Episode Forty Nine - Ichtaca's Tale - Bad Bargains
Episode Forty Nine- Ichtaca’s Tale – Bad Bargains (Level 17)
Ichtaca – Played by Jared
Owl – Played by Mike
Zyrr – Played by John
Tayyid – Played by Kristy
NPC’s – Played by Kristy
*Tension is building in the camp between Tayyid and the others, especially Owl, when a famed primal hero of the Norlythe shows up with three members of his Ixa’hal, also famous folkloric heroes. Uremallach Árchal is the one who gave Ichtaca the whip of Imbakao. He’s also a jhareth, and Tayyid eyes him with murderous interest, but says nothing to him beyond disdainful, bare minimum replies. The visiting heroes are impressed by the glaring twist of fate that brought them together here in the vast wilds of the worldfire. It’s truly a staggering coincidence.
*The heroes are all people from folk stories and legends Ichtaca and Zyrr grew up on. Ureamallach Árchal, his wife Xochitl (a famed spearmaiden of Caraquetularac), Djai the stone (a goliath woman with a huge hammer, a tribal queen), and Cheif Itzonac (a former chief of Ictaca’s wandering tribe, the Maquetl). They have been running from the great hunt, and killing corrupted beasts and men along the way. They offer glowing green-blue meat from a recent (uncorrupted) kill, and explain that spirits who eat from the worldfire’s ecosystem slowly become embodied, and drenched in primal energy. (Everyone who eats some of the meat they offer gains a +5 to healing surge value for the next 24 hours, or a +1 to attacks and damage on primal attacks.)
*The legendary figures share a camp and an extended rest with the group. During the night, the spirit of the corrupted boar the group slew rises up as a misty greenish-blue figure, then drifted off. Uremallach identifies him as Lequonimeh the boar, an animal exarch of Sarnoss. The embodied slain here are reborn elsewhere in the worldfire’s vast, primeval forests, free from the corruption worms, at least temporarily. Uremallach knows this from personal experience. Since his last worldfire rebirth, he’s assembled a new Ixa’hal, one that once included many other folkloric figures of legend, who came questing to the worldfire to find Sarnoss and the missing dead. Many of these joined his Ixa’hal, but one by one, he’s lost them to the great hunt. Miancoyo, the trickster with the wolf-eared cape, was one of them. There are many spirits trapped here in the worldfire; all animals and plants and people of Vinramar, more and more being trapped as the world fire grew over the last hundred years, until, for the last few decades, no souls at all were passing to their proper afterlives. More souls are being drawn up from Vinramar’s high realm. Once here, the souls absorb the energy of the worldfire as they eat of its ecosystem, becoming embodied again in the process; corporeal storehouses of primal magic.
*They reveal that Sarnoss assembled the great hunt, consisting of dangerous animal exarchs, other powerful predatory spirits, and famed primal heroes, a few months back. At first, they hunted the prey animals who had become embodied by eating worldfire forest plants. Then, when the corruption began, they diverted to hunting those embodied who had become corrupted with the corruption worms. Soon enough, however, they fell to devouring all the spirits they came upon; all those who did not join the hunt as predators, that is. Uremallach and his Ixa’hal were hunting in tandem with the great hunt at first, but fled it when Sarnoss began devouring his followers and all the other spirits here. Uremallach thinks the great hunt is some natural cycle, that Sarnoss is driven to do it by predatory instinct every few hundred years. Itzonac feels that devouring the corrupted has driven Sarnoss mad, and that’s why he’s devouring souls. Xochitl thinks Sarnoss is not mad, and is doing this out of some survival instinct, or perhaps to build up enough power to escape the worldfire. Djai thinks Sarnoss must be devouring souls for their own good. She thinks they should all either join the hunt or let themselves be devoured, to aid their god. As Ixa’hal to Uremallach, however, she honors his decision for the group to run instead.
*Uremallach points out the lack of humanoid spirits in the area. Sarnoss has devoured them all. He warns the group that the great hunt will be drawn to them as prey, as they are to any who have bodies here. Ichtaca’s family will be another, even more enticing target. Ichtaca and the others are exhausted from a three day trek with little sleep, followed by intense battle, and they must sleep a few hours at least. They plan to leave in the morning and press hard to find the missing family. Uremallach offers to lead off the great hunt with his Ixa’hal, hopefully giving the heroes time to find Ichtaca’s family before the predators do.
