Episode Forty Two - The Emperor's Son
Episode Forty Two – The Emperor’s Son (Level 15)
*Kazhma is in the market, deeply hooded still, but causing chaos as she explores. Catzin, following her and running damage control, but has called the others for help. Vash and Tobias rush to intervene, but are at the Callixoco palace, all the way at the top of the city’s hill. The streets are crowded. Vash buys a reindeer, hauls Tobias on and the two men race down the cities switchbacks in a wild ride that draws quite a bit of attention. Tobias is subjected to a series of trials on the way down, first facing backwards behind Vash, nearly flying off in Vash’s daring jump over the royal palanquin of some unknown princess, then being grabbed and pulled back on in the nick of time, only to land in front of Vash and facing him on the beast. Seeing a shop overhanging the street, Vash tosses Tobias up into it and stops so the psion can walk through the other side and drop down behind him properly on the reindeer. Tobias falls instead, knocking over men carrying baskets of apples and hot bread to break his fall. Tobias barely gets back on the deer in time to be clotheslined by a rug display being hoisted into place. Vash ducks under, and Tobias doesn’t. Vash has a deathgrip on Tobias, so the men pulling up that line are dragged behind for a few seconds, rather than Tobias flying off. Regardless, they make quite an entrance into the market.
*The crowded market is in chaos already, from Kazhma’s exploration. She shopped for a while, grabbing whatever caught her eye and paying with random garbage she had in her pockets, while Catzin followed, saying “my mistress is quite mad, please take this”. When Catzin ran out of the little money she had in her pocket, she was forced to jot a list of items taken and promise payment at the harlequin. When a lumbering fruit cart blocked her way across the street, Kazhma shoved it aside, flinging it into another cart and causing a major traffic jam. When Kazhma saw a peddler’s cart unloading silks in an alley, into a clothing shop, she walked up without any fear of the peddler’s vicious mastiff dog. It attacked her, but she only laughed, walking back out into the crowd with a dog hanging off of her in a useless attempt to maul her. Some witnesses called for the guards about a dog attacking a woman, but others called for the guards to arrest a crazed sorceress, because they saw her kill the dog by sticking her hand right through it. Kazhma walked into a butcher shop, questioned the butcher about his business, and was asking about working for him, when she was interrupted by an argument between the butcher and a poor customer. Although ample meat was on display, rich patrons had pre-paid for it, so there was nothing to sell to this customer. The argument became heated, and Kazhma watched with interest for a while, then suddenly walked out.
*Tobias and Vash negotiate through the packed market on reindeer-back. They leap over the accident, and see harried-looking guards managing traffic around the accident scene, handling a furious peddler and questioning witnesses about the dead dog, and trying to calm down the butcher and his client, who have begun to brawl outside his shop. With all that going on, no one is looking as Kazhma strides towards the palanquin of a very rich, very fat man. She bats aside his personal guards and knocks Catzin back against a wall, then clambers up beside the leering man. The curtains close behind her as Tobias and Vash rush up. Tobias calls out to her to stop, but it’s too late. Kazhma slides her hand right through the fat man’s heart and out his back.
*The guards Kazhma struck have fled the scene, but one remains. Vash can’t speak the language, but he dismounts and distracts the guard and the palanquin bearers with his exotic appearance and an attention-holding attempt at communication. Tobias climbs into the palanquin to lecture Kazhma and handle the carnage. She is confused as to why he isn’t pleased. She “bought” the things in the market instead of “stealing.” He talked to her about “work”, and she “is working” for the butcher, whom she likes. He talked to her about making people happy, and she is going to make the butcher and his customer happy. The problem? Too many rich people bought too much meat, and none is left. The solution? This rich person won’t take the contested meat, but will add to it, because now he is the meat! She beams at Tobias, expecting him to be pleased with her, then grows confused at his reaction. He said one could take life for food, or to defend self and others. He ordered her not to harm anyone on the ship. Wanting to please him, and remembering that, she offers to eat the man, if that will make it acceptable. An extremely frustrated Tobias calls to Darius through the bracers for help.
