Chapter I. Intelligence Gathering
The first morning of the Zlatan Occupation started off well, with the Legion at ease again, slowly stirring after a night of victory celebrations. So far, the vanquished Zlatan remained quiet. Chaplain-Colonel Demetrious was up at dawn, going from temple to temple and destroying images of Sotek and replacing them with Nuada’s Silver Fist. On 2 Hammer, 1513, General Cordell once again assembled his ad-hoc Special Missions Unit, asking them to begin establishing the various mundane administration functions in the conquered city while he focused on the accounting and transport of the plunder and on planning new military operations. He shared with his officers a disturbing letter found by Captain Guerrero during an interrogation of a captured priest of Sotek.
To All Worshippers of Sotek, Eater of Hearts,
I, Garkuna, High Priest of Sotek the Destroyer, must command you his minions to do a very difficult thing. In the name of Sotek. I must order you to wait! Our numbers grow nightly, and soon we will have the forces we need to overthrow the invaders from across the sea. Until then, you must avoid the strangers in the heart of the city. If you go near the Sacred Plaza, the power of Sotek may compel you to kill before we are ready.
Play along with this new tyrant Cordell for now; know that our former Revered Counselor, Nahuatyl is a traitor to the empire and Sotek for bowing down to him. Know that the great general of our armies, Tacuba, has been rescued from beyond death by the Eater of Hearts to aid our retribution. And the Destroyer has greater aid yet for his faithful in the days ahead, days of wonder and of terror.
I promise you this: When the time for action arrives, Sotek shall strike, and strike quickly. There will be killing aplenty for each of you. And he shall eat well!
After much discussion and planning, Captain Gelben and Lieutenant Dmitry volunteered to establish security within the capital city. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Arkane and Vogon would scout outside Zlatan city to ensure secure supply lines to Port Nuada, to gather intelligence about the surrounding region and to watch for any threats approaching the capital. Finally, Kincade and Latna-So focused on intelligence gathering and diplomacy inside the city, hoping to forge new alliances with local friendly Zlatan.
Latna So and Kincade approached the obvious potential allies first, meeting with Mitilan, an assistant to the High Priest of Qotal in Zlatan, and Rotsul, the local captain of the Eagle Knights. They quickly learned of the huge impact of the Legion’s recent actions in Zlatan and the uncertainty amongst the local population as to what the future might hold. Their meetings and a canvass of the town turned several rumors that were circulating; some nonsense and some possibly true:
- General Tacuba has been raised from the dead.
- New sacrifices are happening across Zlatan in secret.
- Sotek is blessing his minions with new powers.
- Sotek will rise up again and eliminate the invaders.
- The viperhand tattoos carry Sotek's power.
- The invaders eat the children of the Zlatan.
- Zlatan lost to the invaders because the people were not loyal enough to Sotek.
- Sotek has given his own blood to his followers to defeat the invaders.
- A large army is being raised in the dense jungle.
- The foreigners are here to change Zlatan for the good.
The two intelligence officers also contacted the head of the merchant guild in Zlatan, Kalapa, negotiating favorable food pricing for the occupying army, much to Paymaster Hieronymous’ satisfaction. In addition, they heard rumor of an Aztaltican known as "Tica", who apparently was a prominent figure in the Zlatan underworld. Reasoning that his contacts might possess unique information unknown to the more traditional power brokers in Zlatan, they set about arranging a meeting with him.
Meanwhile, Gelben and Dmitry began to address the unfortunate reality that the Sotek worshippers in the city of Zlatan were proving harder to defeat than the army of Zlatan on the field of battle. Within a day of the meeting with General Cordell, a lone trooper from the Silver Legion was kidnapped while visiting a native brothel off duty. Gelben and Dmitry quickly asked Cordell to order that off-duty legionnaires should always travel in pairs. The next day, another apparent kidnapping occurred, this time with two troopers missing. Gelben and Dmitry asked General Cordell to order off-duty legionnaires to remain within the temple compound, provoking much grumbling amongst the Legion. However, later that day, a two-man patrol on the streets of Zlatan was attacked, and both troopers were reported by witnesses as dragged off unconscious or dead. Gelben and Dmitry set up a patrol structure with several legionnaires, supported by native troops and a pair of Kincade’s Silver Raiders to ride for help if attacked. They also set up a rapid reaction force, composed of a group of Winkwillow’s Silver Raiders, accompanied by lieutenants, including Marcus Poncet, Dimity’s adjutant, for magical support.
