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In which the Covenant of Wati continue their archeological assessment of a very thoroughly haunted house, and the gnoll Zenobia deals with her crush on the dervish Asrian.

I missed the last session, because I was stalking numbats a few hundred kilometers out of Perth, so missed the demise of undead kitten horde, more giant bugs, an unusually intelligent sand elemental, and so on. It's been a long day. At least Nemat, who had predicted lots of undead in these tombs and buildings, finally got some satisfaction.

Nemat Ooc: Well, Zenobia just slaughtered a kid and their parents.
Zenobia OoC: what species?
Nemat OoC: Human.
Zenobia OoC: oh dear
Nemat OoC: Well, they had let themselves go. Hyper-emaciated, really.
Zenobia OoC: ah - mercy killing then

They were undead skeletons.

Nemat: Oh, and we found something nice for you - this golden holy symbol of Sarenrae.

We also find a welcoming inscription in the atrium of the main building, surrounded by bodies.

GM: But they’ve long-since disintegrated.
Zenobia: Like that means anything, these days.

The bodies shrug off the dust of centuries and pick up their weapons.

Zenobia: *sigh*
Onka: Well, we predicted a trap if we came in through the front door, and we were right.
Zenobia: But a welcoming inscription and undead guardians? That’s just rude.
Asrian: Maybe they were house guards that died at their post.

Given the hallucinatory sounds of battle that Nemat hears as he moves in, Asrian is probably right. Asrian and Nemat deal with the first, and Zenobia explodes the second with the blessings of Sarenrae.

Zenobia: Hopefully whoever these were will go on to whatever awaits them in the afterlife.
Nemat: Eh, doubtful, these were spontaneous undead. Wait, these were household guard, weren’t they? Fuck, this could be bad.

Nemat paces and thinks aloud, about what the implications of restless spontaneous undead means, despite the blessing the cult of Pharasma cast over the Necropolis to stop that very thing happening.

Zenobia: *proud of her friend’s erudition* Look, he’s lecturing again.

Nemat gets the rest of us to help interr the dead properly - dying on duty and just being left to rot where they lay would be enough to piss off anybody. And death, rot and piss also helps describe the stench in the main dining room, where polished human skulls have been stacked on goblets, on silver platters.

Onka: Charming.
Skulls: *levitate, cackle, and attack*
Asrian: Flying headbones. How Wonderful.
Nemat: Zenobia, you’re up.

The fear-inducing screeching, and acid spit, is a problem. Asrian obliterates most of them with one of her own spells. The rest don’t last much longer. At least the smell dissipates.

Zenobia: Nemat, was this another spontaneous haunt or did somebody set this up?
Nemat: Uh, um…. Probably set up.

But hundreds of years ago, or yesterday? The lack of dust is not a clue, either.

Nemat: All it takes is an Unseen Servant to dust the room every day.
Onka: They probably buried an enchanted brick in the foundations as a focus for the spell.

We poke around cautiously, Zenobia finding most of the more interesting trinkets.

Asrian: She’s my seeing eye dog.

Zenobia finds a ring - and gets the distinct impression that someone is breathing on her neck.

Zenobia: Is that you, Asrian?
Asrian: … no?
Zenobia: Is anybody else behind me right now?
Nemat: No?
Zenobia: I think we have a problem.

Nemat confirms that the ring is haunted, evil, chaotic, and magical. It’s also inscribed, in Ancient Osiriani, to one Ariseti. Then we all get to enjoy a flashback to an ancient marriage proposal, and cross-river romance, and the ring being misplaced, all at the onset of the Plague of Madness. Fancy history for a Ring of Protection +1

Nemat: It would appear the ring needs to be given as a genuine token of love and affection, as it was originally intended. That should remove the haunt.
Zenobia: *goes very quiet and blushes under her fur, and tries not to look at Asrian*
Onka: Well, we’ll pass it along to the priests later, and see if they can deal with it.
Zenobia: Yes! Let’s do that!

Zenobia distracts herself from romantic thoughts about the dervish, by looking for traps upstairs. Unfortunately for her composure, Asrian helps. Still, it DOES reveal some kind of magical aura behind one of the doors.

