[Campaign Journal] Sword, Sorcery and Rayguns #16

by Kalman Farago
Return to Barzon


A whole year has passed. Even as we were beating back the Yarami fleet, Khonón has launched an attack on their island and decimated their defenses. The population of Yaram was enslaved to the last man, taken to Khonón in chains and sold off to slavers in the coming months.

New Anadyomai has been steadily expanding, trying to stay as self-sufficient as possible. The ancient temple complex of Immah Wel on the neighbouring island is being dismantled and used as building materials. The few monsters in the area have been smoked out, the dragon ambushed and slain by a laser gun-wielding Telos commando group. Some of the Anadyomaians started studying magic under the tutelage of Licar and Tyraxus.

For his part, Gwyddion spent most of the year helping New Anadyomai, often visiting Khonón to read about the history of empires, and discussing matters of politics and philosophy with the Telos.

Near the end of the year, both Licar and Tyraxus have called the party’s attention to an alarming development. Using their teleport spells they’ve visited their homelands, and both have come back with a strange observation: Licar noticed that the people in the Imperial lands were somehow more introspective as usual, while Tyraxus swears that some of the old paintings in the mansion of his family have changed. In fact, he also believes that the constellations of the night sky have shifted slightly, which he interpreted with his astrological training as a puzzling but ultimately good omen.

Return to Barzon

Still looking for the mysterious Morreion, the party decided to follow Gwyddion’s suggestion and mount an expedition to Barzon, an island where the local, isolationistic inhabitants revere giant hornets as gods. We’ve been to Barzon once before and left under… not entirely amicable circumstances. However, we felt it was worth to risk a return: the dark god Uthummaos spoke to Gwyddion about an entrance to the underworld somewhere in Barzon, to a place where ancient gods might be able to answer the riddle: „False gods and true goddesses show the way”, a cryptic line we believe would help us find the Morreion.

We took our small ship, the Diaphane, to a spot just out of sight of Barzon, timing our approach to coincide with sunset. Gwyddion was polymorphed into a giant hornet and flew inland to scout out the area.
„Let me impress upon the party my strong conviction; namely that my plan was perfect in its initial form, that is, with someone else being turned into a giant hornet. This modification of doing it with me really diminishes it.”

With impaired eyesight but a much improved sense of smell, hornet-Gwyddion approached the city and decided to first check out the valley to the southwest of it first. There was a large crater full of metallic debris, but there was an unpleasant, metallic smell there he decided to avoid. A bit further away from the city walls, he started feeling something coy and sweet, the fragrance of some large local flowers — and he lost his mind. Like a drone he flew up to the flowers, gorging himself on its strange nectar and experiencing the insect equivalent of passing out from drugs. Once he came to, he was all wobbly and weak in the stomach, but he took to the air and headed back to the city.

It was already dark when he arrived, dodging some other hornets who occasionally showed up and started getting closer to him, somewhat suspiciuosly. The city was silent already, except for groups of hornets flying towards the citadel standing in the bay (Skybreak Palace), where they apparently had their lair. Heading in that direction himself, Gwyddion came to the main square. A great stone pillar stood here to which locals would regularly chain the human sacrifices destined to be nourishment for the sacred hornets. This time, however, it was surrounded by some scaffolds, all holding large bundles. From closer up, the bundles turned out to be long-dead humans, picked clean and the bones left behind. Next to one, there lay a dead hornet, a large metal staff and a fist-sized metallic cube… and the latter had a strange effect on Gwyddion. It was calling to him with a strange but pleasant pressure in his brain. Steeling himself, he grabbed the cube in his mandibles and took to the wing, heading back for the boat — but three other hornets detached from the others and gave chase! Outside the city walls he dropped the cube on the ground, and sure enough, its attractive emanations caused two of the pursuers to give up and land next to the box. A vicious string of bites and stinger stabs quickly dissuaded the third one, and Gwyddion made it back to the Diaphane where he was turned back into an extremely sickly-feeling human.

