Campaign of the Month: January 2021

Gaxim Plague

Episode 29: Flamerule 5 - Flamerule 13, 1488 DR
I, I will be king. And you, you will be queen.

Mural painted by Tarj

I, I can remember. Standing, by the wall.

Fisher turned in Kumonga’s saddle and looked back at the infirmary for the last time before stepping through the magic frame to return to Roscozenica Tower in Coxi. In this room, he almost lost his soul. Most definitely, he had lost a friend. Fisher’s memories of Esteban warred with his feeling of betrayal, still raw and sore. He pushed the sorrow down deep, where it would bother no one. The last few days since the battle while the party one by one went through the frame had given him time to reflect, but instead he used that time to look for Jacques.

What Fisher found was a trail of bloody death in the north quarter of the city, where the Red Raccoon gang had taken root. It led to their headquarters, a mansion which the plague turned into a squatters haven and then into a thieves’ den. Inside, not a soul lived. There was trace of a magical battle in the upper floor, an entire section seemed to be scooped out of the building. Beyond that, nothing of Jacques nor the mysterious Lady in Red who supposedly ran this bunch of thugs.

After the rescue of Oegraemo and his reinstallation as Mayor of Purskul, he presented the party to a recovering city to thunderous applause in the town square. The survivors shouted “Pride of Purskul!” and “Smallfolk Saints!”. Not bad epitaphs to add to Heroes of Coxi, for when the time comes. Obelix had gone around the city to spread the news of Oegreamo’s return and deliver the plague cure to those too ill to come to the infirmary. Wherever he spread his wings, he also spread the light of Moradin: people reaching out to touch his feathers also received pamphlets. Barrik helped Oegreamo establish a new city guard with recently cured guardsmen. With a Detect Poison & Disease spell, he could be relatively sure they were not yuan-ti, and Gnomardo made doubly sure by reading their thoughts. Roscoe conversed with Nahuel Huapi across the frame about how to prevent more yuan-ti coming through, since apparently they had another frame elsewhere and the ability to pass through more than one person a day. They settled on the conclusion that if they kept the frame between Coxi and Purskul continuously open, then hopefully neither could be overridden by the enemy. Meanwhile, the cure continued to be fabricated in Coxi and spread among the populace of Purskul. Soon, couriers could be sent to Athkatla and Esmeltaran with the cure as well.

They could not wait any longer. The dwarves needed to save their kin, Arapuca pestered Gnomardo continuously to be underway towards the psionic disturbance in the dessert, Roscoe was itching for revenge and Fisher… Well, the prospect of securing plumastone was slightly dampened by the shadow of Mictlantecuhtli, but being all the way in Faerun obviously did nothing to avoid the death god. With a nudge Kumonga stepped through the frame; Fisher trusted that Jacques could take care of himself.

And the shame, was on the other side.

Tarj After arriving in Coxi, the party rode to Patil where they then took the tzompantli portation circle to the ruins close to Pdapla, and from there to the capital Kultaka. Wandering aimlessly into the vast Sands of Itzcala was not a great idea, but there was a chance at a guide. The only dwarf they had come across in Maztica, the schizophrenic Tarj.

Obelix and Gnomardo found Tarj in his cell, as disheveled and incoherent as before. Tarj did not recognize them, and after a while it took Gnomardo quite an effort to delve into his mind to reach whatever part of his still grasped onto sanity.

Tarj’s mindscape was a blighted dessert, crisscrossed with a web of glowing violet chains from one horizon to another. The chains were all slowly being pulled to the north-west, the center of the web. In this dessert was a tiny rundown hovel of stone and mortar, the chains draped all over and around it. Gnomardo found a door and not without some mental effort managed to pry it open. Inside was a filthy room covered in refuse and a bed with soiled sheets. Paint peeled off the walls, it was plain to see that at one point this had been a majestic abode, but no longer.

Tarj's mindscape bolthole

There sat Tarj in a corner, mumbling to himself about being safe in here. Gnomardo was finally able to get his attention, and Tarj recalled who they were. Obelix listened to the one-sided conversation in Tarj’s jail cell in Kultaka, as Gnomardo spoke aloud while holding Tarj’s head, but Tarj in the real world was as incommunicable as ever.

In the mindscape, Gnomardo slowly started building up Tarj’s confidence. Gnomardo painted a window in the mindscape room, looking out over a chain free dessert to the south-east. Tarj started opening up on the visions he had, when he was connected to the chains and dared to let himself walk north-west before hitting his head against the cell walls. A tower in the distance, squat, wide, floating over a crater, and in that tower… chaos. A struggle. Gnomardo offered his paint supplies to Tarj to paint his vision in the tower, for they were of course only mental projections of paint supplies, and Tarj painted a mural of what looked like illithidi and yuan-ti in confrontation. Gnomardo then asked Tarj for a monumental favour: leave his cell and lead them to the source of the psionic chains, to the tower in the dessert that enslaved his people.

Tarj's mural

This was a task too big for Tarj’s mind to grasp, and he started to recede into himself again. By now, Tarj was speaking with his own voice in the cell in Kultaka, and Obelix could follow the full conversation. Gnomardo desperately tried to appeal to his sense of duty to dwarvenhood, but his grip on Tarj was fading. Then Gnomardo desperately said, “Don’t you want to be a hero?”

A flicker of awareness passed through Tarj’s eyes, and Obelix saw it. Instinctively, Obelix put his hand on Tarj’s shoulder in the real world, and somehow burst into the terrified dwarf’s mindscape to appear as an exalted paragon of dwarfhood. The dwaarvsimar’s radiant wings turned Tarj’s dreary room into a pool of holy tranquility.

“Tarj,” Obelix’s voice boomed across the hovel like the thunder of Moradin’s hammerfall, “WE COULD BE HEROES.”

Dwaarvsimar resplendent

Tarj fell to his knees at the blessed apparition in his mind. Gnomardo, shielding his mind’s eye with his mental hands, could do nothing but hold on desperately to the mind link throttling his psyche. In awe of Obelix, Tarj said nothing, but his eyes still betrayed a hint of fear. Seeing this, Obelix took a gentler tone. Holding out his hand, he said, “Just for one day.”

Tarj took his hand, both in the mindscape and the real world, and breathlessly whispered, “We can be heroes, just for one day?”

“We can be us, just for one day!” Obelix replied, lifting Tarj to his feet. “We can be heroes for ever and ever. What d’you say?”

Tarj stood to his full height of four foot six, and shouted “Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever!!”
Tarj then turned to Gnomardo, who was wincing with his hands over his pounding head. “Then we could be Heroes,” Tarj replied to Gnomardo’s request. “Just for one day.”

“We’ll take it one day at a time,” Gnomardo responded, and led Gnomardo out of his mindscape hovel, and out of his cell in Kultkaka.

Maybe we’re lying, then you better not stay
But we could be safer, just for one day

With a deep breath and a nod to Obelix, Tarj let the psionic compulsion take hold of him, and he led them north-west towards the Sands of Itzcala.

Reunited with the others, it was clear the heroes had a way to navigate the dessert, but getting to the dessert was another matter. The Axapoztlan Range stood between the plains of Kultaka and the dessert. They could either go north around them and extend their trip by many weeks, via New Waterdeep and the borderlands. Or they could cut across the mountains west, which were treacherous and rumoured to be a holy place for Zaltec fanatics. Or go south-west past Pdapla, to the frontline of the war with Nexal and then due north through a gap between the mountain ranges in to the dessert. This last option was only slightly longer than cutting through the mountains, and after an augury it was determined less dangerous than the mountains.

The heroes used their connections with War Chief Aconcagua to take supplies from the military convoy heading towards the front, and followed the freshly trained soldiers towards the smoking volcano of Mt Nexal.

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B-Team, Episode 3
Welcome in my fruit cellar

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But evil things, in robes of sorrow, assailed the monarch’s high estate.

Aquitz, Iggy, Yoliya and Tetzin, followed by the floating head of Yetla, look down upon the headless body of the vampire they had just killed. “I could use one of those,” said Yetla.

“Do you… want me to stitch you to it?” asked Iggy gingerly.

“Nah, won’t work. Besides, it’s been fouled by the unholy. Nice of you to offer; you are sweet.”

RedDevil5, the star Ballgame player, looked at them in dismay. “What are you going to do now?” Having been under the control of the vampire for a long time, he had no idea he was part of an intricate web of blood smugglers. Little more than a mule, to his great embarrassment.

The party decided to take RedDevil5 up on his offer to use his contacts. He knows the President of the Intra-nation Ballgame League personally, who resides here in Pezelac City. The President would likely want to know that the referee was a vampire, and may well thank the party for uncovering this.

They arrived after crossing the city into the noble neighborhood, Yetla again hidden in Iggy’s sack. Aquitz’s spirit guardian joined them with news that he had lost track of the charcoal dwarf in the north of the city, likely the dwarf crossed the river there. The mansion they arrived at was obscenely ornate in its carvings, only having the decency to be lower than the temple pyramids but being just as wide as any civil administrative building. Guards lined the large double doors inside and after a quick word with RedDevil5 they were granted entrance.

Ah, let us mourn!- for never morrow, shall dawn upon him desolate!

Inside, a long hallway crossed left to right, with many doorways lined along the east wall. The west wall, through which they entered from the street, was lined with dozens and dozens of skulls. Most of the skulls were cracked and repaired with some kind of rubber adhesive. RedDevil5 saw Iggy starring at them. “In the old days the Ballgame was played with the heads of the vanquished. A lot of kicking will crack any skull,” he informed her.

20200912_133618.jpg They are brought to a wide room where a long table was dressed with an extravagant array of food. At one end sat a man, opulently dressed with a huge feathered headdress and a carved jaguar crown, rich skins, drinking out of clear crystal glass. There were guards in this room as well. A clerk sifting through scrolls pinned to a score board on one side fo the room. At the other side a smaller table where sat a simian person in a well tailored suit and bowler hat, staring wistfully at a pile of banana peels in front of him. RedDevil5 introduces the party and their host; “I present to you the most esteemed and honorble member of the Council of the Intra-nation Ballgame League, El Presidente Quilmes.”

Quilmes welcomed his start player with grand gestures and open arms, he seemed a gracious and magnanimous host. “To what do I bring the honour of my favourite striker and your new friends? Please, take any refreshments you like!” He waved at all the food on the table.

RedDevil5 explained how the referee was revealed as a vampire and network had infiltrated the League, and that he, sadly, had been part of it without knowledge. These fine people uncovered the vampire and saved him. At the mention of vampires, the simian looked up suddenly. Quilmes listened patiently, his face betraying no emotion, simply nodding as his player ended the tale, and sent a guard to go clean the ball court of evidence. Then he turned to the clerk. “Number 1, will you come here for a moment?” The clerk appeared at the President’s side. The President got up and put an arm around the clerk. “Number 1, I have always treated you and your family well, yes? Have I not been a generous and fair employer? Do you not enjoy your work?” The clerk, Number 1, stammered in the affirmative, clearly very nervous next to Quilmes’ calm demeanor. “Then, can you tell me why such a dangerous threat has appeared at the very heart of our family?” The clerk mumbled that he could not. “I understand,” Quilmes said calmly.

The President then grabbed the back of the clerk’s head and slammed it on the table’s edge again and again until there was nothing left of the face but a bloody mash. The party stared aghast at this sudden explosion of violence. The guards all looked directly ahead, not batting an eye. When the clerk’s lifeless body slid to the floor, Quilmes turned to the nearest guard. “Find me a new Number 1, one that is a bit more diligent. And please confer my sympathy to this one’s family; let them know they will be well compensated for his unfortunate accident on the job.” The guard bowed and left hurriedly. “Now, friends, I have a proposition for you. Please sit.”

