Episode Forty One - Kazhma
Episode Forty One – Kazhma (Level 15)
*Vash and Darius take a rowboat back to Dulunum, beach it in the jungle just east of the city wall, and sneak into the city through the sewer system. On the way to keep Ezachi Sayl’s last appointment, they run into an undead abombination in the sewers; the product of the rat-blood from the winter cup, some of which they let spill down the drain the night before. It has animated a pile of decomposing bodies, bound together with seaweed and reeking with toxic gases. The pair defeat the monster with some effort, making entirely sure it’s dead and burning it before they leave the area.
*A newspaper boy is shouting out the latest headlines. The changeling who impersonated Vash has been captured by the slave market, and his true form revealed. It is assumed that he is the same slave who nearly bankrupted the market in one day, and that he has been able to change his shape through “deviant sorcery” all along. A bidding war is raging over his purchase. The mass-murderer has stopped his nightly killings, and speculation is running wild. Ambassador Vitali is missing. A massacre at a prominent casino may be the beginnings of a mob war. The Jungle Cannibal is slain. Last, but not least, the beloved new Chorrom Caral Viln is leaving town, his consecration tour of the largest Etholchan nations complete. His next stop? A diplomatic mission of ecclesiastical goodwill; to personally bless the soon-to-be elected new Empire of the Norlythe.
*Darius enters the tavern in the guise of Thollan Sayl, not Ezachi. Vash follows as his “slave”, made up to look older, if no less dashing. They are shown up to a private dining room, where an aristocratic-looking man greets Darius with the familiarity of a long-time associate. It is immediately apparent from dress, manner, and appearance that Lord Tassivar is a vampire lord from Perrith Gorr or Wellusk. Tassivar takes Darius for Ezachi Sayl at first, and is angry that he’s brought anyone with him. Darius explains that he is Sayl’s heir, has contracted his father’s illness, and now has taken his place in the business, with his father’s untimely demise.
*It’s a dance of words as Darius tries to get information from this man without revealing the gaps in his knowledge, while staying in-character, and while Vash prompts him telepathically with things he’s forgotten. Ezachi has been using his witch-hunters to gather magic items and magic users of a certain power, which he then sells to Tassivar, no questions asked. In return, Tassivar pays him well, and provides him with a potion that helps control the hunger of the disease-based vampirism, and is attempting to formulate a cure. This prospective cure was why he requested the blood of an uninfected direct relative. He offers to extend the same bargain to the new master Sayl, but approaches Vash, touching his throat and demanding the slave as a “gesture of good-will.” It’s clear he means to eat him. When Darius refuses at first, Tassivar takes out a piece of chalk and begins to sketch a door on the wall, the beginning of a ritual that will take him home, making clear how he arrived here in the first place.
*At Vash’s prompting, Darius pretends to change his mind, promising the slave as soon as Tassivaranswers a few questions about vampirism in general, information “Thollan” says he needs as a “newly infected”, to better understand what’s happening to him. Tassivar relays some useful information about bloodline, disease-based, and risen vampires, as well as vrylokas. He does not, however, tell them what they most want to know; new information on the weaknesses of bloodline vampires, how best to defeat them, and any easier ways to kill them permanently. Tassivar grows impatient, and tries to enthrall and bite into Vash. Darius and Vash kill him quickly and efficiently, then sneak the body out of town, burn it, and spread the ashes in a sunny spot.
*Darius and Vash sneak back into town and go to the docks, where, in the role of Thollan Sayl, Darius uses the Sayl reputation to intimidate the captain of a respected passenger vessel into seeking out and accepting passage from the 50 starborn, who will arrive at the docks in a few days, looking for the Harlequin. He assures the captain that these men will pay well if no questions are asked, and both he and Vash are relieved to have this matter handled in a way that hopefully will cause no grudges.
*Last, but not least, they return to the Tangaeupe casino and empty the day-vault of yesterday’s earnings, recovering Darius’s satchel with his lost 20,000 gp, along with 50,000 gp more in local currency.
