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The Soft Underbelly of the Beast

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 11 months ago

 Morning is one thousand dreams away

 And our expedition telling us to stay

So stay we will we’ve got the gypsy lady perched upon our bow

And the Empire Ship be heading where the Wild Ones they are now

Oh and the gods look down and frown

At those who’ve never stood and said

“my name is no one”

And went a little mad.


      -- “The Night That Never Ends”, Two Shoes, The Cat Empire


As the Hapless Heroes count their wealth, organize the captured into “friendlies” and “decidedly unfriendlies,” they take the time to check for foot tattoos, scrolls and wallets (just for ,uh, letters…and documents…they leave the money alone…). Opening the wyvern riders scroll tube was easy, but inside is a letter and a smaller heavily warded scroll. There is also a pennant bearing the stylized symbol of P’Tang.
The letter [written in Tar’rani with an educated hand, in black squid-ink on low grade hemp paper]:
Dekar 1st Water
I have received your report of Dekar 1st Wyvern about your activities. You seem to be making good progress there with your sorcerers, with little trouble. Unfortunately , we have had construction difficulties due to the weather. Plan on moving out soon. I will try and give you at least a few days notice to pack and prepare. You may have travel trouble, so make the best time you can. It would be easier if we could use HellWalk portals for this final movement, but I assure you that setting them up would put our efforts in disarray, and likely doom the Walkers. I think you can imagine why.
When you do move out, be sure to leave any ritual props (they may not be properly cleansed), but take all the Elements as well as all remaining supplies of the Soul Flower Nectar. Leave mundane supplies and gear, except for battle items, supplies for a week at maximum, and, of course, the pay chest. Must not neglect our hires.
As for your suggestions about recruitment, we have the following remarks:
Suitable for potential recruitment are Pacheco, Alfredo Ryan, Esteya doh Robertson, Ellissa McAuliffe, Garrard Roscoe Solomon, Cary Draper, Hyun Hanisak, Sam Pina, and the mercenaries Selena Davidson, Forrest Moreno, and Johanna Mcbride. As for Mari Blake, we will deal with her under separate cover. The rest are to be paid off at the end of our enterprise, but are not suitable as recruits.
[P’tang’s chop]
Esteya searches around, asking for help in finding a key to open the scroll, and someone remembers a very shiny penny lifted from a wallet. That does the trick, and with a flourish the tube opens, and inside is a letter to the Captain with a bit different information than the “public” letter in the outer tube. There are also some maps and password for getting to the big base camp.

858 Dekar 2nd Air


Brother Josef:


Preparations are complete here - the Seed Is Planted. Only Germination must take place.


Construction of the Seed was not without delay and difficulty. This unseasonably wet weather has made perpetration of the Site difficult, even for the builders we have hired. Also, at least some of the back-up materials have gone astray. This is of little import: The Site and Seed are complete. None of the Useful Idiots have realized what is going on. Your suggestion that we tell the builders that the ritual device is designed to render the MoFoni peaceful worked well -- it is even true, after a fashion. Indeed, the builders were quite expert in their craft. We all owe you a debt of gratitude for your discovery and recruitment of those particular Useful Idiots. Even now they are serving to hold our Eastern Flank.


We are now ready for your arrival. In fact, the other two Groups will arrive ahead of you. Due to delays at our end, as well as the pissing rain lately, the expected rally at Point 5 Wands on Dekar 2nd Swordsday is less likely to be of use. If you can make rally Point 2 Wands at Dekar 3rd Dragon- that would allow plenty of rest-time. Your absolute last chance is Rally Point Hermit- If you fail to make that by Dekar 3rd Cash, then we will either have to slip the actual date of the Ritual from Lustday (the most auspicious) to Drunkday (still helpful), allow your Group no rest, or reduce the preparatory Ceremony. Certain aspects of the pre-Ceremony may appear a bit alarming. Of course, at any hint of danger to the Implantation, we will proceed with whatever we have and move forward. It is likely to be enough, but I prefer to work with a sure winning hand.


In any case, will send a Brother [actual Tar’rani term is gender-neutral] to meet you at the sites at the appropriate day: s(he) will bear my chop as an item of personal jewelry. Your Challenge or Response to them will be “Leaf” and theirs to you will be “Seed”- all done in private, of course. Others with the jewelry will be similarly trustworthy.


Attached is the map showing the location of the various rally points, as well as the best routes through our little Orchards. While the Orchards (even the “unsafe parts”) are not necessarily deadly, they would likely make it hard for you to arrive in good order. My representative will lead you to the location of the Seedfort from the Rally Point.


