Friday, September 30, 2016

The Death of Vlad

Vlad was eager to pursue Burne’s quest with or without his associates.  Ed and Kirito, two wanderers who were passing through Hommlet on their way to nonwhere in particular were persuaded to join him.  Chrono the druid, whom he’dknown since Gold Hill agreed to join the party.
Burne escorted the group to the moathouse himself and introduced them to his guards.  These guards, in the interest of full transparency, admitted to the adventurers that while they considered themselves braver and stronger than most men, they absolutely refused to explore the dungeon below them and were only willing to garrison the moathouse itself because Burne paid well.  It wasn’t death that they were afraid of.  Death, they laughed, was not the worst alternative.

Burne explained once more what he was looking for—pools of water.  Not natural cave pools, but artfully constructed.  With writing on the walls.  They would know them when they found them.
The guards dutifully moved aside the assorted debris they had piled on top of the trapdoor that led into the dungeon.  Vlad led the way and the adventurers started down the rough wooden stairs.  About halfway down, a glob of bright green slime fell from ceiling onto Vlad, gliding off his mantle and landing on his leather gauntlet and his sword.  Vlad flung away his sword and.  More slime fell from the ceiling, this time landing on the stairs. Chrono scraped at it with his staff.  To his chagrin, the slime burned away his staff.  The slime was corrosive to both leather and metal and other weapons were lost before Ed scorched it with his torch. The slime smoldered and sparked and then burst into flame, quickly burning to a black smudge.

At the bottom of the stairs was a large room with two locked closets.  Ed picked the locks and found storerooms filled with weapons and other supplies.  Vlad chose a replacement sword, and the urged his companions to explore further.  Charging down a pillared corridor, Vlad was surprised by a shuffling undead man that beat him over the head with its rotting limbs.  Vlad spun on his heel shouting his war cry and destroyed the zombie with two solid strokes of his sword.  As his companions rushed to his aid, more zombies poured out of the row of dungeon cells that lined the corridor.

The zombies seemed drawn to Vlad and Vlad gleefully strode into their midst, swinging his sword in mighty, reckless arcs, cleaving bones and flesh, dropping enemies in a pile around him and  hardly noticing the rain of blows that fell on his head and shoulders.  Kirito could see that Vlad was nearly overwhelmed and fought through the horde of zombies to assist his companion.  But Vlad, in a blind battle rage, did not distinguish friend from foe; Kirito barely dodged what could have been a lethal blow.  Ed and Chrono flanked the zombies but did not dare engage them in melee.  Only when Vlad fell and dropped his sword did Kirito find an opportunity to plunge into the thick of the battle.  He killed two of the zombies and called on Ed and Chrono to help pull Vlad to safety.  Chrono tried to heal Vlad, but it was too late.  Kirito held the zombies at bay while Ed and Chrono carried Vlad’s body toward the stairs.
Kirito suffered a serious wound and retreated.  The zombies pursued, but slowly and without coordination; they were further hampered by arrows from Ed’s bow.  Chrono reached the stairs and called for help from the guards.  Two of them, forgetting their oaths of cowardice, rushed down to help carry Vlad’s body.  Ed tossed his torch at the zombies and was the last one up.
All the guards helped pile stones and firewood and furniture on top of the trapdoors as the zombies came clomping off the stairs.  For hours the zombies pounded mindlessly on the other side of the trapdoor.

Vlad was buried in Hommlet, in his armor, and without his hard-won mantle.  It was gone.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pasar and the Princes Episode 3 (You are the heroes!)

The journey between Pasar and the Northern Empire of Zhou Dang is never easy. Merchants follow a good highway from East to West and from West to East, there’s a deep water port not far away to the southeast, but nearly impassable mountains shield the peaceful folk of the Kayu Valley from war-mongering Khan. Based on rumors from merchants and hunters as well as her own past experiences, Beatriss recommend to her friends that this time they should hire a guide and follow the over mountain route.

By chance, this was the best time (some said the only time) for traveling in the mountains—the spring melting and flooding had passed and the autumn storms and snow had not yet begun. Experience proved the wisdom of Beatriss’s recommendation. The roads were clear and peaceful. Their guide was knowledgeable and helpful, assisting them in negotiating fair prices for food and accommodation as they made their way from one village to the next, gradually working their way higher into the mountains over a few weeks. Bangqiu had time and energy for studying. Prince Slash and Sir Crowler made new friends. And, thanks to Jasmine, new enemies—but there was no serious conflict.