*Darius agrees to come at once and impersonate the man. Needing to get there at once, he tries to shadow-step from the Callixoco palace at the top of the hill, to the market at the far south side of it, by zeroing in on his connection with Catzin. He reaches for her shadow, but the distance is too long. He finds himself trapped in some shadowy half-dimension, appearing dangerously high above the city, half-way along his straight-line route to the market. He falls, tumbling through viscous shadows to slow his momentum, and narrowly avoids death. He can see shadows wandering around him, the shadow-elements of living things in the city. He can feel non-living physical things, but cannot see them, or pass through them. No one can hear him, not even through the bracers. It’s frustrating. He tries to shadow-step out of a passer-by’s shadow, but becomes trapped in it and has to rip free, which hurts him badly and kills the man. As that shadow fades out, Darius decides to follow right behind another, moving around obstacles with that person until he gets closer to his friends. At the market, he manages to interpret the scene from how shadows are moving, well enough to get into the butcher’s shop and shadow-step out of an assistant there. He runs off to meet his friends.
*Long, tense moments pass for Tobias and Vash before Darius arrives, but they keep Kazhma in line and the body from being discovered. The final dose of Vash’s potion from Jennish (the black dissolving one) removes the body, leaving a steaming hole in the mattress below, and Darius expands to take the dead man’s place. He pulls back the curtains and orders his servants to take him home, letting them draw their own conclusions about his prolonged time behind the curtains with Kazhma and Tobias, which is presumably what Vash was trying to explain to them. Vash convinces Kazhma to ride his reindeer back to the ship, while he and Tobias lead it and talk quietly about the situation.
*Meanwhile, back at the palace, Ichtaca flirts with and learns things from two newfound allies. Lali, the handmaiden of Princess Izel of Haracuraquét, and Kitla, apprentice to Spirit-Elder Mahua. He learns about the court, but especially about his brother, Quotal Bolaq. Both women dislike him, but the people at large think he is a hero, and a spiritual champion. Lali says that out of the public eye, he attempts to force himself on women of lower station, using “the spirits will this” to coerce cooperation. She has a photographic memory, and recites varying things Quotal has said word for word. Kitla suspects that his frequent displays of spirit magic are not spiritual in origin. She’s still learning, but they don’t feel right to her.
The vampire armies have so far made no moves to attack, only gathering in the wilderness and repelling any attacks against them. Small groups and individual vampires have been attacking people all across the Norlythe for months now, but they’ve never been seen inside walled cities, certainly not Maricuälatán. Until this month. Twice now, vampires have penetrated Maricuälatán’s defenses, two weeks ago at the north gate, then in the market a week later. Each time Quotal was there to save the day, and each time many innocent people were slaughtered before he showed up. Ichtaca, sure Quotal is staging these events, is furious that his brother will arrange for his own people to be killed, just to make a better show. The attack here in Callixoco would have been his third such crime, and it nearly killed Lali.
Ichtaca is also furious to find that Quotal has taken credit for many of Ichtaca and his friend’s heroic exploits, in what seems to be a completely fictitious spirit-quest. Quotal was a hindrance to the peace conference in Forteth, required rescue, did not participate in the great battle there, and then was dominated by Dythan Mathis, and walked away, vanishing for months, forced to torture and kill vampires, among other dirty jobs. He was rescued by Ichtaca (and friends), but made such an angry nuisance of himself in Telgard that his half-brother left him stranded in Imsund with 100 gp to find his way home. His stories tell a very different tale. He claims that in Forteth, he played a key role fighting in the battle that secured King Thandemar’s throne. He says Sarnoss himself took note, and visited him with a spirit quest that sent him on foot from Forteth, Trentsmund to the southernmost nations of Iljudheim, then back again, all in five month’s time. His stolen stories are distorted from third-hand accounts, but he claims he slew a dragon outside Imsund (Vash), stole the heart of the queen of Telgard, driving her so mad with love that she followed him through the wilderness (Darius), saved a tribe of wild elves from grave danger and was given a name and a place of honor in their tribe (Ichtaca), and mastered mighty spirit magic deep in the jungles (Ichtaca.) He was stalked and tormented by a terrible evil spirit (Mathis), but cast him into the worldfire with his magic (Tobias.) He claims the title “slayer” was given to him by fearful vampires, as he slew so many of them the great walk across such an impossible distance (Catzin). Kitla says that the people believe this mighty tale, and many feel that these great spiritual deeds are proof that Quotal is Sarnoss’ choice for the throne of his chosen people.
*Ichtaca spends hours with Lali and Kitla, impressing them each on multiple levels. Then Mahua takes him to meet his father for the first time. Emperor Icarasl lies on his deathbed, wasting away with the Némelethe. He fell ill shortly after Ichtaca first left his homeland, to the “fast burn” version of the disease. He should be dead, Ichtaca realizes, not lingering on for months at the edge of death. Ichtaca searches his father’s body and finds exactly what he knows he will find. A wound hidden behind the ear, from repeated bites by a bloodline vampire. The venom has kept him alive. Ichtaca gives his father the cure, and then sits with the comatose man, holding his hand and talking to him. He introduces himself, and then tells him his entire life story, beginning to end. Hours later, when he leaves his father, the Emperor’s condition has already begun to improve. Mahua promises to come get Ichtaca when he awakes.
