It’s amazing how much manipulation is going on in parasites.
Our intrepid adventurers had just landed on the spongy deck of what once was the Nightvoice, which they believed to be the source of the demonic fungus and where their hobbled friends had been hauled off to. Any and all of the ship’s wood was supplanted by the gray-purple mold that given time, would devour flesh just as surely.
Likki started to slap his battle drum when he noticed dozens of fungal pygmies were descending the vines that anchored the Nightvoice between the island and some plinths of rock offshore. With his axe, Nemanji severed all but one of the vein-like strands, sending several of the creeping attackers to the swirling sea. The last vine however, the party needed as an escape route. “We’ll hold the line,” Nemanji said, gesturing to himself and Tyst, who was still in animal form. Nocking the bow given him by the missing buccaneer, the tiefling growled, "find Aerys," and through gritted teeth added, “make sure the gnome dies,” referring to Gelik. Nemanji opened fire behind Tyst, who was already halfway up the tether raking with his curved claws and badger-rushing the pygmies down to the swells.
Kor’lec attempted to reconnoiter the cargo hold just below the upper deck, and was spotted while he took note of several pygmies and a fungal iguana readying themselves for an attack. Kishtari dangled Naga, her psionic homunculus, through a hole in one of the rusty metal grates separating the levels. The serpentine construct was also spotted, and revealed no more information than Kor’lec.
Whether or not the enemy was ready for them, the Castaways were obliged to take care of their own. In two teams, Kor’lec, Kai, and Kishtari took the starboard stairs while Monica, Likki and Dornas descended the port side.
What awaited the adventurers below was even more nightmarish than above decks. Pulsating purple globules on the ceiling dimly lit what was once the cargo hold of the Pathfinder vessel. The fungi had consumed stacked barrels and crates amongst which the enemy positioned themselves. Monica upended the fungal reptiform with a quick lash of her thorny whip. The creature responded with a belch of poisonous spores that nearly filled the hold and caught Monica and Dornas dead on. The mild toxin weakened the Taldan woman, but Dornas demonstrated a steadfast resistance to it that induced yet more questions about the mysterious magi’s origins.
The hidden pygmies began hurling javelins as Kai, with Kor’lec close behind, advanced through a narrow path along the starboard edge that the poison cloud did not reach. Kish, unable to find any discernible intellect within the heads of the fungoids, resigned herself to blasting away with her crossbow, but the fibrous anatomy of the monsters proved frustratingly resistant to her lancinate bolts as well.
Coughing out the spores, Monica lashed her barbed whip around the funguana’s neck and raised it into a midair spin with a violent hoick – as a chanting Dornas, his staff energized with dark magic, clobbered the whirling beast causing it to coalesce and vanish into a negatron singularity!
At the far (aft) end of the room, obscured by shadows and fungi-encrusted mounds that once were boxes of cargo, were the skeleton-stuffed stairwells. Between them lurked the champion of the fungus men; all six feet of him with powerful muscles that sprouted vines and mushrooms as he flexed like a gladiator. Wielding an enchanted longspear, the monster stepped out into the open and thrust low. Kor’lec watched in horror as Kai, who had charged, was impaled, lifted, and shaken off the end of the fungus man’s enchanted spear as if the velociraptor was merely a pest to exterminate. The fungal champion beat his fibrous chest, challenging the invaders to meet him in melee.
Meanwhile, Dornas, still standing nonchalantly in the miasma of spores, made his own display of might by knocking down the crates piled next to him. The pygmies assailing him and Monica collapsed along with it and landed prone. The Taldans were quick to take advantage – Monica sliced at the pygmies with her rapier while Dornas splattered them with his magically-empowered staff.
Kai was bleeding out, but still breathing before the fungus boss. But instead of finishing the dinosaur off, he hesitated. Repeating Dornas’s gesture, the monster man-thing pushed over the crate pile that he was adjacent to, sending his own minions gracelessly to the floor! To nearly everyone’s astonishment, the fungous brute then attacked the pygmies on his own side. Kishtari was aglow with psionic luminance – the kalashtar had somehow, impossibly breached the creature’s mind and placed him under her spell!
The control was short lived, but it was time enough for Likki to scramble over to Kai and save her life with healing magic. Once again the fell forces whom the monkey goblin served came to the rescue, rejuvenating Kor’lec’s companion almost completely. The dinosaur was commanded to withdraw, leaving Likki as the only obstacle between the fungous brute, who had shaken off his trance, and Kishtari, who had laid it. The master fungus pointed his spear at the alien woman and with herculean effort, exhaled a howl of rage!
