The Juju Gambit
Session Fourteen Summary
- PCs travelled to town of Ninatokea on Mgange Cove
- Town was beset by Dark Wendo which turned out to be forest fey (a satyr, twigjacks and dryads).
- PCs tracked fey down to a campsite overlooking a valley (narrowly avoiding a tiger)
- Satyr called Angala was using music to lure townsfolk into the woods (unsure as to whether he was killing them and/or turning them into fey, unsure as to his motivations) * Edward and Jasper fell under the spell, the others either resisted or stayed out of range.
- PCs brokered a deal, if they head north to Zhukuo Tegeg and clear out the fey’s previous party zone, they would leave and head north (although it was suggested that this would mean a different town ‘Abrafo’ would fall under the attentions of the fey)
- That night, PCs stayed in Ninatokea and kept watch through the night. The town was attacked by another group: Mgange tribesmen from Abrafo led by a Redcap and with two Juju Zombies in tow.
- During battle, party took few casualties except for Mameha who was sent into a fit of irresitable dance which no-one could find the source of.
- Once the fey and tribesmen were dealt with, the group searched the village to find the ‘witch’ who had ‘hexed’ Mameha but to no avail. They instead found twigjacks and a dryad watching from the tree line but they fled before the party could catch them.
- Next day, PCs travelled north to find Zhukuo Tegeg. They found the graveyard without much difficulty and suck through the lines of graves aided by the supernatural darkness summoned by two figures on an altar overlooking the storm-wracked cliffs.
- As PCs approached, they were spotted and the Juju Zombies and Tribesmen attacked while the two leaders defended the altar.
- During the battle, Titus killed several zombies with his bow but the leaders (a Wendifa Oracle and a mysterious Samurai Magus) summoned a huge horde of regular zombies from the graves to attack the party.
- The fight was gruelling but the PCs came out on top. Mameha was overcome with another bout of the jigs and Taisho discovered that it was her boots of speed which were causing it. Turns out they were in fact Dancing Boots and that ‘Shanks’ Guffy was a treacherous bastard. Titus removed them with his adamantine axe and Mameha was freed (although the boots did explode which didn’t help)
- After beating the zombies, Oracle and Magus fled, both invisible but without serious injury.
- The PCs headed back to Ninatokea to find that Angala had stolen the last few living civilians. The PCs told him that they had killed the Oracle (who Angala called ‘Abrafo’ strangely) and threatened him that he should leave the area but he counter-threatened that if Oracle was not in fact dead (which he isn’t) then Angala will raze Ngozu to the ground. The PCs aren’t sure if Angala will/can do such a thing but decided to high-tail it out of Mgange Cove anyway. Just in case.
- They stopped at the Chief Wendifa, Ajuoga Baas’ Big House to collect their reward (information on the Ikazuchi and she marked the location on the party’s map (interior mountains of Mgange Cove)
- With business conducted for now in the cove and the threat of a possible fey attack, the PCs headed off aboard the Dawn Traveler (the pleasure yacht of the Smythees) to head to Windward Isle and help retake Tidewater Rock.
- On the way, they stopped off at Ongongte Overlook so Gian could speak to the cyclops living in the ruins there.
Guest journal for session 14 – with Sandara not present Laklunle Rossi is instead narrating events:
The dockside tavern was filled with laughter, raucous shouts and the sound of an enthusiastic, if not particularly skilled, fiddler. Soon though a hush started to fall, a small crowd near the bar calling for quiet as a skinny man with a long, fresh scar and haunted eyes told a story from his youth…
“My name is Laklunle Rossi, formerly of Ngozu and lately of the Magnificent Bastard. I am a lute player by trade so storytelling is not my strength. However, this story, though not one passed from bard to bard, embellished and twisted, is simply the truth and does not require a master to tell it.
There were seven of us, with names likely known to you. Myself, young and green as grass, Captain’s Mameha Eikou and Edward Van Helgan, Jasper the Still, Titus Stern, Gian Tenesini, known as The Knife in these parts now, and Abdul Khidamun; Kaheed to common folk. I had been in their company for less than a day when we left Ngozu for the nearby village of Ninatokea which had apparently run afoul of a local Wendo that was preying on the villagers. The trip was uneventful, Titus leading the route, and we arrived at the village by mid-afternoon. The local militia seemed comprised entirely of the old and infirm, along with a handful of women. No other villagers could be seen. Whilst the Captains addressed a spokesman for the remaining villagers, Titus and Taisho-Sei, Captain Eikou’s Wendo companion searched the surrounding woodlands for likely signs of the missing villagers eventually returning with a probably location, a nearby confluence of ley-lines which would greatly appeal to a forest Wendo. The village spokesman told us that over three score villagers were missing and he feared the worst for them. I assumed that we would be rescuing them and said as much to him; that earned me some dark looks from my companions. Titus later explained that the villagers would almost certainly be dead by the time we found them and saying otherwise to the survivors was cruel, I’m not sure I agreed with his view. Mameha, Van Helgan and Gian also agreed with Titus though. Jasper didn’t seem to care about the fate of the villagers at all.
