My kids are Earth Rangers. No idea what I’m talking about? The Earth Rangers are a kids conservation organization which empowers Canadian children to embark on missions to save local ecosystems, endangered animals, and do their part to reduce pollution, waste, and climate change. It’s free to join, and in addition to missions, videos and games there’s also an educational blog my kids enjoy reading. Both of my children are members, but, because of my son’s dedication to saving the planet, he set out at the start of this school year to accomplish two things:
One: start a litter collecting club to beautify the school yard and neighbourhood parks. Two: get the Earth Rangers to come to his school.
It should be noted that he’s seven years old.
While his litter club is still in the works (he had to wait until he snow melted before his teacher would help him get it started), just this afternoon the Earth Rangers came by his school to put on a presentation. Now, this isn’t super strange–they do school assemblies across the country–but it’s never happened at my son’s school before, nor any of those nearby. He’s been trying his best to get this to happen all year long, so you can imagine how excited he was that they came. And man, did they put on a show! In addition to an energetic, fun assembly, they also brought along a quartet of awesome Animal Ambassadors to show off. My favourite? The barn owl that they sent soaring through the gym right over the crowd! My son’s? The three-banded armadillo which we got to see scurry around, roll up, and nibble on some mealworms. My son got mentioned during the opening, and at the end both of my children and I got to go behind the scenes to meet all the animals personally, and chat with the presenters. Surprisingly, once my daughter got up close it was the ball python that stole her heart.
They honestly made my kids daymonth year.
Which brings us to the topic of todays blog: animals!
I have yet to meet a player of d20 games who has NEVER made a character that has a pet. Perhaps it’s a familiar, an animal companion, or a mount. Whatever the case, animals are a huge part of most d20 games–as both companions and enemies. I find that among children, they’re an even bigger draw. My daughter’s first character had so many pets I took to calling the entire party the ‘Animal Crew.’
Everyone’s got a favourite animal. Chances are everyone’s got a favourite choice for familiars and animal companions, as well.
My daughter? Easy! Rabbits are her favourite familiar by far, and that’s not even taking into account that they grant their masters +4 initiative! She’s also a huge fan of the arctic hare. And animal companions? Parasaurolophus, of course! Particularly if you let them ‘sing.’
My son prefers pigs as his familiar of choice–mostly because he thinks they’re adorable. They also grant their masters +3 diplomacy, which is handy for those of you who want to make friends. For animal companions, he favours the boar, although he’s also pretty partial to owls and eagles on occasion.
My husband’s top choice for familiars is the raven, which can speak any one language. Awesome! And his favourite animal companion, hands down, is the wolf. Love those free trip attacks!
And me? The fox is my favourite animal by far, so choosing my favourite familiar is a simple decision. Fox, fox, and fox again. Maybe toss in an arctic fox for a bit of variance… Haha. Those lovely little fennecs grant a +2 on reflex saves.
But animal companions? Wow, tough choice! I’ve always been a big fan of the grizzly bear. But then there’s the crocodile… Who doesn’t want a badass beast who can go on land OR water? But, when it comes down to it, I’m a big sucker for the ankylosaurus. SO COOL! Unfortunately, every time I’ve made one it’s master died a horrible death within a session or two. Haha. I’m cursed!
But, in my opinion, it’s not what animal you choose that makes your pet important, but how you choose to play them. Big or small, they can be living breathing characters and allies–not just a pet you give a scratch here and there.
My daughter has a druid with a pet parasaurolophus who loves to sing and dance. She dresses her in bows and fluffy tutus, and always gives her hugs. She spends time comforting her pet, and always plays that little dinosaur as a young, skittish, easily scared little (big) thing. When battle starts, she doesn’t just tell good old Paras to attack, she tells her to strike up a battle tune, which sets her dear tooting, and bellowing, and shaking her tail. That’s not to say that Paras never enters the fray–she does. She whips that tail around with a vengeance whenever her master’s hurt. But, it is to say, that Paras is a character, more than just an extra attack form.
I have a meek, shy wizard who fell in love with a vicious, man-eating dog during a session, and ended up taking it home with her. Barely able to control her big, snarling brute, clearly it’s Prickles the dog who’s the alpha in that relationship. Unfortunately, that same wizard hates killing things and, knowing she won’t be able to stop her dear dog from devouring something once he gets a taste of blood, she never orders him into the fight. That said, Prickles is a territorial pup. With the awesome bodyguard archetype, from Ultimate Wilderness and the Animal Archive, if there’s one thing he won’t abide is someone harming ‘his pet’ (my wizard). I have a ton of fun roleplaying these two and their weird, unbalanced dynamic.
In another campaign, when we played the Second Darkness Adventure Path (which starts with Part One: Shadow In The Sky), my husband’s character befriended a sleazy scumbag named Bojask, and made him his cohort. Later, Bojask got a horribly stupid and overly friendly swamp barracuda, named Gulper, for his animal companion. This dopy thing was hilarious and a total blast to have in the party, especially as he licked and tried to ‘hug’ his grumpy, cussing owner. Half-way through the campaign, poor Gulper died. So heartbroken was the party we used resources to have the goof reincarnated, only to have him come back as a ram. As lovable as he was before, Gulper was even funnier trapped in the body of a completely different animal. He kept trying to bite when he should headbutt and swim when he couldn’t. But the best part? The first time the poor thing found himself in water and had no idea he couldn’t breathe water. HILARIOUS. In time, he died again, and this time was brought back as a spider. Admittedly, that didn’t last long. The poor thing kept trying to lick people with a non-existent tongue, and only ended up poisoning them with his mandibles. In the end, we paid a ton of money to have him returned to his proper form, only to have poor Gulper–who had finally gotten used to being a spider–adjust all over again! You haven’t laughed until you’ve seen a swamp barracuda try to figure out why he can’t shoot webs and climb up walls. Priceless!
But my favourite pet of all time? It belongs to my seven-year old son. In a previous blog post we talked about the creation of a character of his, Fuzzzy. Fuzzzy is paladin of Iomedae who died battling demons in the Worldwound alongside his brother. Luckily, Iomedae rewarded them for their service, seeing them brought back to life in new bodies. Unfortunately, Fuzzzy found himself in the body of an old man, with no memories of his past life. Or any memories, really. He barely recalls what happened two minutes ago. Now a wizard, Fuzzzy is accompanied by an intelligent little owl, who keeps him on track and safe. This little owl, Bobby, ranks as my favourite pet by far! Seriously! They have such a wonderful relationship. Take a peek at any of his play-by-post adventures and you’ll see what I mean.
Now, I know all of you have beloved familiars and animal companions! You’ve got funny stories and heartfelt ones. And plenty more of you have preferences. So let us know YOUR opinion in the comments! Share your picks for favourite animals companions and familiars! Tell us about the most memorable ones you’ve created or played. Did you ever see someone else with a pet you wish you’d thought of? By all means, let us know!
Whether they’re feathered, furred or scaled, we want to hear from you!
Despite their wounds, Nix had insisted on digging through the piles of debris for useful parts and scrap. She was an impulsive woman. Impatient, and reckless, but she was also brilliant. The bits of wire and metal she might find in the blocked passageways could become something wonderful with a bit of tinkering in her workshop. Like the massive metal arm that she wore. Built from scrap salvaged from the junkyard, it was a fine replacement for her missing one, which had been torn off by a piece of malfunctioning machinery a few years ago.
Haji had watched with exhausted fascination. His one remaining eye piercing the darkness with ease. The second eye socket was filled with a glittering gemstone, and surrounded by a strange triangular rune that had been branded into his flesh by his one-time master. The same master who had taken his eye.
Perched on his shoulder, a hideously ugly rat with strange rocky protrusions jutting from his flesh hissed in impatience. The rat was Haji’s keeper, and the source of his magical powers.
Haji eyed his rat-master and shook his head.
“I’m not leaving her behind.”
The rat hissed again and nipped Haji on the ear, clearly disappointed in his decision.
In the skulk caverns, Sef had eyed them with ill intent. It was clear she was contemplating taking advantage of their weakened state to murder them, but apparently thought better of it. She bit her tongue and let them pass. For now, their alliance still stood.
The swim through the Weeping Pond was the worst. It’s toxic waters stung their wounds, and made their eyes water. Although Rothmhar was unwounded, neither Haji nor Nix had much strength left in their limbs. Swimming while weighed by scrap and scavenged equipment took forever, and in the end they ended up walking along the bottom of the lake for the better part of an hour. Finally they clambered up onto shore wet, exhausted, with their wounds seeping puss. Unsurprisingly, this meant their first stop would be the Temple of Brigh.
The Temple was crowded with worshippers all praying that the Torch would reignite. Without it, many of them would starve and the town would sputter and die. The old high priest, Joram Kyte, was in the middle of leading a sermon, so Haji, Nix, and Rothmhar plopped down at the back of the chapel, bleeding all over the pews and stinking the place up with the toxic fumes of the lake. To say they made a disturbance was an understatement.
In time the sermon drew to a close, and the worshippers moved on to pray privately, either in the chapel, or by creating a useful device in the holy workshops nearby. Joram strode over to them with a pleasant smile on his face.
“I see the caverns proved a challenge today. Lucky for you, Brigh blesses all who beseech her for aid.” He gestured at a nearby donation box made of elaborate clockwork parts.
“You cheap bastard,” Nix cursed.
Haji dug a pile of money out of his belt pouch and dropped it into the box. With a clicking and a whirr, the box began to move. Sprouting metal protrusions It formed and created a golden mask—the holy symbol of Brigh, goddess of invention and clockworks. The mechanical face bowed it’s little head, then clinked and clanked its way back into its constituent pieces and withdrew itself inside.
“A fine blessing, indeed!” Joram remarked with a wide grin. “Now, let’s see what we can do about those wounds?”
It took more than a few castings, prayers, and a heavy dose of antiseptic cream before Haji and Nix were feeling more like themselves. Haji was grateful to the clerics, but Nix grumbled and complained the entire time that she could just brew her own potions at home. To drown her out, Haji explained to Joram what they had seen.
