Posted on April 22, 2014
Castaway Diary, Day 37 & 38.Jeez, we got a lot done last Thursday. I’ve been slow about updating only because I keep forgetting my notes and I have to get everyone’s spirit animal and questions to Victor right. Can’t just wing those. But we got the plot moving along at speed because 1) Everyone showed up earlier than usual, which was weird and 2) we just plowed through stuff so much so that when I saw the clock read 10.30, I was pretty much out of prepared stuff to do. And that’s including some entertaining diversions, like talking to Victor, who is dead. It was a fun session with a little bit of everything except straight up combat: Drug combat, yes, straight up combat, no. No romance either, unless you include how popular Ilo is going to be with his wives. But otherwise: Mystery, drugs, prostitutes, oxen, disguises, conniving, exploration, a goat faced nun. The ‘city’ part of this adventure path has been nigh on disastrous for the party, most viewpoints considered, but not in a way that prevents them from moving on: One of their chief allies (Gelik) is dead, two castaway party members bit the dust, a new guy that was trying to help out died and the internal division between Aspis-backing conspirators and blissfully unaware (but not as unaware as the Aspis folks believe) Pathfinder-backers threatens to boil over into some sort of bloodbath. The adventure transitions at this point from the hanging around Eleder making life difficult for themselves, to trekking across Sargava and encountering the many dangers of that land. On deck for these shenanigans: Rolland as FLOKI, Jim as ORNY, Sean as NOBODY, Matt as PERCY, Noe as MALICIA, and introducing Ben as DELLEN, with a special guest appearance by… Ben as VICTOR. This episode of Pathfinder was filmed in front of a lithe studious fer-de-lance, with promotional consideration from whatever we were all drinking.
Dellen, cleric of Desna – goddess of the stars, The Great Dreamer, the Song of the Spheres – had been called by mystical means by N’Kechi. While essentially peers worshipping two different deities, N’Kechi commands considerable respect in the region due to his practical knowledge and wide range of experience. Dellen travelled to N’kechi’s hermitage as the old Cleric said that a matter of great import had presented itself to him and momentous decisions must be made. When Dellen arrived, he found the old Zenj morose with grief. N’Kechi took himself into his cave and asked Dellen to wait for some strangers from the North who would be coming back with bad news. Dellen hadn’t quite counted on walking all that way just to act as N’Kechi’s doorman, but he figured he’d wait and find out what all this was about. The party left the cliff-bottom rocks and traipsed back up the cliffs, dragging the corpses of Kona and Victor with them. The weather began to ease up to just a persistent rain, then a drizzle, then suddenly the sun was splitting the sky and everything began to dry out pretty quickly. Leaving the bodies at the top of the rope ladder, hoping no birds mistook this for an air burial, they descended to find an elf waiting for them, outside the little reed wall that blocked N’Kechi’s cave. Dellen introduced himself and bid them go in to see the down-in-the-dumps N’Kechi. They all crouched under the lintel and entered N’Kechi’s cave. Strongly scented tea was stewing in a kettle on a tiny fire that illuminated a very sad Cleric of Gozreh. The old man sat, his shoulders bowed, as his gnarly hands worked a whittling knife along a piece of driftwood. He was carving a mask and even in the dim light they could see the gaping downturned mouth and stylized tears on the mask. N’Kechi mumbled something about whether or not they had completed his trials. Yes, the party replied, although two members of the party had perished in the attempt. N’Kechi’s grief overwhelmed him “Storm and salt!” he cursed, “That’s too high a price to pay, great Gozreh, surely, too high a price!”. Dellen offered to go and cast Gentle Repose on one of the dead bodies and everyone agreed it should be Victor (“the white one” was how they phrased it though, racist jerks). Dellen left them with N’Kechi to go do that. N’Kechi waved his whittling knife at the area around the fire. “Come, sit down by my kettle. I have met many men who have been followed by grief and death, but I do not believe you are such people. You bring death with you. I sensed the death of the noble Ercinee, beloved of Gozreh. And I discovered the body of the giant crab, you claimed you knew nothing about”… eyeballing Floki, “pierced with weapons of men. They were not my pets, not my servants, but I knew them both and loved them. I liked to feed the pair of crabs that live off the cliff approach. I will miss them.” Big sigh.
