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"
- 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.
- 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.
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.
Clear travel, nothing to report.
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 Skion. 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.
A storm fell upon the party. Rain and heavy winds hampered movement and the party only covered ten miles.
It rained during their travels but heavy winds late in the day made it difficult to set camp and prohibited any foraging.
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.
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.
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.