Monday, February 11, 2019

Time of the Tarrasque #19: Mist Opportunities

"Time of the Tarrasque" is my current homebrew Pathfinder campaign. For an index of past session summaries, see The Story So Far.

Our heroes include:
  • Edel Naergon, high elf bard (archivist) 4.
  • Fatou, human wizard (evoker) 3/cleric of Yaziel 1; and Nochaesh, owl familiar.
  • Jumari Boneface, half-orc inquisitor of the Lost Egg 4.
  • ZhaZha, half-orc cavalier (order of the dragon) 4; and Zafira, camel mount.

Last time, our heroes set off with the kobold caravan north from the Burburan Oasis. After a few days' travel, they spotted smoke, and scouted out the source. They found the camp of a Ghost Fist scouting party, and dispatched all but one of the orcs. They interrogated this prisoner, terrifying him into spilling a good deal of information about his tribe: information about their leaders and rough numbers (which confirmed what they had learned previously), and the location of their main base.

By the end of the interrogation, it was clear that the prisoner faced a horribly painful death if word of his loose talk got back to Yazdanyar. Edel offered the half-orc a quick death as a mercy, and ZhaZha delivered it--a blow with her pick that shattered the man's skull. Impressed, the kobold Tyrrentyg commented, "I'm glad you are on our side!" (After Jumari's intimidation of the prisoner and this display, many of the kobolds acted far more wary and respectful towards the two half-orcs.)

Fatou reasoned that since the prisoner worshiped a god of her pantheon, even if it was a reviled one, she should say a brief prayer appropriate to the pantheon as a whole. While she did so, the caravan prepared to resume its journey.

Near the end of the night, Fatou was the first one to spot the Shalash Escarpment ahead: a long, dark line along the horizon that gradually rose higher into the sky as they continued north. It eventually became apparent that they would not reach the base before daylight. Tyrrentyg informed the PCs that there was a source of water--and shelter--an hour or so away from the bottom of The Stairs, where Vartoranax's caravan regularly stopped going both north and south. The merchant declared that they would press on until they reached that shelter. The other kobolds were unhappy about this decision, being both sensitive to bright light and twitchy about being out in the open under it.

The travelers could see the heights ahead more clearly as the sun rose. The Escarpment was a cliff hundreds of feet high, which continued far out of sight to the east and west. It was the tallest thing that ZhaZha, Jumari, or Fatou had ever seen--and even Edel, who had seen and crossed mountains, was rather daunted at the thought of climbing this.

After some time, a weathered stone monument became visible, just a little off their current heading. The guide, Nylrynn, signaled to go that way. The structure turned out to be a statue of a reclining sphinx, but the heroes couldn't guess at its subspecies, or the structure's age. Two smaller, vaguely humanoid statues stood before it, but they were worn down to little more than crude pillars. The kobolds headed for a small pool standing a stone's throw away from these monuments. From there, the party could see an entrance in the rock between the sphinx's forelegs. Tyrrentyg directed the PCs to assist Nylrynn in checking out the shelter for "unexpected guests."

As the scouts moved closer, they could hear the sounds of animals squabbling inside--which went silent as the beasts sensed their approach. The entrance led to stairs going down, and a couple pairs of eyes appeared in the darkness within. Fatou and Jumari cast protective spells on themselves, then the inquisitor tossed some rations near the top of the stairs. This drew one of the animals--a hyena-- outside to grab the food. At this, ZhaZha charged her camel Zafira forward and spitted the hyena on her lance, killing it instantly. Fatou moved up and cast burning hands at three more hyenas on the stairs. Nylrynn shot one, wounding it enough that it retreated out of sight. A hyena bit Zafira, and Edel healed the camel while ZhaZha killed the beast who dared hurt her mount. Fatou's force bolt and Jumari's falchion slew another. Two fresh hyenas attacked, but were promptly dispatched as well.

This left just one wounded beast inside. Edel cast dancing lights into the room below. ZhaZha dismounted, and went down the stairs, which were largely covered in drifted sand. These led to a room that had once been a shrine of some sort, with a fallen idol at the far end, and carved walls defaced by age and vandalism. She could not see the hyena, but Fatou, who cast invisibility on herself before descending, spotted it crouched behind the broken statue and warned the others. Edel and Jumari entered, but Nylrynn remained on guard at the top of the stairs. ZhaZha moved around the idol and killed the last hyena.

The party found nothing else in the chamber except for gnawed bones, the larger ones broken open for their marrow, and a good deal of hyena scat. Fatou identified the statue as an image of Chazital, the Medan god of air, but it was a form she had not seen before. Chazital is usually depicted as a storm cloud or gigantic bird, but this statue was vaguely humanoid, with feathered wings (now lying in pieces around it), and only a single eye above its broken beak. The cleric guessed that this might be a depiction of the god's corrupted aspect, Hayasan, worshiped by giants who had fallen to evil. Based on the single eye, Fatou assumed that the structure's builders were cyclopes; the entrance would be a bit low for them, but nigh impassable for the larger desert giant race.