After much effort, Kincade and Latna-So arranged a meeting with the enigmatic "Tica", on the condition that they met with him alone. Arriving to an ambush welcome at his hideout, they realized that Tica was an alias for Matzlan, a key figure in the developing Sotek resistance in Zlatan. Surprisingly, he attacked wielding what appeared to be an ancient Videssian short bow, with which he was quite proficient. However, the duo proved far tougher than the Sotek worshippers had anticipated, and the combination of Latna So’s accurate bowfire with her powerful Bow of the Seven Sisters and Kincade’s nimble strikes quickly defeated the initial ambush. As additional reinforcements began to arrive, the duo decided to quickly loot "Tica's” body and another of the fallen Sotek worshippers before retreating to gather their own reinforcements. They successfully looted a magical Videssian Quiver of Arrows (which has a never-ending supply of normal arrows), a Videssian shortbow +1, a Videssian ring of protection +1, 5 doses of a previously-unseen poison called Sotek’s Blood, and a masterworked maca. They also discovered another letter from Garkuna, High Priest of Sotek on Matzlan's body:
To General Tacuba, Commander of the Once and Future Armies of Zlatan,
I trust this message reaches you in health, and that after raising you from the dead, you are ready to do Sotek’s will. I have wondrous news. I have been visited by the Old Ones, but I must reiterate that the secret of their existence and our plans must not be revealed as the people might not understand. The Old Ones told me that Sotek is angry that the sacrifices at our temples across the empire have ceased, and has decided a change of tactics is needed. They said Sotek will channel the power of any new sacrifices to bolster our ranks against the invaders. All the temples of Sotek are watched, so I have moved to the ancient mountain monastery of Huana Pichu, where they will never think to search. It has a consecrated chacmool we require, and is its approaches are well-guarded, and not only by men!
We are not yet ready for open battle, yet already Sotek is bestowing gifts upon the faithful. See that my announcement is spread among the faithful in secret, telling them not to attack the invaders in the city yet. The Old Ones asked me to wait for a sign, and when it occurs, we shall strike.
But for you I have separate instructions. We must take some of them prisoner, that they may be sacrificed; for the souls of the newcomers are dear to Sotek; the Eater of Hearts values their blood a hundredfold more than an Aztaltican. Feel free to use some of Sotek's new minions for night raids. I know only that this will eventually help us drive the invaders away. Dispatch some of your best troops to ambush the invaders when they are in small numbers and vulnerable. We have reports they are receiving supplies from the Itzapan traitors, and are sending their wooden “wagons” back laden with gold, or patrolling the countryside, or sending their healers among the people. Strike at these isolated groups; and try to capture them alive, healing their broken bodies just long enough to live for the altar if needed. You should have received the first doses of Sotek's Blood; which should assist you in your mission. Bring them here to the monastery of Huana Pichu, and I shall launch the ritual. We shall succeed, in Sotek’s name.
Garkuna, High Priest of Sotek the Destroyer
Unfortunately, upon their return to Tica's hideout with additional legion reinforcements, Latna-So and Kincade found that most traces of their battle had vanished, including the bodies of the Sotek worshippers and Matzlan.
Meanwhile, Arkane and Vogon, investigating outside the city walls to ensure safe passage of the supplies from Port Nuada (and the important treasure wagon trains hauling loot back) found tracks along a faint trail leading from Zlatan to the west into the jungle. After sending notice of their discovery to the capital via a Silver Raider messenger, they immediately set off along the trail.
Chapter II. Assault on Huana Pichu
Upon receiving the message from Arkane and Vogan and reviewing the intelligence gathered by Latna-So and Kincade, it was agreed that the jungle trail would likely lead to the monastery of Huana Pichu. A reinforcement party consisting of Gelben, Dmitry, Latna-So, and Kincade plus a contingent of the Silver Raiders, was quickly dispatched to follow Arkane and Vogon to investigate the monastery. After linking up about a day's journey from the city, Arkane arrayed the party to ambush an anticipated Jaguar Knight party with their latest legionnaire captives. Achieving total surprise, the party quickly slew the Sotek cultists and rescued their two legion captives. These were dispatched, along with a contingent of Silver Raiders, back to Zlatan while the party continued on the trail seeking the ancient monastery.
As the group traveled the next day, the tables were reversed when they were ambushed by a contingent of Jaguar Knights and Zlatan veterans. The attackers were led by a particularly powerful Jaguar Knight from the front, while a group of twisted and misshapen creatures emerged from the jungle on both sides. Although vaguely humanoid in appearance, they possessed unnatural strength and speed. Colored Viperhand tattoos were clearly visible upon all the creatures. A priest of Sotek, who was also quite proficient with a maca, seemed to command the tattooed creatures. Surviving the initial onslaught, the Legion party quickly gained the upper hand, killing all the creatures and Zlatan insurgents. However, both the lead Jaguar Knight and the Sotek priest were able to disengage. Their human tracks ended quickly in the jungle, only to become jaguar tracks. Surmising that they had transformed into jaguars, Arkane and Vogon quickly gave chase through the jungle. Despite their valiant efforts, it was impossible to match the speed and agility of the jaguars in their native jungle terrain, forcing the pair to break off the pursuit.
