Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Beyond the Shore: Session 13

Genocidal Pot-luck Ruining


I the Neolithic Age savage warfare did I wage
For food and fame and woolly horses' pelt.
I was singer to my clan in that dim, red Dawn of Man,
And I sang of all we fought and feared and felt.

Yea, I sang as now I sing, when the Prehistoric spring
Made the piled Biscayan ice-pack split and shove;
And the troll and gnome and dwerg, and the Gods of Cliff and Berg
Were about me and beneath me and above.

But a rival, of Solutre, told the tribe my style was outre--
'Neath a tomahawk, of diorite, he fell
And I left my views on Art, barbed and tanged below the heart
Of a mammothistic etcher at Grenelle.

Then I stripped them, scalp from skull, and my hunting-dogs fed full, 
And their teeth I threaded neatly on a thong;
And I wiped my mouth and said, "It is well that they are dead,
For I know my work is right and theirs was wrong."

But my Totem saw the shame; from his ridgepole-shrine he came,
And he told me in a vision of the night: --
"There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
"And every single one of them is right!"

Then the silence closed upon me till They put new clothing on me
Of whiter, weaker flesh and bone more frail; .
And I stepped beneath Time's finger, once again a tribal singer,
And a minor poet certified by Traill!

Still they skirmish to and fro, men my messmates on the snow
When we headed off the aurochs turn for turn;
When the rich Allobrogenses never kept amanuenses,
And our only plots were piled in lakes at Berne.

Still a cultured Christian age sees us scuffle, squeak, and rage,
Still we pinch and slap and jabber, scratch and dirk;
Still we let our business slide--as we dropped the half-dressed hide--
To show a fellow-savage how to work.

Still the world is wondrous large,--seven seas from marge to marge--
And it holds a vast of various kinds of man;
And the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandhu
And the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.

Here's my wisdom for your use, as I learned it when the moose
And the reindeer roared where Paris roars to-night:--
"There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
"And--every--single--one--of--them--is--right!"

-- Rudyard Kipling, 1895

____________________________________________________________
Monday

The party marched on into the dusk, until the growing swarms of botflies and mosquitoes became too much for them to bear. Lacking netting or other supplies for dealing with the tropical pests, Leo turned to his skill in botany and went rooting about in the undergrowth, quickly coming back with several hefty handfuls of Javan lemongrass, which he threw, green, into the fire that Caddis and Rummy had built up. While Leo lamented the lack of time and equipment to properly extract the oils from the plant, the thick smoke from burning it green was more than sufficient to drive the swarming pests away.

Thus protected, Sandara patched up the wounds they had suffered and they pitched camp. As they were setting watches, Leo pulled up more of the lemongrass and showed everyone how to make simple insect-repellent torches by tying the grasses around sticks and layering it with volatile resins collected from the conifers that were so numerous on the island. Aside from time spent preparing torches and keeping the fire burning, the night passed uneventfully and everyone was back on their feet and moving shortly after dawn.

They stuck to the trail left by their quarry, taking the path strait towards the mountain and hoping to eliminate as many of the giants as possible before Wednesday's services and "Potluck". Thus they set out on what Caddis referred to as a "Genocidal Pot-luck Ruining Campaign".

Two hours down the trail, Rummy spotted another clearing in the jungle ahead. Changing into the form of an ant-creature, Caddis caught the sweet scent of fresh growing grains. Creeping up, Rummy and Caddis found a field of tall stalks of what looked like the maize that was grown in the American colonies. Mostly strait rows of eight foot tall plants filled the clearing, save for a wide path which the giants had beaten strait through the middle of it.

Ducking into the field to the left, Caddis and Rummy crept forward, until they were downwind of the rest of the clearing. Bug-Caddis caught the distinctive, musky scent of giants coming from the far end of the field, and also the ripe scent of decaying flesh. Being careful to remain hidden, they moved up until they found a pair of scarecrows made from Imperial sailor uniforms, stuffed with detritus, and surmounted by severed, rotting human heads on pikes.

