The World is a collaborative setting started by Lilith, but open to the contributions to those here at Paizo. It's a a world formed by a phenominal happenstance, tremendous amounts of elemental energies from planes passing too close to one another and creating a brush discharge of sorts. The result was a pocket dimension outside of the planes (or a Prime plane if you're born there) so large that even when all the rival elementals were done killing each other, the raw element endured. This is of prime importance to the gods, since their planes are dying continually--birthed and gilded in the energies of the Positive Energy Plane and slowly decending into corruption until they are deposited into the compost heap of the planes--the abyss, until they rot away entirely and the detrius is deposited in the Plane of Negative Energy and devoured. Not a good way to go. The gods therefore are encouraged to seek out prime planes, to make races there, and to insure that if they worship them that their souls will be cared for eternally--in the hopes that their church can become strong enough to draw them through into the World without stripping them of their godly powers.
Most such worlds range from tiny to the usual size of prime worlds--not so The World. The World is massive, nearly 1000 times the size of an average prime plane. Titanic. So great in fact is The World, that scholars have been forced to agree to disagree in coming up with a single name for it. Thousands of continents are known--mostly the area ringing what's known as the Great Cardinal Sea (because it is arbitrarily the "center" for the cardinal directions--North, South, East, West). Many many lands remain uncontacted, stretched out so far that only the most powerful magics and psionics can contact them.
Our story concerns on of these lands. It is called Shandura, a wild and little tamed land of sweltering jungle, bleak desert and savage badlands. The city of Kota lies on the southeast coast of Shandura, not quite swallowed whole by the jungle that surrounds it. Protected by a mighty navy and thick walls, and a program of defoliation within a killing zone around those walls from which to strike any invader Kota has managed to endure. It trades with strange foreign nations and is home to a great many explorers who would wish to discover Shandura and ne'erdowells who would seek to escape it.
Thanis Carteleon: Kutok (M Human Orcblooded Monk)
Monk who has been receiving strange visions that have led him into conflict with a secret organization which may be refered to as the "Coiled Cobra" for their mark which might look like a circle, if one did not scrutinize it well enough to see the hooded cobra head on one side of it. He snooped into their affairs enough that they beat him savagely, cut out his tongue and left him for dead. Now he's forced to wander the streets of Kota as a beggar and to watch for their return.
Tequila Sunrise: Ajjira (F Human Rogue)
From the mighty city state of Arishad, the minor daughter of an influencial trade noble, she has been forced to take flight from a bitter betrothal. Fortunately she has been well schooled in the dark ways of espianoge and assassination by a mysterious mentor in the employ of her mother.
Saern: Isaeldon (M Elf Cleric)
Journeyman Cleric of an elven god of knowledge, he undertakes his "learning wander" to discover wisdom and await contact from his god. He has gone to Kota searching after the mystery of a place known only as Teksor.
White Toymaker: Keria (F Grey Elf Bard)
Deeply interested in learning--both of secrets as well as minutiae, but charged with a personal crusade to disprove the continued existance of a plague which forced her people into exile, she has made her way, ditching her loyal retainers in the process, to Kota.
Teasing1: Aellana (F H.Elf Freedom Paladin)
Former orphan whose life long revolved around ties to the place where she grew up and a rival inclination to explore and experience life, she has grasped the call of the Avenger (Chaotic Good Paladins) and has claimed Freedom as her rallying call. She pursues this course for now in small ways, guarding the docks and the old orphanage she still loves, living a meager, unglamorous lifestyle in small tavern guestrooms waiting for her destiny.
Evilturnip: Gallad (M H.Elf Wizard)
Trained by the local sage until his death, the son of a travelling elven adventurer named Taram and a seamstress mother, he has gone to Kota hoping to find out who he is beyond the heartbroken stories told him by his mother about his lost father. He wants to know the elves, but feels himself an outsider. He wants to know what really happened to his father but he is afraid to know.
Sexi Golem: Genji (M Gnome Ranger)
Freebooter and explorer, driven by the family wanderlust of the Waywalker line. He's strongly connected to home and family, but driven to know more about the world around him. He's been through many adventures, and some tragedies which have made him have special hatred reserved for giants and aberrations both, but has also become a friend of the jungle orcs and knowledgable about poisons and the land.
Fatespinner: Harumn (M Dwarf Fighter)
Long cloistered in the keeps of his dwarven ancestors, he has finally made good his promise to himself to travel down into the lands of other races and see what they have to offer. After a good period spent behind the anvil in the city of Khemnm, he has now been picked up by a mercenary band travelling back and forth across the deserts and jungles giving armed escort to those who can pay.
Kota is cool in the evenings now, almost cold with strong winds blowing off the Bay of Surat and into the city. Rains come now not just in the evening, but on and off throughout the day. Winter, such as it is, is coming and that means water. The drainages are being cleaned–a foul job done by desparate people–many of them poor foreigners. The stench it stirs up cannot be avoided out in the streets and the wealthy burn incense all day long hoping to clear their houses of it. Once a year the rot and pestilence of the sewers that everyone tried to forget resurfaces the way dark secrets do.