Nemat: *casts Detect Evil*
GM: Ping.
Nemat: Asrian, you and Zenobia go in through the other door.
Zenobia: *nods enthusiastically*

We burst in the room through both doors, expecting something moderately evil, probably using Illusion magic. It’s a bedroom, with wasp nests.

Nemat: Reveal yourself, fiend, we know you’re here.
Male Voice: And get myself killed? I don’t think so.
Nemat: I take it we have you to thank for the excitement downstairs?
Male Voice: A mere parlour trick. Why have to come to my home, to destroy my house and harm my associates?
Nemat: To do the will of the Pharaoh.
Voice: The Pharaoh is long dead.
Nemat: The current Pharaoh.
Voice: MY Pharaoh is dead - the current is a pretender to the throne. Now leave my home - I have done nothing to you and your kind.
Zenobia OoC: I’m just looking around for the monster - I’m expecting a Nazi skeleton filled with bees.

Eventually it loses patience and tries to mentally command Nemat to jump off the balcony. It fails, but at least reveals itself as a floating horned head. Asrian and Nemat recognise it as Imanish the Div, the creature that regularly tries to lure the desperate of the town over the wall, and into the Necropolis, by posing as a friendly Djinn.

Asrian: THIS fucker!
Asrian: I hate Djinn, I hate Divs and I HATE YOU MOST OF ALL!

Fucko McHeadly attempts to flee, and avoids the attempted curbstomping by Onka who was standing in the doorway.

Imanish the Div: Minions! To Me!

Nemat acrobatically leaps down into the internal atrium, and hits the monster with ANOTHER scream attack before it can escape. Asrian arrives soon thereafter.

Nemat: Asrian? I think he’s already dead.
GM: You manage to curb your battlerage long enough to realise it just said something about minions, just before the six Vargouilles arrive.

Excitement ensues, and not in favour of the good guys. These flying heads ALSO have screaming attacks, which paralyse Zenobia and Onka.

Nemat: ShitshitshitShitSHIT!
Asrian: Don’t move. *runs up Nemat’s back, leaps off his shoulders, and back onto the upstairs balcony to protect Zenobia and Onka.*

Alas, with two of us for Asrian to protect, Zenobia gets Kissed, and starts transforming into a Vargouille herself.

Zenobia: *whimpering noises through the paralysation*
Asrian: *something unprintable in Osirian*
Nemat: It’ll be fine if we can get her into sunlight!
Zenobia: nnnnhhgghgggddaAAaAAGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
Nemat: Is everybody alright up there?
Asrian: No!
Zenobia: I can’t feel my legs!
Nemat: Please tell me nobody got Kissed.
Zenobia: It put its TONGUE in my MOUTH.
Nemat: Get her into the sunlight!
GM: And the sun sinks over the horizon.

Despite Zenobia’s RAPID changes, including most of her fur falling out, Onka and Asrian take the time to crack the strongbox they spotted in the bedroom.

Zenobia: What are you DOING???
Onka: Prioritising.
Zenobia: *&^%(&^$(*!
Asrian: Hey, at least this way we’ll have the money to pay the priests to cure you.

GM: By the time you get Zenobia to the temple, Zenobia’s ears are starting to grow.
Zenobia OoC: And they were already pretty big.
Nemat: Guards! Fetch a healer!
Asrian: A priest!
Nemat: Both! Your most powerful one!

Sebti the Crocodile herself comes running.

Asrian: We ran into Imanish and his pack!
Nemat: We got them but Zenobia got Kissed!
Sebti: Oh Goddess - we must act quickly!
Zenobia: *whimpering like a whipped dog*

Happily, Sebti’s prayers work, and Zenobia stops looking quite like a Mexican Hairless.

Nemat: I’ve been fretting over you the the whole time.
Asrian: So have I.
Nemat: But now I’m sure you’re going to be fine, I’ll get back to writing my report.
Asrian: Let’s get you back to the inn for some good beer and a rest. Nemat, you handle the money.
Nemat: And Onka can Mend that wedding dress we found.
Zenobia: *brain derails again*

Of course, Zenobia is going to look ridiculous for some time, since it’s not like her fur is going to grow back instantly. And when she wakes up in the morning she discovers she’s been thoroughly groomed.