*Ichtaca goes for a walk with Uremallach, telling him of the fates of his previous companions whom the jhareth briefly met; Darius, whom he has not seen in years, Tobias, who was reunited with the kidnapped Lyda, and is happily settled down with a family, Carmenith, whom they got to the temple in time to save, and Vash, who died heroically. (He gets choked up at that part.) He also tells him how Viln came to be an “ally” of sorts, sending him Tayyid as an unwanted bodyguard, and how he met these other two companions. As they walk, he tests the way they came into the worldfire, and Ichtaca finds it impassable, like layer after layer of sticky webs. Uremallach pulls him out, and tells him to use the whip. The whip of Imbakao slices a rent in the worldfire, and the two men look down to find that the constant drifting movement of the Worldfire has removed them far from the only high realm mountain high enough to reach it. They are above the atmosphere, and the landscape below is very distant. They will have to find another way back.
*Tayyid refuses Owl’s divine healing, unwilling to let the magic of the elf-goddess touch him if he can avoid it. Owl helps him gather herbs, and he brews a medicinal remedy, and medicates himself. The medicine gives him a slight fever, but drives the worms from his body. (+2 to saving throws vs. corruption worms for the next 24 hours, he’s brewed several doses.)
*During the night, Icthaca dreams of his terrified little girl Xoco again, this time with Lali, and his other two children with her, three year old Noyahua and seven year old Coyo, both boys. He can see their spirits, including those of his two unborn twins in Lalis belly. He stalks them again as Sarnoss, and wakes sweating just before he would have caught and devoured them. He relieves Zyrr of his watch, noticing that his son is displaying odd behavior, scratching his chest and looking nervous. During Ichtaca’s watch, Snowball is restless. Suddenly, a living carpet of small, corrupted forest animals attack like army ants swarming to the kill. Rodents, lizards, birds and insects throng towards the sleeping Zyrr at first, then spread out to swarm over the others. Among that deadly throng are larger animals; badgers, ferrets, foxes, bobcats, deer, every one of them maddened and teeming with corruption worms. Ichtaca lunges to help his son, but trips on something and goes sprawling across the sleeping boy. A huge serpent attacks them both.
*Zyrr unleashes fire powers, what Tayyid is coming to recognize as hellfire. A freak storm hits the camp in the middle of the desperate battle, and lightning strikes a tree by Zyrr. It falls on him crushing him underneath it. He teleports away in a burst of hellfire, searing away to ash the small bodies of thousands of tiny attackers with uncontrolled waves and wild blasts of fire. Owl dispatches the serpent threatening the two Norlylthin men, then he, Icthaca, Snowball, and Tayyid grapple with disease-maddened animals of larger size, while the four visiting heroes move around the outskirts of the fray in practiced tandem, cutting down threats. After a struggle, they defeat the forest creature stampede. Each animal they slay gives up a ghostly green-blue spirit, which drifts off to be reborn somewhere else in the forest, uncorrupted and whole.
*Only Zyrr is infected with the worms this time, in a turn of the same sheer bad luck that involved Ichtaca tripping over him and crashing down on top of him at the beginning of the fight. The animals were seeking him, and his fire powers are questionable. Weird coincidences are happening around and to him. His companions demand answers. The young man ineptly tries to lie about it, but does a terrible job. He talks of a bargain with a magical being, and Ichtaca, who just ran afoul of such a bargain with Mezeliar Wroth, asks if it was him. Zyrr shakes his head.
*Finally he admits that when he left home to find his father, he passed close to the haunted ruins of Antalumme. He came across a ruined shrine in the woods nearby, where a friendly, persuasive voice befriended him. The voice, someone named Khorrimuir, offered him three wishes, anything his heart desired. He accepted, and zhoroch words were written in fire in the air as he spoke his wishes aloud, off the top of his head. Then a contract materialized around the words, and the friendly voice asked him to sign it in his own blood. Zyrr; young, naive, adventure-hungry, and with a head full of storybook heroes with great skills, wants very much to be like them. He signed. The contract vanished, and the words of it branded themselves into his chest, searing him with fire and agony. Afterwards, each letter still glows, burning faintly orange like an ember. He still hasn’t figured out the full impact of what he’s done, and is more than a little scared.