*Darius is carried to the fat man’s house, fed a grotesquely wasteful meal, and put to bed. He learns enough to be disgusted with the man Kazhma just murdered. Coyo was a rich, isolated man who both abused his servants and forced them to carry him around the city while he watched and wrote obsessive notes about various women he admired. He weighed nearly a thousand pounds, and could no longer walk, get out of bed, bathe, or even relieve himself without assistance. In taking on his form, Darius discovers that he cannot change his weight, but can fill up extra mass with a spongy, lightweight tissue. When he sneaks out of Coyo’s manor, he makes off with several valuables, leaving behind a household staff who are confused about their master’s sudden weight-loss, but too cowed to question it, for now.
*Darius heads off on his own now to investigate the “religious gathering” on the hill north of the city, cuapetezco, meaning ‘bald rock’. He changes from Lord Darius Kang, Baronet, to the form of the handsome Norlythin tribesman he became in Camihuac, Ithacol. He finds 300 people there, religious zealots from amongst the starborn, convinced that when the lesser conjunction of stars align, those on this hilltop will be lifted up to rapture with the unspeakable. Most are foreigners who traveled far to get here, alone, or in small groups. A few are locals from the local ‘cell’ within Maricuälatán, and have brought along their entire households, a few with families and children. Darius uses the secret hand sign language to enter the camp, then meets Kanac, the leader of the Maricuälatán cell. He learns that this gathering has all of them uneasy, because they are unused to gathering in such numbers, or knowing the faces of so many of their brethren. Members of this assassin-warlock organization tend to be solitary, but some, like Darius’ adopted father, do have families. Although members vary along a range between religious devotion and practicality, this gathering represents the former end of the spectrum. They feel they’ve served the unspeakable well, and are no longer needed to prepare the world for his coming.
*As Darius speaks with Kanac, he gives the impression that he is a person of great importance within the order, and not to be trifled with or disobeyed. Kanac is torn between two terrifying notions, revealing much to Darius through his growingly fearful questions. Is this man one of ‘the children’? Each time a ‘hand’ of Omechroth Tessamach’s half-breed changelings make themselves known within a cell, it means trouble. Or worse, is he ‘the purifier’? That enigmatic figure within the organization that every cell whispers of in fear? The one Omechroth himself sends to “purify” a cell every 10-15 years, the general interval in which communion with the unspeakable eye brings at least one cell of starborn into madness, or worse; dissent? Darius puts on an intimidating glare, hiding his excitement. Whomever else this “purifier” is, he’s obviously the man Darius has been tracking for most of his life. Darius says little, letting the man draw his own conclusions. Kanac fawns and introduces his children to Darius in an attempt to pacify this dangerous man, and seeing small children are playing with one of the “unspeakable eye” pact-devices like his own father had, Darius snaps. He drags Kanac into a tent, shows himself to him as a changeling, implies that he is both one of “the children” and “the purifier.” On pain of death, he orders Kanac to remove himself, and every starborn who arrived with family, from the hill. They are to return to Maricuälatán immediately; this is no place for children. Only the starborn themselves may return to await ‘translation.’ Darius leaves the hill as well, passing by a familiar group on his way back to the city. It’s the 50 starborn whom Tobias offered passage to in Arrochule. They’ve arrived in time for the conjunction after all, with a week to spare.
*Tobias and Vash take Kazhma back to ship, where Vash calms her worries about having upset “her father”. He suggests that she could please him with a gift; a painting of the entire night sky. Vash also promises her a controlled outing on the next day; a trip to the bookstore for painting supplies and books. Kazhma begins work in a lower hold, working from memory and filling up canvas after canvas and fitting them together into a larger piece on the walls and ceiling of the room. The end result promises to be impressive. Tobias finds Lyda still at work on converting Ezachi Sayl’s medicine into a usable potion that will control Ichtaca’s hunger while he recovers from the bite of the disease-vampires. He’s sent to haul a drunken Jennish off the deck and into bed, and his future father-in-law seems to think they’re back in Chayrshellech, before this whole adventure began. Jennish asks him to watch out for Lyda, but good-naturedly warns him that “anything you do to her, I do to you.” Tobias and Vash come back up on deck in time to see the stately arrival of an official ship, another notable religious leader here to take advantage of local custom and bless the future emperor. It’s Chorrom Caral Viln.
