We’re not cannibals. Cannibals boil people alive in cauldrons. I prefer to think of ourselves as evolved eaters.
We last left the Castaways gaping at the flotsam of the Brine Demon. Jask Derindi had been dragged off by the cannibal Thrunefangs. All that remained was Hesediel, the hatchling dimorphodon Sasha was caring for, who poked his tiny head up from under a mat of kelp. Kor’lec scooped the squawking reptavian into the pocket of his cloak. The creature seemed content to be among familiar scents.
A few more minutes’ investigation revealed that the cannibals struck between six and twelve hours prior to the adventurer’s arrival. Hoping the time-frame was in their favor, the heroes backtracked inland in the hopes of catching Jask’s kidnappers before they made it back to their camp.
As fate would have it, Jask’s would-be rescuers encountered several delays. After pausing to ready themselves for travel during the grueling mid-day hours, a pounding thunderstorm blasted their enemies’ trail and forced the heroes to move with more caution than they would have otherwise. The party soldiered on through a rain that only just died down a dull drizzle an hour before dusk.
Once again on the south beach of the Shiv’s sickle-shaped lagoon, the explorers reached the road inland. They still had many miles to go southward to the abandoned lighthouse where the Thrunefangs lived. The Castaways opted this time to take the byroad through the valley they once avoided in fear of ambush, but remained vigilant for the snare traps they knew their enemies employed. Kishtari voiced her concerns that Nemanji hadn’t caught up to them yet, but the companions had to trust the tiefling savage was in less a fix than poor Jask. With nightfall approaching, the group hoped for the kindly old preacher’s sake that either the Thrunefangs ate dinner late, or that he was bait for a trap. That the best-case-scenario was that the Castaways were walking into a trap was just how bad things were.
The kidnappers’ footprints led west off the path after the heroes emerged from the canyon. It followed a slight, low tunnel through the bush that would have been invisible to any but Kor’lec’s keen elven eyes. Taking this trail forced the heroes to crouch at times, an impediment that clearly favored yet another of the island’s damnable menaces – a trio of Shiv dragons had caught the travelers’ scent and were closing in fast. Working together, Kor’lec pinged the large lizards’ location allowing Kishtari to psionically tranquilize all three.
On a Certain Creek Without a Paddle
Leaving the lizards to dream of easier prey, the heroes pressed ahead. The sidetrack eventually emerged at the lip of a vale overlooking a stream made swift by the afternoon rain. Though it was shallow enough to see the rocks that the rapids flowed over, it was no less treacherous on account of its speed. A few ropes tied to a post on the party’s side dangled down to the riverbank, the remains of a crude rope bridge cut by the Thrunefangs to discourage pursuit.
Monica thought to bypass the ravine in the traditional way of her adventuring archaeologist idols, by casting her whip into the canopy and swinging across. While her achievements as a novice already outstripped many of the explorers she’d read about, Monica wasn’t quite ready for the weekly pennibloods – she missed fantastically. But Dornas leapt right after her and midair tackled his Taldan countrywoman before her promising career ended on the rocks below. The magus’s levitation hex allowed the two to glide to the opposite riverbank with but a few bumps and bruises. This, however, left the party split, with Kish and Kor’lec up on the opposite shoulder of the vale. And that’s when the druid had a notion so harebrained it had to work.
Using the shovel he inexplicably carried at all times, Kor’lec uprooted a tree into the ravine. It landed in the rapids with a sploosh. The half-elf shouted down to his human companions to anchor it while he and Kish descended the disabled rope bridge to the river. The party would make up for lost time by riding the log!
The whole thing worked better than it sounds written down. There were protests, and yes, Kish accurately predicted she would eventually lose hold and require saving. But Dornas once again rose to the rescue of the frailer sex, casting a rope out to the telepath and reeling her back to the kinda-sorta raft. For as rough a ride it was, the tree was well chosen as a mode of transport, and the riders’ inability to steer it only became an issue after a good hour or so cruising.
Then the inevitable waterfall loomed ahead. If the river were any deeper at that point, they all would have gone over with the log. But the adventurers’ feet touched ground, and with some painstaking maneuvering and patience, the foursome managed to tiptoe their way to the water’s edge.
Tower of the Cannibals
Whilst traveling the road from the nadir of the falls, the Castaways found themselves approximately a mile and a half from the derelict lighthouse. The cannibals’ camp surrounding the tower occupied a peninsular point and was flanked on either side by a steep and sizable drop-off into the churning swells of Desperation Bay. Worse for Jask’s would-be rescuers, the vegetation on this part of the island was sparse at best, and provided little cover.
The sun’s fading light combined with the smoke blowing down from the Thrunefangs’ fires, casting the scene in a red haze and deepening shadows. Beating drums and harsh voices likewise carried from the south. Here, at least, the Thrunefangs had no caution – no fear. The Jenivere’s survivors were firmly in the enemies’ backyard.
Despite every attempt to stick to the bush at the south side of the road, the concealment it afforded became less reliable as the cannibal’s tower loomed closer. It was not known how far the Sargavan colonists who occupied the site generations ago got along on its construction, but if any of the current tenants were keeping watch from the old lighthouse, the heroes would be spotted for sure.