*Zyrr opens up his shirt to show them, and Tayyid is able to translate some of the glowing Zhoroch sentences, although others are too small to read. Overlapping all of the words, like a large watermark, is the symbol of Gauren, god of Devils, Fate, and Covenants, worshiped by the Infernossos, who make pacts with devils in exchange for divine power. The others are horrified, but Tayyid is amused. He reads out what he can make out from Zyrr’s contract. The terms are as follows.
*First, “I wish for skill in wielding two blades, a skill to match that of the Shadow Lord, the Traveler, and the Pirate Captain I was named after, Zyrr Asaifur.” (Zhoroch translation reads: Swordsman of two blades, skill drawn from available bound souls until when and if said skill memories can be feasibly copied or stolen from specific persons listed.)
Secondly, “I wish for sacred magic, something like the Lady Knight used. She could smite her foes with holy fire and her touch could take care of wounds or even raise the dead.” (Translation: Holy Magic, hellfire, power of wounds and necromancy)
Third, “And luck! I’d like things to go my way more often, so that I’ll be known near and far. Both admired and feared.” (Translation: Fate. Convergence of events. Renown, fear and admiration.)
*Zyrr was given magic swords, that imbued him with a lifetime or more’s worth of swordsmanship. He was given divine magic, evidenced only by his hellfire so far. The convergence of fate, both good and bad, is already taking effect. A story-worthy adventure was brewing for Ichtaca just as Zyrr came to meet him. In fact, three capable warriors, diverse enough to be of interest to Wroth, present themselves to court on the same day. Wroth was likely interested to see this odd mixing of characters interact, otherwise Ichtaca may have arrived in the worldfire alone. Then, on their adventure together, the heroes have been meeting fabled characters of legend, from stories both Zyrr and Ichtaca grew up on. They ran into Uremallach Archal in the wilds, the perfect man to lead away the great hunt with his Ixa’hal. Of all the primal heroes they could have met, Uremallach was also the perfect man to provoke Tayyid, a Jhareth. They have been attacked in their sleep by corrupted wildlife, a freak storm and an unlucky lightning strike dropped a tree right on Zyrr in the middle of combat, and only Zyrr was re-infected with the corruption worms.
*Morning is coming, and in the distance, the heroes hear the faint howls of the great hunt, closing in on some kill. Fearing that it is his family, Ichtaca agrees to Uremallach’s plan. The four heroes of legend charge off into the woods, and release a surge of pent-up worldfire energy they’ve consumed over their time here. A pillar of green-blue light marks them out, and the great hunt turns to follow them. The other group of heroes now must race against time, navigating a treacherous wilderness plagued with corruption-maddened wildlife, trying to reach Ichtaca’s family before the great hunt does.
*They run hard for three days, resting only a few hours each night, not long enough for Zyrr to recover from his new infection. He’s getting progressively worse, despite Owl’s magic and Tayyid’s medicine. Random events of bad and good luck influence the race subtly. Ichtaca seems unstoppable and tireless, pulling Zyrr along, the two of them trading off as trackers. Owl and Tayyid scout from treetops and high ground, picking out the best path. Finally, Ichtaca, using his spirit-sight and able to sense the general direction of his family’s souls, can tell that they are drawing near. He finds children’s footprints in the woods, far too many to be his fifty five offspring only, and realizes that Wroth has taken the words of their “agreement” quite literally. One of Ichtaca’s first acts as emperor was to claim all relationless orphans of the Norlythe as his blood-kin, thus placing them under his protection. This means that about 300 orphans will have been abducted along with his direct offspring and his pregnant wife. The group encounter a surviving group of spirits, who are preparing to give themselves to the great hunt. Owl tries to ask them about the children, scaring them unintentionally. They tell him that a group of children led by a beautiful woman came by here on foot three days ago, and asked for directions. They sent them towards a fold in the worldfire, a valley of sorts, with a defensible cliff and a waterfall.
*They track the family group as fast as they can, crossing into the fold-valley and coming to a cliff with a stunning waterfall, as promised. They hear the sounds of children screaming in fear, and the roar of some great beast. The fate of Zyrr is interfering again, this time in their favor, and in the favor of the storybook-adventure-worthy drama Zyrr unwittingly told the devil Khorrimuir he had always wanted. They arrived just in the nick of time to rescue Ichtaca’s family heroically from certain death. Ichtaca makes a wild charge, with Snowball by his side. The two climb the cliff and charge into battle with axe and fangs bared. They find themselves facing off with another fabled hero of Norlythin legend: Miancoyo the wolf, a trickster-hero who famously wore a wolf-eared cape. The ancient hero has fallen to the madness of the corrruption worms. He’s standing with a massive spider, equally corrupted by the worms, and from her size and appearance, Ichtaca thinks it likely she’s Sarnoss’ exarch Ñandu, mother of spiders, and also a folkloric character he grew up hearing about.
