My previous post described how they captured the blood witch, Hild, at the bottom of a haunted valley in the Stonemoors, along with the ship she'd been hoping to fly to the stars in and the crystal casket (complete with a mysterious sleeping woman) that she'd been intending to use as a power source. Only Hild had any idea how to get it airbourne, and she was not inclined to help them after their slaughter of her followers, many of whom had been her kinsmen; but Tiny pointed out that she'd tortured and murdered several of his kinsmen in order to find the casket in the first place, so she could hardly claim that she hadn't had it coming. Besides, he explained, he and his fellow 'sky-beasts' had never wanted to be on this planet in the first place, and just wanted the ship so that they could fly back to their own home beyond the sky. Clearly no stranger to the logic of blood feuds and shipwrecks, Hild suggested that, as the representatives of their respective clans, they could agree that all this murder had left them even, with no remaining blood guilt on either side. She then offered to hand over the ship to them if they would return her to her people on the Black Isle. Tiny agreed, but went one better: if she gave him the ship, he would show her where to find an alternate power source, so that she could make a second ship of her own.
So Hild set to work on the remaining carvings for the ship, watched day and night by a bodyguard of her own dead kinsmen, now reanimated as zombies under Hogarth's control. The PCs knew that if they were going to use it they would need a crew, so they sent Captain Matthew back to the Purple Islands to fetch them some islanders who knew their way around a sailboat - and a few weeks later Matthew's first mate, Isaac, returned to the valley, accompanied by five adventurous young fisherfolk. Soon afterwards Hild finally finished the carvings, which now clearly formed a kind of circulatory system intended to channel the magic of the casket through the timbers of the ship. The carvings were installed, with the casket plugged in to act as their heart, and to the wonder of all present the ship rose out of the water to float about ten feet in the air. The rest would be down to wind and sails.
The flying ship turned out to be very tricky to handle. Moving against the prevailing winds was almost impossible. Attempting to 'land' on rough terrain would obviously lead to the hull getting ripped off. Ascending or descending was a matter of angling the sails up or down and hoping for the best. But, for all that, it really could fly... at least as long as its carvings and power source remained intact. For some days, Isaac and his men experimented with flying the ship into and out of the valley, while the giant squid-monster watched them suspiciously from below the water, waiting for the PCs to fulfill their promise to carry him to the sea.
|Never double-cross a giant squid.|
Meanwhile the party had acquired a new member: a cave dwarf named Elric, who had learned the rudiments of sorcery while serving as a porter and translator for a Glasstown expedition to the north. He had been hit by one of Hash's Charm Person spells months ago during the party's journey through his clan's territory, and had simply never recovered. Obsessed with the beautiful, androgynous stranger who had passed so magically through his life, Elric had undertaken a nightmarish odyssey to find him, finally stumbling half-dead into the valley and throwing himself at Hash's feet. More than a little creeped out by the arrival of this besotted, beard-covered stalker, Hash reluctantly agreed to instruct him in the arts of magic. Elric, for his part, lapsed happily into a life of submissive adoration that made everyone else deeply uncomfortable. He was, however, able to teach himself a spell to predict the weather from Hild's translated spellbooks, which made him very valuable to their ongoing experiments with the flying ship.
Once Isaac was reasonably sure he could fly the ship without crashing it, he piloted it down to the lake, where the squid monster heaved its enormous bulk onto the deck, its tentacles trailing overboard on all sides. It complained that the crushing pressure was killing it, but Elric had predicted a strong east wind, and the ship soon swept out to sea, where the creature gratefully hauled itself overboard and vanished beneath the water with a splash. (The PCs speculated whether the transition from freshwater to saltwater would kill it, but whatever unnatural force had spawned it apparently protected it against the shift in environments.) With the giant squid gone for good, the PCs then turned their prow east, to see what was going on in the parched lands around the Holy Mountain. Keeping their ship concealed with illusion magic, they spied on various settlements from above, witnessing preparations for invasion and war: they even saw one of the 'red men' with their own eyes, a brute of a man fully seven feet tall, with crimson skin and hair the colour of dried blood. Circe sent a summoned Spawn of Tsathogga to try to capture him, but the attempt was an abject failure, so the PCs contented themselves with summoning frog monsters to sow random chaos among the eastern clans, hoping thereby to delay their invasion of the west. Then they turned their sails south and began the long flight back to Qelong, where Tiny assured Hild that she would be able to find an alternate power source with which to build a new flying ship.
Qelong, it turned out, had begun to recover from the devastating civil war that the PCs had brought to an end two years before. The upcountry regions had been completely abandoned, left to whatever roving bands of brigands, cannibals, or lunatics still remained there; but along the coast the rice paddies had been brought back under cultivation, and the food supply situation was now merely 'dire' rather than 'utterly catastrophic'. Visiting their old friends King Nath, General Ngour, and Mei (who was now a senior abbess) in the capital city, Xam, they were gratified to see that the king's new throne room included spectacular frescoes depicting the appearance of his father's ghost and the miracle of the bowing tree, while the half-rebuilt royal temple included niches set aside for them and their weird heathen gods, just as they had requested. After making various enquiries about the state of the nation, the PCs flew upriver to the site of the now-deactivated fleet beacon, which had caused so much of Qelong's misery. There they met once again with Vord, who was having trouble keeping his free demon followers occupied: with no practical way of freeing their comrades from the mental enslavement of the snake-men, they'd had nothing better to do than endlessly maintaining the fort they'd built when they first arrived there, and were now in danger of slipping into suspended animation out of sheer lack of purpose. The PCs looked at him, and at Hild, and put two and two together. They'd give the demons something better to build than an old hill-fort. They'd set them to work on a space fleet.
