Castaway Diary, Day 50+

Christ, where were we?
 
Oh, that’s right: World Cup, Baby and Work. Sorry for the long absence of updating, I’m just starting to get around to it now. I have all the notes, I just don’t have the time to decipher them…
 
I’ll start anyway, and add things as I go. Text only for now although a map would be awfully handy.
 
 

Following their skirmish with the Ankhegs, they were left in a riddled maze of soft earth, treacherous earth and deadly earth and figuring out what was what was a chore. It was looking like it would take days to get the ox-cart out of the immediate area, as those Ankhegs had been tearing shit up pretty hard. That 5 Hour Energy man… Good news everyone, the nimble legged Deinonychus Jaji was adept at picking his/her way through the area and with Athyra’s help, was able to find a route out of the Ankheg-ruined prairie. The vultures that had gathered in a flock above them circled incessantly and while some descended to pick whatever gibblies they could off the Ankheg corpses, the main kettle of vultures (a venue of vultures while they are on the ground, but a kettle while they circle) continued to dog the party.
 
The area marked by N’kechi, the cart trundled on across the teeming savanah. Kona mourned the loss of his bro and instructed Malicia on Polyglot, Nobody taught tricks to his Meerkats, Floki communed with the wilds to attract a new animal companion. I assume there is some sort of seedy Craigslist type arrangement Druid’s and Rangers have, while Kwaatzuul simply got to know the other members of the party, including he and Kona assuming each other were barbarians, which, when you get down to it is pretty racist.
 
They continued in this way for several days across the plains, until one of the oxen suddenly stumbled forward onto its … I dunno, brisket? Kwaatzuul, Kona and Floki jumped down to see what the problem was while Nobody scanned the area for ne’er-do-wells… other ne’er-do-wells. They were near the crest of a small rise, with a rocky outcropping of orange stone to their left, but otherwise very little cover from which to be attacked from by stealth. Floki calmed the beast down and Kona found a large barb in its leg. At a quick guess, it looked insectoid in appearance and they were pondering that when from the sky plummeted three nasty looking Geiers. Geiers aren’t Dire Vultures, but they are “advanced vultures”. The large birds plummeted out of the sky; one hovering and fanning the dusty ground into a swirling, obscuring cloud and the other two tearing the beleagured ox to pieces, making off with the spine and liver, like they were going to make an awesome soup. Kwaatzuul wasn’t having that though, and after dismounting his horse, he began slashing at the Geiers with his great axe, carving what he imagined a K might look like. Nobody and Kona took on the other, amidst the dust cloud. Nobody shot his target then pistolwhipped the creature, before it was finished off by Kona’s tearing claws. 
 
Kwaatzuul whipped off a pair of throwing axes before Floki’s shield bash and Nobody’s shots brought the other two down. The creatures were vile and devoid of anything worth taking from their scabrous corpses. However, they did have to fix the problem of the one-ox-too-few oxcart. They solved this by Kona loading himself up with everything he could and making it easier for the one remaining ox.
 
They plodded on across the M’Neri plains, slowed, but not terribly so and within a few days had reached the environs of Kalabuto. They began to see the groves of date palms and fields of pineapple, but noted that there were not many people around. Pretty much no-one, all this agriculture looked like it was left untended for long periods of time. As they drew within far distant sight of the city, they saw a great burned tree. From its wide spreading branches, bodies swayed and around it’s edges, a ring of bleached bones.
 
The party went over to investigate, but as soon as they neared it, Kona and Nobody were overcome by the terrible stench of the place. It didn’t seem to bother Kwaatzuul, but Kona, Nobody and his Meerkats all stood back barfing as Kwaatzuul was suddenly surrounded by the rising corpses of the Mzali’s victims. They slammed into him, clawing hatefully, while he swung his axe in great loops probably equally hatefully. Killing the attacking zombies was no kind of problem for Kwaatzuul, but keeping their exploding rotten flesh gobbets out of his mouth proved to be a bit tricky. Every one he dispatched from unlife exploded in a burst of bone splinters and flying organs and a lot of that stuff found its way into Kwaatzuul which was taking a real toll on his constitution. Floki and Nobody provided missile support, but all that did was to explode more of the zombies standing beside the half-orc killing-machine. Eventually no more corpses were reanimating in his general direction, so Kwaatzuul retreated from the circle and had a few dry heaves as various grey chunks slid out of his mouth.
 