*When the two men are ready to return to North Island, they find that their dolphin escort has waited for them. The party tends to attract small swarms of lesser, aberrant sea-life, which the dolphins revel in destroying.
*Meanwhile, back on the Harlequin, Tobias and Ichtaca are facing off with Kazhma, the woman who has crawled out of Tobias’ bag of holding. (See email) She is the drinking blade brought to life, and she is dangerous, chaotic, and child-like. Lyda is knocked out and Carmenith badly injured. Icthaca runs to find Chamanaltia, and arrives with the healer in time. Tobias, meanwhile, engages the quixotic Kazhma in conversation, trying to puzzle out her nature and figure out what to do with her. Carmenith tells him that Kazhma means “endless thirst” in ancient Zhoroch. (The zh sounds like ‘g’ in beige.)
*Kaszhma is alive, but still an artifact, and seems both un-killable, but also perfectly oblivious to and uncaring of her supernatural strength. She’s convinced that she has two parents; Daemoth (the maker) who made her as a semi-sentient sword, and Tobias, who brought her to life. He convinces her that he is not her mother, but first lets pass, then encourages her in her perception of him as a father, because he can see that this means something to her. It gives him a way to influence her and mitigate the damage of her chaotic actions. Kazhma seems hardwired with two prime directives; firstly, to “drink” all enemies of Daemoth, especially the Jharethil. Secondly, to follow through loyally with whatever task Daemoth or his assigned vassal has currently given her. Her current task is to “belong to” Jodram Zabir Ouelethe, and to help him as she can, including giving the sacred wounds to the eitharmos. She is distracted by her embodiment and sentience however, and for now, is easily delayed from acting on these two innate mandates.
*It seems inevitable that she will someday be an enemy, or someone they must destroy, but for now, Tobias sees a window of opportunity. Can they influence this woman? Can they plant seeds that may mitigate the future damage she seems destined to cause, seeds that may save lives, perhaps even their own? She was made to be innately evil, but the vast majority of the millions of pieces of souls and memories she’s absorbed were those of the good, including her first victim, Sowm herself, whose form Kazhma has taken. (Uncanny valley version.) Her soul is made of fused fragments torn from millions of generally good souls, including many who were sought out as sacrifices for their purity. Does any of the purity and goodness of these souls remain in the newborn one?
*Whether or not this is possible, the group face a 45 day voyage north, plus a 1-2 week stop-over in Onderrich, where Tobias and Jennish hope to finish the improved muffling shroud, making it into a dress for Kazhma. In the meantime, the heroes engage in a campaign of distractions, doing their best to keep Kazhma from doing any harm by presenting her with interesting but harmless things to fixate on.
*Kazhma is influencable, but capricious, and dangerous when she is bored or her desires are thwarted. She’s competitively vain, childishly manipulative, selfish, and often disturbingly sensual. She has no concept of right and wrong, and no concept of other people as having rights or serving any purpose other than her entertainment. She is trusting, naïve, and easily tricked for now, but she is learning. She has no patience for concepts she is not (yet) capable of grasping, often taking an unintended lesson from the explanations to her questions. Tobias spends hours each day with her, trying to influence her, establish rules. It’s working; unpredictably and within a limited capacity. She calls Vash “the wielder” and finds him irresistible, assaulting him far more often than she does the others with violent make-outs that could easily kill if they go too far. Darius is fascinating to her because of his shape-shifting. Having once tasted Carmenith’s blood, Kazhma craves it night and day, and becomes fixated on the other woman. It takes constant effort from everyone to keep her away from Carmenith, who is too sweet-natured and kind for her own good in this case. Kazhma dislikes Catzin, who “has permission” to drink blood.
