident brown-fang dragon paid by the slavers to guard their castle and service the city when required. This dragon’s name was Gristle-Talon. Its great shadow limned head swung, the eyes gleamed white for a second reflecting the scant light of the city. Excor froze in mid-air and waited to make sure that that great beast had not detected him. The pair of white pinpoints passed over him without reaction. When he was satisfied that he was indeed safe, he floated gently down to the gravel.
Meanwhile, Szoo and Fauna were peeking through one of the small square windows of the only lit longhouse in the yard. The pair realized that this building housed the guards, footmen, and a few servants. The footman who had guided the dragon into the house pointed to a guard sitting at a table, his dice game apparently cut short. Szoo could overhear the dragon demanding her “dinner” as she was “hungry”. The guard looked reticent as he rose and fumbled with a key ring on his belt. He gestured her to follow as he led her from that building. They were heading southeast at a rapid pace.
Szoo and Fauna maneuvered around taking shelter behind the corners of the few buildings trying to follow their quarry at a distance. In their excitement, they had let go of each other’s hands and thus had no idea where the other was. Excor immediately flew back up into the air trying to keep out of the dragon’s sensory range.
Jenn: “Okay, so she’s headed to the kitchen right?”
Isis (looking at the crude ad-hoc map): “I don’t think so, that would be here, so…”
Cris: “Kitchen yeah, pfft, that kitchen doesn’t have enough food for that dragon!”
The blue lady slowed her pace and in the blink of an eye, her humanoid form rolled out and elongated into that of a very large adult blue dragon. The tiara, necklace, and rings all still adorned her true form; they had changed as well to fit the creature. All three mages felt a twinge of fear but were able to maintain their wits. Meanwhile, the guard had jaunted to the building that sat at the far southern corner and left of the gate. He unlocked and threw open the barn door and ran away back to the guardhouse at full speed not once looking in the blue dragon’s direction.
The dragon stuck its head into the open door and began pulling out the corpses of dozens of humanoids, most were Meren frog and lizard men but others were human. The mages were meanwhile trying to maneuver as close as they dared. Then bones began to crunch. Fauna could barely contain herself.
Jenn: “Ugh! That’s DISGUSTING! I wanna kill this b!#%h right now!”
Isis: “YES! Let’s do THIS!”
Cris: “Whoa! What about that other dragon, the brown-fang!”
Isis: “Oh yeah, I forgot about him.”
The mages maneuvered themselves to the iron-gate and decided against attacking the dragon outright, especially since the current circumstances were against them. They did argue for a little about if they should just “get her now” but ultimately they decided to flee and look for a better chance to face her down.
Fauna cast Gaseous Form on Szoo and herself and they floated away towards the street. Excor flew to the copper roof of the gallery, carefully looked around for any watchers, and then flew straight home.
By the time they had arrived home, the door and the floor were fixed. The first to arrive was Excor, one of the carpenter’s apprentices was there waiting to hand him the key. He sat down after taking the key and dismissing the boy then lit his pipe. The other two walked in a short time later. A few minutes after that, they had formulated their plans for the next day. Fauna would scour the streets for and hire Thorn. Excor and Szoo would show up at Jirek’s warehouse to “check up on the rats”. Actually, they were using that as an excuse to see what he was up to and if that had anything to do with the dragon.
The next day – the 25th of Monsoon, the shouts and ringing bell of a town crier woke the three mages at the crack of dawn.
The Crier: “Marshaling in the South Market District Plaza! Rebels must be quelled in the far west at Serpent’s Back Ridge! All healers, men-at-arms, warriors, and mercenaries welcome, good pay!”
After breakfast, the trio split up to carry out their plans and investigate some leads. Excor and Szoo headed towards the harbor and Fauna decided to head back to the Slave Mart. After paying for a rickshaw ride, she soon found herself standing before the gallery of the mart she had burglarized the previous night. The slavers were hanging up colorful strings of pennants and installing chains to iron loops between the columns. She approached a fancy looking gentleman who seemed to be in charge. He immediately swung around and yelled, “get lost wh@!e, I’m not interested!”
She balled her fists and started walking away but spotted Vor Jetl in a trademark green silk jacket with gold dragonfly clasps. He was filing towards the gravel auction yard with a small group of other merchants. The chubby merchant was there to purchase some more servants. He would speak to her later, over lunch at the White Prong.
Vor Jetl (to Fauna): “Frankly, I cannot be seen with you little sister, er, priestess.”
He whispered the last word so only she could hear. With that, he wandered away from her and she similarly began to walk away. She had no idea how she was going to find Thorn.
Meanwhile, Szoo and Excor had spotted the pair of ratlings trailing them. Szoo spotted some sort of insignia on them but did not recognize it. It was a pair of black daggers crossing over a red scorpion. Excor cast spook and frightened one away. His companion followed, unwilling to confront the pair of mages alone. Not long after that mild inconvenience, the pair arrived at the warehouse. It was locked tight. Szoo used his cabal medallion to Whisper to Jirek. They consigned themselves to waiting.
Meanwhile, Fauna was at the bank depositing 5 emeralds and 5 sapphires. She also cashed out 3 emeralds (with a 10% surcharge). She figured she would use that to pay Thorn if she could find him. However, she was still unsure of how she would find him or where.
At the warehouse, after about an hour of waiting, the cabal scribe finally arrived. Jirek apologized to Excor and Szoo but as he had a working warehouse now it had to be secured when he was not there. The pair shrugged and followed him inside after he unlocked the door. The place was only about a quarter full stacked with several crates and barrels in one corner. A large sea trunk made of iron sat by the stairs to the basement.
The place was well lit the light beaming in from the small glazed windows above. When they were last here, the windows had been filthy and muddied the scant light they did let in. The crates and barrels had several different marks on them including a few with a big black eagle painted on them. What really caught their eyes though was the trunk by the stairs. It not only had a large black eagle painted on it but also had several runes on it, it was magically sealed.
Isis: “Aw man! He’s got Direnda’s stuff!”
Cris: “Relax, play it cool. I’ll talk to him while we’re checking the rats.”
The two adventurers began checking their rats in their cages they were in great shape. There was also a makeshift bed in the corner that had been slept in recently. Excor surmised that Gornix might have been hiding out here. Excor then turned to Jirek and began to ask him about his pirate friends when the crash of breaking glass from the floor above interrupted. The three dashed upstairs in time to see the large iron trunk whisked out of a broken window by four giant wasps.
Excor: “The WASP! Dammit! I knew it! I knew he was gonna show up!”
Isis: “Oh gawd, the Wasp! Of course he would show up!”
The warehouse door flew open. Standing there were Jirek’s pirate friends, the Grey Serpents. Their captain in the lead they shuffled into the warehouse. Following the captain were the Ferenoi swashbuckler, the mage in soft leather, and a man in full scale-mail and horsetail-tasseled helmet. Following him was another tall amazon Ferenoi. She appeared to be a priestess or maybe cleric of some type her grey cape adorned with a large white lightning bolt billowing behind her. Outside was yet another member of their crew, a Hill-Lander Half-Giant in scale-mail and leather gauntlets armed with a heavy claymore.
Grey Serpent Captain: “A-Ha! Jirek my friend! We have found our buyer and we are here to pick up the *ahem* cargo. We have your coin! Congratulations! We are out of your hair ha ha!”
The evening of the 24th of Monsoon – The wet tops of hardtop carriages passed rapidly by, the clatter of hooves, and the patter of uncountable hordes of boot heels as endless flows of pedestrians moved on either side of traffic through a street ripe with a layer of horse manure accented by a foreseeable but occasional splash in a filthy puddle. Sometimes, a rickshaw would glide over the muddy paving stones of Silver Circle Street. Szoosha sighed as he continued to gaze out through the window at the traffic roughly 20 ft. below in the dimming light. It was the black-scale naga’s habit to wait by the window for the boring cabal meetings to finish. The others sat around the old mahogany table in the cluttered, dirty, little clubroom.
The only thing that had been exciting so far had been just before the meeting. As Szoo followed, Excor had passed the bar into the rear hallway looking for Draega, the publican. There the pair saw Draega finishing a screed aimed at three rough looking customers over some “rowdiness”. All three were definitely pirates. The leader was a tall, very heavily muscled human; his skin was fair as was his hair, likely a Fuglotian from the far north. A rapier slung from his thick belt. He was wearing bear hide armor with a wolf skin mantle about his shoulders, over his breast hung a leather bib with the image of a grey serpent sown into it.
The second was another fair-skinned human, another Fuglotian, however this man was much more slight with soft leather armor, a grey serpent sown on the breast, and a wolf skin mantle on his shoulders. He appeared to be some sort of mage possibly a specialist. The last was a Feren swashbuckler. She possessed a beauty like a polished piece of obsidian, attractive and cold with a hard, sharp, and perfect symmetry. Again, a wolf skin mantle hung from her broad shoulders and a pale serpent adorned the leather bib that hung over her chain mail shirt. The horsetail tassel that hung from her polished helmet was bright white even in the candlelit murkiness of the tavern. A dirk and a falcata hung at her round hips.
Consequently, the pirates walked away snarling under their breaths at the chubby publican. Of course, Excor and Szoo were welcomed with open arms. Apparently, Excor was cutting a deal with Draega to sell him a hogshead of fine mead for a very good price. As a gesture of goodwill, Excor passed him a jug of the stuff as a free sample. Soon after, the pair of mages joined their company upstairs in the clubroom. As they took their seats, Szoo noted that Jirek had a fine new cloak and a pair of very shiny gem-adorned rings. Szoo awoke from his reverie with a snort as Excor piped up at the table.
Excor: “So! I guess I should warn everyone here that a group of pirates, the… the Black Eagles, are looking for someone at this very table!” He leaned back with his pipe, “Just a warning.”
Subsequently, Excor, Fauna, and Szoo all noticed that Jirek nearly choked on the smoke newly drawn from a shiny new carved bone long-stem pipe. He then took a hearty gulp of the good complimentary red wine that Draega Skullshine habitually sent up to keep from coughing up a lung.