The Isle of Barzon

The party decided to investigate right away. They steered the boat close to the tall cliffs that surrounded the island on all sides except the harbour, dropped anchor, and used flight spell to go ashore. They found the cube, made if iridescent metal, right where Gwyddion dropped in, and next to two comatose giant hornets. Quick examination revealed it to be a technological artifact rather than a magical one, meaning magical identification wouldn’t work on it. We deduced it was probably a hornet attractor which the local potentates have used to pacify the insects, but it must have malfunctioned – that’s why it only had a range of a few yards. While Zaxtaros (NPC-d due to player absence) and Gwyddion (really sick) stayed behind, the two wizards flew into town invisibly.

Turned out the streets weren’t silent just because of the late hour. Every house was filled with dead bodies, maybe about a year old, picked clean by great mandibles. Near one of the docks, the home of Ullkmaran the Polyarch, a local Imperial merchant we’ve met before (and parted with on ambiguous terms) was barricaded from the street. Inside, all they could find were the bodies of his two young sex slave girls — it seems like he and his bodyguards escaped via the lower entrance opening to his private dock, and escaped.

Moving to the main square, Tyraxus quickly pocketed the metal staff — unmagical but with valuable gold ornaments — and some rings taken from the corpse. Well, not pocketed, but placed in his Bag of Holding. He did this without Licar noticing, because the Imperial wizard was distracted right then. „Help me…. please help me….” — someone groaned from the direction of the sacrificial column. He called back, and learned that the souls of the sacrifices chained to it were somehow lingering, unable to move on. Severing their manacles didn’t help them, so Tyraxus decided to test drive his latest spell acquisition. After ten minutes of chanting, the earth shook and groaned as a mighty, vaguely humanoid creature of earth and rock emerged from the ground. On his master’s command it started beating at the concrete column, dismantling it in a matter of minutes. Whether or not that helped the wretched souls remained a mystery, as the rhytmic pounding of the elemental’s fists gave way to a steady droning noise. Raised by the racket, a swarm of hornets issued forth from the citadel’s windows and headed for the wizards. Relying on their sense of smell, most of them gave the elemental a berth and headed straight for the wizards — their precious invisibility failed to cloak their heat and smell! Licar decimated them with his magic, but not before one of them stung Tyraxus, injecting him with paralytic poison. Feeling the control of his master gone, the elemental went berserk, and all Licar could do was grab his mate and fly out of there.

We all went back to our ship, sailed a bit farther away, and spent the day resting. The hornets seemed largely inactive at night, so we waited until sunset and sailed back again, this time directly into the bay and landing at the military pier connected to the citadel which stood in the water. We saw the metal bridge connecting it to the island was broken, assuredly by the rampaging elemental. Figuring that while violence is the last resort of the week, it’s also the first resort of the strong, Licar summoned a vulture demon from the hellish dimensions beyond and sent it into the castle to „destroy everything that lives”. For twenty minutes we listened to the the cacophony of buzzing, the beating of giant vulture wings, piercing shrieks and things ripping and going splat, then the demon emerged victoriously and was dismissed.

Using flight and ropes, we entered the citadel through some huge windows on the top floor, where we suspected the hornet nest to be. It was a massacre inside, dozens of of the thing — including a large queen — ripped apart by the demon. This room was walled off from the rest of the complex a long time ago, indicating that someone was, in fact controlling the hornets and has set this area apart for them to lair in. We eventually made it into the rest of the citadel via some ledges and windows and explored all three levels of it. Everyone was long dead inside — the hornets probably went wild when the metal cube failed, and massacred not only the citizens but also their masters. In one dead body with some blonde locks of hair, we thought we recognised Denna Swaura, the sea captainess who once fished us out of the sea a long time ago, but we couldn’t be sure. A few valuable were quickly taken, then we followed a staircase opening from the throne room and going underground, circling around some sort of pit or cistern.

