We head north into the jungle in search of the Crazy Snake Priests. As we get further north, we start seeing more snakes, and Marshall collects a new pet: a yellow snake named Squirmbob.
On our second day we're well into the north section of the forest when Alexej says, "Hey! I see tiny pretty lady!"
Leira: "How tiny?"
Alexej: "She over there in tree! With flying wing!"
Looking around we see something fleeing through the branches towards the northwest. We decide not to give chase; instead, Marshall asks his new snake for information.
Squirm-bob: "Oh, I can show you the way! Put me down and I'll lead you to them."
He slithers very, VERY slowly, and Marshall picks back up to use as a guide. We head northwest...
"See!" cries Alexej, "Pretty Lady direction!"
We go for about an hour before we hear some rustling up ahead.
We have found Lotan, a normal-sized person -- actually an elf -- who turns out to be the High Priest, and his Nagi and his Nami who are both elves as well. Marshall vaguely remembers that there was some sort of tale of mother and father serpents associated with those names, but not much more.
So pretty much everything in their pantheon is snakes, though they're definitely Artem-hiss worshipers. They take us back to their village area, where they've made awnings out of the broad leaves of some of the trees; there are thatched huts underneath. Lotan leads us into a large hut and calls for food and drink for us.
"I see you are a snake-friend." He pours from a pitcher into a single mug and hands it to Marshall. The rest of us get water "To the creator! And the Iza!"
Marshall echoes him and casts Delay Poison on himself. The chief starts chanting and humming and rocking back and forth; one of the servants, looking puzzled at Marshall's lack of response, hands Marshall another cup. Marshall tosses it back and reaches for another.
Alexej takes a cup as well. Before long, Alexej, Lotan, and Marshall are all stoned out of their minds. The tribe is the Bakanawa, worshipers of the Iza who created this land; they are keepers of the serpent lore and custodians of the temple. Marshall is all down with the serpent lore. "A temple, you say?"
"The temple is to the east. It is very important. I believe you must go there."
Marshall explains his beliefs about Artem-hiss, and Lotan agrees and tells him of the Iza, the great serpents created by Artem, who created this land. They had two children, who are twins. Iza Cuchee (sun) and Iza Kuro (rain).
Lotan: "It was not always this way. This part of the forest... Iza Cuchee once shone his light into the forest. But it has been raining for a human generation now." He feels that things have fallen out of balance; there was balance before the shadows came. Now the dark, evil creatures have taken sway over the minds of many. Their touch withers your soul. The shadows serve the dark one, and steal worshipers from the Iza.
Lotan has had a vision, possibly in the wake of too much Moonberry Juice (also known as Yelda, or elvish moonshine). He had a vision of a traveler who would bring balance back to his people. "If you are the Vashanti, then you must walk the path of the serpent. Tell me, Marshall-From-Another-World, why are you here?"
Marshall launches into a long explanation; Tavros cuts in to explain that we're looking to defeat the dark one, and we think them allying with the centaurs is a good first step.
Lotan says Marshall must follow the path of the serpent to the temple to the east, and drink the venom of the creator to receive a vision. The rest of us should go with him to watch over him while he experiences the visions. Sort of a vision/supervision arrangement.
So: we're off in the Spooooky Forest; Marshall casts Light on his shield, since it's really dark and nobody but Tavros can see. (OOC: it turns out that every single one of my characters can see in the dark, even here in 3.5 where that's comparatively rare. Light is for wimps.)
We're walking along, heading east, when a shadow mastiff charges out of the dark and attacks Alexej, but misses. A voice says, "You should not be here..."
Tavros, the paladin: "No, no, I'm fairly sure we should be. Come out! Perhaps we can be friends!"
Marshall, who's the only one who remembers being here before: "Oh, he was talkin' about shadows! Don't let 'em touch ya!"
Marshall attempts to Turn them back with the holy power of Artem-hiss. Two of the shadows fall under his sway; another one cowers back. This is... not something that Good-aligned clerics should be able to do... but for the moment, nobody notices.
Leira turns invisible. Tavros steps forward and beheads the shadow mastiff.
Alexej: "How I supposed to trip now???" He gets ready to trip the next thing that gets in range.
Marshall moves around the tree and confronts the greater shadow that's now cowering before his might: "I'm going to take you right out of this world if you don't tell me if you have any more compatriots."
The shadow just hisses at him.
Leira follows Marshall, and fires off a Magic Missile at the greater shadow. Tavros crosses over and slashes at him... and Tavros' magic falchion is a Ghost Touch weapon, so it connects with no trouble; Alexej follows up with his guisarme, but the weapon passes through the greater shadow without touching it.
Marshall casts Shield of Faith on himself and moves up on the Greater Shadow. Leira finishes him off with Magic Missile.
"The masters will destroy you..." It dies.
