The Forbidden City
The party woke with the dawn. It was now the fiftieth day since they left Port Nyanzaru. They had spent the night in the walled compound of the gatehouse in the southwest corner of the Forbidden City of Omu. It was sunny, warm, and humid. Feathered reptile-birds darted overhead chasing large insects. Apparently and Xoc-Wik had both contracted Brain Fever during the night. Vinnie volunteered to stay with them as well as watch over the two saurian beasts of burden.
The rest of the party- Bramble, Zeynap, Argent, and Eku - gathered their equipment to begin their exploration of the city. From their vantage point on the raised ledge they could see the waterfall to the northern third of the east side of the city, the circular walls and towers along the middle-third, and the lake of lava on the southern third. They could also see the elevated boulevards that allowed easy but conspicuous travel through the ruins. What were once city streets were now choked with jungle trees and dense foliage. Only the tops of the crumbling buildings rose above the canopy of the trees. They decided to avoid the boulevards and stick to the streets which concealed their travel.
They climbed down the steep slope of the ledge overlooking the city and avoided the ruined buildings. They made their way to the land-bridge connecting the promontory overlooking the lake of lava to the rest of the city.
They parted the palm fronds as they neared the land bridge and saw a group of small humanoid beings. The creatures appeared to be human-shaped but made of blue-gray mold. Each creature was no taller than a man's waist. Two of the mold-men were carrying a green-skinned frog of equivalent size. The giant frog was tied up so that it couldn't move and was gagged. The mold-men were led by a larger leader. They seemed to be a procession taking the frog over the land-bridge to the promontory. This tableau presented only one possible scenario - they were planning on sacrificing the frog to the lava!
CHAPTER 21, "IMBOK AND A BAG OF NAILS"
- Bramble Wolf - a theran barbarian wise-man (Wildhunt Shifter Druid) searching for the legendary origin of his tribe.
- Apparently Jones - a blue-skinned demijin caravan guide and animal trainer (Air Genasi Ranger) from Akasa, the land of sky mountains. Having failed to find work in Port Nyanzaru as an animal handler, she has joined the expedition to the interior as a scout.
- Chak'sa - Apparently's honker (parasaurolophus) companion.
- Xoc-Wik - a b'alam warrior (Tabaxi Fighter) from the jungles of Bres, searching for those responsible for the destruction of his tribe.
- Zeynap Shiravadakar - a Eusebean smuggler (Human Warlock) bearing the spirit of a celestial unicorn.
- Argent Truth-Sayer - a golden azi knight errant of Bahamut (Dragonborn Paladin) in the service of Bahamut, sent on a holy mission to join the expedition to destroy the Soul Monger.
- Eku - a mysterious shape-changing wise-woman from Chult, hired as a guide.
- Vinnie - rough and tumble dinosaur wrangler who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth.
Argent stepped forward and gave a peaceful greeting. He then requested that the pygmy mold-men release their prisoner, offering the blessings of Bahamut over any gift they believed they might receive from the lava.
The chief of the mold-men cocked his turnip-shaped head and spoke in an unintelligible series of hisses and rasps.
"Anybody speak their language? Eku, how about you?" asked Argent.
"I'm afraid I do not." replied Eku.
Argent repeated his offer to the mold-pygmies. The chieftain became visibly annoyed and hissed orders to his compatriots, pointing angrily at the interlopers.
The two mold-pygmies holding the bound amphibian prisoner resumed moving towards the edge of the cliff accompanied by two guards. The chieftain and four others spread out in a semi-circle. They formed slings out of vines growing on their bodies, loaded them with stones, and began spinning.
Argent stepped forward and the slingers let fly. A few ricocheted off Argent's armor with a loud "PANG!" but a few found their mark. Two of the mold-pygmies then formed wooden talons and closed with Argent.
Argent whispered a prayer of protection to provide sanctuary to the bound prisoner. The two mold-pygmiesholding the prisoner began to hesitate.
DM Note- Sanctuary requires anyone who might attack the protected target to need to succeed against a Saving Throw. I ruled that both carriers would need to lose their saving throws in order to throw the prisoner over the side. If one succeeded and the other failed, the prisoner was safe.
Argent had received a few blows and was looking injured. Bramble called out, "How are you doing, Argent?"
"I've felt better!" was his labored reply.
"I'm not a great healer but I can see what I can do!" replied Bramble.
"Don't worry about it," shouted Zeynap, "I'm a great healer! I got this!"
Argent hewed through his foes with his axe. To his surprise, the injuries began to heal!
"Eku! What are these things? How do we kill them?" asked Argent.
"If I recall correctly, I believe their healing ability is curtailed by fire, poison, or necromancy!"
Bramble summoned forth a spirit of flame which harried the mold-pygmies holding the prisoner, forcing them to drop their prisoner and run away from the rolling ball of flame. Bramble then ran up and attacked one of the mold-pygmieswith his staff.