Then, there is the little matter of our Auxiliaries. We have hired many more than your busy little builders. Do not be alarmed at their appearance.  You may expect to meet them before you get to the Rally Points. They will carry my pennant (but no personal jewelry) as a mark of their participation. They are merely Useful Idiots, so do not trust them with big secrets, but they will serve to hold down our Western Flanks. Your Challenge or Response to them will be “Cartwright”, theirs to you will be “Alewife”.


My responses to your reports about the Useful Idiots in Group G’Meth are included elsewhere. We will, for the most part, take your suggestions. For the most part, the ones you suggest sacrificing as a matter of course (hah! “potential recruits" -- I like that term, and used it in my report) will be used at the climax of the Ritual. If they cause trouble on the way for you, they are expendable.  Any sorcerers who are not consumed will be given the usual Final Choice. The new plan is for all Useful Idiot armsmen to man the outer defenses or patrol the perimeter, while only the most trusted will be inside the Seed to sacrifice the sorcerers who have served their purpose (except for their final purpose, of course). Plan on dropping off your Mercs for Mitzi to deploy when you arrive. One separate point -- we have a hunch that the Mercenary Mari Blake may be more useful dead than alive. We will offer her the Choice, despite your report. Once the Source is Emplaned, we can deal with all the other Useful Idiots as the Source desires. It will be hungry….


