Right into the action with Matt’s newboy Kwaatzuul the half-orc fighter joining up with very little in the way of quibbling given the way he swung his axe for the first time. That hit would have killed several of this party, I believe. Joining him were Ben as Dellen, the elf cleric; Noe as Malicia, the tengu rogue and Sean as Nobody, tiefling gunslinger.
The rest of the party was absent: Floki either a) sobbing uncontrollably over the death of Thrima, or b) going out and getting a new companion. Kona and Orny must be on some sort of long range patrol or something.
The life of Kwaatzuul the Kinless has so far been an itinerant one, filled with the horror and beauty of violence. He’s reflected thoughtfully on more slow-mo scenes of carnage set to Barber’s Adagio for Strings than you’ve had hot dinners. The life of a half-orc is – like their relatives – nasty, brutish and typically short. Yet Kwaatzuul is a devotee of Shelyn, Goddess of Beauty and so finds the beautiful in the ugly business of combat. From what I know about these types from movies, he probably spends a lot of time having flashbacks about an unattainable idyllic past.
“Kwaatzuul, we’ll always be happy here on the farm, won’t we?”
So it was, wandering around with his horse in the dark, having as deep thoughts as he could muster that Kwaatzuul heard the terrible bellow, like a sound rending apart sanity and order, emanating from the dark village he was passing. Could that be the call of the Chemosit? Savage eater of minds? A menace he had longed to face in combat, since witnessing their handiwork some months earlier? Bully!
Running as fast as he could, the horse along with him (riding a horse at night isn’t a good idea, because they don’t have darkvision, even if their rider does), he neared the village and saw the palisade wall that partially sheltered the mud huts. Lashing the horse to the leg of a guardtower, he leapt across the baskets and crates that cluttered a gap between two huts and sprang between several shocked onlookers (a wailing man and a tiefling fiddling with a gun) towards the sound of the Chemosit in hot pursuit of what looked like a fleeing Tengu and a flying elf who was trying to run interference.
As his night vision resolved the shape of the Chemosit, he might have admired the ferocity of the bulky creature, or maybe the dark blood glittering amidst the black feathers of the fallen tengu caught his attention, but it certainly didn’t slow him down. The Chemosit mauled the tengu as she tried to escape and batted at the hovering elf but was so intent on his prey that it looked up only at the last moment before the charging Kwaatzuul planted a battleaxe in the Chemosit’s face. Deep into its face. The creature reeled and the with two loud cracks, the tiefling put the beast out of its misery with his firearm.
As they stood in the dark, cautious that there may be another Chemosit out there creeping up on them, the elf made introductions to their new playmate. He was Dellen, cleric of Desna. The tiefling with the set of exploding tubes that occasionally finds use as a weapon was Nobody. The rattled living tengu was Malicia, the calm dead one was Percy. The man bawling his eyes out/singing a dirge (depends where you were standing) was Floki who had just lost his animal companion to the Chemosit. Kwaatzuul introduced himself too, although the axe to the monster face had kind of done that for him.
Dellen channelled healing energy until the sound of Malicia complaining went away, then went to see if there was anything he could do for Percy. There was: they could dispose of his body. So with all due reverence to one who spent his life in the service of his goddess, Dellen prepared the body for immolation and they reverently removed his armour and magical items. Dellen is now the proud owner of a Ring of Swimming, here in the sun baked plains of the interior. Kwaatzuul set to building a funeral pyre, something he clearly had no idea how to do competently.
Malicia and Nobody, meanwhile, got on with business – Malicia trying to track down the Chemosits and Nobody checking the huts of the village. The villagers resolutely refused to leave their huts, even when Nobody told them that everything dangerous was dead. Everything dangerous is dead or holstered, would have been more accurate. Malicia picked up the trail of the Chemosits in the dark, but could tell little except that it led towards the jungle. She followed it for a while, then wigged out because it was only getting darker and junglier and returned.
The party WAS able to get the old shaman to admit them to her hut, once they made it clear that they were sure the Chemosits were done and also, didn’t care for her dumb superstitions. She took the offered heads from Kwaatzuul and seemed pleased. Granny got a new pickling project! In return she gave them a tiny shrunken monkey head and a piece of paper. RESULT!
