Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"The Heart of Ubtao" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 18


The small craft cut through the sky for over ten hours straight. The sun set behind the western mountains, illuminating a massive wall of thundercloud ahead of them. A storm raged over their destination. Apparently grimaced and took the air-skiff down into the darkening clouds. Lightning snapped and thunder roared as the party was pelted with rain riding in the back of the open-air skiff. It had become dark. Wind buffeted the air-skiff, causing it to careen, dip, and buck. Apparently struggled with the controls.

Apparently worried she might not see the- whatever it was the Heart of Ubtao was supposed to be. To her amazement she saw light ahead. It was dim indirect light filtering out of a doorway and through two openings in the top of a ball of stone nearly seventy feet in diameter, hovering in mid air over the dark jungle two thousand feet below. The monolith was oblong and shaped like a heart. A bare tree and a small cylindrical structure emerged from the top like aorta and venticle. Small roots hung to the side like veins. Red tinted rainwater poured off the monolith like blood.

"Is- is that it?" asked Apparently.


"I guess so." said Zeynap, "I'll admit, I thought it would be bigger!"

Apparently had a bad feeling about this. She concentrated on her surroundings and opened her senses. She felt the presence of her hated enemy - the power of Thanatos - the undying. She informed the others and they prepared themselves for battle.

As she got close she could see a humanoid figure in the backlit window, only it wasn't a window it was a doorway. A stairway led from the doorway to the flattened top of the rock near the tree. The humanoid figure invited Apparently to land there.

Apparently set the air-skiff down on top of the heart-shaped rock. The humanoid figure wore a heavy dark cloak as protection against the driving rain and winds. The figure beckoned the party to come down the stairs to escape the  weather. It called out in Atlantean, "Quickly! Come inside and be comfortable! Would you like some tea?"

Argent closed his eyes and concentrated on his surroundings. He could smell the animating force of the undying emanating from the figure. He gripped his axe. Zeynap laid his hand across the dragonid's arm, "Be careful. Bramble thinks its some kind of lich!"

The party hesitated. Apparently said, "No tea, thank you."

The cloaked figure sensed their hesitation. "Come now, you have nothing to fear." She removed the hood of her cloak, revealing a female face. Her skin looked as if it were made of polished alabaster. Her eyes were amber. Small deer-like antlers sprouted from her forehead. Her long hair was made of thick green ivy. She was an elioud, an immortal being from the other-dimensional realm of Aeon.

"Greetings, my name is Valindra Shadowmantle."


CHAPTER 18, "THE HEART OF UBTAO"

THE EXPEDITION
  • 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. 
NPCs
  • Eku - a mysterious shape-changing wise-woman from Chult, hired as a guide.
  • Tony and Vinnie - rough and tumble dinosaur wranglers who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth. 
  • Artus Cimber - an explorer on a quest to reunite with his lost love.
  • Dragonbait - a saurial from another dimension, friend and traveling companion of Artus Cimber.
A Courteous Host


The elioud led the party down some stairs cut into the outside of the Heart and through an entrance. All but Bramble followed her through the entrance. The theran druid hesitantly shook his head and remained outside in the driving rain.

Inside was one large hollow chamber about sixty feet in diameter. There was a pool of water in the center.  Rain poured down through a chimney in the ceiling - the hollow interior of the petrified tree above. Three glowing crystals emitted wan yellow light.

Along the wall was arranged some book cases filled with large books, a desk, and some crates. On the opposite wall  was a cage large enough to hold a hippopotamus. The cage was currently occupied by six humanoid zombies. The zombies reacted violently to the entrance of the newcomers.

There was no place to sleep. Two heavy tapestries covered sections of the opposite wall.

"This place STINKS of decaying flesh!" snarled Argent. He stared directly at Valindra, "You reek of it!"

The androgynous being touched her sternum, "Oh, many apologizes! I must cloak myself in the aura of the undying. It is a magical spell I must cast daily so that I do not cause undue stimulation among my research subjects," she indicated the zombies, "I may dismiss the aura if you would feel more comfortable."

"That is unnecessary," replied Xoc-Wik.

Apparently coughed gently and stared vacantly at a wall.

Argent sniffed in disgust and made his way counter-clockwise around the chamber while Vilandra moved to a work table on the opposite side. He paused to inspect the books. They were old texts on history, culture, and geography.

With a flick of her wrist Valindra caused an alchemical flask filled with water to come to a boil. She crushed  a handfull of dry leaves and sprinkled into the boiling water. She levitated the concoction across the room to  Zeynap, "I believe this is what you humans call 'tea'. I hope it meets your approval." Zeynap took the hot beaker of leaf water and quickly passed it from hand to hand to avoid burning himself.



"NO MAGIC!" blurted Argent.

"Pardon?" responded Valindra.

The dragon-man reiterated, "No! Spells!"

The porcelain-skinned creature hesitated, its golden eyes were blank, "Very well, if it will make you feel more comfortable."

Unbeknownst to everyone in the room, Bramble had transformed himself into a spider and had made his way slowly into the chamber. He crawled along the wall searching for secret doors and hidden chambers. He explored the void behind the tapestry on the right and found it empty save for a magical teleportation circle drawn on the floor.

Zeynap and Xoc-Wik engaged Vilandra in conversation. Vilandra was forthcoming with information regarding her purpose in the Heart - she was searching for the Soulmonger! She explained that she represented a group of wizards who sought to collect and sequester devices of great power so that they could be safely studied. She had determined that the Soulmonger was the source of the mysterious outbreaks of undying and that it was located in a place caled Omu. However, she did not yet know where Omu was located. She had sent several groups of her personal agents in search of Omu and the Soulmonger. If they found it, they would bring it to her so that she could study it properly.

While she waits she studies the creatures reanimated by the Soulmonger. She hires locals to capture the reanimated dead. She offered a substantial award for each animated zombie, skeleton, or ghoul brought to her for study.

During their conversation, Valindra made an off-hand reference to Syndra Silvane. Xoc-Wik asked what she knew about the mysterious masked patron. Valindra said that Syndra represented a group called 'the Erelim'. The Erelim opposed Valindra's quest to find the Soulmonger. The Erelim wanted only to destroy the device. Valindra wanted to study it.

Xoc-Wik asked why Syndra wore the silver mask. He asked if she too was an Elioud. Valindra replied that while Syndra wore the mask because her body was dying. She had lived far beyond her natural lifespan and the Soulmonger was draining her life away and would eventually kill her. She made the case that Syndra's motivation for destroying the Soulmonger was selfish while her own goal would lead to a better understanding of the forces at work.

Valindra then asked if Syndra had hired them to find the Soulmonger. Xoc-Wik gave a dismissive non-reply. Valindra seemed unconvinced.

Argent made his way around the room while Zeynap and Xoc-Wik distracted their host. He peeked behind the tapestry to the left and was started to see the decaying remains of two four-armed white-furred simians known as Girallons! He almost choked as he jumped back.

"Be careful!" interjected Valindra, "Do not disturb those! They are dormant for the moment!"

"What are those for!?" demanded Argent.

"I have managed to pacify them and can now control them. Their strength proves useful. My magic can move naught but  trifles."

Argent stalked back around the room always remaining on the far side from Vilandra.

Vilandra apologized for the lack of accomodations but offered to share her chamber with the party while they waited for the storm to subside. She had no food to share but they could at least rest on the floor - as long as they didn't mind if she continued her research.

Argent bared his teeth, "I'll sleep in the wind and rain." He stalked out of the hollow chamber and climbed the stairs to the top of the Heart. There he met Bramble who had resumed his humanoid form. The pair compared notes about what they found and shared their suspicions. They could not bring themselves to trust the elioud wizard. They wrapped themselves in their tarps and huddled against the petrified tree. There they spent a restless night in the wind and driving rain two thousand feet above the ground.

Xoc-Wik, Apparently, and Zeynap likewise found little rest on the stone floor of Valindra's chamber. Valindra spent the night working at her alchemical table, cutting bits of flesh off the zombies, and writing notes in her books.

