(Heinrich & Baldwin couldn't make it due to Mothers Day, and Dietrich had to come a bit late as well, but we were also joined by a fifth player)
Against all odds a group of Englishman had recently arrived in Khirima only to witness the very thing that had drawn them there the moment they entered the city: that incredible tribute of Silver annually delivered to the Temple of Ages That Are Not. Sadly, however, all but one of them almost immediately violated a most grave taboo whilst overcome with awe at this sight: their eyes met the gaze of those who deliver the silver and they were immediately seized and dragged away to an unknown fate, most likely a terrible one.
The one who had luckily not violated any taboos was unable to communicate in any of the native languages surrounding him, and saw no friendly faces besides the ones who had just been dragged away, and also heard no English being spoken nearby. He was the Magic-User Geralde Edwin VII, he had journeyed to Khirima with those other men out of a desire to learn about the fabled temple, but now found himself suddenly very isolated.
He wandered out of the city alone to the shores of the lake to the east, to better avoid more trouble in the city. Dragging a large tent along with him, and heavily burdened by his overloaded pack, he stopped to observe the grunting crocodiles and crowd of warriors gathered nearby with a bit of concern then loaded his pipe with tobacco. He then realized that he had forgotten to bring along a flint, and wondered how he might communicate with the locals to acquire a light.
He did not have to wonder for long. Three Germans Dietrich arrived at that moment by boat, accompanied by their pack-mule, pack-goat, and three prisoners. As they unloaded on the shore Gerald approached them eagerly, they being the only other Europeans he had seen since his arrival. He happily discovered that one of them, Everett, spoke somewhat fluent English, and even had a tinderbox as well. He was introduced to Baldwin and Dietrich and then followed them as they headed back towards the city, trying to learn all he could from them about its customs.
(An important aside: during the trip back from the smugglers camp Dietrich studied the strange book they had discovered on the bloody beach. It had a sort of language in it that seemed to contain something, though he couldn’t tell what. He struggled to decipher it. After an hour or so of study, much to his confusion, it appeared to actually be filled with nonsensical markings. After this realization he felt as if a sort of notion had embedded itself in his head, something he could not describe that buzzed around in his consciousness like a fly, an idea on the tip of his tongue. The other Adventurers, after a cursory examination of the book, found the whole book to be full of nothing but scribbles and meaningless markings from the start, and were quite unimpressed by it.)
As the four of them marched back into Khirima with their prisoners in tow they drew a great deal of attention to themselves, as they were quite an unusual sight. Before very long they had drawn the attention of the city guards, and were surrounded by them with their spears drawn and pointed. They were asked quite forcefully why they were marching three bound men who were fearfully babbling about demons through the market at mid-day.
Everett, who was quite forthcoming, explained that their friend had in fact summoned something that had frightened the prisoners (who were smugglers, also) but that it was nothing they needed to be too worried about. In addition, they were working for none other than the Minister of Finance, and were going to visit him now at the Guild of Merchants. The guards, both confused and disbelieving, stated they would be escorting the adventurers to this alleged meeting with the Minister of Finance instead. They surrounded them all, including Gerald who was wholly unable to explain that he was not precisely involved with these people, and they ushered along to the Guild of Merchants in the Noble Square.
They were briskly marched into the premises and up the stairs, with Gerald barely managing to extinguish his pipe before entering. Odafin was a bit startled, but dismissed the guards once he saw who they were accompanying, much to those guards surprise. Odafin was very pleased to see the Adventurers back so soon with the smugglers in the flesh. He asked Everett why they kept babbling about demons, and why Heinrich was missing, but after being told that Dietrich had made a slight error in his summoning he laughed a bit, and seemed to dismiss it as a joke. He had the smugglers taken away by his personal guards then, to be delivered to the Justice Square for execution.
He examined the small box of rough diamonds they had brought from the smugglers, and thanked them for their service. He paused for a moment, and then asked them what they were more interested in: simply receiving a bit of money and going on their way, or some assistance regarding the Temple they might be interested in.