The city is not a thick and crowded maze, as are most ports, but rather a flat, open sprawl of short tan brick buildings separated by wide streets. It’s openness makes the night skies seem even larger and more looming. They always shine a sparkling clear violet-blue, cleansed of dust by the rains and thick with stars that gleam like the sharp points of daggers.
Ready for bed, Aellana crunches down on quilts covering straw in the second story room of her current abode–a tiny peasant quality room overlooking the docks where she spends her days. In the empty street, shaking wet from earlier rains and the chill bay winds, is a beggar she has passed many times. His heavy face showed equal amounts of hard living, abuse, and a unflattering hint of orcish ancestory. He should be in some alley by now, or the stables, or some local shrine–for that seemed to be his usual routine. What was he doing outside her window staring into the dark?
Unbeknownst to her it was not cold that made him shake–rather it was a flood of emotions. He stood before a warehouse that had been a down on his luck wheelwright’s just days before. Now it was boarded up, a door opened up in the wall facing the docks–turned into some kind of impromptu warehouse. In front of it, stamped into the door, was a symbol–a mark of obscure heraldry–a circular shape for which he had once been soundly beaten and left for dead.
Keria had heard rumors of a ranger. He was known both for being a gnome and for having respectable knowledge of the ways of giantkind. Best of all, he was in town. She was told that he was known as Waywalker. He was in town, apparently for no better reason than to see what fortune had in store for him. When she finally caught up with him it was in a tavern at the edge of town, a tavern called the Tale of Glory and featured a hanging sign of a keg with a crested helm resting atop it. Inside there were but two figures, though they appeared to be hitting it off quite well. One was clearly a gnome, skin and hair brown like treebark with a fox on his shoulder which he was feeding out of a cupped hand. Across from him was a dwarf, dressed like he had just come into town, still in full scale armor with his shield propped against the edge of the table…
Isaeldan expected to find his answer in a book. Instead he found it in a farmboy. The conversation had started harmlessly enough. His name was Gillad. His father he had never known but by stories told to him by his human mother. His was a story that could have been repeated by a great many folk–except he said his father’s name was Taram, and that he had disappeared seeking after the secrets of a Bhalani tower. Taram was well known among the elves of Narassil as a canny, if unscrupulous explorer who had been fascinated with human ways and had disappeared. In his researches Isaeldan discoverd Taram had known of Teksor–in fact he had apparently learned something so monumental that it triggered his departure from elven lands and a near 200 year long search that ended with his mysterious dissapearance. Interesting…
Ajira had not seen much of her pursuer, only the sheen of his cat eyes in the dark and a hand wrapped the wrong way around a scimitar. It had glowed to life as if molten in response to some words spoken in a husky tongue she did not recognize. She did not know if he knew that she had seen him, for it was for just an in passing through a backalley–and that was indeed an advantage. He would no doubt catch up to her soon. She had a variety of options of course. She was near the docks, and from experience that meant there would be a number of inns and such nearby, good for an escape if she needed to make one. Unfortunately there was not much of a maze in which to lose this creature, but there were certainly the low roofs and the dockyard itself. She could almost hear the breath and loping padded footsteps of the thing chasing her. She would have to act quickly.
Warm jungle mist, a canopy of big leafed jungle trees that break the sunlight into a thousand tiny pieces, butterflies with wingspans the size of targe shields, roaring waterfalls down cliffs so tall they look like cracks in the sky. The jungle of Bhutan, twelve days since the adventurers had their confrontation with a rakshasa in the wide streets of Kota.
The rakshasa himself, had gotten away with his "prize" the young woman Ajjira--grabbing her up over his shoulders and leaping off down the streets as soon as the orcblooded beggar had produced her--and left his cohorts behind to eliminate the "witnesses". Unbeknownst to the rakshasa he had actually abducted Aellana, an Avenger, a defender of freedom, so insensed at the thought of Ajjira being forced back to her homeland to face a compulsitory marriage to an odius man, that she had volunteered to switch places with her. No doubt she will find ways to make herself troublesome later...
The seven adventurers had surged out from the Tale of Glory and as the rain began to patter down again. It was there they had their first of many battles together against the six masked assailants. They killed the assassins and depart the city that same night, heading off into the jungle searching for Teksor.
So many days later, morning is turning to afternoon. The adventurers departed Dobudi at first light--a large half orc village built into a grove of giant mushrooms that had been a welcome place of rest and resupply. Enough trade passed through to offer a decent itinerant blacksmith and a real bath for the first time in days. There had been work too--enough to restock supplies spent in the last week of grinding travel from one ambush to the next. The village was also known for its strong traditions and ties to the past--the elders there living libraries of myths and legends as well as captivating storytellers, offering the opportunity for those of a scholarly bent to sit and listen.
