Sunday, March 21, 2010

Episode 12: Into the Mushroom, and Beyond...

So it had come to this: Saladin, Kobayashi, Takemiya and Iryien would imbibe the mushroom tea and enter unto the being known as Bob and seek out the source of the invasive ice. Xoe, Xeno, Holth and the Guidos would enlist the services of Posthumus, a genial foot soldier and grandnephew to the Emperor himself, to guide them around Aquae Sulis.

Clavdivs prepared the brew and supplied the travelers with 12 cups to take with them in a durable wineskin. He provided as much information about Bob as he could, but it was Kobayashi who ultimately was able to summon forth an avatar of Bob – a floating mushroom-headed Hindi – and glean from him the location of “Jarlsburg”, a carved-out rift in the glacier many leagues to the north. Bob was able to guide them to a hidden fissure in the ice where they observed a strange spherical sentinel hopping across the floor of a small valley, stopping every so often to peer left and right before disappearing down one of the two ravines that flanked a tall, natural spire of rock that jutted up out of the ice. Saladin, somehow deeming the path of the lookout the “dangerous” one, led the party towards the other ravine. Divination of events that lay in the future are NOT Saladin’s forte, as we shall soon see.

Meanwhile, the “X-Team” headed up into the cold, dying light of the early evening. Heading towards the Forum, Posthumus led them to a quiet, undisturbed neighborhood. Undisturbed because apparently the Sulian watches that infrequently patrol the empty city have seen and heard strange things of late. But the gnomes were unperturbed by these cautionary tales, and Xoe bade Posthumus to lead on to a domicile “lightly fortified, with an abundance of shiny stuff within.”

He led them to the former residence of the consulate Didough, a corpulent politico who fled Aquae Sulis as soon as The Ice threatened. Through an unlocked door, they soon discovered a foyer flanked by stairs and an arched gallery on the back wall that led to an enclosed courtyard. Xeno led 2 Guidos upstairs and soon found a bedroom that had been stripped of any obvious valuables. But a strange noise led them through the door to the rear of the room, where a hallway looked down on the same courtyard that Xoe was examining from below…

As Xoe peered into the dim gray light, she could see the fountain that dominated the center of the courtyard… and something emerging from behind it. Small, floating in the air and making its way towards her, the thing did not register on her infravision. Soon, another mysterious ‘thing’ appeared from behind the fountain, silently bobbing up and down, about four feet off the ground. Xeno and the Guidos soon saw the things from their perch in the upper hallway – and a third one shimmered into existence behind the fountain and headed up towards them.

By now, Xoe could see the shapes in the dim twilight, and she really wished she hadn’t. Two silently floating infants were making their way towards her, dark and empty eye sockets staring blindly in her direction. Where their tiny legs should have been, a wispy trail of fog tapered off into the night, emphasizing their otherworldly origins. As one, the infants opened their tiny mouths, and Xoe quickly covered her ears. Holth was not as lucky, and soon a cacophonous wailing tore into his head and sent him reeling to the floor. Athos fell as well, and soon an all-out retreat took the party out of the villa and thankfully, all in one piece.

A little to the north, Saladin’s group had found a great chasm in the ice. Filled with the swirling snow that was starting to fall in great amounts, the chasm seemed to be hundreds of feet across and of an unknown length and depth. A broad, icy path led from where they stood and sloped down the right-hand side of the chasm. Feeling their way slowly down the path, Iryien soon spied a cave mouth up ahead in the frozen rock wall. Carefully peering inside, she saw two tunnels branching off some distance inside – and the tunnels were not stone, but instead were hewn into the luminescent blue-green ice of the glacier itself.

Once again choosing the right-hand path, Iryien soon heard a noise coming from around a bend in the tunnel. WHOOMPH! ~ UURRKK!! ~ RIP!!! (chewing noises). A tactical retreat seemed to be called for, but when the party fell back and took the left-hand path instead, they found that both tunnels were entrances into a large Yeti’s lair, and they recoiled at the sight of it feasting on the entrails of an unfortunate beast.

Looking up from its macabre buffet, the yeti took up arms (in the form of a sizeable tree trunk) and charged down the tunnel towards the party. Saladin tried to reason with the creature, and even as the distant sound of dice rolled single digits in his ears, Saladin kept talking. And talking. The others took cover. Saladin took a tree to the side of the head. Kobayashi and Iryien sensibly discharged some missile weapons (at a distance, of course) while Takemiya cried out “Supa Grow Powa!” and swelled up to loom over the yeti.

