Chapter 11 – Return to Tanaroa

The morning found Lavinia blurry-eyed with a pounding headache and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. Amella was much the same, while Tara was just blurry-eyed. They were in Lavinia's bedroom, all three sprawled upon the bed and each other as if they'd been bails of hay tossed haphazardly. As Lavinia began to stir, the other two woke.

Amella was the first to speak, “You-” she stopped after the first word, grabbing her head in pain, then continued in a softer tone, “You sure can put it away, for a noble.”

Lavina grinned and replied in a whisper, “That's my misspent youth. The Academy isn't all ivory towers and scholarly pursuits, despite what they'd have you believe.”

Amella thanked Lavina for, what she assumed had been, a kind offer to crash there for the night. Then she headed back to her her room at the inn so she could wash up and change. Lavinia and Tara, likewise, went to make themselves presentable and, as best as possible, ready to face the day.

* * *

As Amella made her way back in the direction of the Last Coconut, she didn't even attempt to straighten her clothing, though she did re-tie her hair, just so she could see where she was going. She was having enough difficulty, dragging as she was.

Along her route, she encountered Saris, who appeared both shocked and concerned, “Amella? Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Why?” she responded in a tone that implied that it wasn't really any of his business.

“Your eyes are all red,” Saris stated, as if that was his only clue.

Amella waved that comment off, “That's nothin'. You should see them from MY side.”

“Have you been drinking?” Saris asked, again expressing concern, but also a shade of judgment.

Now Amella was more than annoyed, “And what if I am?”

“Well, I just mean, in you condition …” Saris got no further before he realized he had just made a fatal error.

Amella stepped right up to him, nose to chest, and accented each word with a jab of her finger, “Frak you! Keep your frakin' opinions to yourself, and stay the frak out of my frakin' business, you snozzberry-slurpin' piece of shark!”

By now a small crowd had gathered, though they kept their distance. In murmur, Saris could make out, “… the MOUTH on that girl…” and “…like a sailor…” and he was desperately embarrassed. He didn't have an opportunity to react, however, because she pushed past him when she'd finished her tirade.

As the crowd dispersed, Saris scanned the street in the direction from which Amella had come for some clue as to where she had passed her night, and with whom, as the world took on a pale shade of green for him. He clung to the tiny upside, that since she was headed BACK to the Last Coconut, she hadn't spent the night with Malfus.

* * *

Later that morning found the heroes and Lavina meeting in the town square to discuss their objectives for the future.

“… and Amella is going to spend the next few days putting a supply list together. Eventually you will have to make the trip back to the wreckage of the Nixie to see if it can be repaired. It might be helpful in defense of the town, but it will also be essential in opening up a trade route to Sasserine.”

Saris chimed in, “Aren't you kinda booting the tug before the ship, Lady Vanderboren? You haven't won the election yet. Defending the town might not be in the cards at all.” Both Viselys and Diamondback shot him dirty looks for being so insensitively blunt.

“True,” Lavinia conceded, “but it's still my ship, and you are my employees, and Mathilay has nothing to say about what I do with either, regardless of how the election goes.” With that, Viselys and Diamondback exchanged humored grins at Lavinia's not-so-subtle pulling of rank.

Lavinia continued, “There are many, many needs here at Farshore, not even including the election campaign. I've been getting all sorts of requests from the citizenry, most of which are commercial in nature and won't matter at all if we evacuate. However, if we can preserve the town and open a trade route, it could mean a great deal in terms of commerce.” She shook her head, “Not the immediate priority. Besides, there's this thief in the warehouse…” She looked to Lefty and Viselys for an update on that.

Viselys made a gesture that encouraged Lefty to share. He gave a nervous look around and stammered, “Well, you see…” he stopped suddenly and grabbed the bandana off his head, crumpling it between his hands as an awkward show of respect, “I mean, My Lady, er …” It was clear that Lefty had no good news to report. He continued in an apologetic tone, “ I've tried, both night and day. I've sat awake inside the warehouse. I've walked the perimeter. I've laid snares and traps. Somehow, stuff keeps disappearing without so much as a footprint left behind or a draft through the door. It's as if it was magic!”