And then one night something strange happened. They were staying at an inn near the Red Mountain Path Monastery, shuttered against the winds that heralded the coming storm season. There was a loud rapping at the door. The innkeeper, a grumpy old woman, opened the door with a pained smile. A monk in orange robes pushed his way past her and began ranting about the end of the world. The patrons reacted angrily and, in the case of Sir Crowler, violently. For the monk’s protection, Ju May and Beatriss overpowered him and bound him. Then everyone went to sleep.

In the morning, there was a commotion in the streets. And in the inn. No one could understand what anyone else was saying! And the tied monk had someone escaped his bounds in the night. Beatriss and Prince Slash went into the street to figure out what was going on. The village comprised a single street with one lane leading up to the monastery. Down the street, on the edge of the village, things were still peaceful. Beatriss went to talk to those people. They laughed when she spoke, but when they responded, they were horrified at the gibberish coming out of their own mouths.

Based on this experience, Prince Slash deducted that the monastery was the source of the commotion and started walking up the hill. Beatriss and Bangqiu came after him. Sir Crowler looked for someone to play soccer. Those approaching the monastery heard a loud commotion coming from within. Inside an old monk seemed to be leading the others in a bizarre ritual. When Beatriss tried to intervene, the old monk admonished her, commanding her in very clear words to leave them. She refused. For a moment, his face seemed to change to that of a long-fanged demon, but then his whole body changed—expanding to nearly fill the room as a charging elephant. Beatriss dodged it and attacked with her sword. Prince Slash shushed the chanting monks; they seemed relieved by their own temporary silence. Bangqiu blasted the elephant with his magic. But then the elephant turned into an enormous worm and its touch paralyzed Beatriss. Prince Slash ran to get help. Bangqiu attacked the worm and it turned into a flying monster, half-man, half-horse. It flew up through the roof of the monastery and prepared to dive down. Prince Slash saw it, pulled out his bow, and began shooting arrows. The horse-man monster flew toward Prince Slash and he shot more arrows. It turned into fiery mist and flew away. The monks were grateful and offered to shelter their rescuers. With storms approaching, the heroes couldn’t stay longer than a few days, but this was long enough for the monks to tend to Prince Slash’s arm. They eased the pain of the long-term injury he had suffered and taught him the exercises that would allow him to regain full use.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pasar and the Princes Episode 2 (You are the decoy)

Beatriss and Bangqiu, Sir Crolwer and Prince Slash (and Jasmine!) continued to while awa their time in Pasar. Sir Crowler and Prince Slash being two mysterious wanderers of noble bearing, reportedly related to the king of a faraway land were hoping to buy weapons, something generally difficult to do in Pasar since none were sold openly within the walls.

One day the four friends (and Jasmine!) were enjoying a long leisurely lunch in one of Pasar’s noodle houses when they were approached by a tradesman named An Dohng. An Dohng appeared at the end of their meal as the friends were debating what to do next. An Dohng wanted their help and was prepared to pay for it. As a result of bad luck and a bad brother, An Dohng had lost a delivery of silk and as a result had earned the enmity of a powerful merchant. This merchant, named Badu, was reported to have ties to the Black Flower gang which, despite being banished from Pasar still menaced travelers on the roads. An Dohng was going to meet with Badu at his shop later that day and he believed things would go better for him if he had some powerful friends. The heroes agreed that they would join An Dohng at the meeting place. As they discussed the particulars, two thugs emerged from the shadows of the room and began to threaten An Dohng. Beatriss intervened and no serious violence occurred. An Dohng thanked them profusely. “You’ve helped me already! And now you have to protect me this afternoon!”

The four friends (Jasmine had something else to do) went to the assigned meeting place, a small tavern attached to a warehouse close to one of the gates of the city. They ordered food and drink and surveyed the scene. The two toughs from earlier from earlier and the other patrons of the bar also looked potentially threatening and two openly carried swords, despite the weapon ban. Beatriss of course had her own invisible sword, Bangqiu was very able in defending himself with magic and the princes were always brave, no matter the number or strength of a potential adversity. So the friends chatted happily, seemingly oblivious to any danger.

