Campaign of the Month: September 2016

Age of Serpents

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…
14_-_bramblewyrm_dies.jpg

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.
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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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Battle for the Brine Demon

skeleton_pirate2.pngUnder the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor,
home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Upon the deck of the Brine Demon, more undead awaited our intrepid castaways. These skeletons, however, were no mere cannon fodder! Brandishing rapiers with a wary approach peculiar for mindless undead, four more skeletons rushed the heroes, nimbly leaping across the uneven stones and whorls of the shoreline. As they did so, two more skeletal pirates remained on the upper deck of the wreck, firing their stonebows wildly at the living.

Land Legs

Dornas, still balanced on the brink of a raised outcropping, suffered an unlucky slip that caused him to fall fifteen feet to the rocky beach. His teammates cringed when they saw that his leg was badly fractured—twisted into odd angles and perforated with shattered bone. Monica was immediately at her friend’s side with a curative spell, while Kor’lec checked the condition of the broken leg. While the archeologist was able to mend Dornas’s flesh and stop the bleeding, the bones were a mess. Stable, but mercifully passed-out from pain, the magus would be of no help this fight, save as a temporary obstruction to incoming missiles from the skeletons’ bows.

Unnervingly balanced upon the Demon’s cracked and listing mast, visible through the billowing sun-bleached sails, was the leader of the undead band. Draped in a drenched, festooned naval longcoat and skull-embossed tricorn, the heroes assumed this “captain” was Avret Kinkarian (barely) in the flesh. The creature gave new meaning to the term “unquiet dead” and seemed to take great delight in ordering his skeleton crew, his gravelly voice boomed with insults and threats that echoed even above the crash of the surf. Monica was quick to point out to her partners that the pirate was an intelligent and formidable type of undead: a draugr. Whatever the sludge-dripping being was, he recklessly blasted a double-barreled pistol in the general direction of the party, lambasting the “landlubbers” all the while.

skeleton_pirate.jpg“I want to shoot you so bad my dick’s hard!” rejoined an uncharacteristically vulgar Monica after a discharge from her pistol blew up a skeleton’s skull. Soon the rest of the Castaways were hollering crude insults at the noisome draugr in between whacks and weaves.

The heroes found their opponents much tougher to dispatch than the first patrol. Armored, quick, and resistant to piercing weapons such as Kishtari‘s crystal shards or Nemanji’s arrows, the skeletons slowed the Castaways’ progress toward the Demon. Aside from the skeletal swashbucklers, a hundred feet of slippery shoals stood between the adventurers and the ship. Projectiles back and forth went astray in the updraft, but that didn’t stop the undead on the Demon’s deck from firing away. Though the draugr shouted orders to concentrate their fire, the mindless skeletons shot at whomever. Nemanji reminded everyone “boat no good” before switching tactics, jumping down to the shore swinging his super-sized club. Like a gorilla playing some morbid game of billets, the demon-spawn made a game of batting his opponent’s chattering skulls out to sea. Kai was likewise eager to sink her fangs into her foes, tearing ribs to splinters and crunching skulls in her powerful jaws. When Monica’s whip-play swept a skeletal pirate off its feet, the little dinosaur was right on top of it in an instant, chomping and tearing.

Sick of his crew’s inability to halt the intruders’ onslaught, the loud-mouthed draugr called for support. Immediately, a hatch opened in the aft of the ship’s deck and out popped three more skeletons! These were swathed in petty officers’ garb over their corroded mail, better armed, and possessed flickering red eyes rather than the dull gray of their mindless subordinates. One of the dread skeletons joined the snipers, the other two skipped down the broken mast to support the footmen on the shore.

Seizure and Search

The Castaways were a juggernaut. Though their fleshless foes deftly danced around the heroes’ attacks, when finally struck once or twice the undead collapsed like sand castles. Despite their sentience, the skeletal officers were barely more effective than the mindless pirates, and not nearly as hardy. Sick of the commander’s bellowing, Kor’lec attempted to summon an eagle to knock him off the mast. Though the first attempt fizzled when a lucky bullet from the Demon’s deck struck the druid’s shoulder, a second casting shaped the avian ally he needed. The eagle soared like a kite, catching an updraft and diving strait down toward the draugr’s face. Yet, the draugr’s balance was uncanny. Though the draugr kept his footing, the distraction allowed Kai to ascend the tipped mast and scamper strait toward him. Kor’lec followed closely behind while his allies finished off the skeletons on the shoals. Desperately fending off the eagle, the draugr was neutralized for precious seconds trying to holster his gun so he could draw his great axe instead. 12_-_Brine_Demon.jpg