But the monster’s beeline to Kish was his own undoing. Determined to reach the psion at any cost to his own well-being, the fungoid pushed past a gauntlet of attacks from the rest of his enemies, including a giant freaking spider summoned by Kor’lec. Sliced, bashed, and bitten, the brute reared to impale Kish, but finally succumbed to his wounds, falling in twain after a swipe of Kor’lec’s scimitar.
The aft of the hulk contained the kitchen where Aerys and Gelik were kept, bound by fibrous strands to an old cast-iron oven. They were dying slowly, demonstrating the obvious signs of having ingested the alien fungi. The stumps where each once had a foot were cauterized – badly.
After the party gave up their curative potions to revive them, Kor’lec did what he could to treat the captives’ poisoning. Aerys was beyond pissed. The pirate cursed-out Gelik for ensorcelling her, and if she weren’t then tied up, probably would have beaten his boyish face into a mulch.
Gelik insisted that he was really sorry. But it wasn’t good enough. The gnome hesitantly revealed that he was an operative of the king (technically the primarch) of Absalom. His mission was to recover maps and documents from the Nightvoice and hoped he could persuade the away team to do it while maintaining his cover as a craven performer. Kor’lec, who’d been searching the rest of the ship, had already recovered a cloth map to the Pirate Captain Lortch Quellig’s treasure, and incinerated it before the gnome’s sad eyes (though not before memorizing it).
Though none believed his story as told, Kishtari was unable to discern the gnome’s uncensored thoughts. And while his tale of duty and secrecy did little to mitigate the party’s anger at him, they were satisfied enough to free Gelik from his bonds.
Requesting a word in private with his girlfriend, the Castaways left Monica and her gnomish beau alone in the kitchen. Gelik let out a sigh and confided, “I can’t believe they bought all that!” Monica was furious, but Gelik convinced her that his lies were in self-defense, that he would never be dishonest with her, and that he truly loved her. All he wanted, Gelik claimed, was to show his quality to the group. He never wanted anyone to get hurt. Monica demanded that he come clean to the others, but the gnome argued that if he did that right away, they would in all likelihood murder him. To show his gratitude for rescuing him and for covering for him, Gelik shared with Monica one of his deeply-held secrets: a pentad of syllables from Truespeech, the language of the gods, that helped his words carry weight. He had learned them from a professional comedian.
Meanwhile, Dornas asked Kishtari to use her telepathic surveillance once again. The psion argued that she tried to spy on Gelik’s thoughts already, but could not break through. “Not him,” Dornas corrected, “Monica.” Kishtari felt if she did, the archaeologist would never forgive her – but didn’t refuse.
It Speaks But Cannot Be Heard
In addition to Dread Pirate Quellig’s map, Kor’lec had recovered a journal from a lead safe, some loot, and magic items. The journal was probably a captain’s log, but the shorthand was so obtuse not even Monica could make sense of it. With Dornas’s help however, the words were subjected to the scrutiny of two powerful intellects. While the context remained a mystery, a symbol stood out:
Cyth-V’sug, Demon Lord of Fungus and Parasites.
Gelik had mentioned a sea cave reached via the holed bowels of the Nightvoice that the fungal men reverently went in and out of. All knew that this meant the source of the gray islet’s contamination lied within, and that it was very likely angry and ambulatory. The party returned abovedecks, but everything was eerily silent. Nemanji and Tyst were nowhere to be found. If they had been, there would have been less of an argument to rest and return to the cavern at a later time. Ultimately, the Castaways decided in favor of finishing off the hideous blight that permeated the earth there and then. They’d make Aycenia happy and she could maybe cure their friends.
Speaking of which, despite Dornas previously making Sasha promise not to do anything dumb while they were occupied below, she just couldn’t help herself, apparently. But it was not her faculties in question (this time), the ghoul fever Sasha suffered from famished her, and left alone she’d devoured more of the gray fungi. “I have the babies in me,” the reinfected girl creepily kept uttering. Kor’lec had already figured out from the damaged remains belowdecks that the pygmies emerged out of those who succumbed to the toxic mold. It was why they took captives, to force feed and become incubators. Gelik, Aerys, and Sasha were doomed to share the fate of all those whose mold-caked bones were stuffed into the aft stairwell – unless the heroes were successful.
The clock was ticking. Forced to leave Nemanji and Tyst to whatever trouble the warriors had found, and Kai to prevent the dying home team from killing each other; Dornas, Kishtari, Kor’lec, and Monica descended to the lich-lit innards of the Isle of Never Going There.