Zeynap had the last watch. Valindra finished her work and approached him, "The winds have subsided."

"We'll be leaving at dawn," said Zeynap, standing to better converse with his host.

"Zeynap, I can always use additional agents in my search for the Soulmonger. If you find it, will you bring it to me?"

Zeynap demurred. He spoke vaguely about checking with the others.

"I see. Now listen closely," she moved uncomfortably close to Zeynap, she reached out with her long slender fingers of porcelain and held his face gently by the chin, Her amber eyes began to glow. "You will do everything in your power to prevent the Soulmonger from being destroyed and deliver it intact and functional to me in the Heart of Ubtao. You will not tell anyone else about this. This will be our little secret. You will not allow anyone to interfere with the duties of my agents. You will know them by their red robes."



Zeynap stood silently for a moment. He stared deeply into her luminous amber eyes. "I understand."

"Excellent." Valindra smiled revealing black teeth.

Zeynap sat back down. He was unsure of what just happened.


Day 29 - Base Camp

The party established a base camp in the open grasslands beneath the Heart of Ubtao. They collected what firewood they could and leaned the overturned Atlantean air-skiff against a boulder to provide shelter to their fire. They spent the day as a group foraging the surrounding countryside for food. During their foray they managed to spot a bipedal saurian predator about a hundred yards out. The saurian stood about ten feet tall. It raised its head to sniff the wind and caught the scent of the foraging party. The predator moved quickly towards their position. The party did their best to hide themselves behind boulders in the tall grass. Neither Zeynap nor Argent could hide themselves, however, and the hunter targeted the former. Zeynap retreated while sending magical bolts of rainbow glitter at the beast and Xoc-Wik loosed several arrows from his bow. The beast was quickly defeated.

Day 30
Clear day, no wind, nothing to report.

Day 31 - Batiri Ambush
Rain showers persisted throughout the day. The wind picked up in the evening and had become a gale by dark. The overturned air-skiff rocked back and forth as the high winds buffeted against the tarpaulin and lines holding it down. The tall grass swayed and shuddered.



It was late and night and Xoc-Wik was on watch. He could hear nothing over the winds and was taking the time to groom his fur. The sound of heavy thuds and cries of pain alerted him to danger!

Ten diminutive humanoids wearing carved wooden masks and with skin the color of lemons had crept stealthily into the camp and had attacked each member of the party in their sleep. They had been ambushed by a hunting party of batiri!

Thankfully everyone had survived the initial assault and were now awake and ready for battle! Bramble rolled on the ground and sprang to his feet. He called upon the spirits of the forest to summon forth and direct the high winds that surrounded them. The winds formed a twisting wall of air that snaked through the party. The tornado-like wall of wind blew all of the small batiri away into the dark.

Xoc-Wik drew forth his bow and loosed several arrows at the leader. The attack killed him instantly.

The party dismembered the remaining bodies and scattered the parts to prevent reanimation from the Death Curse and resumed their rest.

Day 32
Rain in the morning. Clear and calm evening. Heavy winds at night. Nothing to report.

Day 33
Rainy and calm, nothing to report.

Day 34 - Centipedes
After a rainy day of foraging the party returned to their camp to find it crawling with centipedes. Zeynap blasted the swarms with celestial magic while Argent chopped into them with his axe. The centipedes were quickly dispersed.

Day 35 - Honker Herd
Xoc-Wik was once again caught off guard while on watch when he looked up from his late night reverie to notice that a herd of honkers had moved into the camp. The honkers were simply grazing and posed no threat so he shrugged and went back to his work. One honker licked  Zeynap's sleeping face. Zeynap slapped the Honker away and grumbled, "I said no, Chak'sa!"

Day 36
Rain all day. Heavy wind during the day. Nothing to report.

Day 37 - Reunion

After ten days of waiting the party finally saw a group of travelers in the distance. Artus, Dragonbait, Eku, Tony, and Vinnie were accompanied by the macetail and the honker Chak'sa. As the other group approached, thick purplish black clouds began to form and descend on the field. From one cloud emerged four four-armed undying girallons. From another emerged a large bipedal reptile with a long horizontal tail and a massive tooth-filled head. Its mouth was filled with half-eated humanoid zombies- and it was charging towards them!

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

"Death Flies on Leathery Wings" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 17


Argent, Apparently, and Zeynap descended the stairs of the step pyramid with their two new companions Artus Cimber and Dragonbait. It was raining and getting dark. Bramble, Xoc-Wik, Eku, Tony, and Vinnie had established a camp in the ruined city below. Tents were pitched, canvas tarpaulins were erected, the animals were fed, and fires were built. It was raining. It seemed like it was always raining in the jungle continent of Chult. The grey sky was becoming dark.

"Who's your friend?" inquired Bramble.

"Artus Cimber, pleased to meet you." the explorer reached out to shake Bramble's hand.

Bramble looked down at the outstretched hand dubiously. "Yeah- what about him?"

Artus withdrew his hand, "That's my traveling companion Dragonbait. He communicates by scent."

Dragonbait emitted the scent of lemon.

"He says he's happy to meet you."

Bramble turned to Zeynap, "So, what did you learn about the Soulmonger?"

Zeynap told Bramble about the spirit naga Saja N'baza and how she told them that the Soulmonger was located in the lost city of Omu between the Peaks of Flame and the Valley of Lost Honor.

Artus interrupted, "Dragonbait and I will join you on your mission to find Omu, for there we will find Ras Nsi."



Bramble glanced at Artus and turned back to Zeynap, confused, "Who is Rosh Neeshi?"

Argent recounted the tale of Ras Nsi and the Chosen of Ubtao - the Barae. He told Bramble about the Curse placed upon Mezro and how it will not return until all the Barae are dead.

"If Ras Nsi must die in order to free Mezro, I will do everything in my power to see that he dies so that I will be reunited with.. but that's unimportant. What's important is that Ras Nsi is in Omu and I will find Omu and I will kill him. Since you are going to Omu and I am going to Omu, I think we should help each other find Omu. What do you think?"

Brambles eyes narrowed and he pursed his lips, "Yeah...."


CHAPTER 17, "DEATH FLIES ON LEATHERY WINGS"

THE EXPEDITION
  • 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. 
NPCs
  • Eku - a mysterious shape-changing wise-woman from Chult, hired as a guide.
  • Tony and Vinnie - rough and tumble dinosaur wranglers who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth. 
Day 21
Heavy rain prevented travel so the party remained camped in the ruins of Orolunga. Bramble and Xoc-Wik considered scaling the stairs to consult with the oracle but upon hearing of the test involving swallowing snakes whole decided against it.

Day 22 - RIVER CROSSING
It was cloudy and calm.

The party returned to the north fork of the river Tath. Apparently located a fallen tree that bridged the river at a narrow point. The tree-bridge would allow the humanoids in the party to safely cross the river. The beasts were large enough and heavy enough to ford the river.

Apparently and Argent crossed the large fallen log to the other side. Suddenly the log swarmed with swarms of deadly centipedes!

Xoc-Wik exclaimed, "Look out!"

Zeynap replied, "For what? They're just a bunch of bugs."

Xoc-Wik said, "I saw a swarm of those same insects strip a man to the bone in six seconds!"


Zeynap grimaced at the thought and summoned forth an orb of iridescent celestial flame. The decaying tree trunk caught fire from the magical flame. Xoc-Wik loosed a magical explosive arrow into one end of the tree trunk. It exploded into splinters and that end of the trunk fell into the water.

Apparently loosed a normal arrow into the other end of the tree as centipedes continued to swarm over the rocks towards her.

Argent ran up to the tree and pushed it off the bank and into the river. The tree rolled into the water and the centipdes ceased to be a threat.

Having eliminated their natural bridge, the party spent the rest of the day using rope and block and tackle to safely cross the river.

Day 23 - SPIKE-TAIL
It was raining as they approached the foothills at the base of the granite monoliths near M'Bala. Apparently saw a spike-tailed behemoth grazing ahead. The spike-tail took an interest in the group and approached them inquisitively. Apparently, who was an expert in reading animal behavior and communicating with animals, successfully shooed it away without incident.