The eagle vanished just in time for Kai to launch herself at the beleaguered buccaneer, her flying foot claws aimed at the undead like throwing knives. What little flesh the monster had was ripped off in rotten chunks, forcing his withdrawal. After jumping down from the mast to the deck, the draugr’s ribs and hip exploded in a shrapnel of bone, fire, and lead. He turned to see the source of the wound. Monica Montana stood atop a cliff outcrop even with the Demon’s deck, her smoking pistol clutched in hand; and just as she avowed, a phantom throbbing in her nethers.

But the immediate threat was in front of him, as Kor’lec and Kai advanced toward the draugr like prowling predators. Amid accusations of cowardice yelled by the Castaways, the undead monster ducked behind his three remaining crewmates and tried to take cover. Turning to face his the druid and his companion, the vociferous corpse shut up and looked down to see an arrow emerge from the remains of his chest. Nemanji’s second arrow sent the befuddled creature hurdling to the sloop’s railing, and to silent oblivion… Kor’lec replaced the tricorn he covered from Ieana‘s camp with the fancier one pilfered from his fallen foe. "I’m the captain now!"

Plundered Heart

After swabbing the deck of their remaining enemies, the Castaways searched the vessel and found the aft captain’s cabin relatively dry and intact. There, the hook-handed and peg-legged remains of the real Captain Avret Kinkarian were located. The bones were mercifully inanimate, slumped over a desk with a skeletal hand atop an ornate iron lockbox. The desk and box contained paperwork vindicating Jask Derindi, and proved the Brine Demon was in collusion with corrupt Sargavan officials to skim from the protection monies the colony paid the Shackles.

The continuing story of Kinkarian’s crimes was revealed in the records. The brazen pirate betrayed the Sargavans and his own superiors in the Shackles to keep an entire payoff for himself: a fortune in coins and gems. His perfidy was soon discovered, though, and in a desperate gambit, tried to evade his pursuers by sailing the Demon around the Shiv. The ploy failed, the treacherous reefs bit and tore at the lower decks like a starving barracuda. As the sinking sloop was swept toward the rocks, the crew, led by First Mate “Loudly” Langstrom, mutinied.

The victorious heroes soon located the treasure in question while they considered moving their camp to the sundered wreck. That booty was tremendous, but a prize complicated by it being stolen from two major governments, and, of course, the fact that they were on a desert island with a conspicuous lack of shops.

Despite all the attention the treasure should have captured, the heroes found something in the lockbox that truly piqued their interest. The golden locket inside was a valuable trinket to be sure, but when opened revealed something truly mysterious: a striking portrait of Aerys Mavato!




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Secrets of the Strand

One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.

On the return to base camp, Sasha proved disarmingly cooperative, considering the trouble she had caused. Hanging back with Nemanji, the teen ranger agreed to teach him some of the best tricks to take humans unawares. Sasha admitted that she was able to learn a few good ambush tactics from the Red Mantis before the cult deemed her temperament too wild to tame. The tiefling enjoyed the thought of killing better and faster, and announced he would remain at camp the following day to train.

Jask was gladdened to see the adventurers return with the young girl, especially as Aerys’s condition appeared to be worsening. The old priest reported that while the half-elf was functional, she was stricken by regular bouts of disorientation. At times, Jask explained, Aerys would simply stare at something vacantly for minutes at a time, and in fact the returning party caught her doing just that—drooling and gawping in their direction like a suffocating fish. When an attempt to discern any supernatural ailments proved fruitless, Jask reminded the group that his god Nethys might reveal any natural affliction the woman could be suffering from—though he needed to include the request in his prayers the next morning.

Gelik was giddy to lay eyes on Monica Montana, the girl of his dreams, once again. Hat in hand, he half-feigned regret and pointed out that the wind seemed to have irreparably damaged to his lean-to. The gnome knavishly asked his fellow Pathfinder aspirant if he could bed down with her that night. Monica tenderly took his tiny hands into hers and pulled Gelik into her tent.

