Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Time of the Tarrasque #10: Where Do I Get a Bird Like That?

Our heroes, who have now reached 3rd level, 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.
The half-orc summoner's possessions included a small, crude map hidden in his spell component pouch. It was labeled with two names, "Tarifa" and "Ilgash," beside what appeared to be pictures of a cactus and a cave, respectively. Jubair believed that the cactus probably stood for Spine Hollow, the village they were now just a few miles away from. If so, then the dashed line must be the road from Zahallan.

Jumari was able to navigate towards Spine Hollow without retracing the route they had taken chasing the summoner and alchemist. Around dawn, the party crested a rise and saw the hollow ahead: a depression ringed by steep, rocky hills, with a vast profusion of cacti and other desert plants filling the low spots between hills. The party decided to retreat back behind the ridge they had come to in order to camp out of sight of the Hollow. They wanted to rest and heal some more before dealing with locals.

Once the sun had gained some height, Edel, who was on first watch, could see the road from Zahallan a short distance to the south. He saw a couple people walking down the road, away from the hollow, and wondered what travelers would start such a journey in the daytime.

Jubair and Jumari had the middle watch, when very little in the desert was active. Jubair noticed a couple of dog-sized scorpions prowling near camp. He stayed still and quiet, hoping they would just move on--he'd had bad experiences with scorpions much smaller than these. No such luck--they came right up to the edge of the camp. He tried to distract one by tossing it some leftover meat from their last meal. It stopped and greedily tore apart the food. The other one moved towards the rogue, who tossed it a piece, too. Unfortunately, when they were finished gobbling their snacks, they came directly at Jubair looking for more food. He tried to hold very still to avoid their notice, but one rushed up and stung him; it failed to inject enough poison to affect the rogue. Jumari hurried to his side, touched the offending scorpion with her hand, and a gout of ichor spouted from its side. Jubair slew it with a hard thrust, shouting, "You will not get in my boots today!" The shout woke up Lucretia and ZhaZha, who promptly emerged from their tents with weapons in hand. The second scorpion clawed Jubair, but he injured it, and ZhaZha finished it with her pick. As the monk and cavalier went back to their tents to sleep again, Jumari and Jubair butchered and roasted the scorpions.

(At the end of the day, Edel discreetly asked Jumari what had happened, so that he could pretend that he had noticed instead of rolling back over in his bedroll.)

Fatou had identified the dead summoner's cloak as a cloak of human guise. Lucretia, a half-elf, expressed interest in this item. When she put it on, she looked like a fully human version of herself. She decided to wear this into Spine Hollow, so that she would not stick out quite so much. (She was, however, still a fair-skinned, if heavily tanned, Thovalan, not a dark-skinned native Asasoran like Fatou and Jubair.)

Around dusk, the party broke camp and headed for the hollow. Fortunately, the moon was full this evening, so the party had plenty of light to find their way. The cacti were thick here, except for a path where the road ended. They followed this path as it twisted through a sort of ravine that led into the hollow. When the path started to widen, they were accosted by a woman mounted on a large flightless bird. Jumari recognized this as an axebeak, a hunting bird known for its speed when attacking. The woman wore full desert robes, with only a small part of her face showing, and held a spear at the ready.

Edel had led the way, in the hopes that diplomacy would get them further than the half-orcs' intimidating glares or the rogue's unguarded mouth would. The bard introduced himself and explained that the party was tracking death cultists. The bird-rider replied that they would find no death cultists in Spine Hollow--the Circle doesn't allow it. Jumari asked who this Circle was, and was told that they are the leaders of the settlement. Edel added that they wished to resupply, and was told that this was permitted. The woman led them into the settlement.

Jubair asked, "Where do I get a bird like that?" The woman replied that he must learn the ways of the Circle and learn to talk to animals. She asked questions about whether he revered nature, or knew how to raise animals, and seemed disappointed by his answers. When he wondered aloud about getting a scorpion companion, she told him that vermin were very difficult to control, and only the Circle's leader had any gift for it. (Jumari and Fatou were certain that the woman was talking about the ways of druids.)

The path opened up further in, allowing them to see scattered homes among the rocks and desert plants: tents, simple shacks, and a few huts built into hollows in rock faces. At the center of the hollow was a rough ring of very tall cacti, with a cluster of tents and buildings inside. The locals appeared to include only humans and halflings (the two most common races in Asasor).

Jumari asked their escort her name. "Taillless," the woman replied, and asked theirs. They provided them, and took the opportunity to study the rider more closely. The skin around her eyes seemed lighter than most Asasorans--more of a bronze than a dark brown. She also had a strange accent, which none of the party could place. (Lucretia wondered if she was descended from the people of the northern continent, like she was.) She had few adornments, apart from a small animal skull hung around her neck; Jumari recognized it as a jackal's.