“The behaviour of these skeletons it strange,” Joram admitted. “Can you describe their behaviour in detail? And their bodies… Is there any chance they were particularly rotten zombies? I… have heard tell of something similar sounding…”
After further conversation, Joram sighed. “I believe that this red light is a sign that the skeletons are being controlled by another. By an intelligent undead, capable of forming a mental link with the skeletons, and bending them to his will. Unfortunately, if I am correct, then there’s a high probability that these unquiet skeletons will reform daily.”
Haji scowled. “Reform?”
“But, we just destroyed them!” Nix exclaimed. She crossed her arms in an angry pout.
“And you’ll need to destroy them again tomorrow,” The preacher added with a stern look.
“So how do we stop their rejuvenation?” Haji asked.
“You’ll either need to destroy their controller, or bring their spirits peace. I’m afraid I can’t tell you more without witnessing them personally.”
“Bring them peace?” Nix scoffed. “Pretty hard to do when they’re shoving their claws into your chest! Ass.”
Joram ignored the insult and shrugged. “If I’m wrong, you’ll soon find out. But, if I’m right… Well, it wouldn’t hurt to be prepared. Have I mentioned that we sell holy water? Brigh protects all who show her the proper respect.”
Haji nodded quickly, before Nix could insult the old priest further.
With their holy water in hand, and their purses significantly lighter, Nix and Haji left the chapel and entered the streets of Torch. Wide, well-worn dirt roads stood empty. The forges and bellows lining the roads were quiet and dark. Doors were shut. Windows shuttered. Shops closed.
Torch was dying.
Eventually they came to the home of Val Baine. Val was a child, barely twelve, but she had promised to feed Haji, Nix and Rothmhar. Not indefinitely, of course. Only while they were exploring the caverns under Torch. Val’s father, the town councillor Khonnir Baine, had gone missing in those same caverns, and Val was hopeful that Haji and Nix would bring him home.
At the sight of them, Val smiled. “You’re back! Did you find my father?”
Haji shook his head no, while Nix ignored her and held her stomach dramatically.
“I see,” Val sighed sadly. But a moment later she smiled. “I’m sure it won’t be much longer now! You’ll bring him home, soon.” She led them into the nearby bar that was her father’s. “We’re having roast crow for dinner. Come on.”
The bar was large and empty, having been closed by Val until the day her father returned.
Val was a decent cook for a kid. Better than Haji and Nix, anyway. Of course, that wasn’t saying much, as Haji had been known to eat garbage and rotten meat on occasion, while Nix often cooked out of the same pot she brewed alchemical concoctions from. Standards were not high.
They stuffed themselves, and then Haji stuffed himself even more. Food had been scarce growing up, so he had a habit of gorging himself to bursting whenever possible.
Eventually they left and made their way to the market. They had goods to sell, and Nix was intent on discerning the uses of the strange devices she had discovered. The market was pretty empty, with only a few stalls in operation, but they were lucky. They met a man by the name of Sanvil Trett who was an expert in the advanced technology that littered Numeria. He was a friendly fellow, who chatted away happily with Nix and explained how all of her scavenged goods worked—for a fee, of course.
Haji didn’t like the man. He smiled entirely too pleasantly at Nix and flirted with her while they talked. After Haji wrapped his arm around Nix and gave the man a growl he backed off a bit, and the conversation turned professional. Turns out Sanvil was pretty helpful. They learned that the silverdisks they regularly used as currency were batteries capable of charging up advanced technology. Most of the ones that they had were spent, and had no purpose other than money, but others had a visible lattice of metal lines on one side that shimmered in the light like a rainbow. These possessed the power to recharge advanced devices. The strange pen-like stick Nix had found a while back was a zipstick. When charged it would send a minor electrical current into something. Although not powerful on its own, a zipstick could be used with ion tape and some other advanced devices. Ion tape was pliable and sticky, but solidifies when electrified, becoming solid and smooth. Another shock caused it to revert to its original form. The smooth rectangular disks they had turned out to be a strange kind of key, which would open doors within metal ruins—presuming the ruins still had power. Nix also picked up an e-pick—a set of tools that would help her pick electronic locks—and some of that splendid ion tape!
After a bit more ooh-ing and aah-ing over the devices Sanvil had for sale, Haji and Nix wandered off to sell some of their more mundane loot. Afterwards they would head back to Nix’s house to rest, recover, and brew a heaping pile of potions for the next day.
On the way they came upon a messenger.
“Miss Nix! Mr. Haji!”
Nix turned with a raised eyebrow to find a scrawny messenger holding out an envelope.
“What?” Haji growled.
The messenger stuttered nervously. “P-p-please come and visit the illustrious Silverdisk Hall! My master bids you welcome!”
Haji glowered at the messenger with his one good eye, while Rothmhar hissed at him.
Nix raised an eyebrow. “Your master? Seriously? Garmen Ullreth just suddenly decided to offer us an invite to spend our coin at his casino?” She scoffed. “How generous of him.”
Haji snatched the envelope out of the messengers hands and opened it. Inside was a fancy invitation and a writ for 100 gold worth of credit at the casino. Sure enough, it was addressed to them personally, and signed: Garmen Ullreth.
“M-my master has heard of the good you are doing for the town of Torch, and wanted to honour you for your efforts. The c-c-credit is good on our games, beverages, and food.”
“Food?” Haji’s frown transformed into a bright smile.
“Uh, yes, sir!” The man stammered.
Nix let out a laugh. “We’ll be there.” She told the messenger. “Now, get.”
The messenger scurried off, while Haji and Nix went back to the business at hand: selling their loot and buying supplies for Nix’s crafting. By the time they got back to Nix’s crowded home/workshop it was late afternoon. Nix only had a few hours to tinker and brew before they left for Silverdisk Hall.
The casino was swanky! Staffed by scantily clad workers, and filled with the finest furniture in town, Silverdisk Hall was like another world. Tables of card and dice games filled the main hall, while a bar and restaurant at the back served food. Impeccably clean servers wound through the crowds of grungy townsfolk, carrying trays of alcohol and drugs for sale. And everywhere they looked: siverdisks. Haji and Nix found their way past the half-naked greeters and over to the cash counter. A burly looking fellow with bulging muscles and a sleazy smile gave Nix a wink before cashing in their voucher for ten shiny silverdisks.
“All games and services are paid for by silverdisks here. When you’re ready to cash out, just come on back. Enjoy yourselves, now!”
Haji growled in response.
Nix snatched up the silverdisks and discovered one had a tell-tale shine to it. She pulled out her zipstick and pressed it against the silverdisk, like Sanvil had taught her. The shine on the circuitry faded. Nix clicked the button on the side of the zipstick and a small jolt of electricity shot sparked at its tip.
“Ah!” She exclaimed happily. She waved the zipstick around for Haji to see and smiled brightly. “Did you see?” After testing it a few more times, and wasting half the charges provided by the battery, Nix finally put the stick away and returned her attention to her surroundings.
“Care to waste our coin on gambling?” She asked.
Haj shook his head. “No. But I will waste it on food.”
Nix laughed. “Honey, food is never a waste.”
There was a chuckle from behind them, and a hand fell on Nix’s shoulder. “Oh, my dear, this is delightful!”
Nix and Haji turned to find the infamous Garmen Ullreth smiling at them. He was clean and handsome. Dressed in gleaming sutdded leather armour, and with a rapier on his hip, the man was clearly well off, and not to be trifled with.
Haji growled, but refrained from threatening the overly wealthy (and politically powerful) man.
“Oh, Miss Nix! You must have a brilliant mind to forge such a wonderful device! Your arm is exquisite! And you, Mr. Haji! I was told you were a terrifying sight, but I must say, I’m impressed. That gaze alone could send a trained warrior crying back to his mother’s skirts.”
With a bow, Garmen introduced himself. “My name is Garmen. I’m the owner of this fine establishment, and I’m so happy you could join me.”
Haji grunted, but Nix smiled. “Thanks for the invite.”
“Oh, it’s the least I could do for the saviours of Torch! Now, go on. Enjoy yourselves. It’s on me, tonight.”
Garmen gave Haji a bow, kissed Nix’s good hand in farewell, and was gone as fast as he had appeared.
“Well, that was weird.” Nix remarked.
Haji only grunted. “Let’s eat.”
Wandering through the tables, the duo made their way to the bar at the back of the hall. They sat down to eat, only to discovered Sanvil Trett already there.
“Hey! Happy to see you two again!” Sanvil greeted them. “I didn’t peg you for the gambling type.”
“We’re hungry.” Haji remarked.
“Hungry? But the food here is horribly over priced!”
Nix laughed. “Figures.”
Haji shrugged. “We’re eating free tonight. So why are you here, then?”
Sanvil smiled. “Why, didn’t you hear? They only deal in silverdisks.” Leaning over conspiratorially he whispered, “They don’t know the difference between a charged disk and a spent one. I cash in my sales from a day to disks, and often end up with one or two that are charged. That’s a ton of profit! I just hang onto those at the end of the night, and trade in spent ones. It’s great turnaround!”
Nix let out a laugh. “That’s genius!”
Sanvil grinned. “Let’s keep it our little secret, dear.”
Haji narrowed his eye at Sanvil, and growled.
“Miss. Nix.” Sanvil corrected. “And Mister Haji, of course. And now, if you’ll excuse me, It’s time for me to cash out.”
Sanvil excused himself and left, while Nix and Haji ordered—horrendously overpriced—food.
Deeper in the bar there was a disturbance. Some drunk loser at the other end of the bar was making a fool of himself.
“Figures.” Nix scoffed. Turning to Haji she added, “You eat. I’ll check on him.”
While Nix settled down her father, Haji watched the gaming hall. He saw some strange things, but nothing particularly weird. There was a lot of cheating by the dealers. And a lot of guys walking around had ropes wrapped around their forearms and fists. He had seen people like that around Torch, but had no idea who they were. A gang, maybe? Some weird fashion trend? Fist-fighters? He didn’t know and, frankly didn’t care. There was a suspicious woman slinking around the tables. Foolish girl was going to get herself killed. And a surprising number of customer altercations. The rope-fisted fellows were prone to picking fights with other patrons, only to have the dealers take advantage of the commotion to cheat for the house.
Haji shook his head. He didn’t understand gambling.
The silverdisk’s didn’t go far. A few drinks each and a couple of helpings of food, and suddenly they were broke. The place was a money pit.
