[Victor, Greg and Ralph in attendance on 11-18-2007 between 3:30PM until about 9:30PM. Greg was running Thalin and Chingara. Victor was running Mandark and Stirge. Ralph was running Dwalor and Telwyn. Hilda and Helga started off in Greg and Ralph’s hands but when combat started, Victor was mostly calling the tactics. The Circus is currently in the City of Boha-Boha which is in the western end of the Twin Kingdoms of Taumau-Boha at the head of the Kalimara River.]
When we left the Circus they were making plans to capture, or at least defeat, Lord Alif.
Alif was an important man within the mysterious Leopard Cult. As the result of Thalin’s scrying, Hilda’s questioning of the two spies the Circus had captured and several other related facts, they learned that this mysterious cult of criminals, assassins and shapechangers was now after the Circus and was somehow in alliance with at least two of their old foes, Chebo and Marvek. Although the pattern of connections wasn’t entirely clear yet, these cultists also were involved with the ancient evils of the Kosan and expunged history of the mysterious King in Yellow.
More importantly, as Thalin had long ago expected and had taken precautions against, the Circus was now being scryed on and their movements and activities followed.
Madu, one of Alif’s spies that Hilda, Helga and Mandark had captured yesterday, was quite cooperative in his interrogation. He told them that Lord Alif recruited spies in Boha-boha, a large city in the western portion of the United Kingdoms of Taumau and Boha. These spies were organized in a cell structure, each one only know two or three others. Ordinarily these spies would report to Alif once a month. This was how Alif and the Leopard Cult kept track of things in foreign lands and far flung cities and villages. Madu had no idea how long cult was building their spy network. He was only a recent recruit of little more than a year. He had very little knowledge of the inner workings of the cult.
But Madu had heard rumors and old stories though and these he was willing to share with the Circus.
According to Madu, the Leopard Cult originally began about a century and half ago, as a chauvanist, nationalist terror group opposed to the arrival of aliens and foreign trade from lands in the Far West, across the ocean. Cloaked in leopard skins and armed with distinctive claw-like knives, its members ritualistically murdered foreign merchants for several years before being repressed by local chiefs and kings in the Samaki and other western nations.
There was then a period of quiet from which the cult arose anew. This time the cult’s ranks were filled with irimu (ih-REE-mu), shapechangers who could assume the form of human or leopard. With this change in membership, the focus of the cult had changed. No longer interested in driving out foreigners, the cult now operated more like an organized crime family, slowly building wealth and influence over a growing area. Over the next century, many dismissed the cult as mere shapechanging criminals but, rumors continued to persist that the wereleopard bosses of the cult had a secret, visionary goal that transcended mere greed and vice. The cult was always closely allied with illegal worship of evil gods.
Madu, and his fellow spies, were recruited by Lord Alif to keep him informed as to events in Boha-boha. This was probably a prelude to extending cult control over the city’s criminal element but Alif’s questions and orders lead Madu and others to suspect there was another plan aside from criminal empire building. Alif gave special orders to seek out information about the sacred weapon of the Theocracy of Bashar’ka, the Great Udamalore.
Six months earlier Madu and others informed Alif of arrival in Boha-boha of the Gamba, Amonis.
Amonis, as Mandark had learned in a brief conversation with him nearly two years ago, was searching for the Udamalore. There was an enormous gift of land being offered by Queen Nyathera, ruler of the Theocracy of Bashar’ka, for the return of the Udamalore. Apparently she had received visions about it. She believed it was important for her country’s future. Now, there many heroes and heroines searching for it.
Upon hearing of Amonis’ plans to search in the Bida for the Udamalore, Alif paid Madu and his comrades well and told them to keep watch for any others seekers. That was the last Madu heard of the matter.
Madu informed Hilda that Alif often contacted one member within his cell of spies once a month, usually in disguise and in person. But sometimes Alif was able to contact his spies by magical spells like sending and dream visions. Alif’s next meeting was in two weeks time at Mother Kas’ open air cafe–as described briefly in our last installment.
The Circus began to make plans to prepare for this event.
The Ndalawo Attack!