The yeti, suddenly faced with an opponent larger than he, decided to play dirty and immediately kicked Takemiya “where a monk keeps his prayer beads”, causing him a modicum of discomfort. Saladin, oaken splinters giving him half a 5 o’clock shadow, sprang into the melee like an enraged dervish. Unfortunately for THIS enraged dervish, (distant sound of dice on table), the blood flowing into his eyes proved too great a distraction and his bone club flew from his hands and went clattering down the icy passageway.

Luckily for everyone (except the yeti) Kobayashi’s Staff of Thunder put a large, smoking hole in the yeti’s chest and distracted him just enough so Takemiya (having recovered his wind AND his beads) could pounce upon the poor creature, rip off his left arm at the shoulder and bludgeon him to death with it. As the rest of the party watched in disbelief, Takemiya flailed away at the poor, dead creature, muttering “Cheeky bastard!” over and over again.

Kobayashi paused for a moment and took note of the ruckus they had just caused. Perhaps they should not stick around this empty, echoing cavern for too much longer…

In the street outside L’Villa D’Didough, Xoe eyed the warehouse opposite. Dark and cavernous, it looked an ideal place to look for loot without the risk of hauntings. As she cased the casement, Xeno notice flickering blue lights emanating from the second floor of a building just up the street. Not heeding his sister’s advice, he crept up to investigate.

“Hey, look! It’s a VOMITORIVM!”
“We DON’T want to go in there – I’m sick of eerie lights and meeting people! I prefer my looting to be of an impersonal nature…”
“Well, I’m going in to look around.”

Xoe noted that while she understood perfectly what he said, she hadn’t actually heard his voice. Xoe looked down at her still dancing fingers. She was surprised to find that not only had the two of them developed a secret sign language, but they had also apparently concocted a simple sign to denote “Vomitorium”. Where in the hells have they been???

Begrudgingly, the rest of the party followed Xeno’s lead. Entering a large foyer, a high, domed skylight illuminated a vomiting deity, lovingly rendered in a pale, coral-colored marble, silently kneeling in the middle of a dried-up fountain. Behind it, a low, echoing voice bounced down the stairwell from an open doorway on the second level. Creeping slowly up the stairs, the party listened…

“They have just arrived with another shipment of the heated wire.” The voice stopped momentarily, while another voice, to quiet to hear, replied.

“No,” the deep voice responded, “not yet.” Another murmured response. “They have retired to the baths.” Someone who hides in a vomitorium has been keeping an eye on us, thought Xeno. Bloody typical. He quietly unsheathed Mr. Stabby as he reached the top step. He could now see the word “MEN” carved in the lintel above the open doorway. The voice was getting more distinct now, deep and guttural as if its owner was speaking through slabs of raw liver instead of lips.

“I do not think so. They destroyed the behemoth without much trouble. In fact, the most trouble they did have was with one of their own weapons.” Great, thought Xoe, he saw me try to strangle myself. Who is this guy? She deftly hopped past Xeno to the other side of the door. Peering in, she could see a small fire burning blue at the far end of a large, tiled room. On the other side of it, staring into the flames, was a hulking figure with a misshapen face and awkwardly hunched body. It spoke into the fire, and Xoe could almost see the indistinct shape of a head floating within the azure flames.

“So what would my lady have me do?”

“The shamans cannot reach the node if they reinforce the wire. You must destroy that shipment!” At last, Xeno and Xoe could hear the mysterious “lady”. Her voice sounded female, yet not exactly feminine. If Xeno was a betting gnome (and he was suddenly yet inexplicably sure that he was), he would bet that the Lady would be described by her peers (in low whispers, of course) as “handsome”.

“That will be difficult,” the ugly giant replied. “They have already taken it underground.”

“You better figure out a way, Bijaz,” replied the Lady tersely. She was obviously accustomed to having her way. “That is why we are paying you. My mistress will not be happy if you fail, and I will not be happy if you fail. Let THAT be your motivation.”

"As you wish, Gullubondæ..." The giant reached into a pouch that had been hanging by his side and pulled out a handful of black powder. He sprinkled it onto the fire and the flames changed colors, turning back to their natural yellow and orange hues. Seeing that the show was over, the party sprang into action...

