Campaign of the Month: September 2016

Age of Serpents

Timeline

A summary of historical records, plot-specific events, and episodes in order of their occurrence.
Reader discretion is advised, the chronology contains episode spoilers.

This campaign utilizes the canon historical timeline of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting, with two key differences:

First, obviously, the major events of Serpent’s Skull (which take place “in-canon” in 4710 AR) have yet to occur. Second, a century ago, around 4600 AR (the onset of the Age of Lost Omens and the death of the god Aroden), a war between the lashunta and formians on the neighboring planet Castrovel devastated that world—leaving much of its atmosphere poisonous to most air-breathing creatures. This event revealed a heretofore secretive, oppressive empire of outsider-controlled humans on a continent called Sarlona and resulted in an ongoing exodus of refugees of races from that world to Golarion.

Age of Serpents (? pre-history) — A cadre of serpentfolk lords oversee sanctums across what will become Smuggler’s Shiv. Each possesses a magic stone, like the Beast Stone, allowing them to command powerful eldritch forces. In addition to the sanctums, a sixth structure serves as a cathedral to the race’s god.
Age of Legend (? pre-history)Azlanti cultists of Zura occupy Smuggler’s Shiv, re-purposing the serpentfolk structures there.

  • Oathday, Calistril 28th, Winter 4716 AR — The Jenivere departs Bloodcove, leaving its missing cabin boy, Brynan Devers, behind.
  • Moonday, Pharast 4th, Spring 4716 AR — On the final leg of its four-month journey along the western seaboard of Garund, the Jenivere departs Senghor for Eleder. (Campaign Begins)
  • Fireday, Pharast 8th — Several passengers aboard the galleon Jenivere (Dornas, Kishtari, Kor’lec, Monica Montana, Nemanji, Aerys Mavato, Gelik Aberwhinge, Jask Derindi, Sasha Nevah) survive their ship being run aground on the northern coast of Smuggler’s Shiv. First Mate Alton Devers manages to ferry the survivors to land via the galleon’s jollyboat, though he does not himself survive.
    • The Jenivere’s alleged saboteur, Ieana, and her accomplice, Captain Kovack, make landfall on the isle’s east coast and set up a crude camp.
    • Tyst, an undiscovered stowaway on the Jenivere, washes up on shore without any recollection of who he is or what he was doing aboard the ship. A lycanthrope with Red Mantis training, Tyst avoids detection by remaining in animal form.
    • morning, the Castaways awaken and assess their situation after defeating some eurypterids. Breakfast is Served
    • afternoon, evening, the more adventurous Castaways rescue Kai, Kor’lec’s animal companion and salvage food and building supplies from the wrecked Jenivere. The Wreck of the Jenivere
    • late night, the Castaways confirm Kai has been magically dominated by Ieana, who can potentially spy on them via the theropod’s senses. The Red Mountain Devil begins stalking the Castaways. Eyes in the Night
  • Starday, Pharast 9th — Dornas, Kish, Kor’lec, Monica, and Nemanji assign camp duties to the others, and strike into the Shiv interior.
    • Ieana and Kovack abandon their camp and head into the jungle, leaving a trail. Through Kai’s eyes, Ieana periodically checks on the status of the Castaways.
    • morning, early afternoon, the adventurers are accosted by a hunting party of monkey goblins. Monkey’s Bum
    • noon, the explorers ascend “Black Widow Bluff” and become involved in an old tribal feud between the Mongrukoo monkey goblins and the Klixarpillar mites, taking the goblins’ side after they are ambushed by the mites and their swarming spiders. Likki joins the party, hoping they’ll help him rescue members of his tribe that the mites took captive. Gob-Webs
    • afternoon, early evening, on route to the mites’ lair, the heroes take cover from the midday heat in a cave infested with giant crickets. The Cricket Pitch
    • evening, the Castaways defeat the Klixarpillar in their cavernous lair, rescue the goblin captives, and discover within the web-covered shrine the Mongrukoo hoped to procure for themselves. Fight With All Your Mites
    • later, unbeknownst to Kor’lec, the heirloom charm he carried reincarnated Pollock, the last of the Klixarpillar mites (slain by Likki). Now a grig, Pollock awakens in the dryad Aycenia’s grove. The powerful fey senses the presence of a good druid on the isle, and considers asking Kor’lec’s help to restore nature’s balance to Smuggler’s Shiv.
  • Sunday, Pharast 10th — The castaways return from Black Widow Bluff with Likki. Chief Basako of the Mongrukoo insists on a feast to honor the heroes and their friends. Legacy of Fiends
  • Moonday, Pharast 11th — The castaways return to Black Widow Bluff to finish exploring the mite lair. There, they defeat the Hive Queen and discover that the old “shrine” is really a 10,000 year old serpentfolk sanctuary! Monica uses the Beast Stone to break Ieana’s hold on Kai. House of the Hive Queen
  • Toilday, Pharast 12th — The Castaways are now clearly divided into an away team, who explore the island, and an equally important home team, who guard the camp site and treasure. The away team strikes south on the trail of Sasha, who has abandoned the camp in anger. Wing and a Prayer
  • Wealday, Pharast 13th — Dornas, Kish, and Monica follow Kor’lec south along the Shiv’s eastern strand. Nemanji catches up later. The Castaways capture the Brine Demon from undead pirates and find evidence of Jask’s innocence.
  • Oathday, Pharast 14th — The Castaways finish relocating base camp to the hulk of the Brine Demon. Home Wrecked
    • late evening, Kor’lec is contacted by the sick Spirit of the Island through Pollock, but the evil little fey places Likki’s life as a condition for leading the druid to her grove.
  • Fireday, Pharast 15th — The Castaways defeat a monster in a massive viper nettle patch and recover the fruits to ease Aerys’s recovery from alcoholism. Thorny Entanglements
    • late evening, Kor’lec, Nemanji, and Dornas while hunting near the Brine Demon encounter a bull dimetrodon, but the animal doesn’t seem interested in a fight. Kish, Monica, and the other castaways are assaulted by the ghost of the Brine Demon’s captain, but figure out his earthly fetter and lay him to rest. Shiver Me Timbers
  • Starday, Pharast 16th — The away team leave for an extended trip inland, trusting the other castaways to take care of themselves.
    • Unfortunately, Gelik decides to take matters into in his own hands and secretly sets out for the Nightvoice, bringing a willing Sasha and a charmed Aerys along for protection.
    • Pollock appears to give Likki 24 hours before their death duel. The Thrunefangs are later encountered, and ambushed after Kishtari telepathically discerns their evil intentions. They learn Ieana’s already infiltrated the cannibals and has provided to them descriptions of the Castaways.
    • late afternoon, the adventurers come across another shipwreck survivor, Pezock, and befriend him. The tengu has lived on the island for over a decade.
    • Meanwhile, Gelik, Sasha, and Aerys are attacked by ghouls; Sasha is bitten and contracts ghoul fever.
  • Sunday, Pharast 17th — The Castaways help Likki survive his duel, though the goblin spares Pollock’s life. He implores the vengeful grig to abandon their respective tribes’ blood feud. Path of Redemption
    • afternoon, the heroes reach the hill of Aycenia. The dryad offers succor and intelligence in exchange for their help removing “an alien blight” infecting the far northwestern isle, a.k.a. “the Island of Never Going There.” The Castaways go there.
    • Gelik’s party, meanwhile, encounter the blight firsthand as they reach the islet first. They are attacked by the fungoids who capture and maim Gelik and Aerys before bringing them to the Nightvoice. Sasha escapes, but crawls into a cave she cannot climb out of.
    • dusk, The Red Mountain Devil sends the heroes a message, dropping the head of the bull dimetrodon at their feet. Nemanji sends one in return, winging the flying chupacabra with an arrow from hundreds of feet away. Food of the Gods
  • Moonday, Pharast 18th — Hours before dawn, the captive Gelik and Aerys are force-fed the toxic mold by the fungous pygmies. Sasha, trapped and famished by ghoul fever, eats the mold as well.
    • dawn, Tyst reveals himself to the party and is invited to join their quest.
    • morning, the Castaways cross over to the Island of Never Going There and battle a large, well-prepared force of fiendish fungoids. Tyst metamorphoses into werebadger form and helps route the enemy. The group discover signs of a recent battle and the involvement of those they thought they left behind at base camp. The away team track down Sasha and from her learn the story. Grey Matter Invasive Species
    • late morning, the party cross over to the Nightvoice, and defeat some fungoid guards abovedecks. However, they come under fire from an immense horde from the land. Nemanji and Tyst take the battle to the horde, so the others can rescue the hostages.
    • After defeating a small but elite force of fungoid guards, the Castaways find Gelik and Aerys. Gelik lets on that he’s a special agent of Absalom, though he admits later to Monica that he lied about that to protect himself. The heroes leave their wounded friends behind and delve into a cave beneath the Nightvoice to find the fungal infestation’s source. Toxic Reactions
    • noon, in the caverns beneath the surface of the gray island, the Castaways destroy the fiendish source of the Abyssal fungus.
    • afternoon, at Aycenia‘s grove, Pollock is discovered to have been psionically influenced by Ieana to steal Kor’lec’s reincarnation amulet. Failing his mission, the grig commits suicide. Aycenia sees to the recovery of Gelik, Sasha, and Aerys and provides a haven for the other Castaways. Kor’lec, Monica, Dornas, and Kishtari leave to retrieve Jask from the Brine Demon.
    • late evening, the Castaways reach Pezock’s crab, and stay the night.
    • night, Ieana, who has been dominating the Thrunefang cannibals through their chief Klorak the Red, commands that she be allowed to see Nylithati, a presumably undead religious icon that dwells in the sea caves below their encampment. The enchantress descends with Captain Kovack, but does not return with him. Soon afterward, Ieana surreptitiously departs, and upon regaining his will, Chief Klorak vows vengeance upon her.
  • Toilday, Pharast, 19th — Dornas, Kor’lec, Kishtari, and Monica discover that the Brine Demon has been attacked by the Thrunefangs and totally destroyed; and that Jask was taken captive. Destiny’s Hinges
    • late evening, after a number of hindrances across the breadth of Smuggler’s Shiv, the Castaways reach the Thrunefangs’ camp and endeavor to free Jask. After alerting the entirety of the tribe, the rescuers attempt to retreat but destroy most of their enemies in the process. The Thrunefang chief remains sequestered in his tower, undergoing narcotic “purification” with his brides. Game Trail and Cannibal Cataclysm
    • later evening, the Castaways attempt to capture the lighthouse, but find its defenders — Chief Klorak and his razor-crazy brides — very well entrenched. After the party slays one of his wives, Klorak negotiates with them, offering temporary use of the tower in exchange for Ieana’s corpse. The High Chief’s Aegis
  • Wealday, Pharast, 20th — In the caverns beneath the Thrunefang camp, the Castaways discover a confessionary note from Captain Kovack that exposes Ieana’s “purecaste” serpentfolk nature. Later, the party discover what Ieana was probably looking for — an ancient serpentfolk temple. Inside, they are forced to do away with a giant cadaverous snake and a pack of serpentfolk skeletons guarding a secret sanctum that contains the Typhonian Proposal. Boils and Ghouls and Shrine of the Serpent Lords
    • later, Nylithati and her lacedon children try to prevent the Castaways from leaving her domain. It does not go well for the aquatic ghouls. Dornas uses the undead matriarch’s head to insure Chief’s Klorak sticks to his part of their deal. The Castaways return to Aycenia’s grove. Ieana activates the Tide Stone, using the ritual described in the Typhonian Proposal. The rite pushes the ocean back from the bay adjacent to Red Mountain allowing the serpent-woman access to a subterranean structure. Unfinished Business
  • Oathday, Pharast, 21th — After a night of sex together, Kor’lec is informed that Aycenia will bear him two children and offers the druid a home on the island when his adventures are over. Kor’lec, Dornas, Monica, Kishtari, and Likki leave for Red Mountain — to confront Ieana once and for all.
    • afternoon, the Red Mountain Devil attacks the party on their ascent to the apex of Red Mountain. After wounding the creature, the party track it to its lair and destroy it. Kor’lec rejects the idea that the group should use the Tide Stone ritual and searches the bay in porpoise form to discover what Ieana was looking for. In Darkened Storm or Sunlight Glare
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Blood in the Water

I always thought the appeal for vampires are the same as religion, the desire to avoid death and live forever.