Isis: “Aw, no Jirek, what have you gotten yourself into now?”
Cris: “Yeah, well, we’ll have to talk to him about it when we get a chance after the meeting.”
After all the standard motions of the meeting were concluded, the adventurers related the story of the mushroom king (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.9: Fungus Force Five) to the rest of the cabal. Subsequently, Jirek spoke up saying that he recognized the necklace. He had seen an illustration of it somewhere in the library. It had belonged to an ancient wizard that came with the Westlanders when the city fell the first time 600 years ago. There was something else about it, but he just could not remember what it was at the moment.
When Excor and Fauna questioned Jirek about his new “bling”, the scribe responded that his warehouse business was doing “quite well”. He even has had to “lock it up”. Soon after, Belrae, the apparent self-appointed leader of the cabal, dismissed the meeting. Rhiam sat quietly by his friend the entire meeting, unusual for a bard. Bumble likewise, remained tight-lipped, never making eye contact with Fauna even as the druid tried to get her to talk. The others quickly left the room, the trio of adventurers lagged behind.
After deciding to grab some dinner in the tavern below, the trio walked down the stairs. They noticed Jirek was still in the place and sitting at a table by himself. So, they decided to join him. Bumble was also still in the tavern though the three mages were unaware as to why. Shortly, after the food was laid on the table, a steaming platter of heavily spiced sliced beef and small bowls of a thick broth with small pieces of chopped vegetables in it, the three Grey Serpent Pirates walked by, the leader tweaking his head to the scribe motioning him to follow. Jirek jumped up from the table and joined them at a table in a dark corner of the theater. Suddenly, Bumble swished by following Jirek and the pirates.
Szoo: “I don’t like this.”
Excor: “She’s doing her master’s bidding probably keeping an eye on Jirek… for some reason.”
Fauna: “Aw man! Maybe we should rescue her.”
Isis: “Geez sis! Why don’t you marry HER!”
Cris: “Pfft! The Wasp is her master, that’s how she’s learning her magic! Rescue her, right. Pff!”
The three adventurers were considering their options while trying to keep the pirates, Jirek, and Bumble in view. Suddenly, a small group of warriors draped in powder blue Actons, stomped into the tavern. Following them, a fair noble woman with pitch-black hair and stern of expression glided in. Black fragrant oiled curls dangled on the sides of her delicately featured but stone hard face as her bright blue eyes scanned the barroom.
She had on a long blue and silver silk dress cut in the Hyvalian style. Also she had a diamond-studded silver tiara in her hair with a large central blue-sapphire and a diamond necklace that hung over her upper breast from which five silver acorn charms dangled. On her right wrist, she had a silver bracelet and on her left a gold one.
Excor (after taking a deep breath): “Just take it easy, let’s just sit here and see what’s going on.”
Cris (to me, the GM): “I prepare to activate my ring of invisibility; I want an initiative roll against her if she spots us to go invisible.”
Immediately, Draega fluttered up to her, did a courtly half-bow, and kissed her hand. He motioned, probably to guide to her to the back or basement to converse in privacy but she was not having it. Her face was stone, her stance was solid with confidence but her hands were fumbling with the expensive lace and bone fan she was holding. The trio did their best to read lips in the chaos and noise of the bustling tavern but all they got was that she was upset about a delivery. Apparently, whatever it was it was late. They also recognized a couple of words on Draega’s lips as “Black Eagles”. The blue dragon’s entourage turned and began to leave without noticing the three mages.
Fauna: *Gasp* “Draega’s involved with her!?”
Excor: “Of course he is! He’s a scumbag, criminal connect!”
The blue-clad warriors, probably mercenaries, filtered out into the street, meanwhile Jirek and the Grey Serpent Pirates rushed passed the mages’ table and out the door. Bumble rushed past shortly thereafter.
Excor: “Okay let’s go.”
Szoo: “Wait, who’re we following?”
Excor (in an unsure tone): “All of ‘em right now.”
As soon as they were out the door, the three mages caught a glimpse of Bumble twisting a gold ring on her finger instantly transforming into a small bumblebee that buzzed off after Jirek and the pirates. That group was already disappearing from sight conceivably heading towards the harbor and Jirek’s warehouse. Alternately, the trio spotted the blue company who were mounting a carriage that appeared to be preparing to leave in the opposite direction.
The three mages were completely unsure of which party to follow as both began to disappear from view in the distance.
Isis: “Crap, crap, crap…”
Jenn: “Um, hmmm, jeesh, I dunno, I kinda wanna follow Bumble even though she’s kind of a b!#ch to me now.”
24th of Monsoon – The dawn was just a pink-gold band starting on the horizon and the great purple moon was fading into existence via the growing light yet the three mages had already risen. Soon the auction for Thorn’s coin would start and their opposition might be the blue dragon in disguise. As a result, the mages prepared for battle tossing on potion bandoliers and carefully selecting magic items and wands from their personal armories. Very soon, they were out on the streets with an energetic gait towards the southernmost part of the West Cliffs District and the White Prong Tavern.
The wet cobblestone streets were empty and the cool, moist scent of the city, not entirely unpleasant, a combination of the wet stone and the brackish run-off congealed with the smell of all the city’s kitchens and bakeries merged with the spicy desert scents of the headland as it drifted lazily away over the sea. The only traffic at this early hour was the scant presence of the rag pickers, muckrakers, and street-sweepers finishing their labors. Just as the golden light of dawn began to bathe the gleaming streets, the trio of mages arrived at the White Prong.
They entered the whitewashed establishment finding its many round tables and chairs empty save for in one corner. Those tables crowded with buccaneers. One was casually flipping a coin, slapping it to the table, and staring as they entered. Sitting at a table near the counter was the beggar Thorn, sipping a steaming cup of tea. Sitting up from the three tables worth of pirates was their leader, a young woman the mages had pegged for the blue dragon.
She was a dark-skinned beauty, darkened not just from the scouring by the sun at sea but by a detectable Creschan descent, her black hair was thick and hung heavily to her muscle rounded shoulders. She was wearing a suit of sleeveless brigandine armor with the chest buckled open exposing the black eagle tattoo covering her bared chest. A high-quality silver saber hung at her side its pale sapphire pommel stone glittered like a serpent’s eye. A silk blue sash girded her thighs with a knotted gold fringe that dangled over her loose fitting pantaloons and knee-high sealskin boots.
Her second mate also stood abandoning a hot cup of mead. He was a tall baldheaded Ezmerian with an eye patch over his right eye. At his hip dangled a heavy cutlass. His costume was much the same as his presumed captain. In addition, there were six other crewmembers at the tables wearing open-breasted black leather jerkins.
Isis (Szoo’s player): “Y’know I don’t think she’s the dragon.”
Cris (Excor’s player): “Well I already figured that!”
Jenn (Fauna’s player): “Oh yeah, I guess not.”
As the mages stood and stared at the pirate crew and the pirates glared back in perfect silence, the tension in the room might have been plucked like the string of a lyre. The woman’s deep green eyes narrowed on the three mages shooting daggers in their direction.
Thorn (abruptly breaking the awkward silence): “Okay! Everyone’s here! Let’s begin the bidding on me services shall we! Heh-heh. My coin will not be cheap!”
Cris (shaking his head in disbelief): “That b@st@rd Thorn.”
After a brief but intense bidding war and a full breakfast the trio of mages found themselves outside of the White Prong as the breakfast regulars began to filter in. They had won the beggar’s coin and already sent Thorn on his way with a mission to find more information on the blue dragon otherwise known as the “Ocean of the Desert”. The buccaneers had left in a huff just moments after losing the bid-war.
The mages decided to head home after all they had a cabal meeting come evening. So they walked for some time making their way onto Arena Circle headed into the Shop District going north towards the Tourney Grounds. The streets now teemed with people and the group’s progress became more difficult as they walked around knots of folk and had to wait for the occasional carriage, horse, or ox-wagon.
After a while, Szoo turned to his two companions and insisted that two of the Black Eagle pirates were following them. Fauna and Excor simply did not believe him thinking he was a victim of his own paranoia. Partly to ease his own nerves as well as throw it in the faces of his companions, Szoo angrily slithered over to the two sailors. They were leaning against a wall acting as if they were just nonchalantly smoking their ivory pipes. The pair just turned and started walking away all the while keeping their eyes on the group of mages in a not so subtle manner.
This finally bringing Excor’s and Fauna’s attentions to the matter. Because of this minor confrontation the group picked up their pace and in an attempt to be clever they ducked into an alley. However, the path was much longer and circuitous than they had anticipated yet they tried to keep up a rapid pace. They had been moving along the narrow alley for some time with little hope of seeing an exit into the streets anytime soon when Excor stopped the other two.
Szoosha cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on himself. Fauna tried to duck behind a rain barrel and hide. But she only succeeded in knocking it over and drawing attention to herself. Moreover, the second-mate, the one with the eye-patch, drew his heavy cutlass, which now the mages could observe had a serrated blade. Then Excor activated his Jet Amulet of Shielding. Three of the foremost crewmembers drew their cutlasses. Lastly, the pirate leader drew her silver saber, which shone with a strange, ghostly light in the dimness of the alleyway.
Isis: “Oh great! A magic sword!”
Pirate Leader: “You all wouldn’t happen to know a mage named ‘Jirek’ would ya?”
Excor (putting on the air of a prototypical tough guy): “Never heard of the guy! Who the hell are YOU!?”
Pirate Leader: “Direnda, newly captain of the Black Flyer, the three-masted Vhalica in the harbor. Weeks back we were attacked by pirates bearing the image of a Grey Serpent. They have some of our client’s property and we were told that one-named Jirek is their main man in Ezmeria. We’ve also heard he’s a member of some cabal of mages.”
At the mere mention of Jirek, Szoo freaked out. Immediately he slithered away in the opposite direction of the pirates at full speed.
Cris: *Sigh* “Dammit Szoo. How am I supposed to bluff her now?”
Excor: “We have no quarrel with you, there’s lots of mages in this city!”