The village was well behind them, out of sight beyond a thick growth of gnarling trees and a small stream that bubbled out from the roots. It was then that they heard the attack, the cries of battle, the splintering of wood. Rushing back to the village, the party carefully worked their way over wet roots and mud, sprinting where they could, until finally they were at treeline at the village's edge. The battle already thickly joined, they watched it unfold. Full-blooded wild orcs pouring into the clearing at the center of the village through a hole in the defensive line, as reserve fighters with spears rush out to face them. At the hole in the line a massive two-headed giant stood, an ettin. Both heads bellow, spraying spittle, as it brings a massive two-handed club down onto two more of the village's defenders crushing them flat. The other orcs, even in their frenzy, give the juggernaut a wide birth, unwilling to themselves become victims of its directionless hate...
Amid the furor of the battlefield, Keria begins to speak. The words, their meaning lost somewhat in the frenzy of action, nonetheless lose none of their power. Their cadence gives strength and direction, and harmony to the actions of the others. And more than this--they grant purpose...
Gengi rolls up and lets fly two arrows. They arc through the air toward the collarbone that joins the two howling heads of the ettin as it stoops low to meet them. The first cuts through the top of the scalp of one head, hitting bone and flipping away. The other is swatted off by the thrashing second head, hitting flat side against the creature's knobby cheekbone.
Harumn calls out his rallying cry and charges forward, bounding first into the attack radius of a charging orc, but ducks low and throws himself through before the mad creature can launch an attack. A second orc comes into range in the charge and swings his thick axe overhead but is caught in the sternum with an armored pauldron of the charging dwarf cutting short his attack. He finishes his charge swinging his axe around in an underhand swipe and bites into the underthigh of the ettin coming out in a gout of foul smelling blood. Both heads raise up to the sky and roar as the monster drops to one knee.
Kutok, trailing a circle around the approaching orcs, keeping them carefully out of range, places himself behind the two-headed giant and as it goes down snaps out a fierce kick. It hits, landing halfway down the ettin's hip, but seemingly with no damaging effect.
It does attract the creature's attention however. It hands the club over into the hand on Kutok's side and takes two furious swings at him. The impacts buckle Kutok's legs under him and the ground on either side of him is turned up into great trenches, but neither blow hits him.
Isaeldon releases a shot, carefully tipping up his bow so as not to hit the others and releases a graceful shot which arcs through the air and catches the etten in the forearm. It growls and swears an oath in giant mixed with orc, and begins to look around for something to throw at the archers.
Meanwhile the village levvy throw themselves into the path of the charging orcs, slowing some while others aren't as lucky, batted aside or cleft asunder with morningstars and axes. The overhanging layered tattered caps of the giant mushrooms are rimmed with what meager archers the village can manage, and they choose their targets, laying careful shots into the melee below. Here and there an enemy falls, but most thud harmlessly into the packed dirt. Meanwhile noncombatants are moved away from the fighting, up the great beige trunks of the fungi on rope ladders, assisted by guards tasked with moving them to safety. Among them are the elders and the children of the village.
Here and there as guards fall and no immediate targets present themselves, the maddened orcs drop to their knees and begin to take up the bodies of the fallen--and they begin to eat them...
Ajjira matches pace with Harumn, dashing back and forth between orc berzerkers and harried defenders, weaving her way toward the massive ettin giant. She gets there mere moments before the dwarf, barely stopping to whirl the steel in her hands. In a flash of blood she slices through the tendons behind the opposite foot just as Harumn's axe bites into the creature's inner thigh. As it crashes to a knee, its foot goes out, wrenching the severed tendons in a second spray of blood--providing an easy way up for any of the three melee fighters, to climb up atop it.