Day 24
Rain, nothing to report.

Day 25
Rain, nothing to report

Day 26
Heavy rain prevented travel. The party hunkered down for the day.

Day 27 - ABANDONED CAMP
The party arrived at the camp at the base of the trail leading to M'Bala around noon. It was raining. There they expected to find Nova Scotia Blackman maintaining his lonely vigil. Instead the camp was deserted. They spotted a note left conspicuously in a place meant to be found.

TO WHOMEVER FINDS THIS NOTE
Beware the trek up to M'Bala. Flying creatures known as pratras attack all who traverse the path. I have temporarily abandoned my vigil to travel north in search of "Vorn". I should return 12-15 days after the full moon.
-NSB

A set of tracks left by a group of humanoids heading north corroborated the note.

"What's the plan?" inquired Apparently.

"I wish to visit the Heart of Ubtao," replied Argent.

"What for? We know where the Soulmonger is, more or less. What can we learn at the Heart?" demanded Bramble.

"Knowledge. The Heart is where the barae of Ubtao met. Ras Nsi was one of the barae. We may learn something useful there. Something that may help us defeat Ras Nsi."

"But it's not on the way! Besides, it's thousands of feet in the air!" argued Bramble.

"I have an idea," said Argent, "An airship was going to visit M'Bala. We should see if they can take us to the Heart. Not only will it be a quick trip, they'll already be airborne."

Bramble considered Argent's suggestion, "Okay, we'll visit M'Bala and look into the airship."

Apparently pointed out the obvious, "Not only can the beasts not ascend the path to M'Bala, they can't ride in an airship. What about them?"

Tony spoke up, "Yeah, ah, youse ain't got to worry about that, blue lady. We can look after these cockamaney horses."

Vinnie chimed in, "That's right! We's can takes care of ourselves!"

Bramble said, "Fine. You travel overland and rendesvouz with us under the Heart of Ubtao. Then we'll continue on to Omu.

"Youse gots it! Uh, where's the Heart of Ubtao?"

Eku spoke up, "I will guide them there."


Artus said, "You'll need proper protection. Dragonbait and I will join you."

Apparently, Argent, Bramble, Xoc-Wik, and Zeynap said farewell to Artus, Dragonbait, Eku, Tony, Vinnie, and the two beasts and began their ascent to M'Bala.

PRATRAS ATTACK


The remaining members of the party climbed the narrow path up the thousand foot face of Mbala. They had tied themselves together for safety. This limited their movement but prevented any single member from falling or being snatched away. There was a low cloud ceiling and it was raining. The party was halfway up the path when the leathery-winged forms of eight pratras carrying large rocks descended through the gray clouds.

The pratras dove at the party. Zeynap took aim with his magic fingers. One by one the pratras released their stony payloads. Zeynap zapped the first two missiles and they exploded into rocky debris. The others crashed down upon their targets. Several missed and bounced to the forest hundreds of feet below.

Xoc-Wik and Apparently took aim with their long-bows and loosed several arrows. Three of Xoc-Wik's magically charged arrows tore through a pratra and it spun out of the sky, dead.

Bramble channeled the spirits of nature and called forth a thunderstorm from the clouds above. Lightning struck several of the pratras, frying them instantly.

Bramble shouted, "I thought you said these things were tough!"

Xoc-Wik responded, "They are! I've just become a much better shot since the last time we fought them."

The pratras ascended above the clouds and gathered more stones for use as projectiles. They dove back down and released another volley at the party.  Once again, Zeynap was able to eliminate a few of the rocks in mid-air while the archers loosed arrows at the incoming dive-bombers.

Two of the pratras peeled away and stormed Xoc-Wik and Apparently. Apparently dropped her bow to draw her short sword but watched helplessly as her bow fell over the path and fell to the forest below.

After a fierce exchange the party dispatched the two pratras engaged in close battle. The remaining two attempted to flee. Xoc-Wik took aim and loosed three arrows at the retreating winged creatures.

"What's that for?" inquired Zeynap.

The two arrows struck their targets and the winged humanoids fell from the sky.

Xok-Wik turned to Zeynap with a sneer, "Spite!"


Apparently looked towards the forest below, unable to spot where her bow fell. "Damn."

MBALA
The party reached to the top of Mbala late in the afternoon. They were above the rain but the ancient ruins were shrouded in fog. They saw a camp that had been constructed by the Knights of the Circle. The camp was in disarray and appeared abandoned. Many of the tents and structures had been knocked down and ripped apart by the pratras.

Of special note was the large wooden air-ship in the open square. The lift balloon was torn and shredded and the structure was damaged.

The party called around and several soldiers emerged from the fissure that once led to the lair of the pratra. The fissure had been widened and a ladder was installed. The fissure was then covered and concealed by a canvas tarp.

Ser Slaughter emerged and greeted the party. He explained that the pratras had been harassing the camp for several days, dropping heavy rocks, plucking men away, and tearing down the camp. The camp decided to take cover in the cavern that was once the pratra lair.

Argent informed Ser Slaughter that the pratras would pose no future problem. Ser Slaughter and the other soldiers were grateful.

A handful of civilians, the crew of the downed air-ship, emerged from the fissure. They inspected the damage to their ship. One of them noticed Apparently and called her name.

"Apparently? Apparently Jones?"



It was the captain of the air-ship. The captain was Akasan and had known Apparently's mother, Adverb, in the old days. Adverb had saved the captain's life on more than one occasion and the captain was sad to have heard that Adverb and her family had been exiled to the surface.

Apparently asked where the air-ship was heading. The captain said they were going to Kir Sabal then back to Akasa. Apparently then asked if they could hitch a ride and possibly take a short detour to the Heart of Ubtao. The captain said it was going to take several days, possibly weeks, to repair the hull and gas bag.

However, he had an idea. He had an old Atlantean air-skiff that he had recently acquired. It was damaged and would probably only operate for another 16 hours of flight before it lost its lift capability. He offered it as a gift to Apparently in appreciation for her mother. Apparently accepted the gift.

The party spent that night in Mbala.

AIR-SKIFF JOURNEY
The party boarded the air-ship the following morning. Apparently familiarized herself with the complex Atlantean controls. Crystal-powered Atlantean air-transports were much more advanced than the balloon-ships of the Akasan sky-nomads.

"Do you know how to pilot this thing?" inquired Zeynap nervously.

"Yeah, sure, no problem," replied Apparently with false confidence.

They lifted off into cloudy skies. Apparently took the air-skiff below the clouds and into the rain so that she could get her bearings and estimate her air speed. The air-skiff flew a generally south-easterly course across the Aldani basin. They were traveling at about eight knots. Apparently estimated about thirteen hours to the general location of the Heart of Ubtao. She took the skiff back up above the clouds to avoid the rain.

"How do you know where we're going?" inquired Zeynap, his voice shouting against the wind.

"Trust me!" she shouted back.

THE HEART OF UBTAO
The small craft cut through the sky for over thirteen hours straight. The sun set behind the western mountains, illuminating a massive wall of thundercloud ahead of them. A storm raged over their destination. Apparently grimaced and took the air-skiff down into the darkening clouds. Lightning snapped and thunder roared as the party was pelted with rain riding in the back of the open-air skiff. It had become dark. Wind buffeted the air-skiff, causing it to careen, dip, and buck. Apparently struggled with the controls. 

Apparently worried she might not see the- whatever it was the Heart of Ubtao was supposed to be. To her amazement she saw light ahead. It was dim indirect light filtering out of a doorway and through two openings in the top of a ball of stone nearly seventy feet in diameter, hovering in mid air over the dark jungle two thousand feet below. The monolith was oblong and shaped like a heart. A bare tree and a small cylindrical structure emerged from the top like aorta and venticle. Small roots hung to the side like veins. Red tinted rainwater poured off the monolith like blood.



"Is- is that it?" asked Apparently.

"I guess so." said Zeynap, "I'll admit, I thought it would be bigger!"