Aquitz stepped over the clerk’s body, still oozing blood, and sat in front of the sweet meats. Iggy walked around the table looking for a spot without any blood splatter, by the fruit salad. Yoliya stayed standing, but picked up a crystal glass and filled it with mead, a Faerunian delicacy that had stuck around since the invasion of Amn a century prior.

“As you can imagine, this is all very embarrassing for me. I would prefer word of this does not spread,” he made his words very clear and purposeful as he wiped his hands ona napkin. The weight of their meaning obvious, yet not overtly threatening. “This situation must be dealt with for the safety of the League and all good people in Pezelac. You who have already proven yourselves would be perfect for the job, as I can tell you are all strangers here with no other…political obligations.” He looked at each in the party to gauge their reaction. “If you rid the vampire threat from my holdings, I will give you each your own weight in silver.”

Iggy spoke up, “But I’m pretty light so…”

Barber3.png Quilmes smiled. “Yes, my dear, you are exquisite, and not so much lighter than your friend over there who’s tall as a palm tree but whose bones are hollow. It’s still a better deal than you would find in 10 years of caravan duty. I also have a few conditions. Firstly, that you do not inform the temples or the authorities. I want this quiet. Secondly, my associate Lorenzo here will accompany you.” At that the simian got up from his chair, jumped to the brightly painted rafters and using his prehensile tail crawled the ceiling to jump down next to Quilmes.

“Yes, sir, I’ll keep an eye on them,” Lorenzo said.

“Good lad, there’s a banana for you with the guard at the west gate.” Lorenzo’s eyes lit up at that. Quilmes continued, “Lorenzo here is under my protection, but for political reasons it would not do for him to be associated with me publicly. He seems a good fit for your band. You may keep me abreast of your progress through RedDevil5.” After some discussion, the party accepted the terms and left with their new teammate in tow.

And round about his home the glory, that blushed and bloomed,

RedDevil5 brought them to the referee’s house to investigate further. Tetzin went to scout the perimeter while the others went inside.

RedDevil5 had been there for many social occasions, as the referee liked to host for his richest customers, so gave the party a tour. Inside a beautiful personal library where some magic scrolls they took. Also found was a bag with a gruesome mouth for an opening which they later identified as a bag of devouring, some stashes of gold here and there, but nothing else out of the ordinary. Huemac, however, indicated he smelled blood on a wall. Some investigation showed that it was a secret doorway. It took some experimentation, but they found out that by placing a hand with blood on it in a specific spot and saying the password “ Camazotz”, the wall receded, revealing a stairwell.

Aquitz cast augury to see if it was wise to go down there yet, as they had only just recovered from a battle that morning. Indeed, going down now would be bad, so they decided to use the house to have a long rest. RedDevil5 left them to it and went home.

Is but a dim-remembered story, of the old time entombed.

Evening was approaching when everyone was ready to descend, a slightly mistimed moment to go vampire hunting. Again, Tetzin kept a look-out lest they be accosted from behind, and the rest of the party went downstairs.

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What they found was a room filled with ever glowing candles, the kind that could last years if necessary, most centered around a glyph covered in congealed blood. A stone sarcophagus surrounded by statues of gorillas and another statue at the other end of the room. Along the far wall hung five beautifully woven tapestries of sceneries: lush jungle hills, an eerie cave, stars, jagged peaks at dusk and an old stairwell. Neither Aquitz nor Iggy recognized the constellation of the stars depicted; it may have been simply the artist’s random choice but Iggy felt they aligned too well not to reflect an actual constellation.

272977960_553896152233353_5733929053332617580_n.png Casting detect undead, they discovered that there was indeed an enemy in the sarcophagus. Yoliya had the brilliant idea of shrinking the sarcophagus and anything inside before opening it and killing whatever lay there. The spell caught hold and the sarcophagus shrank. The heroes lifted the now manageable stone lid and cast it aside. Iggy then assumed her constellation form and blazed like the sun in the room. The vampiric mummy, now the size of a halfling, had the rudest wake of his unlife as his bandages burst into flame. With his shriek of rage, the three statues transformed into zombie girallons. The battle was on.

undead-introduction-vampire-monstrous.jpg Even with the party’s formidable holy powers which were well suited to vampires and zombies, it was a tasking fight. The girallons four arms took their toll and everyone was knocked out at one point before being healed and thrown back into the fray by another companion. The reduction spell wore off on the sarcophagus and vampiric mummy, and as they enlarged, Yoliya a discrepancy in space in the sarcophagus. There was a trap door to some other place, like a portal or demi-plane. Luckily, they managed to avoid the worst of the mummy rot, and by the time Tetzin came running down to join the melee, one of the zombie girallons was feared and ran out of the house. They considered splitting the party and running after it, but Yetla shouted from her hiding place in the sack that, technically, it wasn’t a vampire and thus not in their contract.

Girallon.png When the room was cleansed of undead, they heard RedDevil5’s voice shout down if they were doing OK. There was some giant undead gorilla terrorizing the city, and if they knew anything about that? In unison, the party all answered in ignorance. RedDevil5 then said to be wary if they went outside and let the city guards handle it. During the battle, Lorenzo discovered under the stairs that there were shelves of glass and fired clay jars, which had at one point held blood. The circle of candles had also turned off, for at one point a number of the candles had been knocked over.

The party opened the trap door under the sarcophagus to see what lay beneath. A crimson glow filled the room as they saw a stairwell lead into black and red mists, and a sickly yellow moon hovered in the distance.

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B-Team, Episode 2
Take me out to the ball game

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Take me out with the crowd

Aquitzmortln, Tetzin and Yoliyamanitzin got off the pier and entered the city of Pezelac, where the river opens up into Lake Kiltzi. After the discovery of the blood smuggling ring in the village Hakl, they stayed for a few days to question people. They found out that the illusion-disguised zombie had come up river from the Chuapli forest and was bound for Pezelac. That made sense, as a large city is where the commerce would be. If the vampire nest in Chuapli forest that Aquitzmortln [[Episode 15: Kythron 1, 1488 DR | helped eradicate]] was part of a larger network of blood smugglers, Pezelac would be where the silver came from. The bad news was that meant there were likely vampires embedded in Pezelac, a not-insignificant political power.

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tabaxi.png There was a palpable tension in the air as the three walked along the docks in the late morning summer sun. People seemed to be doing more talking than actual working. Some kind of news seems to have spooked the entire city. They catch the word Zula a number of times, a city way south in Far Payit. Looking around for someone not preoccupied that may be able to tell them more, they see a feline person alone. She is looking in the sky as if searching for something. Interrupting her musings, they get to know Igantiah Moonshadow; Iggy.

Iggy tells the three vampire hunters what was going on that had everyone in town rumoring like a fishmonger’s wife. In fact, she told them first hand, for she was there at Zula when it happened. The God of Death, Mictlantecuhtli, erupted out of the city Zula, destroying it entirely and rending the cities colossal spirit guardians like they were piñatas. No one knows why. Seems like it tore through reality and reached for something. Then its titanic form flattened the jungle as it made its way north-west, towards the Sea of Azul.

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The last time gods appeared physically in the True World, they practically destroyed civilization as they battled over 100 years ago. And at least then it was Zaltec and Qotal, in no stories had Mictlantecuhtli ever walked the True World. People were frightened of another generation of misery, just when the True World had returned to blue skies and the gods were again hearing prayers.

Buy me some chili tortilla snacks, I don’t care if I never get back.

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As Iggy finished her tale, what she was searching the sky for hovered down. A head of an old woman, her neck a ragged edge and still bleeding. The head floated in between the group, looking around their shoulders as if trying to see if she was followed. Then she turned to Iggy and said, “See? I told you we would meet again here!”

Yetla!” Tetzin exclaimed as he recognized the floating head. It was the old priestess of Watil that had been beheaded in Hakl right in front of him by a giant bat mid-conversation. “How are you alive?”

“Well as you can see, you silly sailor, I am not,” Yetla responded. Indeed, she was undead, her neck continuously dripping blood, although where the drops touched the earth they seemed to disappear with an ethereal wisp. Yetla explained that she was in Mictlan, the realm of the dead, when she saw a rip between worlds. The very rip caused by Mictlantecuhtli as Zula was destroyed. She took a chance and escaped as the god-who-guards-bones was distracted. There were things that she saw in Mictlan which convinced her that the True World was in terrible peril if action was not taken. That is why she risked the existence of her soul to thwart Death. Unfortunately, she could not very well remember now that she was in the True World, what she saw. Only that a starmap reader was desperately needed to guide vampire hunters, one of whom had been touched by outsiders from the lands across the eastern sea. She looked at Aquitzmortln as she spoke of the outsiders.

Yetla explained that she did not stick around to see what Mictlantecuhtli was doing at the edge of realities, lest she be caught. She found Iggy at the edge of the destroyed city, and bade her make haste to Pezelac.

Iggy put Yetla in her sack, lest the floating head bring attention. Yetla had no interest in being discovered, for while Mictlantecuhtli was preoccupied, it would not take much for the god to notice an escapee and send the teuzauhtototl after her. Iggy then decided to join the vampire hunters, trusting Yetla’s vague prophecy.

Let me root, root, root for the home team, if they don’t win it’s a shame

_.jpeg Yoliya’s familiar panther Huemac followed the smell he picked up from the box carrying blood samples and led the party to the Ballgame court in the south-western part of the city. There was a game on between the Reds and Blues. Huemac pointed out that the scent was on two people on the pitch. The frontline player of the Reds and the referee. Iggy cast Eye of the Grave and determined that the Referee was undead. If a vampire, the festive face paint, wide white cloaks and headgear were protecting him from the sun.

The game ended with the Reds winning. As customary, the players lined up in front of their dug outs, and men and women bid for their services as elite courtesans. The Red team, being winners, got the highest prices, and the buyers would enter the dugout for however much time they paid for. The referee managed the entire event, and the Red players seemed happy for the cut they got, the Blue not so much.

The party waited until most of the Ballgame Court had emptied and there were no more buyers in line. Tetzin kept a look-out on the court while Aquitz, Yoliya and Iggy entered the dug out with the referee, to do “business”. Once inside, Aquitz explained that Iggy was under their control, and they were interested in selling her as a blood donor, knowing that the vampires valued tabaxi blood as much as any anthropo delicacy. To cement the ruse, Iggy surreptitiously cast thaumaturgy to give the impression of being in a held person spell. Yoliya posed as bodyguard, while Huemac sniffed gingerly at the star Ballgame player sitting in some form of trance on a bench.

271867557_288587223337245_9097577050270058254_n.png The ruse worked, and Iggy was sold for a not inconsiderable sum, confirming their suspicions of this vampire being part of the blood dealing network. The referee did however pose Aquitz some questions as to their own situation, having recognized Aquitz by the smell of their blood. Apparently, Aquitz’ own blood had made it this far to feed this vampire. Keeping his rage in check, Aquitz fobbed off the questions as not a concern for doing good business, and the gold exchanged hands. Attempting to take control of Iggy, the vampire was flummoxed for a second at the lack of effect of his entrancement. At the moment of distraction, Iggy struck and the battle began.

The vampire jumped back as the gash on his face revealed the pallor skin under his sun protection make-up. He threw off his white cloak and released undead snakes from his sleeves. Yoliya and Huemac engaged the snakes as Aquitz started casting at the vampire. He was a fast opponent, biting down on Aquitz who succumbed more easily to the vampire as he had tasted Aquitz’ blood before. Iggy’s lit up like the sun and the villain began to fester and burn. Yetla popped out of Iggy’s bag to cast a healing spell, to prevent Aquitz from loosing consciousness. The poison of the snakes taking a toll on everybody, they still managed to surround the vampire and kill him. As he fell to the ground, the snakes turned to dust.

a6cca69ed858ed6539c1de0f9ecb10bc.png Tetzin ran in to the sounds of battle, but it was over by the time he arrived. He helped heal his friends regain their health by laying on hands as they considered their next action. The vampire dead; the Ballgame player came out of his trance. He explained is name was Utiquetla, famous throughout Pezelac as RedDevil5, frontline Ballgame player extraordinaire. The party learn that he remembers little for the last few months except the ball games. There are hazy memories of making deliveries to powerful noble families in Pezelac. A perfect cover, as no one would suspect the famous Ballgame player and courtesan to make house calls to the rich. RedDevil5 felt ashamed at his abuse and promised to help the party in any way he could. He had connections.

