Campaign of the Month: September 2016

Age of Serpents

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.


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.

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.


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.

Toxic Reactions

It’s amazing how much manipulation is going on in parasites.

Our intrepid adventurers had just landed on the spongy deck of what once was the Nightvoice, which they believed to be the source of the demonic fungus and where their hobbled friends had been hauled off to. Any and all of the ship’s wood was supplanted by the gray-purple mold that given time, would devour flesh just as surely.

Likki started to slap his battle drum when he noticed dozens of fungal pygmies were descending the vines that anchored the Nightvoice between the island and some plinths of rock offshore. With his axe, Nemanji severed all but one of the vein-like strands, sending several of the creeping attackers to the swirling sea. The last vine however, the party needed as an escape route. “We’ll hold the line,” Nemanji said, gesturing to himself and Tyst, who was still in animal form. Nocking the bow given him by the missing buccaneer, the tiefling growled, "find Aerys," and through gritted teeth added, “make sure the gnome dies,” referring to Gelik. Nemanji opened fire behind Tyst, who was already halfway up the tether raking with his curved claws and badger-rushing the pygmies down to the swells.

Ras Boot

Kor’lec attempted to reconnoiter the cargo hold just below the upper deck, and was spotted while he took note of several pygmies and a fungal iguana readying themselves for an attack. Kishtari dangled Naga, her psionic homunculus, through a hole in one of the rusty metal grates separating the levels. The serpentine construct was also spotted, and revealed no more information than Kor’lec.

Whether or not the enemy was ready for them, the Castaways were obliged to take care of their own. In two teams, Kor’lec, Kai, and Kishtari took the starboard stairs while Monica, Likki and Dornas descended the port side.

What awaited the adventurers below was even more nightmarish than above decks. Pulsating purple globules on the ceiling dimly lit what was once the cargo hold of the Pathfinder vessel. The fungi had consumed stacked barrels and crates amongst which the enemy positioned themselves. Monica upended the fungal reptiform with a quick lash of her thorny whip. The creature responded with a belch of poisonous spores that nearly filled the hold and caught Monica and Dornas dead on. The mild toxin weakened the Taldan woman, but Dornas demonstrated a steadfast resistance to it that induced yet more questions about the mysterious magi’s origins.

The hidden pygmies began hurling javelins as Kai, with Kor’lec close behind, advanced through a narrow path along the starboard edge that the poison cloud did not reach. Kish, unable to find any discernible intellect within the heads of the fungoids, resigned herself to blasting away with her crossbow, but the fibrous anatomy of the monsters proved frustratingly resistant to her lancinate bolts as well.

Coughing out the spores, Monica lashed her barbed whip around the funguana’s neck and raised it into a midair spin with a violent hoick – as a chanting Dornas, his staff energized with dark magic, clobbered the whirling beast causing it to coalesce and vanish into a negatron singularity!

At the far (aft) end of the room, obscured by shadows and fungi-encrusted mounds that once were boxes of cargo, were the skeleton-stuffed stairwells. Between them lurked the champion of the fungus men; all six feet of him with powerful muscles that sprouted vines and mushrooms as he flexed like a gladiator. Wielding an enchanted longspear, the monster stepped out into the open and thrust low. Kor’lec watched in horror as Kai, who had charged, was impaled, lifted, and shaken off the end of the fungus man’s enchanted spear as if the velociraptor was merely a pest to exterminate. The fungal champion beat his fibrous chest, challenging the invaders to meet him in melee.

Meanwhile, Dornas, still standing nonchalantly in the miasma of spores, made his own display of might by knocking down the crates piled next to him. The pygmies assailing him and Monica collapsed along with it and landed prone. The Taldans were quick to take advantage – Monica sliced at the pygmies with her rapier while Dornas splattered them with his magically-empowered staff.

Kai was bleeding out, but still breathing before the fungus boss. But instead of finishing the dinosaur off, he hesitated. Repeating Dornas’s gesture, the monster man-thing pushed over the crate pile that he was adjacent to, sending his own minions gracelessly to the floor! To nearly everyone’s astonishment, the fungous brute then attacked the pygmies on his own side. Kishtari was aglow with psionic luminance – the kalashtar had somehow, impossibly breached the creature’s mind and placed him under her spell!

The control was short lived, but it was time enough for Likki to scramble over to Kai and save her life with healing magic. Once again the fell forces whom the monkey goblin served came to the rescue, rejuvenating Kor’lec’s companion almost completely. The dinosaur was commanded to withdraw, leaving Likki as the only obstacle between the fungous brute, who had shaken off his trance, and Kishtari, who had laid it. The master fungus pointed his spear at the alien woman and with herculean effort, exhaled a howl of rage!

But the monster’s beeline to Kish was his own undoing. Determined to reach the psion at any cost to his own well-being, the fungoid pushed past a gauntlet of attacks from the rest of his enemies, including a giant freaking spider summoned by Kor’lec. Sliced, bashed, and bitten, the brute reared to impale Kish, but finally succumbed to his wounds, falling in twain after a swipe of Kor’lec’s scimitar.

The Fungus Among Us

The aft of the hulk contained the kitchen where Aerys and Gelik were kept, bound by fibrous strands to an old cast-iron oven. They were dying slowly, demonstrating the obvious signs of having ingested the alien fungi. The stumps where each once had a foot were cauterized – badly.

After the party gave up their curative potions to revive them, Kor’lec did what he could to treat the captives’ poisoning. Aerys was beyond pissed. The pirate cursed-out Gelik for ensorcelling her, and if she weren’t then tied up, probably would have beaten his boyish face into a mulch.

Gelik insisted that he was really sorry. But it wasn’t good enough. The gnome hesitantly revealed that he was an operative of the king (technically the primarch) of Absalom. His mission was to recover maps and documents from the Nightvoice and hoped he could persuade the away team to do it while maintaining his cover as a craven performer. Kor’lec, who’d been searching the rest of the ship, had already recovered a cloth map to the Pirate Captain Lortch Quellig’s treasure, and incinerated it before the gnome’s sad eyes (though not before memorizing it).

Though none believed his story as told, Kishtari was unable to discern the gnome’s uncensored thoughts. And while his tale of duty and secrecy did little to mitigate the party’s anger at him, they were satisfied enough to free Gelik from his bonds.

Requesting a word in private with his girlfriend, the Castaways left Monica and her gnomish beau alone in the kitchen. Gelik let out a sigh and confided, “I can’t believe they bought all that!” Monica was furious, but Gelik convinced her that his lies were in self-defense, that he would never be dishonest with her, and that he truly loved her. All he wanted, Gelik claimed, was to show his quality to the group. He never wanted anyone to get hurt. Monica demanded that he come clean to the others, but the gnome argued that if he did that right away, they would in all likelihood murder him. To show his gratitude for rescuing him and for covering for him, Gelik shared with Monica one of his deeply-held secrets: a pentad of syllables from Truespeech, the language of the gods, that helped his words carry weight. He had learned them from a professional comedian.

Meanwhile, Dornas asked Kishtari to use her telepathic surveillance once again. The psion argued that she tried to spy on Gelik’s thoughts already, but could not break through. “Not him,” Dornas corrected, “Monica.” Kishtari felt if she did, the archaeologist would never forgive her – but didn’t refuse.

It Speaks But Cannot Be Heard

In addition to Dread Pirate Quellig’s map, Kor’lec had recovered a journal from a lead safe, some loot, and magic items. The journal was probably a captain’s log, but the shorthand was so obtuse not even Monica could make sense of it. With Dornas’s help however, the words were subjected to the scrutiny of two powerful intellects. While the context remained a mystery, a symbol stood out:

Cyth-V’sug, Demon Lord of Fungus and Parasites.

Gelik had mentioned a sea cave reached via the holed bowels of the Nightvoice that the fungal men reverently went in and out of. All knew that this meant the source of the gray islet’s contamination lied within, and that it was very likely angry and ambulatory. The party returned abovedecks, but everything was eerily silent. Nemanji and Tyst were nowhere to be found. If they had been, there would have been less of an argument to rest and return to the cavern at a later time. Ultimately, the Castaways decided in favor of finishing off the hideous blight that permeated the earth there and then. They’d make Aycenia happy and she could maybe cure their friends.

Speaking of which, despite Dornas previously making Sasha promise not to do anything dumb while they were occupied below, she just couldn’t help herself, apparently. But it was not her faculties in question (this time), the ghoul fever Sasha suffered from famished her, and left alone she’d devoured more of the gray fungi. “I have the babies in me,” the reinfected girl creepily kept uttering. Kor’lec had already figured out from the damaged remains belowdecks that the pygmies emerged out of those who succumbed to the toxic mold. It was why they took captives, to force feed and become incubators. Gelik, Aerys, and Sasha were doomed to share the fate of all those whose mold-caked bones were stuffed into the aft stairwell – unless the heroes were successful.

The clock was ticking. Forced to leave Nemanji and Tyst to whatever trouble the warriors had found, and Kai to prevent the dying home team from killing each other; Dornas, Kishtari, Kor’lec, and Monica descended to the lich-lit innards of the Isle of Never Going There.

Invasive Species

Evils can be created much quicker than they can be cured.

The rolling stone gathered no adventurers, though it did upend some moss. After they all more or less avoided being crushed beneath the boulder’s onslaught, our heroes couldn’t help but notice more signs of a recent battle beneath the gray carpet of mold. When Monica saw Kishtari hold up Gelik’s severed foot, the anguished archaeologist shrieked and practically threw herself against the enemy. The fungal pygmies were everywhere.

Bolete the Drum Slowly

The others were hot on her heels. Tyst, still in full-on beast mode, charged past Monica but was swiping too wildly for his claws to cleave the nimble plantoids. Fortunately, the werebadger’s thick skin and nigh-instantaneous regeneration rendered him impervious to the pygmies’ spears. Several of the purplish creatures futilely jabbed and flung their weapons at the vicious lycanthrope, freeing the rest of the party to climb the slope unabated.