However, she explained that the shrunken head contained a powerful Dispel Evil spell which could be discharged when it was touched against a target. It is a one-time only thing, but packs a punch. The other thing, the paper, was old and oiled and she said showed the shoreline of part of the Lake of Vanishing Armies. Indicated on the map was a sunken vessel, containing the payroll for a Sargavan garrison. She’d possessed the map for some time, but never travelled that way or known anyone from her village that went to that lake, a river lake beyond Kalabuto.
The party took the goodies and settled into their hut for a few hours nap before the sun came up. When it did, the villagers were nigh-ecstatic that the curse had been lifted/monsters beheaded. An impromptu breakfast party started up, with a great deal of singing and proffering of food. Nobody bought a pair of tame Meerkats. I don’t know why either.
Oh, that. Well, of course that.
It was early afternoon before they were all done and N’Kechi had wrapped up the arrangements for the caravan. They met up with Athyra and carried on.
There followed two days of travel across the plains and by the end of the second day the dark horizon of the jungle to the south had faded and they were truly out on the vast expanse called the M’neri Plains. Athyra and N’Kechi colluded to find them the fastest safe route across the plains, considering things like herd migration patterns and rainstorm flood channels and stuff the others may not have thought of by themselves. On the evening of the second day they made camp by some short scrubby trees.
Nobody’s watch passed peacefully enough, but as Kwaatzuul the Eminently Trustworthy Apparently took his watch, he heard – no, he felt a rumble, very distant. A tremor in the earth, almost imperceptible. Something hard hit his shoulder.
Turning, he looked down the long branch to the recumbent Athyra who held the other end. “Don’t move.” She whispered. They lay there, feeling the vibrations through the earth, now faint, then strong. Athyra pointed out to the plains, only vaguely visible in the false dawn – they’d changed, somehow, the ground was no longer as flat or… something. Before the sun burst above the horizon, Athyra and Kwaatzuul woke the others, carefully explaining that they should make no moves until they knew what was going on. All of the party now could feel the vibrations and as the sun burst above the sky, it revealed a landscape riddled with signs of burrowing, soft earth mounds raised in snaking patterns. Dellen had his suspicions that these were Ankheg burrows, the Ankheg being an acid spraying nightmarishly large armoured insect. Kwaatzuul climbed onto his horse carefully.
Never a good sign.
N’kechi and Athyra were in the process of guessing which terrible rumour was being fulfilled when the cart oxen shuffled a little. From the earth behind the cart burst a chitinous metameric mass whose mandible-sprouting area opened up and disgorged a mass of fluid at Dellen and Malicia, the latter of whom danced out of the way of the sizzling acid. Nobody opened fire from distance, using his Dead Eye attack to great effect, while Kwaatzuul kicked his horse into a charge around the scrubby trees and planted his axe in another monster head. The Ankheg fell to the ground with a dull clatter of its armoured segments.
Dellen cast Silence on the cart and Malicia hopped aboard to get the thing moving. Having been spooked from behind by a horrible acid spitting creature, the oxen needed no further encouragement and Dellen ran behind afterwards throwing their gear into the back of the cart. Nobody leapt aboard too, reloaded and commanded his meerkats to go do something. Fetch a rock? I think.
Kwaatzuul wheeled around the campsite, careful not to stray too far as the earth had been undermined in a way that would be super dangerous for horse leg well-being. He hadn’t wheeled far before a second Ankheg broke the surface and tried snatching Nobody off the cart. When it became clear that not everyone noticed this, because of the Silence cast on the cart, Dellen dropped the spell. Kwaatzuul charged in to attack the Ankheg and the Ankheg returned the favour by covering his horse in acid. It’s attention diverted, Nobody put a pair of shots through the face-hole-gribbly-bits and that seemed to kill it. But as Dellen cast Sanctuary on Kwaatzuul’s horse, who I’m sure has a beautiful name, another Ankheg appeared.
Nothing worse than an acid horse.
Malicia had spurred the cart on as fast as she could, but as they reached the soft mounds of burrowed earth, she hauled on the reins to stop them before they disappeared into a sink. From the back of the cart, Nobody missed with most of his shots, while Dellen shot it with a bow. Like an elf. Kwaatzuul drew his throwing axes and then, saddleless because it was first thing in the morning, he slid off his horse and landed on the ground. That didn’t stop him from hurling an axe into the creature, while Malicia shot at it too. The creature latched on to Dellen before it was finally killed under the sheer weight of missile attacks against it.
Everyone calmed down and they thought about how to get out of this now quite dangerous area.