*Tobias greets the Chorrom and rides up to the palace with him on his palanquin, with Vash following amiably behind on his new reindeer. Viln looks like he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He seems unsurprised to see that Tobias and Vash have “reconciled”, but in a broken way, if nothing can surprise him anymore. He’s relieved to see them both alive, and to hear that the others of their group are, as well. Ever since his god’s voice warned him to protect them, that these heroes were “important to his greater plan”, he’s worried that harm will befall them, and that he will be held accountable. He tells Tobias more than what he actually says out loud, because Tobias has been in this man’s thoughts and dreams, has manipulated his mind and his destiny repeatedly. Viln is devastated that he managed to destroy such an ultimately sacred relic as the Cup of Winter, instead of retrieving it. He walked in the Abyssal Throne, but instead of visiting a realm of glory, he was sent to battle with a vile intruder (the goddess Iala), and he lost, saved only by his friend Tobias, from what he can tell. His god is dead, but speaks only to him, his chosen, but only in sporadic intervals and confusing ways. Viln has not heard Daemoth’s voice since Arrochule, when Tobias left him. He’s the cause of a rift within the eitharmos, and the Oulethirim are angry with him. There is tension between the allied Daemothite sects, partly due to the instructions Tobias (as Daemoth) gave Viln back in the governor’s palace in Dulunum. On top of this, Viln’s horror at the true source of his faith’s current power is growing stronger. Mezeliar Wroth summons him at random times, teleporting him to his throne room at the edge of the worldfire, and playing mind games with him, as he does all his servants. Viln has finished his tour of the major Etholchan nations. After stopping here to garner influence in this heathen nation with a blessing of the new emperor, he will return to Trentsmund. It’s debatable if he’ll arrive there with his sanity intact. Meanwhile, Viln’s nameless eitharmos bodyguard still travels with him. He smirks at Tobias when they converse briefly. He kept his word, and did not inform his order of the party’s presence in Dulunum until one week had passed from their escape of the ruins. He implies he didn’t have to. It’s clear that although he respects Viln as the “chosen of Daemoth” too much to attack the heroes when expressly forbidden to, he will be quite happy to watch someone else destroy them. Tobias intuits that the eitharmos must have pieced together enough information from their widespread sources to figure out where they were headed. It seems likely that they are already here, and will act, soon.
*Ichtaca’s struggle with his condition gets intense as evening falls.
He loses control and hurts Carmenith, with Vash and Catzin barely intervening in time to save her life. Lyda has to tap into the power of the tree inside Carmenith’s soul to save her. Ichtaca’s friends stay with him as he struggles through the long night, and with Carmenith as well, apart but in the same suite. It’s not safe to take her back to the ship, where Kazhma is.
*The next morning, Ichtaca does not leave his room, taking Lyda’s stronger version of the hunger-dampening potion, and communing with the spirits. When he emerges in the early afternoon, he’s shaken off the infection, and defeated the vampire toxin in his blood. Mahua arrives to tell him that Emperor Icarasl is awake, and asking for him. When Ichtaca arrives, Emperor Icarasl is sitting up and coherent for the first time in months. He has lost huge swathes of his life to the ravages of the Némelethe, but he remembers every word his newfound son spoke to him as he lay unconscious, his mind slowly coming back to him as the cure took effect. He accepts Ichtaca among his acknowledged offspring, removing the stigma of the cultural equivalent of “bastard” by doing so. The cure is viable, but has come too late in this case. Icarasl is still dying. Icarasl is immensely grateful to Ichtaca anyway. He can now spend his last few days or weeks awake and able to say farewell to his loved ones. He has no harsh feelings towards his former concubine Mita, who was very young when she ran away to marry a chief of the wandering houses. He says he only wishes she had told him of her conflict, and he would have freely released her with no dishonor. He holds no grudge, and wishes her well, with all honor. He asks Ichtaca to tell her so. Icarasl is too weak to speak long, but he tells Ichtaca that he will speak with each of the candidates for the throne, and give his blessing to the successor he feels best fit to lead this great empire.
*The heroes have time to prepare for the big party to be held that evening, a celebration to announce Ichtaca to the court, as a newly acknowledged son of the emperor, and a worthy candidate for the throne.
*Darius Stole the following from Coyo’s manor: Local currency worth 3,000 gp, a collection of small ivory statuettes (nudes) worth 2,000 gp collectively, and men’s jacinth earrings worth 500 gp.