The fiendish creatures fought hard, but the heroes were revitalized in purpose. Monica flipped and danced into their midst blasting her double-barreled pistol, vaporizing one to the left and twirling to the right to blast apart another. The Taldan’s anger and worry for her lover fueled her inborn magic which manifested as white fire around her rapier blade. With a fencer’s flourish, Monica carved her first initial with holy flame upon a fiendish fungoid, whose chest resembled a Harrowing Night jack o’-lantern before the creature collapsed into an an “M”-shaped ash pile!

Meanwhile, Kai and Nemanji were without cover and caught in the crossfire of too many distant snipers. Tough as they were, javelin after javelin pierced and grazed their hides. Kai was forced to retreat back down the cliff. Nemanji, however, strode gallantly up the switchback trail toward his enemies. Muttering Abyssal, the tiefling dispatched Likki to to tend to the wounded dinosaur, while bringing his axe down upon an expressionless pygmy. Having hacked in twain one (and the tree it was standing on), the demon-spawn stared ominously at another, who simply melted into sludge, awed in the presence of the greater fiend!

Likki magically healed Kai, bringing her back in the fray, as Dornas blasted away with globules of conjured acid. The magus tossed his crossbow to Kishtari, so the psion could contribute to the combat. As the penetrative bolts were all-but powerless against her plantoid opposers, Kish imbued a shot with psionic energy – the projectile sprang from her weapon, then impossibly morphed into a serpentine spirit that swallowed a pygmy whole!

Monica reloaded her gun, and with a battlelust born of fury, flung herself farther up the cliff’s path. She exposed two more foes who kindled and kicked a burning cask toward her. The rolling barrel, stuffed with some manner of explosive, was a dud. The archaeologist leapt aside as the barrel feebly blew apart, barely singing her. The fungal pygmies who sparked the trap hurled javelins and retreated.

Meanwhile, Tyst found himself surrounded by the enemy atop one of the fungus trees, though the pathetic jabs of the pygmies’ spears barely bit through the were-creature’s flesh. Tyst was a terror, his teeth knives and his claws scythes; and when the shredded pygmies surrounding him seemed as if they could be served on a salad, the party’s few remaining foes finally fled.

None Left Behind

Sifting through the gray moss revealed additional signs of battle, and more ruined gear belonging to members of those previously known as the “home team.” The most disturbing of these finds was one of Aery‘s boots, like Gelik’s, containing her severed foot. Kor’lec noticed that the undulating fungi slowly consumed organic matter and seemed “excited” whenever blood from his or his teammates’ wounds dripped upon them. The “healthiest” patches of fungus resembled blood patterns one might expect on the ground from three individuals who were peppered with spears – then maimed on the spot. There were, however, only two feet recovered. Signs picked up by Tyst and Kor’lec indicated one, presumably Sasha, staggered away to the east along the beach while the others were dragged up the slope. It was a tough decision, but there was a good chance Sasha was alive and needed immediate rescue, while the others were hobbled and hauled off for a reason. The decision to follow Sasha was not, however, unanimous.

Monica had vanished above the rim of the cliff while shouting in vain for Gelik. Normally, it would be Monica who was counted on to stop a teammate from emotionally running off alone to certain death, so in this case nobody knew what to do. “I’ll retrieve her,” grumbled Nemanji, finally.

Before the barbarian arrived to gently persuade the hysterical woman to return – or less gently with his club – Monica looked across the bleak vista that the island plateau presented. Grey fungi covered everything, though in places it had purple swathes, especially near the great conical trees that would be midways to the clouds if they didn’t hunch and spiral to their tips. “Gelik!” she cried again, and Monica’s call barely carried, as if it too were sodden with blood and swallowed by the heaving mycological mass at her feet. Distant figures that she saw approaching the horizon were the survivors of her team’s onslaught, and their destination was clear. About a mile and half west, the Nightvoice appeared relatively upright and intact, perhaps seaworthy, bobbing in the shallows just beside the cliff.

Nemanji had been speaking, but Monica was still beside herself and barely heard him until his pitch grew agitated. She stepped out onto the writhing plain. Likki was present in the papoose, and climbed out, holding a hand up to his big buddy as if to say, “me got this.” The monkey goblin patted the distraught woman’s shoulder before hopping down from the tiefling’s back. With sincere earnestness the oracle proclaimed, “you need your tribe to beat tribe.” Monica finally acquiesced, and Likki led her by the hand back down to the beach to catch up with the others.

With Kor’lec’s eyes and Tyst’s nose, it didn’t take the adventurers long to find the cavern Sasha crawled into. The hole in the cliffside was plainly visible, but caked in fungi that funneled in and dropped steeply downward. Deep in the darkness, labored breathing could be heard. Having demonstrated a resistance to harm, Tyst proposed he be the first lowered by rope into the cave. “I’ll take my hybrid form, so I don’t frighten her!” the halfling cheerfully added. Neither of those suggestions seemed remotely suspicious to the Castaways, though all they’d ever heard about the green-cloaked stranger prior to that morning was that he was an assassin trying to kill Sasha – and she didn’t even know he was an invincible slaughtering hell-beast.

But if Tyst intended to murder her, he had ample opportunity in the gloom of that cavern. The titian-haired teen was completely at the were-creature’s mercy. She laid still, ghastly-thin and sallow, her skin nearly translucent and taught upon her muscles. Worse, the young woman had gray fungi growing about her mouth, her ears, hands – and elsewhere. Tyst took his halfling form to reduce weight and scooped up Sasha in his arms. The Red Mantis-trained youth half-opened one milky-red eye, and when she saw the one whom she long believed would deliver her death, gasped a single word.


Foray Among the Fungi

That Sasha was dying was clear, but Kor’lec’s medicinal expertise revealed that it wasn’t just the fungi’s poison slowly killing her. Somehow, she had ghoul fever, too. There was little debate before the team’s only magical counter-poison was administered to her. They’d worry about her ailment later. Magical healing brought Sasha back to to consciousness, and again she implored, “please kill me.”

“Not right now,” replied Tyst, jokingly. After being kinda-sorta convinced that the amnesic halfling meant her no harm, Sasha related the tale of how she and the others arrived at the Isle of Never Going There.

Gelik had wanted to do something brave, said the teen ranger, “and I wanted to help him for saving me the other night.” They left less than an hour after the away team, when Jask was tending to their food stores. Sasha absolved Aerys but condemned Gelik by mentioning that the pirate had tried to stop them, but the gnome magically coerced her into coming along. The trio were accosted on their journey by ghouls in the jungle and took wounds, but Gelik wanted to press on anyway. Like the others, they were ambushed by the pygmies. Sasha admitted to her shame that she fled, leaving her companions to the fiendish fungoids’ mercy.

Her story elicited a chorus of curses and threats on Gelik from the Castaways, save Monica. “If you all weren’t so hard on him, he wouldn’t have done this!” the Taldan protested.

Again, Sasha argued that she should be abandoned, or killed. “We won’t do that, or leave you to die,” Monica said, flatly. “If you have to worry about me, you will die,” Sasha countered, fruitlessly. With a still-living Sasha in tow, the heroes crossed the spongy gray landscape to the Nightvoice unaccosted. The young girl did, however, exhibit some of the more disturbing symptoms of advanced ghoul fever, such as bleeding gums perforated with jagged teeth, a long slavering tongue, and a vocal craving for humanoid brains.

Arriving at the plateau’s ledge, the heroes looked down upon the old Pathfinder vessel and saw that she wasn’t just encrusted with fungus, she probably was totally comprised of the stuff, her wood long since consumed. Even her sails were replaced by thin, billowing sheets of fungus. Several ropy vines anchored the ship to the cliff and to plinths of rock on her opposite side. Abovedecks patrolled four fungal pygmies; the heroes decided it was time to catch them unawares this time.

Skating, sliding, and stealthily crawling down the lattice of fungal vines, the party easily and noiselessly crossed over the ocean to the Nightvoice’s deck, and dropped down upon the heads of their foes. Before Dornas leapt for the deck, he made Sasha promise not to do anything stupid and joined the melee. In seconds, the enemy were destroyed, the last was ravaged by Kai before Kor’lec batted it out to sea, where it was caught and swallowed by a breaching shark!

Though there were two sets of stairs leading belowdecks, the ship’s aft stairwells were completely stuffed with a macabre blockade of fungus-encrusted bones. The Castaways hoped that the bones of their friends, or at least Aerys’s, were not yet among them. With but two points of egress to the cargo hold, the party wondered what horrors awaited them.

“Probably a big mushroom,” deadpanned Nemanji.

Grey Matter

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.

Changing Faces

“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.

By all means, leave us a comment!
Food of the Gods

Make sure everybody in your boat is rowing and not drilling holes when you’re not looking. Know your circle.

The Castaways finished up their morning making preparations for an extended hike along the coast of Smuggler’s Shiv’s great lagoon. Kishtari noticed Pezock perched on a rock, longingly looking out to sea. Before they were joined by the rest, the kalashtar and the tengu chatted alone, and Pezock showed her vague, luminescent faces in the surf. As the ghostly figures vanished in the light of the sunrise, Pezock said he spoke to them sometimes, but couldn't decide if the phantasma really answered him back.

In a moment of lucidity, the avian admitted that he was conflicted about joining up with the heroes, though he was reminded that the Castaways were not unanimously in favor of it anyway. Pezock asserted that the beach had been his home for at least a decade, and he’d hate to leave behind the friends he’s made, even if they are just ghosts and shellfish.

When asked what he could contribute to the party, the unhinged bird-man unsheathed his magic saw-tooth saber and demonstrated his skill with a splendid sword dance. "I wouldn’t mind using this on the Thrunefangs, " declared the tengu, “they ate my friends and left me with no one to talk to!”