For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out, at the old ball game

Aquitz came up with the brilliant idea of using Speak With The Dead tomorrow to learn of the vampire’s secrets, and so cut off the corpse’s head. Just as he was standing from his gruesome task a shadowy figure appears in the doorway of the dugout. The figure cast a spell and the vampire’s head flew to the figure who caught it.

NegaBarrik.png “Thank you for that, friend. I needed one of these,” the figure said and stepped out of the shade of the doorway. Out in the sun, they saw him clearly. For a moment, Aquitz thought he recognized his friend Barrik; the dwarf who had rescued him from the vampires of Chuapli. But this dwarf was charcoal skinned with glowing red eyes. “Hello, Aquitz. What a coincidence to see you again,” the figure said. “I’ll give your regards to the outsiders.” Then he ran off into the crowds around the Ballgame court.

Aquitzmortln’s spirit companion gave chase, while the vampire hunters were left with a sense of foreboding.

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Episode 28: Flamerule 1, 1488 DR
Infraction at the infirmary

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Nobody expects the Yuan-ti Infiltration

A new dawn arises on the decimated plague city of Purskul. Decimated, but for the new hope brought to it by six smallfolk laden sacks full of the incredible RosCure. The medicine produced in Maztica and miraculously transported into the heart of the pandemic bring swift relief to the masses. The staff of Roscoezenica are working around the clock to provide only the best of modern alchemy. Still, the battle against disease has only just begun. Hundreds have been cured but an entire nation awaits!

nurse_chapel_by_mdalton_d1xcpdc-fullview.jpg The heroes gathered in the infirmary to help with coordinating the relief efforts, under the guidance of Nurse Chapel and that loveable scamp, Esteban. Only without Jacques, the gloomy little rogue has not been seen for five days and his comrades are beginning to worry. Roscoe, the last to step through the frame into the infirmary, deposits his precious medicine on the center table next to rows and rows of empty glazed clay vials waiting to return to the village Coxi.

Nurse Chapel took a pile of fresh folded linen from Esteban and handed them around.

“Well, it is a good thing you came back when you did,” she said. “The city is at breaking point, what with the Red Racoon gang and the famine and all that on top of the plague. It just goes to show the frailty of humanity.” She moved back to the frame to start polishing it.

“Perhaps the gods saw that some races were simply not fit for their station. Don’t you think? Now that we have the cure back in our possession, the field is ripe for tending by a Ssssssuperior Race.” Her eyes blinked horizontally, and her forked tongue lisped between her teeth when she said the last words.

At that moment the air in the magic frame flickered, and a portal appeared to some cavernous space lit by pink and green glow, ships masts swayed in the distance, and Zastania stepped through. Obelix, reacting fast and being right next to Nurse Chapel, cast Command and told Nurse Chapel “Flee!”

She tried to escape through the frame, but Zastania grabbed her by the throat and slammed her to the ground. “Tainted One’s do not run!”

“Yes, mistress, may I have another?” she mumbled through broken teeth on the floor.

warlock_yuna-ti.jpg Zastania turned to the heroes, who were grabbing their weapons. “Utter fools! Yuan-ti alchemy is the finest is the world!” She screeched at the heroes. At that, ten snakes crawled out from under various beds and a basement door and shapeshifted into Yuan-ti Malison type 3 warriors, with wicked scimitars dripping with venom. Esteban dived for cover under one of the center tables while the heroes charged the enemy, very much aware that they were surrounded by almost a hundred innocent and helpless people in sickbeds at the brink of death.

Chaos erupted as the enemy closed in. In the center of the room Fisher was surrounded and pressed hard, taking as many cuts as he gave. Barrik waded through the throng to get to him but was ensnared by one of their tails and forced to face his own threat. Gnomardo and Roscoe, having just raised defensive spells aimed their spells at the yuan-ti but kept their attacks narrow to avoid hurting innocents, or their friends. Zastania tried to push Obelix back with an eldritch blast, but Roscoe was keeping an eye on her and counterspelled it. She seemed very different from the last time they faced her. She used to be stoic and poker-faced. Now she looked entirely insane: deep grimace lines framed the sneer on her face, the rage in her eyes made only more disturbing by their twitching inability to focus on anything. One of the yuan-ti warrior came to her aid while another, spellcasting, tried Suggestion but Obelix shook it off.

Warriors had closed in on Roscoe and Gnomardo, distracting them from coming to Fisher’s aid. Fisher disappeared momentarily from the fight, and the enemy panicked momentarily, eyeing the room. When he reappeared, he dodged under a table to escape the fray. Unfortunately, the snake-like beings sensed where he was immediately and slithered under the table as easily as they would enter a rabbit hole.

Infirmary at Purskul

Zastania finally got one of her warriors between her and Obelix. She cast Chain Lightning from a wand, Striking Obelix, and then ricocheting to kill two unfortunate patients and Barrik, who the fell limp from the coil he was ensnared in. The battle moved to the center of the room as Fisher was again encircled, finally fell to the now dozens of scimitar wounds. As if nothing happened, Barrik got up, brushed off the static from the chain lightning and laid into the fray. Working together, they finally laid low one of the yuan-ti.

Zastania shrieked “Enough dawdling! Everything weak dies!” and grabs Nurse Chapel’s hand, for she was still cowering by her mistress’s side. Zastania pulled out a wicked looking dagger much like the one Barrik destroyed months ago and hacked off Chapel’s hand at the wrist. Chapel screamed as Zastania threw the hand into the center of the room. It let off a tremendous fireball directly over the fray, grievously wounding many of her own warriors and blasting the table apart and engulfing Fisher body. She then cast a Cone of Cold from her wand killing a number of her own and engulfing Obelix, Barrik and Roscoe who by now out of desperation rushed into the melee. Barrik began to cast Mass Heal knowing that this would turn the tides of battle. To everyone’s surprise, Esteban, their loyal friend, poked his head from under one of the tables and cast Counterspell on it. Then the Yuan-ti spellcaster threw another fireball into the midst for good measure. Burning pieces of yuan-ti went flying as a smoldering Roscoe and Obelix continued to hack and smash into the remaining snake people, who even as they were being crippled by their mistress fought on with reckless fanaticism.

Barrik, relentlessly getting up once against from a wound that would have killed many a dwarf, saw Fisher’s little body so mangled and burned that it was barely indistinguishable from the ruin of the yuan-ti bodies. Yet there were still too many enemies and without their fighter, he feared this battle could not be won. He pulled out the Rod of Resurrection, pointed it at Fisher and cast. Radiance surrounded Fisher’s body, flickered for a moment, then faded. Barrik’s battle adrenaline turned to a cold sweat when he realized: something beyond his ken was blocking it.

Like everything Maztican, Death is spicy

Fisher floated through the vast gray fog, leaving the material plane behind him. He had realized instinctively that he died, and was likely hurtling through the Astral plane to the Lords of the Golden Hills. Oddly, he felt no remorse… he felt nothing, in fact. He vaguely remembered stories from childhood… suspecting that Callarduran Smoothhands, patron deity of the Svirfneblin, awaited with open arms. He was a good ‘neblin, after all. He must have been, right? He couldn’t really recall what he did in life, but it was probably pretty cool. Oh well, onwards and upwards.

He felt a tug at his leg, and slowed down….caught on something? How weird. He looked back and saw a massive obsidian obelisk, no, it’s a claw, but the size of a barn, pinching his foot. The claw extended down an enormous red finger attached to a hand the size of a city block. An arm a mile long stretched into the mist, and attached to a blood red being the size of a mountain. It burst out of an emerald tear between the planes, taking chunks of an unknown Maztican city in the Material plane scattering about the Astral. Like this.

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In his soul a voice reverberated from that being in a language he did not understand, but the meaning was certain as death and taxes: “YOU WILL NOT ESCAPE ME AGAIN ADMIRAL ZIRCONEYE! NOT IN THIS TIME, NOR IN ANY OTHER!”

Storm in a tea cup

“Something is wrong! She’s here! Get me closer!” Arapuca spoke in Gnomardo’s mind as the radiance from Fisher’s corpse faded. Gnomardo teleported away from the yuan-ti engaging him with a thunderous boom, shattering the monster and all the windows in the infirmary, and ended up within (elongated) arms reach of the melee.

Roscoe, too, saw Barrik struggle with the Rod, and felt at a loss of what to do. Lucky crawled out of Roscoe’s sleeve and shouted at him “Papa! Use it! Use it now!!”

alessio-ciaffi-dd2019-01-quasit-disturb__1_.jpg “What? Use what, Lucky?!” Roscoe stammered.

“The present! The father’s day present!”

Roscoe fished the tiny tea cup made from an acorn out of his component pouch. “How?”

“JUST USE IT, YOU SORRY EXCUSE FOR A HEDGE MAGE!” Lucky screeched.

Shocked at Lucky’s language, completely overwhelmed by the situation, Roscoe crushed the tiny artifact in his hand, hoping that is how it was “used”. His eyes disappeared from his skull and body paralyzed. Seeing their prey so vulnerable, the yuan-ti turned to the halfing. Obelix engaged to protect the halfing while Barrik desperately pushed as much faith as he could into the Rod, but it was like pushing a mountain.

Gnomardo extended his aberrant arm across the melee, swerving between the combatants, and grabbed Roscoe’s shoulder, pulling him out of danger and entering the theater of Roscoe’s mind and seeing what he saw.

Family ties

Roscoe appeared in what he recognized in as the Astral plane from his studies. A meter or a mile away from him, distance was bizarre here when you tried to focus on it, was Fisher’s spirit, flailing at the end of a clawed red hand like a mosquito smashing against a castle. In the distance, the being of preposterous proportions filled the Astral, tearing out of a hole from the material and bringing chunks of it with it.

Mictlantecuhtli

Watching from a balcony in the theater of Roscoe’s mind, Arapuca whispered to Gnomardo. “Mictlantecuhtli.”

Far, far off in the distance was a white light, Barrik, trying to pull at Fisher’s spirit, but it could not offend the strength of the god in their midst. Roscoe put a hand on Fisher’s foot to try to pry it free. As he touched the claw, indigo flashed behind him. Itzapaplotl, appearing for the first time to him in clear sight, filled the sky with her black butterfly wings. Her terrible beauty infused Roscoe with both fear and excitement. With a hand that easily could have squelched both Fisher and Roscoe’s spirits forms, she batted Mictlantecuhtli’s claw away and Fisher was released. “Stay out of my affairs, Mother! These are MINE!”

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Fisher’s spirit suddenly hurtled towards Barrik’s light. As the material plane pulled at Fisher, consciousness of who he was – who he IS – came into focus. He turned his spiritual body towards Mictlantecuhtli, flipped two middle fingers at the god and said “If you want my soul, you will have to pay for it biiiiiiiiiii-”

Fisher’s soul slammed into his barely operable body, his crusty burned skin creaked and cracked like ancient leather as he sat up, eyes wide “-iiiiiiiitch!” and coughed.
Watching from the balcony of the theater, Gnomardo saw Roscoe now alone on stage but for a massive red hand turned towards him. “Pull him out! Pull him out!” shouted Arapuca and with a flourish of his paint brush Gnomardo painted a trap door onto the stage. It opened, a tentacle snaked out and pulled Roscoe into the hole of the stage.