As the group proceeded along the trail, Arkane, scouting the perimeter, noted many jaguar tracks. He warned the group that they were probably being stalked or shadowed by Jaguar Knights in animal form. Later that day, the group came upon a jungle-covered hilltop with a heavily smoking, but abandoned, fire. In the distance two additional hilltop shapes were visible. Discerning they had been observed by scouts who lit the fire to warn the monastery, Arkane and Captain Winkwillow scouted ahead to the next two hilltops, ambushing and slaying the enemy scouts there before they could light any additional warning fires. The group hoped they would surprise any Sotek worshippers at the abandoned temple complex.
From the third hilltop, the group was able to view a larger mound in the distance. Unlike the previous hilltops, the jungle was cut away from this mound and the sides were at a steeper angle than seemed natural. No visible structures could be seen, though some scattered stones and debris on top suggested remnants of ancient buildings now lost to time. In addition, a winding circular cut pathway, clearly man-made, could be seen circling the mound repeatedly before apparently dead-ending near the top of the mound. It seemed to provide access to the top of the mound gradually, avoiding a climb directly up the steep slopes. In true Legion fashion, the group plotted a complex attack, splitting the party in two to attack from both above and below. Vogon, Arkane and Kincade flew in from above (using Dmitry’s Fly and Invisibility spells), while Latna-So, Gelben, and Dmitry attacked with the squad of Silver Raiders from below along the winding pathway.
Vogon, with Arkane and Kincade precariously dangling from his legs, swooped to the bare top of the ruined temple and the trio began to scout for an entrance. They found a doorway at the very top of the pathway that spiraled up the pyramid from base to top, and proceed to bash their way through the sealed doorway. They burst into what appeared to be an antechamber with an open doorway leading to a larger ritual ceremonial room, with an open pit or fissure leading deep into the earth. Next to it was one of Sotek's ritual altars used for human sacrifices, known as a chacmool, and similar to those the party had seen at every Sotek temple. A natural spring well was also visible off the side of the main chamber. A quick glance revealed several legion prisoners bound and apparently drugged near the chacmool. The recognizable figure of Garkuna, his hair matted and firm with blood in Sotek fashion, stood over the chacmool holding a ritual dagger above one of the bound legion captives who was lying on top of the altar. Also near the chacmool were a group of Zlatan peasants in ritual robes. Numerous guards were also in the main room, including Jaguar Knights, more of the transformed creatures from the ambush, priests of Sotek and Viperhand veterans. Their attention quickly drawn away from the main room, Vogon, Kincade, and Arkane were beset by two large humanoid creatures wielding huge macas that had been standing on either side of the main doorway. Three other smaller creatures engaged with thrown javelins from the end of the antechamber. As the battle raged at the entrance the antechamber, a secret door opened from the side of the hill along the pathway, and several more enemies, led by a Jaguar Knight, attacked from the rear. With Arkane holding at bay the enemies attacking from behind, Kincade and Vogon attempted to fight their way through the antechamber toward the main temple room.
The attack from below faced its own challenges. Soon after the fighting began at the top of the hill, the party charging up the main pathway found themselves under constant attack by well-aimed arrows and javelins fired through small openings in the side of the hill. Through one of the openings Latna-So recognized Matzlan’s voice, threatening to take back his lost bow, quiver, and ring from their bodies before sacrificing their hearts to Sotek. Apparently, the rumors about the new powers of Sotek, including the ability to raise some of their fallen fighters from the dead, were true. Soon after, a secret door opened ahead of the charging legionnaires and a group of Viperhand cultists moved out into the pathway, blocking the band’s advance towards the top of the hill and their embattled friends.
In the meantime, Vogon was busy hacking his way mightily through Jaguar Knights, mutated creatures, viperhand cultists and followers of Sotek. Kincade bravely ducked in and out of the legs of the enemies, striking blows whenever possible, and blasting foes with magic missiles from his Videssian spell-storing dagger. Vogon's onslaught and Kincade's nimble blows defeated even the mighty Jaguar Knight leader, who had led the previous ambush of the band along the approaches to the temple. Arkane continued to hold the rear, but numbers began to take their toll as more of the guards poured from the main room into the fight in the antechamber.
