Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #11: Where's the Cactus?

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (magician) 3.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 2/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jubair, human rogue 3.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor 3 [deity not yet known to most of the PCs].
  • Lucretia Scavola, half-elf monk (zen archer) 3.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 3; and Zafira, camel mount.
Last time, our heroes had tracked a halfling and a tiny animate cactus to the eastern edge of Spine Hollow, where one of the low spots through the surrounding ring of hills was clogged with cacti and other desert plants. Edel had cast dancing lights to point out their quarry to the others, and the party pursued into the difficult terrain of the cactus patch.

Jumari cast expeditious retreat on herself in order to follow the tracks without being slowed down even further. The party gained on the halfling, and the others could finally see her in the moonlight: a tiny figure in desert robes. When they drew within a bowshot of her, Edel called out for her to stop, claiming the party didn't want to hurt her.

In reply, she stopped long enough to cast stinking cloud on the group, which nauseated all of them except Jumari. The inquisitor warded herself with shield of faith and rushed forward as quickly as the clinging vegetation would let her. The others slowly stumbled out of the cloud, and stumbled in the direction of the halfling as they tried to recover from the spell's effects.

The party closes in on the halfling (white hood), after
weathering her stinking cloud (pencil circle) and
vomit swarm (gray disk) spells.
The small woman vomited out a swarm of spiders, which soon reached Edel, who took damage but continued onward. Fatou was the first to recover from nausea; she cast burning hands on the swarm before it passed over her and into the stinking cloud.

Meanwhile, Jumari had closed with the halfling, who attempted to cast pox pustules on her, but the half-orc resisted the spell. Unable to strike the nimble halfling with her weapons, Jumari switched to her bleeding touch power, with which she easily hit her target.

Fatou and Jubair reached the halfling, hemming her in. Lucretia received from the cloud's effects, and began shooting at their foe, but her first several shots missed. The monk finally hit while the small spellcaster was trying to hit Jumari with vampiric touch; her arrow did more injury than the halfling's spell healed.

Edel trips the surrounded halfling.
Jubair and Edel were the last to overcome their nausea. The rogue struck the enemy a solid blow, and the bard used his whip to trip her. Badly hurt and prone, the halfling surrendered, and ZhaZha (who had finally reached the fight) took away her staff and sat on her to keep her under control.

Jumari used detect evil to confirm her suspicions about the halfling woman, but nobody could see the tiny black cactus anywhere. The inquisitor demanded to know where it was, and was told it was trying to get away, out of the hollow. Jumari and Fatou used the enhanced speed to track the cactus eastward, leaving the others to search and interrogate their prisoner.

Fatou sent her owl Nochaesh ahead to scout, and the owl spotted the fleeing plant. The thing hid in a clump of brush, but Jumari was able to locate its aura, and demanded that it emerge. The tiny creature pleaded not be killed, and asked if they had killed its mistress. The half-orc intimidated it into obeying her, and Fatou told it that its fate would match its master's. Once it showed itself, Fatou recognized it as a rare sentient plant called a petrifern, who some spellcasters could use as familiars.

Meanwhile, ZhaZha searched the woman and removed all the gear hidden about her person, and Edel used detect magic on her and her gear. The prisoner had mage armor active (which is why she had been so hard to hit), and the bard identified a wand of cure light wounds and cloak of resistance +1 among her possessions. The woman had a spell component pouch but no holy symbol, and a pearl in the pouch radiated strong magic unfamiliar to Edel, as did her bracers.

Edel showed the halfling the map, asking what it meant. The woman, Tarifa, cursed softly in her own language, about the idiots who wrote down her name. She explained that the cactus beside her name represented Spine Hollow, and that "Ilgash" was an orc who commanded a secret Ghost Fist Clan hideout there. Tarifa was paid to keep tabs on the hollow, and report to the clan. She claimed to not be a death cultist herself, just in their employ as a spy. Edel suggested she consider not working for them anymore, and the woman swore there was no way she was going back--the Ghost Fists would kill her faster than her present captors would.

