I became gradually aware that here the vile fungus, which had driven us from the ship, was growing riot. In places it rose into horrible, fantastic mounds, which seemed almost to quiver, as with a quiet life, when the wind blew across them. Here and there it took on the forms of vast fingers, and in others it just spread out flat and smooth and treacherous. Odd places, it appeared as grotesque stunted trees, seeming extraordinarily kinked and gnarled – the whole quaking vilely at times.
Night fell quickly after the Red Mountain Devil flew back to its lair, and our protagonists wisely backtracked to a less barren section of the first islet, to make camp among the ravenalas and elephant grass that comprised the rock’s sparse vegetation. As bereft of flora as the islet was, its copses of trees and a small population of hares and goats were a stark and assuasive contrast to the alien grey blanketing its silent twin further north.
Kor’lec took first watch, as usual. Shortly after the others fell into sleep, he awoke Kishtari. Several matters had been weighing heavily on the druid’s mind, and the loyalty of his psionic teammate was among them. After bringing her out of earshot of his sleeping teammates, Kor’lec, Kai twitchy at his side and ready to pounce, asked flatly, "are you in league with Ieana?" Kish was taken aback. “No,” she sputtered.
The half-elf wasn’t satisfied that she’d been entirely forthcoming; Kish’s own potent telepathic abilities and passionate regard for serpents, even above the well-being of those she was fighting alongside, were throwing up the proverbial red flags. “I know how it looks, but no,” she repeated.
“You aren’t a half-elf,” Kor’lec referred to Kish’s habitual cover story concerning her race. To the druid, is was blown by Aycenia, the dryad on whose behalf the adventurers presently quested. The fey never once gave Kishtari the notice her kind typically paid elvenkind.
Kish knew she was busted, or she’d grown weary of the secrecy. Brooding and sanctimonious at the best of times, Kor’lec was at least trustworthy, and that made him a good choice for a confidante. The kalashtar revealed that she was of a race hailing from the planet Golarians called Castrovel, a neighboring planet closer in its orbit to the sun. Kish and many others of her world were refugees from an oppressive regime founded by the Inspired, a species of psionics closely-related to hers. Like them, her people were close enough in appearance to elves and humans to pass as kin. Kish suspected that Ieana was one of the Inspired.
“Castrovel is sometimes called the Green Star,” Kish had mentioned. “That’s funny,” Kor’lec chewed on those words for a second before disclosing, "my people, among the Kallijae, we are called the Emerald Star." Resolving to trust one-another again, the two returned to camp and wondered whether to reveal Kish’s secret to the others.
Though he made little sense of the words, the entire conversation was heard to one who was as shadow among the palm-like fronds of the ravenala above and beyond the sight of even Kor’lec’s keen eyes. He had been tracking the party at a distance for days. Tomorrow, the shadow thought to himself, tomorrow everything changes.
“Good morning!” said the amiable halfling. No one had seen him come up on them, as if the green-cloaked stranger was there all along. But there he was. The chipper young halfling introduced himself as Tyst.
“Pardon us,” said Kish, “but we thought you were imaginary.”
“Wow,” said Kor’lec, "we really owe Sasha an apology."
“He even shorter than me!” skreaked Likki.
After a few pertinent questions all revolving around some variation of “who in the Hells are you?” details started to emerge about their breakfast-time visitor. Clearly, this was the very same green-cloaked halfling that Sasha swore up-and-down was trying to kill her. But Tyst seemed friendly enough… The stranger claimed, earnestly, that he’d been following the adventurers for some time. He’d woken up on a beach near them and had only recently regained some of his faculties. His memories were vague, but it looked like he’d been a passenger aboard the Jenivere like the rest of them – though probably not a paying one, as nobody but Sasha knew he was there. Likki was the first to mention amnesia, which he said was a common affliction among his tribesmen, “when real big coconut conk you on the head!”
"Are you Red Mantis?" queried Monica, who had paid enough attention to events to connect Sasha and her much talked-about stalker to the assassin cult. Tyst appeared not to remember, and was either a world-class liar, or truly had lost his memories. In any event, the group were about to face some difficulty and needed an extra sword arm. Or sling arm, as Tyst demonstrated when asked what he could offer in terms of help. The halfling tossed a spiked melon into the air and splattered it with a quick flick of a sling. “I have some skill in sneaking, too, obviously,” Tyst added. Having escaped even Kor’lec’s notice on the Jenivere and across Smuggler’s Shiv proved his skill. As they all had explanation enough to entrust their very lives to each other, the group proceeded to the Isle of Never Going There.
