Uneventful trip thus far but we do cross a north/south oriented river. This river cuts east not far north, right at the edge of the hills tween Bharag and Kakutsk.
Scout who surveyed hills south of Kimiristi arrives at cave base tonight.
Early in the day, we come upon a temp settlement of centaurs, in the ruins of an older permanent town. About 60 to 80 in number, much in appearance like we know of home but of local culture. Hrok says the wemic relations with them are a toss up. Could fight, could trade, pending on first reaction of both groups. They speak the steppe tongue.
Duncan rides forward with Grumpet and Bhodan only, no weapons out. 3 of them appear out of the grasses and ask out business. Duncan tells Bhodan to be completely honest.
They appreciate our forwardness of honesty. Their chief is in the settlement.
They say the gnoll issue isn't just a wemic issue, the hyenamen are allied to the humans in their area as well, they are vile scum so get along famously with the gnolls. If it turns into an actual war it will effect all. In which case the centaurs will help fight the gnolls.
They generally stay put for the entire season so they aren't leaving any time soon.
They invite us in to meet their chief.
Inside, its much more humanish than the wemics were.
We are greeted warmly!
The chief is named Mugal.
We tell him the quick of our story.
He has not met the ruling brothers directly, and isn't quite sure what to make of them. Conflicts with the old king was more like a game, a hunt. Larger conflicts weren't to the last man, one would lose and be allowed to leave. These brothers are more hostile openly with the centaurs, even pushing some centaurs out of their grounds. Lots of trouble from them. The tribes most loyal are taking the same attitudes. Those not accepting of them as kings have kept to the old ways.
This settlement moved up recently from not far south.
Duncan asks his opinion on where the 2 MIA lions are. We think, since there are no major geographic anomalies here, someone may be hiding them out.
He tells the details of a river to the south, running from the Great Hills eastward. Its the southern fork of the one we crossed. He figures they have either been killed; or they found a set of ruins to hide out in, together or not; or they are moving from woodland patch to patch; or they have been taken in among the Rakasta (the bipedal catmen) or a friendly tribe etc.
Hrok says the lioness is due w/in the next few weeks.
Duncan convinces him to loan us a handful of his good scouts to lead someone south to help us search the area faster since they are familiar with it. He offers up to 5, Duncan asks only for 2. Leaving Maith, Nnesk, and 2 of Bhodan's men to go with them.
They begin immediately.
We move on for the Royal Pride, arrive this evening.
Not far out we come across a half dozen humanoids at a campfire cooking. Meat smells gamey and plain. All are slender and armored somewhat similar to Toronaga, not same. They are a bit to the south of our path.
Duncan rides up to them with Bligh and Bhodan. At the sight of us they hop to their feet drawing curved single edge blades lacking in elegance or quality make. They yell gibberish, in an accent similar to Toro's. Bhodan can translate some, they are the Rakasta. Their language is more human by far, and different altogether to the nomads, but most of them also speak steppe common.
We greet them peacefully and sit with them. We explain the short of our travels and purpose.
They say the 10 clans of Niko, their name for themselves (short for Toro's name for them!) know of the hyenaman incursions. Unlike the wemic who ignore the gnolls unless provoked, the Niko kill them on sight w/o question. They also don't run from a fight. So every Niko we meet have either won every fight they were in or somehow it was finished w/o death. Have a special reverence for a man Toro knows as Master Lee of his religion!! Their code is similar to Toro's bushido.
We call Toro up to meet them, who is dumbfounded. Their language is a vary archaic form of his tongue. They make a fast connection with one another. He tells them they wear the blades of Lee, they respond like he is an aasimar sent by the gods! This band of 6 insist on staying with Toronaga!
Duncan "Ok then."
They are ready for war vs the gnolls. Have only been in the vicinity for a day and a half. They have a hard time staying in one place too long but for good reason.
They readily agree to search for the MIA lions. The leader says there is a strange cave not far from here, day or 2 walk, south. Wasn't there last time they were around here weeks ago.
Grumpet "Caves don't just materialize."
"Tell that to this one. There is a patch of good very high grass around it, slight rise in the ground, cave is on one side well hidden by the grass." Possible then they just missed it but they have been there several times over the years.
Duncan has them take Toro, Grumpet and a Rider to check it out.
