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Zetacaalpa, Seer of Agesby John Calvin from Threshold Magazine issue 9
Zetacaalpa, Seer of Ages
Villains of Mystara
by John Calvin
Zetacaalpa, Seer of Ages
Male awakened giant snake, half-green dragon cleric
Conversation between two House Umbarth agents:
"I have it on good authority that this will be a most prosperous venture."
"But what about the Atruaghin? Even if you could get them to allow mining efforts on the Great Escarpment, the concessions you would have to make would narrow our profit margins by too much. I don't understand how we can pull this off."
"Funny thing that... seems most of the savages have fallen ill... victims of a most unfortunate plague. We can cut them out of the deal entirely..."
An enormous snake with malachite scales and bony horns covering his face and spine, Zetacaalpa is the size of a small building. Folded amid his coils are giant bat-like wings and the yellow fires of desire burn deep from within his lidless eyes. One can never tell if the giant snake is staring into the future or gazing into the core of one's soul. Zetacaalpa constantly whispers his own name, whether in private or giving an audience to deserving supplicants.
Zetacaalpa is a seer and peers into the future, divining events for individuals in return for offerings and favors. Many Thyatian and Darokinian merchants come to him for advice on their entrepreneurial endeavors. Zetacaalpa is secretly a servant of Atzanteotl, and all of his prognostications are designed to further that immortal's goals.
The Seer of Ages has been prodding his supplicants into continuously more callous acts of violence against lower class citizens and foreigners and is slowly pushing many regions towards rebellion and revolt. His main goal is to see Darokin at war with as many of her neighbors as possible. Once this is achieved Zetacaalpa will bring forth the city of Oenkmar from the depths, ruling it in Atzanteotl's name. Besides the unknowing dupes that Zetacaalpa coerces into doing his will, the creature has a cult of fanatic followers devoted to carrying out its will.
Born in the land of the red sun circa AC 700, Zetacaalpa’s early struggles in the Hollow World were accentuated by the fact that he was born alone. Whether abandoned by his parents, or stolen as an egg, Zetacaalpa never knew, though as he grew in power he began to acknowledge a steady sibilant voice constantly whispering in his head… a voice he soon accepted as that of his true father - Atzanteotl.
Constantly on the move, the itinerant creature eventually found succor near the ruins of Axateotl in southern Azcan lands. The degenerate Azcan tribes there, brought low by constant Schattenalfen attacks culminating in BC 322, mistook Zetacaalpa as an avatar of their immortal Kalaktatla, and the wily snake did not disavow them of their error. He ruled over the tribe for nearly a century before being driven out by true followers of the immortal Ka.
Once again on the run, Zetacaalpa followed his master's whispers through the earth's crust before finally emerging in the borderlands of Darokin.
Although Zetacaalpa chiefly works unseen in the shadows, he has encountered several individuals on the surface world that he considers as minions.
Alfek “the Silversmith” Vickers
Male, Darokinian human, Merchant
Alfek apprenticed with his father as a silversmith at a very young age, quickly mastering the craft, but his nickname stems rather from the uncanny ability that Alfek has of turning a profit from any business deal he pursues. A rising star in House Umbarth, and also one of Greenleaf Vickers few surviving nephews, Alfek walks a very narrow line between making himself useful to his uncle, and becoming a rival that could threaten his power.
As a lad Alfek fell down a silver mine shaft while on an outing with his father, and was lost for days. In the darkness of the caverns he stumbled upon the lair of Zetacaalpa, who took Alfek under his wings rather than devour him. In fact Alfek’s current success is due entirely to the snake’s machinations, and visions that he shares with his acolyte. For now Alfek is more than happy to help his uncle destabilize the country, but once that is done he plans on killing his uncle and seizing power for himself.
Coaxoc “Serpent Flower”
Female, Atraughin human, Shaman
Coaxoc has fired the desires of Tiger tribesmen since she first flowered into womanhood. Twice she has been captured as a “prize” by warriors of rival tribes. Twice she has been forced to marry against her will… and twice she murdered her unsuspecting paramours in cold blood. Coaxoc lives on the fringes of Python tribeland near the eastern borders of the Forest of Death in Atraughin, where she is sought out as an expert in the brewing of poisons.
The only thing she hates more than her own people are the brutes from Darokin who constantly encroach upon her land. Though she has never met Zetacaalpa directly, she dreams visions of him every night, and sometimes even hears the snake whispering in her ear while awake. Zetacaalpa has been her constant comfort through troubled times, and never hesitates to heed his warnings, nor his advice.
Male, Oenkmarian humanoid, Cleric
Noktica, and his line, have been preparing for Oenkmar to resurface for generations. Years ago his master saw visions of a giant winged serpent, and knew that Atzanteotl had sent a savior to once again lead the Oenkmarians to glory. Too frail to journey into the depths himself, his master sent Noktica in his stead, and the young orc was soon confronted by the greatness of Zetacaalpa.
Having since assumed his master’s mantle, Noktica now spends his time performing experiments on the gifts given to him by the serpent - Zetacaalpa’s venom. Through alchemy and dark arts, Noktica has created a serum that grants a temporary frenzied strength to those injected with it. The crafty orc is now slowly building up a cadre of trusted warriors so that when the time is ripe, he can take over the city and impose the will of Zetacaalpa… and of Atzanteotl.
Dhoka Naag (Eyes of the Viper)
The Dhoka Naag are are semi-spiritual assassin’s cult dedicated to serving the whims of Zetacaalpa. While the core of the group formed in Sind, offshoots have since spread into Darokin, Glantri, and Ylaruam. At least one disciple of this order attends the great serpent at all times, even if they are not seen. The Dhoka Naag are experts in the martial arts and master assassins, and many of the cult’s masters are practiced diviners and prognosticators - skills which only increase their formidability as opponents.