The cleric then began using prestidigitation to clean the filthy room as Jumari and ZhaZha took the hyenas outside to prepare their meat for cooking, despite its rankness. The kobolds moved into the chamber to camp through the day, while the PCs set up a tent for themselves outside.

During the day, the heroes were able to view the rocky wall ahead of them. The ground rapidly grew steeper north of their shelter, until it approached nearly vertical at the cliffs. In the portion of the Escarpment closest to them, they could see a great rent in the cliff face, where fallen rock had formed a slope spilling into the desert plain. Above the opening of this narrow valley could be seen occasional switchbacks. Tyrentyg confirmed that this was the path known as "The Stairs," and their destination. It was not an easy climb, but was the only safe way within hundreds of miles for caravans to ascend or descend the Shalash Escarpment. It typically took a full day's march to make the climb, including an hour or so to reach the base from here. The kobold herald (somewhat smugly) judged that their entourage would have an easier time with it than would a typical human or elf caravan with many more, and more heavily burdened, pack beasts.

The caravan set out again at dusk. About halfway to the base of the Stairs, the increased altitude allowed Fatou to spot movement to the east. She send her owl Nochaesh to go check it out--and when the bird got close enough to see anything clearly, its mistress sensed a surge of panic as the owl abruptly reversed direction. Fatou warned the others that something was coming. The heroes asked the kobolds about possible places to hide and pick their ground for a battle. Nylrynn informed them that there were a number of dry gullies and ravines here, formed by the rare fall of water along the Escarpment. These gullies would give them some cover, especially the smaller kobolds.

ZhaZha spotted the closest gully, and the kobolds bolted for it. Nylrynn moved ahead to scout the way for her people, as the larger adventurers followed behind them. Fatou sent Nochaesh back out to give warning when the approaching whatever-it-was got close to them. She then looked for some treacherous ground to slow down the enemy, and chose a sharp turn in the ravine for their stand. At the owl's warning, the cleric cast obscuring mist, covering a short stretch of the gully and the higher ground around it, then moved uphill to join her friends, who readied their weapons.

Moments later, there was a clatter in the mist as something fell into the ravine--then a louder clatter as something larger fell. A humanoid figure walked out of the mist above the gully, but was quickly spotted by the defenders. This man wore dark armor and shield, and had skin almost as dark, with long white hair and a short, scruffy beard. Fatou identified the man as a half-elf of drow descent, which fit the description of the Ghost Fist leader Ragalash. [Edel failed to be so certain, which prevented him from using his naturalist ability]. ZhaZha charged the half-drow and hit him hard with her lance, which also let her determine his armor was made of leather and wood. He tried to cast a spell defensively (burning gaze), but failed and lost it.

Three battered skeletons walked out of the mist and attacked ZhaZha. Two hit, and she destroyed the third. The heroes could hear something large moving in the mist behind these undead, and more crashes and thuds sounded beyond that. [Edel could identify the orc skeletons easily, so began lecturing about them.] 

Fatou used her owl to deliver a protection from evil spell to help protect ZhaZha from the undead. The cavalier challenged the half-drow, and hit him again, hard. Her camel and Jumari took out the other two skeletons, but then the inquisitor could see a horse-sized scorpion in the mist--a fast giant scorpion zombie! The undead vermin hit her twice, and another zombie--this one a half-orc plague zombie--closed with her. Fatou channeled to heal her friends.

ZhaZha struck the half-drow with her lance again, and this time he crumpled. His undead minions, however, mindlessly continued the assault. Jumari hit the scorpion, then stepped back. This meant that ZhaZha and her camel were the easiest target for the monster, and it wounded them both. The cavalier impaled the plague zombie, which exploded; fortunately, only Jumari was adjacent to it, and she easily resisted the diseased gore that splattered her. The cavalier backed away, which left Jumari as the closest target to the scorpion, and she took two more punishing hits. Two more half-orc zombies--the normal sort, this time--lurched into view through the mist.

Edel healed Jumari, and switched the subject of his exhortation to the undead scorpion. Fatou cast invisibility on the inquisitor, allowing her to safely withdraw and heal herself more. The scorpion cut down the zombie between it and ZhaZha, then struck her and her camel. The last zombie moved up past it, but was finished off by the lancer's attack of opportunity. Edel shot the vermin, and Fatou finished it off with a scorching ray. After Jumari slew the last orc zombie, the cleric channeled to heal her friends again, then dismissed her mist spell.

The party searched the half-elf's body, finding a darkwood shield, magic darkwood wooden armor, and a cloak of human guise (which he had not activated). He also carried a fine scimitar, an elf skull carved with necromantic signs that he seems to have been using as a divine focus, a chunk of onyx large enough to use to animate another scorpion like the one they destroyed, and a couple small pots filled with two different strange, pungent substances. (They will need to find an alchemist to identify these.) After stripping the body, they hurried to catch up to the kobolds.

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