Caddis messaged the rest of the party to move forward carefully and quietly, then conjured sounds of a large group of people moving through the field on the far western side of the path. The noise clearly got the giants attention and they went pounding off through the field, beating aside the corn-stalks with clubs and roaring in rage. With the giants focused in the wrong direction, the party crept up and jumped them from behind. 

Rummy eviscerated the first of the two giants with a surprise attack, making sure to finish it off with his acidic dagger, in case it should heal like the last ones. The other went down to a barrage of arrows from Caddis, Leopold, and Sandara, and Tilly finished it off by burning it with a flask of alchemist's fire. 

They collected a few iron coins off the bodies, then turned back to the trail. Near the end of the clearing, Leo found a large beaten-down area in the corn where the giants had apparently been sitting. A full deck of common playing cards were scattered about, the giants having apparently abandoned their game in their haste to attack the source of the noises.

As they continued, Caddis and Rummy once again took point, staying well ahead of the party and hidden off to one side of the trail. As the trail continued to slope upwards, the going got slightly easier, with the undergrowth more heavily trampled and other signs of increased giant activity. Even with all these signs, Caddis and Rummy did not see the giant until they literally ran right into him. Of course, the giant, stalking perpendicular to their path, bow in hand, clearly intent on hunting something to bring to the potluck, did not see them either. The startled giant released the string and sent an arrow the size of a small tree hurtling off into the forest shade.

With both sides thoroughly surprised, Caddis, quick thinker that he was, pulled out his pouch of iron coins, jangled it, and pointed at the trail up the mountain. The giant smiled, jangled his own coins, and turned back to his hunting. As the giant turned its back, Caddis turned back to the party and drew a finger across his neck.

Thaduk struck first, charging the giant hunter from behind, driving his spear two-handed into its arse, then kept running between its legs, raking the spear across its taint and scrotum. The giant howled in rage and fumbled for an arrow. As it was thus distracted, Leo, Rummy, and Caddis all charged in with swords drawn, surrounding the brute and slashing at it mercilessly.

The giant hunter dropped its bow and pulled out a massive two-handed sword, the blade as long as Thaduk was tall. Sandara and Tilly, wiser than the boys, kept their distance, Tilly tagging this one with a flask of alchemist's fire as well and lighting it up. The burning, enraged giant swung clumsily at Rummy, but struck one of his mirror images instead. In the opening provided by the swing, Rummy stepped in and finished it off with his now signature one-two thrust with his acid-laced dagger.

After a break for lunch and several more hours of walking, they came upon a well-built, timber stockade surrounding a small lodge. A great tree rose up in the middle of the small fort, its overhanging branches creating a kind of canopy over the whole affair. The smell of dead and rotting flesh was almost overpowering. The gates of the stockade had been smashed in. Everywhere within lay the battered and half-eaten corpses of men dressed in tattered Imperial uniforms. A small spring of fresh water bubbled up between the roots of the large tree.

From inside the small lodge, they could hear strange clattering sounds, like sticks being struck together, as well as the clinking of chains. The door of the lodge was slightly ajar, and the smell coming from within was even more rank than that without. Sandara veiled everyone with hide from undead, and using their lemongrass torches to disperse the clouds of flies around the corpses, they carefully approached. Suddenly a rough voice echoed out of the lodge, accompanied by even more vigorous clattering noises.

"Hello? Who's out there? Whoever it is, can you please let me down?"

Thaduk, followed by Leo and Caddis, climbed up on the roof. Leo found a spyglass, propped against the top of the stockade and trained on the mountain. Peering through, he could see a group of massive stone dolmens half-way up with mountain, with a half-dozen figures moving around their base. Hoping to get a view into the lodge from a different angle, the big orc punched through the roof, opening quite a large hole. The orc's mighty punch was followed by the sound of splintering beams and of more clattering as something fell to the floor. Dropping a torch in, they could see something now moving over the pile of bodies within.

"Thank you!" came the call from inside the lodge. "Gods! It's so nice to be down from there..."