While exploring the underwater landscape in the form of a graceful porpoise, a slightly wounded Kor’lec was unexpectedly set upon by a frenzied silvertip shark!

Thinking quickly, the shapechanged druid temporarily cursed the hungry animal with a spell that made it afraid of the water! The panicked beast began thrashing and breaching in a vain attempt to get away from the very environment it depended upon, obliterating the upper decks of a nearby shipwreck in the process. Soon thereafter, the poor beast leapt out to open sea in search of easier prey.

Familiar Hilarity Breeds Contempt

Returning to humanoid form, Kor’lec thought he’d seen something aglow in the lower decks of the shark-whacked shipwreck. After making his way to the submerged upper deck, a voice called out “Stand and Deliver!”

Out from the water popped a little impish creature wearing a soggy bicorne. “You stand before captain Ekubus of the Salty Strumpet!” challenged the mephit, and gesturing to the innocuous sea life crawling about the hulk, “and me crew has you surrounded!”

By this time the rest of the party had reached the thin strand between the bluffside of Red Mountain and the lagoon. From there, the adventurers observed the parley betwixt Kor’lec and Ekubus with bemusement. The druid had managed to convince the funny little creature to “stand down.” It was clear that Ekubus was quite mad, believing that the Strumpet was still at sea. Kor’lec asked if he’d seen anyone strange pass by.

“Aye, yes!” admitted the mephit, “a funny-looking lady nearly scuttled me ship when she pushed back the ocean and entered the scary doors leading into the mountain yonder.” Kor’lec prompted Ekubus to elaborate on what he meant by “funny-looking” and “scary.”

“Well, the lady had a long snake-tail, and well, her head was also like a snake.” As to the doors that Kor’lec had only seen from afar when he was a porpoise, Ekubus added, “they’ve got pictures of vampires on ’em what makes ’em scary!”

Kor’lec played along with the mephit’s fantasy, and said he was a captain as well of the Briny Demon. After a little hiccup where the half-elf had to explain he wasn’t a spy, Ekubus let slip that his ship’s original captain was a wizard transporting magic booty to Mediogalti. The elemental being then allowed his fellow captain to return to his own crew.

Back ashore, Kor’lec recapped his solo adventure to the others. Monica and Dornas suggested that the mephit was probably once the familiar of the dead captain, if they were indeed a wizard.

Everyone else had already decided that they wanted to try using the occult ritual from the Typhonian Proposal to activate the Tide Stone and allow them all access to the secret sanctum below the surface of the lagoon. Kor’lec wasn’t sold on participating in ancient serpentfolk ceremonies, but he did think it was probably the right thing to warn Ekubus as to what was coming. All of the party, Kishtari especially, were interested in the Strumpet’s treasure.

The half-elf returned to the Strumpet, this time with Kai, and practically had to reintroduce himself all over again to the insane mephit. Kor’lec made a diplomatic play for the mephit’s plunder, saying he’d help get it to its destination while the Strumpet was forced to anchor during the coming storm. Ekubus, perhaps a little more savvy than anyone realized, invited the druid to go into the cargo hold and haul the treasure topside.

Kor’lec dove down into the dark, submerged cargo hold with a magical light. Sleepily perched in front of the glowing treasure was a spear urchin, which wouldn’t have been too much of a problem if it weren’t as big as a fucking horse.

Kor’lec tried his best to mollify the creature, but his druidly efforts only succeeded in raising the urchin’s hackles – particularly pointy hackles that injected a potent paralytic venom. After the half-elf had surfaced in utter “nope!” a jocular Ekubus asked Kor’lec if he’d talked to the “quartermaster” about the ship’s stores.

To Eschew What Lies Below

Satisfied that mephits were some kind of cruel prank perpetuated on the cosmos by some demented overpower, Kor’lec returned to the strand to catch up with the others. On the way back up the bridges and ledges, the party came upon none other than Gelik, Jask, and Aerys! And the Castaways were not happy to see their dear friends. “I thought we all agreed you’d stay put.”

Gelik surrendered and admitted it was all his idea, but Jask and Aerys interjected before anyone could beat the snot out the gnome. Both said they were of sound mind and agreed to come on their own. Aycenia had ensured the speed and safety of their travel before having to return to her tree. Sasha opted not to come, which Aerys chalked up to the teen not taking Nemanji’s death well. It was the first time anyone had verbalized what was probably so. The tiefling hadn’t been seen since he and Tyst made their heroic stand against the fungoid horde – and wasn’t coming back.

Gelik explained that he’d gotten a look at the charcoal rubbings of the Typhonian rites when he was helping Monica gear up for the away team’s destined date with Ieana. Familiar with occult magic, Gelik knew the group stood a better chance for success – and averting the ofttimes deadly consequences of failure – if they had more participants in the dangerous rite. Casters like himself and Jask were especially valuable, and Aerys was happy to lend a hand, and a fist. The trio – whose lives were secured and bettered by Dornas, Kish, Kor’lec, Likki and Monica – felt they owed their friends at least their support.

Jask had brought the copper helm he cooked with to provide seawater in a “vessel of purest metal,” pouring it into the basin atop the pyramidal Tide Stone. Aerys smeared a bloody palm onto the monoliths, the “blood from a thinking creature.” To fulfill the “tempered with the kiss of a serpent’s tongue” Kishtari tried kissing the stones, but they didn’t light up with magic writing until Kor’lek summoned a tiny snake to touch them with its tongue. The last ingredient seemed to necessitate calling upon Ydersius, which put the divine acolytes in a difficult position. Jask wondered, as it was concocted by serpentfolk, if the ritual would work just as good if it called upon another god, in other words, was the final element faith? After carefully studying the magical notations on the text and those illuminated on the stones, the mages confirmed the priest’s suspicions. As they knew of no one whose faith was as unshakable as Jask’s, he would call on Nethys.

With only a little further ado, Monica took the lead in the ritual, explaining that the ceremony depended on the focus and noesis of its practitioners. Elemental forces, biofeedback, magical awareness, and theosophy were required of the minds of the participants – Kor’lec, Kish, Dornas, and Monica would handle each respectively.

And as they began to focus their minds, the heroes and friends immediately felt themselves awash in eldritch energies. The air was charged with static that detonated into lightning around them. It fed from the Tide Stone and lashed into the pillars before arching skyward into the swirling clouds. Jask called on Nethys, over and over, using the ancient deity’s titles and anonyms. “Nethys! All Seer! Great Eye!” and so forth. Miraculously, the janus mask of the god appeared at unpredictable intervals in the vortex of clouds that formed a black funnel around the peak of Red Mountain.

Monica was losing her focus as the occult powers plumbed her mind for an awareness that she was doing her damnedest to feign – when Gelik grasped her hand and said “I haven’t been entirely truthful with you, about me, but I love you…”

Great, dark hands, crackling with lightning, appeared in the lagoon and seemed to push back the ocean! And behold! the waters of the bay were pushed back to reveal a seabed of rocks, scuttling crabs, plants, flopping fish, and sunken ships to the open air! And across the exposed shelf of the bay were great, spiky stone doors that ground noisily as they slowly opened beneath Smuggler’s Shiv to the secret dungeon beneath it.

Rust and Stardust

The ceremony took just under an hour, but the party was sorely drained by its effects. The dark clouds dispersed, yet the lagoon remained laid bare, and the doorway to the dungeon beckoned. Dornas looked at Jask, Aerys, and Gelik and – admitting that if he couldn’t get them to stay put – asked if any of them intended to come with? Gelik readily made no bones about his cold feet (er, foot), and also that he’d never been a part of the Pathfinder Society, which was his original lie. The gnome, hat in hand, admitted he tried to get in the organization by passing off fake artifacts. He was nothing but talk – a fraud and a crook. Monica replied that she’d known all along.

Jask repeated what he’d said on his last impromptu adventure with the a-team – he was just too old for this shit and was looking forward to being a free man on the mainland. As for Aerys, the pirate seemed torn – until a silent nod from Kishtari let her off the hook. Aerys opined everyone would be better off if she’d just kept an eye on Jask and Gelik, as her pegleg would only slow everyone down. The proud half-elf’s pain and frustration were evident to everyone.

Dornas, Kish, Likki, Monica, Kor’lec and Kai once again left their friends at the apex of Red Mountain to do what only they could do.

Confront Ieana.

Make history.
Be history.

Sanguine Sanctorum

By the time the party reached the shore, their exhaustion had subsided. The march over the emptied lagoon was surreal, but uneventful. Finally, the adventurers arrived at the scary doorway, and it lived up to the name. In addition to the jagged spikes protruding from the open stone doors, images of demonic vampires, dressed in cultish Azlanti garb feasting on maidens, dominated the reliefs. The embellishments likewise betrayed their Azlanti design.

Dornas admitted his keen interest in Azlanti culture, and Monica stated that their ruins weren’t often found in Garund, though their presence in the south had long been a theory in fringe academia. Beyond the doors awaited a seemingly endless stairwell going up.

The long stairs continued upward for about fifty feet, which put the adventurers just above normal sea level and deep inside the crag. The first chamber was a vaulted cathedral exalting the demon goddess Zura. Columns decorated with demons supported the ceiling arches. A crumpled, bloodstained altar listed on a dais in the room’s center, and urn-cluttered alcoves were arrayed in the west and east walls. An arching walkway, forty feet high, crossed the south quarter of the chamber, with no apparent access from the temple floor.

The decorum was a fitting tribute to the Queen of Vampires. Reliefs and frescoes depicted cannibalistic blood orgies and all manner of vile atrocities visited upon people and serpentfolk alike by fang-bearing men and women wearing capes and high headdresses. Images of bats, bat-like humanoids, and themes of bloodletting and the consumption of still-living victims were ubiquitous.

They Won’t SSSssstay Dead

But very little of all that imagery was immediately apparent, for as soon as the heroes reached the top of the stairs they came under fire from assailants on the walkway. Kor’lec’s keen elven eyes spotted two serpentman skeletons up there hurling javelins at them.

Deciding they’d had it with these guys, Kor’lec launched a spear that struck true and shattered a few dozen ribs. Dornas moved to the archway under the bridge and saw stone doors leading out of the room to the south, decorated with spikes and motifs just as the ones outside, and called Monica over to check them. The undead snakemen tossed the last of their javelins, and deciding they’d also had it, leapt to the temple floor. The one Kor’lec had already hit shattered into pieces, and the other arose just in time to get taken apart by Kai.

A thorough search of the room found a lever behind one of the alcoves that Kish couldn’t resist messing with, which, fortunately, just open and shut the outside doors. The urns had nothing but dust within them. Kor’lec discovered a pit in one of the alcoves leading twenty feet down to a pile of jagged bones and a lit cavern.

Kishtari sent her serpentine homunculus, Naga, down the pit to investigate. For the first time, Naga protested. And everyone heard it. “Have we considered all options?” it asked, “it might be dangerous down there!”