For the Community  -  Yours truly, P’Tang

One of the captives, Elyssa, sells Bruno a very nice potion that can be used as an internal or external poison, or can be create a flash explosion. Bruno negotiates a while, figuring that this would be something to list in the “Good Stuff” column.
Mari (mentioned in the letter as a problem) and Mara (sub-captain of the fort) are separated out, bound and warded and intently questioned. When not enough is forthcoming, Esteya takes a look at their BeastRune tattoos in second sight. Mari’s is extremely disconcerting — the runes themselves have “Eyes Slide Off” runes woven in, and it’s difficult to get past them to see the real rune. Once she does, she is connected to the Source, and realizes just how powerful this entity is. And it’s focused and waiting just this side of our plane. She clears out, just as it starts to turn to her…
The Heroes pack up a caravan to the Fist with the friendlies as guards, and the two ladies trussed and warded. Bruno sends a letter along:
To Her Grace the Duchess of EastMarch,
I am detaining the individuals identified in this letter, and ask of your Grace the following-
Detain them until Juli First Airday.
House them and feed them comfortably during their detention. They have brought no ill upon the duchy, kingdom, or land, in so far as I am able to tell. It is my belief that they have taken a bad job, one that was misrepresented to them.
Pay them from the monies that you hold for me the sum of 30Crowns per month. They are to be paid 2/3 of one months wage for the month of Dekar.
Payment is to be a lump sum at conclusion of the contract.
I request that you advance small sums for incidentals, books, etc, as needed and appropriate.
I ask that you take all costs of their support from the monies I have left in your care.
If you have an interest in offering employment to any of these people, I shall be happy for them and pleased to have brought someone useful to you into your service.
I am your Grace’s humble servant,
Bruno MacRoberts, Dane and Marshal of FalconCrest
Esteya pens a much more to the point letter to Isuelte, heavily warded and coded and given to one of her “friends.”
       Unto The Sedantya Isuelte of FalconCrest:
          Dane Bruno bids me to send this missive to give you an acounting of my time amongst the P'Tang followers. Most here have no idea what the group is up to.
The ones in on the Big Secret are (or were, since most are dead): Captain Josef Kantwell, Mara. Mari Blake and Leading Sgt Muggles Cram
 The lot that we’ve sent is full of good ones, except for the two trussed up. Dane Bruno says you might consider them for employment back in FalconCrest.
The other two: one is Mara [ Blond hair & hazel eyes] and the other is Mari [dark skinned, black hair & hazel eyes]. Mara was the sub-captain here, and a real nasty one at that. Mari was under some suspicion by P’Tang, even though she’s one of them.
They both have tattoos, no surprise, but Mari’s seems to be more complex and more wily. If you look carefully in Second Sight, you’ll see that the tattoos are Eyes Slide Off, and once you convince it that you do want to see beyond, you are lifted to the other plane, where the Source is waiting. It has a vast amount of energy about it, and it is paused there, just at the edge. Its awareness is already focused this way, so be careful if you try it. The tattoos seem to be a way for the energy to flow to the tattoo bearers to accomplish its goals. I’ve taken the precaution of warding and sealing these two to hopefully prevent any connections to their source.
As for my experience here, the lot of sorcerer recruits were escorted by a mixed lot of mercs from Kulwad, with varying reasons for joining this enterprise. Most of the sorcerers are first years looking for experience and a bit of coin. The mercs signed on for money, through the Steel Brotherhood, and they can tell you their stories. Most trustworthy are Forrest, Selena, Bertie and Sully.
Captain Josef Kaltwell hired the sorcerers and conducted practice sessions, using samples of SoulFlower potion to help the recruits. We were to summon elementals. They gave us small summoning bags—I’m sending a few back to you. There is something off about these seeds but I am unable to decipher what.
This location is the old fort near the base of Wyvern Mountain. The main base camp is [give location, based on maps] and seems to be laid out on a large Eyes Slide Off glyph. Bruno has let Bruce know about this, in case the subterfuge is there to keep the Gods from knowing. We may not be able to disrupt the ceremony in time, as it is slated to begin during Year End.
In Service,
(included are copies of P’Tang’s recent letters and maps)
The caravan is sent off, bodies are burned (after Bruce’s minions have their fill of eyeballs), the fort is tossed, and the Heroes have a frustrated discussion over what to do with the liters of SoulFlower Juice. They want Blix to doctor, uh, recycled beer, to make it as palatable as the original, with a seventh mystical ingredient to poison the quaffers. In the end, though, the Heroes decide that those who were sacrificed for the Juice would be aptly avenged if the potion was poisoned and given to the ceremony’s participants.
With this, the Heroes leave their shelter from the incessant rains and try to make good time through the mud, wind and downpours (shouldn’t it be cold and snowy this time of year??). they head into the hills, and try to make better time by singing “We Like to Ride” except that no one likes to ride, spirits are low, and as a result the dreary ride seems longer. Along the way Zatchel warns of wyverns flying up ahead, and they make their way through covered canyons for a time.
After three days the weather changes, warms up and dries a bit. The sloggers travel as far that day as they did the previous two. That night Esteya drops her disguise after asking permission, since there is no reason out in the Pale that she would need to waste the mana, and every reason that she might have to put the mana to good use soon. That, and with the magical flux coinciding with the ceremony, her vertical and horizontal hold may be compromised. Her new look: 1.84 meters tall, very slender (unusually non-muscular for a TyrNai), café au lait toned skin hip-length silver white hair, amethyst eyes. And then what to call her? Sharrin? Esteya?
After a round of thunderstorms roll through in the wee hours of the morning, four somethings trip the perimeter wards, obviously not scared away by the “fear-inducing Here Be Danger-Stay Away” glyphs. Cadmus and Chandra are on duty and begin to investigate. Cadmus yells out that they are undead, and the chase is on. Cadmus goes dashing away from camp waving his arms and yelling for them to follow him. Chandra attempts a shot, but in the dark is afraid to hit Cadmus.
Soon they find out that their attackers are 3 large trolls and a Jumbaelack, of the undead variety. Cadmus lays into one, almost cutting off an arm. It retaliates, and even though Cadmus parries, it is able to hit his leg. Cadmus then tries to disarm it, but succeeds in dis-handing it. Good enough—the axe, along with the hand holding it, is dropped. Cadmus makes quick work of the rest of the undead critter and goes off looking for more dance partners.
