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.

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