Roscoe’s eyes, his real eyes, blinked as the smoked and blood filled infirmary came into focus when Gnomardo let go of his shoulder. Zastania, her eyes not entirely focused in the direction of Fisher, roared in rage. She grabbed Chapel by the hair and pulled the nurse up from the floor.

Chapel murmured, “Mistress, did I do good? Have I been a good girl?”

Zastania wordlessly plunged her foul dagger into Chapel’s midsection, and violently pulled out so that guts and blood sprayed all over the magic frame. Its white wood turned black and the portal opened again to the green and pink cavern. Zastania pulled the dying Chapel in with her and called over her shoulder as she stepped over the threshold, “Come, Tainted One, there is another Death here. Myrkul is patient.” Esteban ran from his hiding spot to the portal. Just as it closed behind him, he looked back at Fisher. A tear escaped his eye and Fisher saw him quietly mouth “I’m sorry”. The portal closed just as the Yuan-ti spellcaster tried to escape too, he clawed uselessly at the frame, hissing in frustration. His cowardice was rewarded with a swift death as the heroes’ blades and magic poured into his back.

The remaining four Yuan-ti quickly shapeshifted into snakes to make their escape, three did as one was killed, mid-shift. The sounds of violence were suddenly gone, and what remained was the cheerful crackle of fire as tables burned and smoke danced out the broken windows, clearing the air. Roscoe turned to Barrik to say something triumphant but caught his breath. Barrik looked forlornly at the Rod of Resurrection as it crumbled to dust in his hands. Dozens of patients in the infirmary, who had witnessed the magics of hell and metal of armies explode in their faces within one minute, began to slowly clap. Weak as they were, it did not last long, and then they heard through the open door to the basement someone softly croak, “Obelix…”

Keeping a promise

96ed95721bc29f4dfa0010e5e6d7b176.jpg Downstairs they found Oegraemo, the former mayor of Purskul who they thought dead of plague since their time at sea months ago. He was naked and tied up by his hands to a post, wounds covered his body. He had obviously been tortured repeatedly. Obelix healed his physical wounds with his Lay on Hands, but the mental anguish would take longer to heal. Gnomardo cut him down and covered him with a blanket. Oegraemo explained that the yuan-ti were hunting the heroes, and guessing that Oegraemo was in league with them because he had lent Obelix his grandfather’s warhammer, they continued to torture him.

He explained that the Yuan-ti had come shortly after they had reappeared through the magic frame when they were at sea. First they captured Nurse Chapel and subjected her to horrible poisons and torture. They used her position at the infirmary to get close to Oegraemo and Esteban. Then they captured Oegraemo, and tried to do the same. The poisons and torture were designed to turn them into Tainted Ones; slaves of the yuan-ti. But it didn’t work on him, possibly because of his half-orc heritage, so they just continued to torture him, calling his species “too based” to serve a pure race. That is when Esteban, by then immune to the plague and a respected figure in the city, was captured in Oegraemo’s stead, and turned into a Tainted One by the same foul means. The Yuan-ti continued to operate the infirmary in order to get their hands on the cure and the ones who reproduced it.

lonnar_foam_larp_hammer_calimacil_losn32fhbn_full__1_.png Oegraemo never told them anything during the entire endurance. He kept faith in the smallfolk, he said, as he offered a closed fist to Obelix. Obelix realized that he was trying to open his hand, but it was clenched shut. He had not opened his fist throughout his trial. With difficulty, Obelix managed to pry it open, and found crumpled up the pamphlet that he and Barrik had given Nurse Chapel.

“I knew you would come back and make due on your promise. I never lost faith. Never,” Oegraemo said.

His heart moved, Obelix offered the warhammer back to Oegraemo. “This is yours. It served me well, thank you.”

“Keep it. It does the world more good in your hands than over my hearth,” Oegraemo said with a smile.

End on a high note

As the heroes carried Oegraemo back upstairs on Kumonga’s back next to an exhausted Fisher, they heard Nahuel Huapi calling from the magic frame. “Hello? Anyone alive? What in the name of the Great SkyHome happened here!?” she asked surveying the smouldering wreckage from the safety of the Roscoezenica Tower in Coxi. After a breif explanation, a man’s head popped up from behind her. He was clad in the traditional pochteca travel garb.

“Pochteca-gram for Roscoe. Pochteca-gram for Roscoe,” he repeated. Roscoe stepped forward. “It’s in some kind of code, sir,” the pochteca said in Maztican. Roscoe ofcourse understood but saw that the llama-velum scroll held up to the portal threshold was in fact written in Faerunian. Poorly.

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“Barrik,” Roscoe said trepedidly. “We may have a wee small teeny tiny problem.”

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Episode 27: Kythorn 25 - Flamerule 1, 1488 DR
A healing city

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All around the watchtower

Upon returning to Coxi with the frame in tow from the sea-side, the heroes gathered in the village square and called the villagers for a meet. When all were gathered, Roscoe gave a stirring speech about how they had come from across the sea to find a cure for a plague ravaging their lands, and they had found it right here in Coxi! However, they needed the villagers now, as many hands would be needed to produce all the medicine needed. Those who volunteered would be paid handsomely for their efforts, gain new medicinal skills, and help make Coxi a prosperous town! Gnomardo emphasized Roscoe’s words with a bit of glamorous magics, and Fisher scanned the crowd, looking for that glint in people’s eyes that separated the businessmen from the goldbugs. The entire village cheered at the promise of prosperity.

Galder’s Tower stood on a rise at the edge of the village Coxi, overlooking the famous battleground now known as Thunderlizard Theater. Roscoe had spent a while drawing up the plans for the laboratory which took up the entire tower for the production of the plague’s medicine, which he called The RosCureTM. 200 square feet was quite cramped even for a simple lab, let alone a production facility. Between the ezcochitli farm and the tower were rows and rows of hundreds of drying flowers. The prepared flowers would enter the ground floor, be processed by a half a dozen newly trained villagers, and then the product would go to the second floor for packing and over to Purskul, Amn through the frame which also remained in the tower. By the time all the flowers were processed, a new batch of flowers will have bloomed with the aid of the Plant Growth spell cast by Nahuel Huapi. Then some villagers who were amateur plumaweavers would take turns casting Mage Hand to harvest another batch. Working in shifts so that the work could go on continuously, a total of 20 people worked a day on the operation. 5 silver a day was not a great wage in Amn, but out in Maztica it was a handsome compensation, and out here in the boonies it was unheard of. The party pot would last about 200 days at this rate. More than enough time to attract more funds once commerce was re-established in Amn, according to Fisher.

Some kinda way out of here

3b9307eb72cb1c04249eceb4e12fe574.jpg The first to go through the frame once it was set up in the tower was Jacques. He entered their house in Purskul to find a sleeping Esteban who was overjoyed to finally see them after months of absence. After a brief recounting of their adventures, Jacques asked what has been going on. Locally, Esteban had become acting Mayor, as he was the only one immune and, at least in this quarter of the city, the face most people saw bringing water and comfort to the starving in their homes. He and Nurse Chapel continued to run the infirmary, but supplies were always low and city had run out of funds to buy what little food came in from the farms and hamlets. The north half of the city had been taken over by a gang called the Red Racoons. They hoarded food, plundered and extorted the city in general. It’s said they are led by a foreigner, called the Lady in Red. Esteban thinks it’s the same red-clad sorceress who led his gang back when he blockaded the river, but he hasn’t told anyone yet.

Further afield, all was not well in Amn. No news had come from the capital Athkatla since a month ago. Last was heard that relations between Baldur’s Gate and Cormyr broke down as each increased trade tariffs in response to the plague and they are now fully at war. The war has spilled over into Amn as Baldur’s Gate expands influence and there is no resistance here. Rumours are that the plague may have reached as far north as Waterdeep and as far east as Sembia . Jacques decided to investigate this Red Racoon gang and set off on the thieves’ highway.

The following day Barrik went through the frame, carrying the first batch of RosCure. He took it straight to the infirmary, where he started administering it to the sick. Many were so far gone that it was unsure if they got the cure in time, but there was always a chance. It would take days for some to recover, even with magic and medicine. The following day, Obelix came through, and he carried the frame from the house to be set up in the infirmary. He was happy to see Nurse Chapel again and asked her how her dedications to Moradin were going. She mumbled something about being very busy and went about her duties. Slightly saddened, he resolved to find a local printer and get more pamphlets made.

It was the next day when Fisher who would go through with a load, and Gnomardo stopped him for a moment. Everyone else had signed their name in Gnomardo’s Tome of Shadows, which allowed them to communicate at any distance telepathically with Gnomardo as if using the Sending spell. Even Lucky, to Roscoe’s great surprise, had at some point put his paw print. Fisher reckoned it would be a good idea for him to, it was a very useful trick. And after all, he had written in the book before, hadn’t he? The book should know him. As Fisher inked a quill and brought it closer to a blank page, script began to write on the page by itself. The page filled quickly and while Fisher could not read Deep Speech he knew the format of a Turmish Chamber of Commerce Contract when he saw one. There at the bottom was a space for his name. He decided to wait with signing until he had a chance to decipher and read the contract with Gnomardo’s help.

No reason to get excited

manipulation-roof-village-cat-full-moon-stars.jpg Roscoe was the last to go to Amn through the frame. He had been overseeing the laboratory and felt confident now in his staff. Nahuel had been observing him recast Galder’s Tower these past five days and had learned the spell herself, albeit with a plumaweaver’s flavour. The thatched roof was now thatched with feathers instead of hay, and the grey stone had turned adobe. She agreed to continue casting the spell and hopefully, if they could keep this up for a year, it would be permanent. Roscoe bid adieu and went through the frame into the infirmary. The smell of death still lingered here, as did many of the ill in their cots, some recovering faster than others thanks to RosCure, but not all. He went to their house across the street and found Gnomardo and Obelix preparing dinner. It was basic food compared to what they had gotten used to in Maztica. Given the situation, it may be worth getting the village to sell fresh fish through the frame. Jacques had not yet returned since perusing the Red Racoon gang. Roscoe looked out the window at the rising full moon and wondered how his friend was doing.

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Episode 26: Kythorn 24 - Kythorn 25, 1488 DR
Raising the frame

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Brains on the Beach

By the time Obelix, Barrik, and Gnomardo returned from Patil to Coxi, Roscoe, Fisher, and Jacques had collected a sizable amount of the ezcochitli flowers. Hundreds and hundreds had been laid out to dry in the sun before processing. While waiting for that, the heroes needed to retrieve the frame to get back home. The frame which Xarry had thrown overboard in the bay of Coxi when the Happy Sea Urchin was captured. With a bit of magic, they were sure to be able to retrieve it from the bay floor. He led his friends down to the beach of the bay in the early morning. The sky was pink, rain might move in. Perhaps one of the last rains for a while as summer was fast approaching. It was already hotter than high summer in Amn.

mind_flayer_by_gido_d9rdkiw-fullview.jpg The sand was undisturbed but for crab trails and a few rocky outcroppings. A seagull stood on a large boulder the size of a small boulder, cracking shells with its beak. It looked balefully at the intruders disturbing its breakfast. At the water’s edge, Xarry pointed out into the sea. “About six furlongs that way, give or take a pole.” The reed canoe they carried from Coxi thumped onto the sand. Another thump sounded from the boulder. They looked over, the seagull had flown away but nothing else seemed out of the ordinary. Then to their surprise a Mind Flayer stepped out from behind the boulder, pointed at the ground in front of itself and a brilliant flash erupted. When the light died down, a floating horror made the heroes blanch as they unsheathed their weapons.