*When Kazhma fixates on a new “discovery” about life, she wants to “do it all” before moving on. Each distraction buys the heroes hours or sometimes days of relative peace .Her distractions on the voyage start with trying on clothes with Lyda, interrupted for a few alarming hours of eating (Tobias puts a stop to this quickly, or she might have emptied the ship’s stores within the day.) It takes her six days to try on every article of clothing on the ship, in every possible combination, being sure she’s seen and admired each time. The idea of shapeshifting intrigues her, (and concerns the others, who think she may remember how to do this someday; the sword could.) She spends days trying to grow wings, after Tobias’ clothes-related answer about if they were “the prettiest” led to her being stopped just in time from “trying some on.” (After removing them from someone first.) Ichtaca teaches her to fish, and at first this seems good, but after a few days it has become an exercise in slaughter, culminating in the murder of a Goliath crewman. Tobias and Darius to cover up the real cause of death to avoid panic in the crew, who have been warned how to behave around her. Books occupy her for a time, but introduce some dangerous concepts. Math, courtship rituals (Darius and Tobias’ backfired attempt to explain appropriate sexual behavior and prevent “the sex” killing anyone), and (most effectively) art are some other distractions. In the meantime, she gains a limited understanding of various difficult concepts, including when it is appropriate to kill, steal, or lie, but also property, gifts, work, love, the value of lives, and making others happy. (“Understanding”= Forced favor exchanges, “buying” whatever she wants
*In Tobias’ hope that she can be changed, he prays to Iala, who promised she’d be watching over the group whenever she could. He is surprised to get a garbled but direct connection with the goddess through his meteor bracer. She’s fascinated, and tells some related personal story, most of which Tobias can’t make out. Something about the godslayers. She seems hopeful that killing Kazhma won’t be necessary. If it is necessary, however, only a few gods can destroy her, Lord Rhuyem being the one she knows for sure who can.
*Meanwhile, a few more things of note happened on the long voyage north. Icthaca and Tobias wrapped the winter cup muffled in the lesser shroud that once muffled the drinking blade, and after a time, the deadening energy faded, and the cup returned to its original state.
*When the airship passed over the underwater Yaloin palace, Dythan Mathis reached out and almost casually tried again to dominate Tobias. He also made stealthy attempts to penetrate the minds of others onboard. Ichtaca sensed the attack and repelled it with a mental shout of “ha!” No one else except Tobias even sensed the attacks. Lyda’s betrothal necklace shielded her mind, but when Tobias successfully cast Mathis’ presence from the ship, he could feel the dead Chorrom’s smug confidence in things going well, that his vessel would be his, as well as an alarming delight, triumph over one or more things he’d just learned. It took Tobias days to trace the energies around each person the ship and figure out whose minds had been penetrated. He narrowed it down to Darius, Vash, Carmenith, Catzin, and Jennish. He can’t tell what info was taken, just that Mathis was in each of their minds without them realizing it.
*When ship-work or handling the deadly lunatic isn’t keeping them busy, the main party strengthen their friendships, sparring, honing skills, playing Carmenith’s “markers” game, and other pursuits. Darius and Vash keep Catzin’s need for blood met, and continue to avoid addiction. Lyda, Professor Jennish, and Chamanaltia work the whole voyage to formulate a cure for the Nemelethe, using Darius as their guinea pig. The day before they arrive in Maricuälatán, they cure Darius. Although he hasn’t recovered his lost memories, he’s no longer running a low-grade fever all the time, and no longer dependent on Catzin’s venom to prevent further memory loss. Tobias and Lyda catch what moments they can alone, enjoying the break from the near-constant threat of death. Vash is no longer in constant danger of being overthrown by his well-chained alternate self; Emperor Revikoth Kavan. Despite the much-reduced risk, he hears him constantly, and cannot touch or even look at the woman he loves without allowing Revikoth use him to do the same. He’s been moody and love-sick. Ichtaca meditates and communes with the spirits, preparing for his return to his homeland.
*Kazhma is so enthralled with painting randomly selected objects that she doesn’t even notice when the ship stops in Onderrich for two weeks, home of Lyda’s university, Hemosh. While her paintings become more and more technically brilliant, her subjects remain questionable, for example; the severed shark head she presented to Ichtaca and insisted that he keep. Three weeks ago. Professor Jennish and Tobias hire a local wizard-craftsman and a seamstress to help in making the powerful new shroud, as an enticing dress. It takes two weeks, but the result is stunning; a sparkling gown in Kazhma’s favorite color: blood-red. They hope it will prove worth the stunning expense.