“Oh, you can hear that now?” asked Kish of the others, somewhat surprised. The psion explained that her mother’s psicrystal would speak, sometimes. It was a sign of her own psionic development. Kishtari insisted that Naga do what was asked of it.

Dangerous Toys

Naga slithered into the pit and described a natural cavern lit by glowing crystals. Aside from the skeletons, mostly human, there were old beat up crates, broken pottery, and other detritus. The psicrystal described a shallow pond of mineral soup containing motes of crystal. “There is a rather unpleasant doll sitting on a shabby box,” Naga reported, “and oh! it’s turned its head to look at me. And there’s another coming out a vase. I’m fleeing now.”

The snake-like construct bee-lined back up the pit and resumed its regular job as its master’s hairband. The tiny dolls floated off the floor up after it, brandishing tiny knives. Worse than the knives were the nimbi of blackness around their hands. “Come on, they’re just stupid little dolls!” Kor’lec teased as he walked up to the lip of the pit and slashed hard with the scimitar that he’d painstakingly sharpened that morning to a razor, toy splitting edge. Yet, he barely chipped the puppet-like monster. “Hey, why didn’t that work!?!” the druid gasped.

Dornas, dodging the dolls’ deadly negatron touch, identified them as a type of construct animated by soul-gems – precious stones that confined a sapient creature’s soul indefinitely. Which meant they had minds.

“Interesting,” yawned Kish. One of the soulbound dolls lost consciousness and plummeted down into the pit, breaking on the spiky bone pile. “Couldn’t get both of them.”

But the other one wasn’t long for the world, as Dornas jammed the butt of his magically-enhanced staff into the construct’s eye-socket in an attempt to dislodge the gem he’d guessed was rolling around in the skull. Head and gem both cracked, and the doll spun itself around to flee. But its toughened shell could only withstand so much punishment. Kor’lec and Dornas bashed the fleeing thing to bits.

Soul Schism

“So, if those things have souls in them,” asked Kish, “can we eat them and gain their power?” Likki hugged his ‘big sister’ and said “Welcome to family!”

The party had all descended into the cavern for a look around. Dornas ruminated deeply on one the Azlanti skulls he’d picked up, gazing into the face of a person ten millennia dead. The magus bagged up the skull to add to his ancient head collection. Then the conversation turned dead serious. Kish had sensed the emotions of the gems – they were suffering and insane from confinement. But they were also rubies and incredibly valuable, especially after she psionically repaired the crack.

Monica asked to see one, then tossed it upward, quick drew her gun with a twirl and BANG! The blast resounded around the cavern and echoed throughout the complex.

But Dornas had snatched the ruby into hand with some speedy legerdemain. The Taldans didn’t so much argue as disagree, icily, on the fate of the gems. Monica felt in her heart the relics were abominable and their inhabitants deserved to be released into the afterlife. Dornas thought just as strongly that it was foolish to try and free them without knowing more about them. Nobody else seemed to have strong feelings about them one way or another, save Likki who thought Kish’s joke about eating them had the most merit.

Liturgy of the Devourers

The cavern contained several tiny twisty tunnels leading who-knows-where, so Kishtari dispatched her homunculus into them. Most were dead ends, but the slithering crystal did find some larger passageways and a chamber that contained a bath filled with congealed blood.

The Castaways returned to the temple and climbed up onto the bridge, opting to check out the western wings of the structure. Opening the stone doors, the party shone their magical lights on that most dangerous of dungeon discoveries – knowledge!

They’d found the temple scriptorium.

As one with the library’s shadows, a familiar and deadly predator lies-in-wait…

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In Darkened Storm or Sunlight Glare

They’re gonna feel pretty stupid when they find out… That they’re fucking with the wrong people.

Picture a wide shot of our heroes – Dornas, Kishtari, Kor’lec and Kai, Monica, Likki – shoulder to shoulder with determined expressions, walking slowly down the trail from Aycenia‘s grove. Behind them, the sun forms a brilliantly-hued halo over the mighty hill, the drumlin’s crown and its monde, a ring of baobabs and the ancient tree that serves as Aycenia’s fetter to the mortal world. Around the tree in silhouette stand those the heroes are leaving behind – Aycenia, Sasha, Aerys, Jask, Gelik – perhaps never to be seen again. As the quintet watch the heroes vanish below the treeline, the thoughts of each turn to their personal remembrances of the friends and saviors who’ve ensured their survival.

A Seed Twice Sown

Aycenia the dryad, in many respects, is a symbolic representation of the tropical island known as Smuggler’s Shiv, a place where nature, virginal and virtuous, has struggled to take root in a soil tainted by ancient civilizations and eldritch curses. Though she recognized the contributions of all the Castaways toward ridding the isle of its evil, it was the druid Kor’lec on whom she’d been focused that morning…

“Something troubles you my love,” said the fey, hours earlier, as she and Kor’lec watched the stars subsumed by the multi-hued swathes of daybreak’s light. After a night of love-making, the two had slowly awoken in caress upon a bed of giant fronds, shaped by the dryad’s magic in the highest branches of her tree. Aycenia continued, “there is an anger in you.”

Kor’lec tried to convince the fey that the brooding was merely his tendency, and while that was correct, he added that it was mostly his mind preparing itself for the battle to come. “Yes, but there is more,” Aycenia nudged, her ages-old empathy and intuition undressed the druid’s thoughts as effortlessly as her petite golden-brown body and mint green eyes had divested him of his clothes. “You are so angry, and conflicted.”

As to his inevitable battle with Ieana, now known to be a dangerous serpentfolk, Aycenia said, “you will return, for the sake of your son and daughter.” Taken aback, Kor’lec stammered. The dryad put her forefinger to his lips, a very humanoid way to engender his silence. “It is what we wanted from each other,” she promised.

Aycenia revealed that she had gotten used to the isle’s corruption, and the curse upon it that assured her many centuries of loneliness. “But then you came, ready and willing to change what I could not.” The dryad went on to thank the druid and his friends, and added, “your journey will take you from me, from us, but I hope someday, you will return here to rest. Perhaps even establish a grove?” The suggestion seemed fitting to both Kor’lec and his fey paramour. The dryad continued, "you’ve already been responsible for healing this place. It seems the Will of the World is for you to become its protector.

“As to the conflict between yourself and your companions, despite your differences, you must know that they love you? You need each other.” Kor’lec agreed. Aycenia’s eyes narrowed a bit and she sighed. “We need to discuss your hatred for Gelik.” The dryad was sensitive to everyone’s (save Monica’s) bad feelings for the gnomish knave, and Kor’lec’s attempt to muscle Gelik off his feet in the hollow of her tree the night before evinced the half-elf’s disgust. Kor’lec defended himself and his actions to the nature spirit by explaining that Gelik was unrepentant and dangerous.

Aycenia assured him that her concern was mostly his ability to understand and be a parent to their part-fey offspring. “Gelik has a lot to answer for, true,” Aycenia countered, "but consider that he and his kind are not of this plane, and we fey are not separate from our natures. We ARE natures! In the First World, gnomekin were childhood, personified. Their bodies like children, the whimsy and imagination you value in children, and all the obsessions and selfishness of children that frustrate adults. Perhaps we were bad parents, because we let them wander out of our world. Aycenia sighed heavily.

“Know also, that to us, our magic is part of us, we use it with as much forethought as you have breathing, or picking up a utensil to eat with.” Kor’lec admitted that it gave him a lot to chew on. They spent the rest of the morning speaking of lighter things, just a woman and man enjoying the sunrise.

Kor’lec didn’t look back as he and his companions descended once again into jungles of the Shiv. But true to his own nature, he brooded and worried. This journey, this quest, the events yet to unfold that he and his party were all starting to feel inexorably bound to, would soon take him away from Smuggler’s Shiv. What would become of this place when they were gone? Truth be told, the island couldn’t hold any of them anymore, save in one way: the stone not turned. Ieana and her evil race had returned, and it was a good bet the Castaways were the only ones who knew anything about it. The island had changed them all, and it had whittled and carved Kor’lec and Kai into something like ironwood totems – unbreakable, unpretentious, and standing for nature’s forces.

A million years ago, Golarion grew too cold for the domination of reptilian life, and beasts of feathers and fur won the world from their scaly ancestors. Kor’lec was certain that Golarion had made its intentions to the serpentfolk clear.

The druid intended to remind them.

A Fool and His Honey

Gelik was still sore. Was this hurt he felt? Jealousy? His inability to put his feelings to prose – clever, obscure, florid, excessively aureate words – just made him feel worse. Last night the holier-than-thou druid had tried to trip him. Monica, his so-called girlfriend, had barely defended him! Gelik could scarcely contain his embarrassment at having a romantic partner less-than completely dedicated to his honor and wellness. He hoped all humans weren’t like that in love. I mean, sure, she’d probably been through a lot with those jerks as they traipsed around the jungle like idiots murdering monsters and taking their stuff…

Aw, that’s gotta be it… the gnome supposed. They’d saved each others’ lives a few times. His eyes rolled. It was like currency to them. Gelik struggled to wrap his head around it all once again while trying to recall the “eureka!” moment he’d had last night…

After deftly avoiding stumbling and then thoroughly trouncing the bullying half-elf (the male, not the other bullying half-elf) in a contest of speechcraft, Gelik realized he was losing Monica. Her indifference irked him, but she was still the love of his life, the only woman he could say believed that the heart of a gallant beat in his chest, and who was too nice or naive to pry out the truth. She got his jokes, too. Gelik knew he needed to put aside the sting of Monica’s emasculating affront, no matter how wrong she was, and act quickly lest his hopes and dreams of future fame, fortune, and glory slip away.

“So, yeah, I lied about being a spy,” the gnome admitted, in front of the barely surprised adventurers. It worked! Monica said she was proud of him! But Gelik needed to play against the human propensity to mistake pride for bad intentions. He left without saying a word to anyone, or sparing Monica a glance after making his shocking revelation.

Gelik chose to sleep alone last night. Let her try to suss that out! he’d mused. This morning though, he was at the archaeologist’s side silently helping her prep for the away team’s journey to Red Mountain. A few harrumphs and heavy sighs finally got him what he was after:

“What’s wrong, Gelik?” Monica asked. The gnome blurted out that he just didn’t get why she was leaving again. “We’ve got a safe place, rescue is inevitable, and you’ve made discoveries here to secure your place in academic history a hundred times over. Why are you risking all of that?” In spite of himself, Gelik suddenly realized that his trepid pleas weren’t part of the long con, they weren’t his usual romantic pandering, and were as close to the truth as he’d ever come. Wait, had the human ensorcelled him?

After a long pause, Monica tried her best to explain. “I feel, we all feel, that stopping whatever it is Ieana’s planned is important. More important than making a name, or discovering things.”

“You’re a scholar though,” Gelik argued. “These kinds of problems are for people a lot bigger and more powerful than us. I mean, you’ve really built up a lot of muscle in the past weeks but… I mean, you used to be afraid of bugs for gods’ sake!”

“Yes,” Monica admitted, playfully flexed her arm and giggled. “I always imagined myself the world-saving type, I am an archaeologist, after all. But fantasy is one thing and reality… I’ve grown, and I feel for some reason, I think this one falls on us.”

Gelik realized he was crying. Real, tears! He cared about her. Did he always care about her? Gelik decided it didn’t matter. “Just, just please come back in one piece.”

“I will.”

The gnome had thrown his arms around the human woman’s midriff, and in that embrace they remained until Monica was called.