Consequently, Direnda stood like a stone pillar studying the wand-wielding mage through narrowed lids for several minutes. Finally, she relented and her crew followed suit. Without a single word or an apology, the sailors turned and returned from where they came from. Fauna and Excor let out a pair of loud sighs.
Excor: “Now where did Szoo go!”
A little while later, regrouped the three mages emerged from the end of the long alley onto the street. They were just in time to observe a large Ferenoi holding a dirty street urchin by his scrawny neck. Her grey cape billowing as she seemed intent on strangling the kid. All the while he held a coin purse in a death grip. Subsequently, the three mages could see the big white lightning bolt embroidered on it. Around her neck dangled a crystal-encrusted silver lightning bolt pendant. She wore a suit of black soft leather armor with a grey serpent coiling sown to the chest. These in addition to polished bronze bracers and greaves as well as a polished steel open helm with a red horsetail tassel attached to the peak.
Fauna: “Hey you! Leave that child ALONE!”
Consequently (Natural 1 reaction check), the tall amazon dropped the ragamuffin in a filthy puddle, turned to face the druidess, and pulled her falcata from its sheath. Fauna readied for a fight.
Szoo slunk to a fair distance to keep a lookout for any city guards. Excor cast Slow on the Ferenoi. However, the amazon grabbed her pendant and seemed to pray, instantly Excor’s spell was undone. Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick instantly turning the amazon into a snail.
The crowd that had begun to gather to watch the street fight began booing. They also began calling for the guards, “there’s rogue wizards!” Fauna picked up and chucked the snail before looking for the boy. The kid was long gone. Therefore, the trio too decided to run away.
Eventually, after ducking through a few different alleys, the three mages arrived home. The carpenters were measuring and sawing planks of wood out front. The head journeyman thumbed at the broken door setting against the outside wall next to the front entryway. “That’ll be 1 copper coin more for the door”. Excor tossed him the coin. The carpenter began to test the metal with his teeth when a large burp came from the stables causing him to jump out of his skin. The horse whinnied in his stall.
Excor (dismissively): “Don’t worry it’s just the druid’s giant frog.”
Jenn: “Oh yeah, I almost forgot all about him. I wonder if I can ride him around? Oh yeah, I also forgot about that horse.”
The GM (me): “Wait. You have been feeding them I hope.”
Isis: “Oh yeah, my guy and Fauna have an understanding, I feed her animals when she forgets or is gone.”
Later come evening, the trio was leaving to go to the Red Helm Tavern for their customary cabal meeting. Thorn appeared in the alleyway leading out into the street. He reported on the location of the “Ocean of the Desert” to the mages giving Excor the address. In return, Excor flipped him back his coin.
Thorn (as he walks away): “If ya ever need my services again, jes’ mention my name to any beggar on the street and I’ll hear ye!”
Water came rushing at least six inches deep across the floor planks. Szoo (played by Isis) rushed up a slanted plank meant to substitute for the cellar steps into the main room just in time to see the barbarian in blue waving his massive tulwar as he roared charging Excor (played by Cris).
Jenn (Fauna’s Player; to the GM): “Wait! Wait. Didn’t I take that from him when he dropped it?”
Me (the GM): “Yes you did. But when Fauna looks for the sword, it’s not where she left it.”
The broad blade of the barbarian’s sword whooshed past Excor’s face. Excor took a 5-foot step back, drew his sword, and cast Mage Armor to protect himself. A human shaman with scaly skin moved in through the shattered doorframe bearing a polished black quarterstaff in quilted blue robes. He also wore a horned helmet on his head. Immediately he pointed his finger at Excor and a Lightning Bolt exploded on Excor’s mage armor. Following him was a mage in the same quilted blue robes but with a flowing blue-silk cape around his narrow shoulders. On his left hand, he wore a copper ring and on his right, a gold-ring with an inset ruby. Two more humans in blue came in behind the mage. These were twins, each armed with a high-quality silver cutlass. Fauna opened her bedroom door and the bleariness in her eyes instantly burned away.
Szoo began to slither onto the floor of the main room. The heavily muscled barbarian wheeled towards Fauna as he was within arm’s reach of her and slashed at her. Fortunately, the blade bounced from her automatic shield. Excor unleashed a Cone of Fire singeing the shaman, twins, and barbarian but burning the mage was badly. The shaman’s throat suddenly swelled to the size of a grapefruit and he spat a bolt of electricity at Excor blasting away some of his mage armor. The blue mage touched his gold ring encasing himself in mage armor. The twins continued to move into the room soon able to join the fight. Fauna tried to cast Wizard’s Trick on the barbarian but the spell fizzled.
Szoo finally got into a position to join the fray. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons on the barbarian but he easily overpowered the black tentacles of the spell. The barbarian swung at Fauna again but hit another shield. The dragon-shaman tried to cast a spell but it failed and only sparks flew in his face. The first twin cast a spell and a scintillating ray from his finger shot at Excor chipping away at his mage armor. The other twin was maneuvering closer trying to come at Excor form the opposite vector from his brother. Fauna successfully cast Wizard’s Trick but the magic went wild and after a multi-colored burst of light, the barbarian was squatting on the ground, hopping here and there with a rabbit’s head on his wide muscly shoulders.
Fauna moved out of her room’s doorframe into the main room. Szoo moved to meet the advancing front of blue-clad invaders pointing his finger at the first twin. A Ray of Fire blasted a big black scorch mark onto his robes. The dragon-shaman shot a ray at Excor blasting away his mage armor. The blue mage pulled an onyx necklace from under the collar of his robes. Suddenly he popped from where he was to 10 ft. from the left of Excor. The first twin moved towards Fauna, she still just out of reach of his cutlass. The second twin slashed at Excor who parried causing their blades to clinch. Excor dropped his weapon and risked a spell in close quarters. The risk paid off. The second twin’s blade froze inches from his throat as the Paralyze II spell took effect just in time. The rabbit-headed barbarian continued hopping around.
Fauna cast Wizard’s Trick again, this time on the first twin turning him into a rabbit. Szoosha shot a Ray of Fire at the dragon-shaman wounding him. The dragon-shaman responded with a shock ray wounding Szoo badly after the naga failed to dodge. The blue mage waved his hands and water formed from the air encasing the naga in a floating bubble of water. The swirling waters caused his Elemental Half-Plate to boil away and disappear. Excor went to the rabbit-headed barbarian, lifted the collar off, and tossed it to the side.
In turn, Fauna stooped and lifted the silver slave collar from the rabbit that had been the first twin. The dragon-shaman spat more electricity at Fauna exhausting her magic shields. Excor stepped back from the direction of the blue mage and activated his jade amulet of shielding. Szoo was drowning.
The dragon-shaman moved towards the blasted front entrance shouting at the blue mage directing him to, “run we’ve got to retreat!” Fauna quickened another Wizard’s Trick aimed at the dragon-shaman but he easily resisted. Alternately, Excor quickened Shadow Ribbons at the same target but found it too difficult to cast.
The dragon-shaman steeled himself at the threshold. Fauna sent a rush of wind at him but he dodged out the door. Szoo concentrated harder than he had ever before in his life and his flesh became fire, the bubble of water exploded into a rush of steam. The blue mage once again grabbed his polished obsidian necklace and suddenly appeared near the threshold ready to flee. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons on the blue mage but the spell turned on him. Before he could act, he was entangled in his own spell. Fauna readied to cast Wizard’s Trick on the blue mage when she noticed he was glancing from a silver collar on the floor back to her and mouthing the words “do it”. Therefore, she obliged him. After Excor dismissed the shadow tentacles, the trio ran out of the front entrance and into the alleyway but the dragon-shaman was gone.
The group discussed quickly what to do. They had figured since the collars came off with ease after the dragon’s slaves were transformed into rabbits. Fauna, remembering the signal from the blue mage, convinced the other two to let her release the magic. After all, they could use some allies against the dragon. A few moments later, all four of the blue gang members were themselves sans the silver collars.
The former slaves were overjoyed at their newly realized freedom. Apparently, the collars prevented all disobedience to the dragon and her lieutenants. They were all adventurers; the twins were native Ezmerians, captured just south of the coast off the Pale Highlands by naga slavers who sold them to a vessel of the Golden Devil Company. They were purchased a handful of years ago by the dragon here at the slave markets. She calls herself the “Ocean of the Desert” and rules a small kingdom and fortress at the base of the Snaketeeth Mountains across the river and beyond the Wirgold Forest. Meanwhile, the mages took the time to inspect the collars. Excor could not directly identify the powers of the collars but all could clearly see the maker’s mark on all of the collars was the sign of the Golden Devil Company.
Excor: “Damn slavers working with the dragon.”
Fauna: “Really!? Why would they work with a dragon?”
Excor (shrugging): “Pfft, they’re all evil!”
Excor (to the barbarian): “Hey! Where is she staying?”
The Barbarian: “A fine house in the Western Cliffs District. She kept us in the basement.”
The Blue Mage: “There’s also a cave underneath that leads to some sea caves under the city. She acts as royalty, she’s a real admirer of Hyval. And beware the dragon shaman, he worships her. He draws his power from the spirit of a blue dragon. He doesn’t wear a collar.”
Unexpectedly there was a flash of blinding white light. After it faded, all could see the collars were returned to every one of their unfortunate necks. All four collapsed to their knees and cried in anguish.
Isis: “Aw, this isn’t going to be easy is it?”
Cris: “Of course not! It’s gonna be hard because it has to be! Of course it’s gonna be hard!”
Excor: *sigh* “Okay, I have a solution, for now.”
The Barbarian (through gritted teeth): “Hurry! We cannot resist the collars for long!”
The cabal mages pledged to the slaves to kill the blue dragon. Around the table, the players then mulled over their options even, at Szoo’s suggestion, considering killing them all. After checking their own characters’ alignments, the players made a decision. A short while later there were four new pillars of amber in the rear courtyard alongside the one containing the blue thief (see The Cabal of Eight II Pt.10: The Blue Thief). After the dragon was dead, they would free them including the thief.