The following adventure hooks can be used to introduce players to Zetacaalpa and his machinations, and may even be weaved together to form a fully fledged campaign arc.
Defenders of Canolbarth
The southwestern defenders of Canolbarth forest have disappeared. Alfek Vickers and his trusted followers have secretly killed the local elves, and are now goading unsuspecting Darokinian merchants into profiting from their absence. Several logging camps have sprung up in the borderlands between Alleybrooke and Fenhold, and the loggers are felling trees as quickly as they can.
Meanwhile, elves from Desnae and Shieldtree have sent scouts to investigate the sudden silence from their guards on the southern border. Once they encounter the human loggers their response will be swift and violent. The PCs will need to think quick in order to stop this encounter from escalating into a full scale war between Alfheim and Darokin.
Neither will Alfek Vickers take kindly to anyone meddling in his affairs. Once his discovers the PCs are involved, Alfek will spring into action. While the PCs are busy fending off his assassins, Alfek will make sure that all of his involvement in the situation is erased from existence.
The sole survivor of a bloody attack, a maiden known as “Serpent Flower,” was taken in and nursed back to health by the Coyote tribe of the Great Escarpment. After hearing her chilling tales of depraved attacks against her own tribe, the Hawks, all of the Children of the Bear have begun to flock to her aid and are preparing for war with Darokin.
In reality, this is an elaborate trap set by Coaxoc and the Children of the Tiger. She and her followers set upon a small tribe on the plateau and slaughtered them all, subsequently staging the attack to appear as if it were performed by Darokinian merchants. Left among the dead bodies, Coaxoc’s apparent trials and bravery have pulled at the heartstrings of the Atraughin warriors. Once leave the plateau to attack Darokin, the Children of the Tiger will strike, eradicating the undefended tribesmen left behind.
Not only will the PCs need to broker peace between Darokin and the Children of the Bear, but they will have to unmask Serpent Flower’s treachery and prevent Tiger Clan’s sneak attack. Coaxoc may try to persuade the PCs of her sincerity rather that oppose them outright (depending on whether or not she believes they can be convinced). In such a case, Zetacaalpa may recruit Alfek Vickers to provide damning evidence of Darokinian duplicity.
Snakes on a Caravan
Goods being shipped north from Corunglain have not been reaching their destination, and the merchant houses in Darokin are beginning to take notice. Neither bandits, nor humanoid brigands are to blame for these mysterious disappearances however, since the caravans, along with all shipped goods, have been recovered along the roads they were set to traverse. What is troubling the merchants is not the loss of goods… but the loss of all the traders and guards without a trace of violence or bloodshed.
PCs may be tasked with unraveling this mystery, or they may stumble upon the eerie remains of such a caravan on the open road. In fact the cultists of Dhoka Naag have been targeting merchant caravans on the northern roads leading into Glantri. Infiltrating the caravans from within, the assassins capture and incapacitate the merchants and their crews at the most opportune time. Afterwards the captives are led away, and all traces of the attacks are erased. The fate awaiting the unfortunate merchants is grim... a short journey to dark caverns in the nearby Broken Lands where they await sacrifice to the cult’s dark patron.
Discovering the assassins in their lair and freeing any remaining prisoners should be the PC’s ultimate goal.
With the countryside destabilized, and his magical reserves bolstered by blood sacrifices, Zetacaalpa is prepared to achieve his greatest accomplishment… the raising of the lost city of Oenkmar. As the earth rumbles, and fires pour out of the Broken Lands, very little time is left for the PCs to thwart the evil viper’s plans. They must rush headlong into the humanoid infested wastelands north of Darokin and battle magically fueled zealots from Oenkmar who have already begun their conquest of the lesser humanoid clans.
Though deadly, the Oenkamrians are not the most immediate threat. To stop Oenkmar’s rise, the PCs must rush past its defenders into the bowels of the earth to confront Zetacaalpa himself. Only by disrupting the snake’s vile rituals will the surface world be saved, and Oenkmar once again sink into the depths.
The ramifications of Zetacaalpa’s plots could be severe, whether the giant viper succeeds partially or in full. At the very least, Darokin and its surrounding regions may become destabilized, with mistrust and ill will sowed between the merchants and their neighbors of Alfheim and Atruaghin. Depending upon their actions, the PCs may be able to alleviate such conflict to some degree, but if not Darokin may face grave danger in the immediate future. Threats may come from the Empire of Thaytis, Ierendi pirates, or even from the Master of Hule. Playing through these adventures may pave the way for module X10, Red Arrow, Black Shield.
Should Zetacaalpa succeed however, consequences may be even more dire. Both the physical and political landscape of the region will change drastically, with the appearance of Oenkmar devastating the region with volcanic activity and earthquakes. Whether or not Zetacaalpa can maintain control over the humanoids will have very little impact on their ultimate behavior. The Oenkmarians will quickly dominate all of the lesser humanoid clans living in the Broken Lands, and then turn their sights to Darokin, Alfheim, Atruaghin, Glantri, the Shires, and beyond. All of these lands fell under humanoid control at one time or another in the history of the Known World, and they may again...
Aaron Nowack, A Brief History of Umbarth House, http://pandius.com/umbarth.html
Thorfinn Tait, Atruaghin Clans Updated Map, 8 miles per hex, http://mystara.thorf.co.uk/updated/_08_/atruaghin-clans-8.png
Bruce Heard, GAZ10 Orcs of Thar, TSR 1988
Carl Sargent, GAZ13 Shadow Elves, TSR 1990
William W. Connors, GAZ14 Atruaghin Clans, TSR 1991
John Nephew, HWR1 Sons of Azca, TSR 1991
Redwall, by Brian Jacques 1986 (the Asmodeus character)