At the Pride:
dozen females varying in age, 2 males are lounging in a clearing getting sun, another 3 around them as well keeping a watch. One of the 2 is thick and strong, deep claw mark scars on his face, likely blind in one eye, has the battle axe slung over his back. The other brother is riddled with scar tissue, saber next to him.
Some meat being carved up is humanoid. Uh oh.
The 3 guards level bows at us.
We let Hrok introduce us. The kings get up, the axe wielder taking the lead. He's definitely the one in charge of the 2. They greet us cordially.
Duncan explains our concern at the wemic fracturing since we need to move through the area "far be it for me to judge how your folk rule themselves". They insist nothing to be concerned with, the wemics will weather any storm that comes along. The big meeting is to solidify power and fix the issue we are concerend with. They insist the old king had no idea how to rule. To keep peace with the lesser steppe races, allowed prides to go hungry during winters by not allowing us to use yakman or centaur lands for hunting grounds. His friendliness went too far.
"We on the other hand care about the wemics. We, being the dominant force on the planes" should rule and run the show. "Now it is only a matter of keeping the lesser races in their place, and from stealing what we have." He admits they are not the strategic generals he was, but we still have the best fighters regardless.
They are indeed concerned about the lost female and what her permanent loss will cause. He would love it if we were to find her, a reward even: at the mention of that by the younger, the elder shushes him "We found some things in our wanderings, not all that we can use, some more for a settled folk. He even calls us a more sedentary lifestyle, this guy whose women hunt for them while he gets a tan.
Duncan assuming this sort of coup has happened before, asks why this female is acting like this is such an unusual terrible thing.
Typically, the females to try to keep their young alive, they do care for them afterall. So these coups aren't always the easiest thing even after the male is dead. Its not common for the queen to be with cubs when a coup happens.
Duncan asks of their actions "Why your timing then?"
In their own pride there was a vendetta. Tor killed the former king one on one, who had no cubs, so he was lucky in that respect. Before that he was in a dual of honor vs the brothers' father and killed him. Some bitterness, but those things happen. Then he became king and allowed the lesser races too much leeway to maintain a peace so much that it hurt the wemics. Several of their pride died over a winter because of lack of supplies thanks to less raids because of Tor's rules. That embittered them even more. Before whatever warlord is running the gnolls took over, they were loose wandering packs. One pack snuck in at night and slaughtered the females of their pride. There were 7 males, including them, so they all went your own ways. They came to the Royal for a home and Tor said he had no use for such clanless wemics and sent us packing. That insult was final. We were adventurers, essentially, in their wanderings. Travelled with men, hunted beast, etc.
That's why they have such equipment. It was loot.
Duncan thanks them greatly, much appreciate their honesty and openness.
They know we aren't hitmen, if we find Tor, we can tell them or not. They will not hold that against us.
Duncan asks their opinions on pregnant and wounded lion disappearing so completely so fast.
He admits Tor would have killed either of them individually. Even as a team it took their equipment for them to win. That's a microcosm for how awesome he is, at lots of stuff. Including hiding. As for Sur Abe, the female, is also a paragon of wemicness. Even heavy with child its no surprise she is gone.
They are fine with us staying here for a while.
We are getting along well, so Duncan says he is fearful that they are missing a middle ground toward the other races. He insists on their superiority.
He declares tomorrow we will feast on Yakmen and Centaur. We say we would politely decline that, so they will get other game for us.
As Duncan figured, they leave for Pride Rock in 4 days.
The centaur guides say there is a shrine south of the river and an old ruin further on. They make for those in order.
The shrine is a 3 story building. 100×70 ground floor, 3 wings to the complex off the main structure; double doors enter. No windows. Floors are smaller than one below.
People have come and gone from this area a lot.
We pull the heavy doors open enough to walk into a 40×40 room, archway at far end. ANcient statues, once humans in ornate clothing with staff or scepter or sword. 5 on each side. Bare remains of ancient faded cracked frescoes on wall. There are fresh torches in wall sconces so we light a few, take a couple more with us, and continue through the arch.
Maeth "Hello, is anyone here?"
