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.
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.
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.
You run for cover in the temple of love
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.