Darting forward Genji is met by the imposing form of an orc, heavy dirt caked axe aloft over head, jaws wide under his half-helm. The blade of the axe comes down just after him and he dodges past. Then another orc felling a village guard turns with his still bloodied warhammer and upswings it into Gengi's midriff. The armor takes the majority of the damage (3 pts), but still he feels the impact through every inch of him--making him go numb and dizzy as he's planted on his rear. Another guard, a desparate looking kid--maybe fourteen years old, but only just-- rushes in, and interposes himself to give the gnome a chance to get to his feet. Harumn sweeps the axe overhead, sure he connected with one of the throats of the ettin, but as he follows through and spins to look up, the creature pulled itself just out of range, the axeblade passing just in front of it--argh! And such a pretty swing too. Keria looses an arrow, which flies straight and buries itself midway up the shaft in the creature's chest, through the thick hide and into the muscle beneath. It spasms under the arrow hit, jerking back and forcing Ajjira, who had sprung up onto it's back with her daggers raised, to jump down before she can thrust in either blade. Isaeldan looses an arrow, but it whistles by the orc. It doesn't even force the foul creature to look up. It raises a spiked club and the business is done before Isaeldan can turn away. The child falls flat like a rag doll just as one of the guards comes for him. Seeing the child the guard goes down to his knees, "Tari! Tari!" He throws down his spear and just looks up hatefully at the orc, waiting to join him. Rearing back onto it's knees, nearly ready to topple, both heads lost in a private world of pain from the creature's many wounds, suddenly one set of eyes snaps open, wild with fury and glares down at Harumn directly below it. It's arm swings up high over it's head and the big greatclub comes crushing down, hitting the dwarf in the shoulder and staggering him back (8 pts). Splinters of wood explode from the shield, broken planks sticking through the leather facing like a compound fracture. The shoulder of the breastplate is crushed down painfully, pinching the muscle underneath and limiting the upward movement of his arm until he gets to an armorer. Harumn lets the shield drop and brings the axe laterally against the gnobby trunklike ankle. There is a crunch and as he twists the knife free he can see the white of bone through the wound. The massive leg goes out and the ettin keels over sideways--still alive, but now totally immobile and unable to stand. One ankle is gashed to the bone, his hamstring cut, and his inner thigh split. Still it waves around it's club defensively, to discourage any from coming near, yowling curses in three languages, its misshapen heads contorted in pain. A sizzling flash of acid green sprays the orc, even as he prepares to lay his warclub across the back of the prostrate guard. Even as flesh bubbles under a haze of acrid smoke, the orc looks up at Gillad, a grin of baleful sadism on it's beastial face--and an arrow catches it in the sternum, shot from Keria's bow. It slides to the ground on all fours, pulls out the arrow with a grunt, and slips into unconsciousness.
Meanwhile Genji strides out amongst the orcish attackers, axe aloft, the most bitter of orcish curses--many orcish curses crude beyond the capacity of many humanoid tongues, and these ones well chosen. He gets the attention of four. One of whom, in turning, catches a village spear in his side of the knee for his trouble and drops. The three remaining leave the defenders to strengthen the line elsewhere and begin to lope toward Gengi, hefting their weapons and patting them in their hands, circling in like wild dogs sniffing for a weakness in his defense.
At his side is Isaeldan, his weapon glowing with the charged enchantment--almost moving on its own, pausing in line with each opponent it is leveled with, as if hungry to leap forth and find the blood of a foe. The ettin was prone, but thrashing, waving his greatclub in great defensive arcs and jabs, it made it fiendishly difficult to find an opening to attack. Summoning his courage, Harumn waited for the big column of wood to whistle overhead and took his step in raising his axe as best the limited upward flexibility of his armor would allow. He rushed in, but couldn't get the swing off as the massive club came crashing down right in front of him, exploding the dirt in front of him, caking him in a snowstorm of black dirt forcing him to stagger back a step. She dives forward, just as the huge club impacts on the opposite side, looking for an opportunity to plunge her dagger into it's putrid hide. She powers it in with everything she's got, but the skin is much tougher than she would have imagined. The blade stops dead in the rhinocerous leather of the creature, and she just doesn't have the angle or the power behind the weapon for it to punch through. Before she can readjust her grip, the big elbow slams back to dissuade her attacks. Kutok's eyes blaze as he strikes a stance that moors him to the ground like a mighty ox, arms lashing forward as if driven by pure elemental fury. Ribs break inward, the ettin sucks in paniced breaths--wheezing, unable to take in air. Finally Ajjira silences it's thrashing with a clean slice to the kidneys, shuddering the creature to into a final cold rest.
Isaeldon goes back to back against Genji, loosing an arrow into the face of the first orc to charge, the first half of the shaft tearing through the hide helm as the rage leaves it and it drops limply to the ground.
All around them the tide is turning. The orc missed by Keria's arrow is almost instantly dropped by three village spearmen. All around there is a surge, and a gathering cry of relief from the defenders, turning against the still snarling orcish horde, but without their giant, and with the evacuation having been completed, the line has been reformed and the second and third waves of reinforcements have forced the orcs into a last stand. Harumn stoops down and picks up a shield, overheavy and shod from greenish splintery wood framed in sharpened scrap metal bits set like jagged teeth. He sprints to the line of defenders, a stout broadchested man at his left and a fierce-looking woman on his right. To either side there are three defenders sharing a single orc apeice and victory seems immenent as yet more defenders drop down from ropes from the mushroom caps above.
Ajjira and a handful of other guards rush the three remaining orcs circling Gengi and Isaeldan. One of the guards twists his shortspear into the shoulder of an orc which grunts and turns into the blow. Another orc takes a viscious swing at Isaeldon, barely missing, the rusted ball of hammered scrap that served as a macehead ripping a swath from the cleric's cloak and leaving abrasions across the leather armor beneath. The stink of the dying saturates the air. Ajjira lashes out with her first dagger, and the orc swings his metal banded warclub to meet it, intercepting it and nearly knocking it out of Ajjira's hand--though the weight of the blow upon the blade is enough to send a rattle of pain up her arm. Ajjira's other blade rushes up under the chin of the orc, thick with greasy stubble--and carves herself a chunk from it. She ducks out from the spray of blood before she dirties herself.