Braziers, sensers throughout. We can still smell their recent use, air heavy with it. Walls littered with niches of small idols and statuettes. Maeth recognizes them as Masters, some she knows others she does not. One of them is an idol of Corellon. There is an obvious separation of Greater Masters who have larger and more ornate niches; the lesser power they go the more plain their spot and idol are.
This must be a shrine dedicated to Masters, now run in memorium.
She notices in a corner of the room is a set of 13 idols almost identical but with minor differences like positions. The priests in the caravan or Callimachus may be able to make further study of this.
There are stairs going up and down, on opposite sides of the foyer wall.
Archways lead into the 3 wings from here too.
Each wing dedicated to a different thing, imposing statues in each but differing motifs. On east/right is a huge man sitting in a chair, bare cheste, staff, big beard and crown, face removed of all detail.
The middle wing has the same damaged face, its kneeling, holding a scepter in an offering position.
West wing has all face definition scrubbed clean, only bottom of remnants of beard; helmet, hand on sheathed sword, aggressive stance as if looking out and into the east chamber upon that chamber's statue.
We call out again, and here sound of pounding downstairs. From above, feing chanting like private meditaion lightly chanting.
We go downstairs first. 3 doors, banging from all 3 like banging on the door.
We go back up and upstairs to the 2nd floor to a living area and study. We take the steps up. 3rd floor is a single room, peaked ceiling. A robed man meditates at a brazier, breathing in the smoke as he chants in a language unknown to us.
He wears long fiery red robes, he seems to have paid us no heed.
We wait for him to finish, letting off a final smoky breath.
He greets us kindly enough, and we all understand what he says as if he speaks to each of us in our own language. Nnesk is wary of this.
"Welcome to the shrine of the Masters" and asks us our business. We tell him.
He knows the wemics are having their issues, but the 2 missing wemics are not here, nor are they together.
"From beyond the veil, the Masters show their servant (him) many things" but not where the 2 wemics are hiding. Only that 1 is in dire straights and the other soon will be. "You, seek the master of heat and flame. He wanders the steppe lands, has a strange love for the wemics and occassionally comes to stay with the Masters humbles servants. He's a blessed one you know? Blessed long ago." Also hates the serpent, one of the wemic's immediate dangers. They seek the death of both, "the masters have not told their servant" why.
Maeth "Where can we find the serpents, then?" This we will have to find on our own. They dwell in the open but they are all hidden. "All you have to do is look."
Not that they change their appearance, but not all look like the serpent. "They prefer to live in the gloom of their former glory. They let the dogs to that for them. All their dirty work."
Nnesk "Literally dogs, like gnolls?" He can offer no specifics such as that, only clues.
We bring up the 3 pounding on doors in the basement.
"We have nobody here, just us." He says if we refer to the catacombs below, those would be the servants to the master of heat and flame. They don't get along too well with others, so he locks them up. 3 ancient sigils keep them from leaving their rooms.
Maeth "Where can we find the Master of heat and flame?"
"When last we spoke to him, he was seeking a tomb recently (what the Masters would call recent) opened; looking for one who was forgotten but never forgotten about. People remember who he is but not what he was." To follow in his steps, find the shaman of the wolves "He would know?" Some of the wolves are currently staying not too far from here in a section of ancient gloom, as it were. This entire region, the flat lands, is the decaying corpse of an ancient time. The people were all pround once, living in grand cities. Now they ride the steppes not knowing how they once were.
He says the wolves don't stay in one place long.
"Understand, when speaking to wolves its best to bring a bone, or a nice juicy steak." Like what?
SInce we came in peace, he dips his hand into some water "May the peace of the Masters be among you" and flicks it upon each of us. A blessing.
1 time each, each person here has a reroll of a d20.
We take our leave and keep making for the ruin.
Nearing the ruin, there is a camp of 30 horsmen, human. Armed. The centaurs say they are local nomad tribe. The relations with wemics are iffy. Several are out scouting, they have surely spotted us. One gives a whoop or a howl of warning to their men.
The ruin once had a wall and castle, now a skeleton at best of its former ancient glory.
We approach casually. In the middle of their camp is a large pole, a large wolf skull strapped to it like a totem.
Our riders says that's like a banner to show affiliation. Those that use animal totems will have a chosen animal skull. Animalf of the same type will have similar canines and be part of a larger tribe. Their outriders hastily beat us to their main body and an older man in his 50's comes to greet us with 3 others.