They toyed with cutting the tree down, but the tree was substantial and they didn’t want to delay getting into Kalabuto any longer. Nearing it to investigate, N’Kechi told them that this was a Mzali tree, a visual reminder of the presence of the Mzali, a xenophobic city-state to the east who wished to slaughter all the foreigners and purge the Mwangi collaborators. They worshipped, it was whispered, a mummifed Child King called Walkena and had sacked Kalabuto three times already in recent history. If caught by the Mzali, the entire party can expect to be briefly tortured to death and their bodies burned and hung up, except Kona, who can expect to be tortured to death over a much much longer period of time for collaborating with these outsiders. The presence of these raiders may have explained the scarcity of activity in the city’s immediate surrounds, but that became less of a problem as they neared the city and normal settlements were evident.
 
At this point, getting closer to the city, that Athyra said her goodbyes. She was wary of going close to the city, so she took off back to the bleak safety of the hills above the salt mine and its evidently numerous dinosaur inhabitants. Wherever you hang your hat, I guess. She and Jaji trotted off into the distance as the sky darkened into twilight and the rest of the party rumbled along the roads to Kalabuto.
 
From a distance, the city looked like a small settlement on a jungle covered hill, but as they approached the hill it became clear that the hill WAS the city – a collection of buildings and streets fashioned from the ruins of several ancient ziggurats, tumbledown and overgrown with jungle. The pale carved stone of the ziggurats had been repurposed to provide walls for villas and mansions up high in the ziggurat mounds while around the bases the marketplaces, workhouses and slums of the native populace were crowded. The native populace in Kalabuto (predominantly the Kalabuta tribe) is quite different that that of the capital Eleder, as the Kalabuta have appropriated Chelish manners and dress wholesale, with very little in the way of their traditional culture remaining. 
 
Entering the city without incident – since they’re obviously not Mzali – just before the gates were closed for the night, they set off to try to find the Shrunken Head. At least, most of them did. Kwaatzuul and Dellen went off to find a temple where he could be cleansed of whatever zombies guts he’d accidentally swallowed. Orny went off to some other taverns to see if he could make contact with any representatives of the Aspis Consortium. He did, sort of, it’s just that they tend to be a cagey lot if you can’t show that you are working for them. Notice was taken, that much was certain.
 
Floki, Malicia, and the others rolled through the streets, pestered by beggars and children trying to sell them knick-knacks. An enterprisingly persistent waif named Kibi sold them some little woven dolls for a pittance. They found the Shrunken Head and by the tattoo on his shoulder, found the dwarven trader-explorer-miner Cheiton. Cheiton had been expecting them and was glad they were finally here. When Floki explained the task, Cheiton and N’Kechi sketched some of the plan out, but mostly everyone enjoyed the cold beer, hot food and hotter dancing girls. When the rest of the party drifted back to the Shunken Head, they drank up and headed back to Cheiton’s home late at night/early in the morning to get some proper sleep in decent beds.
 
Despite the security of Cheiton’s very dwarf-like house – thick stone walled lower level and a low but broadspaced wooden-walled living area above it – they elected to take watches during the night. Kona installed himself in Cheiton’s kitchen/living area, put his feet up and relaxed a bit. For a while at least. His spider-senses began tingling as he saw a lot of light briefly coming in through the shutters – as though something very bright had passed by close to the house. This light was accompanied by the rolling of a cart, which was not unusual save for the time of day – which is to say the middle of the night. Getting up and banging on the wooden wall of the room the others slept in, he went over to Cheiton’s room to wake him too and as he was rousing the household, two almighty crashes were heard as two carts loaded with burning pitch broke through the two ground level entrances.
 
