Thursday, April 1, 2021

House of Worms, Sessions 217–219

The characters approached the village to which they'd been directed by the fishermen. The settlement appeared to be small, no more than two dozen individual buildings and perhaps 100 or so people. Since both Nebússa and Keléno spoke Salarvyáni, they elected to act as the group's spokesmen. Two young men, armed with spears, met them at the edge of the village and asked them who they were and why they had come. Nebússa explained that they had come from far away, from the empire of Tsolyánu. Neither of the young men had heard of such a place, leading them to be more suspicious of the characters. Keléno assured them that their intentions were benevolent and that they only wanted food and drink. He added that they could pay for anything given to them, which seemed to make the young men less anxious. They then led the character into the village and introduced them to the local headman.

The headman was a middle-aged man who introduced himself as Vrummíshsha, who said that this settlement was called Bakatlán. He too was interested in where the characters had come from and why they were traveling in the land of Tsavrátl. This was the first indication that, despite the local language seeming to be a strange dialect of Salarvyáni, the characters might not be in Salarvyá – or at least not the Salarvyá with which they were familair. Further conversation revealed that Tsavrátl was a province of a "great and glorious kingdom" ruled by King Tarishánde XXI from his capital in Béy Sü. The name Béy Sü was, of course, recognizable as the capital of Tsolyánu, but it was an ancient city established long, long ago. The name Tarishánde was also recognizable to Keléno as that of the last king of the Bednallján First Imperium, though that final king's regnal number was XIII, not XXI. Clearly, the nexus point they had taken from the Citadel of Sighs had led them to an alternate Tékumel of some sort, one where the Bednalljáns still ruled and Tsolyánu never arose.

Over the course of the next day – much to the chagrin of Grujúng, who simply wished to return to the Citadel of Sighs, where they could try another nexus point – many of the House of Worms clan spent time questioning the villagers in order to learn more about this branch of the Tree of Time. They learned, for example, that the villagers worshiped a deity called Jráka, who seemed to be akin to Ksárul. Temples to the other gods could be found in the provincial capital of Mihimór to the southeast. Kirktá wanted to visit the capital, but his companions were not so sure that was the most direct means of returning to their own Tékumel. 

It was at this point that Grujúng suggested that Keléno make contact with Toneshkéthu, a third stage student at the College at the End of Time, whom the characters had aided on two separate occasions in their past adventures. Long ago, Keléno was given an amulet that enabled him to speak with her in moments of need, though she often did not respond or would not speak for long (she mentioned that her master and mentor, Sinustraghán Dzáshu, did not approve of her "meddling"). In this case, though, Toneshkéthu responded quickly and enthusiastically. After a few questions to establish where Keléno was at present, she recommended that he and his clan mates meet her at Evú Nithóru so that she could aid them in returning home. Evú Nithóru is the ancient name of the fortress of Avanthár, north of Béy Sü. In their very first meeting with Toneshkéthu, she gave them a tubeway car disc that would allow them to travel to Avanthár. Up until now, though, they'd been reluctant to make use of it, out of (reasonable) concern that the Imperial Secret Police, the Omnipotent Azure Legion, wouldn't take kindly to their showing up unannounced in such a secret locale. Now, though, on another Tékumel where Tsolyánu itself did not exist, what would be the harm?

The characters returned to Vrummíshsha and asked him if there were any ruins of the Ancients nearby. He answered affirmatively, pointing to a mountain range within walking distance, where he said that there was an "abandoned temple" on a plateau. He cautioned against visiting it, since he said that the place was known to be a lair of "the Enemies of Man." Rather than dissuading the characters, this only emboldened them. If the Ssú did indeed frequent these ruins, it probably meant that there was a tubeway car station somewhere nearby. After all, the Ssú were well known as users of the tubeway system. If they had a presence here, on the far eastern edge of the continent, there was a good chance they came here by tubeway. The characters then spent the rest of the day resting and collecting supplies for the trek to the mountains.

The journey to the mountains took the better part of a day. The characters reached the foothills nearby just before nightfall. They decided to spend the night in a large cave, in order to prevent any of the local wildlife from harassing them while they slept. As it turned out, the cave they chose was at least partially artificial; the characters found evidence of its interior having been shaped by tools. Even more interesting, at least to Kirktá, was a back wall that was covered in writing, which he recognized as the Ai Chê language associated with the worship of the Pariah God, The One Other. He carefully reproduced all the script for later study.

The next day, the characters slowly ascended the mountains, keeping an eye on the flying wildlife that seemed to take an interest in their presence. After many hours, they reached the plateau that Vrummíshsha had told them about and, just as he said, there was a stone buildings resting on it. The building had a T-shape and was mostly intact. Venturing inside, they found several looted sarcophagi, more writing in Ai Chê and a shaft that descended down into the ground. Examination revealed that the shaft must have once housed a primitives elevator. There was a series of hooks and pulleys that likely once held ropes to enable a carriage to be raised and lowered to the levels beneath the surface.

While the others explored more rooms in the ruins, Kirktá spent some time staring down the shaft, acclimating his eyes to the darkness. In time, he saw blue lights moving back and forth just at the edge of the shaft's base, perhaps 100 or 120 feet below him. These lights, he knew, were a telltale sign of the Ssú. He informed his comrades of this and they began to formulate plan of how to deal with the Enemies of Man. Grujúng and Nebússa elected to rappel down the shaft to the bottom, followed by Aíthfo, Znayáshu, and several of the soldiers who came with them on this expedition. They did so under cover of darkness, hoping to observe the Ssú safely before having to attack them.

Unfortunately, the Ssú spotted them – they can, after all, see well in near-total darkness. The Ssú were divided into two groups, both of which began to rush the position of the characters. One group of Ssú clearly contained spellcasters: a wall of fire appeared out of nowhere and began to move toward the characters at the bottom of the shaft. A well-used scroll of dispel magic put an end to its advance. Crossbow attacks against the magic-using Ssú proved ineffective; they used shield of defense to make themselves immune to normal missile attacks. Grujúng was itching for battle by this point. His speed and agility increased by Znayáshu's haste spell, he rushed off to engage the other group of Ssú, joined by Nebússa. The battle was not fully joined.

Illustration by Luigi Castellani


  1. Nasty fight coming up, methinks. I prefer to run when I smell cinnamon - which is really embarrassing at IHOP. :)

    My first girlfriend was named Sue. I'm honestly not sure if that makes the ssu more or less scary.

  2. Tarishánde XXI! Wow, love a detail that does so much storytelling.

    1. Thanks! I've been having fun with this alternate Tékumel I've created. It also looks like the characters will be staying here for quite a while longer, so they'll have the chance to see other ways that it differs from their own.

    2. "...looks like the characters will be staying here for quite a while longer..."