Adventuring on Barzon

The bottom was wet, and it held three stone sarcophagi — four looted sometime in the past, three still intact and bearing names that must have belonged to old masters of the city. In the middle of the room was a huge circular stone plate — or maybe plug? — set into the floor, with an inscription: „SRATAGGAR”. That was familiar. Back in Khonón, we’ve read about that name in the forbidden section of the library. We couldn’t remember the specifics — or maybe we never found the specifics in the first place –, but it was about something powerful… maybe some demon? (In fact, I just checked my old notes, and yes, Srataggar was mentioned in relation to Barzon, but there was nothing specific.)

You know those situations when you open the lid of a sarcophagus and some nasty undead monster jumps out at you? So do we, and that’s why Tyraxus summoned an earth elemental again. We stood back and had it take off the lid of one of them. Sure enough, a feminine shape, covered in brown rotten veils jumped out and slashed with its wicked claws, but the masssive stone creature smashed and ripped it into pieces easily. Tyraxus then told it to open the next coffin, and it immediately started beating up something inside as yellow dust flew around, eventually raising some utterly pulverised thing out of the sarcophagus and swinging it aside. The third one was trickier. As soon as it opened, an amorphous black mass slithered out and onto the elemental, largely oblivious to its ton-heavy blows; but it didn’t last long against our laser guns and magic spells.

Now it came to looting those sarcophagi, and, well… you can probably guess. Earth elementals are great on smashing power, but not much on finesse. Some valuables were recovered, most of them badly bent. A magical dagger comprising the tooth of some creature was snapped in half, and a small magical metal rod was badly bent. The middle tomb — the yellow dust turned out to be a lethally poisonous type of spore, a good thing Gwyddion held his breath and covered his face while poking around in it with his sword — formerly held some vials of magical liquid. A slightly deformed piece of magical black tallow was recovered, maybe still useful.

Now we turned our attention to the great cement circle with „SRATAGGAR” on it. The elemental made quick work, collapsing part of it and revealing a deep shaft — throwing down a pebble revealed it to be hundreds of yards deep — with a network of metal girders and stairs leading down. After waiting around for the elemental to return to its home plance, we decided to put off exploring this place until tomorrow.

We went back to the city, Gwyddion hoping we might find some survivors who have secreted themselves away in some well-stocked larders, but no such luck. The party did make a short expedition to the crater outside the city and found metallic ruins bent and demolished by some great power in the past. Three metal boxes were recovered, each sealed closed and bearing the letters DIA, these we put away and will show to the Anadyomaians — maybe they’ll know what they’re good for.

Eventually we rested up returned to the great shaft under the citadel. Descending, we were hit by gusts of cold air drifting up from below, and eventually we came to a corridor leading away from the shaft, which continued down. The corridor was closed by a metal sliding door and two crystalline eyes set into the wall, one green the other red. We’ve seen similar things before, in other ancient ruins, but these weren’t working properly. After failed attempts to pry the door open, we got through it with a spell of opening. A short corridor led to another similar door, this one still working, and we entered a large, dark room. Rectangular black things were standing in the middle and along the walls, and straight, rib-like things were on the ceiling. Nothing seemed to work, at least until we found two familiar things. One was a great switch, identical to the one Gwyddion once saw in the basement of an ancient high-tech tower inhabited by a vampire lord. As an aside, Gwyddion was separated from his friends at the time and what he did was start yanking the switch up and down like an idiot, turning the tower’s power supply on and off in rapid succession and sending wild surges everywhere. As I recall, he managed to raised the forcefield around the tower, released some artificial pheromons that attracted strange beast from all around the island to the tower, and fired the giant raycannon no top of the structure. But back to the adventure at hand…