Before long, An Dohng arrieved. He hesitated for a moment and then heartily greeted the four heroes as his “old, dear friends.” His welcome was loud enough to summon a man from the shop, a man who by the richness of his clothes and portliness of his shape could only be Badu the merchant. He eyed An Dohng’s friends with unveiled coldness and suspicion and then asked to speak to An Dohng alone. The two men sat at a table at the back of the tavern and engaged in tense whispered conversation. Everyone else in the bar fell nearly silent.

After a few minutes, the two men seemed to come to an agreement. An Dohng returned to speak to his protectors. He had come to an agreement, a strange one, ultimately an opportunity for An Dohng to redeem himself by successfully managing another delivery—this one not of silk, but of weapons. “Risky of course, but perhaps with some unexpected advantage. Some of you were hoping to find weapons, no?”

Without agreeing to anything else, the party agreed to at least help An Dohng inspect the shipment. Badu gestured toward the door that led from the tavern to the warehouse. An Dong led the way, followed by Beatriss, Bangqiu, and the princes, with the two toughs they’d encountered at the noodle shop following close behind.

There was a small wagon, already yoked to two horses. An Dohng lifted corner of the tarp, and everyone nodded at the assembled piles of sharp metal. But then there was a shout from the tavern. It was the city watch. “We are here to search the premises for illegal weapons!”

Out in the warehouse, An Dohng jumped into the wagon and grabbed the reins. Beatriss prepared for a fight while Sir Crowler ran into the tavern to alert the watch that the weapons were there. Surprisingly, the tough guys who had threatened An Dohng in the noodle shop assisted him in making a getaway. They opened the door of the warehouse and jumped onto the wagon as An Dohng drove through it. Not knowing what else to do, Beatriss, Bangqiu, and Prince Slash also ran away while Badu and the patrons of the tavern were arrested.

Several hours later, back at the noodle shop, Beatriss, Bangqiu, and Prince Slash came to the reluctant conclusion that something might have happened to Sir Crowler. They went to old village in central Pasar and to the stone house where prisoners were kept. Sure enough, Sir Crowler had been arrested. Prince Slash gave an honest account of everything that had happened, admitting that he and Sir Crowler had been hoping to buy weapons because they wanted to fight members of the Black Flower gang who were roaming the roads outside Pasar. Sir Crowler had made a very similar confession. Appreciating their honesty and their previous service to Pasar, the elders agreed that Sir Crowler should be released with the condition that they should all leave Pasar the next day and not return for one year.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Pasar and the Princes Episode 1 (You are the Ransom)

 While Tetsukichi stayed with his clansfolk, Beatriss, Naron, and Erlo joined Bangqiu, Kafka on their journey to Pasar. Along the way they met their friends Sir Crowler and Prince Slash who knew a shortcut to Pasar- the Gua-Sar caverns. Sir Crowler and Prince Slash were lively companions—with their affinity for animals, noble lineage, and large supply of fruit, there was never a dull moment, even though neither was much good at reading a map. They did find the Gua-Sar caverns, a series of twisting tunnels, flooded with viscous green water. There were strange voices in the air and strange hands in the water. Despite these challenges, the heroes emerged from cavern whole and found their way on to Pasar without incident. Gwinch was indeed happy and proud to meet his student who had disappeared so suddenly. He awarded Kafka the title of Master and asked him to assist a selection of novices in reaching the next milestone in their training—the wisdom that comes from experience.

During an earlier journey to Pasar, Prince Slash had attracted the attention of a beautiful woman named Jasmine and her sullen brother Lum. To his surprise, Prince Slash found that Jasmine and Lum had remained in Pasar and at least every day, he encountered at least one of them. Although Prince Slash protested to others that he hated Jasmine, he seemed to have trouble ignoring her and always smiled when he saw her. For his part, Lum showed consistent dislike for Prince Slash and his friends, barely acknowledging them; any polite words were accompanied by a heavy glare.