Three nights later, the Circus was attacked as they slept in their rooms at the inn they were staying. The inn was a collection of six small houses; the innkeeper rented the two on the end. As was always the practice, they set watches and magical alarms. As it turned out, these were critical in saving their lives. Stirge and Mandark were on watch, each sitting on the roof of the two huts the innkeeper had rented them. Mandark, as was his habit, was invisible. But it was not the watch that spotted the assassins.
Suddenly Thalin’s magic mouths, placed on the doors of these huts, shouted in alarm! Everyone awoke on their cots to be pounced on by shadowy, incorporeal leopards! The creatures flew up out of the ground to attack. Several flew straight through the roof to attack Stirge.
Thalin was so badly mauled that he lost consciousness immediately. Everyone else, except Mandark, who was not attacked likely due to his invisibility, was severely wounded by the claws and the bites of these creatures. It was not only the blood-loss and lacerations, the creatures also were able to sap a person’s strength and vitality. Those that did not lose consciousness immediately found their muscle strength greatly reduced. Waves of nausea and chills passed over them. All during their vicious clawing and biting strikes, the creatures made no sound at all, no snarls, no roaring, no growling. It was very eerie.
It was good that the alarms were placed for otherwise it would have been certain and immediate death for all that slept.
Helga, badly wounded and risking blows from her foes, jumped to Hilda’s cot and enveloped her with the Cape of the Mountebank. With this, she formed a dimensional connection to the elephant pens outside the city wall where Ojo and Whirlwind slept.
Chingara was also struck many times but luckily was wearing a magical belt that gave him superhuman strength. He risked the parting attacks from his foes and managed to flee out of his hut, drinking a hasting potion. He assumed, correctly, that if he could run fast enough the creatures couldn’t catch him, flying or not.
Dwalor, also badly wounded, had a hunch, perhaps an inspiration from Molna. These great cats seemed like undead creatures he’d met before. Two years ago, in the gnomish lands of Mademba, the Circus fought a race of ghostly giants known as the Rom. They too were incorporeal. Perhaps these cats were also among the undead. He stood his ground and called on Molna to drive them away.
Telwyn, wounded, managed to flee but the bulk of creatures in his hut, a squad of seven, pursued and struck him down. Perhaps he was dead.
Mandark tried to shoot the creatures through the venting hole in the roof of his hut but, even with his great skill and arcane bow all of the arrows failed to hit. The shadow leopards weren’t solid; it was clear that ordinary attacks wouldn’t be very effective. Things were looking bad. Two of the major spell casters appeared to be dead, nearly everyone in the party was badly wounded and these creatures seemed to be impossible to hurt.
Stirge was struck many times and took many vicious wounds. Were it not for his belt of giant strength he surely would have fallen. He took a swing at the creatures but, he too remembered the Rom and knew it was useless without some kind of magical attack. He saw Telwyn run out of his hut and fall immediately to the ghost leopards that followed. Trusting that his magical belt would protect him, he risked the strikes of his opponents as he fled them by jumping off the roof. His plan was to run inside the hut to see what help he could offer.
Hilda and Helga, took their dimensional doorway all the way to the elephant yard outside the city wall, where Ojo and Whirlwind were staying the night. Emerging from the ether, they both immediately gulped a potion of flight each and soared into the air on the way back to the inn.
Mandark, seeing Chingara flee into the alleys across the street from the inn, decided to do the same. He returned to invisibility, jumped down off the roof and fled into the houses where Chingara fled. The pack of cats that ran down Telwyn scattered to join the ones running after Chingara.
Stirge run into the hut and grabbed Thalin.
Hilda and Helga, who’d turned invisible on the way back, descended from the sky to carry away Telwyn.
[To tell the truth I kind of forgot how Dwalor escaped any more attacks. Ralph can you remind me so I can correct this?
Victor reminded me a few days later that Dwalor survived through some amount of luck. He went the first two rounds of combat with fairly few hits on him and then, an invisible Stirge came and carried him away. I forgot to mention that Stirge was invisible and flying, by the way.]
The monsters, after running into the alleyway in pursuit of Chingara seemed have disappeared. Dwalor came out and began healing Thalin and Telwyn, who appeared to be dead. It was discovered ordinary healing magic did no good but potions of Bull Strength could revive them.