“You have succeeded against difficulties and loss, whatever I may think of your recklessness, Gozreh must have some reason to favour you. I accept that Gozreh bids me go with you, but I have my doubts. For if I leave with you I doubt I will ever see the great ocean again. You are quick to lethal violence and treat obstacles as things to be destroyed, not avoided, never turned to your own advantage, but ruined and plundered. The ice mask of the northlands you wear must melt or you will not survive the journey east. Violence and death will seek you out, you need not go searching for it.” With this, he examined the mask he had carved and attached it (somehow) to his face. When he spoke again, two voices could be heard, one voice was light and young and the other was more recognizable as the one that had been speaking; old, weary and grief-stricken. “If I am to leave with such people I want to see what lies behind your masks. I want to see the real you, without the mask you present to the world. And you should see yourself stripped of your false masks.” Dellen had returned by this time, but had caught on that N’Kechi wasn’t talking about him at this time. Taking up a small bowl, he produced the black pearl Malicia had recovered and placed it in the bowl. Then he took one of the tail feathers of the Ercinee and gently blew on it. The tip of the feather began to glow slightly – like an ember coaxed back to life and after a flew gentle breaths on it, a droplet formed. He tapped the droplet onto the black pearl and the pearl began dissolving in the glowing liquid. Taking the kettle of the fire, N’Kechi slowly poured the stewing mix over the glowing liquid, creating a mildly pearlescent liquid with a faint glow to it, which he then stirred. Several of the party recognised the tea as dromutu – a mild analgesic, but this was a lot of dromutu… The old man next produced a large tapered leaf which he dipped into the now thickened liquid and said (again in his strangely echoing double voice “Drink but one drop from the end of this frond and we will meet each other in the spirit lands. Have no fear, I will guide you.” He passed leaf and bowl around the circle and everyone dutifully took a drop of the mixture. It dissolved into the mouth in a way that numbed… everything. Limbs becoming elastic, each of the drinkers sagged to the floor of the cave and faded out of consciousness…. peeeeeeeeoooooooouuuuuuuuuwwwwww… Coming to some sort of consciousness, but not a normal five senses consciousness, each member of the party realised they were composed of lights – not really lights, but rather tears in a darkness through which light shone. Each of these windows was colourful, like a stained glass fragment, and each light held a scene – cityscapes, people, landscapes, places – each one was different and represented a moment in the party member’s life. It became possible to distinguish which cluster of multi-coloured tears in the darkness was one’s own and which belonged to other people. One cluster of lights coalesced fairly quickly into what looking like a three dimensional stained glass crab, complete with moving limbs and waggling eye-stalks. N’Kechi’s voice (?) sounded from the crab as it encouraged each cluster of lights to take the form of the spirit animal that represented its mundane counterpart. The surrounding darkness began to change, until the outline of a watering hole appeared, with a great tree beside a muddy pond, surrounded by swaying tall grasses. N’Kechi continued to encourage them to come forward and be tested at the watering hole. The first cluster of lights to coalesce into something was – oddly enough – Victor, who hadn’t even been alive when they started their trip. Something – and I won’t go into it just now – had caused Victor to linger in this part of the spirit world (really between worlds) and suddenly here he was, made of lights that he willed to coalesce into the form of a great ape, a Silverback Gorilla, the fearless protector. That led to a lot of nodding because that seemed super appropriate for Victor somehow. Next, Malicia’s lights formed an Eagle, the solitary hunter. That led to Malicia being able to fly, which may be pretty rad for a tengu, (see my “it’s not that big a deal theory below). Each collection of lights began to form into a spirit animal form: Dellen became a Leopard, the curious wanderer, Floki, a lion, the fearsome ruler of the plains; Nobody, a hyena, the dangerous