Keria makes her way across the battlefield, meeting no resistance from the many but totally overwhelmed orc invaders, still it's a tense trip, knowing there's no time to grab a weapon--that all she would be able to do is hold up Isaeldon's shield and hope. Finally she arrives at the leather clad cleric and profers him his shield with some good natured chiding advice to go with it.
Gillad cautiously steps through the big slumbering orcs and gives the guard a shake on the shoulder. His eyes lazily open, and he looks up, smiling dumbly as though throughout the battle he had been taking a cozy little nap in a glade. Suddenly his eyes snap wide with horror, realizing he had somehow been asleep during the fighting and he panics, looking around and finding his spear. He casts Gillad a guilty pleading look and rushes to go support the line. The other two orcs, hair matted with gore, are snoring with unsettling gentility. One has even reached over a spiked bloody gauntlet and has draped it over the other.
Harumn, steps up, taking a step to one flank of an outnumbered orc and rings his battleaxe off his backplate, dropping the frothing savage forward onto the waiting spearpoints of the attacking defenders, who alternate plunging their spears into him until he drops.
Looking around...the battle is nearly done. The last of the attackers is falling--strange that not a single orc ran--and a cheer of exhausted victory goes up along the parts of the line free to rush upon the last handful of stubborn invaders. Tonight there promises to be a party the likes of which this village has never seen in celebration of their lives and the heroes who turned the slaughter into an unbelievable victory.
As the gnome ranger begins his questions, the orcs--while still groggy, seem also very mellow and content, as though the abuse that roused them to consciousness and left them with angry welts were just some good natured misunderstanding. Drooling a bit, one lolls his head over toward Gengi as he asks his questions.
Is their any left of your warband?
The shaggy orc shakes his head "Naw. Don't think so. But I did not see the end of the battle. Knocked out--I think. All of us were there." There's a bit of a gleam of pride in his eye as he thinks back on it.
What tribe are you?
"Many tribes. I am Raw Meat Tribe. He is Painted Eye. Many tribes come. All dead I think--but good death. Death for Kali!"
When did the Ettin assume command? Are there any more of them?
"Ettin? Oh giant two-heads! Giant two-heads promised us to see Kali, feel her blood burn in us." he nods emphatically "Gave us the black blood in barrels marked with the black circle. We felt her fire burn in us. We went and attacked and ate. We were powerful. We had the power of gods in us. We hungered for flesh!"
Did your band have any slaves or captives with them. Where would they be now.
He looks as though he might laugh, but is clearly too tired and merely smiles a grotesque gargoyle grin. "No captives. No slaves. Once the blood was in us, all became flesh...for the feasting..."
Why do you eat the flesh of the fallen?
"It was the call of Kali. The fire in our blood made us hunger. We eat to please Kali at our feasting. Now the blood is gone and Maulok is tired...so tired. Sleep for years."
(A prevalent but savage religon active mainly in cults. Their clerics use falchions. Their dogma is a mantra of death and chaos, with little reason to it that scholars have been unable to unlock. Her most numerous and ardent worshippers are tribes of jungle orcs, particularly in the south--this region actually--though off in the ruins of Xindhi is where her main temple is reputed to be. Kali, also known as the Dark Mother, is a major figure in the local pantheons, having birthed the sun god--a good deity associated with time and law. She murdered the father, named Krishma, but from his blood another god, the youthful baboon warrior Hiruman appeared. Sages have noticed that her actions seem to do nothing but create new gods that hate and hunt her. Then something interesting comes to mind. Her symbol is a bloody red hand, not a black circle so whatever the black circle on the barrels was--that's something else.)
He seems pleased to talk, and shows no reluctance to answer questions at this point...
How long have you been allied with the two-headed giant?
Many days. I have lived longer than many. Many die. New orcs come when others die. Some go back to tribes to tell them to come, to tell them the will of Kali, to tell them of the black blood and the feast.
Do you have a temple, or just some filthy hole in the ground?
Filthy hole, stinking hole of giant two heads. Hole crawling with nasty creatures, giant worms and clear skinned crabby things. Many fear the place, it makes the skin feel wrong. Yet Kali is strong there. She calls us.
Where was the giant from?
I dunno. He lives in his vile hole. Those who know Kali's feast come for others. That is all I know.
Was there ever another person or creature with the beast?
Sometimes yes. Humans bring the barrels in wagons. They smell like fish. They leave the barrels and run, for they fear giant two heads will betray and eat them if he can.
Do you have any priests that came with you on this raid?"
Priests? No. Our priests do not understand. They say don't go. They think the blood is not of Kali. They do not know. They have not felt it. They kill some to keep us from going--but we feel it. Mostly we kill the priests and the others know Kali is in us.