Zenobia: I’m going to need it. And I’ll probably have to worry about sunburn for the next few days. Wait… who undressed me?
Asrian: I was the only one with you last night.
Zenobia: *blushes so bright red she looks sunburned*
Asrian: Oh, and I have a question - what gender ARE you?
Zenobia: *splutters incoherently*
Asrian: Because you have breasts and you’ve also got all that.
GM: It’s generally accepted that the cetacean Moreaus all headed out to sea and never came back. They might even think they’re still being hunted.
Hero Shrew: So basically, No, there isn’t a supply of GMO ambergris out there.

Fireflash: ‘Face the wrath of a truly EVOLVED dinosaur!’
Monster: BKAW!
Flux: ‘Is that a thirty-foot chicken?’

Hero Shrew was only peripherally involved in the capture, hospitalisation, and intimidation of the Moreau super-crooks Thunder and Lightning, so hopefully he’ll be off the hook for retaliation from his fellow GMOs. Still...

GM: So, who wants to catch Scooter up on the situation?
Hardlight: Sure! Basically, Babies! You’re going to have to start wearing a condom, Scooter. Not that you’ve ever got to fourth base as far as I know.
Flux: Scooter’s love life aside, one of the girls at Madam Lil’s got pregnant.

Apparently Genesys fitted all their products with chemical birth control implants, and those implants are finally wearing off. And the police would quite like Thunder to stay in protective custody, because the Moreau community are going to PISSED that he spilled the beans. Usually the ECPD hand Moreau crooks back over to their community for punishment, because they anticipate Moreaus getting human rights eventually, and they have enough problems with the human gangs, without extra trouble from people that aren’t legally people yet.

GM: So we need you, Scooter, to persuade him to stay in custody.
Hero Shrew: …. Uhh…
Flux: Yes, we need you to be the Face.
Hero Shrew: Well. OK then. ‘The cops would like you to stay in custody for a while, but I don’t know why. I mean, I think it’s great that I might be a dad some day, but the rest of the Zoo don’t want people to know for some reason?’
GM: *sigh*
Hardlight: They don’t want people to know for the same reason I’m making a plan. We don’t want this situation to turn into a bloodbath and the Zoo on fire.
GM: And Humanity First are the moderates.
Flux: Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-

We now have to think about what the various organisations and gangs will think about the news. Even the Sanity Liberation Front (basically hactivists with bombs) are going to a problem, because if the news gets out the SLF will have the news worldwide within minutes.

GM: The Human Supremacy Front are the reason nobody wears the Vitruvian Man around Edge City. Because they use it as a tag.
Fireflash: Assholes.

And the violent ultra-right Christians they hang around with are worse.

And the political fallout will be significant too. The question of granting human status to Moreaus could have been put off indefinitely, and in a few decades would have been irrelevant went they all died of old age, but now Moreau reproduction will put a rocket under the issue. Some groups (the Chinese government, for one) are all in favour of granting them the franchise, but there are also plenty of vested interests that do not want another bloc added to the mix.

GM: They’ll hire an alligator poolboy, but they don’t want him to vote.

Hero Shrew: On the bright side, so far only us and the ECPD know you blabbed. Well, and Guilt-rider too, somehow. Maybe you could tell us where to find her, and shut down that possible leak?
Thunder: I’m not going to grass on Guilt-rider! She and that merc she hangs about with are BAD NEWS.
Hero Shrew: Yeah, you probably don’t want her AND the entire Moreau community on your arse.

Thunder: If Tommy V finds out about this I’m dead.
Hero Shrew: What, that springbok guy, really likes baseball bats? It’s not his kid, is it?
Thunder: Jeez, I hope not.
Hero Shrew: Why do you think he’ll be angry with you?
Thunder: I’m in HOSPITAL, in POLICE CUSTODY, HELPING WITH THEIR INQUIRIES, and it’s TOMMY FUCKING V, WHAT DO YOU THINK??? But it’s probably not his kid, he always prefered the cowgirl.
All: *consider the picture of the cowgirl in question*
Hero Shrew: Well then. Ms. Frequent Back Pain, I see
Fireflash: There’s a reason she does most of her work lying down..