Ghosts of the Coast

ghosts_.jpgTaking first watch, Kor’lec noticed something disturbing in the surf. Though the occasional midnight glow of the churning water had been previously ascribed to natural, if eerie, bioluminescent algae, this time the half-elf saw shapes—vaguely humanoid phantoms that formed and vanished with the whorls and heaves of the waves. One in particular seemed to be beckoning him to join her out in the deadly breakwaters. When he pointed out the phenomenon to Dornas, the magus confirmed that there was a trace of necromantic energy present.

Meanwhile, Monica was dealing with ghosts of her own. As her partner snoozed contentedly beside her, the archeologist dreamt she was in a storm-wracked rowboat sculled by Alton, the missing first mate of the Jenivere. Clearly, he was dead, his bloodless body carved by cutlass and perforated by fangs. When asked, Alton said he was bringing Monica to the beach with the other survivors. The spirit groaned incomprehensibly, and barely managed to inquire after his missing son, Brynan, last seen in Bloodcove before the Jenivere was forced to depart without him.

Monica awoke with a start, and Gelik was roused too. The two discussed her dream as the gnome massaged her trembling shoulders with surprisingly powerful hands, explaining “I need them both to wield a pen with competence. Why, if you can’t write long hours with either hand, publishers can’t trust you with deadlines, and they’d be right not to!” Monica appreciated her lover’s funny little idiosyncrasy, then vowed with all seriousness to find Brynan. Gelik said Bloodcove wasn’t particularly friendly to Pathfinders, but he would put his deep pool of contacts in the Society at Monica’s disposal.

Heroic Medicine

npc_-_Aerys2.jpgThe next morning, after a breakfast of hearty dimorphodon stew, Jask didn’t long beat around the bush. “Nethys has spoken. Aerys has the brainworms ”. The castaways (after fighting every urge to puke up their stew) decided the safest course was to give the pirate their only disease-curing potion. Wisely, Kishtari and Monica went alone to awaken the sick half-elf and got her to drink the magic elixir using the old “hair of the dog” trick. After expunging the parasites, a temporary side effect of the curative created a sober clarity in the oft-drunken sailor. Aerys took the opportunity to make amends for her loutish behavior but Kish graciously insisted it never bothered her in the slightest. Aerys heard tell that a powerful antiemetic was made from viper nettle fruit, known to grow in wet, hot environs like on the Shiv. The berries were used throughout Garund to treat pain and delirium tremens from alcohol withdrawal. Monica pointed out that they could find the berries and ease the symptoms, but Aerys needed to want to stop drinking. Soulfully gazing at her perpetually unfinished manuscript, The Abendego Cantos the pirate-poet assured, “the bottle has robbed me of all that is truly important.”

When the rest were informed of Kish and Monica’s pledge to help Aerys beat her addiction, only Kor’lec sourly expressed doubts. He knew the viper nettle well from childhood dares. “Not saying it’s a plant monster…” the druid clarified before explaining, “the plant whips its branches in defense—which, by the way, have six-inch thorns that are mildly poisonous.” “That makes you the perfect person to gather its berries!” Kish reasoned, “isn’t that kind of your thing?”

Ship Cemetery

Striking southeastward along the cliff tops between the beach and the forested interior, Dornas, Monica, and Kishtari followed Kor’lec’s footsteps. The trailblazing druid was as one with the environment, and the castaways made splendid progress in his wake. Among the things they noticed were a number of decrepit old vessels rotting out in the surf, victims of the coral reef that surrounds Smuggler’s Shiv. Monica’s treasure sense tingled and was keen to delve into these barnacle-encrusted carcasses, certain that they still hid supplies and secrets. The others weren’t so eager, the wrecks being so far out. The group moved on, collectively keeping an eye out for possible hideaways to relocate their base camp.

After avoiding the hunting grounds of another dimorphodon flock, the adventurers discovered the recent remains of a campsite on a sandy stretch of beach. Evidence mounted that this was where Ieana made landfall. Just about as old as their own time on Smuggler’s Shiv, the encampment contained a few old scarves the investigators recalled as being preferred by Ieana aboard the Jenivere. Further, Kor’lec pulled Captain Kovack ‘s battered tricorn hat from the sand, and decided to wear it. Though the moldy accessory afforded no insight into the villainous pair’s current whereabouts, it looked good on him and anyway their trail into the jungle was patently obvious even if he wasn’t a druid. Even after so many days, gratuitous cutlass marks on the foliage would make tracking their enemies child’s play. The group decided to put a pin in that quest until at least Nemanji caught up with them, and began to wonder whether or not Kovack was being influenced by Ieana, which would mean he was more or less innocent.