Unfortunately, the heroes could not reach a consensus on whether or not to let Pezock join them on their adventures – though they probably knew more about him and his abilities than they knew about one another.

“Rats off to Ya!”

Leaving poor, crazy Pezock at home, the Castaways made their way west. Kish cautiously mentioned the surf ghosts and Kor’lec nonchalantly informed her that he already knew about them. The psion was curious as to why he never discussed them, and whether or not they constituted a threat. Dornas answered that the druid had reported their presence to him, and no, they didn’t seem to be dangerous. Kish let slide what might have been an oversight on the two men’s part, but was unsettled by the possibility that they were deliberately keeping things from her.

Rounding the lagoons’s corner to turn south, the heroes took note of the two islets further north. They were reachable, at low tide at least, via rocks and reefs that poked out from the sea. To the far north was the foreboding “isle of never going there” whose purple-gray overgrowth contrasted significantly with the lush greenery of the rest of the Shiv.

After a mile or two south, the sandy beach began to break up into an upward incline of jagged stones, and that’s when the signs of some sort of predator gave the travelers pause. Giant pouched rats, a vicious Mwangi rodent about the size of a jackal, prowled the area. Though they hoped to meet the threat on their own terms, the party were too late to avoid the starving muridae before they began to poke their sniffing snouts out from their hiding places in the cracks and crevasses of the rocky shoreline.

Six of the animals revealed themselves and bared their filthy brown tusks before charging the heroes, deftly skipping across the jagged stones. What were barely a challenge to most nascent adventuring parties proved more formidable to the Castaways than expected, as Monica and Kor’ec were subjected to brutal bites. Dornas finally demonstrated his developing mastery of martial magicry, vaulting over the rats to vanquish a few with an ice spell levied via a smack of his staff. Nemanji was impressed, and perhaps a little jealous, to see a teammate approach his level in the art of bloodshed, but there were more than enough rodents for everyone.

When the last of the creatures was splattered across the shoals, Likki leapt out of Nemanji’s creel with a fork in hand. It was second breakfast! and there was good eating all over the place.

Sink or Swim

Finally giving in to Monica’s repeated appeals to explore some of the more intact shipwrecks surrounding the island, the party spotted a promising candidate in relatively calm waters barely a hundred feet off shore. The Castaways waded out, but at about thirty feet from the shoreline, the woeful realization sunk in that not all of them took to the water like ducks, and a few were as stones.

Monica and Kish struggled in vain, then failed, to keep their heads above water as the shelf dropped away from their tiptoes. The others only noticed that they were missing when they were almost to the shipwreck. Dornas turned back and scooped up Monica before looking for Kish. Panic started to creep in as the psion was nowhere to be found, and Dornas couldn’t trust Monica to tread water on her own. With every passing microsecond, it seemed more likely that Kishtari had been swept away by the undertow. The best anyone could hope for was a miracle – or that the telepath would reach out for rescue with her mind.

It seemed as if their adventure had taken a turn for the worst, when it suddenly got a lot worse.

Those bitten by the rats a bit earlier hadn’t thought their injuries too big of a deal, until their blood in the water attracted a trio of blue requiem sharks. Perhaps it was fortunate that Kor’lec had swum furthest out, for the hungry threesome were momentarily distracted by the druid’s attempt to talk things out with them. The sharks were not too interested in conversation, however, and while it was always difficult to translate an animal’s thoughts to words, theirs were quite plain: “blood”, “blood” and “eat”.

Kishtari continued to sink and drift out to sea, and when she detected the sharks, casually focused her mind in their direction. One of them fell into shark-sleep but the other two remained pretty stoked to eat Kish and Monica, who were, to them, indistinguishable from seriously injured turtles.

Two things happened to prevent any of our heroes from dying in such an ignominious and random manner. Kor’lec had made it back to shore and had tossed out several rat carcasses – the ones Likki hadn’t previously gorged himself to a coma on – into the lagoon. The sharks seemed okay with the offering, even though they had to wait for the undertow to make up for Kor’lec’s mediocre throw. The other was Nemanji’s red-demon ape-hand reaching to a drowning Kish and saving the woman who nearly cost him his own life just the other day.

Though the shipwreck and whatever treasures it might have held remained beyond their reach, the Castaways found something far more valuable: their lives, and a better understanding of each others’ limits.

The Spirit of the Hill

By mid-afternoon, the adventurers reached the hillock that they knew to be the home of whom Pollock called “the spirit of the island.” The gentle slope was not a rough climb, and at the apex of the rise the Castaways were greeted by the site of a circle of trees, several small baobabs encircling one large and very old baobab. The striking tableau called to mind worshipers kneeling in supplication. Cautiously the Castaways approached, and the bark patterns of the largest tree morphed into the form of a captivating woman. The dryad emerged and strode toward the explorers with a purposeful, but friendly gait.

"I am Aycenia," said the fey in perfect Taldane, “and you I know, priest of the Green,” addressing Kor’lec directly. After introductions were made, the dryad hinted at the information and benefits she proffered, though these were, she admitted, exaggerated by her messenger. She knew or could find out information from the land itself, and possessed magic that could restore power to Kor’lec’s reincarnation amulet. She could heal wounds and ailments, and most importantly, her hill was a safe place, avoided by the cannibals camped to the south.

Apparently none of this was particularly appealing to the Castaways, save Kor’lec. Though they tentatively agreed to her quest to remove the gray blight from the oft-mentioned “isle of never going there,” Nemanji in particular started interrogating Aycenia and bargaining for more immediate favors. When the dryad’s answers were not satisfactory to the demon-spawn, he became agitated and disrespectful. Soon some of the others joined in to make light of Aycenia’s plight. The dryad simply turned her back and returned to her tree. Kor’lec was silently livid.

The party, all feeling less-than-welcome, left the hill as Pollock suddenly appeared just to sardonically applaud their diplomatic “expertise.” “She is a dryad,” he explained, mockingly, “and very old. She expects her appearances to carry a little gravitas.”

After a bout of mindful meditation at Aycenia’s tree, Kor’lec caught up with the others at the bottom of the hill. Nemanji and he argued about how the scene played out. The barbarian admitted that she rubbed him the wrong way and didn’t trust her. “I would cut down her tree!” boasted the tiefling, and it seemed very likely that he would given half the chance.

It dawned on Kor’lec that Aycenia might have been just as reticent, for good reason; perhaps bringing an axe-wielding demon to a nature spirit’s sacred grove didn’t make the best impression.

The Isle of Totally Going There

Having agreed among themselves to complete the dryad’s quest, the heroes headed back northwest. They crossed from the main of the Shiv over a bridge of jagged stones, then the sparsely-vegetated islet preceding their destination. It was getting dark, and the tide had risen above the kelp-covered rubble connecting the two islets. Even in the gloaming dusk, the alien landscape of the furthest isle was ominously apparent. A gray carpet of mold and towering dull-purple fungal stalks were seen to writhe against the wind, giving the impression of clutching talons clawing their way out of leaden soup. Likki reported “guys” moving about in the shadows of the purplish stalks. Monica explained her feelings that the vegetation of the gray island was most certainly alien, and resembled some of the corrupted fungi found deep in the Darklands. “There has to be a living source,” she said, “remove it, and the place will return to normal in time.”

The Castaways decided not to attempt the crossing until sunrise, and made camp on the first isle in view of the morrow’s adventure. As the party began to bed down, a flapping sound was noticed above the crash of the shore. The night was dark, the stars only revealed themselves in flashes beyond the gaps in the clouds. But the intermittent starlight was enough to reveal the approaching flier as it grew from a dot above the horizon to a familiar silhouette. The Red Mountain Devil was coming, and it was carrying something large and oblong in its taloned feet.

Nemanji instantly kipped up from slumber and had an arrow ready to fly. Despite the impossible distance and breakneck speed of his target, the tiefling hunter squinted and released the bowstring. With a resounding twang the projectile soared hundreds of feet toward the approaching beast – and struck true! The bundle it carried dropped as the winged chupacabra rolled into a spin, its spine-tingling screech piercing the gloom of night. The Devil’s howls betrayed the fact that the wound Nemanji’s crack marksmanship delivered to it was no small one – the beast was vulnerable, killable.

The chupacabra regained itself, turned in the opposite direction and vanished above the cloud cover as its package rolled on the rocky islet’s surface. When it came to a stop at the heroes’ feet, the challenge the Red Mountain Devil posed became certain. The Castaways had sent the monster a warning, but received one in turn. For the object the winged beast dropped was an animal’s freshly-decapitated head, wrenched free from the body of a very familiar bull dimetrodon.

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Path of Redemption

(You) butcher them! What sort of people are you that you wake up in the morning and think, ‘this is what I’m going to do?’ Why’d you do it? … I have seen things you would never believe, and this is the only thing I can’t understand.
Cos it made me happy.

After she glared stupidly in their direction and made a sepulchral moan, the Castaways realized that the undead woman hadn’t truly made them at all. She just shuffled her feet and turned back to the ocean. The adventurers stealthily approached the creature, circumventing the makeshift barrier that partially surrounded her campsite. The old encampment was clearly not kept up, its shelters were scantily camouflaged by sun-bleached palm leaves. Nemanji was able to creep right up next to the woman – who continued to gaze forlornly out to sea. The zombie finally reacted after Monica vaulted over the barrier with one of her barbarian teammate’s over-sized spears. The zombie exhaled a haunting wail as the archaeologist landed in the sand with her double-barrel pistol drawn. Dornas maneuvered to the barrier and shot the cadaverous woman with a ray of magical cold that flash-froze the tropical plant animating her. As the frosted fronds fractured and fell off the woman’s body, she slowly turned to meet Nemanji’s greataxe while he cleaved her in twain, head to nethers.