Tailless led them into the central area, a large space mostly clear of vegetation or large rocks. A number of tents were spread about, some of them open on one side to reveal stacked goods inside. The party could smell cook-fires, and saw a scattering of lamps about the settlement. The bird-rider directed them towards an empty space where they could pitch tents during their stay, then pointed out a nearby well to get water.

Edel asked if there were any rules they needed to follow here. Tailless simply directed them to respect the land. When Jumari asked if there were places they shouldn't go, the woman replied that they should not go into any tents unless invited. She pointed towards a higher place to one side that was the leaders' private space, and also told them not to go into the grove with blue blossoms. She then took her leave, heading towards the leaders' homes.

The party looked around the modest market, and acquired food. They then wandered towards the elevated area, just to see what it was like. This place consisted of a couple large rocky shelves in front of a large outcropping, connected by steps and ramps.  A few stone or adobe buildings, plus some tents, surrounded another well. Jumari spotted Tailless's axebeak outside a tent near the base of the first ramp; it was eating meat from a large open barrel, but there was no sign of its rider.

Edel found a place with a crowd to perform some of his amusing stories. They went over well, especially the new one about the Jubair's fight with the scorpions. (His friends who had seen the real thing could tell most of his tale was made up out of whole cloth, but it was still entertaining.) The bard received much food and drink in thanks.

Lucretia looked around for an alchemist's shop or a bowyer, but could find neither. The settlement was simply too small--she guessed it probably couldn't hold more than a hundred souls.

Tailless returned later to keep an eye on the party. When Jumari confronted her about it, she explained that she was a guardian of this community, so watching strangers was her duty. The half-orc asked what people did out here, and was told that the inhabitants of Spine Hollow sought to live in harmony with nature. They did not wish to live in cities, and could find all they needed here.

Jumari asked if she knew the name "Tarifa." Tailless recalled a halfling with that name who was one of the few here who visited other communities, but didn't know her well. She believed Tarifa had a tent somewhere in the outer part of the hollow. The half-orc also asked more about the Circle. Tailless explained that they were the spiritual leaders of the community. Everyone here followed "our ways," as far as the bird-rider knew.

Jumari decided to find someone else to ask about Tarifa. She was told that Tarifa's tent was the one with the black cactus in front of it. She and Jubair went in search of this plant. The inquisitor had been periodically using her detect evil ability since reaching the market (with no results) and continued to do so. After a few hours of wandering the hollow, Jubair spotted a rather small cactus that, even in the moonlight, was visibly much darker than the rest of the vegetation here. Jumari scanned it and the tent beyond it--and sensed that the cactus was evil! Jubair stayed here to hide and watch the cactus, while Jumari wandered on and made her way back to their friends.

When she found them, Edel was long done performing. Jumari filled them in on her and Jubair's discovery. ZhaZha opined that they'd better go check on him (before he got into trouble again, she clearly implied) and the others agreed. Tailless had stopped watching them some time back, but now a couple of nondescript robed halflings were loitering near them. (Neither detected as evil.)

When the party reached Jubair, they found him staring in some consternation at a shallow hole where the cactus had been. He reported that he had touched the plant, getting some nasty sap on his hand. A moment later, he had fallen asleep, and woken up shortly before their arrival. Edel didn't think druids could cast sleep spells; that was normally an arcane spell. Jumari looked for tracks, and found some tiny marks leading from the hole to Tarifa's tent. On the far side, they were joined by halfling-sized tracks, which headed towards the closest thicket of cacti.

The party followed her to the thicket, which the tracks entered. There were signs of attempts to hide the trail, but not well enough to fool the inquisitor's tracking skills. The halfling had chosen a path that only her(?) small size could easily navigate, which made passage difficult for the party. (However, Jumari was the only one who the failed to avoid the sharp thorns of the close-packed cacti.) On the other side, the tracks headed for one of the clefts leading out of Spine Hollow to the east (on the side opposite the road to Zahallan). As on the west side, spiny desert plants were quite thick in this passage, but the low spot was probably still easier going than climbing the steep rocks around the hollow.

Edel spotted some movement within the cacti ahead. He tried to point it out to Lucretia, but the monk still failed to see anyone. The bard then cast dancing lights to form a line of lights to act as a pointer, which helped the half-elf spot their quarry. The chase was on!

(We had to stop the session there, and will resume with the party trying to engage their mysterious quarry in combat.)

Appendix: Previous Sessions
* Update: I have taken better pictures of the models I made for session #7's graveyard battle, so have edited that session summary to include them.

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