Haji and Nix left the Silverdisk Hall not long after arriving, no richer than they went in. On the plus side, they were full, and drunk. They stumbled home happily, their earlier brush with death temporarily forgotten. They spent the night wrapped in each others arms, with Rothmhar hissing at them angrily.
They had survived one hell of a day! But, with another battle against the strange skeletons looming on the horizon, they might not be so lucky next time…
Thanks for checking out d20 Diaries today! Haji and Nix’s adventures playing Iron Gods Book 1: Fires of Creation, will continue soon, in their sixth instalment: Master of Skulls. We hope you’ll join us again!
As Nix, Haji and Rothmhar stepped into the metal ruins for the first time, their footsteps echoed down the corridor loudly. The walls, floors and ceiling were made of smooth, dark grey metal–glaucite–while panels of lighter material ran along the ceiling eight feet above. To their left and right, the tunnel was blocked by piles of rubble, but ahead it continued through an open doorway.
Nix stepped forward to sift through the rubble with excitement. She was an impulsive woman. Impatient, and reckless, but she was also brilliant. The bits of wire and metal she might find in the blocked passageways could become something wonderful with a bit of tinkering in her workshop. Like the massive metal arm that she wore. Built from scrap salvaged from the junkyard, it was a fine replacement for her missing one, which had been torn off by a piece of malfunctioning machinery a few years ago.
‘Wait!” Haji hissed. A far more cautious creature than Nix, Haji was often the voice of reason in their relationship.
With a roll of her golden eyes, Nix paused.
Haji peered into the darkness with his one remaining eye. The second eye socket was filled with a glittering gemstone, and surrounded by a strange triangular rune that had been branded into his flesh by his one-time master. The same master who had taken his eye.
Haji spotted a figure down the tunnel… It was still and silent. Unmoving. Looking closer he realized it had three spider-like legs, two metallic arms, and a single red lens in the centre of its head. It was a robot–the same kind they had fought outside Val Baine‘s home (see Iron Gods: Part One: Into the Weeping Pond for more details). This one looked to be in much better condition, though. It’s outer shell was solid, it’s arms looked to be all in joint, and its legs looked even and well-oiled. Recognizing the threat it could pose, Haji approached the robot with his falchion.
Slowly, he poked it.
With a shrug, Nix began to dig around in the debris.
The robot in front of Haji whirred to life. It’s lens lit up, bathing Haji in bright red light.
“It’s awake!” Haji exclaimed, swinging at the robot with his falchion.
Parts of the robot’s chassis split open under the assault, but its didn’t slow. It swung its metal arms at Haji, knocking the breath out of him.
The stones and gems braided into Haji’s hair and beard jingled as he was knocked around by the blow. On his shoulder, Rothmhar hissed at the robot.
Turning to see a robot bludgeoning her boyfriend, Nix stalked forward. With a big downward swing she yelled, “Hey! Leave him alone!”
Her morningstar smashed parts of the robot apart, but a moment later, a strange flickering occurred around the damage, and the metal bits started repairing themselves.
“Well, shit!” Nix swore.
The battle continued, but the robot didn’t stand a chance. Already aware of its weaknesses, Haji and Nix made short work of the metallic monster–though its ability to quickly repair itself did draw out the battle.
As it collapsed to the floor in pieces, Nix leapt upon the robot’s body, pulling parts and pieces out for her own use. Soon it was nothing but scrap, and its repairing capabilities no longer functioned.
Further down the hall they came upon another entry hatch that led into a room filled with a tangle of broken cages.
“Was this a… prison?” Nix asked.
Holding up a few bits of ancient bones, Haji shook his head. “No. Animals were kept in these cages. Or… aberrations, maybe. Creatures not of this world.”
There were two other doors leading out of the ancient menagerie. One was open while the other was sealed shut. Nix tried to break her way into the sealed door using her wide array of tools, but had no luck. In another pile of rubble they discovered a few strange technological objects. Nix was thrilled, but Haji insisted she wait until they were home safely before fiddling with them.
In time they came to a room with a pair of machines protruding from opposite walls. They were covered with coils of metal tubes and nozzles, which were aimed at the room’s interior.
“What’s does this thing do?” Haji asked Nix.
Nix smiled widely and examined the weird machines. “I… I don’t know, but they don’t seem to be working.”
With a shrug they continued on through the room. Past another door, they found themselves in a tunnel of rough stone.
“What?” Nix complained. “That’s it?”
“No…” Haji mused. “I… There’s something strange with this rock. It’s not… Real.”
“The rock’s not real? What are you talking about?”
“It’s… artificial rock, I guess. It was formed this way, into this tunnel.”
“What the heck for?”
Haji shrugged. “I don’t know.”
With their weapons drawn they proceeded down the tunnel and came across a large rock formation that looked a bit like petrified coral.
As they approached, something deep inside the stone formation moved and a mass of long, tentacle like protuberances reached out from the centre of the rock formation and lashed at the duo.
Haji growled and slashed at it with his falchion, slicing some of the rubbery tentacles apart.
The tentacles recoiled, hiding inside the rock formation like it was a shell.
“What the hell?” Nix asked. “Should we kill it?”
Rothmhar hissed and bobbed his head. A moment later, Haji grunted. “Yes.”
The strange beast attacked from within its stone carapace, lashing with its tentacles and spitting a sticky substance. The tentacles tore into Nix’s flesh, causing deep, bleeding wounds. Haji struggled against the goop’s entangling tendrils, but the little rat on his shoulder hissed and began to gnaw right through it. With a growl, Haji strained and struggled, and burst his bonds. He swung his falchion and severed some of the strange creature’s tentacles, while Nix smashed through the stone-like exterior with her morningstar. As stone shattered, revealing a pulsing purple mound, Haji drove his blade right into the centre of the mass. A strange, viscous liquid exploded out of the beast’s wounds, splattering Haji and Nix.
Nix stumbled over to the side of the cave and wiped the goo out of her face. She was heavily wounded during the fight, although Haji came out unharmed. Nix activated one of her gadgets, causing a metallic beetle to scurry over her body and spray a healing foam into her nastiest wounds. As it crumbled to pieces she activated a second one, then scooped the parts back into her backpack.
“Well, that was fun.” Nix groaned sarcastically.
Haji looked her over with worry, while Rothmhar hissed in his ear. With an annoyed look at the rat, Haji grumbled, “Yeah, I’m going.”
Then he looked back at his girlfriend. “You alright?”
“Shiny.” she replied, though she clearly wasn’t. “Come on, then, before that rat bites your ear off.”
Rothmhar hissed at Nix, then tossed its nose up in the air.
With Haji and Rothmhar leading the way, they continued down the tunnel. After a few twists and turns it opened into a large cavern. The floor was red sand, and the cavern walls behind them were steep but smooth. Difficult to climb, they disappeared out of sight in all direction–left, right and up. Nix’s sunrod barely pierced the gloom.
“Can you see the other side?” Nix asked.
Haji shook his head. “No. And not the ceiling or side walls, either. This cavern is… vast.”
Nix let out a short “Huh.”
It was eerily quiet in the cavern, with no sign of the pervasive damp of the previous caverns they had been in, and no distant echoes. The sand at their feet looked natural, but bore no dunes or gentle curves as it would on the surface. It was flat and still. Unnaturally so.
A shiver ran up Haji’s spine. He couldn’t shake the sudden feeling of unease that overcame him. But Nix hobbled off a few steps into the sand, apparently unconcerned.
“We need to stay together,” Haji warned. “It would be easy to get lost in here…”
“Lost? It’s so quiet in here you could hear my footsteps from a mile away.” She chuckled, but then stopped. “Speaking of footprints… I found some. Looks like a few pairs. What do you think?”
Haji moved over to check them out. Sure enough there were a few sets. “Looks like a group of people traipsed through here, and headed off ahead. One of ’em was wounded. Khonnir’s group, maybe. Some time later another few tracks came through. And it looks like… one pair managed to leave again.”
“Leave?” Nix asked. “Oh! Yeah!” she exclaimed with a clank of her metal fingers–it would have been a snap had she used her good hand. “That guy we found in the cold mold! That naked freak said he had stumbled out of here like a madman.”
Haji nodded absently. “Gerrol Sondor. He was a friend of Khonnir’s. And the woman’s name was Sef. She said nothing of the sort, by the way.”
“Same difference.” Nix replied. “Should we follow them?”
Haji nodded and drew his falchion. “Yes.”
They set off following the tracks through the sand. After a short time they could see none of the cavern walls at all. They were adrift in an endless expanse of motionless sand.
Suddenly, Haji stopped. “Did you hear that?”
“What?” Nix asked.
Rothmhar sniffed at the air.
Suddenly there was a shifting of sand. Footsteps. Then more.
“Who’s there?” Nix called out. “Show yourself!”
At the edge of Haji’s vision he saw a figure. Skeletal and tall with a massively elongated cranium and four arms, the creature stalked through the sands. And there, to his left! Another. And another from behind.
“We’re surrounded…” Haji told Nix.
“Shit! I can’t see them. Where are they?”
“They’ll be in your light soon. Looks like they’re slow, though. And stupid.”
Suddenly, the eyes of one of the skeletons glowed red. That skeleton cocked its head, looked right at Haji and met his eyes. Then it charged him, bounding across the sand in an instant.
“BAH!” Haji exclaimed in surprise.
The skeleton tore into him with a clawed hand, ripping flesh with its ancient bones.
“Slow, my ass!” Nix exclaimed.
Rothmhar hissed at the skeleton while Nix hurried over to Haji. She swung her morningstar at the skeleton and smashed a gaping hole in its skull. The skeleton turned on her, it’s red, baleful eyes focusing on her with hate.
“I thought you said it was stupid!” Nix exclaimed.
The skeleton launched itself at her and tore gaping wounds in her arms and neck with its claws. Suddenly, the light in its eyes faded. The other skeletons traipsed mindlessly closer, when suddenly another’s eye-sockets lit up in a red light. It looked right at Nix, and charged at her, zipping past Haji in order to swing a claw at her back.
Haji roared in anger. He raised his sword and brought it down on the skeleton that had so heavily hurt Nix. As his blade struck bone it sent a jarring vibration up his arms, but he powered through, tearing through the skeletons ribcage and spinal column with his oversized sword. The skeleton fell to pieces, but around them, others moved closer.