The woman, rather, half of her, silently mouthed “thank you” as the vines possessing her shriveled up and died. “You’re welcome,” answered Nemanji proudly, glad for a victim that appreciated his caliber for killing them.

The Castaways did not find much of interest at the camp. Kor’lec surmised that there were two humans living here, and that it was about six months old. The fire-pit had been cold for weeks. The supplies were meager and rotted, not worth scavenging. Near the camp, a mound of packed sand topped with a simple cairn resembled a grave. Had the woman actually wailed toward that grave before the Castaways attacked? A note found in the tent told some of the unfortunate tale.

Last words

The man had gone into the jungle, the woman, perhaps a wife? became a yellow musk zombie, but it didn’t say who the couple buried. Unearthing the grave, the Castaways were mortified to find a human child’s skeleton (with no treasure). They reburied the remains while Kor’lec laid some hardy beach plant seedlings atop them.

Cannibal Ambush

Kor’lec had found faint traces of the second camp survivor’s trail south into the forest, though there was also a man-made inroad leading southwest – the very same path the heroes had spotted days ago from atop Black Widow Bluff.

Deciding that the path was likely trod by the cannibal Thrunefangs, and having no interest in tracking down the hideous plant that infected the woman (whose remains were left to decompose on the beach) the party chose instead to blaze inland through the bush. Their path put them on a gradual ascent and – as they made their way southwest – dozens of feet above the cannibal trail that they tried to keep in sight. Dornas was the first to spot a bent treetop near the cliff edge with a rope trailing down to the trail – a snare to be sure. The trap was set to fling its victim up against the cliffside, where sharpened stakes were placed. Proceeding with all caution, the group soon noticed several spikey snare traps along the cliff’s edge, set up every few hundred feet. Clearly, the trap-setters assumed that quarry would utilize the conveniently placed road. They might have been right most of the time, but our heroes were more clever than that.

Reaching the near apex of the drumlin, the Castaways came upon a party of Thrunefangs crouching at the cliff’s precipice. The four human males were tanned and weathered but of marked Avistani descent, covered in scars and tattoos with Infernal motifs. The heroes hid in the brush and remained unnoticed behind the barbarians, who kept vigil over the valley. At this point, the road was over a hundred feet down. The Thrunefangs talked among themselves in hickish, barely comprehensible Taldane, and the heroes saw that they possessed jagged pointy teeth; filed or someways modified.

Because they’d been burnt before on taking the monkey goblins’ word about their neighbors, the Castaways felt that the Thrunefangs could maybe be reasoned with. Likki simply shrugged as if to sing “I warn you.” Nevertheless, caution was called for. The party decided Nemanji, Likki, Monica, and Kishtari would break cover and approach with weapons ready, but peacefully, while Dornas, Kor’lec and Kai maneuvered around to flank, hidden in the overgrowth.

As they approached, Kish telepathically glanced over the barbarians’ minds. What she saw sickened her.

The savages’ thoughts were racing with rapacious anticipation… looking for the Castaways… specifically … tearing open bellies… stuffing raw, hot intestines into their fanged mouths… cracking skulls and scooping out the naked brains to slake their macabre hunger… chewing away limbs while leaving their victims alive to watch and to be sacrificed on pentagrams of gore…

Kish’s sight saw the Thrunefangs’ ghastly desires without filter, and she nearly choked on their unadulterated depravity. The psion barely managed to stop her companions before their cover was blown. “We need to change plans,” she whispered. “They are hunting us.”

“How?” someone asked. Though reluctant, Kishtari cast her mind out like a net over the cannibals’ thoughts once again, hoping to catch a clue as to how the Thrunefangs knew them. The answer was unsurprising, but no less discomfiting. Ieana! The wicked woman had infiltrated the tribe and was now directing them to hunt her pursuers. She somehow had described the Castaways in every detail. Kish also seized upon a ghoulish image of a “Grandmother” or “Mama Thrunefang” that the cannibals idolized and made blood sacrifices to – a hairless, pallid, subterranean crone with ichorous claws and teeth, and hands with long, webbed fingers.

Mama Thrunefang!The Castaways had little time to deliberate, but they didn’t need it to unanimously agree upon a new plan:
Kill. Them. All.

Kishtari’s psionic net tightened into a vice and lulled three of the cannibals to sopor, while the last turned to face his enemies just as Monica enchanted him. The adventurers quietly dispatched the sleeping Thrunefangs while Monica distracted her new buddy. She asked about Ieana. The barbarian answered in chawbacon Common: “She come as one of us. Now she sleep in tower wit ’da Chief.” Monica asked him to clarify if Ieana seemed to shapeshift. The man-eater answered affirmatively. The archaeologist then inquired if he’d ever seen a pistol before. “No,” he answered.

“Take a look down the barrel,” requested Monica, innocently. When the idiot savage did, she pulled the trigger. Half of the cannibal’s face flew off in a red mist. Though alive he remained, Nemanji came up with his magic axe to carve a neat wedge out of Thrunefang’s back as if he were a wheel of cheese. Dornas conjured a brilliant light that stupefied the cannibal and stymied any attempt of his to retaliate, and Monica blasted him with her pistol’s second barrel. Another mighty axe swipe from Nemanji sent the hunter to the Hells where he belonged.

Crab Shack

Monica finally voiced her suspicions that Ieana was a serpentfolk. “And not one of the degenerate kinds you see today,” she explained, “one of the ancient intelligent ones from mythology.” The archaeologist listed some of the abilities they knew Ieana had demonstrated such as mind control and shapeshifting; abilities ascribed to the serpent lords of yore. Her teammates considered the possibility, but ultimately it seamed highly unlikely to them. The “advanced” serpentfolk who supposedly had an empire in prehistoric times were long-extinct. Only their deformed, animal-like descendants remained, slithering about in small, subterranean nests.

To send a message to Ieana, the Castaways strung their dead foes up in the very snares meant to trap them. When this chore was finished, the group headed northward along the trail back toward the beach. They discovered an old campsite and strewn weapons. Few were serviceable, having been on the beach for some years, but some were intact sawtooth sabers. Monica pointed out that these were the signature weapons of the Red Mantis cult.

As they rooted around in the sand for salvage, the heroes were halted by the sight to the northwest of an enormous horseshoe crab.

Pezock's Place

The thing was the size of a house!

But it was motionless, so the party assumed it was no longer alive. Thinking it might yield some useful building material, the group headed over to it, and were taken aback when it suddenly began scuttling in place and flailing its enormous claws. Is it a zombie crab, the heroes wondered? Despite the huge shellfish’s threatening display, it remained rooted in one spot. Was it stuck somehow?

The team crept closer along the beach, and when they got near, the crab began making outrageous sounds – squawking and screaming in a very un-crablike way. It also appeared to be tiring. Kor’lec noticed the creature’s limbs were animated not by necromancy, but by an elaborate system of ropes and pulleys. Several holes in the shell were patched by sailcloth and resin. Monica and Kishtari called out to whoever was pulling the strings of the giant puppet.

Though they were initially rebuffed, the crab shack’s occupant eventually poked his avian noggin out from the ratty curtain hung over the arthropod’s “mouth”. The creature, a tengu named Pezock, invited the Castaways into his shelter for dinner. He was stewing urchin and sculpin. Badly.

The crow-like humanoid was hospitable, but clearly unhinged by his years of isolation. The tengu possessed a magical sawtooth saber that hinted to a connection with the old Red Mantis campsite down the shore. Pezock didn’t hide it. He proudly declared that he was First Mate on a Red Mantis ship called the Crow’s Tooth – but this was likely a fantasy. Tengu were commonly recruited for ships as good-luck mascots. The cannibals seemed to have no interest in him, oddly enough, though they did kill and eat all his friends after their ship wrecked nearby. “Why worry about human cannibals? They eat humans! Though I bet I taste delicious…” declared the tengu.

When queried as to if the Thrunefangs had a ship, the tengu said no, much to the party’s consternation. Eventually, Pezock asked the party if they were with the two others he’d seen pass by a few days ago, and after being prompted, described Ieana and Kovack.

Mercy Cede

The Castaways decided to spend the approaching evening with Pezock. The poor guy was hurting for company and Monica regaled him with tales, somewhat embellished, of the Pathfinder Society and her own adventures as an archaeologist. Likki was growing anxious about his date tomorrow with destiny, the impending duel with the grig Pollock. “I’m no warrior,” admitted the monkey goblin, apologetically. The heroes let him know that they had plans for the fight.

Morning came, and the party revealed to Likki why they turned back to the beach – to provide the goblinoid with some semblance of an even playing field. Kor’lec checked the sands for any plantlife the fairy could animate and found nary a twig. Dornas had skillfully produced a new, smaller shaft to affix the magic spearhead that Cenkil had given Kish, so Likki would have a weapon that would make him the equal of a trained soldier. They reminded the little guy that he should not use fire, as grigs were well-known to have some pyromantic ability. The Castaways formed a circle around their beloved goblin teammate, and awaited his vengeful opponent.

Pollock finally revealed himself. Appeals for reason, angry words and subtle insults were exchanged between the party and the insufferable grig, but in the end, Pollock insisted on his retribution. Kor’lec said “fine. But this will be a fair fight.” The druid muttered an incantation and plastered the grig in illusory lights to ensure the fey’s natural invisibility would not be a factor in the duel. Pollock angrily flew upward and retorted, “I can wait it out,” but Kor’lec countered, “that would make you a coward.” Pollack scrunched his little face and agreed, “allright. I don’t need tricks to kill this goblin.”

