Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rescuing Golfo

A large party was organized for the mission to Xitaqa: Beatriss; Tetsukichi; Al-Fitar; Phi Phong; Kreppu-san and his three companions, rescued from the slavers’ stockade; Xīngqíliù and his six brothers. Their path followed a dry channel worn into the escarpment that rises on the north side of the Lam River. After an hour or so on the path, Xīngqíliù pointed out the top of the well-fortified tower that is the major landmark of Xitaqa. They saw dark shapes flying around the top of the tower and Kreppu-san recommended that rather than meet any enemies in the confines of the path, they would do well to seek higher ground. With ropes and the assistance of expert climbers, the entire party managed the climb up onto the higher ground.
IMG_1964 by Brayo

The ground was rocky and there was no defined path, but up out of the channel, they could all get a good at not only the tower but the little ghost town beneath it—a warren of twisting “streets” carved into the stone by the weather, and lined with small structures that were half-carved into the stone and built out with bricks of the same mottled red, pink, and yellow color.
On top of the escarpment, the party also attracted the attention of the flying creatures, which, as they drew nearer proved to be very large bats.  Several members of the party were very good shots with their bows, and they shot enough of the bats in their approach that the survivors circled back and flew away.  The party continued until they came to a place where unless they were willing to divert their course, they would need to “cross the street”—that is climb down one side of the gully and then back up the other side.  They found a relatively gentle slope with natural footholds where they could climb down, but climbing up was not so obviously easy.  One of Kreppu-san’s companions, a woman named Jintara, was a skilled climber and so they sent her up with a coil first of rope to help the others.  As soon as she reached the top Jintara, turned back and waved her hands in alarm.  The party took a defensive position and were well-prepared for a group of men, armed with spears and leading apes.  Tetsukichi warned the party not to attack the apes unless necessary, as he had knowledge of animal speech.  So when the spearmen order the apes to attack, the party’s archers shot at the spearmen while Tetsukichi warned the apes that they need not be enemies.  Several spearmen were shot and killed; the others, seeing the apes’ hesitation to follow their orders, retreated in panic, dragging their “pets” with them.  Two of the apes remained behind, and they told Tetsukichi that the area belonged to the apes and no humans were wanted.  The party made a show of cautiously retreated and the apes went there own way.

  With Jintara’s help, the party found a place to climb back up on top of the escarpment and continue their approach toward the tower.

Soon the group came to a point that overlooked a small plaza, surrounded with buildings of slightly larger stature than the others they had seen and, directly opposite them, tall doors leading into the tower itself.   One of the doors was slightly open, but the interior was unlit and no one could see anything inside.  wo of their local guides agreed to climb down ropes into the plaza while the rest of the party either held the ropes or covered their descent.  As the guides descended, men from inside the tower shot and killed them and then rushed out with their spears, only to be shot down by the party’s archers.  Two more volunteers, both more heavily armored, descend next, and reached the plaza floor without incident.  They confirmed that the sides were dead, that there was no obvious danger waiting for them and signaled the rest of the party to follow.
Entering the tower, they found a once grand foyer with a tiled mosaic floor and well-carved statues of wolf-headed people, plus the hammocks, eating utensils, and other personal belongings of the men who had attacked them in the plaza.  Pushing onward, they reached a large atrium with a dry fountain in the middle of it, where two wolves, each the size of a horse was waiting for them.  The wolves attacked viciously, but the many strong warriors held a defensive line to protect their weaker comapnions and together killed the beasts.  As ; Xīngqíliù tended the wounded, his brothers explored the room.  One of them prodded at a tapestry, and feeling his spear hit something behind it went for a closer look.  A very large man jumped out, brandishing his sword, and struck down ; Xīngqíliù’s brother.  The other party members reacted quickly and the man—who bore the markings tattoos Jintara recognized as those of the Bloodhead tribe and whose armor and headgear indicated he was likely its chief—was partially subdued ; Xīngqíliù found that his brother was grievously wounded but not dead and with the other brothers’ help, carried him aside to give him what aid they could.  Meanwhile the party questioned the chief.  They told him that they had killed Golthar and were looking for their friend Golfo.  The chief confirmed that there was a prisoner upstairs.  He did not know where the prisoner was held or even that he was still alive, but showed them where the stairs were and announced that if they wished the brave Golthar’s magical guardians, he would neither help nor hinder them.  During these discussions, X and the brothers assisted their brother in retreating from the tower, offering that would hope to meet the party later. 

Beatriss led the way up the narrow spiral stairs to the next floor.  As she reached a closed door, she heard a shout from below.  It was Al-Fitar, the rearguard, who had been attacked by the Bloodhead chief.  Al-Fitar dodged the main force of the blow, and threw himself back against his attacker, knocking the chief back into the room and giving several other party members room to get back down the stairs and assist their friend.  Overpowered and outnumbered, the chief fought with valor, but was killed.  The party looted the chief’s body and Al-Fitar claimed his great sword, which bore the mark of a renowned smith.

Once again the party ascended the stairs and opened the door into a barracks.  Besides beds for 10 men, spare weapons, and typical personal effects, they found manacles and other accoutrements of kidnappers and slavers.  And they found another spiral staircase that led them still higher in the tower.

