Cauldron

Episode 39

Arrival on Occipitus

6 Growfest [7 April]

The Company of Seekers is in Redgorge, having successfully thwarted the attack on the town by the forces of Cauldron. After a good night’s rest, they are prepared at last to travel to the Abyss in the company of Kaurophon.

Rashid has received word via the group’s sending stone that he is needed in Blue on an important matter, and changes his preparations accordingly. Enzo carefully wraps up the head of Zarn Kyass and asks Rashid if he will safely deliver it to Sabian in Blue. He says he will see to it.

The party says their goodbyes to everyone and gathers around Kaurophon. He unfurls a scroll and says a few words to active a plane shift spell. Their surroundings fade from view. A new scene takes shape before them, one in stark contrast with the world they have just left, and their senses are engulfed by an alien experience.

It is hot – at least 30 degrees, and there is no breeze. The sky seems to be made of flame, bathing everything in a reddish glow. Off in the distance looms a massive skull: a white monolith the size of a small mountain. Clouds of flame stream from the skull’s single exposed eye socket and up into the sky. About a half-mile ahead stands a cluster of gently curving white pillars, almost as if giant rib bones had been stuck in the ground. Close behind the party, a steep mountain ridge thrusts up, its top seeming to touch the fiery sky. The mountains stretch across the entire horizon – it’s as if the adventurers were standing near the rim of a vast bowl with a fiery lid. The ground is spongy and wrinkled. It’s more like skin than dirt.

Kaurophon turns around with a sense of urgency on his face. He quickly finds his bearings. “Quick – this way.” He points in a direction angling away from the looming cliffs and towards the rib-like pillars. “These mountain walls are rife with slaadi. Move before they are upon us!” The party heeds his advice and falls in behind him. Between breaths, Kaurophon provides more information…

“We are about… 100 miles from the site… of the first test. We must pass through… the flats first. When we reach… the celestial rubble… we are close to the… the Cathedral of Feathers. Keep moving!”

As they walk, the group can feel warmth emanating from Occipitus’ fleshy surface. Their feet spring off of the spongy, greyish-red matter. The landscape seems desolate.

Despite Kaurophon’s attempt to hasten the party away from the mountains, they have only walked for about three minutes before they encounter their first welcome to Occipitus. From behind them, a lightning bolt streaks their way, catching half the party in its sizzling line. About 100 feet away is a human-sized figure with grey, scale-like skin. Before they can react, the creature unleashes another lighting bolt down the line of the other half of the party. It then takes to the air.

The creature proves to be a challenge, but it isn’t long before the heroes are able to prevail. Kaurophon tells them that it was a grey slaad, one of the more dangerous slaadi they are likely to find here. The grey’s are adept at creating their own magic items, and indeed this one proves to be wearing both a magical ring and a cloak.

It’s not long before Kaurophon is urging the party to continue on. They are still too close to the mountains for comfort. “There are more slaad nearby. They seldom work together but many on their own can be deadly.”

In minutes, the adventurers reach the pillars observed upon their arrival. They appear as the gigantic remains of a skeletal rib cage, exposed to the blood-red sky and thrusting out of Occipitus’ skin. They are easily 20 feet thick, arching to a height of 90 feet. But as the group passes close enough to touch the pillars, what appears to be bone turns out to be a chalky white rock, some of which crumbles on contact.

Past the skeletal cage, the flats continue unbroken as far as the eye can see. There are sporadic variations – long stretches where thick, hair-like fibres spring from the ground; patches of earth reminiscent of scales; and undulating stretches that resemble wrinkles. The group travels for what must be hours, but with no sun to rise or set on Occipitus it’s hard to gauge time accurately. Occasionally they see flashes of light in the distance, and far off, dark shapes moving across the terrain.

“These are the flats,” Kaurophon says. “Herds of fiendish creatures and thunder beasts roam here. Make no mistake, while fierce, they are tame compared to the hunters.”

After leading the party across Occipitus for twelve hours, Kaurophon calls for them to make camp and get some rest. There is no good place to shelter here, and the group feels very exposed. But with little choice, they do what they can to make themselves safe. With Baker and Fortuna taking the first watch, the others lie down on the strange alien surface and try and get some sleep.

The group has been resting for only about two hours. From over a gentle rise not too far away, a figure comes into view. It appears human, dressed in a ragged cloak, and is running towards the campsite. As he comes near he yells in broken Common: “Help! Help! I am pursued!” Immediately upon arriving in the camp, he slumps to the ground, exhausted. Baker and Fortuna kick awake a few nearby people. The fleeing figure is good to his word, as behind him suddenly appears two bizarre creatures.

These monsters have no set form, apparently drawing their shapes from every nightmare that has every plagued humanoidkind. One will chaotically shift through a dozen monstrous forms before shaping itself into a bulbous thing with ten eyes, swimming in a viscous sac at the top of a body that’s surrounded by a ring of smacking mouths. A moment later it forms into something else equally hideous.

Though terrible to look at, the creatures prove physically weak, and it isn’t long before they both lie dead. They only managed to actually hit anyone once, and fortunately for Fortuna she resisted the strange supernatural force that tried to take hold and cause her own form to start shifting uncontrollably. Kaurophon calls them chaos beasts.

Once the immediate threat is past, the heroes turn their attention to their exhausted visitor. He claims that he has been wandering the plains for days, evading pursuit, and is now out of spells. Asked what he’s doing here to begin with, he says: “I was arrogant. I sought to enhance my prestige and power by visiting the other planes. Instead, I am trapped.” The group isn’t really buying his story. He says that he is very tired and must rest. The party insists that he allow them to bind his hands and feet, and he agrees.