As the dwarf's question is passed to the orc, he shakes his head solemnly. "Giant two heads is always alone. Hates his own kind. Only lets orcs near him. Tries to kill others or run them off. That is why the humans run when they bring the barrels. They know he will slay them if he can. No friends, giant two heads, just his two heads which yammer always, babble to each other when giant two heads is alone...and giant two heads is always alone. Hates all but orcs and his two heads."
The next night is a whirl of revelry, rich and exotic and full of the throbbing life of a village pulled back from the brink of awful death by adventurers to whom they owe their lives. None of the foods that are brought forth are recognizable in the least, but they are steaming hot and served in beautiful earthenware bowls, passed down from person to person as they sit around a massive fire. The food is a savvory mix of unfamiliar tropical spices and the hearty smoke flavor of campfire cooking. There is sweet and succulent glazed fruit and some kind of gooey homemade bread (or something like bread) and a myriad other sensations. The liquor of choice is a pulpy brew with little black seeds in it, reminiscent of kiwi seed, thick and very sweet but citrus enough to not be syrupy. Armor is politely taken and repaired, likely by magic since the town has no obvious forge. Injuries are tended with medicinal plant salves and the holy smoke from slowburning plants. All night there is dancing around the fire, all color reduced to shades of orange and black beneath a velvet sky full of diamonds.
The next morning it is difficult to arise, the sweat and smoke of the party the night before still clinging to everyone's bodies. The alchohol leaves everyone lethargic and oversensitive, swollen-feeling and reeling. The party has been taken to sleep to the most luxurious appointments at crown of the uppermost giant mushroom blooms in elegantly worked gazeebos thatched with palm fronds and huge pink flowers. Everyone is left sprawled about on the floor swathed in silky sheets on soft cushions. Everyone's equipment is there, as well as several days fresh supplies. The view from the top of the village, down onto the late morning misted jungle, is breathtaking. Several lifts carry the party down to the ground level and out once again into the wilderness.
The tracking isn't hard. A mob of that size even without an ettin with them would make their passage clear. As the slope of the hike begins to turn more rocky and steep it becomes clear their destination is near. Suddenly Gengi hears something, a party of surly folk mumbling nervously and the squeak of wagon wheels...
Ajjira, Kutok and Gengi make their way closer to the wagon, creeping as quietly as possible--the heavy folliage and steep incline harrying their attempts at stealth. At nearly every step the adventurers must tiptoe over a mucky spot to avoid splashing or hold the fronds of jungle plants to keep them from rocking and swishing with their passage. Every misstep sets teeth on edge, but there's no sign that the three adventurers have been noticed.
Suddenly they see the road--a muddy path of wagon ruts through the uphill terrain. Ahead of them, easy to stay out of sight of, is a large overstacked wagon full of barrels. Four men travel alongside it as escort, swaggering and sweaty. Two wear breastplates, one wears scale, another wears a chain shirt. They swat bugs and grumble unpleasantly to each other. As a hot breeze picks up it carries with it a waft of unwashedness and drunkeness as well as something truly fetid but much further off. In addition to the guard there are five men riding with the wagon itself. Three look like stout laborers, one of them--a dwarf, picks his ear absently. The other two are more important and sinister looking, in robes and cowls. Their faces look like they might be painted or perhaps tattooed, their clothes are dark and look extremely well made, and while the others seem to be cracking under the sweltering heat the two men look as though they are totally unmoved, cool and emotionless. The wagon is stacked with big barrels, like the huge alebarrels you'd see in a tavern, roped together and stacked two high and maybe four across with three on top.
In answer to the prayer for watchfullness, Isaeldan feels his eyes refocus over the area he'd just been watching, shifting from deep penetration of the foliage to suddenly snap in close to something right near him, not even ten feet away! Hardly a little over a foot tall, the creature's head looked to be a mossed over frog skull, it's body a collection of brambles and rocks patched over with mold--its shape and posture like a tiny hunchbacked goblin. On it's back are two barky wingcovers like a beetle and a pair of large reed dragonfly wings. It lurks there partly concealed behind some rocks, staring at Harumn and looking as if it might be readying itself to move.
Isaeldan stares, but nothing comes to mind. There are stories of wilderness spirits that look like little men made of forest-stuff. It could be a little elemental or mephit of some sort--but of what? Most are pure something: fire or water or smoke or ash. This one isn't--it's just a hodgepodge of detrius: bones and moss and pebbles and dry vines. One thing is obvious, it's no natural living creature.
The little creature jumps as though stuck from behind with a pin as the cleric indicates it. It spins and flutters it's wings about to flutter into the folliage and disappear. Harrumn, wheeling around is able to act before the creature takes off. Keria has slightly less time, and is slightly further away, but has a moment to do something as well.