Again, the distant sound of rattling dice caused Posthumus, the first man in, to slip and fall on a patch of frozen stomach grease. He hit his helmeted head hard on the marble floor and was rendered temporarily unconscious. As Porthos drew the Demonic Lacross Stick back and prepared to fire, the giant shimmered and disappeared from sight. Porthos paused. Xoe swore. And without warning, Aramis flew across the room, bounced off the far wall and fell to the ground in a crumpled heap. The giant reappeared as the source of Aramis' sudden flight, and Xoe tried to perforate him with her crossbow. Porthos was quick to discharge his stick, but again the dice went awry, and the bright blue sphere missed the giant and ricocheted around the room, striking Posthumus just as he was recovering his verticality. He went down like a ton of armored bricks.

At this point, the giant started swinging the larger and more muscular of his two arms. Knives whistled through the air. Pouches were sliced open. A wand was produced. And as a ring of fire started to slowly open in the floor of the men's room, Xoe cool head called for a retreat. As the party fled down the stairs, the giant cold be heard venting his sizeable spleen upon Posthumus' soon-to-be corpse. The sickening thuds, squishes and giantese vulgarisms froze the party momentarily as it passed the fountain below. They listened as giant stopped his abuse of the corpse and began muttering to himself. Suddenly, the flickering yellow light from the room changed once again to blue. Then all was silent.

Xoe crept carefully back up to the room. The giant was gone. Posthumus was dead. And things were most definitely not going to plan.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Episode 11: Wanna Take a Bath?

The scrolls were unrolled as Clavdivs shuffled slowly away. Short messages. Weird phrases. Someone named Trevor.

It appeared that the crew of Der Mobile had stumbled upon Aquae Sulis' ancient node of communication: the Omphalos. The city was built ages ago on top of a stone that was used to communicate with similar stones throughout the region. One of these stones is being used by Count Fundus, who communicates with "Scaryland" - the Sulian seer's name for a community of fanged, malformed, black-skinned creatures who are employed by Fundus and send him 'shipments'. It is believed that the "Black Sheeps" that Santiago mentioned are these shipments to and from Count Fundus.

After scanning and discussing the scrolls, it was agreed that everyone should heal and relax in the baths, or The Baths as they are (or were) known throughout the Empire (or 'empire', given the chilly state its in). The adventurers relaxed, sipped tea and unwound in the steamy depths of various pools.

Some adventurers just plain unwound.

It would seem that the heady mushroom tea that is brewed in Aquae Sulis is unfit for gnomish consumption. For while Saladin, Iryien, Takemiya and Kobayashi had a vivid and kaliedoscopic Trip into the Shroomy Void, Xeno was slapped around by a betentacled woman and Xoe watched placidly as an evil clown entered her room, unpacked his knives and performed unknown surgeries on her unconscious body. It is not yet known what lingering effects could plague these two going forward, but it could hardly be worse than their die rolls on that ill-fated evening...

Meanwhile, the others discovered that the tea enabled them to access a large lifeform that lurked in the grounds around Aqua Sulis. A gigantic mushroom by the name of "Bob" lives in and around the city and extends for miles. By 'entering' it in their state of heightened awareness, the Fungus Four were apparently able to travel miles in mere seconds and return in one piece. Saladin immediately planned for a return trip, kind of like that roommate freshman year who you got high because it was easier to smoke him up than ask him to leave and now he's back from the mall with a Zeppelin tye-dye, a Grateful Dead tapestry and like fifteen blacklight posters.

What will happen next?

I don't know, but I bet there'll be explosions...

Monday, March 1, 2010

Into the Baths...

Maximinus led everyone back down into the baths while Holth returned to Der Mobile to fetch the remainder of the crew. Saladin was especially grateful for the warmth as the remains of the icy behemoth were still clinging to his head and shoulders. After a moment, Holth returned with the others.

“Clavdivs! A treble batch of tea, post haste!” A young boy snapped to attention and scurried away down the corridor, limping noticeably. The group then followed Maximinus down the steeply curving corridor, noting again the increasing temperature and humidity levels as they descended. What was at one time a luxuriant spa, replete with elaborate mosaics depicting men and women in various states of frivolity and undress, had fallen into an extreme state of disrepair. The torches in the passageway burned with an eerie green light.

“Jolly good of you to show up when you did. I trust you’ve procured more of that warmwire? Excellent. That stuff bally well’s been keeping this ruddy ice at bay for the past few months. We wouldn’t have been able to finish the Championship without it. You’ll be happy to hear we beat the Emperor’s XI again to retain the Cup.”