The grig unsheathed a tiny rapier and raised a fist covered by a bladed gauntlet. Though his weapons were small, they were certainly capable of severing an artery – and Likki wasn’t that much bigger than his cricket-bodied foe. Pollock charged and zipped toward his ancestral enemy as the goblin stood his ground in anticipation of the end…

But by some miracle, the grig’s hate-filled flight came to a sudden, clumsy halt. Pollock crash-landed in the sand and somersaulted toward Likki in a tangle of humanoid and insectile limbs. Likki tried to jab the fey with his spear, but Pollock deftly rolled out of the way. Soon enough, the grig was on his six feet…

And then, out of nowhere, Pollock began having untimely, nightmarish flashbacks to his horrible childhood. The fey was helpless, but as Likki stabbed at him, it became obvious to the party that the goblin was not strong enough to pierce Pollock’s arcane flesh, even with a magical spear.

Nemanji had had enough. Breaking the circle, the tiefling brought his greataxe’s enchanted blade down upon the befuddled fey. Pollock’s resistance to everything except cold-forged iron saved him again. And that’s when everyone realized that Likki never, ever stood a chance at all. Kish ended the charade of a showdown and kayoed Pollock with her signature psionic sedative.

Everyone nodded the okay for Likki to finish off the acrimonious grig. The goblin approached ominously with his spear, chicken-winged Pollock, and held the business end to the fairy’s throat as he shook him awake. “I won’t stop,” threatened the roused fey. “I will,” countered Likki.

“This over. I no want to kill. I no want to die, either, but won’t fight you,” said the goblin. “We both have new lives. New chances! See so much new things. We lucky.”

Pollock considered the oracle’s words, and said “impressive. You must be quite a unique goblin to have gotten these people to fight for you.” Likki shook his head, mimicking his companions’ gesture for gentle disagreement. “No, just being old self,” shrugged the monkey goblin. Pollock admitted, with some reservation, that he was aware that no living Mongrukoo was responsible for the Black Widow Bluff massacre years ago. “We didn’t even know about you!” reminded Likki.

“You could… you know… join us,” offered Kor’lec. The grig pondered the druid’s offer, but said he currently served a new master. Pollock also admitted what Dornas first and always suspected, that the Spirit of the Island wanted to see them and her grig messenger’s conditions were his own. The Castaways gloated about knowing where her lair was all along. “But we’d appreciate the best way to reach it,” asked Kishtari. “I know the best way for me to get there,” quipped the ex-gremlin, who flew up and away over the canopy.

The little shit fairy was gone, Likki was grateful to be alive, and the Castaways considered their options for the day.

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Shiver Me Timbers

‘I fear thee, ancient Mariner!’
Be calm, thou Wedding-Guest!
’Twas not those souls that fled in pain,
Which to their corpses came again,
But a troop of spirits blessed

This very eerie edition of Age of Serpents began as many classic tales of thrilling adventure do, dusk approaching, the men out hunting and the girls at home on the Brine Demon developing their relationships – Monica‘s with Science! and Kishtari’s with wine…

DimetrodonIn the nearby jungle, Kor’lec and Kai were left alone to face a very formidable-looking bull dimetrodon, who had just killed two previously formidable-looking monitor lizards over a goat’s corpse. Dornas had magically vanished and taken cover, while Nemanji hung motionless in the canopy, bow drawn.

But the brawny sail-backed beast simply guarded his kills and growled at the half-elf, either not recognizing Kor’lec as a threat or somehow aware that the druid meant him no harm. The carnivore’s passivity was refreshing, because just about everything else previously encountered on Smuggler’s Shiv was out for blood. After a few tense moments, Kor’lec backed away from the mammal-like reptile and left him to his dinner. Rendezvousing with his teammates, Kor’lec, Nemanji, and Dornas discussed the apex predator’s presence so close to their base camp. The druid was certain that he could procure the old sail-back as an ally, and was loathe to destroy a beast that he and Nemanji agreed could only be part of a very small population. Dornas didn’t think that the work involved gaining the creature’s trust was worth the effort, joking “I know it has a sail but not the kind we need to get off this island.” But when Kor’lec pointed out that the dimetrodon could prove an invaluable weapon against the Thrunefang cannibals, the magus consented the very cool possibilities.

Ghost Story

The sun was starting to set, and Kish was on the top deck drinking old wine and enjoying Aerys‘s Abendego Cantos, finding great inspiration in the narrative poem. Monica was working in a makeshift lab she had set up in the forecastle to reverse engineer the Mongrukoo ointment that protected the Shiv’s monkey goblins from disease. The rest were elsewhere around the area of the Brine Demon’s hulk.

Kish gulped down the last of the wine and noticed something strange at the bottom of the bottle, and it wasn’t sediment. Looking through the glass, it appeared as if a man were standing in front of her. Several sheets to the wind by this point, the kalashtar held the bottle in front of her eyes while trying to work out who her caller was. When she finally removed the bottle, whoever it was, or whatever it was, had disappeared. Kish was pretty sure it was the wine, but then she remembered the relentlessly deadly island she’d shipwrecked on. Kish braced herself and focused her psionic vision, and was disheartened to discover gauzy ephemeral strands floating about. Never a dull moment, it seemed. Kish picked up her lantern, thoughtfully put a weight on Aerys’s manuscript, and as the deck of the old scuttled hulk seemed to be rollicking on rough water, she carefully chose her steps to the lower deck.

Seconds later, Monica shared a similar glass-related encounter. The gun-slinging archaeologist’s sobriety served to shed a little more light on the intruder. The Taldan caught the reflection on one of her beakers of a tall man standing behind her – a man in mariner’s garb with a visage of death. The ghostly visitor reached up toward her… and one of his hands was a hook! “Aeshamara…” he moaned, then vanished as Monica stolidly turned to meet his gaze. The sharp-minded scholar had immediately deduced who the presence was, sensibly snuffed her burners, and went to find the others.

Monica soon caught Kishtari on the short stairwell leading down into the stern; the driest area of the Demon where most everyone had strung their hammocks. It was also where the Castaways discovered Captain Kinkarian’s remains. Few words were needed between the two adventurers, their expressions told the tale. There was a ghost, they were all in great danger, and it was time for action. Suddenly, a feminine screech tore through the deck from deeper back in the aft-castle. “Gelik”!! Monica cried.

The heroes soon came upon the gnome lying ghastly still, with much of his vibrancy and color blanched and dulled. Monica feared the worst as she took the little fellow in her arms. He was breathing, and Monica realized she hadn’t been since hearing Gelik cry out. The scholar only allowed herself a breath when her paramour began to whimper a bit. Sasha was standing nearby. “I had my back turned and the little guy said ‘look out!’ and shoved me so hard I landed on my face,” the teen ranger explained.

“I heard something groan something like ‘ash mama?’ Nobody gets the drop on me, but Gelik must have noticed something I didn’t, and when I got up and turned the light back on, he was like this! Oh, how brave of him! A brave gnome, who’d have guessed?” When asked if she saw anything else, Sasha predictably responded, "no, no the halfling is too well trained." Kish stumbled back out topside to find Jask. If they needed a miracle, only one nearby was specifically trained to work them.

Monica continued to cradle her wounded lover until she gathered herself, then gently set him down. Opening his blouse, the gnome’s chest bore the dissipating vestiges of a vicious hook-wound. Though the abrasion was merely ectoplasmic, the damage to the gnome’s soul was very real. With a bit of theatrical pretense that he probably couldn’t help, Gelik slowly blinked open his eyes and clutched Monica’s hand, “my dearest,” he said, and after a pause, “the ship… it is haunted!”

Dead Man’s Tale

The next scream heard was more of a shocked, raspy battle cry. The ghost, Captain Kinkarian, had found Aerys, who was, of course, a dead-ringer for the woman depicted in his gold locket.

Kish shone her lamp from the top deck out to the beach toward Jask, who was knee deep in the rising tide looking for crabs. Apparently he was making sure dinner would be served should the hunters come back empty handed. The besotted psion stammered out to him “ghost! Need help!” Jask misunderstood the words but the context was obvious. There was something strange, and it didn’t sound good.

The heroes rendezvoused and headed down to the mostly flooded hold of the battered brigantine, and discovered Aerys backing away from the insubstantial figure of Avret Kinkarian. The skeletal specter seemed spellbound by the half-elf, who had her ordinarily formidable fists raised in a defensive stance – but her hands couldn’t help her here. Kinkarian languidly floated toward the woman, his skeletal hand and hook reaching toward her. Aerys slowly withdrew backwards toward the wide break in the hulk that dropped into the lapping ocean. “My Aeshamara, you have come for me at last…” rejoiced the phantom pirate, his sepulchral voice tinged with hope and regret.

“The locket,” Monica exclaimed, “who has the gold locket?” The shrewd scholar was leading Gelik by the hand down the stairs. Kish was right beside them. The Taldan polymath knew that ghosts were shackled to the world of the living by memories and regrets; and like their living counterparts, associated their strongest feelings with objects. Monica, it seemed – and as usual – had worked it all out.

“I have it!” Kishtari exclaimed, but didn’t have time to give it to her teammate while she was throwing her lantern at the ghost. Which she did in response to… well, Kish was pretty drunk. His reverie broken, Kinkarian turned toward the heroes as his skeletal face morphed from passivity to hate and his eyes blazed with phantasmal flames. “Mutineers!” howled the undead captain. Then, to Aerys, he hissed, “you deceiver!”

The apparition raked his spectral hook across the half-elf’s throat. Aerys faltered backward, hands still raised uselessly like a cold-cocked pugilist, as streaks of white appeared in her indigo locks and wrinkles etched themselves across her face. "Someday, I will find a way to hurt you ", threatened the Shackles brawler.

Monica repeated, “the locket?” and when unacknowledged — again — tried to calm Kinkarian down. “The mutineers have been defeated my Captain!” But the ghost remained enraged as he turned his eyes on her. Gelik had been holding the archaeologist’s hand, kissed it, and let it drop. “Wish me luck!” he said, “tallyho!” and the gnome entered melee with the piratey presence. Muttering an incantation, his ink-stained fingers beamed aglow with golden positrons.

