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.
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.
“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.
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.