The party began to plot out their rescue, and that’s when a returning Thrunefang hunting band traveling the road caught wind of them. The hunters dropped their carrying pole of dead monkeys, then swiftly made their way toward the heroes. As soon as the savages drew javelins, Dornas conjured up a concealing mist, buying the Castaways a little time to ready themselves. Kish stepped out from the magical cloud and a twang from her crossbow presaged the bloody explosion of a Thrunefang’s shoulder. Abandoning the javelins for the spiked gaffs they seemed to favor in melee, the cannibals charged and hollered hideous threats in their pidgin devil-speak.
The battle was short ‘n sweet. The Thrunefangs underestimated their enemies, and quickly got themselves surrounded. Kor’lek’s boon companion Kai leaped into the fray and showed the humans what a natural predator was capable of with tooth and claw. Dornas was a blur, twirling his staff and using it to strike necromantic weakness upon his foes. Monica tore open fatal wounds upon one of the barbarians with her thorny lash. After two had fallen, the third cannibal dropped his weapon and started to back away. The heroes didn’t let him get far.
The Castaways stopped just short of torture, but gave Kish free reign to pick apart their prisoner’s surface thoughts. Even before he was magically charmed, the Thrunefang was haughty and forthcoming, confident he’d live long enough to see his captors ripped apart and eaten. Monica’s first question, translating from Taldane to Infernal (and vice versa his answers), was “why do you eat people?” The barbarian shrugged and replied simply, “we like it.” His thoughts, however, betrayed that some sacrament and ceremony were involved. The man they captured, Jask, would at midnight be sacrificed and eviscerated in a feeding frenzy by all those gathered. There were approximately seventeen Thrunefngs at base now, with the more on the way for the feast.
When queried further about their religion, far from the systematic diabolism practiced by the Thrunefang’s Chelaxian ancestors, the cannibal mentioned one Nylithati, Mother Thrunefang. “She teach us the way of Zura, this here island all Zura’s place.” Monica struggled to recall what she knew of those names, but couldn’t place them. When asked about Ieana, the savage said she was a witch and the chief gave her quarters in the tower with him. “She went below with her slave, the big man, to speak to Nylithati, but the slave did not return with her.”
Additional leading questions gave Kish a good idea of the camp’s layout – a few large wooden structures that never were completed by the Sargavan colonists and only partially reinforced by the Thrunefangs. Kish noted a corral of walking skeletons, and asked the prisoner about them. “That be old Malikadna raisin’ them there bones, she wise and powerful.”
With that information, the heroes began to draw out their rescue plan. The lighthouse, thank the gods, did not seem to be used as a watchtower. The Thrunefangs instead had two elevated platforms for keeping an eye on the road approaching the camp. However, they had allowed a stretch of land between the southern cliff’s edge and the clearing to get overgrown enough that a stealthy approach under the stars could succeed. Jask was being held in an old animal corral, tied to a post. The walls of the pen were damaged or never completed. Directly behind Jask was a deep pit the cannibals used as a waste dump. This was swarming with rats.
Disguises, illusions, and that old standby, the “I surrender, suckers!” scheme were hotly debated. Finally, a very solid plan took shape. This was to get their charmed captive to lead any number of his tribesmen away from camp while the party stealthily made their way through the brush to the pit behind the corral.
The first part of the rescuer’s plan succeeded, though their charmed captive only managed to lead away a group of four. Once at the pit, one of the Thrunefangs in particular looked to be a problem. He was on a deck overlooking the prisoner’s corral, preparing additional foodstuffs for midnight’s menu. Kor’lec called upon the earthen spirits to give him the form of a dire rat, and attempted to coerce the rats in the pit to help him free Jask. The animals were not at all interested in risking their lives, though they invited their new big-brother to partake in the their never-ending banquet of shit, garbage, and bones. Still in muroid form, Kor’lec climbed up to Jask and began gnawing away his bonds. Kish remained hidden, prepared to put the cannibal chef to sleep if his attention wavered back to the prisoner and his rodent rescuer.
Jask had been stripped and beaten to near-unconsciousness, and his skin was chapped and sun-blistered. He awoke from delirium just enough to try and warn Kor’lec away, whom he recognized even in the shape of an animal. “I’ve lived a full life and thanks to you I will die as an innocent man,” pleaded the old Garundi, “you mustn’t risk your lives now.” Kor’lec made the rodent-equivalent gesture of “fuck you” and kept on chewing.
As the bonds gave way, Kor’lec returned to humanoid form to carry Jask to safety. The Thrunefang finally noticed what was happening, but slumped over into sleep before he could raise the hue and cry. Kish wanted to finish the cannibal off right there and attempted to vault over the pit …
In another lifetime, the alien telepath might have botched her acrobatic hurdle. She might have landed squarely in the septic filth of the pit, scattering its screeching vermin in every direction. The clamor would have surely alerted the rest of the camp’s inhabitants. The heroes would have then been forced to fight the entire slavering tribe with their backs to the cliff. Jask would have been slain in the melee. They would have lost. Their story might have ended far more ignobly than it once promised to be.
In a moment that seemed destined to fail, Kish instead soared up and over the pit like a champion athlete, landed with sublime grace next to the sleeping cannibal, and with his own butcher knife, delivered him to whatever obscene afterlife awaited his soul.
This time, though, they cheered and high-fived.