Nix quickly swung her morningstar, taking the red-eyed skeleton out at the knees, and sending it toppling to the ground. But, even as it fell, the red light transferred to another skeleton, and in the distance, they heard more footsteps. And more… And more…
The red light was moving faster now, jumping from skeleton to skeleton and imbuing each with intelligence before moving on. As the skeletons all surged forward, swinging their claws at Nix, and trying to tear her weapon from her hand, Haji roared.
“Run!” He bellowed. “RUN!”
Heavily wounded, Nix took off after the trail of footprints, dripping blood across the sand. Haji took another swipe at the skeletons before following her. As the ran they could hear more skeletons shuffling out there in the distance. Nix quickly activated another of her gadgets, causing a clockwork beetle to scurry it’s way from her belt over to the bleeding wounds across her chest. It sprayed a magical antiseptic foam across her open wounds, causing them to heal–partly. After healing her, the beetle crumbled into tiny pieces. This time she didn’t spare the time to retrieve them.
As she hobbled across the desert, pouring blood, Nix hissed at Haji, “I’m out of healing.”
Haji raced after her. “I’ve got some left, but it’ll only slow us down.”
Quickly, he shoved his hand into one of his belt pouches and let out a quick prayer to Rothmhar. His words were strange and unintelligible, but they had a dark and foul sound. As he muttered the brand around his eye surged with power, Rothmhar let out a fierce hiss, and the trio of rocks inside the pouch began to magically glow. Haji pulled out one of the rocks, which struck one of the skeletons in the chest and caused its ribcage to explode. It stumbled on for a few steps before tumbling to the ground in pieces.
The path led Nix to a rock formation that jutted up out of the sand like a miniature mountain. As they raced along it’s edge Haji threw his other two stones, both of which smashed into skeletons. As the bones fell lifeless to the dirt, Haji let out a whoop.
Atop the rocks to Nix’s left, there was a sudden pair of glowing red lights–another skeleton. It eyed Nix, but let her run right past. Instead, it focused on Haji and his magical stones. It leapt off the crags and landed upon Haji, knocking him over into the sand.
Haji let out a growl of pain and lashed out at the skeleton. He managed to get to his feet, but the skeleton gave a deep gash across his arm for the trouble. He gripped his falchion in his hands and faced off against the red eyed skeleton, just as the other skeletons caught up to him. Surrounded, he let out a growl. From the sand beside his foot, little Rothmhar hissed menacingly.
“Don’t stop!” Haji yelled to Nix. “Get out of here!”
At his words, Nix spared a glance behind her. Seeing Haji surrounded, she growled. “Like hell!”
Haji swung his falchion at the most damaged of the skeletons around him and forced his blade through the bones, causing it to shatter to pieces. “Come and get me, you freaks!”
The red eyed skeleton attacked with all four arms, tear and scratching at Haji’s exposed skin.
Haji grunted in pain and spat a glob of blood on the ground. “That all you got?”
As the red light left the skeleton’s eye sockets and entered another’s, Haji knew he was done for. The second skeleton attacked him with its many sharp claws, then the third… He howled in pain and fell to his knees. He tried to swing his sword, but it was too heavy… His hands weren’t working right…. And his vision… Why was everything so blurry? Soaked with blood, and moments from death, Haji lost his grip on his sword, and toppled over, bleeding in the red sand.
Rothmhar hissed and nipped at the skeleton who had taken down his friend, but his teeth did nothing to the monster’s ancient bones.
One of the skeletons raised its claws in the air, ready to drive them down into Haji’s chest. There was a shuffling of sand and an explosion of bone, as Nix smashed her morningstar through its skull. She let out a strangled cry–half sob and half scream–and stood over Haji’s body.
Waving her morningstar menacingly at the last two skeletons, she smiled like a mad woman. “Over my dead body, bitches.”
The skeletons turned their attention to Nix, tearing and cutting her flesh with their bony, clawed hands. She screamed in pain, and fought back. Howling in rage and frustration.
She wouldn’t let Haji die here. Not alone.
Bloody and near death herself, Nix fought.
Meanwhile, Rothmhar had buried himself into Haji’s belt pouch. He grabbed a vial in his mouth and scurried back out of the sack. He dragged it across Haji’s chest and perched his hideous body right up beside Haji’s open mouth. He worked at the vial’s cork, gnawing it out with his teeth until the vial opened with a pop. Then he nudged the vial over, into Haji’s gaping mouth. Slowly, the healing potion trickled into Haji’s throat.
Above them, Nix had smashed one of the skeletons, but her wounds were great. The last wounded skeleton dugs his four hands into her chest and tore, yanking great hunks of skin off and sending her tumbling to the ground. She landed with a dull thump, tangled in a heap just inches from Haji.
Haji opened his eye just in time to see Nix fall beside him like a lifeless doll. Blood covered her and she was missing massive hunks of flesh. As her head smashed into the sand she caught sight of him just for a moment, before her eyes looked past him–dull and unfocused.
Haji let out a howl of anger and launched himself at the skeleton, pounding it with his fists… his head… a nearby rock. Anything he could grab hold of. He vented his anger and pain on the creature, slowly smashing in its skull with blind rage. Finally, the red light left its eyes.
With bloodied hands, and broken knuckles, Haji heaved in gulps of air, panting with exertion and anger. He screamed, then crawled across the sand to Nix’s side.
She didn’t look good. She was pale and bloody, bruised and broken. She looked dead.
He pressed his hand against her, and prayed loudly to Rothmhar. The rat hissed at him in anger, clearly thinking Nix wasn’t worth it. But, Haji didn’t let up. He snarled his prayers over and over. Beneath his hands, Nix didn’t draw breath. Her heart didn’t beat.
Haji glared at Rothmhar and continued to chant in the foul tongue, forcing his prayers upon the hideously ugly rat. Rothmhar let out a rather human sigh. Finally, the brand around Haji’s eye burned with power, and a surge of healing energy poured from Haji’s hands and down into Nix’s chest. Some of her wounds healed, and he felt a single beat of her heart under his palms. Haji continued to chant, funnelling more and more of Rothmhar’s magic into his dying girlfriend. Eventually she drew in a shuddering, weak gasp of breath. Her eyes refocused. She blinked, and groaned.
“You’re not dead,” she rasped. Her bloody lips turned up into a smile.
A wide grin broke out across Haji’s face. “Neither are you.”
Nix chuckled, but then hissed in pain.
“Don’t move,” Haji ordered her. “You’re too wounded, and I’ve got no healing spells left.”
She groaned and dug a few vials out of her pockets. “Drink,” she told him, “You look like shit.”
But instead of drinking them himself, Haji fed them to Nix.
Bloody and wounded, but alive, they both struggled to their feet.
“Ugh, this place sucks.” Nix groaned.
Haji nodded. He put an arm over Nix’s shoulders and pulled her close. “Let’s go home.”
Rothmhar chittered angrily up at the duo, clearly displeased that despite saving their lives he was given so little attention.
Together, they limped their way back to through the metal ruins, on their way back home.
Thanks for checking out d20 Diaries today! Haji and Nix’s adventures playing Iron Gods Book 1: Fires of Creation, will continue soon, in their fifth instalment: High Times in Torch! We hope you’ll join us again!
When we left our eccentric heroes, Nix, Haji and his ugly rat Rothmhar had returned from the tunnels beneath the toxic Weeping Pond to purchase cold iron weapons–perfect for smashing gremlin skulls–and to return a few corpses to Joram Kyte (leader of the local Temple of Brigh) for a reward.
Nix was a small woman, just over five feet tall, but she was strong and fit. She had piercing golden eyes, and long, tangled orange hair that she whore pulled back in a ponytail. A manic smile was permanently set on her lips, and no matter what life threw at her, she never let it get her down. She had only one arm, the other had been torn off by a volatile piece of broken machinery she found in the junkyard. In its place was a mechanical one she had built herself. It was a black marvel of engineering. Her finest creation! And that was saying something! For Nix was an inventor, first and foremost, handy with mechanical and clockwork contraptions, as well as with alchemical substances and magical potions.
In contrast to his girlfriend’s slight frame, Haji was large even for a half-orc. He had a muscular, lean body honed from a lifetime’s worth of hard labour. He had olive green skin, long black hair and a long black beard weighted down by the stones and gems braided into its length. Like Nix, Haji was not quite whole. One of his eyes was green and alert, but the other was missing entirely, plucked out long ago by his cruel one-time master. In its place was a glittering gem, and surrounding the gaping eye-socket was a massive triangular brand. On his shoulder sat Rothmhar, his hideously ugly, hairless rat. Rocky plates of stone covered the top of the cunning rat’s head and back, while sharp, spikes of stone grew out of his skin on his shoulders and back legs. It looked painful, but Rothmhar didn’t seem to mind. Haji and Rothmhar were inseparable, for through communion with Rothmhar’s limitless consciousness, Haji was granted access to powerful magic. Rothmhar was his saviour. His friend. His god.
It was a bit of a trek from the Temple of Brigh to the Foundry. Nix and Haji walked past the base of Black Hill, which was completely empty and abandoned where it should be bustling and overflowing with smiths, and labourers. The barren hill was a forlorn sight, but they didn’t stop to linger over it. They continued on, into the square just outside of the town hall. There was a crowd gathered outside, jostling and yelling, while Dolga Freddert stood outside on the front step of the building, waving her arms for calm and quiet. None of the other town councillors stood with her.
The crowd roared at the old dwarf woman, demanding to know what was being done to fix the flame that should be blazing atop Black Hill.
“Now, now,” Dolga replied loudly. “Investigators are looking into that as we speak…”
Nix burst out laughing. “Ha! Poor, old, bird!”
Haji eyed Dolga, then the crowd with his one good eye. Deciding revealing himself would not help matters, he grumbled. “Let’s get out of here.”
Dolga caught sight of them, and her eyes widened slightly. She waved her hand at them surreptitiously, shooing them away with a motion.
Clearly, she agreed.
Haji nodded at her, and turned to leave.
Nix chuckled as they walked away. “Did you hear that? We’re investigators. We should get paid.”
“We are getting paid,” Haji reminded her with a smile.
“We should get paid more.” Nix corrected with a wide grin.
