It was Sorrows End and Drogo, Galadiir and Shadow were at the farm just south of Kularni. It was early evening and the sun was setting. They were speculating whether they would see Raven again and Shadow was swapping tales with Akazar. It was then that they saw a troop of soldiers approaching. Gallmus and Drogo went out to meet them. It was Kerim Shah, Captain of the Kularni Guard.
The news he brought was grim. The Ayaka Pygmies have massed in the Lush Jungle and are on the warpath. There were reports that Veranzar was under siege. Now, there is news that a small village two days travel to the south has been attacked. Kularni is preparing for war; many of the population are packing up and heading north to the Independent Cities or Kyros. If the news about the village is true then the Ayaka are even closer than he realised.
He proposes that the heroes go scouting to the south, to find out what has happened to the village and to gauge some idea of the Ayaka numbers. He cannot spare any of his own men; they are busy training militia and keeping an eye on the mercenaries being hired.
Galadiir proposed that he, Shadow and Akazar should go. Drogo was not happy about this.
“My friend”, said Galadiir. “This is a stealthy mission. You should stay here with your men and guard the farm.”
“You go to seek an army. Armies are not stealthy”, replied Drogo. Galadiir persisted and Drogo gave in*.
The following day, Galadiir, Shadow and Akazar set off south. They took very little with them other than their weapons; Akazar had escaped from Ekul with very little so Shadow lent him his bow and quiver of arrows. At the end of the first day they were on the edge of the Verdant Belt, with the Lush Jungle before them. It was then that they chanced upon a body by the side of the track. The body was male, clad in tattered rags with fair hair and a straggly unkempt beard. A short sword was gripped in in his right hand.
“Syranthian?” mused Galadiir. “What brings him so far south?” He moved in closer and wrinkled his nose at the stench of putrefaction. He turned the body over with the side of his boot and recoiled in disgust at the two puncture wounds in the man’s neck. The punctures were green and black and were the source of the smell. Shadow scouted around and determined that the man had come from the south. Galadiir wanted to burn the body, but had no way of doing so. A quick search revealed a small bag of 50 coins of an unknown type; Galadiir took these without Shadow seeing him do so. They camped for the night; they took turns in standing guard but nothing happened; other than Galadiir having a strange dream about a pair of eyes watching him.
The following day the sun rose as a pale shadow; wreathed in dense fog. Heading south, as the day moved on the sun burned the fog away. They came upon a burned village; in the centre lay three bodies. A quick examination showed they were similar to the man they found yesterday and they had died in a similar manner.
Meanwhile, back at the farm, Drogo went into Kularni to gather some supplies. Kerim Shah had spoken truly; many of the smaller traders had packed up and gone; although Orrando was still doing business. He saw Drogo enter the courtyard.
“Drogo! Drogo, my friend. I have not seen you for some time. Come inside and share a flask of the finest Caldeian vintage. I have a job for you.”
“Not now, Orrando. Drogo has other business stopping an army.”
“Another time then? I too have an interest in stopping an army.
Camped outside was a mercenary company; “Toorkmans Gentlemen”. A flamboyant crew dressed in scarlet and green; led by a foppish dandy wearing a feathered hat who was talking to Kerim Shah. Drogo just grunted.
“Wait until they see a real fight”
Back at the village, Shadow found a trail leading north-west. They followed this for two hours; it ended in a clearing with no other exits. A large pile of branches sticks and leaves lay at the opposite side to the entrance. Galadiir’s curiosity got the better of him and he advanced across the clearing. Shadow and Akazar stayed back by the entrance; Akazar readied his bow. As Galadiir took another step forward, several blowgun darts rippled out of the undergrowth. One struck Galadiir and he felt a numbing poison spreading out. Undeterred, he made it to the pile; only to recoil in horror as it unfolded into a brown and green giant spider**. The spider struck and bit deep, causing a deep wound; however it was not able to inject its venom. Akazar loosed an arrow at the spider, distracting it; Galadiir leapt backwards and loosed off a trio of “Rose’s Thorns”, killing the creature. He turned and ran towards the exit of the clearing, another blowgun dart hit him in the neck and he felt himself becoming drowsy. Suddenly an Ayaka burst out of the undergrowth and ran at Galadiir, a stone axe raised. A well-placed shot from Akazar took him down and Galadiir staggered out of the clearing.
Back at the farm, Drogo set some of the workers and his men to preparing some defensive positions, digging some trenches and preparing earthworks. The farm was not fenced other than around the animals and anyway, to construct stone fortifications is out of the question. A wooden palisade though, is a different matter.
Helped along by Shadow, Galadiir made it back to the village. They noticed something was different; the three bodies they had left were now standing upright, impaled on wooden stakes. A chorus of war cries broke out as Ayaka poured into the village…
To be continued
GM: Players are getting their first hint that fighting the Ayaka is not going to be easy.
