After leaving the cannibal chief Klorak’s chamber, the Castaways made a quick search of the Thrunefang’s camp. In a shanty set aside for stores, Kishtari found a fat fluffy kitty that wasn’t interested in being “rescued,” and some smoked “human” strips in addition to some fruits and tubers. The latter rations the party stocked up on, and Likki merrily stuffed his pockets with the people jerky when he thought nobody was looking.
The late Malikadna’s lodge was a filthy mess, but within it the heroes discovered a trove of alchemical goods and potions that probably would have helped the witch’s tribemates tremendously in battle had she thought to distribute the material ahead of time.
Choosing to bed down in the Thrunefangs’ general bunkhouse, Dornas took first watch on the adjacent lookout tower. The Taldan noted that, true to his word, Klorak had one of his wives on the lighthouse balcony to keep an eye out for the now-canceled dinner feast’s late arrivals before the savages discovered their uninvited guests. The Castaways enjoyed an uninterrupted rest, fraught as it was with the seething stares and baffled mutterings of their cannibal hosts.
Breakfast in Blood
First light brought with it the inevitable challenge from one of the barbarians. A casual gesture from Kishtari toward the decaying bodies of the objector’s kinsman and a gentle suggestion from Dornas that anyone unhappy with the truce should take it up with Klorak, ensured the cannibals’ cooperation – at least for the time being.
After cowing the cannibals, the Castaways returned to their daily business — adventure. They cleared the sticks covering the hole leading to the subterranean caverns where they all knew Nylithati, the dreaded ancient “mother” of the Thrunefang tribe awaited them. After a brief discussion regarding the information they hoped to learn from this wicked matron concluded – namely, what had Ieana wanted from her? – the heroes descended into the hollow.
Kor’lec and Kai took point, followed closely by Dornas and his conjured globules of light. The rest of the party followed. The druid was unmistakably more sullen than usual, prompting Likki to ask his “big brother” what was the matter. Kor’lec responded that the armistice with the Thrunefangs didn’t sit well with him and as far as the half-elf was concerned, the only good reason to be in the caves was to remove a blight.
Recent prints in the cavern’s soil revealed the steps of a heavyset man, Captain Kovack. Alongside and across them, however, were track-marks that resembled… something, or someone, slithering.
A tight, winding cleft led the delvers to a gore-splattered chamber with some oubliettes carved into the north wall. Before these could be examined more closely, Kor’lec detected in a shadowed corner a pair of cadaverous creatures whose humanoid figures looked forcibly fractured into four-legged forms. When Dornas’s lights exposed them, the beings bounded over the jagged floor toward the intruders like broken-backed jackals – except very fast.
Kishtari had a crossbow at the ready and an itchy trigger finger. With a twang the psion’s bolt scraped a scissure in the wricked watchdog’s flesh, rupturing a line of pestilent pimples. The pus spouted like a fountain, but the heroes weren’t near enough to get sprayed. The undead abominations might have been dangerous in close-quarters, but their opponents were downright deadly in all the other quarters.
Dornas casually swung his voluminous black locks toward one of the creatures. To his teammate’s astonishment, the magi’s hair stretched forth and skewered the ghastly thing through the face! A coconut spun out from Likki’s over-sized hand put the beast down for good. As the goblin did a little victory dance, the remaining monster was shorn by an earsplitting report from Monica’s dual-barreled gun. As the archaeologist’s shot signaled the undead’s destruction, it just as loudly announced the Castaways’ presence to whatever else lurked down there.
Jask informed everyone that the creatures they’d dispatched, festrogs, were a type of failed, animal-like ghoul employed as guards in their master’s warrens. The grated cavities were probably where the accursed monsters kept those they allowed to transition into undeath. Monica added that ghouldom was a pitiable state that bestowed an insatiable, eternal hunger.
Able to have a look at the oubliettes unmolested, the heroes uncovered a scrap of leather near a word scrawled in blood: “MURDERER.” Also in blood was a message reading thus:
The testimony absolved the Jenivere’s captain in the party’s eyes, and cemented an already iron resolve among them to make Ieana pay for her crimes.
As to their enemy’s nature, the evidence was getting heavy. Monica was correct all along.
Ieana had to be purecaste serpentfolk.
Serpentfolk! whose prehistoric empire once stretched across the solar system and into the planes; a species that presaged the evolution of feathers and fur, and perhaps even predated the arrival of the aboleths and elder things. Their dominance was so complete that an entire epoch was named for them. But as formidable and eonian as their age was, the purecast serpentfolk of ancient myth were thought to be extinct – as dead as their patron saint – survived in the modern day by scaly savages with but a smidge of sapience…
Suffice to say that whatever the Castaways’ quarry sought, it could only mean ill. The delvers made their way ever downward through the constricting passageways of the cavern and before long encountered one of its denizens. The ghoulish thing might have been human once, but it possessed an unmistakably ichthyic cast. Even in tight quarters, the lacedon barely registered its own destruction before the party took it apart.
Kor’lec sensed the shuffling sounds of a potential foe in large chamber ahead of them. Kishtari unfurled her psicrystal Naga and sent it slithering onward to get the lay of the land. The serpentine construct went undetected by the waiting creature, and it relayed the chamber’s contents to its creator. A briny well laid in the center of a roughly circular chamber, surrounded by ridges of varying elevation. There were two more lacedons in there, and one was lying-in-wait – poised to claw the first creature out of the tunnel.
Kor’lec sent Kai up to draw the creature’s attention, relying on his animal companion’s quickness to avoid attack. The ploy worked. The lacedon sprang after the swift dinosaur, allowing the Castaways to hasten into the chamber unharmed. The aquatic undead was soon surrounded and cut down. The other ghoul joined the fray, but was just as quickly overwhelmed. Monica entangled the undead in her thorny whip, and with amazing panache, whisked it up into the cavern ceiling, where it was impaled on a stalactite! The ghoul’s blackened viscera, along with its death screams, attracted a shark-like predator swimming in the well. The beast shot up out of the pit and snatched the lacedon like a prawn off a toothpick before vanishing from whence it came.
Temple Out of Time
Having defeated their foes, and with several passageways leading out of the well chamber to choose from, the Castaways selected one seemingly at random. A short tunnel to the east, further inland as opposed to those leading toward the sea, appeared to be part of a construction – a ruined hallway. Following it, the delvers set eyes on something never before seen by living human, elf, or coeval race:
A serpentfolk temple, aeons old, remarkably intact. A graven image of a cobra-headed humanoid loomed over the hall, and before it, a large red-bronze urn-shaped object was etched with glyphs. Three great obelisks, topped with amber orbs preserving the corpses of prehistoric snakes, were lined up in a central row.
The structure was a discovery that would make the name and fortune of any adventurer or scholar of history a thousand times over and send shockwaves throughout nations – if it could be reported in civilized lands. If not for the fact that they were stranded on a desert isle – and a murderous, once thought-to-be-extinct member of an ancient, advanced race of mind-controlling reptiles were there ahead of them – the gravitas of this archaeological find might have been better appreciated.
Also, the undead present were a big distraction. Four skeletal serpentine humanoids hissed at the intruders from portcullis-enclosed alcoves. In the hall’s corner opposite the statue, a hulking lacedon in tattered leathers that resembled poor Captain Kovack munched and sucked on yellowed bones amid a pile of ancient remains.
Finally, from the large urn in front of the statue, like a cobra conjured from its basket by a Vudrani punji player, the skull of an enormous fanged serpent coiled upward atop a sinuous body of ribs.