They set the front door to the side and generally cleaned up the best they could. The group had decided to go to the White Prong come dawn not to purchase Thorn’s coin but to meet the dragon whom they believe to be Thorn’s employer. Fauna went to formulate four healing potions. Szoo slathered himself with healing salve and went to rest; the naga was in especially bad shape after absorbing some much of the dragon-shaman’s Shock Ray. Once the house was straightened up and Fauna had finished brewing her potions, the three mages went to their respective rooms to rest and heal.
Morning, 23rd of Monsoon – Fauna (played by Jenn) stumbled into the house from the street looking even more haggard than usual. Wordlessly she felt her way along the walls to her room and shut the door softly behind her. Szoosha (played by Isis) who just finished feeding Fauna’s animals had noticed the polished stones around the druid’s neck glistening in the strong early light. Mesmerized by the sparkle the black scale naga stared at them, his serpent-eyes tracking them until Fauna was behind her bedroom door. Excor (played by Cris) was reclining in quiet contemplation.
Szoo: “Oooh, shiny! I like shiny things!”
Cris (studying his character sheet and mumbling under his breath): “Hmm, huh, mmmr, okay, no, what, pffp, er, okay, alright. That’s it, that’s what I need.” Cris flipped his well-worn character sheet on the table in front of him.
Excor (giving the naga the c’mon hand signal): “I’m going to the bazaar to pick up some supplies, we better go together.”
They left the house headed towards the bazaar. The sky was a dull even gray and the air was heavy and moist and smelled strongly of brine. Taking a sudden detour they decided to stop at the Carpenters’ Union to hire some carpenters to repair the floor and trapdoor into the root cellar. Excor hired a local carpenter that served their row. He would send an apprentice for 1 copper to assess the job. A short while later, they arrived at the bustling indoor bazaar where Excor was looking for three one-gallon jugs (5 sp ea.), one copper funnel (2 sp), and a jar of glue paste for 1 silver piece. Szoo purchased 5 glass potion bottles at 1 gp each.
After finding what he needed, and stuffing the items in his bag of holding, Excor left for Wensaer’s Alchemy Shop (The Cabal of Eight Pt.7: A Red Rat), Szoo followed. At Wensaer’s however, Szoo purchased two bottles of Alchemist’s Fire at 100 gold pieces each. As the pair left, Wensaer inquired after Gornix, the old man seemed worried. The others simply said they had not seen him in a while now. The old wizard twirled a pinch of his white beard between his fingers.
Later, the pair of adventuring mages browsed Baba’s Apothecary, the air spiced with a pleasant mélange of exotic flavors and tobacco. Excor picked up 4 ounces of the mid-grade smoking herb mix and 1-ounce of Lotus Wort for 4 silver pieces. Lotus Wort is a hairy moss harvested from along the Serpent Coast that can reduce the duration of the effects of lotus pollen and in the case of the Black Lotus, change the death-effect to sleep if consumed before. Baba was not much for conversation but she was fretting about the next shipment of lotus and deep forest medical herbs, it was late. They left the shop, Excor packing his pipe with fresh herbs, and turned out onto the crowded street.
The pair of adventuring mages was walking at a leisurely pace finally on their way home. Unexpectedly, Thorn the beggar tripped directly into their path from behind a rain barrel. Szoosha jumped behind Excor and wondered aloud if they should do something, after all, it was obvious that he was following them. Excor, however, took this opportunity to engage him in conversation.
Excor (instantly putting on a false air of friendly joy): “Ah! My friend Thorn! So glad to see you!”
Thorn (a little leery): “Uh, yeah. Hey, uh you got any o’ those herbs to spare?” He pulled out a charred corncob pipe.
Excor (tossing his smoke pouch to him): “Of course my friend. Here. You, uh, wouldn’t happen to have any info for me would you? Anyone we should know about maybe following us around?”
Thorn: “Hehe, naw there’s nobody like that!” He tossed the bag back to Excor, lit, and then took a tug on his old pipe.
Excor: “So, what is your price anyway? We can beat whoever’s employing you right now.”
Thorn (suddenly stepping back and putting his hands up): “Whoa there! Whoa there. The guild would my head, there’s rules, ironclad, cannot be broken.”
Excor: “Well, we are interested in getting some eyes and ears on the streets if ya know what I mean!”
Thorn: “Well, my coin is up fer the bidding. She holds my coin currently but if ya outbid h…my employer tomorrow at dawn in the White Prong. I’m all yers!”
Isis (gasping): “Oh no! She’s got him too!”
Excor: “Well, my friend we need to be on our way. How about we walk and talk.”
Thorn (between puffs): “Okay.”
Cris: “He slipped up. The probably has his coin. Well, we know where she’s going to be at dawn.”
Isis: “Alright, we’re gonna fight a DRAGON!”
Cris: “We need to prepare! We can’t just fight her in the White Prong we’ll wind in guild court again!”
Isis: “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”
Consequently, the pair of mages and Thorn the beggar were walking at a rapid pace in the direction of the alley through which Fauna’s rental sat. They were maybe two rows from their destination when without warning Thorn wheeled around.
Thorn (starting into a light jog): “Bye! Looks like I gotta go!”
Instantly, both Excor and Szoo spotted them. Walking directly towards them were 2 scrawny humans each wielding a high-quality silver cutlass followed by a large barbarian, probably Fuglotian by appearance, in a horned helmet with bronze bracers, a black leather war belt girding his waist and a very large superior quality Tulwar in his hands. To their left was another human, probably a mage of some type, with a quarter staff in his hands and bronze bracers on his wrists. All four were in quilted blue robes.
Szoo: “Crap! It’s them.”
So Excor swept up the Naga in his blue cape (The Cabal of Eight Pt.31: The Welfare of Rats) and teleported them both home into the center of the main room. Someone began pounding on the door. Excor approached cautiously telling Szoo to “get ready” before yanking the door wide open. A carpenter’s apprentice stood there a little surprised. He was here to take measurements and assess the damage. His work took little time, soon enough he presented Excor with a contract.
The price would be 1 gold piece and 5 silvers, Excor quickly signed it. In short, tomorrow the apprentice and two journeymen would arrive after breakfast. The young boy left as soon as he finished reading out the terms. Some time had passed since the pair of mages had spotted the dragon’s men, they were certain that the Blue Dragon Gang had not been able to track them back to the house.
Excor walked into the makeshift alchemy lab and began filling the jugs with the mead from his magical golden chalice (Cabal of Eight Pt.38: The Black Tombs Pt.2). Meanwhile, Szoo went down into the cellar and into the secret passage to bottle some naphtha. A very quiet hour passed then suddenly without warning with a thunderous rush of water the front door is blasted from its hinges.
The paths and twisted walls of the labyrinth disappeared in all directions into a hazy blue-green horizon. Clouds of blue-green mists rolled over the impossible landscape and the fabric of reality itself seemed to seethe and roll, as do the deeps of the ocean. The dense, moist air was cool and made her head swim. It smelled overwhelmingly of fresh-cut greenery carrying the spice of moldering wood. The walls of the labyrinth also seemed to shift with the tide rearranging in the wake of each swell. She could see no center, no goal towards which to strive.
Again, she began drifting towards the black iron spikes atop the wall. Fauna (played by Jenn) canceled the power of her ring of levitation. She had snagged the ring from the group treasury, the hiding place in the clubroom back at the Red Helm Tavern. The druidess had made a quick stop there before heading out to the secret meeting in the secret caverns beneath the Old Amphitheater.
Her feet landed softly onto the cold stone. She found herself back in a narrow lane of the maze. The floor was of damp flagstones and the walls were a chaotic patchwork of adobe, fired bricks, natural stone, and mortar. From every crack, uneven surface, and fissure grew twisted woody branches, clumps, and patches of hairy and bright green mosses, as well as flows of yellow slime molds. The great flagstones were also uneven causing the floor of the lane to undulate up and down, so deep in places that one could hide in the dip easily from others approaching from either end of the seeming infinite lane.
Fauna exhaled and began moving forward turning with every corner into identical lanes, some short, some dead-ends, and some choked with woody vines and dead branches. Occasionally, she happened upon the corpse of a fellow competitor for head priest/priestess of the Brotherhood of the Rope. She turned a corner and saw a giant pale mushroom blocking the way with the terrified face of an initiate sinking and disappearing into it. She turned the corner.
Not long after that, she found a huge clump of limp black roots blocking her way lying across the way. The druid was going to climb over it until she saw a pale human arm hanging out of the clump banded by purple bruises as if squeezed by ropes or tentacles. She quickly changed direction. Along the way, she managed to avoid a tripwire, a trapdoor, and a spring-loaded scythe blade as she progressed. Eventually she came upon a high narrow red-lit opening in the wall that glowed yellow with firelight.
She slipped into the lit and comfortably warm chamber. The walls and low ceiling were of finely masoned but large blocks of stone that shone red-orange in the firelight that blazed from the two large golden braziers. Before her was a throne carved of the same stone as the wall blocks with an imprint of the reclining human form in the stone with a golden and jeweled crown where you would expect, over the crown of the human-shaped crevice.
She noticed a young girl with long black hair standing against one of the walls, another initiate. The girl had sneered at her in the lineup.
Jenn: “I hope that b***h dies.”
Jenn: “Well, she was mean to me!”
Stepping in front of the throne was yet another blue-robed petitioner, Fauna also recognized him from the lineup. Certainly, she and this pair seemed to be the only surviving pledges to have reached the center of the labyrinth. The man contemplated the throne, at its foot was a high step carved with druidic script. It said, “A good druid is humble.”
He strode over to the step bowed his head, said what sounded like a brief prayer and sat in the broad stone seat. Immediately the golden crown dropped to his shoulders around his neck, he screamed, then the seat and back of the throne opened like a trap door and his body and severed head dropped into an unseen sepulcher. Consequently, the stones swung back and the blood that covered it slowly faded and disappeared. Fauna grabbed her neck.
Jenn & Isis (in unison): “Oh boy!”
The young girl chewed her upper lip then stepped forward violently. Then she yelled at Fauna to “step back you heifer!” She strode forward full of class-born bravado. The girl stopped on the step of the throne suddenly aware she had no solution to this puzzle. She turned to Fauna and the expression on her face turned from terror into an arrogant reserve.