The Spore You Know…
Before hopping across the broken rocks linking the islets, the party concocted a hair-brained scheme to set a captured goat free on the fungi-covered land mass to test its safety. Goat in hand, the Castaways closed in on the grey islet toward a beach covered with mold and giant fungi the size and shape of elder pine trees. Beyond the beach was a towering cliff with some natural switchbacks and a gently sloping gully leading up onto the plateaued interior. Just before Nemanji could hurl his goat ashore, a trio of hideous grey-purple reptiles crawled out from beneath the ancient bridge-stones. The fungal iguanas attacked indiscriminately and bit hard, with one wounding Tyst. The halfling was unused to fighting outside the shadows, and tumbled past his opponents to regroup. Unfortunately, the lizard-shaped plant-thing had tasted blood and gave him chase. Worse still, Tyst’s attempt to get away from it put him in range of a pair of snipers who were hidden in the fungal trees – small humanoid forms likewise made of purplish-grey fungus.
The rest fared better – the treacherous, sludge-draped rocks posed few problems to the dexterous sextet. Nemanji and Likki worked like the blades of a murder-windmill. The monkey goblin, from the safety of his big buddy’s papoose, would jab with his spear or hurl a coconut before Nemanji pirouetted around with a swipe of his great axe. Dornas, Kai, and Kor’lec comported themselves just as well, and soon all but Tyst’s persistent pursuer had been crushed and scraped off the stones like moss. Kor’lec looked again at the fungal trees and saw what had to be a dozen or more of the manikin-faced, plantoid people maneuvering and adjusting positions, silently waiting for the invaders to come into range of their javelins.
Using the vine-like strands that grew from their bodies as amentums, the fungal pygmies loosed their short spears with pinpoint accuracy and speed. Tyst was caught in the crossfire of two vegetable men midways up the first tree on the beach. He was struck forward and back with the whip-spun javelins while the last funguana nipped at his heels.
Monica saw that her new companion desperately needed help, and perhaps by reaching him could give the enemy another target. She skipped over to him as the halfling dropped to his knees from blood loss. By the time the archaeologist was close enough to magically mend his wounds, Tyst was bent and quivering, his muscles rippling in odd ways beneath his cloak. When he stood up, nearly twice the size he’d been, the cloak fell away and revealed a hirsute, nightmarish visage. Monica stood eye to eye with a werebadger!
Tyst, fully transformed, let out a snarling roar that Mwangi natives such as Kor’lec and Nemanji knew belonged to one of the jungle’s most tenacious predators. Even Kai appeared ready to bolt in fear as Tyst ripped apart the funguana with claws capable of burrowing into rock. Tyst pointed a claw at one of the fungal pygmies who’d shot him, as if to say "you’re next." In an instant, the lycanthrope was bounding over and up onto the tree to get to his prey.
The rest of the party regrouped, recovered themselves and stormed up onto the beach after him. Monica was close behind, bravely running past and over a carpet of undulating mold without thought to what it might do to her, “I guess we know its safe now.” Its sacrifice no longer required, Kish freed the poor goat whom would have thanked the gods if it could.
Kor’lec had that morning communed with the elements to bestow upon him gifts of flame for the day, and was crestfallen to discover none of the fungi, ambulatory or otherwise, were much harmed by fire. Dornas wasn’t surprised, having deduced that the entire biome here was of extraplanar origin, Abyssal, specifically. Once that was communicated to Nemanji, the tiefling tried asking the fungal pygmies in the Abyssal tongue, “why are you trying to kill us?” as if the infinite conflicts between the Abyss’s denizens weren’t worlds more slaughterous.
With a booming report from a barrel of her pistol, Monica turned one of the vegetable beings into a fine mist. “He won’t truffle anyone again!” Tyst likewise dispatched the pair who struck him with extreme prejudice. But the small victories against the eerily silent beings, who were resilient for their size, only emphasized the difficulties to come. There were at least 8 to 10 more, in the swaying fungal trees and along the cliff. And they were in no hurry to die, either, wisely falling back up the cliff to find cover and regroup. The party had yet to face an enemy so tactically prepared, and it occurred to them that the Thrunefangs and Ieana would be even more so.
And then a boulder rolled down the gulley right through them…
Except for Kish, who decided to stay out of the battle. She was poking around in a particularly big swathe of grey mold. It felt like a greasy sponge. Something out of place caught her eye within it. The psion dug it out with her staff. She was shocked to find Aerys‘s tricorn hat. Searching and prodding revealed one of Sashas’s blades, or rather shards of a broken kukri, its minor enchantment fading. Last, one of Gelik’s extravagantly pointy boots was uncovered.
All of this would have been puzzling enough, and perhaps troubling, had any believed their friends capable of reaching the grey isle before themselves, unnoticed. The only problem was Gelik’s boot, or rather, the gnome’s severed foot that was still in it.