*When they arrive in Maricuälatán, a dock official does a cursory inventory of their taxable trade goods and persons of interest. Seeing a hooded Kazhma up on deck, painting an unfortunately chosen angle of the city, he is impressed with her skill, repeatedly asking if she is willing to do portraits. She thankfully ignores him, and the others divert the man to local gossip and news.
*The Nemelethe is bad here, a full outbreak, but the people have faced plagues before, and do not fear it. Neither do they mistreat or fear their infected. (Xoco’s legacy from the zombie outbreak in her time.) When Spirit Elder Mahua Ylote returned from the Norlythe, he brought a blood-root based vaccine he’d gotten from “a great spirit”, and the spread of the disease has been reduced, saving lives. The bloodroot trade is bringing in foreign wealth, and he is beloved for it. (This is the early remedy that Lyda developed from bloodroot extract, the one they gave to Mahua in Forteth.) In the wilderness, vampires are gathering in armies and plaguing the outlands. Several battles have taken place in the last few months. More vampires arrive from somewhere every day, but the armies have not attacked in force, only repelling attackers and gathering more men. Small, individual disease-vampires and small harrying are moving fast and killing far more, spreading the infection of their condition. No major village or city has fallen, however, so there are few refugees so far. It seems certain this will change when the full assault begins.
*The city is packed with people, including refugees, visiting dignitaries, and foreign royalty, including the Kings of Chayrshellech and Trentsmund. Inns are packed with representatives of each village, city, vassal-tribe, organization, or noble line, all here to vote among the eligible declared heirs to the throne. Several foreign religious officials are here to bless the new emperor, who traditionally accepts a blessing from each faith represented, in the rare open-minded philosophy that Sarnoss does not care, and each one has a chance to help. It is rumored that the Chorrom of the Etholchan faith himself will be arriving soon. The mood is tense, with people focusing on the posing and deed-doing of the candidates to avoid thinking of the impending war.
*They take a Palanquin to the palace, Ichtaca reclining at the elevated back with Snowball at his side, accepting his caress. People are vastly impressed with this stranger, obviously a visiting lord, to judge by wealth and number of vassals (his friends are taken as such), and more impressively, so blessed by the spirits as to have a tamed an 800 lb Snow Leopard.
*Spirit Elder Mahua Ylote greets them warmly, taking them up to a suite adjacent to his own and filling them in on the emperor’s failing health and the dangerous condition of the empire. He lists important visitors, including the young King of Trentsmund; Halden Thandemar, and the eccentric but popular “Bastard King” of Chayrshellech; Tolebesh Buthe, along with his son, Choler. The party have other allies here; Ambassador Rilaytha Miatherra, who traveled with them to Trentsmund with Ambassador Losoran Anelathem on the peace mission, who owes them a debt for rescuing her young scribe; Lothand Iamach. She witnessed their heroics and impressive allies in the battle of Forteth. Ambassador Tlánquale Chor is also here, although he did not know the party well, they did save his life at least twice. The Ahuic Calli (wandering houses) have gathered, with their vassal-chiefs. The Maquetl are among them; with their famed spirit elder Imha, and Chief Tanume, Ichtaca’s step-father.
*Not done yet, Mahua tells them about the four other electoral candidates, including an old acquaintance; Prince Quotál Boláq, firstborn son of Emperor Icarasl. He has returned from “a great spirit-quest” abroad, making no mention of being mind-controlled slave to Dythan Mathis for months, being rescued by his brother Ichtaca, and then making himself such an annoyance that he was left in Imsund, Telgard with 100 gp. He’s made much of his glory and adventure abroad, and especially of the many great monsters and vampire-lords he’s personally sought out and slain.