trickster; Orny, the rat, the shrewd counselor; and Percy the horse, the tireless helper. (Game paused here for a while, as we tore the universe apart with sanity-shatteringly terrible horse puns. When we played this session, Al Gore was still Pontifex of the United States and the sky was its usual green hue, but who knows how appallingly we remade the universe with our cosmos-rending punnery. The broken mockery of reality you currently read this from may be quite different, and for that we apologise, a little. It was worth it for Matt’s last cherry-on-top pun.) That left a single collection of lights that had not formed into some fitting animal. N’kechi rotated and then walked sidewards over to it, to examine the scenes that played out from within the tears in the darkness. Suddenly his claws shot up in the air in a very crab-like manner and his voice/thoughts resounded across the weird landscape “Get back! Run away! Run away!” he cried, his light-crab scuttling back towards the watering hole. As everyone else backed off too, Malicia taking to the tree and Floki taking his time to saunter casually, the last cluster of lights suddenly multiplied their number of tears and coalesced into a sinuous shape that flew through the darkness at tremendous speed. It was a snake, glittering with images of alien scenes and baring its fangs. It shot across the space and barreled into Lion-Floki and tore into him, shredding patches of light from him. The Lion Floki struck back, sinking his teeth into the snake’s head and refusing to let go. As he shook and tore at the snake, sections of lights flew off and landed on the ground (?) forming smaller snakes that seemed similarly hostile. Rat-Orny’s eyes lit up and bestowed a hex upon the Spirit-Snake, making it easier for his comrades to strike it. And how! Dellen rushed the big snake, failing to land a telling blow, but getting a single claw stuck in the thing. Victor bounded forward and caught one of the smaller snakes and in a simian rage, used the small snake to pummel the larger snake. Eagle-Malicia swooped down and landed on the Spirit-Snake tearing and shredding with beak and talon. Percy bolted forward and trampled one of the smaller snakes into the blackness of whatever it was they were walking on. Hyena-Nobody cackled at the Spirit-Snake but couldn’t wrap his mouth around it, but Lion-Floki had the situation under control, crushing and tearing the Spirit-Snake into scattered fragments. Leopard-Dellen and Eagle-Malicia finished off the rest of the smaller snakes, but as the party turned to the last of the snakes, it grew in its death throes, becoming man sized and sprouting limbs. Its hand slapped and scrabbled wildly at a pair of shoulders upon which no head was situated and all around them they could hear a terrible scream. Gorilla-Victor, the party’s spirit at large, began to get an insight into why he had ended up here and said as much as he recognised the headless snake-man in front of him, yet he could not tell the party what he knew as his time on loan to this realm of consciousness was drawing to an end. Victor faded into into the darkness, leaving them all with the impression that he knew something he wasn’t able to tell them. Due to being dead. Crab-N’Kechi came out from behind the tree and couldn’t believe what had happened. His plan had been to get everyone around the watering hole and talk to them… but great Gozreh’s complicated pronouns! This was unprecedented; two beings waiting in the spirit world for these people – one an old friend, one someone who they admitted was an old enemy. This was part of the reason for the expedition that N’Kechi knew nothing about and he began to appreciate what was driving the party to make the expedition. If something that powerful and that foul wanted to stop this expedition, N’Kechi was on board, even though he remains certain that this expedition will kill him. To whit, time to head back to the real world. They awoke on the floor of N’Kechi’s cave, several hours having passed while they…. whatever that was that they just did. N’kechi was up and at ’em already, shoving his few prized possessions in a sack, making ready to leave. N’Kechi’s urgency was evidently not felt by Floki, who argued that the best way to recover from their experience was to make some waffles. He had a waffle iron. He wanted to make waffles. “What are hoffles?” asked N’Kechi, clearly eager to be on his way and unclear on how breakfast goods could possibly help. They went back and forth a bit, but eventually N’Kechi calmed down enough to let everyone eat waffles. This has been a weird day. Either during waffles