Young Girl (solemnly): “If I am fated to die then I am reserved to my fate.” She lowered herself lightly into the cold, hard seat. The crown slid down and she let out a “gack” at the same time as Fauna heard a mechanical spring sound. Blood burst from her mouth. Her severed head and the decapitated corpse fell into the depths beneath the throne. The spots and spatters of dark blood disappeared. The throne was solemn again and even more threatening.
Jenn: “Crap it’s my turn right?”
Isis (to Jenn): “Oh my gawd! You’re gonna die!”
Isis (to me): “Can’t we help her solve this riddle!?”
The GM (me): “Nope.”
Cris: “Naw we can’t help her! We’re not there! Sorry but we’re not there!”
Jenn: “Maybe I should just sit down on the throne.”
Isis & Cris (in unison): “NOOO!”
Finally, Fauna sat with her legs crossed, she contemplated the throne and the inscription at its foot. She took a small dose of Yellow Lotus powder from her robes and snorted it. Shockingly, she was able to maintain consciousness. What played repeatedly in her fevered brain afterwards were Anishi’s words just as he pushed her into the labyrinth’s aperture, “Tread with care my child and be humble”.
Fauna: “Ah-Ha! I got it!”
Immediately she walked over to the step before the throne and kneeled upon it as if in prayer. The stone gave the slightest bit and she could hear a click somewhere inside of the throne. She then rose and sat down in the seat. The gold crown dropped onto her head then she saw a section of wall to her right suddenly slide down and reveal a recognizable chamber in the cave beneath the amphitheater. The crown rose back from her head and she rose as if in a trance towards the exit.
In unison both Jenn and Isis let out a loud sigh.
The next thing Fauna could remember was that Anishi put a necklace of polished raw gems around her neck. After that, she only remembered slogging home through the streets and the hammering light of dawn in her normal dirty robes. She was starving and every muscle screamed along with her lotus-soaked brain. It felt as if she had been in that place for several days rather than a few hours. Her feet really hurt.
Jenn (a sudden realization shooting through her eyes at me): “Oh my gawd, I could have really died.”
of Monsoon – Dawn was breaking but the sun’s rays were stifled behind
cloud-darkened skies and drowned in the heavy, humid air. Stray raindrops
randomly pelted the roofs, and cobblestones of the city as well as the heads of
retreating rag pickers and soot-brushes. The fitful sleep of two of the cabal
members was disturbed by the approaching ringing bell of one of the many city
Crier: “Hear ye! Hear ye! The city marshal has declared that all those found to
commit the crimes of theft, murder, and assault within the city limits that are
not citizens of our great city and are found to be the crew of known freebooter
and privateer ships will receive the penalty of death! Ships whose crews
comprise of more than a handful of such criminals will be banished from harbor
come hell or high water!”
(played by Cris) and Szoo (played by Isis) stumbled and slithered from their
rooms, slowly due to their bruised and aching bodies roused by the crier’s bell
and spiel. Already, Fauna (played by Jenn) was grinding the remainder of her
herbs into two doses of healing salve for her wounded companions. As both
Szoo’s and Excor’s wounds were still grievous. Fauna, on the other hand, was in
perfect health. After finishing the salve and having applied it, Fauna cleaned
out the stable and left for the market district. The other two went back to
their beds to heal.
in the afternoon, the sun had peaked between the clouds and Fauna was returning
from the market with her horse attached to a new wagon loaded with a few
months’ supply of oats and hay. As she led the wagon back home she entered the
alleyway and only then noticed a tail, someone was stealthily following her.
Calmly, she unhitched her horse and put him back into the stall next to her
giant frog, tossed that thing a bag of mice. She left the wagon just off the
stables. Suddenly, she rushed through the door and shouted.
“I’m being followed!”
both of her companions leaped from their beds and met her at the door against
which she was leaning. All she could
relate about her pursuer was that he was wearing blue with a short, matching
“*Sigh* Is this the dragon again?”
“Who else would it be!? Of course it is! Blue cape, sheesh, of course it’s the dragon!
Or her slaves.”
rushed to the door and carefully, quietly, cracked it and peeked through. He scanned
the scene outside the door from the alley wall to the stable. By a split
second, he missed the fleeting glimpse of a blue cape disappearing into the
hayloft above the stalls. Because of his spotting nothing, Szoosha cast Heat Vision on himself. In turn, Excor
cast See the Invisible on himself.
peeked back out the door and spotted Thorn the beggar ducking behind a rain
barrel. He yelled at Thorn to leave while Szoo, head above Excor’s, spotted a
heat trail moving from the ground and up into the loft. Thorn waved as he
jaunted off after a shrug.
“Guys! I got something! I think he’s inside already!”
immediately slammed shut the door and turned. Almost by accident, he caught sight
of a cape trailing behind its wearer as it flapped from above down behind a
piece of furniture.
(pointing the blue thief out): “Assassin!”
readied herself to cast Sleep as soon
as she could see her target. Szoo moved around to get a better line of sight
and was able to spot the blue thief. The short, brawny man was dressed in a
powder blue padded/quilted robe with a bright blue silver-trimmed cape and cowl
and a broad black belt. He was armed with paired superior quality silver
daggers each with a large quartz crystal in the pommel. Excor cast shadow ribbons but the magic went wild.
The black ribbons of shadow suddenly expanded into a cone of blazing red light
and the thief shrieked in terror, he stood and turned to run through the back
door. Fauna let loose her sleep spell
but it had no effect.
druidess let loose a lightning bolt;
the thief dodged the bolt easily and tumbled through the back door into the
rear courtyard. Szoosha charged towards the back door and made it outside into
the small courtyard amongst Fauna’s chickens and goat. Excor moved up to where
he could see the thief readying to scale the wall and cast paralyze I. The thief froze in his tracks.
(to the GM): “That was some sort of crazy fear spell huh? Hey! Can I try to
remember what I did with that spell with my spellcraft?”
GM (me): “Yup, um DC uh 20, it was wild magic. Totally randomly rolled spell
*roll*roll* “Damn, naw, I didn’t get it.”
Szoo had the paralyzed thief tied up with a rope he took from the thief’s belt. Fauna sensed some very strong magic from the silver manacle around his neck and the medallion with dragon-scratch runes that dangled from it. She simply tried to pull it off as it did not appear to be even locked or clasped but it did not budge. It even seemed bonded to the thief’s skin. Fauna then double-checked the ropes making sure they were tight. Szoo then inspected the collar and found the maker’s mark. It was the mark of the Golden Devil Company (The Cabal of Eight Pt.6: Gold Devil).
(panicking): “Oh no! We made some BIG enemies guys!”
“Whatever, we’re adventurers, it’s what we DO!”
The three mages stood around while the chickens clucked and gathered around their feet expecting to feed. They did not know what to do with the man. The magic slave collar without a doubt would lead the blue dragon straight to them. They quibbled back and forth for some time before they finally decided on what was to be done with him. They did not want to kill him; after all, he had no choice whether or not to obey the dragon. They also did not want to take him to the guards. The trio did not know how deep the dragon’s connections went. They decided to freeze the thief in amber.
cast Amber Husk, an ancient spell
obtained from a scroll they had found in the Lotus Vaults. Excor looked at his
handiwork. The thief in blue could be seen at the center bottom of an iceberg
of glistening semi-transparent amber.
Excor: “That’ll do it.”
That situation dealt with, for the time being anyway, the trio decided to try to rest until their next cabal meeting on the 24th. However, Fauna had a meeting with the Brotherhood of the Rope on the next full moon, the 22nd.
next day, Szoo and Excor were sleeping the day away, Fauna, alternately, had
hitched her horse up to her wagon and was going shopping around the Old Market
District and the Bazaar. Soon her wagon was packed with a 1 lb. bag of healing
herbs, another 1 lb. bag of yellow & pink lotus soaked smoking herb (of which
she was currently partaking), a wood cage with four chickens in it, a sack of
feed enough for a month, an empty 1-gallon ceramic jug, and 5 potion bottles
for Szoo’s naphtha. She had watched Thorn while he had followed her the entire
time as well.
signaled the grey-cloaked beggar to jog up next to her she was riding in the
“So…you old beggar… still spying on us?”
“Yup! Just business y’know!”
(flipping Thorn a silver piece): “No info?”
“Well, I’d be amiss in my duty if I didn’t ask about certain Pirate friends,
ahem, certain friends of certain people maybe?”
eyeballed Fauna for a reaction, there was none so he continued.
(pulling out his pipe; Fauna offered to light it): *ffwwwp* *exhaling* “Certain
pirate friends of a certain party stealing from certain other people and yet
other people, friends of certain people maybe? No. Well, those people hiding
the treasure and those people’s friends maybe knowing something about it?”
glanced over at Fauna with a squint in his eye. Again, she did not react so he
shrugged and took another tug from his corncob pipe.
(exhaling, her eyes sparkling with lotus): “Maybe we can hire you as…..our…
houseboy? We could pay you a lot of money.”
suddenly tore off after shooting Fauna a polite smile. Someone was evidently
waiting for him near the corner the pair quickly disappearing into an alley.
However, Fauna could not focus enough to see who had been waiting for the old
beggar. She lazily trotted her way home through the crowded streets as she
toked on her pipe.
following afternoon, Excor had spotted Thorn hanging out in full view around
the house and he decided to see what he wanted. Excor tried to interrogate the
beggar but found the old man was far too clever to get any useful information out
of him. Even so, they conversed for quite some time. Eventually, Excor gave up
and tossed him a silver to move off. As the grey-cloaked beggar walked down the
alleyway towards the street he unexpectedly asked, “Hey! You know anything
about a Cabal of Eight?” Excor was shocked but hid his surprise well enough
that he was sure the old beggar did not read it.
(waving bye): “No, no. Never heard of it! If I find anything out I’ll tell ya!”
(walking away): “I’m all ears!”
“They’re getting close! Too close! Dammit.”