GM: Who’s he in the most danger from?
Flux: Right now? The police, mostly.
GM: And you’ve talked him into staying in police custody. Well done.
Hero Shrew: He thinks he’s in trouble with lots of people, including Tommy V.
Flux: Who?
Hero Shrew: That springbok that likes to work with baseball bats?
GM: He doesn’t LIKE to, but people keep making him.
Flux: ‘I’m just trying to make a living and people like you keep disrespecting me’.

GM: If I wanted to use your Weirdness Magnet, I’d have the Nazis launch their attack from their hidden moon-base.

Which probably explains one of those Greys, waiting for us in a hoodie, next to the Qruiser.

Hardlight: Oh, hi, how are you guys?
Grey: Our world is being invaded.
Flux: … That’s not good.
Grey: Minds wrapped in iron. Minds of hate. They’re heading into Chinatown. Through the tunnels.
Flux: Oh god, we’re fighting in the sewers again.
Hardlight: Everybody in! We’re heading to Chinatown! Maximum Warp!
Hero Shrew: Make it so!
GM: Did you buy lights and sirens for the Qruiser?
Hardlight: …. No?

We drive a legal speed to Chinatown - Flux and Fireflash fly, because it’s faster. We head into the utility tunnels, where Hardlight’s radar sense picks up mysterious figures through the wall. And some of those figures are apparently solid, four meters tall, and turned towards towards the radar.

Flux: Oh fearless leader, what do your elf eyes see?
GM: Good question - all the rest of you have heard over the intercom is “Um. Well, it’s not Nazi garbage monsters” and a click. And they’re Kool-aiding it through the wall now anyway.

It’s four suits of big silver power armour and eight people in black suits.

Hero Shrew: Woohoo! Big guys! I can hit those! *flying tackles the nearest*

The armour goes down hard.

Fireflash: So… good defences, but not GREAT defences.
Hero Shrew: He probably wasn’t expecting to be tackled to the ground by a 5ft tall shrew.
Fireflash: Does anybody?

Bad Guy: Finally I get to tangle with some freaks! *shoots Scooter with some kind of plasma cannon*
Hero Shrew: Hey! That stings!

It rapidly becomes apparent that these guys REALLY haven’t tangled with ‘freaks’ before, because Flux almost managed to break free of an Entangle attack with his merely human strength, and Hardlight’s more explosive powers would make short work of more of them - if he hadn’t somehow managed to miss multiple targets in a confined space with an area attack.

GM: It’s a gift. I seriously have to stat this out as a disadvantage ‘Played by Muskie’

Flux: Scooter looks pissed.
Hero Shrew: Pissed is the natural state of shrews.

The guys in suits extend the rods they’re carrying, activate force fields, and go after Hardlight.

Hero Shrew: Great! If they’re that close you can drop an area-effect attack on your own feet.
Flux: And probably kill himself.
GM: Actually, his powers only ever make him look like an idiot. It’s his decisions that could get him killed.

Hero Shrew and Fireflash finish off the other two tin cans - the former punching his a hundred feet or so back down the utility tunnel.

Flux: You should punch things more often - you’re wasted doing fancy things like ‘tackle’.
Hero Shrew: Yeah, but in the old days I couldn’t just punch things, because everything was a squishy human.
GM: That was a squishy human too.
Hero Shrew: *shrugs*

Hero Shrew: *looking around at the various unconscious Humanity First members* Well, I was hoping I’d get to say ‘Which one is our informant?’ before we knocked them all out.
Quadrant! AKA The Usual Gang of Idiots!

Fireflash: Teen queen with flight and light powers. Studying accountancy.
Flux: Secretive technomage.
Hardlight: Half-arsed hybrid of Iron Man and Green Lantern.
Hero Shrew: Scooter Sorex, an anthropomorphic Hero Shrew, with superhuman strength, resilience, and willingness to fight anything. Just like non-anthropomorphic shrews.