Caddis let the veil drop and climbed down for a better look. Inside were a dozen more corpses--battered, hacked up, and gnawed upon--as well as a variety of fine furniture, clearly taken off of a ship. There was a comfortable looking bed, a small writing desk, cooking gear, a ship's stove, and a couple barrels of spoiled food. Lying atop the pile of corpses was another corpse, animate and completely skeletal, with an iron collar around its neck from which dangled a long chain, which had presumably been attached to the rafters until very recently.

"Hey!" the skeleton rasped, struggling with the collar. "Thanks for getting me down. I don't suppose you can get this thing off my neck? Or maybe, do you have a card on you?" Leo, still hidden, slipped Caddis the Ace of Spades from the deck of cards they had found and Caddis passed it to the skeleton. "Oh, thank you. Perfect!" said the skeleton, who took the card and struck it against the collar, shattering the iron.

The skeleton introduced himself as Aaron Ivy, a sailor aboard the Infernus, an Imperial scout-frigate based out of Port Montague. He explained that his ship had run aground on the shoals west of the island and been sunk some three years ago, and that he and the other survivors (not that he had really survived mind you) had been hiding out from the giants and heretics (Puritans) in the jungle ever since. While his story, particularly his insistence that he knew nothing about Rickety's Squibbs which lay less than 10 league away, was rather implausible, the drowned man seemed amiable enough.

Aaron explained that a group of giants had finally attacked the stockade about two weeks ago, killing the rest of his crew and stringing him up to be used as a piƱata. Caddis, not wanting to reveal to an Imperial sailor (even a dead one) that they were pirates, danced around their story, telling how they were kidnapped aboard the Red Sadness, how they "escaped" and ended up similarly marooned on the island, and how his "grandmother" (a wrinkled old lady with a missing hand) and his four sisters had been taken by the giants.

"Oh yes," Aaron replied. "They stopped here two evenings ago. Three giants and a preacher-man, with a number of young ladies. Your grandmother seemed strangely chummy with the Puritans...say, I don't suppose you'd be up for a proper game of cards? Or dice? Or, hey, ten shillings says you can't guess what number I'm thinking of..."

Sandara, who seemed somehow not at all bothered by Aaron's undead state, despite her previous reaction when Caddis' father had drowned, dropped the veil and the rest of the party filtered into the lodge. With the help of Aaron and his creepy skeletal terrier, Festrog, they cleared the bodies out of the lodge and piled them in front of the gate as a makeshift barricade. Once the place was cleaned out and smelling better, they settled into the lodge for the night. 

Then Leo pulled out the rest of the deck of cards and offered to take Aaron up on a game. Aaron rummaged under the bed and pulled out a small chest, brimming with treasures--bits of jewelry, fine clothes, 5 of the bags of pepper with which the Empire paid its sailors, and even a few magical items--all of which he staked. Rummy sat down and began shuffling. 

Caddis again made himself invisible and stood watching over Aaron's shoulder. After an exchange of trick shuffling between Rummy and the skeleton, the game got underway. It soon became apparent that the skeleton had quite a few tricks up his non-existent sleeves. As Caddis watched, the cards actively changed before his eyes, becoming a much better hand. Caddis called shenanigans and Aaron obligingly handed over his cards for Caddis to examine. They seemed normal enough, and, after checking everyone else's hands and riffling through and reshuffling the deck, Caddis could find no duplicate cards or other signs of cheating--at least none mechanical or mundane.

While this careful examination was going on, Leo, meanwhile, had sketched a circle around his chair using the Liar's Broom. Looking across the table at Aaron he said, "I know a story and it’s got you in it. Listen and be still..." and then broke into a long, rambling, bullshit retelling of how Aaron came to be lost on the island, met the finest pirates (er, em, buccaneers) in the south seas, graciously lost a game of cards to the dashing bard, joined them in traveling up the mountain to rescue their friends from the giants, returned in glory to Rickety's Squibs with a giant, golden dinosaur as their prize, boarded the finest-looking pirate (er, buccaneer) ship he'd ever seen, and went on many a high adventure with his new friends--most of which ended with the good-looking bard bedding Captain Caddis' sister.

As the story ended, Aaron's empty eye sockets took on a far-away look. He casually laid his cards down, "Fold", he said, and pushed the pile of treasure across to Leo.

To be continued...