They headed down the road and over a little stone bridge that led across the stream. They passed by ‘Tempting Tonics,’ a healers shop run by a half-elf woman that dealt in medicines and magical healing potions. There was a massive crowd outside, and a line running down the road. Most of the people clutched at their heads, or moaned in pain, while a few rolled around on the ground and wept.
“Damn,” Nix replied. “A lot of people have been getting those headaches lately.”
Haji groaned, remembering the pain of the one he had upon his return to Torch. “Be happy you haven’t had one yet. They hurt like you wouldn’t believe.”
“I guess so!” Nix replied with a chuckle. “Everyone’s whining like babies! Look at them!”
Too wrapped up in their pain, none of the crowd noticed Nix pointing at them rudely with her mechanical arm.
Further down the road they passed by the General Store, which was run by a pretty red-headed woman with a mass of curly hair, and then onto the Foundry. The Foundry was a trio of buildings all owed by Councilman Khonnir Baine, a smith and a good friend of Haji’s. Though all three buildings were termed ‘The Foundry,’ each served a different purpose. One was his personal residence where he lived his his adopted daughter Val, the second was a popular tavern, and the third was a literal foundry, where smiths employed by Khonnir could ply their trade for a steady income. Since Khonnir’s disappearance in the tunnels under Torch, the operations of the Foundry fell to young Val, who decided to close both the tavern and the smithy until her father returned home.
Although the tavern did appear closed for business, as expected, it looked like the Foundry’s workshop was open. There was a clanging sound coming from inside–the familiar ring of a hammer on metal–and smoke billowing out of one of the chimneys. Peering inside, they discovered a woman working at one of the forges. She didn’t notice them, but after watching her for a moment Haji and Nix moved on.
Outside of her home stood Val Baine, beating the dust out of a rug with all the strength her little arms could muster. The house looked whole, clearly the damage caused by the rampaging robot the other day had been properly repaired. Haji nodded with satisfaction.
At the sight of Haji, Val smiled brightly. “Haji, you’re back!” She dropped her switch and hurried over to the big half-orc, giving him a hug. “Any news?”
Haji pulled away from Val and smiled gently, shaking his head. The gems and stones braided into his hair and beard jingled at the movement. “We haven’t found Khonnir among the dead. There’s signs that he made it through the caverns and into the metal ruins where he first found the robot. We’ll know more soon.”
Val nods. “I see… Well, there’s still hope, right?”
Haji smiled kindly, but Nix smirked. “Yeah, sure kid,” she replied without conviction, clearly humouring the child.
The distinction was lost on Val, who smiled brightly. “I’ll fetch your dinner! We’re having aurochs stew!”
As little Val scampered off into her kitchen to fill some bowls up with food, Haji and Nix headed into the Foundry Tavern to have a drink. Nix ate with enthusiasm, while Haji gorged himself on food and liquor. He had gone most of his life without steady meals, and had the habit of eating all he could whenever he could, just in case.
Stuffed to bursting they thanked Val and assured her they would return tomorrow after their next foray under Torch. Then they stumbled out of the Foundry and headed off down the road, to the dingy old warehouse that served as Nix’s workshop and home. Haji and Nix settled down to bed together, with Rothmhar nearby.
Morning broke with Nix growling in pain.
“OW!” Clutching at her head she rolled around for while. “OW! OW! DAMNIT! It DOES hurt like crazy!”
Despite her headache she rolled out of bed and got dressed, then headed to her workbench. She brewed herself a concoction that she hoped would cure her headache. Although it failed to do so, it did lessen the pain. Then she tossed on her work goggles and got to work crafting her gadgets for the day.
Haji watch her for a while then stretched and pulled out his bag of rocks. Rothmhar scurried up to his side, although the rocky formations that had pierced his skin yesterday were gone, leaving him hairless and sickly looking. Haji sifted through a bag of stones and gems a pulled out the agate they had discovered yesterday, along with an older agate he had found a few weeks ago. One he popped into his own mouth, and swallowed! The other he placed in Rothmhar’s mouth. Rothmhar did the same, swallowing the stone, only to start violently convulsing and frothing at the mouth. The spit and foam-like saliva engulfed the entire rat and then hardened, into a strange sort of cocoon that looked remarkably like the rock he had swallowed. There, on Nix’s dirty bedroll, Haji sat in silent communication with Rothmhar’s spiritual consciousness, connecting with magical powers beyond his understanding.
An hour later, the rocky cocoon cracked and broke open. Rothmhar scurried out, his hairless flesh covered in new spiky, rocky protrusions that featured swirling lines in yellow, red, and grey. As Haji opened his eye, Nix growled in pain. Her goggles were on the work-bench and her new mechanical gadgets were strapped to her belt. She cradled her head in her hands.
“Can we go now?” she hissed.
The streets were empty this morning. They should be busy with smiths on their way to Black Hill, and labourers hauling carts and tools. As they hurried through the streets to the Temple of Brigh, they saw a group of people already lined up outside ‘Tempting Tonics,’ clutching their heads in pain. Further down the road they came across a trio of townsfolk–apprentice smiths, by the look of them–who stood around gossiping and complaining about Torch’s recent troubles.
The woman among them crossed her arms. “The Technic League is behind the problems in town!” she spat. “One of their agents put out the Torch so we’ll all go broke and they can take this place over for free once we starve!”
A tired looking man among them shook his head angrily. “And the damned council ain’t doing a thing about it!”
Deciding they didn’t want to have anything to do with that conversation, Haji and Nix walked right passed.
“What do you think?” Nix asked Haji with a distracted grimace.
Haji shrugged. “I don’t know.” He never had cared much for gossip and politics.
Nix hissed in pain, then grunted. “It’s kind of heavy handed for the Technic League, ain’t it? I mean, the Torch is all they want from this town. Why take over the town if the only thing they wanted was broken? It’s like… dumb.”
Haji considers this, then nods. “I suppose.”
“I bet they’ve got spies in town, though.” Nix adds.
“Really?” Haji asks in surprise. He’d never thought about it before. The Technic League wasn’t really his concern. He didn’t care about gadgets and the metal ruins that the Technic League horded. Not like Nix did.
“Of course!” She exclaimed. “I mean, why not?”
“Well with an argument like that…” Haji joked.
Nix hissed in pain and clutched at her head. “Shut up,” she groaned. After a moment she added, “I feel like my brain got kicked by a horse.”
Haji chuckled, then suddenly fell silent. They was a small group of people outside the Chapel of the Wanderer–a tiny chapel run by an elf who took care of all the funerals in Torch. They people stood whispering and wondering over who had died while the elven gravedigger, Mylan Radli, dug graves not far away. There were six of them. One for each of the bodies Haji and Nix had hauled up from the tunnels.
Not far past the graveyard they reached the Temple of Brigh. Haji took Nix by the arm. “We’re here. Come on.”
The main chapel was quiet. Joram sat nearby, with his hands clasped in prayer. At the sound of their footsteps echoing in the chapel, he held up a hand for them to wait. At the end of his prayers he sighed in relief.
“There!” he remarked happily. “Cursed headaches! Praise Brigh for her aid.” Turning to the group he smiled. “Sorry, how can I– OH! Hello Haji, Nix.” Joram nodded at them.
“Yeah, yeah,” Nix remarked. “Can you make my headache go away like that?”
Joram smiled kindly. “Of course, my dear. Brigh can make many of our ills a thing of the past–for a tithe, of course.”
Haji quickly covered Nix’s insults with the sound of his jingling coin purse. He gave Joram some coins and the old man prayed over Nix. After a moment, she sighed happily.
“Oh, yeah, that’s the stuff.”
“Money well spent,” Haji assured Joram as the old priest slipped the coin into an elaborate clockwork tithe box.
“Of course,” Joram replied. “Now, come. Sit.” He gestured at the nearby pews.
As Haji and Nix took a seat, Joram continued. “You did good yesterday. We managed to identify the dead and that matters. Some of these folks have people who care.” He nodded solemnly. “The halflings you found were the first group to go into those tunnels. They were brothers. Their Mamm’s none too pleased, but is happy to get to bury her boys.”
“The half-eaten man was one of them thugs from the second expedition. The group that Parda, the half-orc you found, went into the tunnels with. The man had a foul faith, but Parda was well-liked. She was a local brawler who fought for coin on occasion. Folks will be sad to see her go.” Joram nodded sagely. “The cold man–Gerrol Sondor was his name–he went with Khonnir on the final expedition. He was a popular fellow. Recently got engaged to Emelie Otterbie. You know the Otterbie’s, don’t you?”
Haji and Nix returned his gaze blankly.
“No?” Haji eventually replied.
“They run Torch’s Guildhouse,” Joram explained. “Which means those fancy new weapons on your hip,” he gestured at their cold iron weapons, “Probably came from one of their smithy’s. Anyway, poor Emilie’s distraught. Very grateful to you, of course, but… Devastated. And rightly so, of course. When you get a chance, stop by the Guildhouse and see her father–Arceus Otterbie. He wants to make you each a masterwork weapon as a reward. You’ll need to let him know what you want.”
Nix smiled widely, but Haji nodded respectfully.
Turning to Haji, Joram remarked, “Good eye on the infection, my boy! You saved us all a world of hurt!”
Haji laughed. “I guess so!”
Joram handed over a coffer to Haji. “This is from the Council to you, for returning the dead to us. Fifty gold per body.”
Haji accepted the coffer, but Nix yanked it out of his hands and began to count the coins.
Joram nodded at Haji and offered him a handshake. “Be well. Careful you don’t make yourself one of the dead, yeah?”
“Yeah,” he replied grimly.
“You off now?” Joram asked.
“Yeah,” Haji replied again.
Joram nodded and stood, then used his magical rod to augment his magic, as he cast a spell upon Haji, Nix and Rothmhar.
With a nod and a thanks, Haji stood and left the Temple, with Nix and Rothmhar at his side.
“The old man was right,” Nix pointed out. “Fifty gold per body!” She let out a whistle. “Momma’s going to brew some explosives tonight!”