or on the way back to Eleder, Orny took the time to probe Dellen as to his feelings regarding the Pathfinder Society. He was generally favourable towards their practice of exploration, although neutral to their goals. Orny filed this away for his own purposes. There wasn’t much day left, however, when they set off for Eleder. N’kechi knew some good routes, but it was still solidly after midnight when they reached the outskirts of the city. Walking through the pineapple fields and then the Zenj slums, a figure lunged from his recumbent position in the doorway. Fortunately, before anyone could impale the man, he was recognised as Ilo, the party’s porter-extraordinaire. “My friends!” he exclaimed “What good fortune that brings you past my watch-post!” The city, he said, was closed to them – the watch was actively looking for them following the Freemen’s raid and the city’s nobility had clamped down hard on the preparing expeditions. Essentially, no expeditions were permitted to leave the city until they’d waded their way through a mountain of legal paperwork. Ilo, however, had been retained by the Pathfinder Society to see them to a safe house of theirs. Floki initially blamed the Pathfinders for releasing their names, but Ilo fawningly corrected him – the watch was looking for the people they had seen at the whaling station. Which meant they had physical descriptions. But that’s why Ilo and the Pathfinders had supplied them with disguises! Dipping into the bag of disguises that Ilo had brought, Malicia assisted Floki, Orny, Nobody and Percy apply their disguises, since she had some small skill in this matter. The small skill, however was not nearly enough to make them look much different. On the matter of the dead Paladin they were dragging around with them, Ilo ‘borrowed’ a nearby handcart and they laid Victor out with as much dignity as they could muster. Percy hopped into cart too, because if Ilo didn’t want to haul his ass around he shouldn’t call himself a porter, I guess. With Floki grumbling about the disguise being an affront to his Gorumite beliefs, this shower of queerly dressed oddballs approached one of the gates in the wall that led to the inner city. The bored, but reinforced guard post at the city gate called the party to a halt and asked them their business. Returning a fallen paladin of Iomedae to his temple, the white one, not the brown one, after a fishing trip was the story. Judging that if they really had been up to mischief, they would have come up with a better cover story and probably one less dead paladin, they waved Ilo and the cart containing Victor through. What they must have thought of an anthropomorphic crow crouched over a dead man, I don’t know, but they included Percy in the list of people they wanted a quiet word with. Floki passed himself off as Finn, the human. While deception rolled off Dellen’s tongue very easily, calling himself Tagiel, which to be fair may have been one of his names, Elves being the Brazilians of the fantasy world. Next up Nobody, aka “Sister Aurora”, travelling nun who wanted to see this poor fallen warrior put to rest. At this point it is worth reminding everyone that Nobody is a Tiefling and his particular heritage is more than a little… Baphometesque… Perhaps taking pity on this quite fabulously ugly woman who had retreated from the secular world to a lifetime of being a face-ache in church, the guard bought the otherwise deeply implausible story. I don’t even remember what horseshit Orny told them, because I was still laughing at Nobody’s nun costume, but the only person they really had a whiff of suspicion about was Percy. The rest could go, go on, bugger off. Ilo wasn’t about to pass up a chance to get through this checkpoint without violence, so he started the cart with obsequious thanks. As he did so, and the others were shooed along with him, Dellen took the noise of the cart and hubbub as a chance to cast Fly, which he then passed to Percy in brief “Catch up with you later buddy” pat on the back. The guards saw the rest of the party off while their sergeant interrogated Percy. Percy told them that he was in the city to minister to the poor, to which the sergeant replied that he knew 12 such poor fellows who could certainly use a generous donation. Percy strung the bribe-seeking sergeant along for only as long as it took for his chums to get far enough away that they could leg it, before offering the sergeant a bribe of exactly one copper piece. The sergeant looked at the Tengu in angry astonishment for only a second, before Percy flicked the coin into the air and shot skyward, leaving the guards