This alarmed Lavinia, and she looked to Viselys for his opinion. “I have to concur,” he added, “I have come to the same conclusion; that magic is involved.” He turned his attention to Ornrik, “I was going to ask for your assistance tonight.”

Lavinia shook her head, “Unfortunately, that will have to wait. I want you to go back to the main island and try to garner some support from the Olman. Although we are on good terms with them, they have been wary about using directly aiding us. Of the seven villages, Tanaroa is the one that the other six look to. If the chief can be convinced to aid us, the others will, too. I want you to go there and convince the chief that it is in the Olman's best interest to aid us in the defense of Farshore. If the Crimson Fleet secures a foothold, I have no doubt they will immediately begin raiding the Olman villages and the Olman themselves will either be killed or sold into slavery. Also, if we can garner enough support, it might give everyone a sense of hope and sway public opinion. Finally, we need a great deal of tar to repair the damage done by the recent attack as well as to repair the Nixie. The Olman have traded for tar previously, but it has been a while.”

Viselys nodded his agreement, “We will leave immediately.”

* * *

They decided to take the Fire Troll as there was no way they could transport a large quantity of tar over long distance on land. Saris took the helm and he was accompanied by Viselys, Lefty, Ornrik and Urol, who didn't want to miss any opportunity to explore the island and interact with the Olman.

There was an inlet that corresponded roughly with the great wall near Tanaroah. Saris could only bring the Fire Troll in so far, so they took anchored offshore and rowed ashore in the dingy. From there it was only a couple miles along a well worn path.

As they approached the village, the heroes found the village to be in the middle of a religious ceremony of some kind. A pulsating rhythm pounded out on hollowed logs accompanied a frenzied dace by dozens of warriors wearing large masks depicting a monstrous bat. All the while, the villages changed to a charred bat totem at the center of a huge flaming pyre erected a the foot of the central pyramid. The wold they chatted over and over was, “Zotzilhaha.”

It appeared that the entire village had turned out for this ritual, and as they approached, nobody really paid any attention to them. Before they could make their presence known, however, the effigy flashed with a sudden blast of brilliance. A cascade of sparks and flame from the burning pyre elicited startled screams from the villagers. A shape became momentarily visible in the fire as the effigy flashed with a sudden blast of brilliance. A lean humanoid figure covered in short black fur rose from the flames, its head that of a snarling bat with glowing red eyes. Large membranous wings from its back beat against the flames like a bellows, sending hot cinders swirling. The creature shrieked out a short phrase in Olman which Urol translated for them, “Zotzilaha hears your sniveling prayers! You would appease the Great Bat? Then return what has been stolen or burn!”

“I know,” Viselys replied. “Don't ask me how I know, because I don't understand Olman, but somehow I knew exactly what he was saying. I also know that 'what has been stolen' is the bat idol I'm carrying that we found at Tamoachan.”

Suddenly, the batlike humanoid form bust into flames, sending a flight of bats with wings of fire spiraling into the air above the effigy. At the same moment, a tremor rumbled through the ground and, in the distance to the northwest, the two great volcanoes known as the Fangs of Zotzilaha flashed with fresh plumes of fire and smoke. Whether by design or coincidence, the timing was enough to send the villagers into a blind panic.

The fiery minions of Zotzilah began attacking the villagers. No command or discussion was necessary as the heroes rallied to the defense. Several natives succumbed to the flames, and Urol quickly moved to aid them. The minions stopped pursuing the villagers, however, when magical arrows from Ornrik's fingers began to pepper them. Viselys and Saris moved to Either side of Ornrik to ready for the incoming assault, and Lefty followed suit.

“Bat-'er up!!” Saris called out, holding his rapier in both hands in an exaggerated stance.