As short while later they arrived at the Weeping Pond. It was dark and placid like always. Clearly toxic. It stunk like chemicals and made their throats itch and eyes water, even through Joram’s spell. They entered the slimy water and set off together for the underwater tunnels. Nothing attacked them this time, which was a welcome relief. As they dragged themselves out of the water, weighted down by their wet clothes, they found the tunnels as they had left them. At least until they reached the skulk caverns. There, in place of one of the rubble mounds, was a rack filled with drying meat. Skulk meat. Clearly, Sef had no qualms about eating her dead. As they passed by the meat, a voice spoke to them. (Skulks can be found in Pathfinder: Bestiary 2).
“You came back.” Sef remarked, appearing nearby.
“We have returned,” Haji announced loudly. His voice echoed around the cavern ominously. Holding up his cold iron falchion, he smiled. “This is Cutter! He’ll take care of the gremlins for you.”
Nix’s jaw dropped. “What?!? You named your sword? Damnit! I want to name my weapon!” With a smile she stroked her chin in thought. “Damn… Now, I’m on the spot! My morningstar is called… Gremlin Crusher! For now. I reserve the right to change it later!”
Haji grinned, then sheathed his sword.
Sef raised an eyebrow. After a moment of silence she pointed down another tunnel. “There. You go. Kill gremlins.”
Haji and Nix nodded at the skulk woman and headed off down the tunnel. With the aptly named Cutter and Gremlin Crusher in their hands, they entered the lair of the gremlins. The tunnels narrowed, then the ceiling lowered. Soon, they were travelling through tunnels only three feet wide and four feet tall. Nix had to crouch to pass through, but Haji was nearly doubled over completely. Despite the discomfort, it was oddly familiar. Haji had spent most of his life toiling underground in cramped tunnels. This was no different. Although, admittedly, he was bigger now than he had been under his Master’s firm hand.
They came to a small ledge, and then the tunnel began to branch, winding off in different directions into a maze of gremlin warrens. The floor in each tunnel was clear, but in each cavern it was cluttered with debris, knick-knacks, scrap and random household objects, clearly stolen from the city of Torch above.
“Guess these are the same gremlins that terrorize the town,” Haji remarked.
“Delightful,” Nix replied with a grin.
Suddenly, they heard a clattering from a nearby cavern. Following the noise as best as they could, they came upon a little gremlin. The lean, bat-eared horror muttered as it rifled through a collection of mismatched cutlery.
They tried to sneak up on it, but after only a step into the room they had made such a clatter that the gremlin turned on them and let out a loud shriek displaying a mouth full of needle-like teeth and glowing, orange eyes. From further down the cramped tunnels, other voices called back.
“Well, crap!” Nix remarked. She stomped into the cavern and swung her morningstar at the noisy little thing. The gremlin nimbly dodged out of the way and yammered at her some more. It pulled out a little sword and stabbed at her, piercing her in the leg.
“Ow!” Nix growled at it. “That hurt! Kind of…” With a shrug she called out to Haji, “I mean, it’s not life threatening or anything… But it could be if the damned thing hit me enough!”
Haji shook his head at his girlfriend as he stomped into the room. Stooped over he swung his falchion at the gremlin, striking only air, and then wall. His sword shuddered in his hands.
The gremlin waggled it’s hands at the half-orc and laughed, clearly taunting him. (These gremlins are jinkins, which can be found in Pathfinder: Bestiary 2)
Suddenly, Nix’s morningstar crushed the little gremlin’s head, causing it to fall to the ground, dead.
“Ha!” she exclaimed happily. “Take THAT!” Looking at her morningstar she told it, “I named you well!”
Haji turned to the entrance to the cavern. “Well, Cutter’s going to have plenty of time to do his job. There’s more coming…”
As he finished speaking, a trio of gremlins burst into the cave, screaming loudly and waving their little swords at the group. One of them loaded bolts into a tiny crossbow.
The battle was a long one, with more and more reinforcements appearing in waves. Soon the commotion drew a particularly well-armed (and armoured!) gremlin into the fray, who wielded a small sized warhammer that proved painful, indeed! Nix suffered a lot of tiny wounds from the little gremlins, but as the infuriatingly hard to hit gremlin-boss fell, she let out a whoop of pride. Victory was close!
Or she thought it was, anyway.
And then the last little gremlin disappeared.
“Seriously!?” She exclaimed.
“Come on!” Haji ordered. “They can’t teleport far! We can find him!”
Haji tore off down the tunnels, digging quickly through each cave in the hopes of finding the last cowardly gremlin. Unfortunately, half the caverns were filled with traps, which proved…painful. As another rack of sharpened blades cut into Haji’s back, Nix tried to squish past him.
“Maybe I should go first,” she remarked. With their pace slowed by Nix’s trapfinding, the duo eventually discovered the last gremlin, still wounded from battle, hiding in a tiny crevice. The battle was quick this time. The gremlin had nowhere left to run.
After catching their breath, and a minor celebration, Haji frowned. “This place is a maze. We’ll have to go through it carefully to make sure we got them all.”
Nix nodded. “True enough. But, who knows? Maybe they’ll have some good stuff in all this junk.” She gestured at the stolen knick-knacks and scrap littering the cavern floors.
Haji considered this. “Maybe…”
They spent the next few hours sifting through junk, and crawling their way through cramped tunnels and caverns. Happily, they did find some ‘good stuff.’ They shoved armour and weapons of various sizes and qualities into their backpacks greedily. Nix pocketed an alchemical concoction she had never brewed before–liquid ice–as well as a smokestick and a sunrod. There were a few silverdisks among the junk, which gleamed beautifully in the light from Nix’s fire beetle glands. And a pair of scrolls that Nix slipped into her pockets.
They also found their first technological object… A strange pen-like device that had no discernible purpose.
“WOW! LOOK AT THIS!” Nix cried happily as she examined the odd little rod.
“What’s it do?” Haji asked.
“I HAVE NO IDEA!” Nix replied, practically yelling with excitement.
Haji shook his head and chuckled at Nix’s enthusiasm. “Alright, alright.” He replied after a moment. “Let’s go see Sef. She promised us a reward.”
Nix nodded absently, too busy trying to figure out what the device did to pay much attention to her surroundings.
When they found Sef she cocked her head at them
“Kill gremlins?” she asked.
Haji nodded. “Yes. They’re all dead.”
Sef faltered for a moment, then smiled. “Dead? Good.”
Haji narrowed his eyes. Clearly Sef had been hoping they would be a little worse for wear after their encounters with the gremlins. The skulk probably wanted to take advantage of their wounds and kill them. Not now, of course. Now she looked… scared of them. Wary.
Haji grinned. Good.
“You promised us safe passage,” Haji reminded her. “And information.”
“Yes, yes. And a treasure.” Sef crossed her arms defensively and nodded. “You will get it. She paused only for a moment, then sighed. “You look for others? Yes?”
Haji nodded. “Yes.”
“Many others came. We kill lots. But not all. But no our fault. We…” Sef paused, clearly trying to find the right words. “Job? Paid! We paid to kill.”
Haji look surprised. “What? You were paid to kill?” He frowned. Who would do that?
Sef nodded. “Yes. My people not live here long. Lived… lower. Deeper caves. It was good, but our leader brought us closer to the bright. To these tunnels. She was… magic. Used magic to get us here, from the hole that leads below.”
Sef gestured at the deep hole in the cavern with no visible bottom. “We battled the gremlins. Did well for a time. And then the woman came. With… purple? Yes, purple hair. She came with orcs and rat-men. They killed our leader, and many skulks. More than you.” Sef spits bitterly. “I became leader, then. Spoke with woman. She paid us to kill all others who came here. All others. Then she left with her people. Went into the metal tunnels. The danger ones.”
Sef gestured at the metal wall with the circular hole in it. “Not those ones. The others. In the gremlin caves.
Haji nodded. He and Nix had discovered another metal wall in the gremlin caves, but it was sealed shut. They hadn’t found a way inside.
“And the other people?” Haji asked. “Did you spare any?”
Sef nodded. “We try kill all. But sometimes skulks die. Hid from some people, and fled from others. Your people took our payment. A few passed through my territory, into metal tunnels there.”
This time she gestured at the nearby metal wall with the circular entrance.
“Then screams.” she continued. “Lots screams. Metal tunnels are dangerous. Kill those we did not.”
“All of them? You know for sure everyone died?” Haji demanded.
Sef shook her head ‘no.’ “You leave?”
Haji shook his head in return. “No. We’re heading into the metal tunnels. We need to find someone.”
Sef shrugged. “Then you die. Angry dead live inside. And metal men do worse than dead.”
Nix scoffed. “Like that would keep me away. Now what about this treasure?”
Sef nodded and handed Nix a bag of silverdisks.
Nix’s eyes widened and she smiled brightly. “Well, hellooooooo, beautiful!”
“There this also,” Sef said, handing over five strange cards of flexible, smooth material. They were white, with a long brown stripe on the bottom end. A few of them had faded images of faces on them, long since worn to a suggestion of features. “Junk. But the purple haired woman asked for such junk. Means… not junk. Has purpose.”
Nix took the strange striped cards with even more excitement than the silverdisks. “What are these MADE OF?”
Haji resisted the urge to chuckle at his absurd girlfriend, and instead gave Sef a stern look. “Thank you.” He told her. “And remember. Safe passage.”
Cowed by Haji’s strength–for the moment–Sef nodded deferentially. “Safe passage.”
“Yeah, thanks,” Nix muttered absently. Grabbing Haji’s hand she urged him, “Come on, let’s go!”
Haji let Nix guide him away to the massive metal wall. A circular opening pierced the wall about five feet off the ground. Haji peered through the opening, into the metal halls.
“Ready?” He asked Nix.
Nix laughed. “Oh, honey, I was made for this.” She smiled brightly, golden eyes glittering with excitement.
Haji chuckled. But as he gazed into the dark, metal ruins, he turned grim.
Had Khonnir survived? Was he alive in there?
Would they survive?
“No time like the present!” Nix remarked. She nimbly climbed up the wall and rolled up into the opening in the metal wall.
With a grunt, Haji followed.
Together they took their first steps into the ancient metal ruins below Torch…
Today on d20 Diaries we’re heading back to Torch, for more of the Iron Gods adventure path!