Morning slowly came and the monsters did not return. Chingara and Mandark spent a long night hiding among the alleys and buildings, successful only because their pursuers fanned out over greater and greater distances in search of them. Eventually the party regathered in the morning when the streets became populated again and it was clear that no more attacks were occurring or alarm being raised over monsters on the prowl.
Someone [I can’t remember which character had this idea.], considering the creatures as undead, had the clever idea of gathering on consecrated ground in a temple devoted to a god of purity or virtue. Thalin and Helga thought of one obvious choice: Araku the Smith.
The Circus Gathers at the Forge of Araku
[And here a parenthetical comment. Araku is lawful good and considered a patron of all warriors since many gomba in Nyambe use weapons of iron and steel. In the realm of war, he is probably more like Athena than Ares–Righteous victory through cleverness or defensive war rather than simple bloodlust and violence. Udra doesn’t really have a close equivalent to this. But actually, as Thalin and Hilda discovered, Morgelt is the Udran name given to Araku. On the other hand, Morgelt really has no craftsman aspect. This face of worship in Udra is entirely dropped in favor of Dacron, God of Craftsmen.
And for you fervent followers of Ummanah out there. In Nyambe he is known as Nimbala Ummanah, Nimbala the Judge. In Nyambe he is considered a Lawful Good god, whereas in Udra his worshippers consider him more strongly Lawful Neutral and just worship him as Ummanah and assign him responsibility over farming and bounty of the land. In Nyambe, Nimbala’s aspects are politics, laws, the Sun and healing.]
As near as Thalin could tell Araku’s worshipers were blacksmiths, gamba soldiers, laborers of all sorts and the Doctors of Iron. He was a god devoted to goodness, law and strength through hard work. Not knowing any better alternatives in Boha-boha, The Circus ran to the Forges of Araku.
[An here I change where we left it off. The rest is invention on my part. If this changes something that you think is key to your characters survival that I forgot, please let me know so change this ending slightly to incorporate it.]
This was the temple in Boha-boha devoted to Araku. It was staffed by several n’anga [priests and priestesses.] and inyanga yensimbi [Doctors of Iron. I’ll explain the Doctors of Iron in the next installment.]. It was headed by a tall, heavyset priestess named Nkosazana. Nkosazana was apparently a very skilled smith in addition to being n’anga of Araku. She certainly had the strength for it. The Circus came upon her as she lifting heavy sacks of coal and bundles of wood into a wheelbarrow.
Hilda explained what had happened to them in the earlier morning. Nkosazana was very disturbed by this news and gave a few short orders to her assistants who immediately lit fires in braziers around the periphery of the temple, which was mostly open to the air.
Nkosazana said, “You have met the shade leopards [The word she used for this is “ndalawo.”]. They are powerful evil spirits, unlife that hunts to feed on the living. They appear to us as ghostly leopards and walls pose no barrier as they can fly straight through them. Their attacks don’t merely gore the flesh, they sap your strength and vitality. The Ndalawo are extremely difficult to destroy or strike as most common weapons simply pass right through them. The rules of this mortal world don’t seem to apply to them at all!
“Never have I heard of the attacking such numbers. You did right to flee. Considering how badly they wounded you all, you did right to flee. You said it was twenty to twenty five? Never do they hunt in such numbers. I fear there must be some organizing power behind this attack. Your mask maker and sei need to have their strength restored before those potions expire or they will fall into coma again only to rise as one of the ndalawo.”
Nkosazana cast strength healing magic over Thalin and Telwyn, expecting nothing in return however, she did ask Hilda as many questions as she could about their attackers.
“This is holy ground, warded and protected by Araku. The cats will not come here out of fear of Araku’s might. I think we do have some gris-gris that can wound and perhaps even kill the Ndalawo but given the number in the first attack, I don’t think you will be safe until you find out who is leading these monsters and do something to stop them. The shadow leopards will otherwise return again and again until your magic is exhausted and you are all dead. Worse than dead, for you will join their ranks!
“Also, to be frank, I fear for my city. As long as you are here, drawing their wrath, the cats may strike other innocents, less formidable than you, in the streets. If we share this news with our king and his advisors, they may just turn you outside the walls to protect the city.”
[And here is where we leave it until next time. Again, if there any oversights or omissions, especially in my account of the fight, please let me know so I can correct things.]