Apparently had a bad feeling about this. She concentrated on her surroundings and opened her senses. She felt the presence of her hated enemy - the power of Thanatos - the undying. She informed the others and they prepared themselves for battle.

As she got close she could see a humanoid figure in the backlit window, only it wasn't a window it was a doorway. A stairway led from the doorway to the flattened top of the rock near the tree. The humanoid figure invited Apparently to land there.

Apparently set the air-skiff down on top of the heart-shaped rock. The humanoid figure wore a heavy dark cloak as protection against the driving rain and winds. The figure beckoned the party to come down the stairs to escape the  weather. It called out in Atlantean, "Quickly! Come inside and be comfortable! Would you like some tea?"

Argent closed his eyes and concentrated on his surroundings. He could smell the animating force of the undying emanating from the figure. He gripped his axe. Zeynap laid his hand across the dragonid's arm, "Be careful. Bramble thinks its some kind of lich!"

The party hesitated. Apparently said, "No tea, thank you."

The cloaked figure sensed their hesitation. "Come now, you have nothing to fear." She removed the hood of her cloak, revealing a female face. Her skin looked as if it were made of polished alabaster. Her eyes were amber. Small deer-like antlers sprouted from her forehead. Her long hair was made of thick green ivy. She was an elioud, an immortal being from the other-dimensional realm of Aeon.

"Greetings, my name is Valindra Shadowmantle."


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"The Oracle of Orolunga" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 16



It was the night of their eleventh day of travel. They had arrived at the ruins where they had earlier encountered deadly man-eating plants! The ruins were a defensible location and they ensured no man-eating plants were nearby and set up camp.

It was near midnight and Apparently was on watch. It was raining and everyone was gathered under canvas tarpaulins. Apparently scanned the dark forest for danger.

Her attention was drawn to the roof of one of the nearby ruins. A large white-furred simian with four arms leaped onto the roof, its pale face illuminated by the dimly glowing embers of the fire. Then she saw another. She called the alarm.


CHAPTER 16, "THE ORACLE OF OROLUNGA"

THE EXPEDITION
  • 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. 
NPCs
  • Eku - a mysterious shape-changing wise-woman from Chult, hired as a guide.
  • Tony and Vinnie - rough and tumble dinosaur wranglers who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth. 

GIRALLONS IN THE MIST


Apparently sprang into action. She ran through the camp shouting for everyone wake up, kicking everyone's tents as she dashed towards Chak'sa. 

Zeynap pulled his blanket over his head and rolled over.

One of the large four-armed gorillas jumped off his perch and landed near Xoc-Wik's sleeping form. He grabbed the b'alam's leg and began dragging him away towards the jungle. 


A second white-furred four-armed gorilla ran forward and grabbed Apparently by the arm. Argent rushed to her aid and engaged the creature.

A third creature approached from the left flank. Bramble called forth the spirits of nature and turned the gentle night rain into a thundercloud hovering over the camp. The thundercloud showered bolts of lightning on the four-armed gorilla.  Eku transformed herself into a bear and engaged the monster in claw-to-claw combat.

Zeynap eventually woke up and took in the scene of battle. Eku's bear form had been beaten by a four-armed gorilla and she had transformed back into the form of a middle-aged Chultan woman. Argent was battling a second four-armed creature while Apparently did her best to harry a third that was escaping with Xoc-Wik's unconscious body.  Zeynap fired rainbow-hued bolts of magic at the monster threatening Eku, knocking it back with each bolt.

The two gorilla-monsters were soon defeated but the third managed to escape with Xoc-Wik. A plan was quickly formed to follow the creature back to its lair to effect a rescue.


RESCUE MISSION
Apparently tracked the creature through the muddy dark. The only illumination was provided by Zeynap's magic.  They followed the creature through shoulder-high undergrowth to a stream by a rocky hill. Beyond was a cave in a bluff. They could hear multiple four-armed gorillas hooting and roaring within, celebrating the capture of their prize.

Zeynap said, "Let's go!" and took off across the creek towards the cave without hearing the others whisper, "Wait!"



He ran towards the cave. The interior was illuminated by the blue glow of his magic. He saw a four-armed gorilla creature and cast several bolts of celestial magic. They exploded in  flashes of pastel.

He lowered his hands to admire his handiwork. Suddenly the four-armed gorilla monster charged out of the cave and bore down on Zeynap. For a split second, Zeynap thought, "Oh, I didn't know they could run that fast!"

Suddenly a second creature emerged from another cave concealed behind some bushes. Two monsters charged towards him. Zeynap looked around for the help of his companions but they were no where to be seen, hidden from view behind the rocky hill, "I've made a huge mistake."

Both four-armed gorilla creatures tore into Zeynap with four slashing claws and a bite to the shoulder. Zeynap fell into a unconscious heap. The two gorillas began fighting over the body. Zeynap's illumination magic faded and it was completely dark.



Bramble sighed and muttered, "Damn it, Zeynap!" He moved laterally away from the rocks to get a clear view and summoned forth Courage Wolf, the spirit of healing. The glowing wolf ran forward and dove into Zeynap's body, restoring life and consciousness to the warlock.

Argent held aloft his axe which began to glow with holy radiance. He ran forward to engage the two gorilla-monsters and to distract them from Zeynap. Unfortunately, the two attacking monsters made quick work of the paladin of Bahamut. The light from his axe failed and it was once again dark. Apparently and Chak'sa fought the gorilla-monsters from the opposite side of the creek but targeting was difficult without light.  Soon she, too, had fallen.

Courage Wolf darted across the battlefield moving into each fallen warrior, reviving them, then moving to the next. Zeynap had regained consciousness and had called on his patron, the Celestial Unicorn of Heaven, to heal his wounds. Once recovered he was able to summon more magical light and reenter the battle where he helped to dispatch the two simian monsters.


A third appeared at the cave entrance. Bramble transformed into a bear and crawled over the rocks. The four heroes quickly defeated the final gorilla monster.

They cautiously entered the caves and recovered the unconscious Xoc-Wik. They also located the bones of others that had been captured as pets. Among their remains was an intact canoe that had been dragged from the river and a vial of poison.



DAY 12 - Return of the Pratras

The late night mission interrupted their rest so the party decided to take a day off. They rested, recuperated, read, and explored the ruins within which they camped. During the afternoon a flock of pratras, the humanoid-pteranodons they party encountered in M'Bala, flew down through the rain and clouds dropping large rocks and javelins on the camp. No one was seriously injured and the pratras few away when they were out of ammunition.


A LONELY VIGIL
On the thirteenth day since they left Port Nyanzaru the expedition resumed their journey to M'Bala. It was a 30 mile journey through the rain but they pushed on to arrive at the base of M'bala in the early evening. They found a cleared campsite at the start of the path that ascended the side of the granite plateau. The campsite was occupied by Nova Scotia Blackman. The undead archaeologist looked ashen and weak. His eyes were hollow. His skin showed signs of contraction. He was happy to see his old friends but it only masked the deep sorrow he felt within.

Argent Truth-sayer brandished his axe and prepared to kill the undying anathema but his hand was stayed by the others.



Nova told the others that a group of ten pratras had returned soon after the Knights of the Circle had occupied the plateau of M'Bala. Apparently the raid on their lair failed to account for a number of pratras who were out hunting or on patrol. The pratras started harassing the soldiers by attacking them with large rocks and javelins. The soldiers were forced to take shelter in the caverns formerly occupied by the pratras.  In addition, pratras attack anyone attempting to climb or descend the single narrow path to M'Bala. No one has been able to enter or leave M'Bala for several weeks.

Nova said that, for some reason, the pratras ignored him. He alone was able to climb and descend the path. He has been ferrying goods and supplies to the top ever since. He said that the knights had arranged for reinforcements to be brought in via Akasian airship in 14 days. He worried that the airship might be vulnerable to pratran attack.

The party discussed the possibility of helping the knights by ridding them of the pratran threat.

Bramble argued against it, "We don't have time to help them. We only came here to deliver these supplies. Nova can carry them up the path and deliver them for us. The knights and the airship will have to take care of themselves."