As Gelik watched the perplexing, amazing, adventurer he’d come to love leave him that morning, an idea occurred to him that was probably as dumb as the one that nearly got him killed (and earned the ire of just about everyone around him). What the hell? They should expect it by now. The gnome suddenly clapped, shattering the silent pall that had overcome the b-team. Having everyone’s attention, with a mischievous look Gelik proclaimed, “something’s just occurred to me. Now, hear me out…”

Red Gush

“Boy it sure was nice of Kor’lec to bring you back, Hesediel,” whispered Sasha to her pet dimorphodon chic. “But it sucks they left Nemanji to get killed by the green-cloaked halfling.”

“Oh, I warned them! Over and over, and they thought I was crazy, or stupid, or whatever. ‘Just a figment of your imagination, Sasha!’ Even when the wretched thing shows up… admits he’s stalking me… and fucking reveals he’s an unholy beast-monster! Nemanji always believed me, yes he did! Except he trusted the assassin, too, didn’t he? What the hell, dorks?

“Gee, I sure hope they don’t all get killed,” Sasha feigned a sob and started giggling, then collected herself before furtively looking around to see if anyone noticed. “I wonder if the fairy can steal thoughts like the alien? Oh yeah, Bitch-Tari, I know exactly What. You. Are. The Men from Leng did brisk business in Ilizmagorti. Lots of slaves from space… all of them too weak and pathetic to stand up for themselves. Sure liked to talk about her dumb planet when they were on their knees scrubbing blood from the Citadel training floor.” Sasha returned her attention to her pet. "She said she was Nemanji’s friend? Yet she almost got him killed over a few dumb snakes? Not exactly leading the search for him, either, is she? So full of it, like the worst Riddleport con-artists and bad at it to boot. Right? Right.

“Omg, omg, omg … try not to laugh Hesediel, but I think Gelik’s tearing up.” Sasha sighed, "alas, there was hope for him. Finally, someone as clever and ruthless as myself. And even more hated by those holier-than-thou hypocrites. Milquetoast Monica must’ve gotten to him. ‘Oh my hero! please regale me with more morality fantasies you read about when you were a wee lass!’ You know what, Hesediel? The real world is cold and hard and laughs at heroes – just like Monica’s ‘tried and true’ friends laugh at her. I’d rather be eaten alive than hear about how much she cares about me, or any of us, one more time. Scratch that, I’d rather her be eaten alive. By spiders or ants or something small and crawly. Probably she wouldn’t even fight back, saying something like ’it’s okay, the ants need to eat, too.’ Oh, I’d love to see that.

“Dornas, how I wish I knew enough about him to hate him more. But I know enough that he might be the hardest to fool, the hardest to fight, and the hardest to kill. He’s playing a game, and maybe I’m just curious enough about it to let him live… ho ho! You’re right Little Wing, he almost got me, didn’t he? Almost. I must correct myself, I hate him just fine.

“Kor’lec, oh god. Poor dope. I guess I don’t hate him as much as I feel bad for him. He did reunite us, didn’t he Hesediel? I think he understands better than anyone the awful truth about the world. It’s a hierarchy, yes it is, isn’t it Baby Biteykins!” Sasha dangled a squirming grub above her immature companion’s toucan-like beak. The tiny reptavian jumped up from the young assassin’s forearm and gulped the treat down with a happy chirp, then glided in a spin down to her feet. “A devouring helix of predators… and the prey they shit out, lol”

Sasha looked up from her pet to see the Castaways enveloped by the tropical flora. “Maybe you don’t understand it yet, mister wisenheimer druid, but you will. And I hope you have the wisdom to stay out of my fucking way when I demonstrate it to your friends. But you won’t.” Hesediel squawked angrily at the ground, so Sasha picked him up and placed him on her shoulder. She no longer winced when the pterasaur dug and scraped his climbing claws into her flesh for purchase. Anything worth living for was worth spilling blood for, believed the titian-haired teen.

“Oh, Little Wing. All this blood-and-guts talk is making me homesick. Do you… do you think its time to go home?” Hesediel absently crowed in response.

“Why, yessir yessir! Thanks for reminding me! There is, in fact, something I need to pick up first.”

Divine Introspection

“Great Nethys,” prayed Jask, "many say that it is a fool’s hope to pray to you, for yours is the impassive mask and your burden the balance of the cosmos. But I pray to you now to see these men and women, skilled casters and seekers after knowledge all of them, through to their destiny. Their trials would please you, God-King, as their motives, collectively, span the breadth and depth of good and evil, law and chaos. You, Great Eye, hold the scales of creation and upon those a world, our world, of humans and our humanoid allies. That world, your great work, these mortals would see preserved.

“You may, or may not as your whim dictates, appreciate their methods and motives, but it is your great will to see the practice of magic persevere. That is where these, I hesitate to call them heroes as I entreat you, though they are certainly my personal heroes, these champions are worth your attention. That which they oppose; the First People, the Old Masters, yuan-ti, call them what you will, are of a kind who wouldn’t simply make slaves of humanity, elfkind, dwarfkind, and all others offensive to them. The serpentmen, if the tales are true, would ensure their dominion by making beasts of the fair, civilized, and learned of Golarion’s races. You were born a man of Osirion, my god, surely you wouldn’t allow this feral regression of humanity and the loss of every advancement we’ve made in magic and science to these reptilians?

“If that is indeed your desire, All-Seer, then perhaps I can sway you with another point in these peoples’ favor. They are all, my Lord, casters and lovers of learning, as I’ve said. Further, they are all of them quickly proving to be among the most naturally talented magicians this age has known.

“I have seen you smile upon Dornas, as he develops martial katas with the stave, your favored weapon, to work spells forgotten and obscure. I have felt your interest in Kishtari, who surprises even herself as she unravels her inner-mind’s phrenic mysteries. I have noted your hand behind Monica’s uncanny luck, surely you appreciate the woman’s knack for activating foci beyond her purview with nothing more than grit and imagination, and the sheer wonder she takes in discovery. Ah, yes, other great powers look out for her too, more than anyone I’ve known who wasn’t a priest.

“And of priests, I must make a case now for my fellows Kor’lec and Likki. Both have risked their lives and saved your servant from certain death, and their reasons for it are so simple, a cynical man might question it. Kor’lec, steward of nature; wild, capricious and cruel. Likki, prophet of a demonic jungle god. I have sensed darkness and ancient evils like cobwebs draped on their souls. They have slipped, done things cruel and selfish out of anger and ignorance. And yet? They are, at heart, good men. Good. Men. That in itself is so wonderfully confounding, I can only pray that the riddle this pair poses is as engaging to you, All-Seer, as it is to me?

The old Garundi squinted to make out the last of the adventures as they seemed to meld into the treetops partway down the hill’s scant trail. I need to get a pair of good spectacles he thought as soon as we get to the mainland. Too many years a scrivener’s killed these peepers. Despite the pain it caused to focus his sights – mundane and magical – Jask searched around for some signal from Nethys that his prayer had been heard. A mark in the auras, a cloud pattern, a twig in the shape of a rune, a black and white stone. Anything. Hells, I’ll be happy to see a snake right now. Least I’d know someone was listening.

But the aged cleric’s search was to no avail. His was a confusing, aloof god, and he’d just have to take the lack of a sign as a sign in and of itself.

Ship in a Bottle

If Found, Remit to Captain Kassata LeWynn
in care of The Offices of LeWynn Shipping and Repair
(North Pier Chancery)
Eleder, Sargava

My Dearest Kassata,

This is the last message I’m tossing into Besmara’s Chest. I hope the Lady of the Black Flag sees fit to get it to you when the rum I emptied from this bottle reaches her in the Maelstrom. I know, unthinkable, right? “Waste of grog you dingy sot!” you’d say. Its been over a week since I’ve had a touch of hooch, to my betterment. Senses are sharper, my reflexes are swifter. Still the fightin’ shitehawk you knew and loved, more of a sharp cutlass now than a blunt instrument. There have been temptations. I lost a foot, and it went gangrenous midway up the calf. Got a nice peg for it. Really wanted a swig throughout the whole grisly business. Good story there. I’ll tell you over tea. Ha!

It has been many months since you left the Shackles, and me, to take over your Pa’s business in Sargava. If you got the other messages, you’ve already heard me lament the fight that split us. In summary: I blamed the drink for the fist that dissevered your nose. “Don’t follow me,” you said. Promised I wouldn’t. Did anyway, cause the echo of those words kept knocking about my head and the drink wouldn’t hush them. Scuttled here on the Shiv, was certain this would be my grave. Now, I’m almost as sure it won’t. I don’t have to let those words you said be the last between us, or that face, that scowl of betrayal and blood and disgust, keep burning in me mind’s eye.

I’m not asking for a second chance, or begging on you to take me back. What I am asking is for you to take me on. Your crew, on the Last Hurrah I mean to say. I’m thinking the lot of the old river rats who served your Pa won’t like taking your orders. You’ve likely lost, what? half your hands? You know barges and waterways better than me, but I’m still handy with rigging, making and breaking tow, moving crates. Still just as good in a scrap, but less likely now to start one for no reason. Sobriety’s gettin’ me gentle, maybe, but not soft. Jask, the nice old priest here has been teaching me meditation. I’ll let you get a good laugh outta the image. Here’s another for you, I’m thinking of taking on the cloth myself. Ha ha! The black-jack of course! We’ll see if the Queen does me right by getting this note to you.

Also, I’m wanting your trust, maybe? A cautious friendship? I suppose I’d like that truth be told. Too much?

So, I’ve a new partner in crime, so to speak. Her name’s Kishtari, a pearl of a lass from Riddleport. Gorgeous, golden skin, elvenblood like me, methinks Vudrani and Varisian on her human side. Yeah, me and the “K” names and the swarthy little jeune fille out of water. Not sure it’s love in the making, though. She’ll look a might frail to you but the girl is a living fucking cannonade, I’m told. Some kind of mental magic she does the likes I’ve never heard of. No words, no gestures, or fetishes. The gnome says she can play tricks in the head, too. Peculiar, but I’ve heard that of Vudrani. Peculiar and useful, I’d think, in our business.

I think some of the others might be swayed, with the right spin on things. These people are brilliant. Cagey, brave, dangerous. Lots to offer the business. You’ve got Dornas the fancy Taldan; good skirmisher, knows a little magic, and I’ve seen he’s got sea-legs from somewhere but he doesn’t talk about himself much. Kor’lec’s an Expanse native I’ve heard. Might have some family in the interior we can partner with. He’s also a doc and a wild priest – I heard the predators inland grow as big as whales and have teeth like sabers, and there are mosquitoes the size of kites. I’ve heard of crocs and river beasts that can flip a hoy with as little as a nod. Not that I’m a’feared of all that, but a good wild priest on the crew would save a lot of time and ammunition. There’s an educated lass named Monica… not sure what she does, but I’ve seen her pull some clever of slight of hand that makes me think larceny is her trade. Never know when that might be useful, ha ha! We picked up a gobbie native too. A witch-doctor, I think. The gobbies here brew a liqueur that’ll knock you daft. Would fetch a tidy profit if we can get the recipe, or partnership with his folk.

The others – Jask, Sasha, Gelik – all say they’ve got plans when they reach the mainland, but those other five? I don’t think they know how they’re getting about the Expanse when we escape this accused isle. I overheard they aim on sticking together, though. A tidy package to raise the quality of any crew, I trust you’ll agree.

As I close this letter, I hope I’ve whet your interest, if anything, and we can at least negotiate an accord. I know that what we shared in the Shackles won’t sway you, I made sure of that when I struck you. That, that evil err, I’ll live with for all it pains me, and I deserve it. But I want to make it up to you, through usefulness, loyalty, and the promise of getting you the wealth your family business deserves, and vengeance on your Pa’s killers you deserve.