Inspired by Gwyddions recollection, Tyraxus insisted on pulling this one himself. It was in much better condition, and the ceiling ribs came alight while the big black machines probably started doing… whatever they do. The party then turned to the other item, also familiar to them from earlier delves into ancient places: a working Transcaster (apparently one-way)! It could be tuned to 11 channels, 4 of which actually had something other than static. On one channel, a droning voice was repeating a series of seven numbers ad infinitum. Another one was looping a message about some place called Zeta being under attack and suffering heavy casualties. The next working channel was a great surprise — a live broadcast (at least so we figured) from Systema Tartarobasis, the subterranean hell we once visited! It sounded like propaganda — intended for whom, we don’t know –, and we learned that apparently there was some sort of coup since we’ve been there, maybe two years ago or so. The fourth channel started with some signal music, then we heard: „This is Archocentron ULTIMA, in the 3987th year of Solon, on the XXth day. At East Terminal, cloud cover 12,8,6. Southeast Terminal, XX,XX,XX (whatever it was). At South Terminal, dangerous magnesis. At Southwest Terminal…” A message (well, weather report) from ULTIMA itself, the mythical flying continent far to the east across the ocean!

The Transcaster was large and heavy, so we turned it off, left it there, and decided to go back for it when we leave. Going back to the shaft, we followed the stairs down and some time later came to another side passage. The door in this one had a word above it: URANOMETAFORA. One of the teleport devices connecting the ancient colonies! Peeking in, we saw the device itself, apparently in good condition, its control panel, and two mighty guardian robots — very tough customers, we fought their type before. These ones, however, seemed to be inactive, so we turned around. We can think about them once we’ll actually know how to program the URANOMETAFORA to a destination; plus, Tyraxus said he wants to find a way of reprogramming the robots to his service.

The Great ICe Lens

We descended even further, even though the air was decidedly freezing here, and came to the bottom of the shaft. A short hallway opened into a humongous domed chamber, probably hundreds of yards across. Metal ladder rungs set into the concrete wall lead down to the floor, where stood rows upon rows of machine, pumping some liquid into subterranean pipes. The middle of the room was dominated by a great concrete ring, higher than a man. Set into it was an enormous lens of unknown material over a bottomless abyss, thick enough to be completely opaque, only letting through some very faint blue light. Painted on the side of the ring was the word: SRATAGGAR. Whatever mysterious Srataggar was — and my bet was the entrance to the underworld –, this was it. There were some ladders leading up to the top of the ring, and there we found a tiny metal hut, built on top of the lens close to its periphery. We cajoled some life into the ancient sensors controlling its door, and a low hum started. We saw something recangular rise upwards from the depth. As the elevator arrived, the door opened, we stepped in, and pressed the button with an arrow pointing down.

Down we went through the shaft cut into the lens, and once we emerged underneath it, we gasped at the incredible sight before us, visible through the large glass windows of the elevator cabin. We were descending through air, and all around us was a bright blue sky. To one side we’ve seen the Sun — or rather, a sun, slightly hexagonal in outline, and some black spots inside it. Many miles below there were green lands spread over an area many miles across. It was all verdant greenery and a great lake in the middle. From the middle of the lake rose a mighty tower, a citadel large enough to house an entire city. We looked on for a while as the elevator made its way down and disappeared into a concrete receiving terminal, blocking our sight. We stepped out into a hall. In front of us there were three large letters carved into the floor: S T G.

Systema Tartarobasis Gamma…

Sigma, Tau, Gamma

Notes: Some references are made to Systema Tartarobasis, a subterranean technological dystopia our party visited (and barely got out of) in the past. An English-language module of ST is available from the Worldwide Adventure Writing Month archive. Also, right near the end you might find a reference to something slightly different as well, mentioned in the previous entry.

(Originally posted June 05, 2010.)

Referee’s Notes (2012): A chilling return to an already creepy place. The Isle of Barzon (available here), decimated in a catastrophe shortly after the characters fled it a year before, provided an unpleasant contrast to an otherwise very entertaining session involving the characters using ridiculously strong powers and magic items (the multiple rounds of reconnaissance and conflict are very much a form of “combat as war” — irregular, sporadic engagement far, far from the balanced, encounter-based paradigm), and exploring some of the deeper layers of Fomalhaut. In one way or another, the clues were leading towards a conclusion to our campaign.


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