In response to further questions, Tarifa explained that the cactus was her familiar, Nafi. Jubair, who by now was somewhat obsessed with acquiring a companion (or two), asked how to get one. Tarifa said, "If you talk to the darkness for long enough, it talks back and teaches you things." This did not exactly help her case with the rest of the party, but Jubair persisted. She pleaded that if they let her and Nafi live, she could see if the rogue could learn how. Jubair tried to convince the others to let her live so that he could get a cactus familiar, but then wondered out loud that maybe if he killed her, he would become its master.

Jumari and Fatou returned just in time to hear Tarifa's desperate shriek of, "It doesn't work that way!" Edel filled them in what the party had learned so far, and then the questions continued.

Tarifa claimed that Ilgash was a leader among the Ghost Fists, and a spellcaster though Tarifa had not seen her use much magic. The hideout usually held at least a half-dozen orcs, sometimes up to twice that many. Tarifa was trying to leave the hollow in order to report on the PCs' arrival. When asked what she had learned of them, she started by stating that an elf working with half-orcs was unusual. Before she could say much more, Jubair interrupted to suggest that she had seen a "handsome human." She latched onto this: "Yes, a handsome human--who likes to touch cactus for no good reason." (This amused the others, and failed to either shame or anger the rogue.)

The halfling confirmed that the Ghost Fists worshiped a death god, who she believed was Asmolon (whose name she would only whisper). The clan's leaders aren't orcs, but an elf and a human. The elf, Ragalash, was much darker-skinned than Edel (a pale-skinned high elf); he was very creepy, as he animated dead things. The human, Yazdanyar, was war leader because he was tougher and scarier than any of the clan's orcs; the spy didn't know if he was a spellcaster. These two live out in the desert with the rest of the clan, not in Ilgash's cave. Tarifa didn't know how large the tribe was. She tried to beg for her release if she told them how to find Ilgash.

Fatou had been inspecting the items taken from the spy, and determined that the bracelets were bracers of armor +1, but she could not divine what the pearl did. She quizzed Tarifa about it, and was told that it helped one regain a spell that had been cast. Fatou asked if the prisoner had a spellbook. She did not--she was a witch, not a wizard.

Jumari proposed that they take her to the druids of the hollow, and tell them that Tarifa was a spy. The others agreed, and the half-orc used an orison to brand the halfling's forehead with the word "spy." The party attracted a great deal of attention as they escorted their prisoners to the center of Spine Hollow. The druid Tailless came to them, and asked for an explanation. Edel started to summarize, but before long, the woman interrupted him: "We need to see Razima. Come with me."

Tailless led them to the rocky shelves where the leaders lived, and asked them to wait while she went inside a building built into the rock face. She soon returned with a petite human woman who, unlike most of the locals, wore only a long tunic instead of full desert robes. She also had sand-colored skin (notably lighter than most Asasorans), long hair that glowed white in the moonlight, and blue spiral tattoos over much of her body. This was Razima, leader of the Circle who ruled Spine Hollow. At Tailless's prompt, Edel reported on what they had learned from Tarifa. As he continued, Razima grew visibly angry, and as she did so, her hair started to move as if blown by wind. This reaction made many of the PCs nervous, and Tarifa positively wilted under her glare. (Edel and Jumari guessed that the druid must be a sylph--someone with mixed human and extraplanar heritage tied to the element of air.) Razima thanked the heroes for their actions, and declared that the Circle would need to question Tarifa further. The druid had not been aware that the Ghost Fists operated so close to her settlement; their territory is up near the Stairs. (As many of the party knew, this is the name of the easiest route up the Shalash Escarpment, a hundred or so miles to the north.)

ZhaZha asked Tarifa how long it would take to get to Ilgash's cave. She was told it took about two days to walk there from Spine Hollow. The wavy lines on the map indicated that a spring could be found there. (That should make the location easy to identify, but not necessarily easy to find.)

Razima sent someone for a cage to hold the petrifern, and then had it and Tarifa escorted to one of the nearby buildings. It was nearing dawn, and the visitors needed sleep after their busy night, so they returned to their campsite. After a good long rest, they plan to check in with the Circle to see what more they had learned--and if they could get some assistance in going after Ilgash.

The witch Tarifa and her petrifern familiar.

Appendix: Previous Sessions

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