My fate and livelihood are as good as in your hands.

Yours,
Aerys

The Red Mountain Debacle

The Castaways’ overland journey may have been fraught with peril, but there was little remaining on Smuggler’s Shiv that could challenge the septet. Kor’lec guided his companions swiftly along the old Thrunefang hunting paths, and Likki had laid upon the party a dweomer that protected them from the midday heat.

They traveled almost in silence, though Kish had something she wanted to make clear to her druid friend. “Your amulet, I understand it creates a new body for the dead.” Kor’lec confirmed that his amulet could indeed restore the dead in a new form from the elements at hand. “I ask that you don’t use it on me.” Kish explained that as a being of two natures, spirit and humanoid, that she feared a loss of her bond to her ancestral spirit. Kor’lec wasn’t sure that would be the case, but agreed to his kalashtar companion’s request.

A spider the size of a pony descended from the canopy, but Kor’lec had taken it upon himself to know the dialect of vermin in the primordial tongue. “You won’t find a painless meal here…” The spider returned in peace to her web in the treetops.

After a half a day, the heroes finally reached the foothills surrounding Red Mountain. Descending a hill adjacent to the towering rise, the party noted a series of rope bridges going back and forth between the extinct volcano and its neighbor that took advantage of eithers’ natural ledges to ascend. Likki thought they looked like Mongrukoo work, though the bridges could have been built by the Thrunefangs, too. In between the rises was a perilously deep ravine, carved out by a trickling waterway.

Ancient statues, covered in lichen and moss, stood at the ingress of each of the bridges. The white marble effigies depicted nobly posed humans with fanged countenances and radiated faint abjuration auras. Monica said the style was clearly Azlanti, and the protective magic could be staving the stone’s decay. The motifs and habiliments depicted on the statues were used by Zura cultists, even in the present. One hundred centuries ago, was there an Azlanti Zura cult on Smuggler’s Shiv? “Looks like they moved in and kept some of the furniture,” guessed Kor’lec, after the Taldan scholars explained that the Azlanti humans of that age quickly displaced the serpentfolk as Golarion’s dominant culture.

Despite Kish’s fretful protestations, the adventurers ascended the ledges and bridges.

At around sixty feet above sea level, the Red Mountain Devil attacked!

The winged chupacabra swept down upon the party without sound and the sun behind him, making him nigh invisible until he struck. Kor’lec was a few steps ahead of the rest, and was picked out as prey by the ferocious monster. The Devil sank its fangs into the nape of the druid’s neck and grabbed him.

Monica, quick on the trigger as ever, drew irons and fired (temporarily deafening poor Kish who was standing in front of her) from the back of the bridge. The beast presented a difficult target, maneuvering on the wing to keep Kor’lec in front of him – but the gun-slinging historian’s aim was true enough to hole the Devil’s patagium.

Dornas struck a solid blow with his staff that must have rang the Devil’s bell, but he kept digging his claws deeper in his captive’s flanks. Tilting his wings to catch the canyon’s updraft, the Devil suddenly launched upward with Kor’lec in his grip!

At 85 feet, the flying chupacabra let go – and imagined the gory feast he’d have waiting at the crevice’s bottom.

But Kor’lec simply stood there in mid-air.

Back on the bridge, Kishtari had mentally taken control of Kor’lec’s gravity!

The chupacabra was confused and enraged; took another shot in the wing from Monica, and a defiant saber slash from Kor’lec. Likki tossed a tanglefoot bag and struck true, forcing the Red Mountain Devil to contend with a heavy, sticky goop that imbalanced his flight. Once the terrifying bogey of Smuggler’s Shiv, the so-called Devil of Red Mountain had finally met his match several times over.

Knowing he was licked, the chupacabra spun and struggled to keep flight as he fled away further along the vale.

The Castaways weren’t about to let the monster who’d taunted them from day one get away unpunished. The heroes gave chase, clambering up to Red Mountain’s apex with the intention of following the vale’s lip to the Devil’s lair. Once in sight of the circle of monoliths further up the mount, the adventurers started taking fire from hidden foes. Monica hesitated a second and tried to make out the javelin throwers in the shadows of the peak’s monoliths. “Later! focus on the Devil!” shouted Dornas. The hunt was on!

The magus was flying for the first time, not by wing, but by a magic honed into deadly efficacy through the dangers Dornas and his companions had overcome in their grueling two week ordeal on the Shiv. He reached the Devil’s lair first, a nest of reeds and driftwood wedged into a niche in the crevice’s corner. The chupacabra looked pathetic as he was trying to scrape the tanglefoot bag’s goop from his wings, but attempted a ferocious front of roars and raspy, unintelligible words. Amidst all his vocal posturing, the Devil paused to choke down a throatful of wood, ice, broken fangs and teeth as Dornas smashed the butt of his staff – enhanced by wizardly frost – into the monster’s face.

Coughing blood, clutching his chest, the Devil’s eyes grew wide as he looked beyond the magus to the entrance of his nook. Kor’lec was soaring toward him, scimitar in his outstretched hand. The druid was still under the effect of Kish’s “optional gravity” effect and had been hurtling himself by hand across the canyon’s rocky sides. Kor’lec coasted past Dornas and collided with the Devil as the druid’s saber ignited! The chupacabra was eaten inside out by fire and become a terrified effigy of ash that was carried away, top-down, by the swirling draft.

“We’ve killed this island’s gods. Fitting we’ve killed it’s devil too,” remarked Kish.

Time and Tide Don’t Wait

There was no time to loot the Devil’s nest. Kish had ascended an olden stairwell carved into the cliffside to the apex of Red Mountain with Monica close behind her. They were greeted by the sight of four obelisks etched with serpentfolk motifs surrounding a waist-high pyramid-shaped stone — the Tide Stone. It was clear that the pyramid was recently excavated – Ieana’s handiwork. There was also a pair of animated serpentman skeletons hidden in the shadows of the monoliths who leapt out hissing. Dornas flew over from the dead Mountain Devil’s lair and the others weren’t long to catch up. The skeletons fell quickly thereafter.

The heroes noticed that the pyramid seemed designed to catch liquid in bowl-shaped impression at its top and funnel it down through grooves at the edges. Monica brought up the ritual for the Tide Stone she’d duplicated from the Typhonian Proposals in the serpentfolk temple. The Castaways bandied about ideas for enacting the same ritual “to eschew what lies below” as Ieana must have done. Monica reasoned that there was something hidden below the surf accessible if the ancient serpentfolk ceremony lowered the water. With the party entirely comprised of magic-users, it wouldn’t be too difficult to wrangle the elder eldritch forces involved…

Kor’lec would have none of that, thank-you. With his weight or lack-thereof still being handled by Kish, the druid ran and launched himself off the peak of Red Mountain toward the sea, transforming into a porpoise before splashing down.

Beneath the waves, the undersea world in all its brilliance and majesty was opened to the druid’s metamorphosed eyes for what seemed the first time — a native, not a visitor. Kor’lec quickly noticed the presence of many dead fish, reasonably assumed to have perished when Ieana pushed the water out of the lagoon. There were quite a few wrecked ships. Less than a hundred feet south from him, Kor’lec found what he’d dove for. In the curve of the inlet was what looked like an archway with stone, spiked double doors leading under the island.

Kor’lec tried to make out the details and felt a slight ripple in the water around him. Then he remembered that assuming a new form didn’t mitigate a druid’s wounds, and he hadn’t completely recovered from the clawmarks of the chupacabra. And of course, all these dead fish attracted scavengers.

The silvertip shark seemed to erupt from out of the kelp forest beneath him.

View
Unfinished Business

What are you, some saint all of a sudden? What has the galaxy ever done for you? Why would you want to save it?
‘Cause I’m one of the idiots who lives in it!

In the last episode, the intrepid adventurers had breached the inner sanctum of a serpentfolk temple! After recording the blasphemous rites contained within, the heroes were dramatically confronted by a horde of lacedons and their leader, Nylithati, the terrible Mama Thrunefang!

And Monica had shot her.

Should’ve Stayed in Their Humble Abodes

Nylithati screeched in agony as black viscera oozed from the bullet-sized cavity that was once her chest. The ghouls moved toward the Castaways cautiously while their leader drew the cathedral’s shadows around herself, obscuring her location. Only one of the lesser undead remained to guard Mama Thrunefang within the cloud of darkness.

“Take the humans first!” howled the Zura priestess, presuming Dornas and Monica would be more vulnerable to the lacedons’ paralyzing touch. She was nearly as wrong about that as her tactical decision to confront the heroes in the first place. One of Nylithati’s children buried its fangs into Monica’s shoulder. The lacedon chewed off a succulent chunk, so the archaeologist helped him wash it down with hot lead.

Dornas had no intention of allowing Mama Thrunefang to regroup, and with his staff boldly vaulted into the darkness, blindness be damned! Like a virtuoso of the stave, the magus found his audience and played a symphony upon the skull of the harridan ghoul. Though she managed to conjure a flying blade of force, aiming it at her foes was tricky while she ducked and wove around Dornas’s twirling staff.

Meanwhile, Kishtari psionically blasted one of the lacedons into a hot soup that splattered against the cathedral’s fixtures. Kai and Kor’lec worked together like the jaws of a bear trap, the druid hitting low on one side and his saurian companion leapt high on the other to turn their undead foes into gory mulches from the neck up. Likki darted and tumbled about like an unholy monkey to channel curative magic on anyone the lacedons managed to wound – first repairing Monica’s ravaged shoulder.

Jask did what he could, channeling holy healing and poking nearby ghouls with his long spear, though the heroes were cautious to keep a tight battle line between themselves and the aging priest. Monica approached the railing separating the dais from the lower floor of the temple and the haze of blackness where Dornas fought alone against the undead priestess.

The last lacedon henchman reached out of the darkness and through the bars of the railing to clasp its hand around Monica’s ankle. The Taldan could just make out its slobbering, grinning mug behind the banister, resembling a jailed lunatic. Kishtari was forced to hose it down with phrenic fire, adding another fine layer of ghoul glop to the temple décor.

Kor’lec imbued his cutlass with primordial flames and presented a swashbuckling figure complete with tricorne. True to the image, the druid leapt the railing and landed atop the stump of the broken pillar, then sashayed down its fallen length. The magical shadows seemed to flee from the half-elf as he flashed his blade like a man sparring with darkness itself.

As the darkness dissipated, Nylithati found herself surrounded. For the first time in a century, the monster knew fear. She tried to cower and flee, and was beaten back and forth by the heroes like a footbag losing its stuffing. Finally, Mama Thrunefang could move no more.

“We make her talk now?” queried Likki, half-kidding on account of the team’s original intention to question the Thrunefang’s founder on Ieana’s whereabouts.

“Not unless you can suddenly talk to the dead,” answered Dornas. “Still, she might be useful.” The magus pried the recently expired creature’s head off and bagged it up. The heroes also found on her an amulet of protection, and Kishtari discovered that the former Captain Kovack had worn magical armor that molded itself into a fetching, feminine leather suit when she donned it.

“I want one of those orbs,” said the kalashtar, pointing to one of the amber, snake-filled globes that topped the temple’s pillars.

The horrible relic was about the size of a person and weighed about ten stone.

Pray I Don’t Alter It Any Further

After making a thorough search of the lacedon’s warren (towing and rolling the huge serpentfolk ornament all the way), the adventurers were almost surprised to see the trailing rope leading to the surface right where they left it. They ascended, though Dornas and Kish opted to levitate themselves out of the tunnel. Dornas continued higher up to the balcony of the old lighthouse and signaled its cannibal occupants.