Zeynap created a magical hand of icy necromancy that floated around touching the mold-pygmies. Whatever the hand touched was shocked with powerful death magic.
The chieftain closed with Argent and Bramble. He planted his feet and clenched his fists as if in great physical effort. A bulbous shape worked its way up from the chieftain's core, through his chest and neck, swelling his head, and bursting out of the top of his head in a great explosion of pollen that engulfed both Bramble and Argent. The pair coughed and cleared the pollen out of their eyes but were otherwise unharmed.
The amphibian prisoner had been dropped as the ball of flame chased the mold-pygmies around the circular promontory. The prisoner was sliding towards the edge. Zeynap ran past Argent and Bramble and grabbed the prisoner before he fell over the side into the lava far below.
A mold-pygmy caught Argent off-guard with a sling stone to the head. Argent fell down.
Bramble stared at the fallen form of Argent in disbelief before turning his ire to Zeynap, "What happened? I thought you had this?"
"Uh, I was waiting for the sign." replied Zeynap sheepishly.
"What the hell was the sign?" demanded Bramble.
"Him falling over?" replied Zeynap as he carried the bound frog-man away from the edge of the promontory.
Bramble gritted his teeth and called upon the spirits of the forest to heal Argent. The dragon-man stood back up and continued fighting.
The chieftain was quickly dispatched and the rest of the mold-pygmies were soon defeated.
The amphibian's bindings were removed. He stood up to reveal a humanoid tree-frog with bright green skin. He thanked his rescuers with obsequious bowing and babbling in his native tongue which no one understood.
The little frog-man used a mixture of his own squeaking high-pitched language and pantomime to communicate that his name was "Imbok". After learning the names of everyone in the party, he implored them to follow him. The party agreed. They accompanied the little frog-man, whom Eku identified as a "grung", north along the west side of the lake of lava. The encountered a waterfall where the water that flooded the northeast portion of the city drained into the lava. Imbok took them to a large fallen tree that bridged the draining water about two hundred feet above the falls. He motioned for the party to follow him across.
The fallen tree was ten feet wide and crossing the flowing water proved easy. Something bothered Zeynap, however. He had a bad feeling.
Suddenly Zeynap was struck by a poisoned-tipped hunting arrow loosed from a hidden archer on a rooftop fifty yards away. Zeynap gurgled and staggered backwards clutching the arrow protruding from his shoulder. He looked at his companions who stared dumbfounded at the sight. Zeynap managed to take a deep breath and regain his composure. He was severely wounded but not fatally so. He saw his attacker leap from the roof of the building on the right to the roof of the building on the left. The archer was lithe with a long tail - a b'alam hunter from the continent of Bres!
Zeynap and the others quickly moved off the tree to the forested bank. They had no line of sight on the attacker. Eku transformed into flying reptile-bird and took flight. She circled over a rooftop to indicate the hidden position of the attacker. A few more arrows flew past as they made their way through the trees.
As they neared the base of the buildings, the party members became wary. They moved cautiously, scanning the rooftops. There was a blur as the b'alam darted from the building on the left to the building on the right across the vine-choked streets in front of them. The b'alam climbed the building on right in a flash. He leaned over the roof and took aim.
Bramble was ready for him. He called upon the spirits of nature and engulfed the b'alam in a glowing nimbus of magical energy. Zeynap cast a powerful attack spell and the b'alam hissed in pain and anger.
The b'alam threw up his hands and called out in Atlantean, "I surrender! I give up!"
The elderly b'alam hunter introduced himself as "Bag-of-Nails". It was clear to the party that Bag-of-Nails was a few candles short in his chandelier. Bag-of-Nails would speak a few sentences then forget where he was, then immediately begin speaking about an entirely different subject, then loop back again to the beginning. Sometimes Bag-of-Nails would seem to forget where he was entirely, believing he was back in his homeland of Bres in younger days. Other times he would react to the party as if he had just saw them all over again.
From Bag-of-Nails fragmented non-sequiters they gleaned that he had come here looking for the legendary artifact "the Navel of the Moon" which he planned to use to find his missing son. Bag-of-Nails had never heard of the Soulmonger and could provide no clues to its location. They also learned that he was accompanied by two other b'alam - Hooded-Lantern and Copper-Bell. All three were hunting a gargantuan beast known as the "King of Feathers" - a monstrous enemy that moved like a ghost and could walk through walls. He had attacked the party because he believed them to be rivals who had also come to kill the King of Feathers.
Bag-of-Nails insistently offered to cook the party some stew. They repeatedly declined. Eventually Argent agreed to have some stew so they entered the nearby structure in which Bag-of-Nails was camped.