As he put it they would only end up beheaded, like the group of outsiders who gazed upon the procession earlier that day, if they tried to enter the temple themselves (or even approached it). With his help though, they could be brought to the entrance unharmed and then left to do what they pleased. They would only need to perform one final task for him, to prove their trustworthiness, before he would do this for them. If all they wanted was money, however, he could pay them a small sum as a sign of thanks and they could be on their way instead. After briefly conferring and realizing their shared interests they agreed to the first option. Odafin seemed most pleased by this, and explained what they must do for him. In his words, it was a simple task. They would travel through the jungles to the West, and go about 80 miles to the North. There would an encampment there, where men loyal to Odafin would be waiting for them. They were to deliver something to these men: a live venomous snake. Complicating this matter was the fact that there was wordof foul sorcerers lurking in the jungle, in addition to any other dangers along the way. After delivering this snake they could return to Khirima, and then be delivered to the Temple as they wished. He offered no discussion of what might happen if they did not succeed, as he said they simply would not fail him. They were to return when they were ready. After being given a bit of silver to finance the expedition they proceeded to the Trade Square to provision themselves.
After heavily loading two mules with rations and supplies, and staying one final night in the tavern where this all began, they returned to Odafin and acquired their precious cargo. A large round vessel, a sort of urn, that the snake was kept inside. They were also given a chest filled with live rats, and told to feed it only one every five days, without fail. They were also told to be very careful when opening the vessel to feed it.
And with that, they departed. A very light rain was falling on the savanna outside the city walls to the West. They marched toward the jungle with haste, and paid little mind to the contingent of armed men accompanying a striking merchant woman all headed in a similar direction. As they reached the edge of the jungle they spoke briefly with the leader of a small caravan that was waiting outside it and learned that it was also heading North, to the city of Akabo.
Further in from that they came upon two scouts who were at rest after clearing a pathway through the vegetation. They were quite friendly, and told them about the rumors of foul sorcery near Akabo, evidenced by strange lights in the night skies. They made camp a bit further down the trail as evening fell, and slept without disturbance. In the morning they heard sounds of trouble and conflict up the road, back where they had come from, but they ignored this diversion and continued into the wilderness. They discovered and followed a freshly cleared path, which seemed like a stroke of good fortune. After following this for some time they came upon a grisly sight, the dead bodies of several travelers. They could see they had been ambushed, cut down by arrow-fire before they even had a chance to draw their weapons.
Dietrich searched the bodies quite thoroughly, and in the boot of one found a crude map. This map indicated a location in the jungle just a bit south from where they were already headed. Further careful searching revealed a valuable gem hidden within a cloak, which Dietrich happily pocketed. Gerald scavenged a different cloak, still rather decent looking, from another body, and wore it. They marched onward, the weather maintaining a steady gloom, and set up camp as far from the bodies as they could manage.
They kept a night watch, being miles and miles from the civilized world and were unsure what strange things they might encounter. Dietrich was on second watch, his flintlock at the ready. Deep in the night he was certain he heard movement in the trees, the rustling and disturbance of branches. He lit a torch, and waved it about. He saw eyes reflected back at him, and the vague form of man-like figures with strange, bestial faces. A chorus of gibbering sounds and strange yelping began, followed by a hideous sort of screaming from the darkness. Dietrich awoke Gerald just in time to witness the horde of creatures begin pouring into the camp. They were barreling towards the Mules and grasping at them, pulling at their supplies, then running back into the shadows. Dietrich shot at them with his flintlock, and Gerald too. The hail of pistol-fire killed one of them, wounded another, and drove the rest off. After examining the mules they realized that fully half of their rations had been taken by the beasts. They had brought just enough for this journey, so this was quite a devastating setback.