Led by Taisho-Sei we easily located the confluence and, sure enough, we could clearly see a small campfire blazing on a ridge. As we crouched behind bushes and discussed our next course of action Jasper, Gian and Titus froze. They warned us to hide and scrambled up nearby trees, I didn’t know what the danger was but followed suit. Less than a minute later a deer sped past us, I almost laughed in relief when a huge tiger streaked after it from the undergrowth! Such a massive beast could easily have killed or wounded any of us, even my formidable companions. My respect for the abilities of the others rose, even if I still held misgivings about their motives. As we climbed down a consensus was quickly reached; the jungle was too dangerous to linger in, especially at night. We would approach the camp and find the source of the village’s woes.
Once within a few hundred feet of the camp Gian, Titus and Taisho crept closer, almost disappearing into the thick jungle. The rest of us waited for what seemed like hours, though the others seemed more bored than worried. Edward and Jasper even drawing a small pack of cards, dealing two hands and then bickering about cheating in a good natured way. Kaheed simply sat down, closed his eyes and sat motionless. When Taisho burst back into the small clearing I was the only one who jumped to his feet, hand on my rapier. I thought then that these people must have wills of pure steel! It was days later than Gian explained that, thanks to a spell of Mameha’s, she’d been in near constant telepathic communication with Taisho. The others had spied the camp, seeing only three villagers under some kind of trance and a Satyr. Not worried about the danger posed by a Satyr alone, Edward and Jasper strode into the camp, shadowed by Titus, whilst the rest of us watched from cover. As they closed Edward seemed entranced by the Satyr’s music, breaking into a lively jig. Titus soon emerged from the bushes as well, he and Jasper speaking to the Satyr. More fey creatures arose from the jungle around them; a shapely dryad enchanting Jasper with her hypnotic beauty. Minutes passed as Titus sat with the creature, talking, before he rose, dragged Jasper and Edward out of the camp and returned. He explained that the creature did not mean the village particular malice, his song simply drew in the unwary or weak-willed and they were then unable to escape. The satyr had been driven from his natural home by dark mages using a graveyard on the island’s northern shore to summon juju zombies. Formidable foes indeed! Titus seemed to think that if these mages were killed or driven off then the satyr could return to his home, leaving Ninatokea in peace and fulfilling the Bastards agreement with Ajuoga Baas. This plan was agreed but some of the Bastards raised the point that perhaps the satyr would simply harass another village, Abrafo, which lay near his original home. This was discussed as we trekked back to the village and eventually settled; if Ajuoga wanted the Bastards to stop any harassment of any villages she needed to pay them more. They would stop the attacks on Ninatokea and then re-negotiate if this was not sufficient. This took me by surprise; I had thought that we were trying to stop the attacks to help the villagers, not in exchange for payment! The Bastards were little better than hired mercenaries, not heroes! I suppose I should have guessed from the name of their ship but, as I said, I was even more innocent back then.
None of the others felt that attacking evil mages, in a graveyard, was something to be tackled at night so we camped in Ninatokea overnight. Titus and Kaheed shepherded the vulnerable villagers into a room of Ninatokea’s small tavern, Kaheed staying in the room to guard them and brought them a little food and water. The other Bastards simply took what they wanted from the tavern’s stock, including the small cash box. As night fell Titus left the tavern, talking about checking the perimeter, Captain Eikou followed him quietly. Minutes later there was a tremendous boom, like an explosion, from outside! Those inside the tavern quickly clustered around a window before Kaheed and Gian ran out into the night. I could hear shouts, screams and the clash of steel on steel as Van Helgan fired his musket from the window, filling the small common room with foul smelling smoke. I just stood like a fool until I felt a strike on my shoulder. Looking down I could see a small, wicked looking dart hanging from the armour Titus insisted I’d worn and a creature ducking away from the window behind me. I screamed and hid under a table, pointing at the window. Jasper vaulted through and Edward covered him with drawn pistols. I could hear Jasper shouting and then Edward fired through the window with a curse. I smelled burning flesh over the stink of black-powder and he turned back, satisfied. I just covered my head with my cape and cowered until the noise stopped.