Keria watches intently as the little creature begins a panicked flight. Her dabbling studies of religion and the arcane lead to some interesting conclusions. It's said that in much the same way that arcanists occasionally fashion artificial servants out of ash, clay and their own blood--that druids have been known to create nearly identical creatures from the rotting things of the wild. These creatures, known as boguns to academics, are willful and somewhat disobedient but nonetheless are of one flesh with their masters such that killing a bogun has been known to kill it's druid as well. Also they will never willingly stray outside a certain radius of their druid, though how far that is remains uncertain--though it clearly means the druid is somewhere nearby.
The slimy wet bogun leaps up like a frog through Harumns hands before he can close them around the little creature. It lands on the top of his helmet and scampers on all fours down his back, leaving a foul smelling trail of goo in its wake. It scrabbles down his back and leaps off his posterior, big wings catching air and starting to buzz. It circles once, then begins to zigzag like a housefly. Suddenly just as Genji returns to the group, the undergrowth springs up with thorny vines which run up the legs and lower bodies of all those who remained behind, gripping tight and threatening to cut and lascerate any who try to escape their coils.
"Leave my friend alone you...city hooligans!" shouts a distinctly girly voice from the cover of the trees "Or my next spell will do more than give you a hug!"
Harumn, Gengi and Isaeldan take their turns appologizing as Kutok gets into position, behind good cover outside the radius of grasping vines but still another round from being able to flank their assailant. Suddenly bright laughter breaks out from the treetops and a young halfing girl leaps down, legs going out from under her as she lands, splaying out in front of her. The vines relax their grasp, uncoiling and receeding into the soil.
The girl gets up, rubs her head and scowls up angrily at the tree. Her hair is a gnarled mess of woody brown, her clothes look like the rags of a street urchin quite in contrast to the elegantly carved and ornimented shortspear over her back.
The flittering bogun lands perched on the edge of Harumn's shield and full of apparently a kind of new smug bravado, leans forward and sticks out it's tongue at him--actually an owl pellet carefully placed in it's frog skull head.
"Okay, okay. I get it. You're friends. Right." she says, smiling. "So what were you saying about orcs?"
Suddenly two men come busting through the brush--"Gotcha!"
It's two of the caravan guards. They look around from the dwarf and ranger, to the cleric and magic user, to the bard and exotic female rogue...they don't even seem to see Kutok. Their faces blanch and they both curse.
"I mean, nice day...my friend here meant to say. We'll just be going now..." says the other meepingly.
The leftmost caravan guard scrambles to raise a large round shield. His compatriot dives behind his shield. Both crouch low to get maximum coverage. They draw swords defensively.
"Hey, we're just hired muscle!" says the one "Like you've never guarded a wagon or two in your day?" leaning out without loosing the protection of his friend's defenses.
"Shuddap! We're cooked. Let's just get as many as we can! Remember kid, magic users first! Then archers, then we take the melee fighters!" the one with the shield calls back to his friend, and sword out begins to stalk forward into the folliage "We may just live through this..."
Harumn imposes himself, drawing the complete attention of the pair of fighters, leaving them both open to Kutok's attack from the shadows. Kutok knocks the shield away and snakes an arm under the throat of the first man, squeezing hard enough to wrench the breath out of him with a wheeze. The second guard is left to wheel away wide eyed into open sight of archers and spellcasters alike.
The druid takes a talisman from her rag clothes, circles it in the air around her head and makes a cry like a bird of prey. In almost instant answer a hawk breaks through the treetops, fluttering down, eyes fixed on the young halfling girl.
The second guard indeed drops his weapon, but only to jump into the fray where his older friend is being mauled by the wild orcblooded monk. Gengi releases his arrow, but its flight is delayed by the unexpected action. It hits, but not deeply--it's payload of poison not immediately having any great effect on the young fighter. Between the two, they are able to pull Kutok off of his opponent and engage him in a tight quarters brawl. Once free the guard who lost his shield reaches into his belt and opens a reinforced leather compartment, pulls out a dangerous looking flask and drinks it down...
The dwarf charges the younger of the two attackers, shield out to try and knock him onto his rear and out of the fight with the monk. The kid turns steps out of the way of the shield, colliding plate to chain in a bone rattling collision from which both stagger back nearly unmoved. With a frustrated glance over to his friend, thick in battle with the monk, he squares himself against the dwarf, pulling a bootknife out from its sheath.
Kutok's hand smashes through the bottle, just as the bearded caravan guard upends it, spraying a splash of thick dark liquid and shattered glass. Furious the man glances at the now broken vial stem and tosses it aside, shield bashing the monk with a metal shod backfist and a shout of frustration 4 HP. "Do you know how much that blasted vial cost me!!"
Meanwhile Harumn closes with the younger fighter, who spreads his arms out wide, waiting for the attack to come. As the axe comes down, the kid's footwork pays off only a little, turning his knee and twisting away so that a blow that would have likely cost him a leg, instead cuts deeply into the side of the opposite knee, not quite stopped by his shinguard. He turns the knife over for a downward stab when a shout comes to him from his partner, still busy with the monk. "What are you doing, messing with him for! The wizards lad! I said go for the wizards!"