Marshall asks his slave-shadows how many others there are. They aren't sure. "The Master's minions are infinite..." but they don't know how many are here.
We move forward a little bit, and hear howling. It's terrifying. Alexej drops his guisarme, and Leira drops her trident. A greater shadow attacks Alexej, stealing his strength.
Marshall sends his minions forward and tries to Turn again, but this time is much less effective. Marshall gets atttacked by a wraith, which damages his strength; Leira runs away into the dark, invisible and screaming.
Tavros attacks the wraith and damages it, and Alexej leavess his guisarme and flees into the dark. Marshall orders his shades to defend him, then tries to turn the wraith but fails.
The wraith slips around the two shadows and tries to attack Marshall, but misses because of his Shield of Faith. Tavros follows the wraith and hits it again, damaging it some more. The dogs try to attack Tavros, but miss.
Then Marshall tries to Rebuke the wraith, and succeeds; it cowers. Tavros hits it again.
Alexej runs into a pair of dire tigers in the dark but just keeps running; he runs past them and collides with a snake statue while they're still waking up.
The Shadow Mastiffs attack Marshall but miss; Marshall turns his shades on the dogs.
Tavros finishes off the wraith.
Alexej is lost in the dark... with dire tigers... he rushes away and crashes into some impassible underbrush; he can hear growling somewhere close by. He draws his great flail.
Leira shakes off her panic and starts trying to find her way back to where she dropped her trident. Marshall calls for the others, which helps. She finds her way back and picks up her trident, invisible and nonchalant.
Tavros attacks the greater shade; Alexej gets bitten by a tiger, but it fails to grab him; he continues flailing his way back towards us. The tiger attacks him again, but he cuffs it on the nose and escapes its grip.
Marshall picks up the Guisarme and heads towards the sound of the tigers. Leira follows, still invisible.
Alexej attacks the tiger with his flail, doing a bit of damage and making it really, really angry; it attacks him and just sort of mauls him, and grapples him.
"Is big mistake, tiger friend! I give you sausage if you let me go!"
The tiger is not swayed.
Marshall moves towards where he can hear Alexej, with his shades following him. Leira runs after them as her invisibility wears off. Alexej tries to tear himself free but fails. The second tiger bites Alexej and also tries to pull him away. Alexej is now caught between them. "I should not have chosen last name of Schnitzel!"
Marshall sics his shades on the second tiger, stealing its strength. Marshall moves forward, and notes that Alexej looks BAD. He uses Dominate Animal to control the slightly-injured tiger who first grabbed Alexej.
Leira uses Magic Missile on the second tiger, and Tavros moves in and slams his two-handed scimitar into the second tiger... which drops Alexej and flees, to growl at us from the darkness, at a safe distance.
Marshall sends his dominated tiger to attack its companion, but stops to cast Heal on Alexej. ("You are new best friend!" Alexej tells him.)
Marshall sends the shadows and tiger out to establish a perimeter. Tavros moves up and growls at the second tiger, which backs up... but between the brush and a cliff, it's actually cornered. "Good!" shouts Tavros. "Stay!"
Marshall sends his newly dominated tiger to retrieve the other one, and we rapidly wind up watching an oversized cat-fight. Marshall takes the opportunity to heal himself, and Leira turns to look at the snake statue, which is made of obsidian.
The tigers continue struggling, and Marshall's new pet kills its former companion. Marshall orders it to run away from here until it gets tired, and it complies.
The snake statue immediately captures Marshall's attention. There's an unlit torch staked in front of the statue. Marshall tries lighting it with flint and steel, but fails. Leira tries Prestidigitation.
It lights for a second and then goes out, and a snake-woman appears next to us; Marshall gets the impression that maybe non-Snake-Priests shouldn't light this torch, and this snake-woman was sent to punish them.
Alexej is busy with the dead elk -- he's dressing it for steaks -- and doesn't even notice her.
The Medusa lunges at Marshall, but misses. He averts his eyes from her overwhelming beauty... or tries to, but she's simply too attractive and he can't help looking at her. He does, however, manage not to turn to stone. He casts Slay Living, and slays her.
So, Marshall decides that clearly his companions are unworthy, and we settle in to rest so that Marshall can pray for an appropriate spell to light the torch himself. He prays to Artem-hiss and casts Poison on the torch.
The torch flares into green light, and a spectral snake extends into the air from the statue. "Supplicants, I am Iza Nagi, the father-snake. Who are you?"
Marshall introduces himself.
Apparently when the twins were born, the flames of Iza Cuchee burned their mother to death; and Iza Nagi devoured him in rage and shame. Thus does it rain all the time here in Fanaxia.
Marshall relights the torch.
"Why do you disturb me?"
Marshall: "I want to restore balance."
Iza Nagi: "Talk to the others. Quit bothering me."
We break there. Likely there are more snake-god statues around, and we might have more luck with another.