Esteya, Bruno and Blix run out, trying to pull the zombies away from Cadmus. The rest of the Heroes stay in camp, making sure that the horses are guarded, and that there is no secondary assault coming.
Esteya flings a web spell at the zombie near a tree, and Bruno tosses in an ignite spell. They stand back and proudly watch it burn, until a small sound makes Esteya turn and see the hulking form of a zombie jumbaelack. She dodges and runs, leaving the big guy to stumble toward Blix.
Blix starts running toward camp, but feels that there’s something horrible waiting there to devour his very soul, so he runs back toward the beastie instead, it being the lesser of two evils. He dodges the maul strike, and fortunately is only singed at bit by Esteya’s lightning strike. Bruno jumps out from behind the jumbaelack, yelling, “STOPSHOOTINGSTOPSHOOTINGSTOPSHOOTING!!!” He whacks the zombie and it tumbles.
But wait, isn’t there a flaming zombie somewhere, possibly sneaking up from behind? Fortunately it misses its strike at Bruno, but a discombobulated Bruno misses his chance too. The zombie winds up for another shot, smashing through Bruno’s parry, and smashes his leg to a pulp. Bruno drops, and with him out of the way, Esteya throws in another lightning bolt, searing its club-arm off. Cadmus rushes in, grumbling about not using lightning in melees, and finishes off the troll. Bruno is able to scramble enough out of the way to avoid being crushed by falling zombie.
Cadmus goes off to finish the fourth, while HerrHjeen is called to help Bruno.
He is carried back into camp, but the wound is so messy that HerrHjeen is worried that she cannot completely cure it. She gives Bruno some knockout drugs, not realizing that his geas prevents him from experiencing the benefits of such medicines. He is visibly unconscious, but is conscious of every surgical intervention, unable to voice his pain. The surgery takes a long while to complete. And when he wakes he screams until Esteya Sleeps him.
After loading Bruno into the wagon, the group packs out and begins travelling again. Bruno sleeps on and off for 6 hours. When he regains consciousness, he reminds a very horrified HerrHjeen that narcotics don’t work for him.
Cadmus takes over pay duties for Bruno, and they make camp for a thankfully quiet, clear night.
The next day Conrad sees a hint of smoke over the hills, and spots a wyvern moving very quickly—probably Mobilitized. Fearing that it’s another wyvern rider, the heroes try to keep low profiles.
The path on which they travel is hardly a game trail, and with all the wet weather riding has become hazardous. Chandra and HerrHjeen have horse troubles, leading to spills and slight injuries.
That night brings cold, thunderstorms and a wintry mix of snow, rain and sleet. The lightning is very strange, rainbow-like sheet lightning, and seems to be out of fabled times. Blix says that it is portentous and forecasts a big change in the warp and weft of reality. In second sight it reeks of loose power.
Chandra recalls rainbow lights from the Dream time, Ardenallah walking on legs of lightning, banishing dreamtime demons who were gods in their own right. Could the Source Being be one of those?
Conrad spots movement coming at them, and before he can worry, a whole flock of birds land, chittering. Esteya uses her last scroll spell, “Speak with Animals” to hear that they are warning of a mudslide ahead.
The heroes try to ride like the wind to get through the pass, but Esteya is unhorsed early on. Once the Heroes realize that the mud is flowing from both flanks of the pass making a muddy zipper, they make an about face, racing out of the pass ahead of the mudfloes. Bruno does a wonderful ride-by, tossing a still-stunned Esteya over his saddlebow. Outside the pass they catch their collective breath while Blix & Esteya ride an air elemental to look for what set off the mudslide. Finding no signs of foul play (other than the birds of warning), they look for paths and decide that the shortest is still through the upper bounds of the pass.
Too bad neither is very good at recognizing good trails…The path is tough and Chandra’s horse takes a tumble while riding on the lip of a canyon. The earth gives way under the horse’s feet, and Chandra has just enough warning to grab her bow and jump clear. The horse is too wounded to live, but the Heroes are able to carefully retrieve Chandra’s gear.
Dekar 3rd Air—The air is cold but clear, and the heroes are almost out of the treacherous hills.
Dekar 3rd Dragon—It warms up to a foggy day with little visibility, but the Heroes can see that they are into the lower rolling hills. Running out of time, they ride hell-bent for leather to try to reach the camp in time to delay the summoning.
Dekar 3rd Earth—The amazing happens—Pim falls off her horse! The world must be ending.
The warm winter is having an effect—the grass on the hillsides is germinating months earlier than it should. The grass is sprouting. At least it’s good for the horses…but is it a side effect of the ceremony to plant the Seed?
Dekar 3rd Cash—Conrad scouts on a hilltop and manages to climb above the fog. He sees where paths converge and helps the Heroes realize that their destination is at hand. They start frantically rehearsing passwords and pass phrases, flying their purloined pennant, just in time to meet a group of Useful Mofoni Idiots. The passwords are accepted, gifts are exchanged (ummm…yum?...alcoholic cheese?)
They ride on through the checkpoints and enter a star-shaped valley. At Rally Point hermit they meet with a well-armored and well-appointed Antoine Lancaster, who has been directed to wait for the G’Meth group. He is surprised by the small size of the group, but seems mollified by Bruno’s description of the ambush that took many lives.
They ride on through a very lush landscape that includes crystalline bushes (Esteya later remembers that someone had told her about them as she was asking for a tree with crystalline fruit). She looks at them in second sight, and wakes a moment or tow later, after having forgotten what she was doing.
They approach a more populated area, passing a tree trunk with faintly glowing glyphs & runes. Just past they see the fort, constructed of earth and wood ramparts. Groups of Mofoni patrol the area, with occasional non-barb hands of heavy cav moving past.
Inside the fort is a crude building, with a two story stone building in the center shaped like a six lobed asterisk. The walls are two meters high with a watch tower on each lobe’s end. The heroes are escorted to a barracks, where they thankfully lay out plans to get clean and sleep before having to confront the powers of darkness.
Outside the sky is filled with more sheets of rainbow lightning, and a strange funnel cloud forms. Unlike normal funnel clouds, it is stationary; it is the universe that is twisting around. Bruno is sickened as he realizes that it reminds him of the one on the moon ...


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