Gerald, in a fit of frustration and rage, then cast a spell to Summon forth a hellish creature of the pit to serve them some kind of vengeance. Out from the smoldering embers of the campfire clambered an enormous soot-black hound, taller at the shoulder than a Wolfhound, with acrid smoke gushing from its’ six swollen teats. It stood before them for a moment, and then after inhaling the scent of baboon blood and discharged sulfur it was sent into a predatory frenzy and bolted into the abyssal jungle in search of prey. The wailing of mangled baboons echoing through the trees once it found them. When they awoke it was decided that they should attempt hunting for game, to try and recoup their loss. Dietrich came upon a warthog after very little effort, and Everett felled a civet with a hurled stone. Gerald was unable to catch anything, but it was decided that the carcass of the baboon he felled last night could provide some sustenance if things became dire. They camped once again.
The next morning, irritated by the inconveniences of mundane travel, Dietrich directed them towards a small foothill near the base of the plateau. He directed them to gather atop it, with their pack animals. He then cast the spell called Rockspeech upon the hill, and communed with the spirit dwelling within it. He requested that it transport them through the wretched jungle, and it obliged them. The whole hill shuddered forth, carving a rough channel through the trees as it went. After several miles it passed through a terrific mudslide without disturbance, a thing that would have otherwise proved impassable for them.
They passed a gruesome tableau after that: three mangled bodies littered the ground, and another figure near them. It had been impaled by a great sword through it’s mouth and head, and it was stuck to the trunk of a great tree like a butterfly with a pin. It was not dead. Despite the horrific injury it had sustained it somehow still moved, and it made a moaning guttural sound at the Adventurers while it grasped at them with its gore-soaked arms. The hill carried them several more miles before coming to a rest, and it settled near a large clearing. There was a great circle of stone idols, phallic-shaped and adorned with stylized faces. In the center of this circle there was an unusual axe of some kind, and a suit of crocodile-skin armor like some they had seen in the markets. Dietrich took the armor, and Everett the axe.
They could see that this place was deliberately formed, and Gerald spent some time clearing out brush and overgrowth from the edges of it. It seemed to him to be a place of benevolent worship, so he thought to kneel in the center of the circle, and empty his mind so as to be more receptive to any energies to be found within it. After kneeling there for a moment he felt a tingling sensation along the outside of upper left arm, and examined it to discover it was now adorned with a scar-like tattoo of one of the stylized faces seen the idols. He felt a beneficent energy saturating him, and he now thought it a proper time to Summon a being from beyond, perhaps as a way to commune with the gods represented these strange idols.
There then suddenly appeared from nowhere a great eyeball as large as a human skull, levitating in the air encircled by four exact duplicates which orbited it lazily in delicate arcs. It had an unnaturally dark and sparkling blue iris, and its pupil emitted a withering and malign energy. As it was a devoted servant to Gerald for as long as it occupied this dimension, however, it held back this force and did not harm him. As this was not the gods represented y the idols he commanded it to fly into the jungle, to gather as much information as it could about what lie ahead and report it to him. In due time it returned, and described a stone structure a few miles ahead of them. It was occupied by a lone human. After this the eyes winked out of existence. They spent the night near the circle, but not within it.
The next morning Dietrich awakened the loyal hill once again, and guided it carefully around the circle and towards the strange structure described to them by the floating eye. They arrived before a rather pitiful looking stone structure, smaller than a house and entangled with vines and undergrowth. Inside of it a man cowered in fear, brought about by the appearance of the moving hill. He spoke to them in Chinese, thankfully another language Everett was fluent in.
This man, a warrior called Qian, had a tattoo on his arm that resembled Gerald's, and had also been acquired at the circle of idols. He spoke of how he had found himself there after his three companions were slaughtered by an undying monster in the shape of a man, and how he fled into the jungle alone and lost, expecting only death after he saw them torn apart. After falling on his knees before the idols, exhausted and hopeless, he received the tattoo and felt he had been blessed, and believed he had surely been given a sacred duty by this. He left the tools of war behind, and wandered off to see what the idols would ask of him, and reveal.
He came upon this old structure, which he believed to be a holy place. He had been attempting to restore it to its proper state, and was sure this is what the idols were asking of him. It had been incredibly grueling work for only one man. He insisted that Geralde had clearly been called as well though, and he asked the Adventurers for help with their sacred task. They all agreed, and so spent most of the day hacking at old vines, clearing away old inscriptions, and shifting old stones back into position. When they were at last finished they examined the insides of the temple by torchlight while Qian chose to rest outside, as he was quite weary and undernourished from this work, and having subsisted only on jungle tubers for many days.