Mindwitness-5e.jpg The mindwitness, for that is what it was but they did not know yet, was a large hovering mass of tentacles with milky white eyes on the end of some akin to a beholder. One massive pallid orb in the center focussed on the party. Underneath the monstrosity appeared five small figures. A brain with four chicken feet, and four gray skinned crawling humanoids covered in spikes. Fisher, Obelix and Barrik charged forward as the portation spell completed; Jacques, happy to have the illithid skull in his possession, hide behind some outcroppings and bid his time.

starspawngrue.jpg The small creatures scuttled forward in formation, straight to Gnomardo. Roscoe recognized the walking brain and saw the trap. An intellect devourer, and those spiked humanoids seemed to be guarding it. Roscoe shouted “Target the walking brain! Kill it first!!” and launched a fireball at the small creatures as they were halfway down the beach. Three of the humanoids were blasted to pieces, one a survived with a smoking hide and the brain shriveled to a husk but still was pressing forward. Xarry threw his spear but missed; Gnomardo started blasting eldritch magic at it and killed the thing. With a dagger throw from his hidden spot, Jaqcues killed the last humanoid.

Intellect-Devourer.jpg The illithid responded with a mind blast, at the charging dwarves. They luckily shook off the stun effect and gritted their teeth through the pain of psychic power tearing their minds. As they closed in on the mindwitness they suffered various magical deteriorating affects, but once in close quarters they slaughtered the monster. Fisher raced past them and under suppressing fire from Gnomardo engaged the illithid. After slicing off a face tentacle, Fisher was perilously close to being grabbed but kept the enemy’s attention on himself until, as reliable as ever, Jacques’ blade opened the illithid’s back up. Soft sounds of calm waves lapping the shore replaced the din of battle; the assailants’ blood tried quickly in the rising sun.

The way home retrieved

“That was easy!” shouted Obelix. “Squidfaces got nothing on us!”

“No, that was lucky,” said Roscoe, destroying the magic circle hidden under sand used by the illithid to ’port in the monsters. He kicked the remains of the intellect devourer. “If this thing had gotten close to anyone, it would have been instant death.” He pointed at the other corpses. “It seems the assault team was designed specifically to help it brain-switch with its target, rather than kill us.” Roscoe turned to face Gnormado, ominously.

“I guess that would be me?” Gnomardo asked sheepishly. “How did they even find us? We haven’t seen their like since Dr Errorem attacked us.”

“No, remember the mozgriken at Ulatos?” said Jacques. “But I’ve been holding the ’flayer skull since then. I should be invisible to ’flayers.” All eyes turned to Fisher.

“Fuck off, I’m svirfneblin! I can’t be found unless I want to be found, remember?” he snorted.

“Look, I’ve constantly been doing what I can to prevent scrying on us for days anyway,” said Roscoe.

“You have? For days? Why?” asked Obelix.

“Uh… well, just because, you know? Matter of habit. A new habit,” Roscoe stammered. “Anyhue, something else is afoot!”

Sensing discomfort, Xarry spoke up. “Ahem, gentleman, perhaps we can discuss this after low tide has past…” he pointed back out to sea. He set about preparing the canoe.

Jaqcues, searching the illithid (and cutting off a few useful pieces for later) found nothing of use except a ring, but recognized it as being identical to one they had found earlier on the undead broodguard: a ring of mind shielding. So identical in fact that it seemed to be from the same silversmith. Creepy. He tossed it to Barrik. “You could use this. Can’t have anyone just randomly detecting undead on you.” Barrik caught it and smiled sullenly.

They rowed out bast the breakwaves and with detect magic managed to find the frame, 20 feet down. Xarry swam down and tied a rope around it, they hauled it up onto Tenser’s floating disk and brought it back to shore.

As they made their way back to Coxi, Xarry asked, “How are you going to process all those flowers? It will take months to make the hundreds, if not thousands, of the doses necessary.”

“I am glad you asked my friend!” exclaimed Fisher. He unfurled a long scroll full of calculations, tables, and figures. “I have found the exact amount we can pay the villagers to help us; they can then afford to stop subsistence farming and import food at market cost for their labour, and we already have enough money to invest in this. The added benefit is bringing industry to Coxi, jobs, commerce! Since we can’t charge for the medicine,” he looked slyly at Barrik and Obelix, “the village will profit from skill gain, and we’ll profit from financial properties in supporting businesses! It’s win-win with no externalities!”

Xarry looked at the mad scrawling of numbers like he was staring at some unimaginably malevolent force waiting to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world. “But… where? You don’t have any facilities in all of Maztica for this.”

Roscoe scoffed. “Well, I’ll just conjure a tower out of thin air!”

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B-Team, Episode 1
Longbox of the Damned

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Sleepy town; sleepy inn. Daren’t sleep within!

The sleepy town of Hakl on the Zlihi river barely could sustain an establishment of the famous Starptux xocolatl house on its own population. It was a comfortable river-stop between the capital Pezelac and the Chuapli delta that emptied out into the Eastern Sea. There was just enough commerce from pochteca passing through that an enterprising proprietor could (just) make a living combining the Starptux franchise with their own alcoholic and food establishment. The Combination Starptux and Taco-Campana had three customers today. Two men playing dice in a corner, nursing their yerba-mate and Tetzin, staring pensively at his empty bowl of champurrado.

Tetzin.jpg Tetzin was a rugged looking combat-sailor, once dedicated to Eha, goddess of wind, a useful deity to sailors, but now… maybe still a little, but now someone else holds his gratitude. Or is it his debt? These questions plagued his mind often. While work on the river paid less than work at sea, he wasn’t ready to face the great horizon again just yet. It was not the threat of sharks or raiding sahuagin or other beasts of the sea that perturbed him; rather the chance of looking for that one spark, that touch of grandness and deep majesty he had felt, and turning up empty.

A quetzaldaun covered in black and orange feathers ducked their tall head as they entered the establishment. They looked around, beady yellow and red eyes resting for a moment on Tetzin, or rather Tetzin’s empty bowl, then they approached the bar. Their back turned, Tetzin cast Eldritch Eyes and to peak at this rare bird person and saw not much more out of the ordinary than a few feathered trinkets emanating faint magic.

aquitzmotln.png “What booze have you got?” they squawked quietly.
The barman looked up. “ Pulque or tequila.”
“No coyol chicha ?” The fermented sap from the coyol palm was much stronger than pulque and did him well in the sun.
The barman shook his head and frowned.

Now normally Aquitzmortln would not bother with tequila. That drink was a bastardization of pulque introduced by the invaders of the east in his grandsire’s time, but recently Aquitzmortln had reason to suffer Faerunians a bit more, at least the short ones. Besides, tequila was even stronger than chicha. After their ordeal in Chuapli forest and fruitless efforts to track down more of the vampires, a stiff drink was needed. Aquitzmortln paid and took his drink to sit by the man with the empty bowl. He had a look of a river boater, so perhaps could share any information he heard from up or down river for another bowl.

While Tetzin and Aquitz talked, another man walked in carrying a foot long wooden box. He had the gait of a cripple, put the box on the bar and said something to the barman. The barman nodded hesitantly and went through a door in the back. Tetzin, watching out of the corner of his eye, knew a contraband trade when he saw one. The box emanated abjuration magic. Not one to partake in drugs, he had no qualms about making some profit on them. He hadn’t expected this kind of trade to happen in this place, though.

d2zi2t4-424dcf32-f7cc-4839-8536-4880b59e8841.jpg Then a strikingly beautiful lady walked in. She had dark olive skin, long white hair, and piercing golden eyes. As if nothing else could distract from her presence, two panthers slipped between her and the door. Everyone tensed for a moment before realizing that these panthers were not random encounters but seemed trained by her. One of them padded over to Aquitz and sniffed at his clawed feet. The other circled around the man with the box, who seemed not to pay any attention to the panther. The lady remained in the doorway, blocking the exit.

“Uhm… can I help you?” asked Aquitz inquisitively to the lady. To his surprise, it was the jaguar sniffing him that spoke.
“I speak for Yoliyamanitzin. I am Huemac. I tracked your blood,” said the jaguar.
“My… blood?” Aquitz’ mood darkened. Yoliya pointed her spear at the box on the counter. black-panther-g30ddbfa82_1920__1_.jpg

Aquitz got up and moved to the box, and the man turned to leave. Aquitz put a hand on his shoulder to stop him, and he pulled out a knife. It grazed their feathers as Aquitz jumped aside. Yoliya stepped forward and thrust her spear through his back. The man fell to the floor and the illusion covering him dissipated, revealing a zombie corpse. The two card players took the opportunity to make a quick exit, while Tetzin put himself between the box and the barman as the latter returned holding a bag of coin.

“What have we here?” Tetzin asked as he pulled a cutlass on the barman with one hand and fostered to the box behind him with the other.
The barman stared at the zombie on the floor, white in the face. “Oh my gods…” he whispered.
“Open the box,” Tetzin repeated. If the magic was a trap, he didn’t want to touch it. Yoliya watched intently, the two jaguars sitting at her heels. Aquitz shook his mangled wings in anticipation.

The man hesitantly untied the rope holding the lid down. “I don’t know what’s in it, I swear. I’m just a go between,” he stammered. The box opened and the abjuration magic Tetzin detected dissipated. The box inside was very warm, probably the spell keeping the temperature steady. Inside, packed in hay, were 9 jars of filled with liquids.
Mostly red, they had labels on them of various animal icons. A cat, a bear, a turtle… Tetzin picked up one with a bird.

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“That’s yours,” said Huemac with a sniff towards Aquitz.

The quetzaldaun bridled with rage, grabbed the barman with a talon by the hair and pulled him over the bar, slamming him on the floor next to the zombie. They slammed a clawed foot onto the barman’s chest and pushed down hard. “What is the meaning of this!?” the bird man screeched.

The barman choked and sputtered. “I don’t know! I had no idea it was blood! I don’t know the corpse! Thought it was drugs or something! I just buy these boxes and sell them to anyone who has the password for double!”

“What’s the password?” asked Tetzin?

“It’s c- ca- CAMATZOTZ!” the barman sputtered.

“Oh you fucking idiot!” Aquitz sighed. They pulled the man up to his feet. “Who else delivers these boxes? Who is your contact?”

“It’s always a different guy. The first one was no different from the rest, just random people. All I had to do was not open the box and not ask questions. Will you let me go?”

Tetzin said, “I believe him,” looking at the corpse. “It’s obvious that someone went to great pains to make sure no one would talk. Whoever the caster is, they will know their illusion failed, and their zombie died. You should take what you can carry and leg it.”

“You don’t need to tell me twice,” the barman said as he grabbed a sack and started filling it with belongings.

Aquitz picked up the box. “I’ll be taking this.” He was quite sure that the other animal faces represented rare humanoid species like his own; tortles, ursines, tabaxi and the like. Vampires considered their blood a delicacy. Yoliya cleared her throat and when all eyes were on her, she waved a finger around the room and made the sign of fire.

“She says we should burn the place down,” rumbled Huemac. “Then we should go to the village temples, the priesthood need to know what is going on.” The other jaguar tailed the barman as he ran outside with his belongings.

A bloody good start!

The besides the numerous shrines to the Heavenly Family, the village had only a single full temple. Dedicated to Watil, goddess of plants and farming, it sported a measly 64 steps and barely reaching the tops of the older trees in the Pezmix Forest to the west. At the base, they catch a priestess just starting to climb the steps. She is an ancient crone but turns to her guests with a warm and kind smile. They explain the situation, and she nods gravely at the end. Yetla, for that was her name, asked if they three would pursue this network of blood dealers for the sake of the village, the gods, and their honor. For the village had very little means to deal with this. Aquitz said he had his own reasons to pursue them already. Through Huemac, Yoliya explained she had already been pursuing them. That left Tetzin to think for a moment. A smuggler most of his life, perhaps there was money to be made in breaking other smuggling rings? And no one could complain if he stole from actual vampires, after all. “I’m in.”