Viselys shook his head, “I don't believe you just said that.”

But as they creatures flew in, both landed their readied attacks, killing one each outright. Unfortunately, that left five more, each of which landing on one of the heroes – two on Viselys.

“AH, it burns!!!” Lefty screamed.

The fire bats sank their flaming teeth into exposed flesh and held fast. Saris and Viselys both realized very quickly that, if a fire bat was not killed outright, it regenerated quickly; bad news for all of them.

“Oh, by Moradin's Beard…” Ornrik cursed and he began doing his arcane doings. Suddenly the ambient temperature dropped so that all those in the area could see their breath. Then a wind whipped up that brought with it an icy condensation that could only be described as snow. All the heroes began to suffer from the cold exposure, but the fire bats took the worst of it. When the last one lay motionless, Ornrik dispelled the frosty storm.

When the danger had passed, the villagers were all too fearful to emerge from their huts. Only the tribe matriarch, J'kal, came forward to greet the heroes.

“Thank you,” she said in accented Common, “Your bravery is matched only by your kindness for coming to our aid and saving us from the wrath of Zotzilaha.”

“We certainly could not stand by while your village was being attacked,” Viselys said, genuinely, while sowing the seeds for his eventual request. “However, I think all we have done is postpone that wrath. That is, until 'what has been stolen' is returned.”

“Indeed,” J'kal replied, “If only we knew what that was!”

Viselys drew a deep breath, “I may be able to help there, too. Have you ever heard of Tamoachan?”

J'kal nodded, “Legends, mostly. A great city to the north across the water.”

“That's right,” Viselys replied, “We came from a city even farther north, and we visited Tamoachan on the way here. It is only a ruin now, but we found something that was clearly out of place and did not belong there …” As he spoke, he opened his bag and reached in. He did not allow J'kal to see the Bag of Holding inside his mundane sack, but he reached into that one, too, to retreave the bat idol. “I think this is what Zotzilaha is after. I do not understand how it got to Tamoachan, but I'm just glad we thought to bring it with us.”

J'kal's eyes grew wide when she saw the idol, “I have seen this before – in the Shrine of Zotzilaha at Nextepeua!”

“'He Who Rains Ashes,'” Urol translated. “It's the northernmost of the two volcanoes.”

“Again, I cannot explain how this item got to Tamoachan,” Viselys said, anticipating J'kal's skepticism, “but we would be happy to return it to the shrine for you.”

“We would owe you a great debt,” J'kal noted sincerely.

Viselys saw his opportunity, “As it turns out, we came seeing aid. The Crimson Fleet, a group of ruthless pirates, is coming to pillage and destroy Farshore. While, ordinarily, that might not seem to be an Olman concern, these pirates will surely use Farshore as a foothold and will eventually turn their attention on your villages, land and resources. They are also known for trading in slaves.”

“I can only address one crisis at a time,” J'kal observed, “We can discuss these pirates after Zodzilaha has been appeased.”

Viselys nodded in agreement, “I understand. However, there is another need that we have that is very time sensitive. In order to prepare for this the coming attack, we require large quantities of tar. I was told you used to trade this material with Farshore?”

J'kal hung her head, “We have been unable to gather tar from the pits for several months. The great thunder-lizard, Temauhti-tecuani, has claimed the tar pits as his territory.” After trying to communicate what “Temauhti-tecuani” is, she explained to Urol in her native tongue.

“Oh, she means one of the large bipeds we dealt with on the shore when we arrived at the north end of the island,” Urol explained.

Again, Viselys saw a bargaining opportunity, “We will dispatch Temauhti-tecuani as we have another of his kind if you will lend us a handful of brave warriors.”

J'kal considered this, “I will send five warriors with you. They will show you the way to the tar pits and, if you are successful, they will help you transport the tar to your ship. But you must make haste to return the idol to Zotzilaha.

Viselys nodded his agreement.

Continue to Chapter 12...

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