The party agreed to drop off the supplies and continue to Orolunga.

They left the following goods with Nova Scotia Blackman:

  • 350 man-days of rations
  • 50 gourds of bug salve
  • 2 12'x12' tarps
  • 1 hooded lantern
  • 5 flasks of oil
  • 10 torches
  • 2 waterskins
  • 2 healer's kits


DM Note- I awarded each of the players a free Inspiration Point to spend whenever they wanted as a reward for completion of this mini-quest. 


THE JOURNEY WEST
The party skirted the northern edge of the range of rocky plateaus to which M'Bala belonged.



Day 15
Clear travel, nothing to report.

Day 16
The day was clear and the party made good progress. During the day Apparently called the train to a halt. She sensed the presence of thanatos. Bramble sniffed the wind and detected a handful of ghouls moving through a field of rocky debris. The party managed to stealthily avoid the ghouls and continue on their journey without incident.

They set camp near some ancient jungle-clad ruins. Apparently was out foraging when she came across a pair of four-armed white-furred simians like those they encountered previously. She was spotted as she tried to escape but she managed to throw a rock and lead them in a different direction. She used her magical boots of false tracks to hide her trail as she made her way back to the camp.

Day 17
A storm fell upon the party. Rain and heavy winds hampered movement and the party only covered ten miles.

Day 18
It rained during their travels but heavy winds late in the day made it difficult to set camp and prohibited any foraging.

Day 19
They arrived at a river flowing from the north to the south. Eku called it the north fork of the River Tath. Orolunga lay only ten miles beyond. The party spent much of the day crossing the river. Once they reached the other side they encountered a party of fellow explorers - representatives of the Order of Aeon, protectors of the forest. Eku gave them the handshake of the order and the two groups shared a camp as friends. The other group was looking for Orolunga without the aid of a guide. They, too, had taken the quest from Syndra Silvane to find and destroy the Soulmonger.

Bramble encouraged caution amongst his party. He reminded them that the other party were rivals in their quest. they did their best to ask the members of the Order what they knew and what they encountered without revealing too much of their own mission.

The Order of Aeon said they had traveled south and had encountered the Batiri village known as Yellyark. In exchange, Zeynap told the Order about the military encampment atop M'Bala.

The next day the two groups broke camp and went different ways. The Order of Aeon believed that Orolunga was farther south and Apparently did nothing to dissuade them of that notion.

DM - I kept the details about the members of the Order of Aeon intentionally vague. I told my players, "Greetings. We are a mixed group of Rangers, fighters, druids, or wizards. We lack names in case any of us need to replace your fallen characters in the future. We are therefore undefined until you need us."

The rains poured heavily that night while everyone slept comfortably in their tents. Zeynap was on watch when he noticed something rummaging through the camp equipment. He cast a spell of illumination and saw that the camp was beset by a troop of flying monkeys. The monkeys were frightened away but not before stealing some insect-repelling incense, some rope, and some rations.

Day 20 - OROLUNGA
It was raining when the party finally arrived at the lost city of Orolunga. What was once a great city was reduced to crumbling walls covered in vines and trees. Feathered reptile-birds with toothy snouts and resplendent plumage squawked in the trees. Brightly colored flowers and orchids clung to the sides of the crumbling ruins. A single four-level stepped pyramid stood at the center of the ruined city. The party approached it cautiously. The rains stopped as they neared its base.

The first level of the pyramid was covered in dense torny thickets. Two parallel stairs led to the top of the pyramid.

Zeynap explored the base of the step pyramid. He came across one of the tiny spirit creatures they had previously seen in the forest. It was as tall as a man's shin with a body that looked like it was made of black tar. It wore on its head a mask made of alabaster in the shape of a three-horned behemoth. In its hand it carried an orange and black orchid.

DM - DC 15 Perception Check to spot the chiwinga. Failure would have meant an hour of fruitless searching, try again in an hour.

Eku identified the spirit as a chiwinga, one of the benevolent spirits of the forest.

Zeynap tried to communicate with the chiwinga. It simply cocked its head which rotated like the turning of a key until it released in a wild bobbing motion as if attached to a spring. The chiwinga fled from Zeynaps approach and climbed the stairs to the landing atop the first level of the pyramid.



Zeynap began to climb after the chiwinga but thorny vines magically grew around his ankles to impede his progress. He pushed on. The thorny vines squeezed tighter and began to dig into his flesh. He quickly descended. Argent tried to make his way but was soon brought to a halt by the constricting thorns.

Apparently tried to think of a way to levitate to the top or use some kind of grapple. She asked Eku, "How do we get to the top?"



Eku, who had watched their efforts with a detached amusement, replied only, "This is not my test to pass. You must determine that for yourself. Besides, I have no idea."

The chiwinga continued to watch them from the landing while holding its orange and black orchid.

The team began to brainstorm wilder and wilder options when Bramble finally cut in, "Oh for.. Just find one of the orange and black orchids!"

Everyone slapped their heads, "Of course!"

DM - At this point, Bramble's player had to leave.

Zeynap and Apparently, being knowledgeable in such matters, searched for the the orchids. After an hour they had found five orchids between them.

DM - Anyone with Nature skill can spend one hour searching and find 1d4-1 orchids. 

Zeynap, Apparently, and Argent brandished their orchids and climbed the first set of stairs without impediment.

They reached the first landing and examined the second set of stairs. They appeared to be structurally unsound. The slightest pressure caused them to crumble beneath their feet. Zeynap looked around and found another chiwinga. This chiwinga wore an alabaster mask resembling a chameleon. It held an orange-and-black orchid in one hand and a long feature from one of the primitive lizard-birds in the other. It sprang up the steps without a problem.

DM - Another DC 15 Perception check to spot the second chiwinga. Failure would have cost another hour of searching. 

The team released an exasperated sigh and descended the steps. They searched the forest and returned with a collection of long feathers.

DM - Anyone with Nature skill can spend one hour searching and find 1d4-1 feathers. It was now about three in the afternoon. I was keeping time because the oracle was only accessible until sunset around 7pm.

They returned with their orchids and feathers and scrambled up the crumbling steps.

They reached the second landing. The third set of stairs was suddenly covered with thousands of writhing poisonous snakes!

"Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?" muttered Apparently.

They looked around and once more found a chiwinga. This chiwinga wore an alabaster mask that resembled the head of a mongoose. The chiwinga, holding an orchid in one hand and a feather in the other, ran into the writhing snakes. A snake reared up to strike the tiny spirit. The chiwinga stroked the snake with its feather and the snake became docile. The chiwinga then titled up its mask revealing a gaping toothy mouth. It opened its mouth wide and the snake crawled inside, magically disappearing inside the chiwinga. The chiwinga then laid down on its belly and slithered up the steps like a snake.

DM - Another DC 15 Perception check to spot the third chiwinga. Failure would have cost another hour of searching. 

Zeynap balked, "Are you KIDDING me?!?"


Argent stepped forward. A snake reared up. The dragon-man stroked the snake with his feather and the snake became docile. Argent opened his mouth and the snake crawled inside. The snake slithered down Argent's esophagus. The proud dragonid began choking and gagging and was forced to regurgitate the whole living snake. Argent collapsed to his knees coughing and gagging. He had suffered a great amount of pain.

"That's DISGUSTING!" said Zeynap with a wrinkled nose.

"Are you alright?" inquired Apparently.

"I- I'm fine. I must try again." was his reply.

He tried again and once more failed. Zeynap channeled the celestial energy of his patron to heal the dragon man and Argent tried a third time.

This time the snake stayed down. Argent then got down on his belly and slithered up the stairs like a snake.

"No! No! There's no way I'm doing that!" declared Zeynap.

"Well, I'll go next." said Apparently. She tried to pick up a snake but forgot to stroke it with a feather. It reared back and bit her!

"Right!" she exclaimed, holding her wounded hand. She stroked the snake with the feather, opened her mouth, and it crawled down her throat. She laid down on her belly and slithered up the steps.