Yetla led them up the steps for a blessing to aid their quest. The smoke from the burning Combination Starptux and Taco-Campana darkened the setting sun. Only halfway up the pyramid a giant bad swooped down upon the party from the eastern night and ripped Yetla’s head from her shoulders. Her body tumbled down the steps, covering them with blood as they had been in the bygone days of human sacrifice. The three adventurers gave chase and brought the bat down with spells and arrows. They collected Yetla’s head and brought it to the top of the temple along with her body. There stood a young priest not much older than Tatzin’s sideburns, quaking at the sight he had beheld. They had no means to bring Yetla back to life, and the boy explained that she was of such an age it was doubtful that Watil would let her return. The leadership of the temple now fell to him, Yivna, Yetla’s great grandson. He nervously performed the blessing under the smoke smeared dying sun over Yetla’s cooling body. The blood on the stairs took all night to congeal.

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Episode 25: Kythorn 20 - Kythron 22, 1488 DR
Every rose has its thorn

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We both lie silently still, In the dead of the night

The candles in the museum burned low as the heroes discussed deep into the night what to do with Barrik’s heart. Until they can find a priest of Qotal powerful enough and independent enough of the bureaucracy to consecrate it, it would continue to burn and give ill-luck to the holder, and Roscoe could not very well have his Mage Hand hold it aloft everywhere they went. There was also the nagging sensation that they might be scryed upon through it by Nexalan priests of Zaltec.

Jacques went looking through the museum for a suitable container with a lid that they could fill with water. The museum was full of crockery from all over Maztica, each piece painstakingly labeled with a date and location, unfortunately much of it was cracked or fragile. Eventually he found a jar with a lid that seemed fairly sturdy. The label said “Tikwata, Far Payit” and then a very long number which represented some date. Jacques filled it with water from the museum’s well outside and then Roscoe slowly lowered the burning undead organ into it. The flames were dowsed and the water heated, but it did not boil. Placing the lid on it, Fisher also tied it shut; they vowed to refill it periodically as some evaporation was unavoidable. Fisher also hammered wooden planks over the tzompantli, instructing Dko not to trust anyone coming through who did not have the secret knock, whatever that was.

This job done, the heroes turned in for the night for there was still much to do the next day. In bed, Jacques shifted into his jaguar form to see what sleep like this was like. He found himself unthinkingly tearing up the woolen mattress as his claws kneaded a spot at the end of the bed before laying down with his snout resting on his paws. Even though the heart was secure in the pot on a stone table, Roscoe felt it may be watching him. Or maybe he was just nerve wracked and needed sleep. Or maybe not…

Like a knife that cuts you the wound heals

The following morning the heroes find Tleeroi and Ptetrix preparing atole for everyone, a maiz based porridge sweetened with cane sugar. Teala was still asleep, as was Dko who often slept until past midday. Xarry was tending to the animals. Jacques needed to pick up an item at the weapon shop. Roscoe wanted to head to Coxi to check on the ezcotchtlis’ growth. Fisher mentioned they could teleport to the first pyramid they found the tzompantli in but that was still two days south of Coxi and the tunnels may not be safe. Jacques also was hopeful that the were-jaguars of the Chuapli forest could help speed them through the jungle instead of a three or four day journey. So Fisher and Roscoe decided to accompany Jacques before he spoke with his were-jaguar friends. In the meantime, Obelix and Barrik would stay in Patil as they wanted to scout locations for a shrine to Moradin, so that when they free the dwarves there would be a palace to welcome them so that they would not be misled again. Gnomardo decided to keep an eye on the dwarves in case that didn’t sit well with the locals.

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At the high end weapons shop where Barrik had bought Heart Attack the trio were recognized by the bouncer. The proprietaire welcomed them back and showed the order that Jacques had put it. It was a little bit different than his design as the metal springs used for such contraptions in Skullport were replaced by oiled wooden and leather composites, but it served the purpose. After purchasing it the proprietor asked for him to keep quiet about it as hidden weapons were frowned upon, and he gave a card for a colleague who dealt with armours. In the exchange Fisher asked about the plumastone that the best weapons were made of and learned that the reddish obsidian-like material that was as strong as steel was imported mostly by dwarves from the northern deserts, but that trade has dried up. There were other sources, but not as plentiful. Fisher got a sliver of plumastone for his own geological investigation, a mineral he had never come across before and one he could test out his new artificer kit on.

starptux.png Roscoe stopped by a scribe shop to procure more spell scribing material, and browse the literature in his efforts to learn more of the Maztican languages. Having spent so much money in this scribe’s shop he received a stamp card. Just four more stamps and he would get a free beverage at the local Starptux! With the last few silvers to his name, Roscoe got a wooden thimble made out of some nut that for some reason Lucky desperately wanted.

Did the words not come out right

Their purchases made, the trio went to the gazebo where they had met Queen Ilancuēitl the day before, perhaps they would make contact there. They arrived and it was empty, but soon a jaguar appeared. He called himself Felix, and explained in jaguar which only Jacques understood, that he was the Patil observer, but usually did not like to go into the city proper. Explaining their situation, Felix agreed to take them to the edge of the Chuapli Forest where someone else could help them better. A half days trek south got them to the edge of the forest where an old man was waiting for them. This ancient being was called Young Spring, and he was the Gatekeeper of the tribe. He could ferry them with a moonbridge instantly to any place in the Chuapli Forest and even to places beyond if the tribe had made the appropriate connections.

Young Spring planeshifted them to the Feywild with a smoke circle, and once there took a live mouse out of his component pouch. d647dy.jpg He bit the mouse in half, spat the head on the floor and squeezed the blood out of the body in an upright circle creating a portal. On the other end of the portal was justmore jungle, but he beckoned the heroes to follow him through. When they did they found they were on the edge of the river Zlihi, with Coxi just beyond the river.

As Fisher, Jacques and Roscoe walked into the village they were hailed by the men and women fixing fishing nets on the shore as the returning Heroes of Coxi. Giving the village folk polite waves and smiles, they made their way to Nahuel’s house, as she said she would keep an eye on the ezcochitli. They found her smiling and waiting in front of her house, much as she had been waiting for Jacques when he first swam ashore after jumping from the captured Happy Sea Urchin, or when she was waiting in front of the Kothoggo dungeon when they all emerged to rejoin Jacques, or as she had been waiting for the entire party on their return from the vampire nest. As the three friends got close her knowing smile faltered. “Wh- where are the dwarves? And Gnomardo?” she stammered. They responded that they were still in Patil, so far as they knew. She stood very still for a moment. “Fine. It’s fine. I’m fine.”

As they made their way to the ezcochitli plantation beyond the farmsteads, Jacques sensed her unease and inquired what was wrong. After some hesitation she responded that her divinations had been wrong, and she was simply loath to admit it: it almost never happened that her reading of fate would falter. Roscoe laughed nervously.

Just like every night has its dawn

f3af759fa2a7722b46b586a87741bfc1.png Once at the plantation they saw Izel’s widow silently spreading salt around the enormous plants, which had finally blossomed. She wore coconut earmuffs stuffed with wool, doubtless against the chance that the monster plant would scream terrifyingly. It was time for Roscoe to put his plan into action: he calculated that he could cast a number of unseen servants to pick the flowers and then ritual cast more at a rate that would have 9 simultaneously working before the hour was up and he had to replace one. As he began his spell, the widow moved a distance away to have a picnic, where she sipped yerba mate from a gourd. Roscoe made some makeshift earbuds incase it went pear shaped, Nahuel tied herself to a tree and clamped her hands on her ears. As the first unseen servant started picking the flowers the ezcochilty let out it’s horrid mimicry of babies crying. Roscoe and Nahuel resisted, but Jacques and Fisher fled in fear back towards the farms. By the time they were out of earshot they stopped, and turned around to return. When close enough to be affected, Jacques was able to resist but Fisher ran off again. This time he tried to make some earmuffs out of the squid suckers he had taken of the giant squid so many weeks ago, but realized once in earshot of the scream that they were open ended. After running away for a third time he packed the squid suckers with mud and that seemed to do the trick. He walked back in time to see Roscoe nearly collapse from exhaustion from many hours of continuous ritual casting. By the evening they had collected 635 flowers onto a could of Tenser’s Floating disks, and Roscoe rode on Jacques jaguar back all the way back to Coxi. As they were bedding down in their hovel they could hear Nahuel next door shouting obscenities and throwing pots about her house in rage. il_794xN.1581649397_1xzw.jpg

Once everyone was asleep Fisher snuck out and walked to the graveyard beyond the village shrine. There he went to the grave of Hualti, the old lady who had given him the Olmazca amulet. Without it they may not have gotten this far. He thanked her for the kindness. Now that they had two of the amulets, Fisher felt that the story of the Olmazca had not yet ended and perhaps his destiny was intertwined with them.

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Episode 24: Kythorn 19 - Kythorn 20 1488 DR
The temple of love

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Believing pain and fear outside

As Fisher was ferrying everybody from the ancient temple in Kultaka to the museum in Patil through the skull room teleportation amulet, Jacques took some time to harvest poison reagents from the various monsters. Roscoe tapped some blood from the drow, the only humanoid’s blood that would qualify for the summon lesser demon spell. He briefly considered leeching the tanarukk blood for spell components, but thought not to push his luck; his demonology was not as secure as he had once thought which has led to…unforeseen circumstances. Interestingly, unlike the fiends he had until now seen, these did not dissipate back to their plane of origin after death. Further study is required. Screenshot_2021-05-06_10.16.09.png

By the time the magma on the temple corners had cooled to crackling black igneous rock everyone was settled in the museum. Obelix and Barrik were herding the animals outside. Gnomardo was trying to calm a frantic Dko, who had never seen so many guests in his museum. The heroes left unspoken what they could see on each other’s faces: a hope that the enemy did not have a teleportation amulet to follow them. While rationally there was little chance of that, for if the enemy had one they would surely have found the skull room and used it by now before making the volcano ritual, the thought plagued them still. It was a safe bet that the existence of these rooms was now known, given the assumption that no ritual of that complexity would not have been scryed upon from afar by the original architect, especially since a priceless relic was part of the ritual design: the Claw of the Conciliator.

It was still early evening and the adrenaline of the battle still had everyone too on edge to sleep, the heroes decided to identify their new magical items. Dko, observing, remarked that given the location they found them in they were likely Olmazcan. He told them of the research that he had done in their absence about the skull teleportation room, properly called ‘tzompantli’.

With the fire from the fireworks up above

In ancient times, before the godswar, even before the gifts of hishna and pluma magic, there was a tribe of people who served the gods most closely. One text referred to them as the first crop of humans, the same generation that came directly after Camazotz’s creation. They were known as great travelers and spoke for the gods, presumably, and had memory of the Great Sky Home. They achieved great magical feats, but as hishna and pluma did not exist in this age it is not understood how. They carved glyphs as large as entire forests into mountain sides, geometric shapes or animal totems that can be seen littered around the True World. They built temples to the Kukul and Maztica exclusively as far south as Lopango and as far north as Anchorome. But never settled by their creations, in fact they built no cities at all. While subsequent human generations were still hunter-gatherers, the Olmazca built temples and geoglyphs to guide the roving tribes. When other tribes settled down to grow the newly gifted maize, the Olmazca continued to travel to where the gods needed them, from temple to temple using the tzompantli they built or on great golden birds of prey. As towns grew into cities and tribes turned into nations, the Olmazca retreated into the mists of time. Their temples that served as nomadic gathering points for new nations were settled on and receded below the layers of civilization over the eons.

atzektower.jpg The Olmazca were masters of travel and built many tzompantli. Tzompantli were circular rooms wringed with skulls, hundreds of them if the room was big enough form top to bottom, all looking inward, and later discovered to also have skulls looking outward on the outer walls. Previously thought to be merely a sacrificial shrine, these were actually ingenious teleportation circles. Beams of light lanced from the skulls’ eyes and struck the person in the tower who could activate the circle. The person (or persons if one was being held on to) would appear to disintegrate. They would reintegrate in another tzompantli, completely unharmed and seemingly instantly. These tzompantli must be built on ley line crossings so presumably it worked like some variant of leywalker dweomers. We know for sure that it required a key to be activated and the memory of having been in a specific tzompantli. It is presumed that the great glyphs around the True World were used to navigate their golden eagles.