* I have no idea why Drogo was left behind. Ben’s idea to try and fortify the farm was a good one.
** Matt (Galadiir) hates spiders in RL and so his reaction was a picture
Shadows in the South – Episode 2: Session 2
Shadow dropped Galadiir to the ground and they stared as a horde of Ayaka ran towards them, seemingly melting out of the surrounding jungle. The hesitation proved to be costly as a cloud of blowgun darts shot towards them. Most clattered off Shadows and Akazar’s leather armour, one struck Akazar in the neck and the fatigue poison took effect. In retaliation, Akazar put an arrow into the pygmy that had shot him. The pygmies screamed a strange battle cry “Ootini!” as they charged and attacked.
Galadiir struggled to his feet, the wound he had taken from the spider burning hot. He cast Army of the Dead and his two ghostly bodyguards appeared and attacked the nearest Ayaka. Galadiir laughed and yelled “More souls for you, Lord Xymart”. At that point a dart hit him in the left cheek; he felt his vision blur and he fell to the ground; as his eyes closed he saw the Army shimmer out of existence.
Shadow was fighting a desperate battle against three opponents; he was trying to get across the village to help Akazar, who was down on the ground. A Pygmy was trying to drag him off into the surrounding jungle. Shadow took two blows to the head; as he shook his head trying to clear it, three darts struck and the world went black.
Shadow woke with a sore head and a mouth that tasted like a badger. It was dusk, there was a fire burning and several men, warriors by the look of them, sitting or standing. One of them came across.
“Greetings to you. I am Xaltepec, leader of the Jaguar Warriors of Veranzar. We have been tracking this Ayaka raiding party for several days, but they will trouble no-one anymore. We heard your fight and decided to join in”.
Shadow saw the piled bodies of many Pygmies and that of a giant spider.
“We owe you our lives”, said Galadiir, who had also woken up. “Does your kind use coins at all?”
Xaltepec was amused at this.
“We are not barbarian savages my friend. We are professional soldiers, part of the Veranzar army. However, a little danger money can always be put to good use.”
Galadiir paid over 400 Moons to Xaltepec.
“We shall stay with you until the poison has worn off. The Pygmies are sly and treacherous, preferring to use poison from ambush. You are lucky that this was a hunting spider; not a Death Spider that killed the three unfortunates in the village. Where are you from?”
“We are from Kularni, about two days travel to the north. We heard about the army coming north and were sent here to scout out their numbers. Do you have any idea how many there are?”
“The Ayaka are the main tribe, plus there are several lesser tribes. In total, about a thousand, along with their hunting spiders and possibly worse. They have been driven mad by the Burning Moon; they see it as an omen.”
Galadiir swallowed with effort. “A thousand you say. I was hoping for a couple of hundred. How near is the army to us?”
“We are being watched right now. The Pygmies are masters of woodcraft. You hear the birdsong? Not all of that is natural.”
At dawn, they took their leave of the Jaguars. Shadow invited them north to Kularni but Xaltepec demurred.
“We are part of the Veranzar army and our duty is to our city. A safe journey to you”
Two days later they were back at the farm. They saw that Drogo and his men had been busy digging trenches and preparing earthworks. Galadiir went into Kularni to report to Kerim Shah. Outside the town was camped a mercenary company. Kerim Shah looked harried.
“Do they have cavalry? Chariots? Siege engines?”
“They have giant spiders”.
Kerim Shah glanced up at the ballista on the roof of the caravanserai and frowned.
“I shall post more mounted patrols to the south”.
As Galadiir passed the mercenary camp, a foppishly-dressed dandy wearing a red and green tunic and a feathered hat came out of one of the tents. He looked at Galadiir and sniffed loudly.
“So they are reduced to hiring riff-raff now”
Galadiir just stared, although inside he was boiling mad. He noticed that the dandy had the fourth finger of his left hand missing and that he wore a rapier and a main-gauche.
“Who are you? How many battles have you fought in?” asked Galadiir calmly.
“I am Toorkman. Remember my name” replied the dandy.
Several days passed, Sorrows End was drawing to a close and the weather was worsening as Storm Season (Returning) approached. They all continued to work on the farm fortifications. Then, just after midday, they saw two riders approaching fast from the south; they wore the Kularni crest.
“What news do you bring?” called Galadiir.
“The Ayaka are marching north and are only a day to the south. War is upon us!”
End of Episode 2
XP awarded = 2 each
GM: The biggest battle fought so far in any Game. As the PC’s went down early due to the poisoned blowpipe darts I had all of the Jaguars turn up and split control between Matt and Harry. Ben ran the Pygmies and Spiders. This allowed them to have a no-holds barred fight between Extras. There was much use of Gang-up bonuses, Taunts and Tricks. The Jaguars took no casualties and several of the Ayaka escaped.
Next issue: Kularni and the farm are attacked by the Ayaka. This will be our first test of the Mass Combat Rules (CR, modified by Tattered Banners)