Zeynap sighed exasperatedly. He picked up a snake. It bit him. He yelped and dropped it. He sighed again, stroked the snake with a feather, and swallowed it whole. He closed his eyes to shut out the humiliation and indignity and slithered up the steps on his belly.

Once on the third landing Apparently turned around and called for Chak'sa to join her on the stairs. Chak'sa began to follow but Eku held the honker behemoth, "What are you DOING?" cried the spirit-talker.



"I'm calling my animal to join me," replied Apparently.

"You will NOT! How DARE you expect this poor beast to swallow a serpent whole! This is YOUR test to pass, not his!" Eku threw her arms around the confused behemoth, "You'd dare endanger this poor beast for your test? You MONSTER!"

"Okay! Okay! Whatever!"

The trio turned and entered the chamber at the top of the step pyramid.

SAJA N'BAZA

A rectangular stone temple covered in maze-like carvings sat at the pinnacle of the step pyramid. It was empty and dark and overgrown with vines and moss. The top of the pyramid stood above the tree canopy. It was raining, hot, and humid. A mountain range rose like a wall a mere twenty  miles to the west. The granite plateaus of M'Bala could be seen twenty to fifty miles to the east. Apparently could swear she smelled incense.

They carefully approached the open doorway. As they entered the threshhold the scene changed to that of a sunny day. The step pyramid was new. It was surrounded by a city of trapezoidal structures. Winged snakes flew around.

Hanging lamps illuminated the darker corners of the room. Incense burners filled it with exotic scents and curling smoke. Cushions and reed mats covered the floor, pots of bloomign flowers lined the plastered walls, and winged snakes flitted from plant to plant emitting a strange sound like the tinkling of crystals or chimes.

An immense snake with iridescent scales rested on a heap of cushions opposite the doorway. It rose slowly to a height of 5 feet. It stared directly into their eyes as it moved. Its face was remarkably humanlike and its toungue flicked as it spoke.

“Greetings, I am Saja N’baza, the Oracle of Orolunga. What do you seek in this ancient place? Speak truly, for I hear your hearts.”

Standing next to them near the entrance was a male human. His pale skin made it apparent that he was not native to Chult. Indeed, it was difficult to discern his nationality based on his appearance and ecclectic attire. He was ruggedly handsome with the bearing of a seasoned explorer, possibly from Avallonis. He carried a longbow and a sword. Next to him was a strange reptilian humanoid with a head resembling a behemoth holding a longsword.

"A Saurial," concluded Argent.

"You must be Dragonbait," said Zeynap, "and that would make you Artus Cimber?"

"Who are you? What is this?" said the man warily. His hand subtly moved to his sword.

The trio introduced themselves. Artus returned the courtesy, "I am, indeed, Artus Cimber, and this is my traveling companion - Dragonbait."

Dragonbait smiled and emitted a pleasant scent.

"Forgive him, he cannot speak Atlantean. His people communicate using odors and scents. He says he is pleased to meet you. My goodness, your skin is blue! How extraordinary! Is your father an air elemental?"

Apparently shrank in embarassment, "That's, ah, private."

"There's a lot of people looking for you, sir!" exclaimed Zeynap.

"Indeed?" inquired Artus.

Zeynap, Apparently, and Argent told Artus of their encounters with the frost giants and with the merchant Zalma Haik. They asked Artus what he stole from the frost giants. Artus replied coyly, "Ah, they believe that I stole the honor of their princess. It is not true, of course."

"And what about Zalma? Why are the Ysians searching for you?" asked Zeynap.

Artus surreptitiously covered his right hand with his left and replied, "They, ah, hired me to retrieve something and I failed to deliver. No other reason."

"Really? That's your story?" demanded Apparently.

Artus shot her a look of warning, "As you say, that's private."

She held up her hands, "Fair enough!"

The iridescent naga interrupted the meeting with a hiss, "If you pleassssse! Doessss anyone have any questionsssss?"

"Oh, right! Excuse me," he paused, "Do you mind if I go first?"

The others stepped back,

"Tell me, what has happened to Mezro? What can you tell me of my beloved?"

"Your beloved lives. Mezzzzro isss- trapped between worlds. It iss neither in Antara nor in the Otherworld. And there it will remain until the world is rid of Rasss Nsssi. Hiss very existenccccce prevents itss return. Eliminate Rasss Nsssi and Mezzzzro will returnnn. You will find him leading the vile cult of Jivantaka in the lossst city of Omu."

"Thank you, I will do whatever it takes to find and eliminate this Ras Nsi," was his reply.

Saja turned to address Apparently, Zeynap, and Argent, "What about you, vissssitor? What do you seek?"

Apparently asked, "We seek any information you can tell us about the Soulmonger."

"Ah- I know little of the detailss, but I know that it is a foul devicce, powered by the trapped essssence of god unborn. The cult of Jivantaka brought the componentsss for one to the lost cccity of Omu. Their exxxxact actions are unknown to me."

Zeynap asked, "Where is Omu?"

"The ruins of what was once Omu are located deep in the southern jungle between the Peaks of Flame and the Valley of Lost Honor."

Argent inquired, "Who is Ras Nsi?"

"Two hundred yearsss ago, Rasss Nsssi was one of the seven original barae, the 'Chosen of Ubtao', holy warriors who protected the cccity of Mezro. Today, he is the only one of the original barae ssstill alive.

"At the end of the great cccivil war between the major tribes of Chult, ssso great was his zeal to protect Mezzzro, that he began a crusade of genocccide to slaughter every last member of the rival tribe in punissshment for their attack on Mezzzro.  For this, he was exxxiled from Mezro by the other sssix barae.

"When the city of Mezro passsed into the world between worlds, the world believed it to be dessstroyed. It was assssumed that Rasss Nsssi was destroyed along with it, as it was prophesized that all the barae would crumble to dust if ever the city were annihilated.

"However, this was not the cassse— Rass Nssi instead joined an ancient cult dedicated to the awakening of Jivantaka, the world ssserpent. Using dark alchemy, he hass transssformed himself into an ophidian nagina and hasss become the leader of the cult of Jivantaka. 

"He currently resssides in the lost city of Omu. 

"Ras Nsi is a foul villain. His beliefs and actionss pose a threat to all of Antara and he must be eliminated. I will reward anyone who undertakess a quessst to rid the world of his evil treachery." 

All three agreed to undertake the quest. As a reward, Saja M'baza bestowed upon each of them a magical charm.

To Argent she bestowed the Charm of Heroism. To Zeynap she bestowed the Charm of Restoration. To Apparently she bestowed the Charm of Animal Conjuring. 

Artus said to them, "Well, it looks like our quests overlap. Do you mind if we travel together?"

Apparently replied, "Not at all. But lets get one thing straight. We need to be more truthful with each other. No secrets."

"We'll see," said Artus with a smile. 

TO BE CONTINUED...



Next week- The players have said they want to take the airship to check out the Heart of Ubtao. 




Thursday, May 24, 2018

"The Tale of Moriganna" - Stories from the B-Team, Part 4

by Trevor Hanson

Sylvia was a dancing girl from Eusebea, stunningly beautiful and skilled at her art. She was sought out by nobles, warlords, and bandit kings alike. She lived the high life of a courtesan for many years until, as she aged, her popularity slipped in favor of younger and newer women. Eventually circumstance dictated that Sylvia marry to secure her future. A dashing ship's captain swept her off her feet and within several fortnights she was wed and pregnant. As it happened she soon discovered that her new husband turned was an otherworldly spirit known as a marid with no plans to loiter within the realm of mortals. Not wanting to live out her days trapped in the watery realm of Hydros, one of an immortal's many hundreds of captive wives, Sylvia fled. Thus a once coveted dancer and ship-setter ended up working as a scullery maid for Machimosian Mercenaries.

Sylvia’s offspring, Moriganna, was tainted by her father’s heritage. She possessed green skin, she could breathe underwater, and she speak with and mentally control fish. This made the life for the pair easier as they could reliably harvest excellent seafood for their hosts.