The Olmazca retreated as actors in most nations’ traditions around the time when Camazotz was killed by Zaltec, an act which caused Kukul to lose interest in humanity and let his children providence the True World as they saw fit. When Maztica was killed by her son and Kukul abandoned the True World, it seems great internal strife destroyed what remained of the Olmazca. They slowly faded to legend and by the time new magic was brought to humanity in the form of hishna and pluma they were but a myth.

Dko could not find any information on how the tzompantli were built, but there was a warning regarding their building that they should never be constructed near a Void River, although that reference is completely unknown.

Luckily for everyone the museum was not short on beds, in fact there were dozens as furniture displays collected from all around Maztica. Gnomardo of course stayed up, pondering the Claw that was now in his possession, grabbed by the being Arapuca in his arm (or was it in his mind?) who slept and would not be roused.

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You run for cover in the temple of love

Screenshot_2022-02-19_205715.png As everyone rouse to the smell of fresh cornbread, spiced xocoatl, and the cacophony of animals outside, their thoughts turned to their next move. There was much to do in different places, but one problem starred unfeelingly at the table before her, unable or unwilling to eat, to speak or, it seemed, to sleep all night. The little girl they rescued was catatonic. The last soldier, whose name was Ptetrix, felt that he was responsible for her. He was not of her village, but being stationed there during the mobilization he was the closest she had to a fellow villager. Ptetrix was at a loss on how to handle this, as Beltixar the retinue’s priest commander and confidant was now dead. Tleeroi advised to perhaps take the girl to the temple of Kiltzi here in Patil. Kiltzi was the god of love and family; her priestesses were some of the most effective healers among the Mazticans, for both physical ailment and emotional distress. Perhaps they could help the girl and advise. Tleeroi offered to accompany him.

Ever suspicious and reminded of his own distressing childhood at the hands of unscrupulous people in Skullport, Jacques insisted that his friends check if Ptetrix was of honest nature and not taking on the responsibility of a child for nefarious ends such as slavery or worse. Apologizing profusely but also not wanting to argue with Jacques on this, Roscoe subjected Ptetrix to a detect thoughts spell, which Ptetrix consented to after a brief explanation.

They found a genuinely concerned and honorable warrior, who like most soldiers of his station had never expected to live beyond 40. A glorious death in battle is what they craved and they even swore off sex, which certainly must have an aggressive affect on the soldiery. Roscoe decided to join Ptetrix and Tleeroi going to the temple of Kiltzi, for he could use some priestly advice, glancing at Barrik’s heart burning cheerily on a stone display pedestal. Jacques decided to tag along not entirely trusting Roscoe going off on his own, Fisher and Gnomardo also joined, not entirely trusting Jacques’ distrust.

Reaching a stepped pyramid carved with scenes of romantic love as well as family and children playing, it was obvious they were at the right place. The central steps led all the way to a stone cabin at the top, with men and women carrying offerings up for today’s celebration of the Summer Solstice, and coming down mostly empty handed. The offerings were food and drink but child rearing goods: cribs, children’s clothing and toys. It was these things that some people came back down with. Tleeroi and Ptetrix climbed without hesitation, their faces grim as if they were headed into battle, with little Teala in hand. After buying some food nearby as an offer, Roscoe followed them. Gnomardo whittled a little doll to offer. Fisher wondered at the exchange process of these goods going on in the temple. Jacques waited outside, with Lucky invisibly on his shoulder so he could communicate with Roscoe.

At the top were two female guards, well muscled and scarred, obviously more than just an honor guard. They wore the same white kilts that soldiers wore, a simple sash holding their chests tightly and feathered headbands displaying ranks. They both held large obsidian tipped spears and eyed the passers by casually. Everyone walked in without any confrontation but Roscoe held back to be last. Barrik’s burning heart floating over one shoulder, a pile of food being held by an unseen servant over the other soldier, he gingerly approached the guards knowing he would be stopped. One look and the spears came down barring his way. 3e3fa71d8958a190b2e10b61213de6d2.jpg

After some discussion as to what Roscoe’s purpose was, and him taking off his mask but with a prestidigitation to hide his mark trying to be as honest as he could be about the situation, one of the guards told him to wait while she summoned a superior. The other guard kept her spear leveled at Roscoe as they waited in silence. When the superior came, similarly militantly dressed, she insisted on casting some spells on Roscoe to assess his safety. Roscoe started to sweat, knowing that a detect thoughts would surely not only uncover his connection to the Obsidian Butterfly, it may well lead to his torture if he understood this culture’s methods in dealing with demonic influence. Apparently the stardemons were masochists and torture was the only way to reveal them in cases of possession.

Luckily the spell cast was not detect thoughts, but detect good and evil. He passed the test, but the floating heart was revealed to be undead and desecrated by Zaltec. As it seemed Roscoe had told the truth about it, they allowed him in to converse with a priestess, but the heart had to stay outside. A stone chair was brought out as it would not be allowed to touch the sacred pyramid, and the guard moved the point of her spear from Roscoe’s nose to the burning heart.

And the temple grows old and strong

Inside the temple, tables with offerings lined a large hall, the walls were painted with murals depicting family life, romantic love and lots of children playing. Uncomfortably they did remind a few of the heroes of the perverted depictions in the sunken pyramid of vampires in Chuapli Forest. Interspaced in the murals were numerous depictions of a beautiful woman twice as tall as the other figures in the paintings. She was heavily pregnant and clothed only in her long black hair. This was Kiltzi. The priestesses that filled the hall talking to people in hushed tones wore colorful skirts and tops but many were pregnant and showed off their naked bellies. Tleeroi and Ptetrix were already talking with a priestess who was showing them how to play with a doll with Teala, and the little girl for the first time had some kind of reaction on her face.

priestess.png The heroes spoke with a priestess Vitlitlix about Barrik’s heart and learned that the only way to remove the desecration of Zaltec from the heart and perhaps stop the incessant burning was to have a priest of Qotal consecrate it. However, not only would the priest have to be powerful enough to rival whoever was mastermining the volcano ritual, they would have to operate outside the bureaucracy of the nations of Maztica. Since the invasion by Faerunians over 100 years ago, no Maztican priest aligned with any nation would side with a Faerunian god over even Zaltec, much as he may be despised. So terrible is the memory of the invasion and establishment of the Church of Helm. Roscoe resigned himself to having to search long and hard for a powerful but reclusive priest of Qotal.

Fisher and Gnomardo had some question as to the relations between Kiltzi, Qotal and the rumours of a child from a forced union which had led to Qotal abandoning Maztica in shame centuries ago and leaving Zaltec ascendant, until reappearing at the time of the Faerunian invasion. As this was a touchy subject, Fisher asked if there was a place more private they could talk. Unaware of what subject they were to brooch, Vitlitlix led them down into the core of the pyramid to a large hall with a circle of chairs like a conference or therapy room. Private rooms lined the hall.

In the meantime, Lucky had struck a conversation with Jacques. Jacques learned that the little familiar had received his powers in a deal it had made with “Mummy” and that “Pappa” had stolen his powers. Lucky obviously loved Roscoe and admired both Roscoe and whatever new benefactor was “Mummy”, but insisted that Roscoe was incapable of making any mistakes. His suspicions heightened, Jacques ran up the pyramid steps just as Roscoe went downstairs inside and out of Lucky’s telepathic range.

In the conference room, Fisher entirely forgot as to what he was going to ask Vitlitlix as he was distracted by her explanations of the rituals of the priesthood of Kiltzi. They were tasked with raising the next generations for those who were destined to die in battle. Unlike farmers, artisans, merchants, and all other manner of professions who could raise a family, the lot of a soldier did not extend this luxury. Soldiers were often at war and died too young to properly do the job of parenting, but they were also some of the strongest, smartest and bravest of people. In order not to lose these traits, soldiers who survived to middle age were excused from their vow of celibacy but could only breed with a priestess of Kiltzi, and the children would be raised by the priesthood for three years before being adopted out to devout families. This way entire generations were not lost to war and the stock remained strong. Vitlitlix herself was due in a couple of months and was not shy about the attractiveness of being in the presence of the heroes of Coxi.

At this moment Jacques caught up with them and asked to see Roscoe in a private room. Gnomardo tagged along not wanting to leave the two alone. Jacques, as paranoid as ever, drew his knife and held it to Roscoe’s throat demanding an explanation. Roscoe decided to come clean with everything he recalled from that night when he was summoned, and expressed astonishment that Lucky had both made his own deal and said Roscoe had stolen starfire. Gnomardo confirmed this was the truth, and Jacques put his knife away. Roscoe explained that he had sympathy for his patron, who seemed to only have a desire for liberty and may have become corrupted by this desire, but perhaps could be changed to be a force for good. Jacques apologized for his unfair treatment of Roscoe, and agreed to help Roscoe where he could in this matter.

As they exited the private quarters they found Fisher with his back against the wall and the fear of death in his eyes as Vitlitlix, a tall woman by even human standards, leered over the diminutive deep gnome with lust in her eyes. He excused himself hastily as he saw his friends and beat a hasty retreat, promising to return in a couple of moon’s time.

Tleeroi and Ptetrix waited at the exit of the temple atop the steps. They were both smiling and Teala had an armful of toys, including Gnomardo’s doll. They explained that the priestesses tasked them with taking Teala back to Kultaka and caring for her, having a blessing from the temple of Kiltzi to retire from active service to fulfill this sacred duty. They were instructed in how to start their most challenging and dangerous mission yet: raising a child. They would also receive instruction from the temple in Kultaka on how to heal her emotional wounds. As they headed down the steps Roscoe picked up Barrik’s heart, still under guard.

Your faith for bricks and dreams for mortar

At the bottom of the pyramid there was a powerfully built man waiting for them. His name was Death by Moonlight, and he bade Jacques to follow him. The others were welcome to come, but Tleeroi and Ptetrix excused themselves, wanting to bring Teala to the museum to rest more. As the heroes followed Death by Moonlight, he explained that they had not expected Jacques back so quickly but were pleased to suddenly pick up his scent in the city. He led them outside the city into the wilderness a bit until they reached a stone gazebo with a throne in it. This was where the Chuapli Forest were-jaguar tribe would meet with contacts in Patil, as they did not enjoy entering the city proper. Death by Moonlight shifted into his jaguar hybrid form which was an intimidating black panther. Sitting on the throne was Jacques’ mentor, Ilancuēitl, introduced for the first time and to everyone’s surprise as Queen Ilancuēitl. At her feet rested a jaguar, Dance by Moonlight.