The old man wears a wolf pelt cloak. They converse in steppe common with the riders and Nnesk. They want an offering for us travelling through his land. They ask about the girl, which the rider says we cna't give as she is not property. We have some high quality jerky and such that they are happy to clean us out of.
They taste and find it phenomenal.
"You have made the shaman of the brothers of the wolf, which is me, happy". They call him Gray Wolf 2 Fist, real name is Tuchik.
The animal brothers are called Shin, but part of the Kakutsk nation here as well. This is one of the wolf clans. There are brothers of the cat, deer, etc. The only ones they don't get along with are the brothers of the snake, not trustworthy. Wemics and shin trade when they must but stay out of each others way. Just don't get along.
They came across Tor, the king, some time back right after he left the tribe. They assumed he's likely dead. He was further west actually toward the hills. Why they don't know. They traded some weapons to him for the carcass of a large yakman, and parted ways.
The Master of heat and flame was here 9 suns ago, travelling deeper into the brother of the wolf lands searching for some old cave in the ground. Man made cave, over in the hills just west and along the north edge. Cursed caves, they feel. Can't miss them, its all desolation near them.
The heat and flame guy has appeared in the steppes for about 50 years, but was gone for a while. Only has been back for about a year. Has a real love for the wemics. Also curious about things from the past. Had a drawing with him, a symbol like the letter F, set inside a skull like shape. They recognized it from outside one of the caves on a stone.
They say there are surely no snakes in this ruin. "There are a hanfdul of truly nasty things wandeing east of the royal pride. A patch of forest further on home to things with body of a snake and torso of a man. Bad business. They can also be found in the steppe ruins here and there, but again mostly further east. That patch of woods though is like their epicenter. Also, somewhere stalking the steppe lands is something even worse. Long snake beast with a man like serpents head only. If you see that, its ill omen. Someone will die soon.
They give us a rough sketch of about where this cave is. The sun never shines into it, aka its not on the east side.
These guys's tribe is about 50 miles south of here. They invite us to bring some more of that good meat to impress the chief and we will be welcome.
He says the vile dogs north, gnolls: their war leader called a ravager has organized the warriors. He is badass. Spiritually brought together by A Chosen, powerful connection to their gods. Their original leader, a pack lord, now serves the those 2.
Also, "we have a word for the cursed beings we believe are inside of those caves. According to legend" the beings there were a despicable race long ago, tween undead and demons. The Malakaz.
We camp together, our 2 groups.
Maeth's group makes for Duncan. The 2 centaurs decide to stay with us for now. Much appreciated. We camp at the river tonight.
Grumpet arrives at his destination.
The Rakasta say there was evidence of a lion, maybe 2, moving west. This was along the river, couple of kills. They saw no tracks, so he was likely wading in the river a lot. This was SE and SW respectively. The hill is about 50' x 200' and 50' max height. The high point makes a ridge, inclined at both ends for easy approach. Grasses are 9' tall or more for a couple miles around. Grumpet finds the cave, says something was digging and hit a cavity in the ground. The grasses once covering the soil are at the bottom of the hole. It goes in 20 feet or more. Grumpet starts in. Whatever was digging in her, he's sure was fairly large with claws designed for digging.
He moves in further and it curves upward into the hill. There is illumination in the cave, and eery red glow where it opens up. Maybe runes. He continues and it is runes carves on a worked archway. He can't tell what the material is! Which is highly irregular. He calls in Toro and Bhodan. He has no idea what the runes say so they move in deeper to a T section hallway. We call in the Rakasta. There is no trace of dirt inside here. No trace of lions. The walls seem to have a crusty film on them that crumbles, Grumpet thinks it was once a slimy film. There are tracks, insectiod and large. He thinks there is an ankheg in here. They burrow. Once we are all in, a circular door rolls across the entrance, blocking it. The halls are illuminated by free floating orbs at teh ceiling. The light is unnatural, slightly purplish glow to everything. Very unsettling.
The doors have no knobs or latches, oddly.
Touching a glass plate at the first door on the right turns the light from blacklight to redlight. We hear a terrible screach inside our minds!!
All the doors open. Another disc slides in front of the other disc at the entrance.
In all the room lie skeletons of the dead. Something bad happened her long ago.