Iron Gods is a six-part adventure path by Paizo Publishing that fuses technology and fantasy into one awesome Pathfinder campaign. The first volume, Fires of Creation, is written by Neil Spicer, and is intended to bring characters from levels one to four. The Iron Gods Player’s Guide is a free download on Paizo’s website, here. For further information on the Iron Gods campaign, check out my blog post ‘Iron Gods Adventure Path,’ for information on our characters, check out my blog post ‘Iron Gods: Character Focus: Haji and Nix,’ and for information on our first play session, check out my blog post ‘Iron Gods: Part One: Into the Weeping Pond.’ If you’re going to play Iron Gods yourself, I highly recommend picking up the Iron Gods Pawn Collection, which has a ton of unique pawns for use in the campaign.
When we left our eccentric heroes, Nix, Haji and his ugly rat Rothmhar had returned from the tunnels beneath the toxic Weeping Pond to nurse their wounds until Nix’s eyesight returned. The next few hours were touch and go, but in the end they both recovered and spent the night together in Nix’s home. It was a small one-room warehouse crowded with a mess of scrap, cluttered worktables and unfinished projects.
Nix was up early, brewing some new alchemical acid and tinkering with her tiny magical gadgets. She wore massive goggles over her golden eyes, and her tangled orange hair was pulled back in a pony-tail. Despite having only one real arm and one mechanical arm, Nix was confident working with tiny mechanical parts, breakable glassware and volatile chemicals. She smiled brightly while working, a sign (perhaps) that she was not as sane as most women. But then, where was the fun in that?
Nearby, Haji sat on the stone floor, legs crossed. He was large even for a half-orc, with olive green skin, and long black hair and beard weighted down by the stones and gems braided into its length. Like Nix, Haji was not quite whole. One of his eyes was green and alert, but the other was missing entirely, plucked out long ago by his cruel one-time master. In its place was a glittering gem, and surrounding the gaping eye-socket was a massive triangular brand. Before him sat Rothmhar, his hideously ugly, hairless rat. Haji sifted through a bag of stones and gems a pulled out a few choice pieces. One he popped into his own mouth, and swallowed! The other he placed in Rothmhar’s mouth. Rothmhar did the same, swallowing the stone, only to start violently convulsing and frothing at the mouth. The spit and foam-like saliva engulfed the entire rat and then hardened, into a strange sort of cocoon that looked remarkably like the rock he had swallowed. There, on Nix’s oil-stained floor, Haji sat in silent communication with Rothmhar’s spiritual consciousness, connecting with magical powers beyond his understanding.
An hour later, the rocky cocoon cracked and broke open. Rothmhar scurried out, his hairless flesh covered in new spiky, rocky protrusions. As Haji opened his eye, Nix smiled. Her goggles were on the work-bench and her new mechanical gadgets were strapped to belt.
“Ready to kick some ass?” she asked
Haji chuckled. “After breakfast. I’m starving.”
“Oh, yeah! That girl — “
“Val,” Haji corrected Nix.
“Yeah, her! That girl said she’d feed us! Let’s go!”
The duo hurried off to The Foundry, to score some free food off of Val Baine, the daughter of Haji’s friend and mentor, Khonnir, who had gone missing in the tunnels under Torch.
Val was happy to see them ready to set out again, but saddened they had yet to find news of her father.
Nix ate enthusiastically, and Haji stuffed himself to bursting. With most of his life spent only eating rarely, or not at all, Haji had learned to eat as much as he could, whenever he could in order to get by.
“If you keep feeding us, kid, Haji will need new pants,” Nix joked to Val.
After breakfast the duo headed out to the Temple of Brigh, to meet with Joram Kyte. Joram was the high priest of the temple, and a councillor. He had promised to cast protective magics on Haji, Nix and Rothmhar each day that they set out for the tunnels under Torch, in order to allow them to breathe water. He also served as the pair’s main point of contact with Torch’s council. It was Joram who would see the pair were paid for their efforts if they managed to save Khonnir Baine, or reignite the violet flame atop Torch’s Black Hill. While there, Haji asked after the identity of the half-orc woman’s body they had found, and the half-eaten man’s. Although Joram was no help in ascertaining who the half-eaten man was, he did know that the half-orc was a popular brawler by the name of Parda. Many people would miss her and he was certain that having her body recovered would go a long way to helping them grieve. With the promise of further rewards if the pair would return any dead bodies they found to the surface, Haji turned to find Nix gone.
Bored, Nix had moved on from the chapel to gawk at the mechanical wonders on sale at the temple’s storefront.
“Hey, look at this gun!” she exclaimed happily, waving around a technical marvel. “It’s so advanced! I think it shoots fire or something!” Checking the price tag she examined it’s structure, curious how she could make it herself for less coin…
Haji chuckled. “There’s an extra reward for us if we can return the deceased from the tunnels.”
“Yeah?” Nix asked with a smile. She put the gun down and followed Haji through town to the Weeping Pond. “Well, no time like the present!”
The Weeping Pond was dark and placid. It stunk like chemicals and made their throats itch and eyes water, even through Joram’s spell. They entered the slimy water and set off together for the underwater tunnels. Nothing attacked them this time, which was a welcome relief. As they dragged themselves out of the water, weighted down by their wet clothes, they found the tunnels as they had left them. The cut-up remains of the fire beetles were undisturbed, the half-orc’s body was still in the stalagmite carven, the foul frog-beast was dead on the shore, and the half-eaten man’s corpse was where they had left it.
“We can move the bodies later,” Haji announced. Noticing a partly-flooded tunnel leading east from the blindheim’s cavern, Haji entered the water. “Let’s keep exploring. I think this tunnel might lead back to the entrance.” He placed Rothmhar up onto his shoulder and gripped his trusty shovel in his hands.
With a shrug, Nix pulled out her morningstar and followed him.
The water quickly grew shallow, and after only a few turns in the tunnel the pair found themselves in a mold-slick cavern with three large foul-smelling mounds inside.
“It smells rank in here,” Nix complained. “What the heck kind of mold is this?”
“Oh, the mold isn’t the problem,” Haji replied. “The mold is harmless and totally natural. The stink is what it’s growing around. See? It’s growing over some corpses. Halflings, maybe? Kids?”
Nix shrugged. “Bodies are bodies. They’ll be worth coin, won’t they? Think they’ve got anything good on them?”
Nix and Haji approached the bodies only to have them twitch… Their mouths opened and a green sludge came pouring out, pooling on the ground. Then it sloshed it’s way towards them.
“Uhhh…” Haji muttered, holding his shovel out defensively. “That’s not normal.”
“Whoah! Those are the tiniest slime molds I’ve ever SEEN!” Nix exclaimed. “They’re usually… like… WAY bigger!”
As the slime molds (Bestiary 2) slammed their small, mold covered bodies against Nix and Haji, Nix gave one a hit with her morningstar.
“Just whack ’em, Haji!” She called out. “They’ll break like anything else.”
Taking Nix’s word for it, Haji swung his shovel at the green goop around his knees, slashing a line through it’s squishy form.
The battle was surprisingly long, with Haji and Nix suffering through some bad luck. Although Haji came out unscathed, Nix nearly fell unconscious. As the third and final slime mould exploded under Nix’s monrningstar, Haji looked around for any other signs of trouble.
Bloody, and breathing heavily, Nix activated one of her gadgets, causing a clockwork beetle to scurry it’s way from her belt over to her thigh, where it sprayed a magical antiseptic foam across her open wounds. After healing her, the beetle crumbled into tiny pieces. Nix scooped them up and tossed them into her bag.
Finding no other dangers in the cavern, Haji and Nix checked out the corpses.
“Definitely halflings,” Haji remarked. “Were there halfling adventurers sent down here before us?”
“Ha!” Nix laughed. “Like I know!”
“They’ve already been robbed. Except for…” Feeling something in one of their inner vest pockets, Haji rummaged around and pulled out a stone. “This! A lace agate! Wow, it’s beautiful! Polished and everything! Isn’t that nice, Rothmhar?!”
Nix burst out laughing. “You’re adorable, freak. You know that’d be worth good coin if you didn’t eat the damned things. No one wants to buy them after you’ve shit the things back out.”
Haji shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. They’re not up for sale, are they Rothmhar?”
The rock-spiked rat shook its head possessively and bared its teeth at Nix.
Nix smiled, as used to her boyfriend’s quirks (and freaky pets) as he was to hers. “There’s another tunnel here. You coming?”
Haji gave one last happy look at the new stone before putting it in his belt pouch. “That tunnel should take us back to the entrance.”
The pair headed off to discover Haji was correct. Unsurprisingly. As a trained miner he spent a lot of time underground. He was more at home in these caverns than he was in Torch. The group doubled back to the blindheim’s cavern, and turned the other direction, heading off down the only tunnel they had yet to explore.
It was dark, but Nix’s trio of fire beetle glands glowed brightly, lighting the way forward. Suddenly, Haji heard something–an echoing trio of thumps. Footsteps? Bare feet on stone, maybe? He raised his hand for Nix to stop.
“What?” Nix asked loudly.
Haji held up a hand for silence and they continues forward, cautiously…
The tunnel continued ahead, but to the left and right there appeared two side caverns. The one on the right was large, nearly thirty feet deep, while the one on the left was shallow–only ten feet or so. Both were filled with debris, scrap and bits of metal and wires. The large cavern had it strewn across the floor and mounded in the corners, while the small cavern had it heaped nearly up to the top.
“WHOAH!” Nix exclaimed with excitement, clearly forgetting to be quiet. “Look at all this SCRAP!” She dove into the large room, sifting through bits of wire and metal and shoving everything that would fit into her backpack. “There’s even some SILVERDISKS in here!”
“Oh, hey!” She suddenly remarked. “There’s some weird chalk drawings on the wall in here. A three-legged robot like the one we smashed topside, with… I don’t know, some weird spiny plants and scrawny four-armed dudes.”
Suddenly Haji cocked his head, clearly listening to something. Quietly, he said, “I hear… whispers. They’re distant, but coming from… here.” Haji looked at the small cavern blocked by debris. “There’s something past this junk,” he decided.
“Scrap,” Nix corrected. “Up and over?” she whispered. She stowed her morningstar and crept over quietly, making barely a sound.
Haji tried to follow her example, but his weight caused the debris wall to topple, and make a loud crashing noise.
“Smooth,” Nix remarked with a grin.
Haji shrugged. “It’s done.”
