Sunday 21 May 2023

Hex Crawl 23 #141: The Band of Halpashulupi

Eight hexes north, two northeast of Alakran.


This hex is as good as any a place to find the four surviving members of a rebel group, hiding in the hilly and desert outskirts of the Shasari province, fighting the sinister takeover of the Temple of Aish Mashuila. 

Halpashulupi is a cleric, level 8, a tall, black-bearded man in an ivory-white hierophant's mitre holding a wickedly bladed pole-fork. He wears  a suit of fine bronze-plaqued armour engraved with writings in the archaic script of the holy language of the Mitraic religion, strapped over a white trousered raiment spotted with dust and the shadows of more indelible stains. His long hair is braided through rings of brass. 

Despite the armour (+1, resistance to necrotic damage), he walks without making a sound, because he wears magical Sandals of Silence. His pole-fork is enchanted as well; if he scribes a circle on the ground, once per day, a celestial lion, Amra, is summoned to serve him until the end of that day.

A prophecy upon Halpashulupi's day of manhood had fixed the place of his eventual demise to be underground. Thus, he avoided all manner of spelunking, dungeoneering, and even trips to the cellar -- and yes, this is a device to keep the more powerful NPC from overshadowing all the adventures of the party.

Hebat (the other Hebat) is an almost ogre-sized form whose silhouette shows a disconcerting snout poking out from under scholar's cap. She wears a large-cut scholar's outfit, holding a staff in the scaly claws of short and powerful arms. Under the backwards-pointing cap the head is crocodilian, as is the thick tail dragging on the ground behind. Strapped all around Hebat are bags, pouches, packs, and cases both cylindrical and oblong.- scrolls and writings from her investigations of all matters in the human world.

Hebat can only speak human words in a dry, exhausting gargle, for she is one of the rare Subek, a crocodilian caste of the reptile folk that ruled the world over ten millennia ago. Her kind were cursed to regress to a state of murderous beastliness in the flood season. At other times they were gentle, law-abiding, and scholarly. Hebat is near the end of a ten-year journey of insight (known by an untranscribable term in her whistling, singing native language) by which a Subek of a certain age could hope to overmaster the annual urge and return home to care for younger kindred in the rainy months. She is particularly intrigued by Nathrak, which her studies had identified as a legendary site of the primordial reptilian civilization.

Mutallu and Mastigga are a man and a woman, rogues (level 2) and partners in love and crime. They wear light leather armor, loose-fitting linen tunic and trousers, and swathe their heads and faces with dun-colored cloth in the manner of desert nomads.

Their story, and the crisis of Shasari

(includes some of the exposition from the adventure The Ogress of Anubis, by Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr.)

In Shasari there rules  a Governor to handle civil management and military, while holy offices and justice are meted out by a trio of Setho-Mitraic clerical judges who respectively served Set and Severity as prosecutor; Mitra and Mercy as defence counsel; and both divine principles as Judge of the Balance and ultimate arbiter. The court of this trio was convened on the ancient site of Aish Mashuila, in the district of Pethalah or the Seven Villages, between the Shi-Ar and its westward tributary the inconstant Utzuri.

In Halpashulupi's youth the Judge of the Balance was one Kemosiri, known for his wisdom, modesty, and humility. In the grooming to succeed him was his daughter Arinna. Some six years ago, in a time when the catastrophes wracking the rest of Dulsharna could not be ignored even in placid and hill-nestled Shasari, the old Judge was out walking alone by the southern pine forest. There he was so unfortunate as to disturb the rare and deadly asp known as the Dipsas and succumbed to its venom, of which it is said, "who is not saved will surely die."

Arinna succeeded him and immediately began to spend temple funds on grandiose celebrations. She constantly preached of the threat of the Dragon and Serpent. Only the strengthening of faith and an inclination towards Severity, she said, would keep Shasari safe in these trying times.

Halpashulupi kept his tongue as Arinna snubbed him while elevating Zazalla, Judge of Severity. She bade Zazalla increase the numbers and armament of the Temple Guard, and built a high wall -- for defence -- around the Aish Mashuila temple complex (so called from an old legend that there, demon rats had erupted from a rift to the underworld, which the gods had sealed with a great stopper). But the final outrage came when Arinna proclaimed a return to old ways, honoring Set as Sutekh and Mitra only as the dead goddess Wadjet, chiselling away the Setho-Mitraic paintings on the temple walls to restore the older imagery, and copying from them even costlier vestments and regalia in the antique style not seen since Urig satraps ruled Dulsharna. To seal her atavistic campaign, Arinna took on the old Urig priestly name, Azeneth.

Against this heresy Halpashulupi could not remain silent. He began to preach the orthodoxy of Mitra and gathered supporters. But, raised as she had been amid the whispers of eunuchs, Azeneth's machinations were one step ahead. Obligations were cashed in, false witnesses manufactured. Halpashulupi was relieved of his title and thrown in a cell with two common criminals. But with the help of a sympathetic turnkey and his cellmates, the selfsame Mutallu and Mastigga, the goodly Judge escaped before a rigged trial could take place.

Since then the outlawed band had kept to the edges of the province, fighting the ogres that threatened from the east, the necromancers of Gheenatru, and gnoll and Khilan raiders from the south. Because Azeneth held the province in a grip of fear, many good people's lives stood in the way if the resisters truly went after her. The governor, Guwandis, supported her utterly. The replacement Judge of Mercy was a docile greybeard, one Arnuwandas, who had long been awaiting glory without much deserving it, and resented the career of Halpashulupi. Things looked hopeless, until they met up with the Band of Bronze in the dunes...

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