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Ilancuēitl asked for the Claw of the Conciliator, which Gnomardo handed to Jacques with some hesitation. Jacques held it forth but quickly explained that there were complications, as the relic was needed to not only free the dwarves in some unknown way, it seemed also to be tied to the fate of his friend. Jacques asked if he could borrow it to fulfill these duties while still joining the Balam. The Queen explained that the task was not only a test but also a necessity for Jacques to keep the Claw, as it was Jacques who would as Balam act as ambassador to other Fera and create an alliance to fight the Wyrm. He would need to have the Claw to fulfill this objective. The only thing left was for him to receive the blessing of Tepēyōllōtl, the Jaguar god. Normally this holy ceremony would be done at the tribe’s home deep in Chuapli Forest, but time is short and the forces of the Wyrm are on the march, so this is where it must be done. Relieved, Jacques presented himself.

were_panther.jpg The Queen changed into a hybrid jaguar form, her fur was almost golden with deep black spots like shards of obsidian sprinkled over her shoulders. She breathed out a white haze around herself which spread out like a smoke circle enveloping Jacques, then the Moonlight siblings, then Roscoe, Fisher and Gnomardo. As the smoke clears, the grass seems more fluorescent, their senses seem to perceive everything deeper and there is the tingle of magic in the air. The Queen welcomes them to the umbra. Roscoe recognizes this as the feywild. Here the magic of the tribe is at its height and ceremonies are most hallowed. The Queen then pounces onto Jacques and bites down on his neck. He does not resist as blood gushes all over his boots, the Queen’s incisors ripping a massive gap in Jacques’ flesh. She holds on him as she concentrates on pushing the lycanthropy into his body. Jacques shudders for a moment as it takes hold. She lets go and he almost falls to the ground. Before he does, the Queen takes a small pearl in her hand and then utters a word. It shines a soft white light cupped in her hand so it only shines in Jacques’ face: full moon light.

Jacques begins to change involuntarily. The gap in his neck stops bleeding as new muscle and hair grow all over him, He grows a head taller reaching the height of Obelix and almost as wide. Jacques fur is black like Death by Moonlight, his snout elongates and gains the features of a snarling cat. His mind also takes on a singular purpose: predator. He becomes aware of his friends behind him, but they do not register as friends. They are prey. Before he can pounce on them the Queen turns off the shining pearl. She lays a hand on his head before he loses control and utters another word. Jacques calms, and is once again clear headed, only now a were-jaguar. His gear is strewn on the floor around him. The Queen gives him his Balam name: Last-hope. Jacques only response is to ask another bit of mentorship: how can one win the heart of a queen?

When stone is dust and only air remains

Returning to the museum, Roscoe, Fisher and Gnomardo are now followed by Jacques in black jaguar form, carrying his gear in his mouth. They hear the roar of Kumonga in battle mode and then the blaring of the other animals. Roscoe casts Arms of Hadar and they start running. When they arrive they find all the animals in a circle around a diminutive Kumonga, about a foot in length, fighting a large rat. The other animals seem to be cheering her on. Dko exits the building with snacks. Kumonga slayed the rat, cutting it clean in half. Once the adversary is dead, she starts to grow back to her normal size, and she is wearing the Olmazca item Minilla’s Collar.

She picks up half the rat and swallows it whole. With another leg she picks up the other half and offers it to Fisher.

Yum.

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Episode 23: Kythorn 19, 1488 DR
Wake me up before you go

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You put the boom-boom into my heart

The temple was awash in radiant light that shone out of Barrik’s hollow chest and back. It caused the bloody mist that was all that remained of the drow’s head to sparkle pink around him. The beautiful visage of Barrik standing on the podium all a-rosy shimmer contrasted with the terrible roar of a great bellows filling the whole valley, as Heart Attack blazed angrily. All his friends who bore witness to the miracle felt the blessing of Moradin, but it was Barrik alone who above the din heard Moradin’s words “Carry on, my wayward son. There’ll be peace when you are done.”

Obelix’s wings cast a great shadow on the southern face of the small pyramid, shielding Roscoe from the bright light. While everyone’s eyes were on the dwarves, Roscoe was looking at the podium peaking up between the pyramid’s top level and Obelix’s left wing. It was in that podium he had seen the gauntlet holding Barrik’s heart pushed by Obelix into whatever alcove the gauntlet had emerged from. And it was now that he had the chance to act.

Roscoe knew he had to get that heart if he wanted to stop the ritual. He sent Lucky to the podium who invisibly flew out of Roscoe’s sleeve and found in the hole the gauntlet losing holding the heart, and under that four more hearts, about a foot and a half down. Rather than risk a spell to grab them which could cause a wild magic surge in the ritual, he decided to get the heart himself. Roscoe dismissed the Tamoachan manes he had summoned and dove onto the podium between Roscoe’s legs, shoving his arm as deep as he could, grabbing his friend’s heart. As he pulled it out he felt resistance at the precipice of the hole, and he pulled harder. He felt in his hand a conflux of competing magical energies as he pulled the heart over the edge. It felt as if two titanic forces vied for control and he was but along for the ride. So intense was the magical disruption that his hand cramped rigidly on the heart even as the heart burst into flames as it escaped the hole. Roscoe gritted his teeth through the pain and bravely soaked up the fire energy: even under this pain he came up with a devious plan. He noticed that something had changed in the nature of the heart and felt his grasp on luck falter. Regardless, he set his eyes on his next target: the tanarukk bearing down on him.

1716383d42c20a1b3ee1993268bda18b--heart-burn-tattoo-shop.jpg The tanarukk looked on Roscoe’s face and recognized the mark of the Obsidian Butterfly. Incredibly, the fiend fled in fear from Roscoe, running straight into Fisher and attacking wildly. Fisher’s blurred form dodged the attacks as he focussed on his own target: the Yuan-ti. He savaged it and robes, then scales, then pale abdominal flesh split apart dropping blood and guts onto embroidered silken shoes. Remarkably it remained standing, yet staggered from the damage. Obelix turned on his heels and battered the ape monster swinging at Fisher. Jacques, having been roused by the Healing Word that was Barrik’s final act before his death, motioned to Kumonga to jump him back into the battle, which she deftly did before jumping back and taking a defensive stance over the catatonic child. As delicate as a wafer he charged up the temple steps and plunged his blades into the towering simian. The monster’s snarling maw flashed purple and white as it was simultaneously hit by Gnomardo’s eldritch blasts, laying the monster low. Another of the apes, still blinded from Fisher’s first attack, was engaged by Tleeroi on the eastern face of the temple.

Barrik, Heart Attack still blazing and thundering in his hands, waded in between the Yuan-ti and tanarukk with reckless abandon, felling the orc-fiend and surrounding the snake-man. The snake-man pulled out another rod and cast a hypnotic pattern across the battlefield, unfortunately for him the heroes resisted the attempts at domination. This merci was short lived as at that moment the gappoing chest cavities of the four children strung up on polls at the four corners of the pyramid began to bleed magma. The ritual was continuing!

While his friends were thus engaged, Roscoe’s hand continued to burn as it gripped the heart. Jacques had thrown a canister of water on it which doused it momentarily but Roscoe could see it would flare back up again, powered by some unholy confluence. He tossed his shadowblade at the blinded ape empowering it with the flames he had absorbed from the heart, the poor thing howled in pain not knowing what hit it. Donning his mask again as he raced past Tleeroi down the eastern face he threw his clenched hand into the river, dousing the flames until he could find a way to let go.

But something’s bugging me

It was then that everyone heard the frantic shouts of a recognizable voice zipping past at incredible speed…

“ohshitohshitohshitOHSHITOHSHITOHSHITOHSHITOHSHITohshitohshitohshit-”

Xarry and one remaining Kultakan warrior raced past the field of battle on their fleeting otzrixes. On their heels but 40 feet behind were four tanarukk, what remained of the five guards the Kultakan riders had distracted.

Obelix left Fisher, Barrik and Jacques to finish off the melee at the temple top and propelled himself on glorious alabaster wings down the southern face of the temple, planting himself between the two otzrix riders and the oncoming tanarukk. “Stop, fiend!” he bellowed whilst plunging his glaive into the belly of the first assailant.

By now the corners of the temple were covered in lava, Jacques disengaged from the melee and shoved his hands down the hole at the center of the podium to grab the children’s hearts. To his great relief as he pulled on out, he saw that one of the children’s corpses stopped bleeding magma. He raced to pull all the others out, at the same time grabbing the gauntlett and pulling it out too. All the lava stopped spreading.

Gnomardo’s eyes landed on the gauntlet and for a split second he felt a glitch in his mind. When his psyche steadied he heard that androgynous voice, but this time eager and hungry: “I REMEMBER!” Gnomardo’s artificial hand disengaged and shot forward on it’s cables, but much farther than he had designed it: the cables merged into ligaments and it shot clear up the pyramid to grab the gauntlet and reeled it in. As Gnomardo watched with fascination and horror, the exposed flesh of his tentacle-like appendage opened a baleful blue eye and looked at him, “ARAPUCA REMEMBERS!” Gnomardo stood there, bemused and not unphased, as he held the Claw of the Conciliator in his hand. The voice said softly “Arapuca sleeps so Gnomardo can wake…. now sleep again…” Next to Gnomardo on the river’s edge Roscoe looked at him incredulously, “Gnomardo?!” Not wanting to seem unhelpful Gnomardo raced towards the tanarukk Obelix engaged, gauntlett in hand, and blasted past Tleeroi who stood upon a rock challenging the fiends.

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Roscoe managed to pry his hand open under water, then collected it with mage hand. That done, he again pulled on the stored fire energy he suffered from his burns and shot his enflamed shadowblade at the last remaining ape monster, felling it. Gnomardo, seeing Xarry had collapsed off his mount in exhaustion, jumped on the otzrix and charged the incoming tanarukk on the field.

The tanarukk and yuan-ti on the temple-top now dead, Barrik, Fisher and Jacques ran down the pyramid’s side to assist Obelix. Fisher grabbed the rod of the snake-man’s body ready to cast hypnotic pattern on the entire orc-fiend troop, when he realized the rod he held did not contain the spell at all. “GODSFUCKINGDAMNIT!” he spat as he murdered a tanarukk in frustration with his blade.

Tleeroi and Gnomardo felled another tanarukk so that there was then one left, between Obelix, Fisher and Barrik. It sensed the hopeless situation and turned to run in desperation. The heroes turned it into minced meat before it could escape their reach.

‘Cause I’m not planning on going solo

The battle was over, but they felt danger still lingered. Xarry told them how Beltixar the priest sacrificed himself to bring a tanarukk down and let him and the other soldier escape. There could be more coming especially if the enemy felt the ritual had been disrupted. For certain a ritual of this complexity was being scryed on from afar by it’s architect. They looted what they could: along with the rod of resurrection, some gold and a warlock’s rod from the snake-man, Roscoe was delighted to find the drow had a spell book, although he carried no gold.

Fisher meanwhile felt the amulet that let him use the teleportation skull room grow hot as he inspected the temple-top. It took little time for the dwarves to determine that while the temple was ancient beyond measure, the stone podium was a very recent addition, and they were able to cast it aside. Below that they removed flag stones to let FIsher see what had caught the attention of his amulet: another skull room.

This one however had four mummies interned in it. They were in excellent condition as the room had been airtight. Fisher found another activation amulet around the neck of one. It looks as if they had been tied to such an extent that even their fingers were restrained to prevent any somatic casting, and then teleported here and interned alive. This gruesome fate may have been a punishment or a ritual, but it was surely a frightful way to go. The heroes had in any case found a quick way out of the battle area. They removed the mummies and in so doing found among them four pieces of perfectly preserved clothing items and a pair of tea cups, obviously magical to have survived for so long in such a state. Fisher began to teleport the people and animals three at a time back to Patil.

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When Fisher appeared in the Museum of Maztican History in Patil with Tleeroi, the rescued child and an otzrix, Dko was in the skull room dusting the skulls. The appearance startled him so much that his heart skipped a beat, and Fisher was worried for a moment that he had just killed his friend. Luckily it passed, and Fisher quickly explained to expect many more people and animals. By the time everyone was taken back to the museum it looked more like a zoo.

The heroes had one the day and escaped, but at least three of them were no longer who they once were.

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