On the next floor, they found what appeared to be a bare room with a cell one side of it.  A man, naked and bruised lay on the floor of the cell and some creature seemed to be trying to batter its way inside.   Beatriss charged into the room—and disappeared!  They could still hear her footsteps—and then her voice, calling out that she was still there, but no one could see her.  But the unseen creature could see her and attacked.  Taking a defensive position, she took select strategic slashes at her invisible foe, while warning the rest of the party to stay back and out of her way.  The creature followed maintained its attack, but Beatriss deflected most of its powerful blows, while her own struck again and again, not only harming the creature, but also giving her a better sense of its great size, general shape, and fighting style.  When she began to tire, she lured it toward the entrance so that her companions could try to strike it without hitting her by accident.  By this ploy, they killed the beast, and dragging it out of the room found it to be a anthropomorphic bull, wielding a powerful sword.  (Jinatara claimed the sword.)
Rose with sword by jmolives
Rose with sword, a photo by jmolives on Flickr.
(It suits her.)   Phi Phong and Beatriss rushed to the cell and confirmed that it was indeed Golfo.  He was alive but in very bad shape.  The party despaired of how to get into the cell.  Neither Phi Phong nor Jintara could pick the lock.  And the strongest of them was smart enough to realize that if anyone could break in, it would have been the bull-monster.  Then Tetsukichi remember the bag he had looted from Golthar back in Menkan,  sure enough it contained several keys and one of them opened the door to the cell.  Golfo and Phi Phong reunited in a way that was at first touching and very soon uncomfortable for everyone else, and then Beatrsiss loaned him some clothes and suggested they should get to safety.  Golfo protested that he wanted to find his armor and that Golthar’s room upstairs must contain a hoard of treasure, but wiser heads prevailed.  They descended the tower. 

Xīngqíliù and his brothers were holed up in one of the smaller building off the plaza.  The injured brother could walk with support and the reunited party agreed to leave Xitaqa together, following the surface streets this time due to the difficulty in trying to get the injured people up on top of the escarpment.  They encountered no one and made it all the way down to the beach.  There they were ambushed by group of slavers on horseback.  It was a fierce fight.  Although the party killed most of the slavers and drove off the one or two survivors, one of X’s brothers was killed and several more were wounded.  The party captured the horses and used them to pull litters for the dead and most seriously wounded.  But once they reached the boat, they decided not to try to bring them aboard and instead boarded it themselves and sailed down the Lam toward civilization.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Smashing the wolf-people's idol

Beatriss and Tetsukichi, along with their companions and guides, sailed down on the western branch of the Lam River and then up the eastern branch, as guided by Xīngqíliù.  Along the way, they passed near Quitokai and picked up Afu the Priest and Kreppu-San, a warrior from Zipang who claimed to have been travelling with Gwinch and to accompanied him in his attack on the slaver’s stockade.  Indeed as they traveled up the eastern branch of the Lam, Kreppu-San was able to point out the peaks behind which—according to him—the stockade was situated.

And, according to Xīngqíliù, they were also nearing Xitaqa.  But before he would reveal the exact location of the tower that was Golthar’s former home and the likely prison Golfo, he would demand, as he had warned them, a favor.  His demand was in fact both a request for a favor and a loyalty test.  Xitaqa was a wicked place, built by wicked people of a former age, and a beacon to their sucessors in wickedness.  And what better way for the party to prove that they were not among the wicked than to destroy an idol of wickedness?
Xīngqíliù indicated a path, faintly visible from their boat that, he explained, led to a cave inhabited by a family of wolf-people.  They had built a wolf idol for themselves and worshipped it in the cave until they were rewarded and cursed with the power to turn into wolves and to command natural wolves.  If the party would enter the cave and retrieve the idol so that he could destroy it, he would reward them with the information they sought.

Tetsukichi, Beatriss, and Kreppu-San debated Xīngqíliù’s offer.  What was their quarrel against the wolf people?  What if these were just natural wolves?  But they weren’t being asked to murder but only to steal.  And if they were natural wolves, they would have no interest in an idol.  If they were wolf-people, then they shouldn’t be eating people-people, as Xīngqíliù claimed that they did.
They made a plan to attack at night when most of the pack would be out hunting.  Neither Xīngqíliù and his brothers nor Afu would enter the wolf cave, but the priests did give the party some assistance—one glowing stone to provide them with light and a second to mask the sound of their footsteps. 

The party disembarked and followed the path up the river to the path that Xīngqíliù had pointed out.  They followed it to the cave, obviously the noisome den of a pack of wolves.   
IMG_4964 by Brayo
Al-Fitar was posted outside to watch for the pack’s return while the others entered.  The short entry tunnel led to a central chamber with several smaller caves radiating off of it.  Climbing up to a ledge, they found a small alcove and inside it, the idol—a clay statuette with gemstone eyes.  While discussing (silently) how to retrieve it, the natural wolves inhabiting the lair detected their presence and began to emerge from the other rooms.  The party fought the wolves and killed them and then swiftly retrieved the idol and ran out.  Al-Fitar reported no sign of danger, but the party didn’t linger. 
They returned to the boat. Xīngqíliù congratulated them and took the idol.  His brothers guarded it while the party spent a few hours in restless sleep, awakened near dawn by the sound of piteous howling.  They pushed up from the shore and remained anchored in the middle of the river until daybreak.  When the sun was up, Xīngqíliù asked for he and himself to be put down on shore where, after a short ritual, they smashed up the idol.  (And, it seemed, pocketed the gemstone eyes.)  Xīngqíliù was well-pleased with the party and agreed not only to show them the path to Xitaqa, but to accompany them there.