It seems the Bastards were victorious. Slaying a number of tribesfolk warriors, a small, but fierce, feyling and a pair of juju zombies. Most of them bore slight wounds, Mameha being the most seriously injured, and, oddly, Titus carried a long, ornate sword that he hadn’t had earlier. He explained, whilst enjoying one of his foul cigars, that the blade was forged with cold iron and was a bane to all fey. The sword had allowed him to easily dispatch the red-cap, which had been caught off guard by his wielding a weapon capable of harming in and not being intimidated or confused by its unusual appearance. When I questioned his fortune in finding such a useful weapon only minutes before the attack he simply grinned and told me that a Kondaran doesn’t need luck, simply a bold and inquisitive spirit. After a few glasses of wine from the tavern’s cellar Mameha told me he had stolen it from the town’s Juju shrines whilst wrecking the altar.
In the morning, the damage to the village was revealed, half the houses had been burned down by thrown bombs, the tribesmen’s handiwork, and another had partially collapsed. Apparently this happened during the fighting but I over-heard Jasper telling Gian that Titus reacts oddly to transmutation magic, seeming to lose his inhibitions and indulging in senseless, destructive behaviour. It had been he who knocked down the house…after the battle was won! The villagers were less than impressed by the destruction wreaked on their homes and shrine, not to mention being locked in a room all night while the Bastards celebrated their victory with free alcohol and food! The two dozen remaining villagers simply stood in a sullen mass watching us. Their spokesman drew me aside and told me that I seemed like a decent boy and shouldn’t be mixing with these types, he asked me to carry an urgent message to Ngozu for…better…aid. Noticing this Titus drew sent the spokesman away and explained;
“The villagers are simply unused to the perils of the wider world. Do you think for one second the red-cap would have spared them because they were peaceful or respected one another? Do you think manners and thoughtfulness would have saved their womenfolk from the teeth and claws of those zombies?”
He drew his new, stolen, sword and held it in front of me. I can still remember seeing my terrified face reflected in the blade.
“This is what keeps the terrible things out there away. This keeps people like that villager safe. This blade and a strong man to wield it. I am not a kind man Laklunle; I do not care overly if those people there get enough food or if their homes burn down around them. I do care if something out there thinks it can attack a village I happen to be in and get away without tasting Kondaran steel! You might not agree with my motives or my methods but, frankly, I, and the others I guess, saved this village from total destruction last night. You are new to this life but you will see, we face death daily, we live our lives to the full and damn anyone who would condemn us for that! Accompany us further. See how this ends at least. It is natural that you would shrink back now, in the face of danger and the knowledge that so-called civilisation relies on Bastards with pointy bits of metal to survive but you must overcome that. You must! For the sake of your homeland and your birthright! The spokesman can find another messenger, you’re coming with us.”
Damn me for a young and stupid fool but I was convinced. That was the first step along a slippery road for me. Anyone who tells you Titus Stern is anything other than an evil, godless Bastard is either lying or is one themselves. We set out within the hour, I trailing along, deep in thought, and walking straight into one of the most terrible experiences of my life…
We headed north, along the coast. The mood was somewhat subdued, Titus and Mameha were deep in conversation at the back of the group, Jasper was nursing a hangover and the others seemed concerned after last night’s action. It seemed that they had thought this would be a quick and easy job, standing around a village and killing some zombies and maybe a weak fey then be on their way. Tangling with powerful wizards seemed like more trouble than was expected, still, they soldiered on. As we stopped for a mid-day meal the mood lightened and I felt my spirits lift as well.
By early afternoon we’d reached the graveyard where our foes had apparently made their lair, the weather was unseasonably cloudy and, as we approached the outer fence of the graveyard, we noticed that the dark clouds seemed to be centered over a large tomb on the very edge of the shoreline cliffs! The gloom only deepened as we neared the main gates, soon all we could see were humanoid shapes in the shadows. There were two guarding the gate. Unable to make out what kind of creatures they were or even if there were more nearby they decided to put them down quietly and at a distance. As the others swiftly crept forward, using cover and wielding crossbows Titus fired an arrow at each shape, both collapsed silently. We reached the gate without incident, finding two badly decayed zombies with arrows buried in their heads. I stayed at the gate, rapier drawn and my heart in my mouth as they others split into two teams and ghosted into the graveyard, low and quiet.