Above the noise of battle, Garkuna's voice could be heard calling out: “Praises to Sotek!” as he raised the knife over the captive’s chest. The Silver Raider's eyes grew wide, and he babbled incoherently as the cleric observed him with scorn. “You foreigners don’t know how to die!” After prolonging the gesture, savouring the legionnaire’s panic, the jade knife dropped. A great cheer rung out among the followers of the Viperhand. Cutting out the prisoner's heart, he fed it into the mouth of a statue of Sotek behind the sacred altar, and pushed the lifeless body into the fissure next to the chacmool where it tumbled out of sight. This latter aspect was the only difference from previous sacrifices the legionnaires had seen previously; all Sotek’s temples across Aztaltica have the chacmool at the top, with a great pit of raging fire gouged into the middle of the side of the pyramid, into which the bodies are traditionally thrown to be consumed by the flames. Here, they were merely thrown into the fissure.
The waiting Viperhand peasants in ceremonial robes then began a transformation; they clawed at their faces and screamed in horror as their flesh began to twist and thicken. In a matter of seconds it was done, and where once stood men, now stood some of the strange transformed creatures recently unleashed against the legionnaires. One of the priests near Garkuna turned to the newly created creatures and yelled "In the name of Sotek, I command you to destroy the invaders." With a loud piercing scream, the creatures turned and charged toward the fight in the antechamber.
Sensing the dire position of their friends at the top of the hill, Gelben, Dmitry, and Latna-So, with their contingent of Silver Raiders (now reduced in size because of the heavy fighting) redoubled their efforts to break through the Viperhand cultists blocking their advance. After shrugging off heavy blow after heavy blow, Vogon found himself cornered by two particularly large transformed creatures. To his horror, his mighty blows that normally slew his previous foes only damaged them. Even the major wounds inflicted seemed to magically heal somewhat as time passed. Finally, a tremendous blow from one of the transformed felled the huge half-orc; mere moments before Gelben, Dmitry and Latna-So and the Silver Raiders fought their way through the enemies outside to reach the entrance to the temple.
Now united as a party, the Legion officers fought their way into the main temple room in a powerful assault. Even the arrival of Matzlan with his archers and javelin throwers from deeper in the temple complex could not withstand the attack. As the battle turned in favor of the Legion, Garkuna, having expended the majority of his spells, ordered his remaining forces to fight to the death in the name of Sotek while he transformed into a serpent and escaped into the nearby well. Soon thereafter, the party slew the last of the Sotek worshippers.
Chapter III. Aftermath
After the battle, the party explored the temple, finding a few additional small rooms and a carved passageway leading deeper into the hillside, mimicking the path of the outside walkway. The passage reached a dead end near what appeared to be the base of the hill. Clearly this was used to access the outside secret doors and to launch missiles against the party as they approached along the main pathway to the temple. The party then searched and looted the temple and the corpses of the dead Sotek worshippers; finding five masterworked macas, a masterworked set of Jaguar Knight armor, 4,000 nobles worth of jade and gold jewelry, and an elaborately worked jade sacrificial dagger with a gold-chased haft worth 1,000 nobles that Garkuna had been using in his ceremony. Off the body of the Jaguar Knight leader, the party recovered a magical maca, though it burned the hands of any legionnaire who picked it up-undoubtedly an evil item which they would have destroyed.
In a small room off the sacrificial chamber, the legionnaires found several bound and gagged Silver Raiders and other Legion captives kidnapped from Zlatan city, who were reunited with the rest of Kincade’s command. Also amongst the captured loot, the group found a copy of a note from Garkuna to General Tacuba:
To General Tacuba, Commander of the Once and Future Armies of Zlatan, Beloved of Sotek
One of the two messengers with my last missive has not returned, so I fear it may have fallen into the invaders’ hands. I doubt they will be able to decipher the magicks protecting the letter, but I cannot be sure, so will increase the guard here at the monastery in case they are coming. I have also prepared the escape route in case we face overwhelming odds. It is too early for a decisive battle; that will come later.
Along with this messenger I shall send another shipment of Sotek's Blood, which shall dull the senses and slow the enemy, allowing them to be captured easier. The poison is the result of long research, as we need something to overwhelm the invaders’ very strong metal armaments and magical powers to make them more vulnerable. Through our recent ceremonies, Sotek has channeled his power into the Viperhand tattoos providing additional powers to his loyal followers. Finally, once we have created enough new minions for Sotek, we shall crush the invaders and Sotek's temples in Zlatan will run red again…
Garkuna, High Priest of Sotek the Destroyer
With that, the Silver Legion’s Special Missions Unit gathered their loot, freed the captives, and began the return journey to Zlatan city. The three day ride passed uneventfully, aside from the constant battle keeping night scavengers away from Vogon’s corpse. Fortunately, Gelben’s Gentle Repose spell preserved the body, preventing it from rotting in the tropical heat. Demetrious Raised Vogon and the group shares the spoils of their pyrrhic victory. It was becoming clearer that the occupation of the Zlatan Empire would be much more difficult than its conquest.
Go to next section of the Log, Interlude IV: Hunt for General Tacuba