Chief Klorak the Red seemed annoyed to be called on. Dornas couldn’t care less.

“I have Nylithati’s head.” The magus pulled the hideous, tongue-lolling trophy from his sack.

“Give it to me,” growled the cannibal, through a fanged grin.

“No.”

Klorak’s expression turned grim. “We had a deal.”

“It was never made clear that we would give this to you,” countered Dornas, “and besides, we want to make certain you hold to the parts we did agree to.”

“Go ahead,” the chief’s smarmy smile returned, but there was uncertainty behind it. “See what happens when my men learn you’ve slain their beloved Mama Thrunefang.”

Dornas gestured at the Thrunefang corpses still littering the yard. That pretty much spoke for itself. Klorak cursed and returned to his den. Satisfied the chief knew who was sheriff ‘round these parts, the heroes headed home to Aycenia’s grove.

Reckoning’s Eve

Jask was especially happy to be safe at last, and was welcomed back by the rest of the home team. Aerys, standing now on a very piratey-looking pegleg, might’ve even cracked a smile, but quickly recovered herself. Sasha wasn’t looking quite so pallid, and Aycenia reported the patient had made a full recovery. The teen took her pet dimorphodon chic back from Kor’lec with a muttered “thanks.” Gelik’s wooden foot was shaped by his and the dryad’s magic into a fully articulated and fashionable pointy toe that he showed off to Monica.

The Castaways and friends retired to one of the hollowed-out baobabs to catch up with each other. Jask mentioned that he was happy to leave adventuring to younger, healthier heroes, and he was thinking of establishing a Temple of Nethys on the mainland once his name was cleared. Aerys seemed a little sullen as the evening’s chatter wore down, and Kishtari learned that the half-elven pirate had lost her opus, The Abendego Cantos when the Brine Demon was destroyed. “It’s all right,” Aerys reflected, “I can recall most of it, and I’ve a new inspiration.”

It came time for the away team to discuss their plans for the next day, and the home team graciously left them the little bungalow for serious hero talk. Right before clearing out, Kor’lec tried to trip Gelik, but the gnome managed to keep his balance in spite of his wooden foot. Gelik had had it.

The druid and bard exchanged jibes and insults that grew increasingly tense and ugly. Monica said nothing to either side. Finally, Gelik threw up his hands and admitted that he’d lied about being a super-spy. Nobody was surprised, though Monica said she was proud of him. The gnome “whatever-ed” and stormed out of the room into the late night rain.

The discussion that followed confirmed that the majority of the team wanted to go after Ieana at first light. Kishtari didn’t argue as much as wonder aloud if there was a good reason to take the risk. They had treasure and a means to signal the shipping lanes, after all. The decision to go after the serpentfolk wound up being unanimous – justice for those who died on the Jenivere, to cleanse the isle of evil, to finish what they started, and to prevent catastrophe.

Then the storm struck with a vengeance.

On the far side of the island, dark clouds rumbled and flashed as they revolved above the apex of Red Mountain. The pressurized atmosphere seemed to heave and exhale as if it were suffering a chest wound. The phenomenon lasted about fifteen minutes.

“Maybe we shouldn’t have decided to wait until morning,” said Kish.

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Shrine of the Serpent Lords

When the will defies fear, when duty throws the gauntlet down to fate, when honor scorns to compromise with death – that is heroism.

Last time on Age of Serpents, our intrepid Castaways had just breached a hidden cathedral to Ydersius, the god of the serpentfolk! Incredibly well-preserved, the subterraneous structure was ages old and would be a momentous archaeological find should its discoverers live to tell of it! Because, as is often the case with ancient edifices of evil, the Shrine of the Serpent Lords was occupied… by the undead!

Knocked Into a Cocked-Hat

Just as ominously as it’s skull rose from the enormous urn at the head of the great hall, the skeletal snake coiled back inside its container and was silent. Meanwhile, the four serpentfolk skeletons continued to hiss and rattle the bars of the portcullises they were trapped behind. The ghoulish monster that was once Captain Kovack stood up from the pile of remains at the back of the cathedral and shuffled toward Kor’lec. “My… hat…” snarled the lacedon through broken teeth. In response, the druid lobbed a spear at him. He’d become accustomed to wearing Kovack’s tricorne, but also had a hard-line against compromising with undead.

“Captain, we’re honoring your orders,” declared Monica, referring to Kovack’s penitent missive, before letting her pistol continue the conversation. Grazed by spearpoint and gunfire, the lacedon frowned sorrowfully before his eyes reddened. He lurched toward his attackers with a gargling groan.

Kishtari figured her friends could handle one dumb ghoul. Curious about the serpentine motifs everywhere, she made her way to the center of the temple. Once the brash psion strayed into the shadow of the urn, the skeletal snake in there suddenly snapped up and slithered down toward her like a rushing stream. In its suddenness, the undead serpent toppled one of the temple’s pillars – and tripped the lever releasing the portcullises. The serpentfolk skeletons were freed and scuffled to surround the intruders. Impossibly, the fleshless prehistoric viper dripped venom from fangs that scored Kishtari’s flesh as she twisted to avoid impalement.

Bad to the Bones

The lacedon formerly known as Captain Kovack fell first, mercilessly clobbered into real death. “Yeah, it’s my hat now,” quipped Kor’leck. Dornas pummeled one of the serpentfolk skeletons with his animate hair, and through it delivered a pulse of necromantic magic. The undead guardian was overcome by terror and fled. But despite the adventurers’ prowess in battle, one of the prehistoric skeletons gouged its clawed hand into Jask’s midsection, sending the old priest, and his innards, to the floor.

Kish was also doing her best to stay conscious despite the relentless attacks of her assailants. After seeing Jask go down, the kalashtar decided she’d had enough of all the biting and scratching, and after saving it up all day, had enough phrenic energy for everyone and everything. Her eyes crackled with electricity, and an elegant wave of her hand turned one of the dead serpentfolk into a galvanized salvo of bones that shattered against the skeletal megaviper.

Likki, babbling in demonic tongues, was at Jask’s side in a blink and managed to magically mend the fallen priest’s nearly fatal wound. Meanwhile, Monica maneuvered behind the skeleton that came within an inch of sending the Garundi cleric to the court of his god. Hoping to give it something to think about other than the critically injured — and very vulnerable — Jask, the archaeologist sucker-punched the undead with fistful of curative magic. The damage barely registered, but the ploy worked. The skeleton slowly turned and hissed at its new target, even as Kai was right on top of it chomping and clawing.

Jask was administered a healing potion that woke him to consciousness, and coughed his throat clear. “I’m getting too old for this sh…” Jask grouched, his sentiment cut off by an explosion of energy as Kish obliterated, well, whatever it was she happened to be looking at that moment. The giant snake fossil crashed into the fallen pillar and crumbled away to smoldering ash. Meanwhile, Kor’lec conjured a badass eagle that screeched, dove, and sank its talons into another undead guardian. The skeleton tried to swat away the bird on its way toward Kish, but a sudden snap of the eagle’s beak severed the ancient reptilian’s spine – along with its tether to unlife. Kish swore she saw the summoned bird wink at her.

Between Monica’s whip and Dornas’s hair, the remaining guardian was having trouble staying on its fleshless feet. Monica uttered a word that echoed like an angelic choir and the unholy creature was consumed by white light that irrupted into gossamer moths and swallows!

Fangs for the Info

Leaving the skeleton who’d fled to cower in a corner to be dispatched by Jask and the animals, the heroes surveyed the cathedral. In front of the looming statue of Ydersius were scorch marks and splattered blood not more than two days old. Also, empty decanters that bore the traces of healing magic suggested Ieana was wounded – severely – by a trap there. Monica disabled the dangerous ward and discovered a tiny slot in the great pedestal of the statue. There was enough evidence to indicate some manner of egress, and Dornas guessed that Kish’s fang-shaped dagger – found in Ieana’s quarters aboard the Jenivere and clearly psionic in nature – was the key.

The kalashtar drew the weapon, which vibrated out of her hand and into the slot of its own accord. The statue pulled itself up and back against the wall as the base split down the middle and parted to either side. The unveiled chamber was vaguely hexagonal in shape. It had an altar inside and likewise fell beneath the predatory gaze of Ydersius, this effigy carved from strange, swirl-patterned stone that projected an eerie green glow.

The walls of the hexangular chamber had eons of grit build-up, save one. Ieana had cleansed it of detritus to reveal the Aklo text and serpentfolk hieroglyphs beneath. Those fluent in the complex tongue deciphered it as an ancient ritual to activate something called the Tide Stone. The party presumed the other walls of this unholy chamber had instructions for the other serpentfolk power stones on Smuggler’s Shiv, whose presence they’d already deduced. When Dornas and Monica used their magic to quickly excavate the remaining walls, their suspicions were confirmed. Together, the inscriptions formed the “missing” Typhonian Proposal – infamous in arcane scholarship and previously known only by its citation in another obscure book of forbidden lore. Though most magicians believed the occult magics of old were best left buried, Monica couldn’t resist recording the crowning discovery of an already amazing assortment of archaeological achievements.

After stuffing the last of the charcoal rubbings in her pack, a sardonic hand-clap echoed from back in the cathedral. Mother Thrunefang herself, the harridan ghoul known as Nylithati, was standing on the broken pillar as her children, lacedons all, prowled toward the party.

“You have come far!” the amphibious crone rasped, “and proved your worth by blood spilt. Zura favors you! I offer you… eternal life… among us!”

“That ain’t living to me, lady,” answered Monica, before making a counteroffer with bullets.



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Boils and Ghouls

No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.

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.

Ghouls!

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.

Damning Testimony

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…

Until now.

Ghoul Crush

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.

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The High Chief's Aegis

My old enemy… stairs.

After decimating the terrible Thrunefangs in the cannibals’ own camp, the witch-doctor the Castaways left alive for questioning had little more to offer in terms of information. As far as he knew, Ieana “the sorceress,” was in the lighthouse, a guest of the chief. As for the tribe’s fearless leader, “he be up there with his wives purifying himself for tonight’s feast” revealed the captive. He nodded toward Jask, “we was, after all, going to eat a holy man!” The savage added that only the chief’s wives were allowed in the upper floors of the tower.

It seamed the lighthouse was next on the plate for the adventurers, though there were some questions posed to Likki about what he might have learned from his mysterious “grandmother.” The Mongrukoo oracle intimated the truth of the creature’s origin and his relationship with her when he stated with all earnestness that “she following us now, and I supposed to go with you from now on.” Though the answer was apparent, the question as to dear Grandma’s present location was posed anyway. “She in the netherworld,” Likki whispered.

“Can we talk to her?” they asked. “I not recommend it,” Likki said, sorrowfully. “I go through three wives talking to her already.” After shaking off the “what-the-everloving-fuck” impression that chestnut left on them, Monica and Dornas deduced the minacious implications: Granny required sacrifice. Likki was prompted to explain that his matrilineal ancestor required vessels to speak through, preferably female, but the hosts usually didn’t survive. “Maybe future-sister strong enough?” the goblin wondered aloud, referring to Kishtari.

Choosing not to chew on the distasteful matter any more, the chat changed course to the usual “what now?” Jask opined that if there was indeed some evil lurking in the tunnels beneath the cannibals’ camp, the heroes should descend to take care of it. Especially so considering Captain Kovack, Ieana’s enslaved accomplice, might be alive down there. Monica agreed vehemently, but the lighthouse needed to be secured first, as the adventurers were certain that Ieana and the cannibal chieftain were holed up inside.