Scooter missed the last session, which probably is just as well, since the villains of the week were Moreaus. Specifically, a tiger with electrical powers, and a bear with kinetic absorption and fancy gauntlets. If Scooter had been there, it would have gone down like this -

Thunder: Come on bro, fight me!
Hero Shrew: WOOO! *throws himself into the fray, and punches the bar as hard as he can*
Thunder: *absorbs the power of the punch, and goes up several levels in the Threat Assessment*
Somebody: Scooter, stop punching him, you’re only making him stronger!
Hero Shrew: Whoops.

Still, Flux, Hardlight, and Fireflash DID stop them from getting away with all the jewels they were stealing.

GM: Yes, street-level superheroes foiling a gem heist - I have to hit classic plots sometime.

Hero Shrew: I wonder where they were going to hide?
GM: In the Zoo. ‘What did the criminals look like?’ ‘A bear and a tiger’
Hero Shrew: Fair enough - and it’s not like the other Moreaus would be inclined to dob them in to the authorities.

Hero Shrew: So you fought a bear and a tiger last week?
GM: But no lion.
Flux: The lion was the getaway driver, obviously.

Apparently one of them did say ‘Think of the children!’ when the other said they should bug out. Assuming that wasn’t a joke, it will probably be important later. And they DID leave behind a helmet with ‘Sanctum Vitae’ written inside, and an odd partial logo resembling an Ouroboros on it. It probably isn’t the defunct holistic healing centre also in California.

GM: It means Life is Sacred. Don’t any of you have Latin on your character sheet?
Hero Shrew: No, I’ve never Latted.

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In which the Covenant of Wati explore the probably haunted home of a long-dead taxman, looking for things we can loot. With permission, of course - from people who weren’t born for centuries after the late Pentheru, and probably aren’t related in any way. Not only does the place have a high enclosing wall, but the main building itself looks pretty defensible - but then, he was a taxman.

We check the outbuildings first. As Onka, Asrian, and Nemat explain to Zenobia, it’s good tactics to rule out nasty surprises later, in case we have to leave the main building in a hurry.

Nemat: Sometimes what you’re running away from is less important than what you’re running towards.

One of the outbuildings is the family tomb, complete with dire imprecations against tomb robbers.

Zenobia: The usual, then.

There doesn’t seem to be any way to open it from the outside, which is a bit odd if they ever intended to put more family members inside. Maybe it’s full. Eventually we try pushing, and it opens easily.

All: *sigh*

Nemat: Wait, this was the outhouse - I mean outbuilding. Of course maybe it IS the outhouse and we’re about to be crapped on.

He’s right too - just like the last time we opened a tomb, we’re attacked from behind by a giant carnivorous arthropod - in this case a whiptail centipede about 8 meters long. It had been lurking in the dried up ornamental pool.

Zenobia: Does this thing nip down to the river to eat crocodiles????

Excitement ensues, including ear-piercing screams from Nemat. Of course the screaming is also a sonic attack spell, which helpfully both hurts the beast and expresses Nemat’s opinion of giant bugs. The centipede is intelligent enough to try and run away when it starts getting hurt, but probably wasn’t expecting Asrian to pursue it up the wall and put an arrow through its head. Alas, Zenobia is too slow to help her crush back down from the top of the wall. Cue sad gnoll.

We head down into the tomb, with Nemat’s IOUN stone orbiting his head by way of illumination.

Nemat: I have to say, it must be annoying trying to read by IOUN stone.

There are - of course - carved and armed figures around the room at the bottom of the stairs. It’s also full of corpses.

Nemat: That’s an important thing to know.
Asrian: Also the first thing we’re likely to notice.

Most of the corpses are naked, and mummified only by age and desert heat. There’s ONE linen-wrapped body up on the altar, but it’s not in a sarcophagus. Nemat investigates the rest of the bodies, cautiously, and it appears they’re mostly peasants armed with simple tools.

Asrian: That taxman must have been REALLY unpopular.

Nemat starts a forensic sketch of the scene.

GM: sketchsketchsketch... Sketchsketch sketch… why has that mummy moved?

The mummy on the altar is not only moving, it has a few pitchfork spikes and cheap knives sticking out of it.

Asrian: REALLY unpopular taxman.