We hear the clicking sound of insectoid feet walking down the steps at the end of the left hall. The ankheg appears and we arrange for battle, Toronaga taking the front.
After Toro cuts it up, it gets him in a grab. One of the Rakasta fires a bow in support. One more cut by his Wakizashi and another arrow brings it down DEAD.
Its eyes go dark and quickly loses some of its color.
We start looking for a way to open the entryway or another way out. We find possible sleeping quarters with ragged clothing remains, prison rooms. There is a sound in the former like a buzz then a clunk coming from grates in the ceiling. In one of these is a closed door with another glass like plate. Toro puts his hand on it, The door opens but all the others shut. Through the door is a hallway going right to steps upward. There is a door every 5' along the walls. Each has a small glass slit to see through, but they are blocked by muck or condensation or something on the other side. 2 rakasta think they can make out 2 of the rooms. Skeletal remains in a chair, one each. These are small personal rooms or cells. They look to have been wearing rags like the prisoners before, so likely also prisoners here.
The last room is 10×10 with a door on the other side. Maybe a couple weapons as well. Here is a glass plate too, but when doing so Grumpet feels a sense of intelligence like something has to be outwit to open the door. Grumpet succeeds and it opens. Probably a guard chamber. An old decreped blade, but also a 2' long handle, circular hilt, with a foot and a half blade. Like a weird short sword with a long handle. 2 sides of the handle are studded. There is a door in here as well. Another test of will but Grumpet opens it again. It is a room full of crates, rounded at the far end and cuts back on our left. The crates have some form of lock with a metal ring that may be the way to open it. Each crate has a seal of sorts burned into its surface, like a cuttlefish. Total of 50 crates in here. Figuring there have to be keys in here somewhere, we leave them be for now.
We go back and up the closer of the stairways up to a cargo deck. This is like some sort of buried ship. Most of the deck is one open room full of open crates full of containers of nasty viscous goo/brine and brainlike matter. Food? Ugh. Also, spheres and ballista bolts like ammo.
There are some door as well which we explore.
The stairs we came up continue upward. We explore here first. The doors require no thought contest.
We come to the other steps from which the ankheg came. Another stairway up as well. Galley; captain's cabin; a mate's quarters; floors covered with a weird crusty dried material, very dusty when it cracks; chart and treasure room with scroll tubes set into a device. They are air tight stoppered.
12 gp agate, likely ankheg's random treasure
what we suppose is coin, each somehow made of swirls of gold and silver, differing in shape. The shape must determine the value.
311gp worth of gold/silver
Gems: azurite 12; 90; 55; opal 550; topaz 550; large zircon 55;
rod of cold iron
rod of adamantine
each couple inches in diameter and 5' long
high qualite set of endirons and a spit
8 bags of 20 marbles each, each a single color
half pound bag chalk
1lb bag nails, adamantine
1lb bag of salt, with strange ties of an unknown hard but pliable material
several small kegs of an oil substance
tall bottle of clear liquid, strong smell of alcohol
9 bottles of a wine, also ancient so who knows if its any good
crowbar of an unknown metal, stronger than iron
grappling hook on a strong cord, metallic like but like rope!
9 outfits, sealed up in clear bags and in perfect condition, robes with high collars that would go above one's head; mix of colors including yellow, purple, orange, green. All drab, not bright
Tent of unknown very strong material
1lb pouch of a leafy substance
wrack of wood like blocks, like pressed dense, of different colors red, blue and black
Sack, out of same tent material
Lots of what must be food that we don't think is a good idea to eat. Gross looking sausages, etc.
Small trap, like a beartrap but a size smaller so for human would work
50 vials ink, squid ink says Grumpet
Metal ring, few inches in diameter, with rounded fobs along it.
We check one of the 10 good charts, all with the alien script we have seen all over the ship. One is a map of what may be the region we passed through prior to Kimiristi and further east. There are markings of possible cities we didn't come across; teh standing stones we found are all marked!
Far to the east of here, a huge rift is marked for hundreds of miles north/south. The others look more like charts of the skies. One looks much like our night sky.
As we continue upward on the ship, more skeletons and rotted clothes; a room with many skeletons with a piece of their skull missing, punctured first by a hole. Whatever creature whose ship this is feeds on brains!