Thus it was Gelik who drew first blood against the Castaways’ spectral foe. After his hand passed through Kinkarian, the ghost moaned and seemed to bleed white. The gnome had cast a simple healing spell whose energy was antithetical to the undead. His second attempt to wound the presence was not successful, and neither was Monica’s attempt to do the same thing. Kinkarian was a swordsman in life who deftly dodged their attacks.

Kish was likewise having trouble nailing the undead pirate with crystal missiles manifested from her psyche, and finally acknowledged what Monica was trying to communicate about the locket. The psion dug the potential fetter from her pocket and tossed it to Aerys. The half-elf swallowed her rage and understood what she had to do as Kinkarian raised his hook to finish off Gelik.

“Avret,” she yelled, then gulped. “My love. Please stop.” The ghostly mariner turned and beheld the living facsimile of his lost love bearing the trinket that meant the worlds to him. “Aeshamara,” he said “it is you! At last.” Kinkarian reached toward Aerys with a look of euphoric joy. “I… am… so… sorry…” When his skeletal hand clasped upon the locket, the ghost’s form dispersed into millions of motes of twinkling light that drifted to the floor – and vanished. The Brine Demon was haunted no more.

The Usual Functional Discordance

Jask finally arrived in time to help Monica convey curative magics on Gelik and Aerys, which restored their youth and vigor. Sasha showed up to let everyone know her halfling stalker was nowhere outside. Finally, the trio of huntsmen arrived with a hard-fought handbasket of horned melons for dinner. Nobody would be getting scurvy on their watch! Everyone wearily debriefed everyone else, and consequently, everyone thought everyone else was kidding.

When it approached time to bed down, Aerys and Kish had yet another touching heart-to-heart that this time, devolved into an argument. Aerys said she wanted to gather up Kinkarian’s bones for a proper burial at sea, but still didn’t like the feel of the locket. She gave it to Kish while admitting her admiration for the adventurous kalashtar. Though Avret Kinkarian was likely on his way to join Besmara’s crew, Kish saw a trace of the felonious captain remained to protect the bearer of the locket. When the comfort level between the two women reached its tipping point, Aerys threw out an ambiguous intimate invitation to her new friend… that was not well-received. Both tried to salvage the moment while sniping at the other, and finally Aerys just threw her hands up and claimed she was kidding anyway. Kish shoved the Abendego Cantos back in the half-elf’s hand and curtly said “going to bed. It was really good.”

The rest of the night passed without incident, and despite the horrors everyone had encountered in the moments before nightfall, they all slept peacefully…

Morning arrived and the nine Castaways gathered on the tilted upper-deck where Jask had set up a makeshift table and chairs for breakfast. Aerys brought some water and comforting words to Kish, who was nursing a hangover. No hard feelings, assured the Shackles native. Aerys knew what it was like to misfire when one’s head was soaked in wine.

Kor’lec revealed to the group the presence of the grig Pollock and the little shit’s hate-on for Likki. The away team discussed all their options and reached a consensus to follow Ieana’s trail. She had too much a head start already on whatever it was she was after and needed to answer for her crimes. Then Likki arrived, exhausted from moving nearly non-stop through the trees to his village and back. He had a few more ointments, and a message summoning Kishtari on behalf of his brother Cenkil. The party consensus shattered into pieces. Though the pros and cons were considered for heading back to Mongrukoo territory for more gobliny intrigue, and while there, maybe going back up to Black Widow Bluff to use the Beast Stone to reach the alleged Spirit of the Island, or possibly even doing the Nightvoice quest… the Castaways eventually felt it was better to gain ground on the serpent priestess.

And so they were off.

First World Problems

On the trail, Nemanji brought up his ire with Kishtari, namely, the incident that nearly got him killed. Everyone started to argue the point when Likki intervened. The monkey goblin firmly but gently got everyone to see the issue from the others’ perspective. Kish (“future-sister,” Likki called her) wanted to preserve snakes, and if the team thought the psion had value, if they cared about her, they ought to make a token effort. Everyone saw the wisdom in the Mongrukoo shaman’s call for compromise, and finally even Nemanji agreed to try for Kish’s sake to avoid slaying their ophidian opponents – assuming they were innocent animals and there was some alternative. In return, there was a strict moratorium on Kish using her scary, swiftly-developing abilities on her teammates.

Touched by Likki’s concern for his newfound family, the Castaways started brainstorming schemes to safeguard him from Pollock. As if on cue, the ex-mite appeared hovering before them, breaking the fairy glamour that rendered him invisible. “Gah,” the grig said with his palm on his face, “so much ‘gah.’ You folks do get that I am owed my vengeance?” Nobody agreed. Except Likki.

“I will fight,” said the monkey goblin.

“What? No way!” said most everyone else, to variable degree.

Pollock had the biggest, smuggest grin. Someone asked him what his goddamn deal was. "The goblin murdered me in cold blood. You are all responsible for the death of my father and brothers, but killing the grandson of Grougak, and the most loved son of Basako, will give me satisfaction. If you want to meet the Spirit of the Island, my demands will be met." While he was talking, Kish subtly wove her mind into the fey’s consciousness.

“Where is this Spirit?” Kish asked. The grig stifled a laugh, “I’m not telling you that.” Yet he did in his mind, and Kish got a good impression of his flight path to the tree-covered hill where the Spirit dwelt. It wasn’t far out of their way, actually. However, Kish made the mistake of asking the fey for more information on the Klixarpillar grudge with the Mongrukoo, and was treated to a mnemonic montage of horrors: goblin raiders, led by a bloodthirsty Grougak, barging into the mite nursery, smashing and spearing mitelings, and killing the creche-mother just after she managed to stuff six of the mite kids – and an invisibility decanter that the Castaways now had – into an escape tunnel.

A Baobab! Learning is FUNThough it hadn’t been a quarter hour since the moratorium on Kish using her powers on her teammates, she linked her mind with Kor’lec’s solely to communicate what she knew. Despite the fact that she apologized – profusely – and insisted the power she was using to speak telepathically was incapable of delving into surface thoughts, the druid resented the mental intrusion — and rebuked the psion for it. In any case, the information the kalashtar conveyed was revealing to the druid. The mighty baobab tree ringed by smaller counterparts on the hill said it all to Kor’lec: dryad.

Likki interrupted the circular arguments persisting between the grig and the Castaways. “I will fight,” he repeated. “Good,” said Pollock with a coprophagous grin, “the goblin dies next dawn.” The fey vanished.

Thus started the arguments, Dornas and Monica admonished “you’d be throwing your life away.” “We have what we need from him,” Kish pointed out. Several others were familiar with the magical abilities of grigs, and Likki’s tendency to use a torch as a melee weapon, “he’ll turn flame against you!” it was argued. Though the Castaways made short work of them, Nemanji did note that the mites were in fact well-trained soldiers. “I will not stop you. But. If he has retained his skills, you can not match him,” testified the tiefling. Everyone presumed that despite the difference in size, the grig fighter would trounce the goblin oracle in a duel.

“None of that matters,” answered the monkey goblin, with the same gravitas that helped the away team come to terms on their issues earlier. “One of Likki’s wives with child now. Child no have coward for father.”

He continued, with a downcast mien, “Likki kill when enemy helpless. Make Likki happy at time.”

Monica was affected by the goblinoid’s words, and perhaps academically intrigued by polemic socio-philosophic ideas concerning “evil humanoids” like goblins. “Do you feel guilty about that? Do you feel it was wrong?” Likki admitted that he wasn’t sure, that the few days he’d been among the Castaways had made him see things differently. He was clearly pulled and torn by doing right by his family, his tribe, and his new friends – and indeed the Castaways were certainly friends to be as invested in his survival as they showed in those moments. Even ever-pragmatic Dornas offered, “nobody is going to stop you, but there is no need to indulge that fey. We need you.”

Likki tugged his ears in aching aggravation and climbed into the wicker creel on Nemanji’s back. “Need think. Sun bright.”

The Bloody Doll

Ieana’s trail led to a stretch of bouldery beach on the Shiv’s inner lagoon. The beach was infested with rock crabs, a few dangerously large. Though these crustaceans were normally difficult to spot amid the natural stones and plinths, the Castaways sussed them out with ease. With but a few moments teamwork, the explorers rigged a trap to lure a particularly large specimen to its doom. The animal was quickly butchered for eating later, and the heroes proceeded along the beach. When the shore started to rise to a cliff, the group immediately spotted the remnants of a camp – a partially-collapsed hut and long snuffed campfire. Kor’lec scouted ahead. Standing there, staring hopelessly out to sea, was a woman in a fancy, but tattered dress. The druid and his dinosaur companion inched closer, as the rest of the party carefully made their way behind him.

The woman turned away from the sea and vacantly looked toward the heroes’ direction. Writhing green vines bearing yellow buds permeated the woman’s flesh and orifices. It seemed there was no end to the Shiv’s twisted perversions of nature.

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Thorny Entanglements

Don’t pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear try to use the claw

We temporarily hearken back to the previous evening, to a slumbering Kor’lec, whose rest was disturbed by the sensation of something crawling upon his chest. The druid awakened and somehow managed to be less-than-alarmed by the presence of a kitten-sized, arachnid silhouette there. Even more impressively, he remained nonplussed after making out that his nocturnal intruder possessed the upper body of a blue-skinned fey, but from the waist down was a cave cricket.

npc_-_Pollock_the_Grig.jpgThe tauric fairy probably thought his appearance would pack more dramatic wallop. The disappointment made the intruder impertinent, and he impatiently demanded food in the form of biscuits and honey before relating his story – though Kor’lec forced him to settle for some trail rations of nuts and dried prunes.