I crouched, silently and terrified, for what seemed like hours. In reality it must have been only a few minutes before I heard a rustling in the brush nearby. I was frozen by terror. I had never swung a weapon in anger before, my armour seemed too heavy and restricted my breathing. I prayed to all the spirits that this was nothing more than a breath of wind or some harmless woodland creature! The spirits did not see fit to grant me mercy. A juju zombie, quick and near impervious to my slender blade emerged less than 30 feet from me. It sniffed the air once, crept towards the gate and spotted me. I only had time to scream before it was upon me! It bore me to the ground and, though I managed to get my sword arm across its chest, its needle fangs were inches from my face. I could feel heavy tugs on my torso as its claws raked at me, my mind conjuring images of my entrails spilling across the hard ground. As its acrid drool dripped into my face I knew a terrible end lay only moments away. Suddenly the creature was thrown from me, a long arrow quivering in its spine. It writhed on the ground trying to reach the shaft for a few seconds, making a low mewling sound, before it shuddered and lay still. I looked around. 200 feet away I could just make out shapes and the occasional flash of light as, presumably, the others engaged the wizards. Somehow Titus had heard my scream and slain the zombie despite it grappling me and in almost total darkness!
I decided not to linger here and ran for a tree on a small, rocky rise. Climbing it I could better observe the battle unfolding below. Mameha was in the center of the group, a frail light spilling from her holy symbol and lighting the furious fighting. My companions were surrounded by a veritable swarm of undead monsters; though they appeared to be much weaker than the juju zombies we’d faced there was a lot more of them! Only Mameha’s holy symbol seemed to be keeping them from being totally overwhelmed. The zombies recoiled from it as if the flickering light burned them. Jasper stood near Mameha, wielding a thin wand and blasting zombies with flaming energy. Gian was darting from one side to another, cutting down zombies that got too close but even from a distance I could tell she was tiring quickly. As well as the zombie horde I could see two other figures doing battle, a flying, armoured figure who was trying to force his way through clinging, magical shadow. Edward was keeping up a steady rain of musket and pistol fire against him. The second figure was darting around the outskirts of the zombie swarm, pursued by Kaheed who was struggling to land a telling blow. There was no sign of Titus and I feared he had already fallen.
The battle continued for several furious moments before I realised that the momentum of the zombies was faltering, first I saw Gian break free of the circle and then Titus, both rushing to Kaheed’s aid and starting to pin down the elusive figure on the ground. With a final burst of light Mameha banished the remaining zombies and, with them destroyed, I felt sure victory was at hand! Indeed, the flying knight fell to the ground only seconds later! As the weary and wounded group turned on the final figure he dissappeared! The knight, who I had thought slain, also rose to his feet and vanished! Titus and Edward made short work of a handful of remaining barbarian warriors before Titus ran back to the gate. I thought he had spotted yet another enemy before I realised he was surely looking for me! I climbed down and joined him.
Whilst the other scoured the area for any clues as to the identity of the mages they had battled I took stock of the battlefield. At least 40 zombies had been slain, a further half dozen juju zombies were also dead, each with a long arrow sticking out of its head or back. However, the ringleaders of all this had escaped and Kaheed confirmed that the elusive mage had barely been hit at all! It seems that they simply quit the battle when the ritual had been disrupted rather than because they had been truly defeated.
The rest of this story is quick in the telling. The satyr was displeased that the dark mages might still trouble him and swore a furious vengeance if they did so. The surviving villagers were now very few in number and decided to abandon their gutted shell of a village. Our trip back to Ngozu was rushed and Titus sent me ahead to ensure our berths aboard the dawn traveler were ready as soon as possible. Within an hour we were all aboard with the sails full. None of my companions looked happy. Mameha and Kaheed were both brooding about the strange behavior of the satyr, I suspect the others were more unhappy that the job turned out the be more difficult (for less pay) than they’d originally thought but I think at least one or two were upset about the deaths of so many helpless villagers. They would never admit to that in front of the others though.
My first ‘adventure’ with the Bastards had been a rude awakening to the dangers of life outside of my sheltered upbringing in Ngozu. I had thought the rejection of a girl would be the worst thing that could happen to me! In 24 hours I had seen the walking dead, one of whom had tried to kill me, bargained with one of the fey wendo and witnessed a dark and profane ritual, not to mention its violent disruption. We set sail for Tidewater Rock on a scheme I did not yet know the details of…but that is a tale for another evening.