Cheiton’s house was immediately on fire, but being sturdily built, it was going to take a while for it to burn down around them. Malicia rolled out of bed, slipping on her protective amulet and went to find some liquid in the well appointed kitchen to pour over the fire. Kwaatzuul rolled out of bed and grabbed his axes, before using one to smash the shutters that covered the window and leap out of them. He landed in the street and was immediately set upon by an assailant, they traded blows before Kwaatzuul flattened him with his axe the complicated way.
 
Kona and Dellen rushed to the stairway and found the cart lodged in the doorway, burning white hot and putting off acrid smoke. In the undercroft below Cheiton’s trade goods were quickly catching fire and the livestock were in a state of panic. Kona was burned as he attempted to dislodge the cart, but he and Dellen fell back and the cleric of Desna drenched the barbarian with conjured water. Orny, was slow to get himself out of bed, but when he arrived at the stairway and saw the inferno below he summoned a water elemental to start slamming the area with big fire-dousing pseudopods.
 
Floki jumped from the window too, but didn’t leap as far as Kwaatzuul and when he landed the ground beneath him exploded in a blast of magic energy. He recovered and waded into combat with the assailants and was joined by Kona and a Cheetah Dellen summoned to aid them. Kwaatzuul and Floki engaged their new foes, but after initial success both found themselves shot by new foes who rushed into the fray. The small bolts were coated with a paralysing poison and both were struck stiff as boards. Dellen’s Cheetah and Kona clawed their way into their opponents, Kona setting off another Glyph of Warding that exploded under his feet. Dellen cast Fly and moved out to support his buddies while Orny played Evil Eye sniper from the window, laying a Hex of Slumber on whoever he could and stacking debuffs on whoever he couldn’t. Kwaatzuul broke from his paralysis and bound the Slumbered assailant quickly as the fight wrapped up, with Dellen, the Cheetah and Kona killing the last of the raiders.
 
Malicia meanwhile had found a barrel of vinegar, which she had rolled to the blazing entrance to the undercroft and broke it open, dousing the area and presumably burning everyone’s sinuses to death. Orny had checked on Cheiton (he had leapt out another window and dispatched three or four of the ruffians who lay in wait) then set another water elemental the task of dousing the second blazing cart.
 
The watch arrived on the scenes after a few minutes – fires are serious business, after all, although they were slightly interested in all the killing that had gone on too. That gave the party time to a) restrain Cheiton from putting a pickaxe through their captive’s chest b) pick the bodies clean and  c) question the captive. The captive initially curse them out for murdering swine and it came to light that he was a pirate and that his crew (currently lollygagging upriver in Kalabuto) had it on impeccable authority that the party had cruelly murdered a beloved former crew member of theirs. They’d received magical communication informing them of the heinous act and given evidence who perpetrated it and that the vile murderers would be in Kalabuto soon. So they’d set this night raid up as way of paying them back. When they dug little deeper, they were told that their trusted source had received evidence of the crime from a halfling, who had brought the matter to light so that the party could be brought to justice.
 
The watch arrived, too late to pick over the bodies of the fallen assailants who had been stripped of whatever they had of value, but then the watch was never going to complain about that. They talked some with Cheiton and the bound pirate and it was agreed (though the pirate didn’t get much say in it) that the pirate would essentially belong to Cheiton until such times as his house was rebuilt. After which time, Cheiton could choose to have him hanged anyway. This suited Cheiton fine, although the damage to his house was severe and he grumbled a bit about the pirate dying of old age before everything was the way he wanted it. 
 
With a little improvisation, the house was made secure enough and they went to catch up on their sleep. There was a great deal of shopping done the next day around Kalabuto’s markets and Cheiton and N’Kechi stayed all day poring over maps and calculating travel times and food requirements. That night, Cheiton and N’Kechi explained the plan and Cheiton told them the location of Tazion, roughly. The expedition he had been part of many years ago had been ravaged by Mindfire, contracted from the mosquitoes of the region; so the journey to Tazion was a blur to Cheiton. All he remembered was the way back, but that’s enough.
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