|This space reserved for icon of Tsathogga.|
Hild could sense the familiar throb of arcanowave radiation from within the inactive beacon, which she knew represented a potential power source for a second ship - but how could it be obtained? Climbing up to the exposed control panel of the beacon, the PCs saw a narrow shaft extending deep within it - but it had clearly been built for snake-men, thinner and more agile than any human. Hash's elfin build made him the obvious man for the job, so he stripped down to his underwear and oiled himself up, to Elric's evident delight. Then he wriggled down into the depths of the machinery, using Comprehend Languages to translate the snake-man glyphs as he went, until he found the reactor chamber - but the hatch was, unsurprisingly, locked. There was no room to swing a weapon down there, so the PCs decided to try blowing the door open with Magic Missile spells. With Sophie dead, however, the only person able to throw that sort of magical destruction around was Hogarth, who was far too stocky to fit down the shaft.
Fortunately, Elric wasn't the only one who'd learned something from Hild's captured spellbooks. Hogarth had learned a spell that enabled him to take on the shape of anyone whose blood he had tasted: so, after a bit of mildly homoerotic blood-sharing, he was able to swap his own form for Hash's. (The spectacle of two oiled-up, stripped-down Hashes was enough to make Elric faint on the spot.) Descending inside with the aid of a Light spell, Hogarth blew the hatch open with repeated barrages of Magic Missiles, thus exposing himself to a massive dose of arcanowave radiation from the reactor core within. Gums bleeding, he retreated back up the shaft. Given that retrieving the active element from within the reactor would obviously be a death sentence for any living creature, the decision was made to flense the muscle off two of their zombies, on the grounds that their animated skeletons would be able to fit down the shaft and pull out the element, while Hogarth used Light and Skull Sight to see out of their eyes and shouted instructions from above. This gambit proved successful, and after much heaving and tinkering the skeletons emerged from the hatch dragging a super-dense lump of something black and balefully radioactive behind them.
A new problem now confronted the party: how could this inert lump of solidified arcanowave death be broken up into pieces small and light enough to be used safely as the power sources for more of Hild's ships? (Using the whole thing was clearly out of the question: quite apart from the fact that it was so heavy that it would simply drop right through the timbers, any human crew exposed to it would be dead of radiation poisoning within a day.) Tiny's efforts to break bits off it by whacking it with rocks, axes, hammers, etc barely managed to dent it, so the PCs developed a new plan: to drop it from an enormous height. The plan went like this: first, Tiny would use his innate paratrooper training to make Sovan a parachute. Sovan would use Strength spells to make himself strong enough to lift the lump, and then Levitate straight up. Each time one Levitate spell came close to wearing off he would cast another one, thus allowing him to ascend many thousands of feet into the air. A Resist Energy spell would protect him from the arcanowave radiation of the element he carried, and Circe would cast a Water Breathing spell on him, so that if the air became too thin to breathe he could simply stick his head inside a bucket of water and breathe that, instead. Once he attained his maximum height he would drop the element, which would fall thousands of feet at terminal velocity and hopefully shatter on impact. Then he would open the parachute and hopefully drift down safely to the ground below.
|Just another 10,000 feet to go...|
To prepare for this, Tiny spent a few days practising skydiving with Sovan by shoving him off progressively higher cliffs with a parachute strapped to his back. (Fortunately, Sovan has quite a lot of healing spells.) Once he was deemed ready, Sovan was send aloft with his horrible burden, while everyone else scattered in all directions. Over an hour later, the lump came crashing down like a meteorite and cracked apart, studding the whole rocky hillside with radioactive fragments. Shortly afterwards, Sovan was spotted drifting down and away on his parachute, and ended up having to be rescued from the branches of a tree in which he had become entangled, some miles away from the impact zone. Tiny selected a radioactive lump of roughly equal power output to the crystal casket for use as Hild's next power source, while the skeletons were tasked with collecting up the rest, putting them back inside the shielded reactor chamber within the beacon, and then holding its hatch shut from the inside FOR ALL ETERNITY - or until Hogarth gave them alternate orders, at any rate.
The PCs presented this rock to Hild as her new power source, and told her that Vord and his demons would be the workforce who would build her a new ship, and perhaps many more ships thereafter. Hild protested that the demons had no knowledge of shipbuilding, but Tiny just shrugged and told her to teach them whatever they needed to know. Leaving Hild fuming and furious in the custody of Vord, they flew back to Xam to pick up some ship-building equipment, before dropping it off at Vord's fort and promising to return 'at some point' to see how they were getting on with building their flying armada. Then they flew back to the Stonemoors, pausing only to stop off at the Purple Islands and swap out some of their crew for replacements after some of their crewmen had started to display alarming symptoms of sickness. Long-term exposure to the casket, it seemed, wasn't terribly healthy for anyone...
What impact will the arrival of the PCs have upon the war in the Stonemoors? Will they ever fulfill their promise to return Hild to the Black Isle? Where did the Red Men come from? And what use would a wind-powered ship be in space, anyway? All will be revealed in what appears to have become a weekly series of The Adventures of Team Tsathogga!