[Campaign Journal] Sword, Sorcery and Minarets #06
by Gabor Lux
After searching the cave for more clues and finding nothing, the characters set out along the northern coast to see more of Tridentfish Island. Approaching a village of dismal huts they had spotted previously, they now observed a gang of rag-clad women picking among the flat stones of the beach with long wooden poles. Approaching a smaller group, Burzasp and Vifranavaz greeted them, inquiring about the place and what they knew about the island. It turned out they were pariahs who considered themselves so low-born they were only fit for this life, and were currently foraging for the slinking rootcrawler, their main source of nourishment: one pointed at a reed basket full of disagreeable-looking crablike things with barbed stingers. Of the rest of the island, they only knew they were forbidden to visit it, but mentioned that Pavat, their foreman, could tell more.
Pavat was an old, withered man in slightly better-looking rags, sitting in front of the village’s best hut surrounded by a small crowd of women and naked children. He bowed deeply before the characters, introducing first himself then the other villagers, who were part his subjects, part his large extended family. He complained bitterly that there were too many men on the island, since men only bring conflict and dissent; then he praised the ancients, who gave his people a place where their sight would not offend the people of the great pleasure-palaces and luscious gardens, adding that “sometimes they would send us gnawed things, and we would gnaw on them some more”. He hadn’t seen more of the island than anyone else here – he had not left the vicinity of the village since his birth, or wouldn’t dare to offend these great lords by suggesting his feet ever bothered their grounds.
Leaving behind the settlement on the distended path, the party climbed the slopes of the island’s eastern peak. At an intersection, a side path turned north, with a wooden sign reading: “The Contemplative Turbe of Rumil Guf — 2 Stadion.” Towards the peak, another one, broken in the middle: “The Mountain of the Rapture. Only with the appropriate…” On Vifranavaz’s suggestion, who had something of a lyrical side and recalled Rumil Guf had been the name of a poet, they first decided to investigate the first option. The route progressed through thorny bushes; and as the fighters tried to cut a way through the thick growth, it flailed back with thorny limbs, while another dried-out weed shot volleys of needle-sharp seeds at the party. Alas, they were also immobile and easily dispatched.
The path terminated in a pleasant grove overlooking the seas. The turbe, a small hexagonal burial building built from worn stones, stood next to a patch of what a broken sign identified as “…Sucking Bloom”. The flowers, bowing in the winds, looked like luscious pursed lips with the hints of a tongue, all delicious red. “That’s not very poetic” — mused Santiago. Ambrosius was also doubtful: “How do we know it is not really Bloodsucking Bloom?” “Some poet!” added Vifranavaz. Still eyeing the bobbing petals, they opened the turbe’s wrought iron door, and entered the cool sanctuary. Dried flowers lay on the well-preserved body of the bearded old poet, and his hands were resting on a pearl-inlaid lute. The clothing held a collection of small gemstones, appraised at a total of 300 gp, while the maestro’s pointed shoes looked like they might fetch a total of thirty. Marasura asked a silent question, then nodded and spoke as he pocketed the valuables: “Oh, great poet, illustrious Rumil Guf! We thank you for your magnanimity!” “Maybe he was just some never-do-well… or a bad poet” — Ambrosius suggested. “It is a bitter dream, an artist’s lot.” — concluded Marasura. The Sucking Bloom still swayed as they left the building; Vifranavaz pitched a handful of stones into the patch, and the plants twisted and turned, smacking their lips. Vifranavaz shivered, turned his back and joined the rest of his companions.
The peak of the Mountain of Rapture was bare, with a ring of derelict standing stones around a central pillar. Fossils embedded in the pillar looked like bones and contorted larynxes, while a metal ring held a pair of corroded iron manacles. The remains of an old fire lay among the stones, sheltered from the winds. On the way back, Vifranavaz contemplated if the Sucking Bloom was in their way, but in the end, he just followed down the winding trail. On a sudden whim, he returned to the pariah village with Burzasp, asking to speak to Pavat. “And what is your creation myth?” — he inquired. Pavat bowed his head and spoke reverentially: “It is as told by the Forefathers, excellent lords. One day, in the distant aeons, the gods spat on the earth, and that became men. That which dribbled down became us.” And to that, Vifranavaz had little to say.
Travelling along the route through the middle of the island, the group eventually came to the west-east trail they had already crossed multiple times. Now, they went to see if they could achieve something with the ruby tongue in the Cycloptic Cave. Passing by the now rotting corpses of the two-headed snakes, they approached the well and the weird idol. Multiple plans were discussed and rejected, until someone suggested they should put a rock into the bestial mouth, and see if the metal gears would break under stress, while two other people would hold a blanket over the grotesque well and catch the tongue if it fell out. The rock was pushed into the maw, and as the gears turned into a sickening whine biting into the hard material, someone dealt the glittering tongue a heavy blow from the side with a wooden pole. The gem broke off with a crunch and fell out of the mouth, its inner glow slowly fading: as a ruby, it was still worth a tremendous amount, thousands of gold pieces!
Returning to the palace of Tulashnar at the end of the day, it was discovered Yar-Shalah’s corpse had disappeared from before the building. Might he have been taken away by Kafir’s resourceful men or eaten by beasts? There was no indication. Climbing over the ridge, the party retreated to the safety of the sea cavern, where they passed the night, then set sail for the Isle of Ghulur Bhati to their east, well within a few hours’ sailing distance. The isle was a bare mountain rising from the waters with active volcanism and steam spouts. Except for a caldera of bubbling hot clay and dangerous eruptions, there was nothing here, and when a scalding gout of steam burned Vifranavaz, they decided to beat a hasty retreat and head back to civilisation with their loot — first and foremost, the cache of weapons confiscated from Kafir’s men and now loaded on the party’s boat.