The mummy isn’t hissing in in Ancient Osirion, either - it’s Aklo, the language of Aboleths, Gibbering Mouthers, and other things that Really Shouldn’t Exist.

Asrian: This guy was into some BAD SHIT.

It grabs at Nemat - and then its bandages start wrapping around HIM. At least he manages to hold the bandages off his face long-enough to scream “use fire!!!’ Of course, he still thinks it’s your normal mummy. Asrian realises it’s actually an Adherer after her flaming scimitars nearly stick to it. Adherers are the descendants of the once-human livestock of Phase Spiders. Happily, setting it on fire is still a good idea. Let’s hope Nemat is as fireproof as Asrian. Zenobia throws a flask-full of Keros Oil at the thing, which doesn’t quite ignite but DOES dissolve the glue holding the ‘bandages’ to Nemat. Which gives him to opportunity to cast Resistance to Fire on himself, pull a flask of Alchemical Fire from his own belt, and grapple the thing back.

Nemat: The Gods expect us to be heroic, now and then.

And then Asrian hits it with her flaming scimitars again, and it’s well and truly ablaze - especially after the scuffle shatters Nemat’s flask and splashes the rest of the Alchemist’s Fire all over the place.

Nemat: Ow. Fuck! That hurt!

Although it certainly seems to hurt the Adherer worse, and we all learn what “OW, Fuck, FUCK OW” is in Aklo. And Zenobia manages to decapitate the thing so we find out that CHOP THUMP is the same in every language.

Nemat considers the evidence, and the facts about Adherers that Asrian can provide. Adherers certainly don’t live for centuries, so it can’t be responsible for all the bodies in here, despite the pitchfork evidence.

Nemat: … That sneaky fuck - it REALLY wanted us to think it was an actual mummy!

Nemat checks all the bodies again, but all he can determine is that the better-dressed corpses had been beaten and brutalised savagely, and then all the less snappy dressers died suddenly from something that didn’t leave visible wounds. So let’s head deeper into the tomb and find out what that was.

Zenobia: No wonder that centipede was hanging around, it could probably smell all the bodies down here.
Nemat: …. Remind me to close the tomb door when we leave.

The rest of the tomb seems to be of standard layout, so despite the Adherer pretending to be the occupant of the mezzanine level, Pentheru’s family are probably interred down here somewhere.

Zenobia: At least all that proved the caryatid statues weren’t animated.
Nemat: True.

Zenobia big gnoll ears hear something meowing. And then everybody hears lots of meowing. And then we’re mobbed by a swarm of undead kittens.

Zenobia: They’re adorable! And horrible.
Onka: Shall I cast Detect Secret Doors?
Nemat: You’ve got that?
Onka: Yes, I’ve been holding it this whole time.
Nemat: Whoa whoa whoa, fighting one-handed is one this, but that’s going too far. :D
Onka: …. >:(

Nemat’s innuendo aside, it’s a useful spell - there are two hidden exits off the false tomb chamber.

Asrian OoC: I’ll want some assistance looking for traps - I have the kind of survival instinct usually found in lemmings.

The next chamber is stuffed with the cheaper kind of mummy.

Nemat: See? See? I told you! Slaves! Never doubt me again.
Zenobia: We are fortunate to have you in our party, friend. *examining the chamber* You’d think they’d ensure this chamber was high enough that the water from that last trap can’t drain in here and make the mummies all mouldy.
Nemat: This door was watertight - which tells us that the last trap was supposed to flood the room up to the ceiling.

Of course, the OTHER secret door is trapped too, but the exact nature of the trap has to hurriedly changed so one of the players doesn’t curl into the fetal position and whimper. Zenobia looks down at the ankle-deep swarm pouring out of the walls.

Zenobia: Are these dangerous?
Asrian: Very likely! (Now would be a good time to use that anti-swarm enchantment on your new shield!)
Zenobia: (Oh, this shield? With some kind of blessing inscribed on it that I don’t know how to read?)
Asrian: (Oh dear)

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In which our party of state-sanctioned tomb raiders are looting the final resting place of a long-dead quasi-Egyptian general. Basically we’re going through Tutankhamun’s tomb, if he had a larger budget for digging. And since we haven’t found the dead general’s actual body, there’s at least one chamber we haven’t been in yet. I wonder if he’ll be cranky?

