The Black Mysteries, Part II

By Ed Greenwood

First, take a look at thaebra and maeraede.

Thaebra: Thaebra ("THAY-bruh") is a dark blue, sticky paste that glistens when smeared onto a surface, but soon dries and hardens. Despite its blue color, Thaebra doesn't leave a stain. To make it, one boils the roots of certain plants found in the Shaar and adjoining lands (a tall, broadleaf grass; a small bright yellow ground-flower; and a tumbleweed, though precisely which ones are closely-guarded secrets) together in the same cauldron, stirring constantly.

Hardened thaebra is very like dried hummus or badly set plaster, and it can be scraped or rubbed off flexible surfaces such as cloth and flesh. Heat, flame, and impacts do nothing to ignite it -- you must drop maeraede oil on it (see Thaebra-Maeraede Firebirth Alchemical).

Merchants sometimes sell thaebra as a cosmetic because if smeared on skin, left for the better part of a day, and then removed, it takes most dyes and stains with it. It can also bleach to white any known hair, of any hue, when washed in water that contains as much powdered thaebra as will fill a fairly small human palm. Thaebra usually costs 8 gp for a small, palm-sized pot (4 ounces). This price can double easily if both buyer and seller know of the combined combustible qualities of thaebra and maeraede (see maeraede), and the buyer reveals any urgency of need.

Maeraede: Maeraede ("may-urr-AE-dd") oil, a brownish-orange, translucent, odorless distillate of the leaves of a swamp-weed found in the coastlands of the Inner Sea, is usually sold as a purgative. In most mammals even as little as four drops taken orally causes immediate and violent vomiting and diarrhea, accompanied by debilitating cramps that seldom last more than 3 rounds (DC 25 Fort save to avoid; failure means the creature is nauseated for 1d4 rounds). This unpleasantness always swiftly ends the effects of light drunkenness, and often entirely expels poisons, parasites, and food taints from a mammal. A dose of maeraede taken after the initial exposure to an injected poison or diseases grants the imbiber a +1 circumstance bonus against the secondary effect of the poison or disease. (This latter effect varies widely from individual to individual, or maeraede would cost much more.) Maeraede oil goes for 4 gp for a finger-sized vial containing about 1 ounce. This price can double easily if both buyer and seller know of the combined combustible qualities of thaebra and maeraede (see thaebra), and the buyer reveals any urgency of need.

Thaebra-Maeraede Firebirth Alchemical: A mere sprinkling (three or more drops) of maeraede oil on thaebra causes a hot white flame to instantly arise. If the thaebra has been applied to wood or cloth, it sets such substances alight in 2 rounds (unless water or other oils are splashed on its flame during the 1st round, which extinguishes that patch of thaebra forever). A thaebra fire causes an intense sensation of heat but no actual damage during the 1st round, but 1d4+2 points of damage per round thereafter when ignited in contact with flesh (or clothes directly worn by a creature), with the flames persisting for as many rounds as there is thaebra to feed them. A smear of thaebra that weighs a quarter pound is about as large as a modern hamburger patty and will burn for 2 rounds. Each additional quarter pound extends the burning time 1 round, but doesn't generate any more heat. For example a half pound of thaebra burns for a total of 3 rounds, dealing 2d4+4 points of damage.

The next most often seen firebirth alchemical pairing is ardrent and osbra.

Ardrent: Ardrent ("AR-drent") is a purple-brown powder derived from ground-up "leap-bugs" (locustlike hopping insects all too common in lands around the Shining Sea) and is usually sold in 1-pound "handsacks" for 1 cp. Nothing likes to eat it, and it resists molds and rotting.

Osbra: Osbra ("OZ-brah") is the dried, powdered form of the bitter, swift-to-rot tuber known as the tlardra ("Tuh-LAR-druh"). This mauve-skinned, "crooked sausage"-shaped shallow wild plant grows in lands south of the Lake of Steam. Humans consider it inedible but sometimes feed it to pigs and captive snakes, who seem to find it very nourishing. Tlardras rarely fetch more than 1 cp/lb., but osbra (which is sometimes used as a long-lasting, "fast" mauve dye in garment-making) is usually sold in carved wooden "slide-top" flat coffers that hold 4 ounces, for 1 sp/coffer.

Ardrent-Osbra Firebirth Alchemical: Since both ardrent and osbra are found in powdered form, peddlers easily hide them among the vials of spices they offer for sale. The two powders ignite only when mixed together (at least 1 ounce of ardrent, but only a between-the-fingers pinch of osbra is required) and the mixture is then moistened with the spittle of any mammal (human saliva is most commonly used).

An ardrent mix smolders for 2 rounds (during which it gives off smoke, due to a reaction with the air around it and not actual combustion), and then flares up in the 3rd round. If water or cold is applied to the mix at any time during those 2 rounds (and the cold effect must be intense enough to deal at least 1 point of damage), the mix becomes inert and can never ignite. In the 3rd and 4th rounds, the mix deals living creatures in direct contact with it 2d4 points damage. Damage falls to 1d6 points in the 5th round, 1d4 in the 6th, and then ends. Except when in contact with warm, dry material that readily ignites, ardrent-mix fires rarely spread or persist, so such mixes can burn holes, run along seams, and the like.

Many other, rarer alchemicals are known, but Order members and other clergy of Kossuth try to keep all details of them secret. Observations confirm that many of these are powders that can be thrown into existing fire sources (such as lit braziers in temples to the Firelord) to produce specific effects, most often fierce, short-lived jets of flames that gout in particular directions.

Black Flame Symbols

The Order of the Black Flame uses a few nonmagical designs as markers so that they can silently impart information. These symbols seldom change, but a ring of dots (some doubled or trebled) often surround them. These dots have meanings that do change -- and are widely suspected to tell Order members that the symbol they encircle is false, or has an additional or altered meaning.

Black Flame symbols are usually drawn on doors, sometimes in cobrascale ink (12 gp per 1-ounce pot), which is invisible except when heated by a torch, whereupon it flares into coppery orange brightness, only to fade the moment the heat source is withdrawn. The true formula of cobrascale ink is a secret known only to certain families in the Thayan tharch of Priador (and, of course, their ruling zulkir) and may have nothing at all to do with cobra scales.

Specific symbols used by the Order of the Black Flame, and more about their Mysteries, follow in the next installment of this column.

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