gawping. I have to imagine that flying – to a Tengu – is no more front-of-mind than brachiating through the treetops and spinning in tyre-swings is to humans; we just don’t think about it that much. But on the other hand, I dunno, seems like someone covered in feathers would get a kick out of speeding through the sky. He sped through the sky following Ilo who was by now hustling with the hand-cart into a shady part of town and when Percy landed in a quiet and barely lit alley, it was clear that the porter had led them to the city’s red light district. He joined the party which had stopped at a bordello called the House of Black Roses and they entered quickly. The madam, initially delighted to see so many customers barge in in a knot rolled her eyes when she saw Ilo and jerked her thumb at the basement stairs. Carrying Victor between them (hurried by the madam who didn’t really want paladins in her establishment, much less dead ones) they made their way down to the Pathfinder safehouse, a pretty well laid out alternative to the warehouse. Amivor Glaur was present with a few more Society agents, poring over maps and lists when the party entered. He confirmed Ilo’s version of events: Lady Augustana Madrona, matriarch of the noble class in Eleder always had a bee in her bonnet at the presence of so many adventurers in Eleder, but something had added a few more bees to her bonnet recently and she had lobbied hard for the government to take action since the Southern Arcadia Whaling Co. fiasco. The litany of legal challenges had essentially shut down the expeditions that were being planned across the city. Glaur thought they wouldn’t have any lasting effect, but the idea of moving a caravan of experts and equipment out of Eleder was for now on hold while the respective factions pulled their own strings. Other than that, there should be no impediment to the party leaving Eleder – while they were on a watchlist for sure, that isn’t really enforceable during certain very busy times of day at the city gates. Before them lay the three week journey to Kalabuto. Upon reaching Kalabuto, they were to go to a tavern called the Shrunken Head, where they were to meet a dwarf named Cheiton. Not only was he an expert in staging jungle expeditions, but he was one of the few people who had ever been to Tazion and so could point them in the right direction better than any other. What about mounts? asked the people who were given cash to prepare for the expedition days ago. Glaur had no opinion on the matter, but N’Kechi planned on walking, which he thought would work out just as fast between resting the mounts in the heat and finding sufficient water for them. Mounts could provide bursts of speed, but speed isn’t too useful if what you are doing is verifying a trail can be travelled by a dozen oxcarts. It would be easy enough to pick up a cart and pair of oxen in the morning though to carry gear and provide a decent test of the trail’s suitability. The trailblazing team of N’Kechi and party should be able to continue on without delay once that had been bought. To whit, Glaur gave N’Kechi his official paperwork that served to guarantee that the Society would pay whoever supplied the caravan with food and water and the two went off to discuss logistics. Despite the time of day… about 3.30am, the party didn’t turn in quite yet. Orny was keen to know if Dellen was one of those speak-with-the-dead type Clerics and sure enough, he was. Soon as the sun rose and he’d asked Desna if it was okay. Floki meanwhile, availed himself of the establishment’s hospitality and when Ilo returned from taking the hand cart back to its previous owner in the slum. Furthermore, he made a gift of the feathers of the Ercinee to Ilo, so that he could have them made into a beautiful cloak for a special lady friend. Ilo awkwardly admitted that the amount of feathers was enough for two cloaks, which was ideal, because that’s how many wives he had. Never short on energy, our Ilo. As the light of the last star left the sky, Dellen spent an hour contemplating the music of the spheres and the task he had ahead of him. Percy started his meditation shortly after that and as he did so, the rest of the party convened to question Victor. Victor’s body had been laid out with considerable reverence and due to the Gentle Repose spell, looked quite peaceful, if out of place in the boudoir he had been assigned. The madam wasn’t too squeamish about having a dead body on the premises because a) it surely wasn’t the first time that had happened and b) the Goddess of Death is also the patron of Midwives, and it pays to stay on her