Pollock was the creature’s name, recently reincarnated into a grig – and he was not happy. He used to be a mite, the fairy mulishly explained, the last of the Klixarpillar, and had had his brains splattered to slop by Likki. “Remember me NOW? challenged the fairy. “You. Were. Right. There.” Thanks to Kor’lec, though, or rather the druid’s long-thought-ornamental tribal amulet, Pollock was brought back to life in a new form. Turns out, the old trinket was fashioned to give new life to the dead and had a trace of juice left in it. Rather than be thankful, however, the rude little creature lambasted the half-elf and the Castaways for letting him die.

“What do you want?” asked Kor’lec. Though the druid felt some responsibility for helping the Mongrukoo goblins exterminate their traditional foes, his patience had thinned to a hair’s breadth.

“Two things. The vengeance I was raised for, first and foremost, for my adopted father and brothers. The Mongrukoo you travel with, my killer, must die. If I am satisfied, I am to lead you to the Spirit of the Island, who would like to speak with you.” The fairy revealed that the Spirit, whoever she was, suffered under the curse afflicting the island and sensed in Kor’lec someone who could avail her. After relating his terms, the grig fluttered upward and vanished. “I’ll be watching,” he warned.

Kor’lec brooded, and later, his friends would fail to snap him out of his contemplation. But the druid’s feet were as one with the brush that blanketed the isle, and would not be far behind.

Woes Among Thorns

Later, Kor’lec and his faithful dinosaur friend Kai soon located the other Castaways just in time, as they were being engulfed by vines and roots at the side of a massive copse of viper nettles. Over their heads a wicker basket, precariously balanced in the branches of the canopy, was being shaken loose by all the whipping and writhing on the ground. Only the druid perceived the trap and the imminent danger to his companions. Lurking in the maze of brambles, camouflaged by its own thorny body, a wyrm-like beast lurked, only barely glimpsed moments before by Dornas. After animating the thickets, the creature withdrew from sight, in all likelihood relying on its defenses to weaken the trespassers. Kor’lec shouted a warning to his friends and emphasized his entrance by launching a spear at the basket. Alas, he missed.

The twig-woven bin tumbled free from the treetop and seemed to fall in slow motion as the heroes raised their heads. Nemanji made a mighty leap to catch it but was a split second too late. Kishtari attempted to psionically snatch or snap it away but in vain – it was too heavy. Dornas retreated from the lashing vines and the pending impact of the ominous falling object by floating up toward the canopy. The container finally landed on the soft earth with a thud and the lid popped off…

Meanwhile, Kor’lec focused his keen elf eyes into the copse and spied the sinister bramblewyrm! Wasting no time, the druid sniped the creature with a spell that outlined it with magical light. Brighter now than a torch in the gloom, the plant monster had no place to hide.

Snake Sin

green-mamba.jpgKish bent to peer into the darkness of the opened basket, but Nemanji sensed what was coming in enough time to wedge himself between the threat and his friend. Two deadly green mambas, anxious and starved, streamed hissing from the opening like rivulets of acid.

Nemanji was primed with his razor-honed greataxe – but a sharper glint in his eye. One of the serpents sprung at him, its venomous fangs bared wide, but the enraged tiefling sidestepped and rived the reptile from the hinge of its jaws to the tip of its tail. The demon-blooded barbarian turned to face its mate…

And that’s when Kishtari did the unthinkable.

14_-_snake_sins.jpgHorrified to see the animals she considered most sacred to her slain, the kalashtar enveloped the remaining viper – and Nemanji – in a shroud of psionic slumber. Though her alleged intention might have been to tranquilize both combatants, only the tiefling collapsed on his cloven feet.

While Dornas alone had a clear view of Kish’s misconduct, the whole of Golarion seemed to hold its breath as the very-much-not-sleeping-serpent closed its jaws on the barbarian’s jugular.

Kick Against the Pricks

Little Kai cornered the very confused, glowing plant-creature in the berry-laden center of the nettle patch. As the natural briars parted to make way for his passage, Kor’lec was quick on his companion’s clawed heels, while Monica deftly maneuvered through the maze of thorns to come within close range of her two-barreled gun. The bramblewyrm desperately tore into the velociraptor with its barbed talons and horns, but claw for claw, it was no match for its animal counterpart. Kai unraveled the vegetal dragon like a cat assailing a skein of yarn. An ear-shattering report signaled the explosion of hot lead from Monica’s pistol, and the near-end of the bramblewym, as the bullet blew it to barest twigs.

Kor’lec had had enough of this latest example of the Shiv’s perversions of nature. The druid placed his clenched hand in the midst of the bramblewyrm’s battered frame and let drop a fistful of seeds; these suddenly sprouted into a blooming cluster of parasitic greenery that completely assimilated their ambulatory host – to the very last sprig, nutrient, and droplet of moisture…

No Antidote for Doubt

The serpent had only just missed the vital vein on the tiefling’s neck. Nemanji was jarred awake by the pain, sprang to his feet and stared daggers… nay, Nemanji stared vorpal broadswords at Kishtari. He didn’t take those intense hunter’s eyes off of her as he dropped his axe’s head on the mamba like a Galtan guillotine. With the blade, the pissed-off barbarian scooped up the still squirming, blood-spouting halves of snake and flicked them off toward his old friend. Kish just stood there mortified. Then Nemanji realized that the deadly poison was already starting to shut down his musculature while the area around and inside his hideous neck wound was swelling like a balloon.

But Kor’lec was there once again to save the world, at least, the world as it pertained to the Angazhani savage. Opening his medical bag to an assortment of salves, siphons, and leaches; the druid expertly extracted most of the venom with a combination of tribal witch-doctoring, chirurgery, and old-fashioned intuition. Nemanji expelled the rest from his sweat glands through sheer macho determination. It was the first time anyone had seen the tiefling sweat.

After the dust had settled, Nemanji ascended to the trees alone, looking for more snakes to kill. Monica bagged the mambas’ remains to weaponize their venom, and extracted one of the bramblewyrm’s natural armaments: a thorny whip she knew she could preserve with her alchemical expertise. Kor’lec gathered the viper nettle berries for Aerys, then a glint from another section of the patch caught his eye – the draconic plant-creature had collected a modest treasure horde.

Kishtari tried to bluff, then excuse, and finally admit her deed – that being, deliberately sedating Nemanji – when Dornas, expert on the workings of spell- and psi-craft alike, put the screws to her. The magus reminded her that they were in pursuit of a murderous snake cultist. They would almost certainly be facing the dangerous reptiles again. Would Kishtari be a liability? The psion couldn’t give a concrete answer, and the troubling uncertainty of her loyalties persisted.

While returning to the Brine Demon, Kor’lec pulled Dornas aside to talk about the previous night’s visitor. But as is often the case, the conversation did not remain private for long. Likki had already been dispatched back to Mongrukoo territory with some of the tribal trinkets and treasure in the hopes of procuring more disease-preventative ointments from his people — though he might have been touched to know how the conversation played out. Dornas was sure the grig was hiding something or overstepping his role as middleman between this “Spirit of the Land” and the druid. Everyone else agreed that while the Spirit could prove to be a valuable ally, nobody wanted to see anything bad happen to Likki.

Never Split the Party

Later that evening, Kor’lec, Kai, Nemanji, and Dornas decided to go hunting for some meat that wasn’t scraped out of a tidepool. Jask appreciated the night off. Monica worked on alchemy stuff.

Kishtari found a quiet place on the ship and pondered current events with her psicrystal and an old bottle of plum wine she’d picked from the wyrm’s horde as company. Aerys eventually joined her, but the recovering alcoholic passed on a swig from the bottle. The nettle fruits were doing their job, it seemed. Aerys thanked the woman who was becoming her friend for putting her life on the line just to help cure a surly sot like herself.

“You say it was nothing, but it means everything,” said the pirate. Aerys put her manuscript, the Abendego Cantos, in Kishtari’s hands and invited her to look the draft over. "It’s life at sea, pirate adventures… but it’s also about my love for a Sargavan barge captain that I met in Port Peril." Aerys explained that Kassata LeWynn and she were partners-in-love and partners-in-crime (literally) before Aerys’s excessive drinking drove the Riverman back to Sargava. Aerys still pined and hoped the Cantos, dedicated to her lost lover, would win her another chance. But she also knew that the poems were nothing next to sobriety, and that she had Kish and her friends to thank for it.

Kish was moved. Aerys left her with the manuscript, and the kalashtar soon found herself captivated by the inspiring verses of danger, triumph, will, adventure, and love on the high seas.

Meanwhile, Dornas, Nemanji, and Kor’lec had been tracking a small herd of goats through the jungle. They came upon their quarry too late, a pair of big monitor lizards beat them to it. The reptiles were too engrossed in their meal, but the hunters sensed a bigger threat immediately.

A bull dimetrodon, about 15 feet long from snout to the base of its tail, charged from the brush and snapped up the first lizard in its jaws, killing it instantly. The second monitor turned to make a break for it, but it too was chomped on and slain. Dornas vanished, and Nemanji took cover in the canopy, leaving Kor’lec and the great sailback eye to eye.monster_-_Dimetrodon.png

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Home Wrecked

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.

By the following afternoon, the castaways had managed to move their camp into the cramped, listing remains of the Brine Demon. Though only the aft upper deck, captain’s cabin and parts of the officer’s mess remained dry, strung cots ensured a level of comfort they lacked in the old seaside abri. It was more secure, too. The point was made that the undead had been unmolested by the Shiv’s denizens for nearly a decade and weren’t likely to be trifled with now. The protection afforded by the new digs likewise allowed the weary away team time to train and hone their developing skills.

The riches discovered on the wreck forced the issue of divvying up all the loot accrued thus far on the accursed island. While no one was loopy enough yet to pretend that there were places around to spend their wealth, it seemed reasonable to pass the time waiting for Jask and Kor’lec to complete their treatment of Dornas’s leg by sussing out who got what. Naturally, Aerys made a case for burying the majority of it, and explained that whomever their rescuers turned out to be would probably want a sizable cut of (and be willing to kill for) the impossible-to-hide loot. Though everyone agreed that the pirate kinda had a point, when pressed Aerys did admit that, yes, she’d really always wanted to bury treasure and make a map.