After examining the markings within the temple both Gerald and Dietrich gained knowledge of a particular spell, one that would allow them to suppress disease but not cure it. This was somewhat interesting, but more interesting than that was when they realized that this temple was devoted not to the praise of anything, but rather was a structure created to call forth, appease, and subdue a God Of Sickness & Disease, A Lord of Bilious Plagues and Vile Pox, and so on. As they pondered the significance of this a screaming was heard from outside, and they all rushed out with weapons drawn.
Before them was Qian, bleeding heavily from numerous punctures and other wounds, barely standing with his arms raised above him. He was grasping desperately at the limbs of a fleshy tube-like thing covered in sickly and irritated skin, a form resembling something like a kind of stick insect and filth-covered sausage. It’s numerous spidery limbs were in sets of differing lengths, and each was tipped with malformed and dirty pincers which it was attempting to rend and tear Qian to pieces with. It had no discernible front or back side, and filled the air with a very foul and nauseating stench. Qian was struggling, and failing, to keep it off of him.
Everett acted decisively. He raised his sword and charged the thing, and cleaved it in half with one fell blow. Each half bubbled and spit out phlegm, pus, and mucus onto both Qian and Everett as it all crumbled and dissolved into dust and nothingness. Qian fell to the ground convulsing and frothing at the mouth, while Everett was overcome with a blistering fever. Dietrich and Everett rushed to their sides, with Dietrich provided Everett with a restorative schnapps. Despite a lack of safe preparation both Dietrich and Gerald then were able to cast the newly discovered spell without causing a magical disaster. Qian and Everett were relieved of their symptoms, at least for now. They gathered their wits, and headed towards their encampment. Qian was distraught, and overcome with regret and confusion regarding everything about the temple, the idols, and his purpose in this world. Having nothing else to turn to, he asked if he might journey with the Adventurers. They agreed to this, and Everett presented him with his old axe. They dined on boiled tubers that night, and although there was an eerie silence around them in the jungle they experienced no disturbances. They departed that morning once again on the now familiar hill, at long last closing in on their destination. As they left, Dietrich realized that this temple was the very place the crude map he had found in a dead mans boot would have led them, had they followed it.
Arriving with the kind of fanfare that only a mobile and sentient foothill can provide, the Adventurers were greeted at the edge of the camp and the base of their foothill by several armed and armored men when they arrived that evening. These men were very thoroughly relieved to find that the Adventurers were the couriers they had been waiting for, and not the evil sorcerers they had been warned about. After presenting these men with the snake, which indeed still lived inside the urn, the Adventurers were given a simple amulet with a snake-like image on it to present to Odafin as proof of delivery.
They joined the men in their camp that evening. These men were quite vague about the ultimate purpose of the delivered snake, but they spoke very highly of Odafin, and of their loyalty to him. There were also very impressed that Odafin had recruited even sorcerers to work with him, as they were a rare thing in Khirima. They discussed what would be coming next, and told the Adventurers that they were certain they would be attacked by sorcerers should they return to Khirima through the jungle to the South. Instead, they would head East across the savanna to Akabo, and from there go further East and then South along the plateau, and then finally West back to Khirima. This would be a very lengthy detour, but the men felt this would make for safer traveling as it would be open land, which would prevent an ambush. Akabo would also provide a place for them to rest and recover from these days spent in the sweltering jungle.
There was an additional danger should the Adventurers return the way they came as well: the jungle around them had become overrun with tremendous ants, and while they suspected these ants were a product of the sorcerers they would be a great hazard still if they had appeared on their own. These ants could now be infesting the areas they had traveled through, likely forcing them to go through unknown jungle once again. They could join them on their journey to Akabo then, if they wanted. There was much to consider. For now though they would sleep, and would decide when the morning came.