The adventurers settle back in and try to get back to sleep. But less than hour later they are awoken once more, and in very rude fashion. Fortuna sees a large creature approaching, dragging some sort of travois behind it. She steps over to warn Baker, just at the creature spots the camp. Without hesitating it launches a fireball into the middle of everyone.

It’s bad enough to be awoken by one fireball, but as the party attempts to take in what is happening, a second fireball hurtles in and explodes. Several of them are seriously injured now. But undaunted, some of party begins charging towards the creature – a large green beast that can only be another type of slaad.

Meanwhile the group’s tightly bound guest makes a move of his own: he suddenly becomes the size of a halfling and wriggles free of his bindings. He stands up and begins to move away from the camp. Ruphus sees this and moves towards him, weapon at the ready, followed closely by Thomas. The creature casts a fear spell and Thomas drops his swords and runs. Seeing that Ruphus is unaffected, the “halfling” suddenly grows and changes shape until he looks disturbingly like the green slaad on the other side of the camp.

With everyone now fully engaging the slaadi, neither one can stand up to the attacks. Both are soon lying dead. Thomas returns unharmed as well. The first green slaad that attacked was dragging the slightly burnt carcass of a fiendish bison on the travois. The meat smells foul and looks entirely unappealing.

Surrounded now by various sorts of dead bodies, the party wisely decides to move camp. They do so in the nick of time too – just before losing sight of the battlefield, they see two lion-like beasts descend on the bison carcass and begin feeding.

After a short walk the group finds a shallow depression that gives them a slight bit of cover. Based on their first hours in Occipitus, the Seekers could be forgiven for feeling unwelcome. It is hard to sleep under the crimson blisters that pool and congeal in the alien sky, burning with an arterial glow. But somehow, they are given a reprieve. They rest undisturbed, even if the absence of attention creates a building tension of its own.

1 Planting [8 April]

Kaurophon is eager to resume the journey once everyone has rested.

“Today we traverse the flat lands, the food basket of Occipitus. Our goal is to find a furrow that will allow us to travel unnoticed.”

He explains that furrows are features consistent with the skin-like characteristics of Occipitus – entrenched, wrinkle-like crevasses that can extend for miles through the plane’s fleshy ground. It is often safer to travel through them as it provides cover from anything hunting in the flats.

As Kaurophon takes the lead, the group can see the occasional black mass wandering in the distance. “Bison herds,” Kaurophon explains. “Fiendish bison.” Not long after, they see a half-eaten bison carcass, its visceral cavity exposed. The cadaver is being swallowed up by Occipitus, its head and torso half-submerged in the amorphous ground. Kaurophon keeps up the pace.

The party travels for several hours undisturbed. Eventually though, they have a first-hand encounter with the bison. From the direction of the mountains, they notice a herd approaching. “They are being chased,” Kaurophon says. “We don’t want to find out by what.”

The adventurers pick up their pace. Even so, the cloud of bison gets closer, until they can see individual beasts, and then the spikes that thrust from their fiendish backs. Arithil casts haste on everyone to help speed them along. The ground shakes and vibrates as the pounding hooves bear down on the party. The extra speed is helping, but it is clear that they still won’t be able to avoid the stampede entirely. Daisy calls for the group to stop a moment. She quickly encants a spell and creates the illusion of a large green slaad directly between the group and the oncoming herd. The sudden appearance of another feared predator does the trick, as the herd veers away from the party and passes them by, but it is still a close thing.

Charging behind the herd, the group can now see the source of their terror. They are immense nightmarish creatures, appearing part hippopotamus, but on the scale of a dinosaur – eighteen feet tall, with six legs and a tremendous mouth with massive tusks, their yellow-brown flesh mottled with sickly green warty growths. Two of them bound over the spongy ground. The party can feel their thunderous impact through their bodies. The beasts turn their focus away from the herd. With an ear piercing howl they turn towards the group.

Now it is Enzo’s turn to flex his bardic muscles. He steps up and begins to play a haunting melody on his lyre as he sings a soothing tune. The monsters suddenly stop in their tracks and appear entranced by Enzo’s performance. Wasting no time, the party moves quickly away while the bard continues his playing. Arithil stands next to him. When the others have gotten well away, Arithil casts a dimension door and takes Enzo and herself several hundred feet distant from the beasts. Everyone is now far enough away that the creatures do not pursue.

The Seekers push on through the flats. Their view is unimpeded, allowing them to manoeuvre away from herds and other evidence of movement. Occasionally they see flighted creatures far in the distance, but their features are indiscernible. After some time, Kaurophon draws the group’s attention to a feature close by: the start of a large rut or wrinkle in Occipitus’ ground.

“A furrow,” Kaurophon explains. “There are several traversing these flats, and they continue for miles. This one leads towards where we are going. It will provide us much needed cover.”

Entering the furrow, the party gradually descends until they are engulfed by a fleshy trench, approximately ten feet wide, with sixty-foot walls on either side, steeply angled at about 75 degrees. They are uncomfortable being enclosed in this way, but Kaurophon assures them that it is safer than travelling in the open. He is true to his word. The party avoids the watchful eyes of hunters on the flats. Aside from scrambling over another half-buried bison carcass, they notice nothing of consequence on their travels through the trench before resting. Their sleep is undisturbed, and they have survived another day in the Abyss.

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