Sylvia did not want her daughter to become a dancing girl like herself. Even though an exotic green dancing girl would be highly prized she knew where that road ended. She refused to teach Moriganna her arts so the young girl started to glean skills from those around her: the Mercenaries.

MORIGANNA
Moriganna lacked the physical strength that many warriors possess but she was quick enough and her constant swimming provided her with great stamina. She gained skill in the use of the crossbow and began selling her martial services to ship captains that were dealing with pirates, though she was not beyond helping those same pirates escape justice if the price was right. Being able to approach a ship underwater proved a useful talent in her new profession.

Eventually Moriganna's mother, Sylvia, became sick. She sought the services of healers but none could treat the malady. Eventually a wrinkled old bog witch told Moriganna that not only could she cure her mother of the illness, but that her mother would live for many more decades - for a price. All she asked in return was Sylvia's wedding amulet.

Moriganna had long known of her mother’s wedding amulet, an exquisite blue diamond on a silver chain that was an engagement gift from her supernatural father. Moriganna gave it to the witch.

The bog witch performed her magic. Sylvia's body was rid of the disease overnight. However, Sylvia's personality was gone. Sylvia had become a mindless drone. The bog witch had trapped Moriganna's mother within the blue diamond.

Enraged, Moriganna killed the bog witch and retrieved the diamond containing her mother's soul. She delivered her mother's living body to a convent so that nuns could care for and look after it.

Moriganna now had a mission. Moriganna needed to find a high priest capable of releasing her mother's soul. Such a miracle would require sacrificial offerings worth 3000 gold coins as well as the sacrifice of a diamond worth at least 1000 gold coins. The diamond containing the soul of her mother had darkened and internal facets could be seen, thus rendering it valueless other than a few gold coins, not that she would ever sell it, so it was worthless for the purposes of the ritual of resurrection.

A LIFE OF CRIME
Resurrecting her mother would be expensive and her work as a Machimesian mercenary would never raise sufficient funds. Because working for the pirates and smugglers paid more than mercenary work and pirate hunting, Moriganna started down a darker path. Her illicit work led to interactions with people, beings, and cults that she would rather not have known existed. Still, she had the solace and solitude of the ocean when she needed to remove herself from present company.

One fateful day, Moriganna was working as a member of a pirate crew operating out of a hidden base somewhere on the west cost of Chult. The pirates had collected several artifacts gathered from locations across Antara - a live unicorn from Aeon, a crystal lens from Bres, meteoric jade from Plaksha, Residuum from Agartta, and other items. Mysterious robed strangers wearing jade masks had come in a small boat to take possession of them.

She accidentally overheard one of the strangers whisper to another about the “Soul Monger”. Something resonated badly within her at that utterance. Moriganna ignored any lingering concerns she had and instead focused on the potentially valuable objects and artifacts that belonged to the robed strangers and how she might be able to sell them in Fort Belaurian.

She abandoned her crew and followed the masked strangers who had left the Jahaka Anchorange with with their valuable collection. The strangers traveled by small boat and followed the coast of Jahaka Bay east, towards the River Tath. Moriganna did her best to stay far enough away to avoid notice without losing track of the strangers in the perpetual fog of Jahaka Bay. They left their boat at an ancient quay near the waterfall where the River Tath pours into the bay. They climbed an ancient track that led up the river and into the Ataaz Kahakla, the "Gorge of Screaming Death". It was there that she encountered three days of torrential rain and lost the trail.


She consoled herself with the knowledge that many valuable treasures could be found somewhere in the jungles of the Chultan interior. If she could steal one she could easily make the funds required to restore her mother. She made her way back to Jahaka Anchorage. Her plan was to join the crew of one of the smuggler's ships that transported stolen goods to Fort Belaurian to sell. She would make her way from there to Port Nyanzaru, find a guide, hire a team, and find those relics.

Still, something about Soul Monger echoed in the back of her mind.

Character Sheet

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"Where Would You Like to Go First?" - Tomb of Annihilation, Chapter 15


The expedition was walking south over the hilly grasslands outside Port Nyanzaru. Their guide, a serene middle-aged Chultan woman named Eku, inquired, "Where would you like to go first?"

"We want to deliver supplies to the Knights of the Circle in M'Bala," replied Zeynap, indicating the heavy load of equipment packed onto the back of the eight-ton macetail.

"Is that all? You have already been there. You need no guide to take you there. Where would you really like me to take you?" She asked.

"We'd like to investigate the Heart of Ubtao." said Zeynap.

“Ah, a sacred place. An island that floats hundreds of feet above the jungle. In ancient times the high priests of Ubtao would ride on the backs of leather-wings to gather there. They would perform their most sacred group rituals. 200 years ago, Ubtao abandoned the people of Chult. The priests no longer heard his messages. The priests stopped going there and it was abandoned. Now there are no more priests of Ubtao. If I may ask, why do you wish to visit the Heart of Ubtao?"

Zeynap looked to Xoc-Wik for a reminder. The B'alam archer shrugged. So did Bramble. Zeynap replied, "We don't know, honestly. We thought we might find the Soulmonger there."

"You believe the Soul Monger to be located within the Heart of Ubtao?"

"We're not so sure anymore. All we know is that it is located in Southern Chult."

"The Heart of Ubtao is not in Southern Chult."

"Yeah, we honestly don't know where the Soul Monger is."

"If it is knowledge you seek, you should consult with the ancient Spirit Naga of Orolunga. It will answer truthfully any question you pose of it."

"Where's Orolunga?" inquired Apparently.

"It is an abandoned city to the west of M'Bala."

"Is that where we saw that ziggurat poking above the jungle?" Apparently pulled out her map of the Chultan coast, updated with her notes and observations, "Right about here on the map?"

"Yes, I believe so."

"Does this spirit naga demand a sacrifice? Do we have to sacrifice any children or anything?" asked Xoc-Wik, nervously.

"Oh no. I should think not!" replied Eku.

"Then forget the Heart of Ubtao. After we drop these supplies off at M'bala, we head to Orolunga," declared Zeynap!



CHAPTER 15, "WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO FIRST?"

THE EXPEDITION
  • 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. 
NPCs

  • Eku - a mysterious shape-changing wise-woman from Chult, hired as a guide.
  • Tony and Vinnie - rough and tumble dinosaur wranglers who wished to learn from Apparently, possibly from 19th century Boston on Earth. 



DM Note - I created a spreadsheet that pre-determined weather conditions and random encounters for the next 40 days of travel. Three possible encounters a day: travel time, down time, rest time. 

For any given period, there was a 10% chance of heavy rain or heavy wind and a 25% of a random encounter. 

During travel period, heavy rain prohibited travel because of flash floods, mud, and general misery. Heavy wind halved the distance traveled. 

During down time, heavy rain or heavy wind prohibited foraging or downtime activity. They had to dip into their rations.

While they are traveling, I require my players to make DC 10 Wisdom (Nature) checks in order to benefit from a Long Rest. Heavy rain or heavy wind during the night time imparts Disadvantage on that check. 

Day 1 - Frost Giant Checkpoint
Eku called everyone to stop. The expedition was crossing the hilly grasslands atop the plateau overlooking Port Nyanzaru. She pointed ahead at some makeshift barricades built of recently fallen tree trunks. The barricades served as a fence and funneled traffic out of the jungle towards a checkpoint manned by three frost giants. One giant stood atop a tower made of logs giving him an excellent vantage. He was looking away from Port Nyanzaru, watching the jungle.  

Zeynap said, "Hey, we know those guys!"

The expedition approached the frost giants. The frost giants questioned the expedition in an effort to determine if they had seen Artus Cimber or a humanoid saurian named "Dragonbait".

"We have not. What's a 'saurian'?" inquired Zeynap.

The giants looked at each other quizzically, "Um, we're not sure." was the honest reply. 

"Got it." said Zeynap and they continued through the checkpoint into the jungle. 


"I don't think they recognized us," said Xoc-Wik to Zeynap.

"To giants, all us shorties probably look alike." he replied. He turned to Eku, "So, what's a 'saurian'?"