“Meh. We can handle it.”
that night when the full moon was high, Fauna found herself standing amongst a
lineup of certain other characters, all drawn from the anonymous ranks of the
cult, the Brotherhood of the Rope. Those in the lineup and her were all stark
naked slick with sweat; the caverns under the old Amphitheater were sweltering.
Those not participating in the “trial for high priest” were still in their dark
blue ropes and hoods with a golden noose around their necks. Anishi, the
caretaker of the grove, was presiding.
The cult had gathered in a deep chamber next to a very narrow entryway carved into the rusty, living rock. Vor Jetl “the dragonfly” had told Fauna that the trial would be a lethal one it would be the labyrinth. “Avoid the traps and you will make it to a final test, fail and no one will ever see you again.” Good advice as far as she could gather, after all, he was “on her side”. Apparently, the narrow opening was the entrance to this labyrinth.
gave the word and one-by-one the candidates walked up to him and he spat lotus
powder into their faces, kissed them on the forehead, and pushed them through
the aperture, “Tread with care my child and be humble”.
Fauna the druid (played by Jenn), Excor (played by Cris), and Szoo the Black-Scael naga (played by Isis), were surveying the post-battle damage. A few shouldering clumps of slime remained not giving a hint to the tiny creatures’ formerly humanoid shapes. The statue of the four-armed goddess with dragonfly wings had fallen into the cellar up to its golden breasts (The Cabal of Eight Pt.41: The Lotus Vaults Pt.1). The floorboards around it were shattered, soggy and warped.
“See! I told you we should’ a killed that thing yesterday!”
“But we didn’t fight these down there!”
“What dya think sent those!”
continued her brewing of healing potions while Szoo inspected the hole. The gap
between the statue and the floorboards was enough for either of the human mages
to crawl through but it was too narrow for Szoo to slither into the cellar. As
the sunset and sky burned gold and pink, Fauna was finished, the trio decided to
go back down into the caves below to provoke a final confrontation with the
Excor holed the statue up in his Portable Hole revealing that the steps into the cellar were completely flattened. He activated his Ring of Ghost Form to float down to the cellar floor. Alternately, Fauna just jumped down after tying a rope off to the marble scrying pool that they had looted from the Lotus Vaults and installed in their makeshift lab-niche (The Cabal of Eight Pt.41: The Lotus Vaults Pt.1). Szoo slithered down into the small root cellar. Fauna took up the lead after finding the secret door wide open, smeared with fishy-smelling moisture and reeking of fungus.
druid took a few careful cat-steps into the gaping portal into the dark passage.
Her nostrils immediately assaulted by the choking stench of wet fungus. She saw
about eight tiny sized humanoid creatures identical to those they had already
faced above running towards her. The wet sounds of their tiny pseudo-feet
slapping on the stone floor alerted the other two mages. As the tiny fiends hit
the light of the lantern they appeared composed of black-spotted spongy
material with grains throughout and covered in white and greyish hairs.
battle was brief. Fauna slaughtered them with her dagger and Szoo scorched them
with fire. Excor had flung chrono-missiles
at them. During the battle, all of the creatures, the mouldmen, had swarmed
poor Fauna and dealt some acid damage and drained some of her health (Constitution
points). The mages lost no time in rushing into the caverns with Fauna in the
(to Jenn): “See! I told you that thing sent those things to screw with us! Hey,
you better let Szoo lead for a little bit!”
moves into the lead to try to allow Fauna to recover. However, as soon as he took
the lead, Szoo immediately spotted the oozing form of a violet blob slithering towards
them from further down the main cavern.
Again, the battle was brief but Szoo had been engulfed, as this creature was much bigger than the violet blob that they had faced before (The Cabal of Eight II Pt.6: Facing the Fungus). Likewise, the creature had scored a critical hit on Fauna with a tentacle causing some serious damage to both her and Szoo using its dissolve flesh ability.
Suddenly without warning, a myconid astride a giant centipede charged from the somewhere further down the main cavern followed by two more mushroom-men covered in a thick crust of lichen-like plate armor wielding granite maces followed by an ice imp flying above amongst the dripping stalactites.
whipped out his magic spike and shot a bolt of electricity at the centipede
wounding it. Fauna tried to cast Lightning
Bolt but the magic got away from her and went wild. A crackling burst of
tiny electrical bolts filled the area. Fortunately, Excor was a ghost and
unharmed. Szoo was able to avoid the bolts. Unfortunately, their enemies were
just outside of the area of effect. The myconid centipede rider held up a small
rod carved from red stone and the centipede surged forward heading straight for
Fauna, she dodged its venomous fangs. The ice imp soared above the mages and
blew a cone of icy breath at Fauna. Her magic shield absorbed the damage. Szoo shot a ray of fire at the centipede
dealing some damage to it. The lichen-armored myconids leaped from the wood
sled that the centipede was pulling and both attacked Szoo with their
bludgeons. Szoo’s shield absorbed
shot an electrical bolt at the centipede rider wounding it. The rider swung a
sling above its head and let fly a stone at Excor but it passed harmlessly
through his ghost form. The centipede
again struck at Fauna but missed. Szoosha pulled out his fire fang and
unleashed a cone of fire at the pair lichen-armored mushroom men barely singing
them. The ice imp flew down and tried to kick Fauna in the head with its hooved
feet. The druid easily parried the blow. The pair of lichen-armors again
attacked Szoo, one missed by a wide margin the other successfully dispersed the
shield spell protecting the naga.
cast energy tentacle. Shooting from
Excor’s hands a blinding bolt of energy took hold of the centipede rider like a
tentacle. Fauna threw a lightning bolt
at the imp wounding it. The giant centipede struck at Excor but again his ghost form protected him. Szoo backed up
a few steps and cast elemental half-plate
armor (fire) on himself. The armored myconids again struck at the naga but
parried by his flaming naginata.
pulled out a bottle of naphtha and tossed it at the armored myconids splashing
them both with the pungent substance. Fauna cast a fire ray at the ice imp
wounding it badly. The imp again blew a blast of frost at Fauna. The centipede
again fruitlessly snapped its jaws at Excor. Excor used the energy tentacle to
pull the rider from his saddle and lifted him 20 feet into the damp cavern air.
The armored myconids again swung at Szoo who once again easily parried their
blows. The rider struggled in the grips of the energy tentacle but was trapped.
used his fire fang and blasted the pair of armored myconids with fire also
igniting the naphtha spattered over them. They took a little damage but were
also on fire. Fauna cast another fire ray at the ice imp burning it badly. The
imp kicked at and hit Szoo in the head with its hooves but the naga’s fire
armor protected him. Again, the centipede struck at Excor’s ghostly form. Excor
used his tentacle to toss the unfortunate rider 20 feet down the cavern, a
sickly thud sounded from the darkness. The flaming armored myconids both struck
at Szoo again, one was easily parried but the other scored a critical hit
dealing Szoo a mild wound.
again unleashed his fire fang on the pair of myconids again causing their armor
to start to burn away. Fauna again struck the ice imp with her fire ray this
time killing the creature. It disappeared with a blood-curdling scream and a
burst of blue energy. The centipede continued to try to attack Excor. Excor tried
to cast Force Ram on the giant
centipede but failed the chaos of battle overwhelming his senses. The burning pair of myconids again struck at
Szoo but the naga again easily parried the both of them.
slashed at one of the burning myconids with his naginata but the myconid
parried. Excor successfully cast Force
Ram and squished the centipede against the cavern wall. Fauna flubbed her
spell too anxious to slay her enemies. One of the flaming myconids attacked
Fauna and was easily parried. The other attacked the naga and struck home with
a massive lucky blow dealing Szoo a mean wound. The battle continued for a few
more actions until the last pair of enemies collapsed into flaming smoking
“Jeesh! How many more of these guys are down here!”
“Yeah, he’s trying to wear us down before we get to him!”
“Well it’s working! I’m out of shields and low on spells. And I’m kinda hurt.”
“Same here sis. But I’m still in okay shape!”
Cris: “I’m still pretty good but yeah, I’m out of shields too. … Screw this.”
Excor was going to cast Ghost Form on himself again but thought better of it.
surveying the carnage and taking time to imbibe in some healing potions, the
mages charged deeper into the cavern turning south to where they had previously
encountered the boss mushroom. As fortune would have it, they ran straight smack
into the monster.
first round of battle was a blur of lightning bolts, a hurling destructive ball
of fungus, a slashing flaming polearm, and a well-placed slow spell. The second was a cacophony of energy rays, chrono-missiles, and repeated thorn blasts that left Excor resembling
battle raged on and slowed Boss Mushroom went on the attack as the trio of
mages went on the defensive casting healing spells on each other, drinking
potions, and Szoo casting elemental
half-plate armor (fire) on his companions. The monster’s club swept repeatedly
catching Szoo once and Excor twice. A well-placed fungus ball spell nailed
Fauna wounding her horribly.
final round found the mages exhausted and all badly wounded unable to take even
a mild hit. However, Boss Mushroom was just as wounded. Thorn blasts and energy
rays again flew then Excor captured the monster with a shadow ribbons spell. While the horrid thing was trapped, the mages
beat and stabbed it to death.
battle was finished and the trio stood over the large bloated body of the giant
mushroom creature. Its flesh was starting to break down and liquefy. Excor
observed the still brightly glowing ruby embedded in its chest. He shrugged and
reached out to pull the gem from the monster’s melting flesh. To his surprise the
gem was set into gold and attached to that was a fine gold chain, it was a
necklace. He continued to pull the treasure free though there was some
resistance so it took an effort on his part.
almost had it free of the gross corpse and gave a mighty final yank. The warty
skin of the chest split open and a human skeleton, the necklace still about its
neck bones, was pulled out with a gush of yellow pus-like liquid matter. The
skull clattered to the cavern floor, pulled off in a nervous reflex action by
Excor. The necklace was his.
identified the gold necklace bearing a large central ruby that sparkled like
blood-fire. The gem enraptured Szoo. His eyes sparkled in time with the strange
light of it. Excor described the magic abilities of the necklace. It was a
necklace of Shield three-times-a-day
at level 8. However, something about it was bothering him but he just could not
put his finger on it. Szoo grabbed for the gem, Excor let the naga have it. The
naga Elementalist immediately donned the magic necklace.