He drops the knife further into his hand, holding the flat and with a grunt of pain and a self-conscious nod, slings it at Gillad, sticking him in the shoulder up to half the length of the blade 2 HP.
Like chopping through a treebranch Harumn's axe follows through a bloody arc across the young man's outstretched arm, and it drops into the leaf strewn mud cut clean at the elbow. The fighter doesn't scream, his eyes just go wide in dumb amazement and he stumbles backward. With a ripping sound Ajjira's blade comes out through his chest, bulging against the layer of chain. His eyes roll back and he falls to his knees. The bigger, older fighter throws down his weapons and backs away from them, hands in the air, not even looking at the monk--his eyes fixed on his fallen cohort. After a few faltering steps backward he rushes to the lad's side, scooping his head up and murmoring over the body--big tears welling up between the worn leathery creases in the older man's face.
Meanwhile Genji and Isaeldan track their way after the wagon, staying out of sight. It rolls on, much as it did before, the various folk accompanying it seeming very much oblivious to what might have happened to their other two guards. Only the two elaborately dressed and cowled men seem to have taken notice--seeming distracted and even more grim than before. The horid smell on the air seems distinctly worse. Whatever foul pit they are headed to, it would seem they are drawing closer.
The halfling girl finally lets her shoulders drop and unballs her fists, nodding with a quirked half grin. "May as well. They're probably used to it by now..."
The last half of the sentence is said to his back as he charges off full tilt, crunching through the palms and ivy alongside the road. She scowls a playful scowl and then shifts her eyes to the sobbing man. "Should have my bird beck out your eyes...but later." She gently strokes the side of the beak of the hawk perched on her shoulder, hands it a gobbet of meat and flashes off into the forest after the dwarf and gnome.
First Genji sprints off to stop the wagon, the others following behind him, until all have sprinted off. Isaeldan hurries along, last in line and trailing as they all run ahead. From behind he can hear footsteps hot behind him, and a swift and angry blow that knocks his legs out from under him, bringing the tangle of rough underbrush and wet soil up to meet his face. Dizzy he turn to face the older caravan guard, who kicks the elven cleric onto his back with a foot on his chest.
"Blame me? I knew that kid's family. His father and I were friends." he spits a gobbet into the elf's face "I'm the one's gonna' have to tell him! I'll be spit roasted by an ogre before I let you defile that boy's memory with your elf mumblings!" He holds close his sword, recovered from where he left it, the point under Isaeldan's chin. "You expected a surrender? While your friends were licking their chops deciding who would kill us, and by arrow or by blade? We did what we had to. Murderer."
The voice rings out to the slowest few of the party--too far away for Gengi and those with him to know about, and too unclear for any but perhaps Gillad to make out the words.
Gengi crushes through vines and big palm leaves, leaping and sprinting through the thick vegetation. As he passes by, all in the caravan see the disturbance. He breaks out of the jungle onto the road and takes a swing at the axle with his axe. It bites into the wood and causes splintering, but the wheel is intact. The guards and workers are caught off guard and for the moment are caught scrambling to ready themselves for action. The two leaders up atop the wagon spring into action. One drinks a potion and disappears. The other turns with a hateful scowl and levels a wand at Gengi, then raising it toward the female druid as she breaks through the foliage, releasing a stream of globes of energy. Two of them peel off toward Gengi and three toward the druid. The impacts hit the gnome like hammerblows, leaving burns clean through his armor to the skin beneath 7 HP
The unfortunate druid takes the other three, two to the body and one to the side of the head, knocking her flat into the brush.
The blade goes whirling over his shoulder and he turns blade out and with a roar charges the rogue. He brings the blade up and across her chest, launching the attack just a moment to soon--too eager for blood--for it to do all it might have. Still it leaves a bloody slice across her chest from hip to shoulder skidding over rather than breaking ribs, but bleeding furiously. [9 HP]
Ajjira's swings her knife, a distancing move driven by pain and desparation and lacking her ususal grace and precision. The big fighter watches the blade go by and steps inside its arc. He brings down his sword and it is all that Ajjira can do to bring up her offhand sword to catch the furious blow. Metal rings against metal as the blades grind against one another, the force of the blow making the woman's wrist numb and rubbery.
Gillad turns and calling out his rebuke against the mercenary guard, nearly forgets about Ajjira in his desire to harm him. He sees her at the last minute and throws his hands upward in mid casting, sending the acid orb up into the folliage, burning a path through the trees and causing an awful stench and the froth and spit drip of dangerous caustic droplets down from above.
With a whistle, Isaeldan's arrow plants itself in the small of his accuser's back. It bites through the armor, causing him to cry out in rage and pitch forward, but his guard goes up almost immediately as he limps back and turns to defend himself against his attackers.