Eku shrugged, "I've never heard of a saurian. Maybe it's from the other world, Earth. Lots of beings cross over from Earth."

"Hunh," concluded Zeynap.   



Day 2
Heavy wind hampered their progress through the jungle. They found setting camp difficult and were unable to forage or hunt. The expedition had to eat from their carried rations.


Day 3 - Su-Monsters
It was raining during the third day of travel. The expedition was following the high ground that separated the drainage valleys of the rivers Soshenstar and Tiryiki, allowing them to avoid crossing gullies and creeks. Apparently was leading the train followed by Argent and Bramble.  Visibility in the dense foliage was reduced to ten feet in any direction.

Apparently saw two strange bald monkeys hanging upside down from a nearby tree only ten feet away. They looked like the evil psychic creatures they encountered soon after leaving the ruins of Fort Righeous. She halted the train and warned the others.

The monkeys watched her curiously. She nocked an arrow in her bow and moved cautiously forward. The monkeys retreated slowly but kept her in sight. It was as if they wanted her to follow them. She called back to Eku, "We hate these things! Is it all right with you if we kill them?"

Eku replied, "Su-Monsters are abhorrent and evil. Eradicate them if you can!"

"Got it!" Apparently replied as she drew back her bowstring and attacked the su-monster nearest her. 

The su-monster opened its mouth in a silent scream. Apparently's mind reeled from the intense pain the silent scream caused within her brain. 

Argent moved forward to defend her. The other su-monster unleashed its silent scream attack against the dragonid holy warrior.


Suddenly two more su-monsters appeared from the brush from behind Zeynap and Xoc-Wik. Bramble transformed into a large bear and engaged the su-monster attacking Xoc-Wik. Xoc-Wik moved quickly out of the way while Zeynap directed his celestial hexes and eldritch blasts at the other.

Eku helped Tony and Vinnie move the macetail to safety while Chak'sa moved forward to protect Apparently.

Xoc-Wik, the master archer, was able to find his targets despite the heavy foliage and cover.

Eventually the su-monsters were sufficiently wounded to cause them to retreat. The expedition regrouped and continued on their journey.

Day 4 - Ochuhuman Ambush
The rain on the fourth day was accompanied by heavy wind which slowed their progress through the jungle. The wind had died down by late afternoon and Xoc-Wik and Bramble split up to go hunting and foraging while the others established camp and tended to the behemoths.

Bramble was just over a hundred feet from  camp when he spotted pale faces peering at him from beneath the undergrowth. Before he could attempt to make friendly contact, five squat albino humanoids sporting pale dreadlocks and pink eyes. They were muscular and stout, unlike the Batiri they had encountered earlier. They seemed primitive and wore naught but animal skins and large leaves. They surrounded Bramble and began beating on him with clubs.

Bramble transformed himself into a bear and escaped the scrum. He ran quickly back to the camp with the five albino dwarfs behind him.

The others, seeing a large bear charging into camp, jumped to attention and grabbed their weapons.

Xoc-Wik, meanwhile, was busy hunting six hundred feet away. He heard the commotion through the jungle and stood from his crouch. He could see nothing but could tell that a large bear, probably Bramble, was being chased by what sounded like a group of four, possibly five, humanoids.

Xoc-Wik drew back his bow and loosed a magically charged arrow in a high arc through the tree canopy. The arrow tore through the leaves and branches and struck one of the albino dwarfs. The dwarf exploded in magical fire and the resulting blast knocked the others off their feet!

DM Note- Xoc-Wik was literally 560 feet away with no line of sight. His player said he was in range and wanted to launch an arrow. I said, "Now wait a minute. How can you possibly justify this shot?"

Xoc-Wik's player said that he could hear the commotion. He targeted the center of the noise and loosed and explosive arrow. I liked the imagery and I tend to allow anything once if its cool enough, so I said, "Roll with Disadvantage."

Xoc-Wik's player rolled two dice. Both were twenties

"Well, shit! The rest of you hear a kind of whistling from the sky and suddenly this guy here just explodes like he just got hit by a mortar! KABOOM!"





The b'alam archer launched several more arrows in a high arc which missed their marks, landing in the ground like a rain of missiles from the sky. Apparently and Zeynap, meanwhile, dispatched two others. The sole survivor skidded to a stop and turned and fled as fast as he could, quickly disappearing into the jungle undergrowth.

Eku raised a hand to prevent further action.

"What was THAT?" demanded Zeynap!

Eku explained that they were known as Ochuhumas. They once lived in the south west coastal mountains but were forced to flee their subterranean homes when a nearby volcano erupted. Now they live a primitive existence as scavengers. They meant no harm and were trying to subdue Bramble to steal his equipment or possibly ransom for the expedition's supplies.

Apparently and Argent pointed out that they had met such a dwarf, a blacksmith in Port Nyanzaru.

Day 5
Heavy rains, no travel.  Nothing to report.

Day 6
Heavy rains, no travel.

The heavy rains continued, prohibiting any travel. That night, Bramble was on watch when he thought he saw one or more humanoid figures observing him from the forests. The figures appeared to be wearing heavy robes covered in camouflaging vegetation. He woke several others. When they investigated they found boot prints in the mud but no sign of the observers. Rather than attempt to track the boot prints in the dark they decided to wait until dawn. The watch was doubled but there were no further sightings of their covert observers.

By dawn the imprints in the mud had been washed away leaving little trace to follow.

Day 7 - Runners
The seventh day saw a light rain with no wind. The expedition packed up and continued their journey.


During the afternoon they heard a swift running sound approaching low from the underbrush behind them. Suddenly a flock of ten bird-like creatures, each the size of a turkey or dog, burst through the brush. Each creature possessed a single long sickle-like talon on each foot and their long mouths were filled with razor-sharp teeth.

The bird-things swarmed Xoc-Wik and one of the macetail's handlers DM Note- Vinnie or Tony, it's not important.

Xoc-Wik quickly disengaged from the oncoming bird-things, moving in between the macetail and Chak'sa. Bramble called upon the spirits of nature to create a magical wall of wind that blew through the raptor-things. The entire flank of five raptor-things were blown away into the forest.


Argent moved forward to engage remaining raptor-things. The dragonid took a deep breath and exhaled fire in a wide swath. Between Argents axe, Zeynap's celestial spells, and arrows from Xoc-Wik and Apparently, the raptor-things found themselves soon dispatched.


Day 8
Light rain, the expedition traveled 20 miles, nothing to report

Day 9
Light rain, the expedition traveled 20 miles, nothing to report

Day 10
Light rain, the expedition traveled 20 miles, nothing to report

Day 11 - Macetail Zombie

The party reached the River Soshenstar on the eleventh day. Here the river descended a few low falls as it drained from the Aldani basin. A few boulders stuck out of the water. The river was about two hundred feet wide and was, at most, five feet deep. It poured swiftly over the step-like falls. Each step was no more than ten feet high.  Crossing it would be challenging but not too difficult.

Bramble transformed himself into an octopus and carried one end of a rope to the other side. When he was a third of the way across he moved over the remains of a deceased macetail. The body was partially decomposed and pressed against some rocks underwater, held fast by the flow of the river.

In response to being disturbed, the decaying semi-skeletal body suddenly heaved out of its niche and reared up out of the water.

Bramble quickly shot out a jet of ink and darted across the river to the other side.

The zombie macetail lumbered towards the shore to menace the rest of the expedition. It was quickly destroyed and the party was able to cross the river without further interruption.

Girallons in the Night
It was the night of their eleventh day of travel. They had arrived at the ruins where they had earlier encountered deadline man-eating plants! The ruins were a defensible location and they ensured no man-eating plants were nearby and set up camp.


It was near midnight and Apparently was on watch. It was raining and everyone was gathered under canvas tarpaulins. Apparently scanned the dark forest for danger.

Her attention was drawn to the roof of one of the nearby ruins. A large white-furred simian with four arms leaped onto the roof, its pale face illuminated by the dimly glowing embers of the fire. Then she saw another. She called the alarm.

TO BE CONTINUED...