*Another candidate is Princess Zurin Boláq, Quotál’s younger sister. Mahua considers her a vain and spiteful creature, but freely admits she knows politics well, and has a gift for using public drama and show to draw and hold the interest of the people. She banks on her uncanny resemblance to her revered grandmother, Xoco for much of her popularity. He thinks she has no real interest in the throne beyond vanity and a desire to spite Quotál.
*Prince Imba Tlaxmetl is a decorated warrior, practical and respected by the nobles, but less generally known to his people than his Boláq siblings. He is the only child of Emperor Icarasl’s popular second wife Xinluthe, who died in childbirth.
*Tlacat (general) Lonumec Coszcatl is an admired and decorated general, and the current leader of the Norlythe’s military.
*Emperor Icarasl has 19 other acknowledged offspring, most from legitimate wives or concubines, but he’d acknowledged a few other bastards before the Némelethe took his mind. Many of these 19 children have married into noble houses. Many have also fallen to the vampires or the Némelethe. None aspire to the throne.
*Mahua makes arrangements for Ichtaca’s formal presentation tomorrow night; a grand gala to announce him as the son of Icarasl, and a claimant to the throne. It will be a time to impress the court with all his glorious achievements; and to announce what deeds he yet intends to do to win the people’s hearts, and his father’s throne.
*Before they arrived, Carmenith gave Ichtaca a case containing something she stole from the duke-regent of Trentsmund months ago: the ceremonial battle-regalia and armor of the great empress Xoco, Ichtaca’s legendary grandmother. Mahua recognizes it with awe, and says it was believed lost forever. He states that restoring this stolen historical artifact to the people will be a huge mark in Ichtaca’s favor, and Carmenith beams.
*Screaming breaks out downstairs in the main hall, and the heroes rush out to see vampires in the palace, killing servants and battling with guards, one group about to drag a terrified but gorgeous serving-girl from off a pillar she’d climbed up. Ichtaca charges into battle, with his friends beside him.
*Darius shadow-steps from foe to foe, separating out and killing targets one by one, then vanishing. Vash shapes the battle with impressive charges and clever drawing of enemies to where he wants them. Carmenith stays to the edges, targeting fleeing foes or vampires creeping around to flank the others. Lyda shoots down from the balcony with impressive accuracy. Ichtaca fills the room with surging spirit vines and makes a big impression with both his snow-leopard companion, and green glowing spirit plants and animals fighting under his command. He snatches the servant-girl Lali away from her attackers, keeping her under his arm and carrying her off with him to protect her as he battles dozens of foes with spirit magic and a mighty axe. Tobias acts the invalid, hiding his psionics, but is busy at work. He times his magic to dramatically enhance Ichtaca’s attacks, and make them even more impressive. Although Ichtaca is bitten by several vampires when he rescues Lali, he ignores his wounds, rescues the girl, slays foes in large groups, and commands the loyalty powerful allies, including the animals and the very spirits themselves. Still nameless and mysterious to the many witnesses, this man seems the very image of a noble warrior of the much romanticized Ahuic Calli (wandering houses). He has repelled an attack by the hated vampires in the very heart of Callixoco, the sacred palace (house of Xoco). Many servants, guards and court officials now owe him their lives.
*When Ichtaca’s annoying brother Quotál Boláq shows up, making an overly dramatic entrance, ready to vanquish the vampires, but too late for the action, the heroes realize that he staged this entire fight. It doesn’t make sense how the vampires got in here. Someone had to have orchestrated this, and the look of furious disappointment on his face is unmistakable. People have died, but he seems upset only that his moment of glory has been stolen, and by a man he loathes. His bastard half-brother, Ichtaca Matlál Ollín.
*Mahua makes a show of trying to usher Ichtaca out so that he’s not seen before his presentation, but the crafty, politically savvy spirit-elder is really making sure he’s seen, so wild rumors and excitement can build up about the identity of the new candidate being presented at the court tomorrow night.
*The group returns to Ichtaca’s suite, so he can prepare to meet his father.
*Darius recovered his 20,000 gp, and he and Vash stole 50,000 from the casino
*Glory for Ichtaca: Vampire battle in Callixoco, restoring Xoco’s ceremonial armor