One day, however, Lum approached Prince Slash and his friends for help. Jasmine had been kidnapped! Although Prince Slash claimed that he was happy about this, Beatriss convinced him that regardless of his feelings about her, he had some duty to assist with her rescue if possible. And, according to Lum, little assistance was required. The bandits were demanding ransom, Lum had agreed to pay it. He requested the protection of an escort in going to meet the bandits. The friends—Prince Slash, Sir Crolower, Beatriss, and Bangqiu agreed to help. They would meet Lum the next morning.

Bangqiu wanted to help, but he was wary. He suggested that he and Beatriss should accompany the young princes in invisible form. This would give them an advantage if either Lum or the bandits had planned a deception.
Prince Slash did not fully understand the plan. When he and Sir Crowler met Lum the next morning, the first thing he did of note was explain that Beatriss was there too but invisibly. Sir Crowler contradicted him violently. Lum was uncomfortable, maybe less uncomfortable when Beatriss asked, still invisible, how far they had to travel to the bandits’ camp. He wanted to reassurance that Bangqiu was there, too.

That was strange. Strange enough that Beatriss and Bangqiu both became visible and demanded to know more. When pressed, Lum admitted that he couldn’t show them any ransom payment because he wasn’t carrying it. When pressed further, he admitted that they were the ransom payment. He was leading them into an ambush.

After some debate, the heroes decided to believe Lum’s claim that despite his deception, Jasmine really was in danger. Hearing that a man in blue robes was associated with this group, Bangqiu and Beatriss decided that they would ambush the ambusher. After making sure Lum understood that they considered him a traitor and that his life depended on helping them rescue Jasmine, they became invisible again.

When they arrived in the Black Flowers’ camp, the villains challenged Lum, demanding to know why he didn’t bring "the meddlers." The man in blue robes was there, but so was Jasmine, with a blade at her throat. Beatriss and Bangqiu surprised and overpowered the men threatening Jasmine, but before they could turn their attention to the man in blue robes, he disappeared in a flash of fire. The rest of the Black Flowers, having lost both their prisoner and their leader, were quickly routed.

Jasmine put the pieces together quickly and reveled a new one that explained Lum’s jealousy and betrayal. Lum and Jasmine were not brother and sister and neither was the child of a merchant. He was the son of a nobleman and she was a household servant. She understood his jealousy but he had taken it much too far. She wanted nothing more to do with him. Lum agreed this was fitting punishment.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Where was Sakatha?

As the rest of the party rested, plotted, and celebrated, Kafka announced to Bangqiu that he wished to return to Pasar.  He was grateful for the opportunity to join in his adventures and humbled to have undergone such trials of his devotion to the Two-Fold Path.  He believed he was ready to make a report to his teacher and—perhaps—to accept students of his own.  Bangqiu was visibly angry, and his sense of betrayal was little ameliorated by Kafka’s parting gift—the same clutch of arrows that Bangqiu had awarded him after their defeat of the Black Flowers.

What level spell is Guilt Trip?  Kafka agreed that before he returned to Pasar, he would join Bangqiu for once last foray against Sakatha.  The two of them together, with the help of a few members of the Sansar clan—most notably Erlo the shaman—would find the unfindable, climb the unclimbable and destroy Sakatha, with or without Beatriss and Tetsukichi.

That would be without.  Beatriss and Tetsukichi were very comfortable and saw no reason to return to the swamp.

Having so recently made the trip, Bangqiu and Kafka had small difficulty finding their way into the swamp, but were nevertheless confronted by many dangers.  During the first day of their journey, they were surprised with a hideous creature whose mere gaze killed one of the Sansar warriors.  Bangqiu led the rest of his party in running away at full speed.  They found themselves on an expansive area of thick sticky, mud.  Not wanting to risk meeting the death-gaze creature, they spent an entire day trudging across it.  When they at last reached the temple, they found a new group of lizard folk, fewer in number, but greater in number had taken up residence.  These foes sustained the first blast of Bangqiu’s powerful steam breath magic, and were only killed after a prolonged melee battle.

In the dark place below, it seemed little had changed.  The halls were dark.  Vermin swarmed over the bodies of their fallen foes, but there was little sign of human presence.  But relying heavily on the fine map Beatriss had drawn, Bangqiu stumbled upon the evil priests who maintained the shrine.  These strange cultists, each keeping his own company into a small cell-like room were poor strategists, but their leader was a powerful magic-user.  Sacraficing the lives of his underlings, he threw fire at the party and transfixed Erlo with a sinister spell.  Relying on clever use of their invisibility cloak and ring, Bangqiu and Kafka lured the leader of the group away from their friend so that Bangqiu could target him with his own magic.  Two volleys of magic missiles were not enough to kill the wicked man, but Kafka’s sword was. 