*Both Miancoyo and Ñandu are erupting with swarms of corruption worms, and are on the verge of charging into the treeline, and attacking Lali. The gorgeous Lali stands defiantly with a few sixteen and fifteen year olds, all armed with makeshift clubs and spears, the only line of defense for the children behind them in the forest. They know they are about to die, and seeing Ichtaca arrive brings a cry of relieved joy from Lali, and shouts of “daddy!” from the woods. Ichtaca roars out a challenge, drawing the attention of his foes, and battle begins. Snowball leaps onto the back of the great spider, clawing and biting deeply and hanging on. Ichtaca’s mighty soul summons forth spirit-vines, and he sweeps hordes of corruption worms to the base of the cliff, then faces off with the great spider himself.
*Owl glides from a tree-top, blinking out and back into existence atop the cliff, where he strikes hard with radiant fire and a glowing white sword. He summons primal animal spirits of Iltallach in Forlortha’s name, directing them to strike his foes and protect his allies while he drives two more teeming clusters of worms off the cliff-edge. Zyrr stays at the bottom of the cliff, slaying the corruption worm swarms as they fall down to him, with hellfire and burning swords. He erupts in super-heated flames, setting fire to trees and boiling the water of the waterfall pool around him, setting off a column of steam. Tayyid stays close to Ichtaca, scaling the cliff deftly, right behind the man he has been given a sacred charge to protect. He fights back to back with Ichtaca, taking several grave wounds, but keeping Miancoyo off of Ichtaca while he faces off with the spider. Miancoyo blinks into and out of invisibility, but Ichtaca uses his spirit-sight to find him, and calls out his location to Owl and Tayyid. Again and again, Ichtaca tries to reason with Miancoyo, who was once heroic and good-hearted, if a roguish figure. Miancoyo babbles gibberish, but finally comes to himself enough to beg for death. The heroes finally fell him, and as he dies, he chokes out a few desperate last words, trying to tell Ichtaca something important, though worms clog his mouth, making it hard to understand him.
*Miancoyo’s last words are of the sovereign stag, an exarch of Sarnoss named Mazati. Desperate to find a way to return Sarnoss, his exarchs, and all the trapped spirits to the high realm or their respective afterlives, Mazati made a deal with Mezeliar Wroth, who has been teasing Sarnoss in their mutual captivity. Miancoyo doesn’t know the details of this deal, but h e’s sure it’s the source of the corruption worms, and he remembers that before Mazati’s corruption, the stag had urged Sarnoss to bring Ictaca’s family here, as insurance that the hero would actually keep his promise. No instinct in nature is stronger than that to protect one’s offspring. Miancoyo is trying to tell Ichtaca something else, when he dies, his disembodied spirit drifting off to be reborn somewhere else in the world-spanning wildernesses within the worldfire.
*Ichtaca runs to sweep his Lali up in a fierce embrace and kiss her, and children shyly come out of the forest, watching with wide eyes as Tayyid cleans and stitches up his wounds, and as Zyrr and Owl move around the field of battle, destroying all remaining corruption worms with fire, both radiant and hellish.
*Tayyid is faced with a group of children, most of whom are orphans, and perhaps half of whom live in scattered Avan enclaves throughout the Norlythe. Those orphans are wearing protective luck-amulets of Ava, the goddess of motherhood, love, and marriage. She is a Jharric goddess, and he has spent a lifetime wiping out hidden communities that worship her. In normal circumstances, it would be his sacred duty and his pleasure to dispatch them all. Even if he can’t act on that impulse, he might be sorely tempted to question some of the older ones, to find out the locations of their hidden communities, for future reference.
*Ichtaca is left to contemplate three bad bargains. Firstly, the one his naïve young son made with the devil Khorrimuir. Secondly the one he himself unwittingly (at first) made with Mezeliar Wroth to get here and fulfill his promise to Sarnoss. Finally, and still worryingly unknown, the deal made between Wroth and the exarch Mazati, the sovereign stag of legend and story.