“I don’t want that stinking thing! It was embedded in a monster-mushroom’s
wanted to explore the cavern further but everyone was suffering significant wounds
including Szoo who only just realized his condition when prodded by Excor.
Disappointed the naga relented. To satisfy the naga at least a little, Excor
cast ghost form on himself once more
and scouted the cave getting a general sense of where all of the passages and
chambers were. The naga seemed even more disappointed afterward.
the trio moved back up into the house for some well-needed rest. Excor grumbled
something about having to hire some carpenters to fix the trap door and floor.
The entire gang was at the dining
room table: Me (the GM), Jenn, Isis, Cris, Gil, Carlos, and Carlitos. For some
reason conversation before the game had turned to the events of the end of the
original Zombie Horror test-game some years back – the last pair of survivors outrunning
a nuclear explosion in a helicopter then crashing in the desert. It had sprung
out of Carlos wondering, “Where this will all end” and if everyone will die by
the end of the campaign. Carlitos mentioned that the military will probably
nuke the city and Cris concurred.
The original test campaign was a
single session escape-the-city scenario that turned into a desperate run-away from
everything scenario a la cannonball run. Eventually, the last two players, one
of which was Cris, stole a helicopter from a deserted airfield and made their
final run for it after finding out the military was going to use a tactical
nuclear strike to level the city and wipe-out the zombie-plague. In fact, if I
remember correctly, the other two players had shot each other over something
dumb with the survivor of that fiasco put down by Cris’ biker character.
Anyway, the conversation faded out
and the groups’ attention turned to the session at hand. El Guapo (played by
Gil), Wesley (played by Jenn), and Lilith (played by Isis) had survived an
outbreak while out on the town at the Goth Club and made their way to Lilith’s
father’s Wrecking Yard. There they had a shootout with outlaw bikers and met
the other three Player Characters: Steve (played by Cris), Kenny (played by
Carlitos), and William (played by Carlos) the next day.
The latter three had been stuck
when Steve’s car battery died stranding them on the Old Country Highway during
their chaotic flight from the city. Eventually, they decided to group together
for protection and then faced a small gang of zombies that threatened the
chain-link gate. During the attempt to fight them off Kenny was shot in the
leg, hobbled by William’s friendly fire. The group decided to flee in three
vehicles: Lilith’s armored up Chevy Sedan, Steve’s Old Police Car, and the
junkyard tow truck with snowplow scoop. They outran a giant tank-armored zombie
probably sent by the military, plowed through a slowly oncoming herd of zombies
on the road, and then finally got on their way to William’s survivalist haven.
The three-vehicle convoy puttered
slowly up to the chain-locked gates of an 8-foot tall chain-link security
fence. They had arrived along a steep dirt road completely enclosed by trees.
The rusted sheet metal signs to either side of the gate warned of the electric
fence and that trespassers should expect lethal force. Behind the high
electrical fence topped with barbed wire sat a small squat ranch-style home. It
was sometime around noon but the house and indeed the small yard was cast in
cool shadow from the thick umbrage of the crowded pine trees. The musk of old
pine filled their noses.
While the line of cars waited for William to unlock the gate, Steve got out of his car. He walked around his vehicle and made a careful inspection of its underside and blood-spattered wheel wells. He wanted to make sure that no corpses or animated parts thereof were “hitchin’ a ride”.
Gil: “Guys, we need to find a cure for this thing!”
Isis: “Where!? Where we gonna look! I can’t do anything!”
Carlitos: “Anybody got any skills that could help try to
make a cure ourselves?”
Jenn: “What!? We can’t find an antidote if we don’t know
what’s causing it! And none of us are scientists! We’re just a bunch a’
After the cars were all pulled into
the yard and the gate locked behind them, the gang began to filter into the
small house. Lilith took Kenny down to William’s bomb shelter. They accessed it
through a door hidden behind a shelf in the basement and spiral stair leading
into the small-reinforced shelter. She needed to measure his leg. She was going
to use some junk she had brought with her to whip up a brace for his
bullet-crippled leg. Steve had followed them down and changed Kenny’s bandages
after Lilith was done with him; at least the wound was not infected.
The Old man, Lilith’s father, had
settled in the old easy chair in the front room and was using the duct-tape
wrapped two-button remote to flip through channels as he tugged from his hip
flask. After everything above seemed settled in Wesley, El Guapo, and William
went down into the shelter to convene with the others.
Once they were gathered, William
pointed out the bank of video monitors on a table in the shelter. There were
cameras monitoring the property inside of the fence and all around the
perimeter of the electric fence. The shelter had a small main room with a
walk-in gun safe, a small bedroom/bathroom off to one side and a decent-sized
grow room and small storage closet. He told them that the house and shelter
were running on a large diesel generator housed in a small brick and mortar shed
behind the house. He also warned them that there were a few traps outside the
fence. They were essentially tripwires that set of firecrackers to scare off
trespassers and deer.
As evening approached, El Guapo and
William decided to make a quick patrol around the outside perimeter. They made
it almost completely around the outer rim of the property, El Guapo remarked on
how dark it was. After the sun went down it was pitch black, the glare of the
city lights could be seen faintly as a halo around a few of the lower hills
from a certain vantage point as well as a few columns of smoke. The city was apparently
on fire. They were sharing the common sentiment of being fortunate to have
gotten out of the city when they heard a metallic tinkling coming rapidly at
them then a few happy barks.
El Guapo (pulling his gun): “Zombie Dog! Zombie Dog!”
Cris: “It’s a zombie dog!?”
The GM (me): “No. It’s pretty obvious that it’s a normal
stray dog running happily up to you guys.”
William checked the small dog’s
collar for its tag. His name was “Tops”. William recognized him as belonging to
a nearby neighbor. The dog looked like it had not eaten for several days. After
contemplating this new piece of information silently, William led El Guapo and
Tops back into his compound.
Meanwhile, Steve pulled out his
laptop from his trunk and set it up on William’s badly worn yellow Formica
kitchen table. He found that even trying to access the internet via the phone
line was near impossible not because there was no connection but because it
appeared that, someone had erected a firewall between the outside world and
everyone in Amorset. Wesley came in and took a gander and confirmed his
assessment, she also figured that most radio signals were probably also jammed.
They both looked over at the television, only the public access channel was
broadcasting something other than a test pattern or an emergency system
The pair outside came in from their
patrol with Tops running inside and jumping into the Old Man’s lap. They
explained where the dog came from and all decided that it would be best if some
of them would go check on the neighbor. However, they could not agree on a
timeframe for that. So, they decided to “sleep on it”.
Jenn (turning to me all of a sudden): “Don’t you kill that
doggie, you’re going to kill that doggie aren’t you.”
The GM (me): “Ummm, No?”
Steve decided to stay up, try to
hack through the internet firewall, and do a little research on Geno-Chem. At
this point, the others had convinced him of the shady bioengineering chemical
conglomerate’s probable responsibility for this mess. After about an hour, he
had successfully accessed the corporate site and found mostly public relations
garbage. However, he also found that the company had been operating a
specialized laboratory out of the old oilrig on the lake.
Apparently, they had been cited for
improper storage of Class I, VII, and VIII chemicals on the old platform.
Geno-Chem also announced that the platform would be a part of their new plan of
economic rebirth. From the sound of it as he read it, it sounded like they were
about to remake the world into the Garden of Eden.
He shut down the laptop hearing only
snoring throughout the house. Realizing how tired he was he went to go sleep in
the backseat of his car.
The Fleeing of the
It was already evening by the time
everyone was ready to start planning again. Earlier in the day, Lilith had
finished Kenny’s leg brace and he was moving around again albeit slightly
slower. Steve had told everyone what he had found out the previous night and
that the internet was completely down now. He also cooked dinner, cheese topped
spaghetti with spam cubes in it. William was busy setting up a “war room”
around the kitchen table.
After dinner, the crew was huddled
around the table looking at the maps that William had pinned to the wall. They had
already decided to pursue the oilrig lead and still wanted to send a group to the
neighbor out of sheer curiosity. A quiet thumping began to cause the kitchen
table to vibrate. They all stood up. The will to speak died in their throats.
They turned to the windows their eyes like rabbits under headlights of an
oncoming diesel. The glass and picture frames began to rattle as the noise
increased in volume and intensity. Vague shapes, just pale blurs, shot out of
the dark just outside the electric fence and then just as suddenly flew back
Lilith: “Oh Gawd! It’s that big thing again isn’t it!?”
Kenny: “Aww man! I shot it’s leg off! How!?”
William (looking out the kitchen window): “It’s deer? It’s
El Guapo (also looking out the window): “It’s just deer, whoa
a lot of deer. A stampede!?”
The group filtered out the back door from the kitchen onto the covered back porch. The ground was rumbling with the amount of deer running panicked around the house. Occasionally a deer touched the fence and a bright burst of sparks would cause them to jump away and correct course. Then, a big buck tried to correct course at the very last minute and another large buck slammed into him thrusting his bulk into the fence tearing the chain-link from the poles and the whole length of the fence exploded in a white-hot flash of sparks.
The sound of the stampede faded into the distance towards the road. The dust left in the wake of the animals still hovered like a cloud of choking pine-scented smog. The house was completely dark; the entire electrical system had shorted out.
Lilith immediately ran to the generator shed and found that the buck hitting the fence had blown a high voltage capacitor. William did not have a spare. He had gone to town to pick up another one but decided to have a beer instead and then the zombie apocalypse happened.
Wesley: “Crap! We got to get that fence back up!”
Lilith (shouting to the others): “I can get the electricity
back up after you guys fix the fence BUT I’ll be bypassing the capacitor and if
the fence gets hit again it’ll blow everything, permanently!”
William: “Screw it. Do what you guys gotta do.”
El Guapo and Kenny volunteered to disentangle and pull the buck’s corpse from the fence and repair the chain-link. Meanwhile, Steve and William were going to wait on the porch with their weapons ready and keep a lookout.