good side in the madam’s profession. Ilo was under instructions that once the trailblazing group had left, he was to bear Victor’s body with all haste to the temple of Iomedae (the white one). But first; Dellen cast Speak With Dead and Victor’s spirit – which gets about a bit, let’s face it – was called back for a chat. Turns out the paladin had come into a bunch of information while dead. Q) What did you recognise in the death throes of the dream serpent they killed in the spirit world? A) Dread Ydersius, long dead god of the Serpentfolk. Q) Was it Ileana that attacked us? A) Yes, she hunts you. Q)Victor, do you want to come back? A) Yes. (Long pause) But as a human male. Q) Would you come back as a woman? A) (Surprised choke sound) No. Q) Where is Ileana? A) She is in the city, pulling strings. Q) How can we avoid her? A) Fear the Halfling. Q) Rolifson?! A) Only his skin. Q) Is he/she working with the other expeditions? A) They are her tools. Q) All of them? A) Yes. Q) Wait, how many questions do we get? A) Ten. (Rimshot) That information would have to do them for now for as the sun cleared the horizon the city started to come to life and their best chance at slipping out unnoticed awaited. Buying an ox cart and two oxen to pull it, they merged into the stream of traffic going in and out of the city as the Zenj slums emptied of daytime servants and menials and the city’s Zenj night workers returned home. They did so without scrutiny from the watchmen who were evidently on their guard for more Freemen subversives. At this point, the adventure takes an interlude as the red dotted line snakes its way across Sargava’s interior to orchestral march music. Days pass by and land disappears beneath the feet of the trailblazing party as they progress. That’s not to say nothing happened. Malicia picked up some Polyglot. Orny approached Malicia about her allegiances to the Pathfinder society vs. the Aspis Consortium and while he made a very good case, he encountered unexpectedly vigourous resistance from Malicia who rejected the Aspis Consortium completely. While the witch wasn’t sure why she should be SO against his overtures, he noted it in whatever terrifying notebook Orny keeps. Above that, when Floki got over sulking about not being the party ranger-wayfinder, he started paying attention to N’Kechi and found that his reputation was well earned. Not only was a superb reader of landscapes and vegetation, but he was an effortlessly brilliant teacher too. Party members started to gather around when he peered at animal spoor or marked their trail subtly in the vegetation and the old guy was happy to explain why he was doing what he was doing, but wasn’t secretive about how to do it. Everyone who spent the time became a little more… I was going to say ‘at ease’, but there is nothing N’Kechi says that really puts one at ease with their surroundings. He teachings are typically warnings of the danger of the seemingly peaceful plains across which they are travelling. Flash floods this, poisonous spores that, rampaging packs of predators this, lethally poisonous vermin that… People start to feel better prepared – that’s more accurate. I’ll recap this stage of the journey when we start again, but for now, its safe to say that the party has travelled through the ring of little settlements and plantations that ring the city and into the sweeping open vistas of eastern Sargava. They stopped at a village about two days into the journey and N’Kechi met with the town’s elders to negotiate the future purchase of food and water and rights to graze. The elders agreed and the little village was bustling in readiness as the party left. The same scene was repeated within the distant site of the Mneri foothills at a nomadic tribe’s temporary grazing kraal. N’Kechi’s word and the official document from the Pathfinders seems to carry a great deal of weight. About halfway through the following day, they stopped short of the Mneri hills. Here a trail ran perpendicular to their path – one used by the various mining companies to connect with the many mining complex that dotted the mineral rich hills. Crossing the hills was out of the question for the main caravan, so the trailblazers were left with the option of going around the southern end of the range (a three day journey) or… N’Kechi knew of an old salt mine that was large enough that the salt trading caravans between Kalabuto and Eleder ran through it. It had been many years since he had been this way and he knew it was no longer active… But if they could secure the mine tunnels they’d shave at least three days off the caravan’s travel time.