Zenobia: So, what do you think the Sanctum of the Erudite Eye is?
Nemat: Well, the Erudite Eye is a reference to Nethys, one of the Ascended, and once a Pharaoh of Osirion.
Zenobia: Ascended?
Nemat: A mortal who became a god, without being born one or using the God-rock.
Zenobia: Oh. Like your deity, Onka?
Onka: *nods* Yes - a self-made god.
Nemat: Basically he got enough magical power that he said ‘I’mma God Now!’
Zenobia: When was this? Before the Plague of Madness?
Nemat: Why are asking me? I’m not an expert on ten thousand of Osirion history. Besides, it was so long ago nobody is sure when it happened.

The next chamber is basically an armoury, with a few extra items such as a military diorama and four funerary masks. The diorama is distinctly magical.

Zenobia: Four funerary masks? How many heads did this guy have?

Given that the masks represent multiple Old and New gods, it seems to be another example of the deceased hedging his bets by asking all four to watch over his tomb. And then we’re attacked by the toy soldiers on the diorama.

Nemat: Those sneaky ****s! I was looking around for statues animated as tomb guardians, I wasn’t expecting little guys!
GM: You’re being swarmed by a small army. Literally a small army.

Actually, it’s only three of them, but being stabbed in the shins by animated ushabti figures still hurts.

Zenobia: *trying to keep the figurines away from her shins* Should we try to talk to them first? We are in here with the current Pharaoh’s permission.
Nemat: A good thought, but these things are constructs, without free will.
Toy Soldier: *leaping up to bash Zenobia in the head*
Zenobia: Ow. Agile little bastards, aren’t they?

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#1300-1303 - Nudi Pics

#1300 - Chromodoris westraliensis - West Australian Nudibranch

for species #1300 - One of the most spectacular nudibranchs you can see while snorkeling around Perth. This one was found and photographed by Frances Hammond, who is a member of the Perth Snorkeling Facebook group I’m in. I stick to IDing the invertebrates, mostly, because some of the other members ran out of Australian birds to ID and turned to IDing fish instead, which are MUCH more diverse :) Also, I’m so short sighted that I can see anything more than a foot away when I’m snorkeling anyway :)

Anyway, C. westraliensis is a Dorid nudibranch that feeds of sponges from the Kimberley region, up on the northern coastline, down to Esperance on the south. The vivid blue black and orange colouration advertises the highly poisonous toxins that the slug accumulates from its diet of poisonous sponges. 

#1301 - Goniobranchus tinctorius - Red-netted Nudibranch

A different nudibranch, again from Frances Hammond, with the photo taken at Sue’s Groyne. I have IDed this one as Chromodoris reticulata in the past, but that name is not only out of date but also had multiple synonyms already, including C. tinctoriusDoris reticulata and Risbecia reticulata. 

Quite common around Perth, and a species the snorkeling group sees regularly. Apparently quite widespread in shallow waters across the Indo-West Pacific, too.

However, it also has a claim to fame noteworthy enough to get it onto the BBC news - it has a disposable penis. In fact, a penis that breaks off into three disposable sections, so it can mate again the next day, using a fresh length. The penis is also covered in backwards pointing spines that entangle sperm. The speculation is that the spines remove rival sperm, and the used length is disposed of to ensure the rival sperm don’t get a second chance in the next mate. 

The research team, led by Ayami Sekizawa at Osaka City University and Yasuhiro Nakashima at Nihon University in Tokyo, watched 108 coupling to study the behaviour.

Like other Chromodorid nudibranchs, G. tinctorius sequesters some spectacularly unpleasant chemicals from the sponges it eats, and somehow manages to concentrate them in the rim and other more vulnerable parts of its own body, which probably helps it avoid poisoning itself.

#1302 - Ceratosoma brevicaudatum - Short-tailed Nudibranch

Photo by @gemfyre , Point Peron

Another reasonably common species around Perth, and much of Australia’s southern shoreline, where like the rest of the family it feeds on poisonous sponges (usually Euryspongia, at least around Tasmania). Highly variable in colour - it may be yellow, or mostly pink, and have many more spots than it does here. 