The party headed to the tower, save Kishtari, who turned a murderous eye – and a slightly less murderous knife – toward the captive witch-doctor. “Y… you say on your honor I get to live if I talked!” pleaded the evil shaman. The commotion brought the rest of the team back to the scene. “You!” scoffed Kor’lec, “you would appeal to our honor?” Nonetheless, the druid ordained that the party make good on their promise – so they tied the witch-doctor to the same post the cannibals had pilloried old Jask. “Let the rats have him.” The rest of the team agreed that was fitting, and probably so did the rats.

Just Slay No

After being especially careful to scan the lighthouse’s foyer for concealed traps, the Castaways proceeded into the tower itself. The ground floor of the old edifice was divvied up into three rooms. The immediate chamber was simply a reception area containing a crude stage with a throne of bones on it. Another chamber the party guessed was where Ieana made herself at home. Had made, for the room hadn’t been slept in for a few days at least. Ominously, there was a raw, rotting, half-eaten monitor lizard on the floor. The last and largest chamber was a clutter of evil knick-knacks from the ship Thrune’s Fang, including part of the figurehead. The cannibals had made up an unholy shrine around it.

The explorers returned to the entryway where a shift in the air caused the unmistakable scent of opium and pesh to waft down from the floors above.

“They’re really just up there getting high?” Kishtari marveled. The giggling that followed the narcotics’ aroma confirmed that was the case.

The stone staircase spiraled to the upper floor, where a single, shabby wood door separated the circuiting hallway from the source of the laughter and smoke. The heroes crouched just beyond the bend as Kish unfurled from her coif her serpentine homunculus, Naga, and sent it to peek through a gap between the door and the floor.

The cannibal chief was having himself a nice little party. He had four barbarous women arrayed around his chair in a chamber carpeted by furs and pillows. Two hookahs smoked profusely, and the five Thrunefangs looked happily oblivious to the slaughter the Castaways had just perpetrated on their doorstep. Content to leave the chief and his brides to their “purification rites,” the heroes attempted to seal the door shut with a combination of minor water- and cold-producing magics courtesy of Kor’lec and Dornas. But even in their less-than-mindful condition, the Thrunefangs almost couldn’t help but notice the muffled muttering of the two spellcasters’ magic words – that and the groaning, perspiring door right next to them. The stoned savages’ miens shifted into scowls and their eyes blazed with rabid ferocity. Their buzzkillers, totally busted, backed down and jostled around each other on the stairwell.

A pair of cannibal women each drew a pair of war-razors and charged out the door. Kor’lec was the first bleary shape the Thrunefang women recognized as an intruder, and he took some hideous cuts. Dornas got slashed as well. The spiral staircase favored the tower’s occupants, and the invaders could neither withdraw nor fight as effectively as they needed. Despite having just left a yard full of corpses, the lighthouse’s restrictive environment stymied the Castaways’ efforts to sustain their astonishing, homicidal winning-streak. Worse, the wives had high ground advantage and were way better warriors than those rubes whose corpses were piled up outside. “Only the best get to mate with the chief!” rasped the cannibal woman through broken teeth. “I don’t see anyone good enough to mate with,” quipped Kor’lec. The barbarian slashed him again, “I’ll cut out that tongue and eat it!”

It was no idle threat – on the stairs, a single warrior could do a lot of damage to an incursive enemy. Jask radiated healing energy that knit his rescuers’ wounds as the party coordinated a tactical withdrawal down to the ground floor. Only one Thrunefang pursued, buying the Castaways time to regroup. Dornas conjured an eldritch grease on the base of the stairs while Kor’lec produced a spider made of freaking fire. The elemental arachnid leapt upon the bloodthirsty bride, setting her alight as she struggled to keep her footing. Kai courageously braved the flames and launched herself talons-first at the burning barbarian. It didn’t take long before the fire and the wild woman’s wounds consumed her utterly.

Devils in the Details

“My thanks for culling the weak among my tribe,” bellowed the man’s voice from the top of the stairs, “we can fight all night, or we can talk!”

The cannibal leader was right – any attempt to take the tower by force could cost the Castaways more than they had to bargain. As foul as it was, the heroes agreed to parlay. “Come, avail yourself of my hospitality,” mocked the chieftain, "I’m called Klorak, the Red." Those of his wives who weren’t smoldering at the bottom of the stairs giggled and returned to their opium as if nothing happened.

Klorak was honest enough to admit that though he would have tried to kill them anyway, Ieana had indeed revealed the Castaways’ presence to him. As to the enchantress’s whereabouts, he had no clue. “Ask Nylithati, if you dare,” the cannibal chief mocked, “the one ya’ll seek left us in the night, right after she’d gone below to see Mother Thrunefang.”

Klorak wanted Ieana dead for infiltrating his camp and putting the screws to his mind. The chief went on to suggest that not only would he like Ieana served to him on a very literal platter, he wouldn’t be too broken up if the Castaways put an end to Nylithati, either. “Alive or otherwise, there always be a Mama Thrunefang.”

Though the Thrunefangs had abandoned their parent nation’s Diabolism and thrown in with Zura, Klorak at least seemed to enjoy hashing out a devil’s bargain. For one dead Ieana, he offered the Castaways three days to repair and utilize the lighthouse. Dornas had already figured it would only take half as long to get the reflector and its turning mechanism operational. As an added bonus, Klorak said the Thrunefangs would all do their level best not to eat them in the immediate future.

Kor’lec had been silent, but visibly ill-at-ease with the negotiations. Just before his companions finalized the deal, agreeing to deliver Ieana prêt à manger like so much catering, Kor’lec stalked out of the room.

“This makes me sick,” muttered the druid, and it wasn’t all the food talk.

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Cannibal Cataclysm

Lure your enemy onto the roof, then take away the ladder

When we left our intrepid heroes, Kor’lec had just returned to humanoid- from dire rat-form after having chewed away Jask’s bonds. Kishtari made an amazing leap to dispatch the Thrunefang chef keeping watch over the prisoner. Meanwhile, Monica and Dornas were concealed in the nearby brush, waiting with baited breath.

A voice from Naga, Kish’s crystal homunculus, warned its maker that trouble was coming and she needed to hide. Just beyond the nearby door, a pair of Thrunefangs guarded the lighthouse foyer. The psion’s action had made a clatter, so the cannibals were on their way to see what was the matter.

Rather than hide, Kish made her way down and across the prisoner corral to help Kor’lec lower Jask into the hole. The Thrunefang dual opened the door and immediately noted what was going on. The cannibals ululated battle cries that echoed across the camp.

Unexpected Feint

Monica conjured an illusion of a wall between the party and their discoverer’s line of sight while Dornas tied a rope to a post to help his teammates climb out the cesspit. The rest of the cannibals began to awaken from their central lodge while others descended their makeshift watchtowers. Still more were returning from the diversion the heroes had tricked them with earlier. Jask’s would-be rescuers were facing a wave of slavering man-eating barbarians. At their backs was a four-hundred foot drop onto sharp stones and shark-infested sea.

Jask put his hands on Kish’s shoulders and smiled wide. “Thank you for coming for me,” remarked the old cleric with complete sincerity, “you’ve made me the happiest dead man on Golarion!”

As if the spiky club-wielding warriors weren’t trouble enough, a trio of witch-doctors (and their evil goat familiars!) waded in among them. One of the scarred shamans kayoed Dornas with a sleep enchantment just as the cannibals were closing on him. And if all of that seemed enough to spell doom for our protagonists, the Thrunefang witch Malikadna emerged from her hut while her howler monkey familiar pranced and hooted on her thatch roof.

The primate’s gaiety was interrupted by a coconut busting against the back of its head, presaging the timely arrival of Likki! “Monkey make too much noise!” quipped the goblin. But the much hoped-for host of Mongrukoo warriors weren’t with the little oracle. Neither were Nemanji or even Tyst. Likki was it to save the day and had garnered Malikadna’s full attention.

“Should have stayed in your trees, Mongrukoo!” crowed the old witch. “We’ll burn your nests and feed your corpses to the Devil!” Likki struggled a second to find a rejoinder in Common, then threw a firebomb at her.

No Enemy Survives Contact With the Plan

The two barbarians from the lighthouse finally stopped gaping at or trying to climb Monica’s illusory wall only after being reprimanded by a witch-doctor who followed them from the building. One of the pair leapt from the porch and dug his spiked club into the nape of Kishtari’s neck. As the rest of the Thrunefangs were taking the most direct route to the heroes’ position, the plan was to either circumvent the village around the corral and lighthouse – or take their chances and jump off the cliff. Likki was an unexpected complication, as the cannibals were clustering between him, the witch, and the heroes. The goblin would have to escape the way he came.

Jask was in bad shape until Kor’lec healed the Garundi with a curative spell while helping him into the pit. But the priest was still old and slow, and bereft of any sort of equipment. But his god must have been with him, for from the muck of the pit Jask recovered his holy symbol! And a fortunate find it was, enabling the cleric to tend to Kish’s neck trauma.

The rejuvenated psion focused her mind on the Thrunefangs standing over Dornas’s unconscious body, and all but one of them dropped to join the magus in sleep. But one remained awake, and he was poised to put an end to the mysterious Taldan. As the cannibal telegraphed his killing blow, he got a sudden faceful of dinosaur when Kai entered the fray.

Kor’lec called upon the wrath of nature, and it responded with entangling roots that burst up from beneath just about every part of the Thrunefang’s camp. This severely curtailed the cannibals’ favored method of engagement, which was to scream and charge blindly. The few spellcasters among them had it no easier, the writhing vegetation interfered with magic gestures and choked the magic words from their throats.

Though they were singed by a shaman’s fire-spewing hand, the heroes succeeded at jostling Dornas awake. Rather than climb to his feet, the magus magically floated up toward the overhanging branches of a tree. With a somersault and a twirl of his staff, the human unleashed a spray of dazzling color into the astonished eyes of his inbred aggressors. The overstimulation struck several of the cannibals even dumber – and down.

Monica casually leveraged her gun and blew away the barbarian who’d wounded Kish. The hot lead burst his head like a water balloon filled with blood. Likki was keeping Malikadna busy, jabbing the flaming witch with his spear while she rolled around in the gravel to extinguish herself. She too was frustrated by the wriggling roots while her opponent capered just outside their area.

With sleeping, dead, and otherwise helpless cannibals piling up around them, the heroes reconsidered their escape plans. Notably, there wasn’t much left to escape from. Dornas levitated himself down from the tree, and took the last witch-doctor’s head in his hands. With an icy expression, the Taldan flash-froze the savage shaman’s head with necromantic cold, and cast it to the ground with a shattering crash – like a discarded glass.

Only Malikadna remained a threat, and she was no longer aflame. She whipped out a wand and slapped Likki with it; its fell magic vampirized Likki’s life-force and repaired her own wounds. The party couldn’t let her get away with that, furthermore, Malikadna had spent more than enough time not being on fire. As the adventurers finished off the entangled remnants of the once-fearsome Thrunefang tribe, Kishtari blasted the witch with pyrokinetic force. The fire smashed against and shoved the old woman down the stairs leading up to her hut. Her charred corpse finally came to rest against the pen where she kept her animated skeletons.

Malikadna’s monkey spontaneously combusted, leaving nary but a soot smudge on the hut’s roof. As for the skeletons, their eagerness to join the battle, or do anything of consequence, was quieted when Jask showed them the business end of his holy symbol. Those of the group’s living opponents who still drew breath were finished off by blade, save one of the fallen witch-doctors who’d probably come to wish he had been. The party walked all day through heat and pouring rain and had slain seventeen men (and an old lady) before suppertime: when the Castaways had questions, it ordinarily did not go well for those who might have answers.