Ok, Kafka said, now we return to Pasar.  They had thoroughly mapped the labyrinth and destroyed all the enemies they had encountered.  Where was Sakatha?  A question for another day.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Hidden Dangers in the Dragon People's Stronghold

After recovering from the battle, Bangqiu and Tetsukichi discussed what they had experienced and sought the counsel of Beatriss and the others.  Bangqiu and Tetsukichi had defeated a sizable force, but some of their enemies had escaped—there seemed to be a sizable underground complex where their reptilian foes, now alerted to their presence might be lurking.  Beatriss agreed that she and her associates would join them for another sortie into the dungeon.

Moving from room to room, with stealth and care (Beatriss was becoming a careful mapper) the principled raiders, dispatched several small groups of dragon people and their commanders.  Some were the wounded survivors of the pitched battle from the day before.  Others seemed to been too drunk, cowardly, undisciplined, or smart to have joined the catastrophic event that had led to the destruction of their comrades.

But there were some losses for the party of Sansar, including one death.  The party happened upon one eerily empty barracks room, lined with beds and chests belonging to the dragon warriors who had bravely gone to the battle where they would be killed.  Chests!  Beatriss opened the first one, and narrowly dodged a dart that sprung out if it.  She asked Perin to check the next one before he opened it.  Inspecting the next chest, he found the panel on the front of the chest that likely held its own poison dart.  But not the panel hiding another dart on the back of the chest.  Its poison barbs were embedded deep in his neck, and his end was quick.  The other chests remain unopened.

Bangqiu also experienced a scare.  The party found another demon sculpture very much like the one hiding the entrance to the dragon’s lair.  Like the room upstairs, the little black gem seemed to function as a key, revealing a well-appointed bedroom, study, and alchemical library.  The party grabbed the obvious valuables and elected to take a rest, reasoning that the room’s occupant would never return.  But wizards have strange guests, who sometimes drop by uninvited.  An eight-foot tall, foul-smelling horned fiend (looking almost exactly like the sculpture) appeared in a puff of smoke and charged at Bangqiu, slashing him with its claws even as the young magician pulled his invisibility cloak more and more tightly around him.  Beatriss and Tetsukichi bodily wrestled the demon away from Bangqiu, stabbing it with their stabbing swords and sustaining many injuries themselves.  Bangqiu blasted the demon with two volleys of magic missiles, seemingly destroying his near-killer—it disintegrated into black goo and then evaporated in a flash of pale green fire.

After these frightening encounters, the party moved back upstairs to their more comfortable bolt-hole next to the room of the bubbling pools.  As the snake creatures reformed, they commented with sadness that no more would they have to warn the sometimes careless Perin not to wander too close to weird water.

While the rest of the party slept, Ju May meditated, seeking a vision of whether they would meet Sakatha, the Lizard King, ancient enemy of the Sansar clan. 
Jumay had news for Beatriss, Tetsukichi, and Bangqiu in the morning—Sakatha’s lair lay far far below the earth, “Past the doors you cannot find, down the steps you cannot climb, and across the River of Nothingness.”

“That sounds far.”

The party made one last foray into the complex beneath the temple.  They found a small shrine dedicated to something evil, robes decorated with evil-looking symbols, and a collection of books about evilness.  No doors other than the ones they could find, no steps others than the ones they could quite easily climb back up to the temple, and no river except for the swamp that they struggled for a few days to find their way out of.  It was difficult with Perin to guide them.  The nights were strange.  They heard voices in the distances, saw large fires. 

After four days, they emerged from the swamp and rejoined the Sansar clan.  They shared the sad news about Perin and returned his belonging to his family, along with a share of the treasure they’d looted from the dragon.

Over the next few days, the Sansar elders listened to the party’s stories with interest.  They were heartened to hear of their heroic victory over the hordes of dragon people.  And dismayed at the hints of a deeper, older, stranger evil.