With Thorlig in the party, there was actually somebody in the party who knew how to steer a boat, and they headed straight to the southwest. A day passed. As night was falling, they approached something rising from the waters: a broken stone tower joined by a slimy quay, nobody in sight. It looked like a place worth investigating, since it might hold valuables, or at least be a better place to rest than the open seas. At the end of the quay, a hollow doorway opened to spiral stairs winding up and down. For safety’s sake, the fighters proceeding first, they investigated the basement first. It was flooded with brackish and foul water, only some rotted furniture remaining. Turning and proceeding upwards, Thorlig, who proceeded at the front, heard a noise. Ordering his companions to extinguish their lights, he crept noiselessly upwards, followed by Santiago with a drawn bow. The noises were now clearly audible, horrid moaning and wheezing. Two shambling, dark figures descended from above, reaching forward with dark limbs. Thorlig swung his axe in an arc, caving in a skull and cleaving a second body in two; the forms fell with a thud and there was now only the wind. Relighting the lanterns, the full horror of the situation dawned on the party: the figures were not undead, but horribly disfigured men; their hands amputated stumps and their tongues cut out. Whoever they had been, they were now dead. The upper room in the tower contained some miserable bits of comfort and stale food, while the upper floors were collapsed and dilapidated-looking. Careful not to dislodge any stones, Thorlig climbed up to the top, and tucked away on a beam, found a small metal box that felt heavy. True to his player’s every single character we have seen in any campaign, ever, he attempted to hide his gains, but the others were too alert: they called on him to climb down and share if he wanted to get back in one piece. “The money-grubbing bastards!” — Thorlig murmured as he returned, but he reluctantly opened the box and distributed equal shares from the money inside. Meanwhile, Santiago was thinking. The two wretches had food and some water — they must have been cared for. Were they diseased? Self-imposed ascetics? Prisoners deposited here in punishment? It was best to avoid potential problems, and he had both pitched into the sea.
“Worthy sentinels, oh you pillars and swords of safety! May I, your humble servant ask about the excellent nobles who had just ridden from this place? Their fair features suggest nobility and wealth, and I would very much like to know their names.”
“They are nobles indeed, oh stranger of the seas” — responded one of the pair. “The young maiden is the Lady Vampánga, a great and excellent aristocrat from the city — and on her side, you could see a man no less pure of blood — he is the great Rahib Khojar, returning from the wars against the infidels to a family tragedy, which is said to have struck him!”
“That is… that is most generous of you, guardians of renown, to confide in me. I will share the news with my serv… companions, for they were doubtless also impressed — although impressed they must also be of this bastion of the city, guarded so valiantly.” — and with that, Burzasp quickly returned to his companions.
Rahib Khojar! That name, linked to the mystery of Khojar Mirza, raised unpleasant questions, and the rumours of his vicious tempers did little to calm the party’s nerves. Clearly, this was not the time to return to the City of Vultures. Instead, there might be some business to do in Arfel, and even before that, the Citadel of the She-Sultan — headquarters to the knighthood of Karttekeza, the twelve-handed, peacock-riding god of demon-slaying and poetry, and the favoured resting place of the god himself!
The Citadel of the Sea-Sultan rose beyond Arfel, half a day’s distance from the city state’s walls. White terraces rose above strong walls, studded by glittering cupolas. The small settlement that had grown at the base of the fortress was mostly deserted in the afternoon heat, but a pair of officials nevertheless sauntered down the dock to register the party’s vessel. They discussed various rumours; about the wars in the southern wastelands, where Mirvander Khan’s men fought against the fanatical mobs incited by the god Ishab-Lambar; Karttekeza’s fight against various demons, and the evil cult holding sway over Arfel. Words turned to business, and it turned out Karttekeza’s followers were indeed interested in buying fine weapons.
Hiding the suits of armour from the Warriors of the Tiger on the boat, the party loaded the rest of the weapons into a wooden chest, and carried it up to the citadel. There was little movement inside the gates, as most warriors were resting or in prayer; nevertheless, the characters were escorted to the outer courtyard below the shade of an ancient tree, and received politely by Surgat the Weapon Master, an old veteran of many battles. Surgat’s price for the scimitars and falchions was probably below market value at 350 gp, but he sweetened the deal with a vial of blessed water. As for Santiago, he had other interests as well. He told Surgat how he had always been impressed by hard and dangerous tasks, and how much difference Karttekeza’s benevolent mission made in comparison with the “false idols called gods” in the cities. This was a fight he would be happy to support — or join. Surgat seemed contemplative and his eyes measured Santiago from head to toe. Finally, he spoke: if he wanted to prove his worth, there was a matter to attend to. Some time before, one of the order, the fighting woman Gulafshan Zer had gone on a solitary mission to investigate an old ruin south of Birtham, a desert outpost. She had suspected demons, and failed to return. Bringing her back to safety would earn much of Karttekeza’s favour.
That was all there was to discuss: the characters thanked Surgat for his time, and took their farewells. Returning to their boat, they set sail for Arfel, City State of the Charnel God.
Original date 16 March 2012.
Referee’s Notes: This entry covers approximately two thirds of a session; the party’s adventures in Arfel will come in the next part. This was an afternoon which had a little bit of everything, from exploration to combat and colourful turns of phrase. Sometimes, the time between two “real” adventures — read, scenarios with concrete goals — can feel disjointed and purposeless. I believe this was a different session, with the right kind of creative energy from all participants to animate a meandering travelogue. In comparison with some early sessions, I think everyone found something they could engage with, and that matters.
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