Where was the Thrunefangs’ not-looking-all-that-brave-right-now chief? And where was Ieana?

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Game Trail

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.

Sleeping Lizards!

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.

Even

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.

Rat Slink

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.

In some cosmic corner of the metaphysical wheel the divinities of Golarion observe with detached stoicism the trials and tribulations of mere mortals.

This time, though, they cheered and high-fived.

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Destiny's Hinges

Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.

With Nemanji and Tyst still mysteriously missing in action, the other adventurers were forced to face the horrors of the caverns below the Island of Never Going There without their heaviest hitters. But our heroes were not without their own potentiality – and as they trudged through the caverns, all dug deep inside themselves to find it.

The tunnel they traversed was illumed on its floor by a purplish pollution that flowed like the ichors of a diseased body, and the gray- to violet-colored mold pulsated on the cave walls like tumors. Offerings of bones, shells, and other savage fetishes made by the silent island’s fungoid populace adorned the natural shelves and cracks. The party knew that the sewer-like passage would lead to the heart of the islet, and the source of the Abyssal infection that had likely taken root there. Soon enough, a promisingly wide and luminous chamber loomed before them.

Before Kor’lec centered his supernal senses toward the gaping hollow to suss out any enemies awaiting their entry, he detected Kai catching up to the group behind them. Apparently, the dromaeosaurid, healed of most of her wounds, wasn’t keen on guard duty while her master was walking into danger.

Deifoliation

The druid detected several creatures moving about the tiered cavern’s fungal overgrowth, likely fungous men like those already encountered. Indifferent to the alien biome, Kor’lec evoked a bomb of negative energy that withered a great mushroom mass. The chamber’s denizens scrambled to attack as the party pressed forward to meet them in battle! At the far, highest shelf of the cavern grew a hideous, marginally man-like mushroom of striated red and violet. With an atrocious slorping sound, the giant creature pulled itself from the wall and the veiny growth anchoring it. The Fungus God, angry for being disturbed, shook the cavern with a slam of its enormous fist. Its other hand served as a third leg to balance a cumbersome cap that sprouted vine-like tentacles.

As the Fungus God lumbered toward the intruders, its acolytes, winged pygmies with long spears, took to the air. The heroes were undeterred. They were there to clean up the mess the Nightvoice’s Pathfinders made – “god” be-damned.

Kai was even less deterred by the terrain, leaping up the ledges to land talons-first into fungoid flesh. Dornas climbed the nearest conical growth to smackdown the fungoid hiding atop it before it managed to take flight. Likki was chanting in Abyssal and hurling coconuts as though he had a perpetual supply. Kor’lec conjured a glob of tar-like muck and hurled it at the face of one of the winged fungoids, blinding it and forcing it to retreat as it struggled to clean out its eyes.

Monica, still unhinged with anger toward the extraplanar invaders for maiming Gelik, shot the big one and scrambled right up the step-like ridges toward it! Two of the winged acolytes swooped down toward her as she hung off one of the cavern shelves. A less-lithesome person would have been shish-kebabed, but the action-archaeologist curled and weaved around the pygmies’ spearheads before she somersaulted up and over the edge.

Meanwhile, Kishtari must have decided at some point that she was done having her potent telepathic abilities stymied by “mindless” creatures. The air around the kalashtar seamed to shimmer like heat on distant sand, though the violet stream she was standing knees-deep in iced-up around her. A howling torrent of cryokinetic energy exploded from her body and pummeled the Fungus God, staggering it back into some stalagmites. If its fall weren’t cushioned by the spongy mold surrounding the stones, its reign of terror might of ended then and there.

The psion wasn’t done – her previous frugality regarding her phrenic reserves was paying dividends. Crackling with electricity this time, Kish emitted a lattice of lightning at one of the winged pygmies who’d attacked Monica, causing it to barrel roll awkwardly into its partner. Like a billiard ball, the second one lost control of its flight and bounced off the squishy mantle of the Fungus God. That really made the ogre-sized mushroom mad.

Seconds before the Fungus God reached out to crush, strangle, and eviscerate Monica all at once, the heroes routed the remaining flying acolytes. The giant mushroom-thing now had their full attention – and that wasn’t going to go well for him! With a staff kata and some magic words, Dornas conjured a carpet of slippery slime at the ponderous monster’s feet. The Fungus God flailed in a very ungodlike manner before making an unintended comedic pratfall to its back. And while that was all great for a laugh, Monica was dead serious as she ended the creature’s act with thunderous applause from her double-barreled pistol. “Puny god,” the woman muttered as her gun smoked and the fungous monstrosity melted into sludge.

In seconds, the surviving fungoids dropped from the air or their perches and expired just as surely as if struck by the hot lead that muddled their deity’s nucleolar pseudobrain on the cavern floor. Kor’lec sensed the gray blight was already in remission, and in due coarse, the jungle would reclaim the Isle of Never Going There.

Agents now of literal, lasting consequence for the world in which they lived, the Castaways had their first taste of legendry. It felt right. It would not be their last…

“You kill god!?!” Likki blurted, breaking the sort of stunned silence that had befallen the Castaways after their victory. Though they were coping well-enough with being big damn heroes, Likki had particularities about the way his world worked. “We all did,” and “it wasn’t truly a god” were put to the primitive goblinoid, but Likki countered that he’d contributed very little and anyway “god create life, god change land, god has worshipers,” so yes, the big violet fungus was a god as far as he was concerned.

The Mongrukoo said he needed to ponder the matter, and consult with his as-yet unmet grandmother. Then he bounded away. The heroes recovered some loot that probably belonged to the Nightvoice’s captain before he became the Fungus God, including a mithral shirt that Monica was quick to call dibs on.

The Hill Has Spies

The journey back to Aycenia‘s grove was mostly quiet. Thanks to Kor’lec’s ministrations, Aerys and Gelik seemed less piqued from the fungal poison, though Sasha looked positively ghastly. All the while the diseased teen fixed her reddening eyes on her companions with a predator’s intensity. Also worryingly, the heroes found neither hide nor hair of Nemanji and Tyst before their companions’ unstable conditions forced them all to head out. Neither of the missing warriors would have any trouble tracking them if need be. “Maybe the werebadger killed him!” Gelik blundered out, a possibility that no one wanted to hear expressed, least of all by the shifty gnome.

Before he was smacked silly, Gelik let on that he was the one who healed Kai before the throwdown with the Fungus God. Kor’lec quietly thanked him. Having left Aycenia on less-than-great terms, there was a brief exchange about who would do the talking when they got back to her grove. Though both the dryad and the gnome were of fey origin, even Monica insisted that her boyfriend keep his big mouth shut during the negotiations.

Moving up the gentler slope of the dryad’s baobab-crowned drumlin, the heroes were greeted by Pollock as the great trees came into view. The reincarnated grig said that he was doing the talking for Lady Aycenia, and that she was still sore about being poked fun of. “Still,” the fey continued, “she appreciates you doing your duty to heal the gray blight.” Pollock’s typically knavish mien then bent slightly toward solemnity before saying “I am to bring her the amulet.” The former gremlin was referring to Kor’lec’s tribal necklace, the very same trinket whose latent magic had given Pollock a new life.

Kor’lec, of course, refused. He would talk to Aycenia first, and give her the amulet personally. Pollock asked several times, always restating with increasing desperation, “I am to bring her the amulet,” and every time, Kor’lec refused. Finally, the grig drew his rapier, which, paired with his klar, lent the tiny creature a formidability belying his size. Pollock pounced and attacked viciously, wounding the druid. Kor’lec refused to fight back.

Kishtari sensed and communicated to her teammates that the fey was under some sort of compulsion; and then did her level best to psionically break it. Unfortunately, the mind behind Pollock’s uncharacteristic behavior was powerful indeed – Ieana! When had she gotten to him? Those in the party able-enough to fight surrounded the grig, but all fought in defense, hoping to wear him out. Kish ran toward the boabab Aycenia was bound to, and implored her to appear. “Your servant is being controlled by another!” the kalashtar cried.

With a dramatic flourish of the great tree’s branches, out stepped Aycenia. “Pollock, what has happened to you?” implored the great fey, with general concern for the grig. “I must bring her the amulet,” was all Pollock could say, tears welling up in his eyes.

After relieving the grig of his sword with her whip, Monica had an idea. With a little bait and switch, Kor’lec appeared to give her his necklace while the Taldan created an illusory duplicate in her hand. Making sure the grig was convinced by the illusion, Monica “destroyed” the amulet.

“No!” Pollock whimpered. Then he jammed the blade of his klar into his own neck. Though most mystic compulsions stopped short of forcing suicide, the fey must have been given a terrible notion of what to expect if he failed. No one blamed Monica but herself. It was a reasonably good plan.

“He has returned to the Feywild to be among his brothers,” Aycenia lamented. Having been eased away of his vengeful ideas about the Mongrukoo, there was no hope of returning Pollock to the Material Plane.

Grove’s Synthesis

Aycenia felt she owed the party more now that they had cleansed the demonic blight from the gray islet and tried to save Pollock. Because Ieana had violated Aycenia’s sovereignty by bewitching her servant, the dryad was now invested in their quest to stop the enchantress, whoever or whatever she was. The fey shaped the trees surrounding her own into comfortable houses and created a little sick berth to tend to Gelik, Sasha, and Aerys. She restored as much power as she could spare to Kor’lec’s amulet, explaining, “you may use it three times to restore life to the recently dead, but the body will be newly formed of the earth and not necessarily match the departing soul’s original.”

While this was going on, Aycenia fielded a myriad of questions from the group while in a trance that united her in communion with the land. Though she meant not to, the dryad outed Kishtari as an alien to the rest of her astonished teammates (save Kor’lec, who already knew); Aycenia recognized the kalashtar as a being not of Golarion, but the Green Star. “But there was a time when our worlds were one, but made two by the gods for their own reasons. Many of this planet’s creatures, men and elves, can also be found there.” The group pondered the fateful coincidences coalescing around them.

Monica inquired about the serpentfolk, but their time came and went long before Aycenia or her forbears came into being. The dryad revealed that before her tree was a seed on a tree that wasn’t yet a seed, there were civilizations across the island the Castaways knew as Smuggler’s Shiv. She knew of stones that these ancients used to channel their strange intramagic – psionics – and the party had already encountered one at Black Widow Bluff. “You were inside of it,” Aycenia looked right at Monica and added, “you brought it with you?”

Smoke on the Water

Whatever the ancient fey was on about would have to wait. With nightfall but scant hours away, the heroes set out to retrieve Jask from the Brine Demon. Avoiding a small flock of dimorphodons lost the party precious time, forcing the four heroes to take refuge with Pezock, whose crabshell shack was midways between Aycenia’s grove and their shipwreck base. The crazed tengu was happy to see his new friends again and gladly put them up for the night.

The reunion was short-lived. Saying their goodbye’s to the sullen Pezock, the Castaways continued on across the Shiv, backtracking their way to the derelict ship that had served well as their hideout for several days. The smell of smoke grew more intense as the explorers approached the beach where they left the Brine Demon, and the quintet hastened their steps.

But they were too late, and sickened by the sight that greeted them in the old vessel’s stead. Smoldering piles of wood, soot-stained stones, swirling ash, and no Jask. The ship was completely destroyed. Signs in the coastal scree painted for Kor’lec an unpleasant picture of what had happened. Human tracks, some dragging away another.

The Thrunefangs were there, and they’d taken the poor old cleric.

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