Maximinus picked his way through the rubble of a partially collapse ceiling and lead everyone into a large, circular chamber. It is dominated by a large, round wooden table. A dozen chairs sit around it, all carved out of the same deeply red wood. Tapestries hang between the five passageways that branch off of the room. The distant splashing of running water echoed through the room.

“If everyone would take a seat, we can go over the latest scrolls from the Omphalos you’ve asked us to collect. Ah, Clavdivs is here with the tea. After you’ve served everyone, how about trotting down to the docks and collecting our shipment? There’s a good boy.” Clavdivs dutifully passed out the china cups and poured the tea from a large silver pot shaped like an elephant. The tea smelled earthy and strong. It tasted like a sweet and spicy cup of dirt.

“Poor idiot boy,” Maximinus muttered as Clavdivs shuffled off with the heavy teapot. “He’s my brother’s boy, poor thing. My brother, not the boy. He sent him down to me just before the ice came. He’s useful, don’t get me wrong - makes a great cup of tea - it’s the stuttering that drives me mad.” Maximinus sipped his tea and glowered at the passage long after the boy had left.

“So you mentioned winning the Cup,” Xeno quipped as he sipped his tea. “I take it you thrashed the Emperor’s team all the way back to the Palace?” Maximinus came back from wherever his mind had taken him. His countenance brightened, obviously pleased to recount the tale.

“Ah, yes… What a fitting way to end the season. Granted, the final was won by forfeit as we haven’t had any contact with the First Empire in over two years, but I assure you if WE were the first one’s to succumb to this blasted ice, Egalabulus would’ve claimed the Cup forthwith.” Maximinus took another sip of tea. “You know, we’ve enjoyed quite a bit of success since you chappies dropped in on us last season. I think we’ve managed, oh what is it again, Quatruus? Twenty wins against three losses? Yes, quite a rub of the green, I think you’d agree. Why, you’ve become a bit of a lucky charm for us at our matches. Germanicus has even taken to wearing a carved ivory turtle in his box.” A large, ruddy soldier near one of the doorways shifted uncomfortably as two of his compatriots slapped him on the back and chuckled.

“Oh, don’t be bashful, Germanicus. We can hardly blame you after they appeared the way they did. Do you remember that? It was, what was it, the third match of the Championship? Ah, yes – it was at Carborundum – before the ice covered the pitch. Germanicus was batting fiercely, taking everything the Carborunds could throw at him. He was on 97, and I, filling in for their wicketkeeper (who’d taken a bunger to the bean in their innings, poor chap) noticed something odd about the moon. I looked up at Ictinus and cried ‘What ho, what phenomenon is this?’, whereupon you, Germanicus, got very cross at me and brandished your bat with some malefic intent, I don’t mind saying. You said ‘Shut your bloody mouth, my lord, and stop trying to distract me from attaining my century!’ To which I quite wittily replied ‘If you stand your ground much longer, Germanicus,’ I said, pointing skywards, ‘I fear we’ll have to declare your innings closed - permanently.’”

“It was then that all the players noticed the outline of a turtle silhouetted against Ictinus. Germanicus, finally coming to his senses, turned and looked up at the sky and said ‘By the gods, has the Great Turtle Spirit come to bless my innings?’, to which I replied ‘No, I believe that a Spelljamming vessel, having entered our unusually turbulent atmosphere, has lost their Spelljammer and is about to come crashing down on us. I’d leg it deep and square if I were you old boy or you may just lose more than your wicket.’”

All the assembled Sulians chuckled heartily at Maximinus’ wit.

“And what ho was that a spectacular crash! When your ship finally came to rest, it had ruined the pitch, taken out the Marsyas Stand, and buried itself in an encroaching ice wall. By the time we pulled the six of you out of the wreck, you’d all nearly frozen to death – especially Saladin there.” He gestures towards Saladin, then points at his feet. “Those boots are the only thing that saved your life that day. I don’t know how you manage life on Athas, but in my opinion, if you can’t learn to deal with a little chill once in a while you’re never going to get anywhere in life.”

At that moment, Clavdivs limped into the chamber carrying a bundle of scrolls in his arms. Maximinus gave a grin and gestured to the boy.

“Ah, my nephew is here with your scrolls. Would you be a good boy and leave them here for us? Then pop round and ready some baths for our guests.”

Clavdivs dumped the scrolls clumsily on the table, and with a quick wink to Iryien, shuffled off towards the distant splash of running water…