The operation was moving ahead at a
brisk pace as the pair of volunteers easily cleared the roasted buck from the wire
and began to work on bending the chain-link back in shape and a few poles back straight
as well. Lilith was waiting for the signal to switch the power back on. William
and Steve were keeping their ears and eyes open for anything. Wesley was
leaning against the brick generator shed watching El Guapo and Kenny fix the
Steve shouted, “Look out! Something
big is coming in fast!” A huge shaggy shadow was bearing down on the pair
working on the fence. Wesley dropped to firing position and waited for a clear
shot with her Desert Eagle. Steve readied a rifle from William’s shelter
gun-safe. William readied his deer rifle.
Cris: “Dude we can’t shoot!”
Carlos: “What, why? I can hit it.”
Cris: “Cause we’ll shoot THEM! They’re in between us and
Carlos: “Oh yeah, I guess. Too bad I wanted to use my RPG.”
Cris: “Wait. What.”
Carlitos (pointing a finger at Carlos): “Dude, do not shoot
El Guapo pulled his Desert Eagle
and drilled the massive animal with a lethal shot. As it began to fall,
however, it took a sudden swipe at Kenny hitting with a sickening whap! The
creature fell dead heavily to the ground joined by the thud of Kenny’s limp
body. The bear had torn open his shoulder and slashed his face with a single
Carlitos: “Oh man! Am I dead?”
Cris: “Pff! I dunno! What’re your hit-points at?”
A few arithmetical calculations
later, it was determined that Kenny was unconscious and very near death but
some first aid worked to stabilize the bleeding. Their attentions turned to the
Cris (to me): “Really!? A zombie bear!?”
Isis: “It was a zombie? Is that possible?”
To be safe El Guapo “double-tapped”
the dead bear. They could see the steam wafting up from the bullet holes in its
head and smell the fresh, hot blood against mixed with the cool night air. It
had been a living animal but it also had some disturbing puss-yellow cysts or
tumors swelling from under its greasy coat in places. El Guapo lit a cigarette.
El Guapo (exhaling): “Well, there’s definitely something
wrong with that bear.”
Steve helped El Guapo to complete
the fence and after about another hour Lilith was able to hit the power.
Meanwhile, Kenny recuperated in a bed in the shelter wrapped in fresh bandages.
The following day, the group killed
time by playing cards while waiting for Kenny to heal up enough to move. They
continued to toss around ideas as to what to do. They only confirmed their
previous plan to gain access to the oilrig on the lake. After dinner, Kenny was
awake and surprisingly almost in traveling shape. El Guapo went outside on the
back porch to have a smoke in peace. He puffed readily on his cigarette as he
wandered aimlessly around the back yard and wound up near the power shed.
He stood for a while staring at the
stars. When he finished he flicked the glowing stub against the bricks hard
enough to put it out in a flash. He heard a ricochet, then another, and
another. The ground around his feet began to jump and spit and he could hear
the semi-automatic gunfire. Almost as a reflex, he leaped behind the safety of
the brick shed.
The shots came from the large tree
branches that overhung the electric fence. Squatting on the branches above were
soldiers in green rubber suits bearing M-16s with drum magazines. Their exposed
heads and faces revealed the rotting and partially mummified visages of
zombies. With a heavy thump, one of them jumped to the ground. El Guapo swung
the A-K from his shoulder and pulled the firing bolt, his back against the shed.
Wesley ran up from the shelter and
yelled for the rest in the house to wake up if they were still asleep; she had
seen El Guapo’s position from the security monitors. A spray of bullets from
all three of the zombie soldiers tore at the bricks of the shed pinning El
Guapo down. A second thump signaled a second creature was in the yard. Lilith
ran out to the back porch and shot the creature squatting in the tree putting a
9mm slug between its eyes. It fell to the ground in the yard. Steve fired
William’s hunting rifle from the kitchen door putting a large hole in the
second creature’s forehead.
Wesley rushed out of the door
knocking Steve to the side. She shot and took off half of the last creature’s
face destroying it.
El Guapo: “They have guns now?”
Wesley: “See! I told you! It’s the military; they’re trying
to kill us!”
Lilith: “We gotta figure something out.”
Cris: “Huh. That was kinda easy.”
Lilith (digging at one of the zombie’s forehead with a
knife): “Huh. Hey guys, these have those little red lights too.”
After about an hour Lilith was inspecting a microchip she had pulled from the skull of one of the soldier zombies. It appeared to be some sort of control chip wired to receive a specific signal. She also found a built-in electronic locator but easily disabled it. She had no idea how to prevent the control signal from being received or even if she could disrupt it.
Come sunrise, Lilith began work on
building a set of walkie-talkies with signal scrambling and better range using
the electronic parts found around William’s lair and a set of new walkies she
found down in the shelter. El Guapo, Steve, and William were going to travel to
William’s neighbor to check on things there, they suspected the zombie soldiers
had come from that direction. The rest of the gang just tried to get as much
rest as they could.
After a quick breakfast of
pancakes, sausages, and eggs cooked by non-other than El Guapo, the three that
had planned to scout the neighbor’s property packed up and left. William guided
them through the woods and down the hill towards a deep cleft between the
hills. They soon found themselves walking through a rocky creek bed their feet
drenched in its cold gently burbling waters. The streak of sky above, a break
in the umbrage was blinding and the direct sun was making them pour sweat.
Steve (to William): “Is it always this quiet out here?”
The dull green of the dense foliage
of the trees and bushes swelled on both sides of them. Occasionally, a slight
breeze would disturb the leaves the sound breaking the unnatural silence for a
few seconds. The shadows in the deeps of the foliage appeared in contrast to a
bright almost white clear sky pitch black.
Steve: “Are we almost there?”
William: “Yup, up this way.”
They surmounted a steep dirt path
that winded its way over the top of a shallow bluff and into the shadowy cover
of the trees. It was a little while longer before they found themselves at an
old and ill-maintained cottage with a companion barn, everything covered in a
thick brown carpet of pine needles. William walked onto the plank-board front
porch and pushed the half-opened front door open. The television on white noise
filled the room. The place smelled of rotting meat. The source was the fat old
woman sitting in the overstuff-chair before the television. She had been shot
through the temple her sawed-off shotgun still in her lap and her slippered feet
still on the antique ottoman. William mentioned that she did not like trespassers
… and salesmen.
A large black dog also shot was lying
in a pool of blackened congealed blood near the front door. The walls around
where the dog was bore a few stray bullet holes. The tag on the black shepherd
mix’s spiked collar read “Laddy”. Zombies did not do this.
El Guapo: “Man, let’s get outta here!”
About an hour later, the three
intrepid explorers returned to home base and delivered the news to the rest of
Lilith: “I say we get outta here tomorrow morning.”
The rest of the group concurred.
The rest of the day went on without interruption. After a dinner of chili beans
and canned corn, the gang was preparing to try to get a good rest before what
was going to be a rough adventure. At the kitchen table, Wesley was making sure
her weapons were in working order when she was done she slung her MP4 on her
shoulder. The others were watching the emergency messages on the television and
taking notes. She glanced through the kitchen window and saw several red pinpoints
of laser light dancing on the table and fridge. She shouted and kicked open the
backdoor and ran out onto the porch. She immediately had to duck for cover as the
back porch was shredded by automatic gunfire.
A squad of ten commandoes was bearing
down on the house. Two of them were setting up an M-249 SAW machine gun. Wesley
sprayed the area with her MP4 followed by El Guapo charging out onto the back
porch (hey they really did this) and sprayed some of the commandoes with fire
from his AK-47. Lilith ran to her car, which was parked, adjacent to the
backyard but next to the house. Steve got into firing position behind the
kitchen window with his rifle. After a few seconds, William joined him with a rocket-propelled
grenade launcher, an RPG-7, in his arms.
William: “Yeah, I’m gonna take these mother@#%$ers out!”
Kenny also charged through the back
door and tossed a grenade, it landed and exploded in a vacant area quite a
distance from the machine gun, his intended target. William stood up at the kitchen
window, took aim, and pulled the trigger hoping to blast the main group of
soldiers away. Click. The rocket failed to function it was a dud. The crack of
a single shot from a rifle and William collapsed onto the kitchen floor, blood
gushing from his belly. Another wave of gunfire washed over the place. Steve
took a shot dropping a soldier in the trees and turned his attentions to
stopping William’s bleeding.
The firefight lasted only a few
more seconds, the motley group of adventurers was victorious against all odds. The
generator shed had been shot to pieces but was still standing. The rear of the
house peppered with bullet holes. The soldiers had been living soldiers but
they had no markings as to indicate that they were government troops. Kenny found
a keycard on what he thought was the team leader. The card had the emblem of
the Geno-Chem on it and nothing else.
Carlitos: “Well that seals it I guess.”
Carlos: “I’m hurt, dude.”
El Guapo (to Wesley): “What’s wrong with you?”
Wesley: “Well, we can’t stay here anymore!”
Jenn (turning to me, the GM): “Damn, zombie game has No
Chill! No chill, man!”
Epilogue of the
The group began packing the vehicles
immediately. William disclosed the complete contents of his vault. It was
stocked with several boxes of 7.62 and 9mm rounds, 2 more rockets for the RPG, a
couple of 12-gauge shotguns, several hunting rifles, dozens of automatic
rifles, semi-automatic pistols, and a box of dynamite as well as a 1-kilo brick
Gil: “What? Seriously?”
Carlos: “Yeah man, I gotta make my money, I deal with
everybody back here.”
Kenny kept hold of the keycard and the vehicles were pulling out onto the dirt road.
Carlitos: “So where are we getting the boat?”
Gil: “What? What boat?”
Carlitos (turning to me): “It’s an oil rig in the middle of
a lake right?”
Cris: “Well, there’s lake houses around there somewhere,
there’s gotta be.”
Jen: “Yeah, someone has a boat we can steal.”
The convoy of vehicles kicked up a cloud of dust and pine needles as they roared away from the hilltop compound heading back to the Old Country Highway.
Later that night, my wife, Jenn, and I were driving home on the brightly lit freeway through Colton into San Bernardino when out of nowhere she turned to me.
“You know if you kill that dog I’m divorcing you.”