I’m not clear on white the original taxonomist called it ‘short-tailed, either - seems to have a nice long tail, at least to me.

#1203 - Mystery Dorid Nudibranch?

Photo by Barbara Davenport.

As far as what species it might me, no damn idea.  Seems to be in the Noumea purpurea colour group, but that includes includes ten species from the genera Chromodoris, Noumea, Pectenodoris, Hypselodoris and Durvilledoris :/ 

There’s a few websites out there with extensive galleries, but they’re either limited to narrow areas such as the Sunshine Coast over east, or aren’t sorted geographically at all. And the Sea Slug Forums ran out of funding the better part of a decade ago, so I can’t ask there, either.

Doesn’t seem to be common around Perth either, since it raises some comment and confusion in the Perth snorkelling and scuba groups whenever one IS found.

#1298 - Melo miltonis - Southern Baler

I’ve covered the adults elsewhere but here’s one laying eggs. The Baler glues them to solid substrate and lays them down layer by layer with regularly spaced holes and ridges to ensure good water flow. 

Point Peron - observation and photo by Belinda Forbes

#1299 - Syrinx aruanus - Australian Trumpet eggs

Again, a species I’ve covered before, but you will hopefully be interested in the eggs as well, which wash up with some regularity after rough weather. The eggs are suitably enormous for the world’s largest snail, but trawling, anchor chains, and rough weather are all threats to their successful reproduction.

#1289-1296 - Lacewings

#1289 - Austrocroce sp.  - Thread-winged Lacewing

The first ID for 2018, a few seconds after midnight (how did YOU spend the countdown?).

Photo by Brooke Janitz, near Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

Thread-winged Lacewings are in the same family as the Spoon-winged Lacewings - the Nemopteridae - but instead of have elaborate flattened blades on their hindwings, they have these slender filaments instead. I’m not sure what benefit they derive by evolving in this direction - perhaps female Austrocroce just decided that spoonwings were going out of fashion, and decided they preferred their mates more minimalist. Of course, that assumes that they didn’t start off like this and that Austrocroce is stubbornly retaining the traditional look.

#1290 - Chasmoptera huttii - Hutt’s Spoonfly

I’d just finished posting the Austrocroce pic, end went back through my posts looking for the only Nemopterid I’d seen myself. I couldn’t find it. That’s because I’d never got around to posting it.

I vividly remember photographing this Chasmoptera huttii, on the north-facing slope on a sandhill in Hammond Park, because I had to crawl along on my belly, millimeter by millimeter, until I was in range to take the shot. And the sand was scorchingly hot, even through the overalls. I was in actual pain by the time I managed to get some photos that were in focus. 

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#1288 - Hippoboscidae - Louse Fly

#1288 - Hippoboscidae - Louse Fly

A very interesting fly I IDed for Lynn Miller in Glenview, Queensland.

The louse flies, AKA keds are obligate parasites of warm-blooded animals, although they ignore humans for the most part. Many species are entirely wingless, and they are highly host-specific - the sheep ked, Melophagus ovinus, is a wingless, reddish-brown fly that parasitizes sheep, for example. One species, common in the SE US, is the Neotropical deer ked, Lipoptena mazamae - it comes in winged and wingless forms. 

I think this one is an Ornithomya sp. a genera usually found on birds. Ornithomya fuscipennis is one of two hippoboscids commonly found on the tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) of Australia. Pseudolynchia canariensis is commonly found on pigeons and doves, and can act as a vector of pigeon malaria, but it’s not yet known if other species can be vectors for mammalian disease. 

One aspect of the Hippoboscids even more remarkable than the rest of it is their reproduction - they bear a single young at a time, feeding it from milk-glands inside their body. The maggot isn’t ready to be born until it’s reached its final instar - in fact, they’re born in a prepuparium, that immediately hardens into a true pupa. This is a huge effort for the mother fly - her baby will often outweigh the parent.

Lynn was actually quite familiar with louse flies, on injured birds. She just hadn’t expected to see one on the wall of her greenhouse, far from any host.

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