Thursday, April 27, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #8: Privy of the Void Cult

Every few decades, that dreaded abomination, the Tarrasque, reawakens from its long slumber. At such a time, the world's greatest heroes must defend the world from its nigh-insatiable appetite. Sometimes these heroes fail, and civilizations fall. And even when they succeed, the lands in the Tarrasque's wake are changed forever.

Previous Sessions: 
The party decided to search the alchemist's shop, but first had to determine what to do with Jibral himself. They did not want to waste their dwindling spells on healing him enough to question, and didn't want to risk what he might try if he was awake again. Taking him to the temple would lose precious time in which his accomplices might hide evidence at his shop, but carrying him around the city would draw unwanted attention. They settled on emptying out one of the boxes in "Azul's" shop, packing him inside, and putting another heavy box on top to make sure he stayed put.

They easily located his shop, a small, sturdily built, one-story structure with a sign reading, "Jibral, Alchemist" in Common and Halfling. While the rogue Jubair examined the single door, the bard Edel got a boost to the roof from ZhaZha, the cavalier, so that he could investigate the chimney. This appeared to be the only other way into the house,  but it was barred by iron grates at the top and (as dancing lights revealed) the bottom of the flue.

The ghoul fight, with alchemist's shop map
(covered by yellow paper) and
improvised building (pencil box)
Jumari, the inquistor, went around back to watch for anyone trying to use a secret door to escape. She caught sight of a figure watching the shop from the shadow of a nearby alley, and rushed to confront it. The thing was humanoid in shape, with leathery skin on a gaunt frame, and sharp claws and teeth. It mauled her, knocking her unconscious, then turned towards her friends, who were drawn to the noise of the scuffle. It attacked Jubair next, but then the cavalier ZhaZha struck it a hard blow with her pick. It cursed at her in Orcish, and tried to flee, but the monk Lucretia's arrow dropped it. Jubair charged the prone creature, and when he stabbed it, it exploded in a cloud of ash.

Meanwhile, Fatou, the cleric, had rushed to Jumari's side and revived her. The priestess told the others that she thought the creature was a ghoul, and then proceeded to scold several of them for their rashness. How was she supposed to keep them all alive with her limited healing ability when they kept running headlong into danger? (Her complaints largely fell on deaf ears.)

Jubair failed to pick the very good lock on the front door, so he and ZhaZha used a crowbar to force their way in. The shop consisted of a front room for dealing with customers, a back room with additional goods for sale, a bedroom with a privy in a closet, and the laboratory. The shop and laboratory rooms held little of interest to them, as they were looking evidence to use against Jibral rather than goods to steal. (Jumari did, however, pocket a handful of tindertwigs.)

The bedroom contained a heavy locked chest, which Jubair could not open quickly. He and ZhaZha picked it up and dashed it on the ground, which only dented it a little, so they had to resort to the crowbar again. Inside, they found some books, which they promptly tossed aside to their companions. Below that was a smaller box, which was now leaking from the rough handling. They handed this to Edel so he could examine and clean it. Inside the box were a half-dozen vials, now all cracked. None registered as magical, and none of the party knew enough alchemy to identify the liquids--or what danger they might pose upon mixing. The bard used mending on the vials, and tossed the contaminated box down the privy, just in case.

Edel did sense a magic aura within the bottom of the chest, and found a secret panel under which a small stone pot was hidden. Fatou studied its aura, and identified it as oil of decompose corpse (a spell that would remove the flesh from a corpse, leaving a clean skeleton; it could also be used to hamper a corporeal undead's movements for a short time).

While the rest of the party thoroughly searched the rest of the shop, Fatou studied the books taken from the chest. The first was a formulary book, which an alchemist could use to prepare extracts that worked like spells. (Sadly for the wizard/cleric, while an alchemist can study a wizard's spellbook to learn new spells, a wizard cannot do the same with a formulary. But the book could be quite valuable to another alchemist.)

The next book was a business ledger for the shop. On a cursory examination, Fatou could find nothing incriminating--no records of Jibral owning other property (such as "Azul's" leatherworking shop) or anything that involved the corpse trade they were investigating. The last book was a book of scripture, one of the standard texts of the local Javanian religion. She decided that she should study this in more depth later, to see if its content diverged from the conventional texts she knew.

The party's searches turned up only one other item of interest: Jubair determined that the shaft under the privy was wide enough for a halfling to climb down, so it could be a possible way for Jibral to leave and return from his home without being seen. He decided to investigate, and managed to squeeze his tall but lanky frame down the hole, with a lantern in hand and a rope around his ankle in case he needed to be pulled back up. The shaft descended for 10-15 feet, then leveled out in a slightly larger (but still cramped) tunnel that led towards the river at a gentle slope. He crawled along the passage for a while until it joined a couple other tunnels. The rogue could not determine if any of these passages had seen any traffic recently, so he used the intersection to turn around and returned to the shop to report his findings to the others.

Fatou shared her information on the books (or lack thereof) with her companions, and expressed her puzzlement: If Jibral was a priest of some kind, where did he do his priest stuff? (Jubair's answer was, "I think I was in it...")

The party returned to the leatherworker's shop, only to find that Jibral had vanished. Jumari found muddy bootprints inside the building, where someone had come in, moved and opened boxes, and left. There were no smaller footprints or any drag marks, so apparently someone human-sized had found the halfling and carried him away. Outside, the bootprints ended but Jumari found faint prints like those of a gigantic wolf. She followed these tracks, and her companions followed her.

The tracks led through back alleys, showing that Jibral's presumed rescuer had trying to avoid being noticed as he or she worked their way across town. The trail eventually led to the nearest part of the city wall, where the paw prints stopped. The party searched the area, and found signs that someone had climbed the wall here. Jubair started to climb the wall, but a guard on the wall bellowed a challenge and other watchmen soon had their crossbows trained on him. The rogue asked if they had seen a wolf, to which the guards demanded to hear what he knew of it. After a tense moment, Jumari explained that they were following someone on orders from the Temple of the Sun's castellan. This gained enough cooperation that the guard sergeant told them that some of his unit had seen a man cross the wall here, but a huge wolf had appeared out of nowhere, and the man rode it out into the desert. His men did not get a good look at the man, because the wolf unnerved them, but one embarrassed guardsman claimed his face looked like a skull. (It's perhaps just as well that Jumari, an albino half-orc, keeps herself thoroughly covered up.)

Jumari had heard that one of the orc tribes in the desert, the Ghost Fist Clan, was known for painting their faces to look like skulls. They were rumored to worship some death god rather than the Tarrasque, but she didn't know any more about them. That knowledge did not, however, answer why one of this clan would be here in the city, and how they knew about Jibral. (Edel suspected that the party was being watched.)

The tired heroes made their way to the Temple of the Sun around dawn, just as its religious community was busy beginning of its day. Jubair and the two half-orcs remained outside, and went in search of food while they waited. This left Lucretia, Edel, and Fatou to go inside to find the castellan. They were told that he was at his dawn devotionals, so the monk and cleric passed the time they had to wait by performing their own morning prayers.

After some time, Kasim joined them and listened to their report of the night's activities, while a servant brought in a stimulating morning brew. After hearing their tale, the castellan took Jibral's ebony ring (and apparent unholy symbol) and ledger as evidence and promised to investigate further. (He was not familiar with the Ghost Fist Clan by name, but would look into that connection, too.)  He then advised the trio that the next time that they wanted to raid a local business, they should seek assistance from legal authorities first.

With that, the party left the temple to return to their own lodgings and get some much-needed rest and healing. 

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