With half of the coins, unwanted arms, and junk salvage to be buried and retrieved at a later date, everyone agreed that the remainder of the treasure should be divided as diplomatically as possible. Armaments went to those who could make best use of them, while coins and jewels were allocated more or less evenly – or rather, sort of evenly because Kish had called dibs earlier on a fat aquamarine when nobody else was around. Likki seemed surprised and moved to be given an equal share, too, though the notion that the goblin was truly an equal teammate didn’t exactly sit well with everyone.

After most everyone was settled, but before deciding the day’s course of action, it was time to hash out some pressing concerns.

Independent Lady

Kish pulled Aerys aside, and after a little bit of small talk, showed the tough-talking pirate the locket the strike team had discovered in the small safe Captain Kinkarian ‘s skeleton had been clutching in death. Aerys thanked the kalashtar for the gift and commented on the gold pendant’s value. When prodded to open it, Kish was aghast when Aerys barely looked at the picture inside before shaking it out to the floor!

“Don’t you think that’s you?” Kish asked. “Nah, looks nothing like me,” replied Aerys, piqued. When pressed, the half-elven brawler admitted that maybe the image looked something like her, but she had no idea why. “I don’t know this Kinkarian,” Aerys huffed, “okay, maybe I do, by reputation. A Shackles captain. Hello, what’s this!” Aerys studied the engraving with her keen elven eyes. “The inscription says ‘To My Aeshemara.’” Aerys claimed she’d never gone by another name and wouldn’t be caught dead in “poofy” lace like the pictured woman. The pirate-poet replaced the tiny portrait in the locket, clasped it shut, and handed it back to Kish. “I suddenly don’t like the feel of the thing.”

Not quite satisfied, Kish continued to pry, but not out loud. Having recently developed the ability to pick up surface thoughts, Kish turned her psionic attentions toward Aerys. The surly salt was indeed being coy yet truthful – Aerys was confounded as to who her lookalike might be and what this woman’s relationship was to this old dead pirate. Kish opted not to turn her fun, newfound ability off when Nemanji abruptly horned his way into the scene.

The hulking tiefling had heard that Aerys was looking for him. The half-elf admitted that, as someone who did her best work with her fists, she had little use for her composite shortbow and felt it would better serve the jungle barbarian. Nemanji graciously accepted the gift, and took the stringy little scrapper in his big ape arms for a mighty embrace. Both parties survived the hug without (much) bruising or broken bones – which spoke volumes for how close this rag-tag bunch of misfits had become since the sinking of the Jenivere.

Nemanji however, reproached Kish after feeling the subtle ping in his savage brain that betrayed his friend’s mental intrusion. The telepath promised not to do it again, but couldn’t help but eavesdrop on Gelik’s stray thoughts when these clamored in from the next room…

Suspicious Minds

Gelik and Monica were enjoying a romantic respite in the candlelit storeroom where the Brine Demon’s ill-gotten booty was secured. After sifting through the chest of gold, platinum and jewels, the gnome massaged his weary lover’s feet and amassed his not-inconsiderable charms before asking after the Nightvoice, the Pathfinder ship purportedly harboring the map to Lortch Quellig’s fabled buried treasure. Insisting that the treasure would make them legends in the Society and filthy rich besides, Gelik wondered what the Nine Hells the hold up was. “You went after Jask’s ship!” kvetched the gnome. “What sort of adventurers hate treasure‽”

Monica replied that she was already outvoted on the Nightvoice issue, because it was opposite the strike team’s exploration vector and probably located on the scary-looking “Island of Never Going There.” But the archaeologist was curious enough about the vessel to frame the suggestion to search for it differently at the next meeting.

“I just want the two of us to have a nice life together,” Gelik averred, whispering in the Taldan’s ear, “when we get out of here.”

“I need to tell you something,” answered Monica, after a pause. Monica revealed to her intimate friend her closest held secret: that she was born male and disowned by her noble family. Her body was magically transmuted to the sex she felt it should be via an expensive elixir. The revelation just excited the gnome, who seemed to explode with color and youth at every syllable of his lady friend’s tale. “You know my kind depends on new experiences for our immortality. Magic or not, you are every bit a woman to me. My woman.”

After a long kiss, Gelik’s eyes met Monica’s before his gaze wandered over to the hammocks in the adjoining room. Monica lifted the gnome up and leapt backward onto one of the hanging beds…

Preaching to the Fighter

“Might you spare a moment to speak of Nethys,” Jask asked of Dornas, who retained a slight limp that the magus compensated for with his staff. Dornas agreed, out of respect for his old Garundi friend, but with polite skepticism. The preacher, for his part, had thus far been generous with his prayers, his divine magic had provided the Shiv Castaways with fresh water, had kept their food stores from spoiling, and had healed their lacerations and bruises. Mending Dornas’s shattered leg was another matter. Jask felt strongly the god known as the All-Seeing Eye must have narrowed His gaze on the heroes of Smuggler’s Shiv.

Jask pointed out that Nethys, like Dornas, preferred the staff as a weapon. He explained that the god held the world’s salvation and destruction in either hand, and because the cleric saw much of Nethys in Dornas, he predicted that one day, the magus would face a similar choice. Dornas, however, was adamant in his unbelief, despite the power the so-called gods exhibited. His own spellcraft, the magus explained, came through rigorous study and precise ritualized exercise, not the caprice of some remote entity. Jask countered only by saying that all magic was a gift Nethys bequeathed to mortals, for His own reasons.

The aging cleric would not press the matter, but admitted his hope that Dornas’s inadvertent similarities to the god of magic might someday kindle interest. “For now,” Jask offered, “He has judged you fit to receive the mantras by which His initiates calm and focus their minds when working magic. I can never repay you and your friends for trusting and proving my innocence, for making me a free man. But I am honored to be the vessel of Nethys’s will, especially as it pertains to His stake in you.”

Dornas, unmoved by all the religious talk, nevertheless spent the next few hours practicing the mantras with Jask.

Hedged Out

viper_nettles.pngAfter a lengthy discussion, the Shiv strike team agreed that their next move would put them on Ieana and Kovack’s trail. During the meeting, Monica once again tried to make a case on Gelik’s behalf to go after the Nightvoice, but was once again voted down. Dornas especially hated the idea of prioritizing treasure over the immediate goals of finding Ieana and escaping; so Monica introduced the dodgy notion that the Nightvoice might contain information pertaining to safely navigating away from the Shiv. That dog didn’t hunt.

Though there were still some fears that Ieana may be leading the group to a trap, Likki pointed out an old Mongrukoo saying: “When sailback steps on trap, only the sailback remains,” implying that the group were so totally bad-ass they needn’t worry about ambushes. Of course, the context here also meant that there was some kind of beast on the island the monkey goblins considered too large to trap, which engendered its own concern. The scholars of the group gestured and drew different animals, pressing Likki to elaborate. Finally, Dornas guessed correctly that “sailback (Goblin: tach’rhan)” referred to a large, carnivorous mammal-like reptile called dimetrodon. As if the flying chupacabra and infernal cannibal clan weren’t enough to worry about!

Dangerous animals might’ve been less a concern had Kor’lec not chosen to remain behind that day, distracted or focused upon his meditations.

Trusting the druid would catch up to them later, the adventurers returned to Ieana’s camp and Nemanji picked up the trail westward. A steep ridge forced them south where a magnificent, rainbow-wreathed waterfall fed a shallow pool. Under the pretense of searching behind the waterfall for a hidden cave of wonders, Kishtari stripped to her skivvies for a refreshing dip in the pond. While there was no hidden cave, there were most certainly wonders to behold.
Following the creek south from the pool, the heroes took note of stubby shrubs that looked like sapling viper nettles. Unfortunately, these small bushes yielded none of the berries that Aerys had requested to calm her alcohol withdrawal symptoms. After a half mile following the stream to a u-shaped fork, the briers had grown to an immense patch covering a wide area across the opposite bank. The water was a dirty brown where the 6-foot high hedgerow clung to the creek’s edge. Wading across to the wall of writhing thorns, it became obvious to the explorers that whatever fruits the hedge had were going to be enclosed somewhere in the middle of the patch.

The Castaways circumnavigated the thorny growth to get a sense of its size, while Monica invoked a cantrip to focus her eyes past the exterior brambles. While there were no berries anywhere near the outer bounds of the nearly 100 foot wide patch, there were winding tracts within it a humanoid could possibly squeeze through – if said humanoid could take being lashed by the thorny, venomous vines. Not to be deterred, the heroes climbed up out of the creek to the dry opposite side of the patch and discovered there a thin gap into the deadly hedge maze.

At Dornas’s suggestion, Kish dispatched her crystalline homunculus into the brambles, hoping it could retrieve the berries within. But just as Dornas glimpsed a ropey, thorny plant or plant-wrapped creature slithering deep within the snarl of nettles, the overgrowth surrounding the party animated and attacked!


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Episode 13 Bonus Content!

A distracting thought experiment of mine. Not intended to be insulting, tropes exist because they are fun to play with, are actually necessary in storytelling, and are inescapable, anyway. See if you agree with my picks…

Character is probably intended as a (genre role) but wound up more of a (this); or rather, a (this).
Dornas Gentleman Adventurer Only Sane Man Jerk With a Heart of Gold
Kishtari Ancient Astronaut Space Elf Mystical Waif
Kor’lec Nature Hero The Fettered Knight in Sour Armor
Monica Adventurer Archeologist The Heart White Magician Girl
Nemanji Noble Savage Proud Warrior Race Guy Scary Black Man
Likki Token Heroic Orc Team Pet Small Annoying Creature

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