We find the weapons like ballista and such which the previously found ammo goes with. The weapon ports open into the ground outside!!
One weapons room was destroyed, we think this ship was likely sunk.
Shattered suits of armor, over 20, at one battle station. Inside the pieces are coils, tubes, strings of copper. A helmet with same stuff inside is partially crushed. Blunt weapons were used on these things here.
On the bridge, the floor is stained with not just he dried cracked film, but sickly purple blotches like blood stains.
Finally on the command deck, we start to get an eery feeling. ALl but the head rakasta are shaken by the feeling as we ascend the tight spiral steps to the command deck. In one of the eggshape chairs, with a consul in front of it with fururistic machinery, sits an Ilithid!! It wears an outfit like in the wardrobe. Looks like he has been sitting here a long time. Wires and tubes come out of him into the consul. Some are sucking fluids from him others into him. A large glass apparatus has a large brain floating in it, tentacles hanging from it writhing sickly in the goo. There is a metal manlying against one wall like teh ones we found bashed to pieces but complete.
Toronaga springs into action before the squid face can react and attacks, leaping at it 15. It attempts to assault Toro's mind but he resists. The brain's tentacles slide into teh device, and metal tentacles rise from the floor to attack Toro as well. He deftly dodges both. 4 others rise.
Toro crits with his katana for 1 con blead and hits once with the wakizashi. The lead rakasta then joins in as well. It dominates the rakasta leader, but before he can turn on us Toro slays the alien. Grumpet casts heat metal, and the brain's metal apparatus including tentacles start to burn it.
Toro is grabbed by 2 of the tentacles and it starts to try to pull him into the machine. The rakasta try to cut him free and he resists the pull. THe heat is starting to warp things an dthe glass starts to crack.
It looses a psionic pulse. Grumpet slumps over paralized with horrific visions in his head.
The glass casing shatters!! The fluid is like uncooked eggwhite. The brain falls the the grounds, tentacles with it.
Toro 2 hands his katana and splits it down the middle DEAD!
The lights go out in the ship throughout. Grumpet snaps out of it in a few moments and casts Light.
2 sections of the consul glow. We can lift the surface up like a panel. A spherical crystal pulses with light, hovering in midair in the machine. Under the other is a rod about 8 to 10 inches long: a sunrod. We light that up too.
We taket the pulsing gem, which continues to do so even after removal.
Grumpet believes the gem pulses like a heartbeat, it even feels to his druid senses like a living thing. Its like it gave this ship thing life, the brain gave it intelligence. We find nothing that may open anything. He appears to have not moved for a long time, probably only kept alive by the tubes.
Toro lops his arm off at the elbow with his tanto.
Nothing works, at all, with any hand. Killing the brain killed the ship. But, with the power they are no longer locked. All the doors can be slid away with a little effort, including the entryway.
We fill the hole in partially with dirt and Grumpet camoflages it.
We camp outside.
Duncan spends the day with the lions.
Maeth et al arrive with Duncan early afternoon.
Grumpet arrives today as well, but later.
Duncan starts planning. His guess is that the pregnant female is the immediate need, and she's in the forest to the west. So, we need to investigate the desolate caves, the southern parts of the Great Hills for the missing former chief, and east at the snake forest for the pregnant female. Plus, Duncan would like to be present at the Pride Rock meeting.
Snake Forest: Mulligan; 2 centaurs, Hrok, Nnesk, Grumpet, Trysta, Maeth, Arisaan.
Immediately back to Pride Rock after Maeth's return, to send Archileus south to the desolate caves: One of the rakasta as a guide to get there and 2 riders, with Toro and Bligh to join them. Bhodan goes too. Another 2 riders will continue on to the caravan base: one to take 1 or 2 of the priests from the caravan and lead him there as well, the other to bring the ambassador to Pride Rock.
Once Grumpet returns, his rider and another are set to leave tomorrow to gather Callimachus and Kyros, taking them directly to this buried ship to research.
The other 2 wemics and the last 5 rakasta will remain here with Duncan. They will all return to Pride rock for the Meetings, then into the Great Hills in search of the king with Duncan.
Duncan talks with the twins.
Duncan leaves with the twins, travelling with their retinue for Pride Rock. Arrive late.