The structure was formerly the home of a troupe of Omuan actors. Wooden and clay masks were mounted on the walls, many had fallen to the floor and were broken. Zeynap looked around while Bag-of-Nails prepared some stew for Argent. Zeynap found four gem-encrusted masks hidden away, each worth 25 gold coins. He stashed them in a sack to display later.
Zeynap rejoined the party as Argent finished his stew. They thanked the old b'alam for his hospitality and bade him farewell.
Imbok led the party onto a nearby elevated boulevard leading east. The party was wary of being so in the open but nothing bad happened. Imbok left the boulevard and turned north, towards the central tower surrounded by a great circular wall. Thousands of black leathery-winged reptiles slowly orbited the tower giving the impression of swirling dark cloud. Imbok led them around the outside of round walls that surrounded the tower, warily looking in all directions as if he were afraid for his life.
The party circled around the back of the wall and arrived at Imbok's home, the flooded northeast third of the city. Imbok led them to a walled compound surrounded by knee-deep water. The walls were breached in several places, Two monoliths carved like frogs flanked the entrance. Within was a structure shaped like a trapezoid. Its ancient roof was covered in vines and trees. A hadrosaur fed on lake grass nearby.
Dozens of small frog-people crouched in the water, the tops of the heads and eyes peeking above the water. Fist-sized tad-poles swam around Argent's ankles. Archers on the tree-covered roof appeared and drew their bows. Four orange-skinned warriors emerged from the lake. Imbok intervened and introduced his new friends. A large gold-skinned leader wearing a magnificent headdress emerged and greeted Imbok then addressed the party.
Though they could not understand his words, the party gathered that the chieftains name was Yorb and that he was grateful for the return of Imbok who was some kind of off-spring.
After the offering of thanks, it soon became clear that the two groups could not understand each other. So they stood there in awkward silence with nothing really to say. Argent smiled politely.
Zeynap finally got the hint, "I think we're done here and he's politely trying to ask us to leave."
Argent replied, "Yes, of course. We'll take our leave now."
In Search of the Soulmonger
Having delivered Imbok safely to his people, the party decided to resume their search for the Soulmonger. Their prime target was the tower within the circular inner walls orbited by the dark swarm of black leathery-winged reptiles. They retraced their steps along the outside of the wall until they found an entrance. They passed through the gate and carefully advanced.
The interior of the wall was composed of more jungle-clad ruins. Dozens, possibly hundreds of snakes of all types slithered on every tree branch and surface. Zeynap spun around as three humanoid figures with serpentine heads appeared seemingly from nowhere! The serpent-men were the twisted half-blooded warriors who served as the guards of the dreaded Nagina Samrajya! They had assumed the forms of snakes and were lying in wait with the other snakes in the area. The half-bloods abandoned their serpentine disguises, drew their bows, and loosed poisoned arrows at the party!
One nagina warrior approached from behind the party. Two others emerged in front of the party. Zeynap engaged the warrior to the rear with magical spells while Argent and Bramble advanced on the enemies in front.
The rear nagina drew an ancient khopesh and rushed Zeynap. Bramble transformed himself into a massive snake and coiled around the nagina to the right, crushing the serpent-man in his powerful coils. Argent challenged the serpent man to the left to a duel. The serpent man threw down his bow and charged Argent with his khopesh.
The nagina warrior struggled futilely against Bramble's constriction. Frustrated the warrior transformed himself into a snake and the two serpents coiled and twisted in mortal combat!
Zeynap was able to dispatch the first serpent man and moved to support Argent. Argent warned him to stay away lest he interrupt the duel. Meanwhile Bramble had squeezed all life out of his opponent.
Eventually Argent was able to defeat his foe and secure the area. They continued their search and discovered a tunnel leading underneath the tower. A foul stench emanated from the tunnel and many tracks showed recent movement into and out of the subterranean lair. The party, however, was exhausted from their exploration of the city and they many battles. They made a note of the location of the entrance and decided to retreat to a safe location to rest.
Exhaustion Sets In
The party returned to the grung compound hoping to rest within its walls. Orange-skinned guards intercepted them before they could enter. The party asked if they could rest within the compound. Chief Yorb, standing behind the guards, smiled blankly. He had no idea what they were saying.
When the party tried to advanced into the compound, the guards blocked their way. Chief Yorb stood resolute, still smiling. His meaning was clear. They were still friends but they were not welcome in the compound. Zeynap sighed and the party discussed their next plan.
The party decided to return to the basecamp from whence they began. It was mid-afternoon. They retraced their steps through the city, circling the outside of the inner wall, traveling down the elevated boulevard, crossing the fallen log, and climbing the embankment to the walled gate house. The route they traveled across the city took about fifteen minutes to traverse. There they decided to rest for the remainder of the day. They would return to the entrance to underground lair tomorrow.
To Be Continued...