The pair drew their weapons and headed down the tunnel that had been hidden by debris. It opened up into a large room, wide enough that Nix’s lights would illuminate it, but so deep that neither her glowing glands, nor Haji’s darkness-piercing eye could see to the far end.
They were on a narrow ledge, just wide enough for them to walk single file comfortably, that was ten feet higher than the rest of the cavern. It wound around the cavern to the left, leading off into another tunnel, and to the south, where it backed up into another tunnel and then descended down to the cavern floor at a steep incline. The ceiling here was quite high–nearly thirty feet high–and free of stalagmites. There were a few heaping mounds of debris, fibrous cords and hides down on the cavern’s floor.
Nix looked around with curiosity, but Haji narrowed his eyes. He leaned over and whispered into Nix’s ear.
“I hear something at the base of the ramp. And also right…” Haji suddenly turned around and lunged at the open space behind him. “HERE!”
His shovel drove into something, causing a weird silver blood to splatter around and a surprised looking hairless humanoid to flicker into sight. It’s flesh was grey, but it was camouflaged to blend in with the stones around it. It wore no clothes, but had a short sword clutched in its hands. (Skulks are from Bestiary 2)
As Haji attacked the strange humanoid Nix drew one of the volatile chemicals she had brewed and lobbed it at the ramp, causing it to burst into flames. For a brief moment a humanoid was outlined in flames, and let out a cry of pain.
“Ha!” Nix exclaimed proudly. “I see ’em!”
With the element of surprise lost, the strange humanoids tried to flee, or fight, (or both!), but stood little chance. Luck was on Haji and Nix’s side (for a change)! Even when reinforcements snuck onto the scene, the gray-skinned sneaks all perished.
“Sneaky buggers!” Nix remarked. “Think this is what killed some of the others?”
Haji nodded. “Parda was stabbed in the back, and so was that half-eaten guy. Their wounds could match with these swords. I didn’t check the halflings for wounds, but I wouldn’t be surprised if these things had a hand in their death, as well.”
Nix shrugged as she examined their corpses. “Guess they don’t have many places to hide treasure, hey?” She laughed headed over to the scrap mounds while Haji collected their swords.
“These things are made with junk–not much even I could find use for,” Nix admitted. “I think they were being lived in. Like, huts or something. But it’s a sign there’s more around here, right? I mean, there’s got to be!”
Haji grunted noncommittally. They headed deeper into the cavern, listening warily for signs of further skulks. They found a massive pit so deep they couldn’t see to the bottom, two more tunnels, and a massive wall of pitted metal.
“WHOAH!” Nix exclaimed loudly. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THIS IS?!”
Haji nodded. “Numerian steel?”
Nix nodded her head rapidly in turn and ran her hands over the metal. “Glaucite! An iron and adamantine alloy that’s a pain in the ass to make, work with, AND break down. Steel’s better for nearly EVERYTHING, and it’s not really worth the effort to try to extract the adamantine from it, BUT, artifacts and ruins from the Rain of Stars are often made of this stuff! Behind this wall is probably, like… SOMETHING AWESOME! And COOL! And OLD!”
Haji raised an eyebrow. He had heard tales of the metal ruins hidden underground throughout Numeria. Ruins that had supposedly fallen from the stars, but he had never seen one before. Never confirmed their existence. And he had spent a LOT of time underground. He had little interest in the ruins themselves, but the metal? That might have interesting effects on Rothmhar… And Nix? She would love whatever they found inside.
“There’s an opening in the glaucite further down,” he pointed out, gesturing to a circular opening nearly five feet off the ground.
Nix hurried over and stood on her tip toes, peeking her eyes inside. “Oh, we HAVE to go in there!”
“We haven’t found Khonnir, yet.” Haji reminded her. “Or finished exploring these caverns. Let’s make sure it’s safe out here before heading into THAT deathtrap.”
Nix scrunched up her nose in distaste. “Why do you have to be so practical?” she asked. “FINE! Lead the way, party-pooper!”
Haji smiled, surprised that leading Nix away from the metal corridor had been so easy. She must still be hurt from the battle.
They backtracked a bit, heading up the ledge and down one of the tunnels.
“I think this will take us back to that other tunnel that led out of the debris room.” Haji remarked.
As they walked it got colder, and colder. Their breath made little clouds in the air and a rime of white frost coated the floors and walls.
“Why’s it so cold down?” Nix asked.
Haji shrugged. “I… I don’t know.”
The tunnel opened up into a larger one, shaped like a wedge, with a single other tunnel leading exiting it to the north, back to the debris room. The floor in the cold room was covered with a fine layer of brown dust, and a body slumped against the far wall.
“Oh!” Nix exclaimed. “I recognize this! It’s brown mold! It’s… like… mold that drains the heat from everything around it, making it cold and… stuff! Fire only makes it grow, even though I always thought that was bonkers! And…” she wracks her brain, trying to remember anything else useful. “I don’t think it can actually kill you, but it can take you pretty close.”
“That guy looks pretty dead to me,” Haji remarked.
“I see your point.”
Haji got out a rope and grappling hook from his backpack, tied them together and tossed them into the room. He snagged the body on the first try, and hauled it back out into the tunnel.
“Recognize him?” Nix asked as she poked at the cold corpse.
“Yes, actually.” Haji remarked with surprise. “He was a friend of Khonnir’s! I don’t know his name or anything but… Yes. I’m certain it’s him.”
“Well, this guy hasn’t been robbed yet,” Nix replied. “And he wasn’t poor either! His tools are way nicer than mine! There’s some empty vials on him, so he probably could afford to pay for potions, and look at his armour? Chain shirts like this cost a fortune!”
Haji nodded and began removing the armour. “I call dibs.”
Nix smirked. “Fine, but his tools and crossbow are mine.” Holding up the tiny crossbow in one hand she aimed it around. “This thing is bitching!”
After looting the body, Haji inspected it.
“I think you’re right. I don’t think the cold killed this guy. Look, he’s got stab wounds here and here…”
“From those grey sneaks?”
Haji nodded. “These ones are, yes. But these other two puncture wounds, they’re from a spear, and they’ve got a strange mold growing inside them.”
“MORE mold?” Nix asked. She rolled her eyes. “So he fled in here and, what? Bled to death?”
“Probably. And whoever stabbed him didn’t follow him in here to fetch his corpse.”
Nix nodded. “It’s not that brown mold in the wound, is it? Or the slime mold?” Nix peeked into the wounds then frowned.
Haji shook his head. “Worse. It’s russet mold. It’s sore of like… a fungal infection that gets inside you, and kills you from the inside out as it grows.” Pointing at the body he continued, “You see here, and here, there’s mold veining beneath the surface? That’s the infection. Once it kills you a plant guy bursts out of your body.”
“A plant guy?” Nix asked with doubt.
“Seriously!” Haji remarked. “It’s a vegepygmy. You know, a little plant man? They venerate the bodies they grow from as birth-corpses.” (Bestiary)
“That’s weird. So, what, this guy’s going to explode and out pops a plant dude?”
Haji nodded. “I think the cold halted the infection’s progress. But, once it warms up again? Yeah, probably. Not right away. It’ll take a half day or so, I think. Maybe longer.”
Nix grabbed the body. “So toss him back in!”
Together, Haji and Nix hoisted up the dead body and tossed it into the cold cavern.
“We can fetch him later and bring him to Joram. He should know a cleric who can cleanse the body.”
Form there they returned to the large cavern and took a trip down another tunnel, ending up on a ledge seven feet above the floor in a small cavern. Bits of scrap, wires and technological objects littered the floor here, and in the corner stood another large scrap mound. They looked around, but saw no sign of enemies. As they approached the ledge, a woman suddenly flicked into view, her perfect camouflage deactivating, and revealing her grey skin. The woman wore a ton of blades and knives strapped onto her body, and bore a sneer on her face. (Sef, leader of the skulks)
“I am Sef, leader of the skulks who claim caverns! YOU are in my territory. You killed my people! Not all…” the woman announced angrily in broken common. “I be kind and make you offer.”
Nix raised an eyebrow, but Haji nodded. “What’s the offer?”
“Safe passage through my caves–now and in future–if you do two things for me. Kill no further skulks. And go that way,” she pointed off into the distant tunnel. “Enter gremlin caves and kill them all. They are pests. Do this and I give you a strange treasure I have found in metal room.”
“We came here looking for the other people–“
“Other people are dead,” Sef cut in. “You not be if you do this for me.”
Haji frowned. “Gremlins? What can you tell us about them?”
“They are pests,” the woman repeated. “Cause trouble. Break things. Gone when try to catch them. Not gone like skulks. Actually gone.”
Haji nods. Clearly the woman didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate much further. “We can do this, but we need to leave and gets supplies first. Gremlins can be hard to harm. You will allow us back in without trouble?”
“I am Haji, and this is Nix. Remember us. SAFE PASSAGE.”
Sef scowled, but nodded. “Safe. Yes. Go now. Come back when you kill the gremlins.”
Haji nodded and led Nix back out of the chamber.
“Did you just get us a job as exterminators?”
Haji shrugs. “We’ll need cold iron weapons,” he points out, well aware of the nature of gremlins.
Nix nods. “Or explosives!”
“Come on. Lets get the bodies back to the surface and turn them in to Joram. We can stop by the marketplace afterwards.”
“Fine. But I want to dig through the junk room, first!”
Retreating back through the caverns, Haji and Rothmhar collected the various dead bodies while Nix rifled through the cavern full of scrap. Once finished they set out to bring the bodies back to Torch, tying themselves to the corpses one at a time and floating them back up to the surface through the Weeping Pond. By the time they were done the duo was exhausted. They lashed the bodies together and floated them downstream nearly all the way to the temple, then hired a cart for a copper to haul them the rest of the way through Torch.
Joram met them with great sorrow, but hurried off into the temple with the bodies the moment Haji mentioned that one of them was about to spawn a vegepygmy. With the promise of receiving their reward tomorrow, Haji and Nix headed out to the market to pawn a few bits of gear, purchase some cold iron weapons, and then head of to the Foundry for some hard-earned food.
They had made progress today, but tomorrow, there would be gremlins to deal with! Trouble was on the horizon!
I hope you enjoyed our second experience with the Iron Gods Adventure Path! Tune in next time when we continue our foray below Torch with more from book one, Fires of Creation