As it was getting warmer under the noon sun, the castaways decided to wait out the intense heat of the next few hours beneath the remains of Ieana’s lean-to.

Skeleton Crew
11_-_Skeleton_Crew.jpg

Despite their agreement to wait for Nemanji, a view of the strand further southward revealed the wreck Jask was hoping they’d find. The Brine Demon, her leering tentacle-bearded figurehead and sun-bleached standards were visible even from a great distance. By the time the explorers reached the cliff edge overlooking the scuttled vessel, the remains of the Brine Demon’s crew were evident upon her decks—mostly because they were still walking around as skeletons. The undead were armed with rapiers or scimitars, and wore the tattered remnants of their piratey garb over corroded mail shirts. The heroes skillfully descended the rocky slopes leading to shore, where four of the skeletons aimlessly patrolled.

The undead did not notice the heroes creeping up on them until it was too late.

Dornas vaporized one with a beam of positrons, a simple cantrip the magus mustered and aimed flawlessly. A split-second after, Monica announced her presence with a pistol shot that smashed some walking bones to splinters. Kish manifested a crystal bullet that decapitated another, who crumbled to a heap as it tried to retrieve its missing head. As the remains of the again-dead rolled into the surf, Kai leapt on the last skeleton, who was struggling to regain its footing after being tripped by Monica’s bullwhip. The dinosaur’s jaws crunched down on its chattering skull, and the gray lights in its eye sockets winked out for the last time.

The heroes were victorious again! or was the real challenge awaiting them aboard the hulk of the Demon?
11_-_Skeleton_Crew_2.jpg




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Wing and a Prayer

After living among such people I feel clouded and depressed; remember I have done nothing, and fear I may die unknown. I feel I am strange to all but the birds…

After a rough day for our intrepid castaways spent carting down the various valuables found in the Hive Queen’s lair from Black Widow Bluff, and studying the surviving carvings in that ancient serpentfolk sanctum, the night passed quietly. The following morning at base camp started out like all mornings; working out, maintaining weapons, and preparing spells through prayer or study. Then someone realized that Jask’s breakfasts consisted of nothing but tide pool sashimi. Jask pointed out those who wanted cooked food needed to give him something to cook with. Nemanji helpfully provided a flat stone and old copper helm for him to use as a pan and pot. “Thanks,” said the old cleric with a sigh.

Monica took note of the malaise and fear of the home team, and decided it was time to address it. She offered words of encouragement and praise to Aerys, Gelik, and Jask; “We’re all in this together, and we are all equally important.” The pep talk worked amazingly—the home team set about their chores with renewed fervor. Gelik entertained with some comedy from the top of a barrel to lift everyone’s spirits: “I used to have a fear of boats, but that ship has sailed!” Aerys cracked her tattooed knuckles with intense conviction. Jask, though, seemed to have something weighing on his conscience…

Preacher’s Plea

npc_-_Jask2.jpgAs they finished their sunrise repast, the away team discussed their plans for the day. First, Aerys seemed a little disoriented and clammy-skinned—a touch green as a matter-of-fact—but was otherwise functioning. Kor’lec‘s instincts were piqued and he felt strongly that something was wrong with his fellow half-elf; and that it related to Aery’s illness from the other night. Likki was no help diagnosing her, and Kor’lec was at a loss, especially since the surly brawler refused to consent to an examination (Nemanji’s boorishly suggestive comments didn’t help). Jask said that all-knowing Nethys could shed light on Aerys’ malady, and he would pray for divine inspiration the next sunrise.

With a lot of hesitation, Jask confessed that he had some favors to ask the adventurers in return. First, the old priest relayed that one of the men involved in his frame-up was a Shackles pirate named Avret Kinkarian who captained a ship called the Brine Demon. Jask felt strongly that the ship, reported lost after leaving Eleder a decade prior, had likely wrecked on the Shiv. “Maybe it has evidence of my innocence?” the former spy stammered. He knew it was a longshot, and that most of the away team demonstrated that they weren’t keen to deal with a similar pursuit posed by Gelik…

“We’ll do it,” Monica replied, without pause.

Second, " We need Sasha back," Jask argued. “If Aerys is sick, then that leaves just Gelik and I to defend the camp. I can set a snare, but can’t come close to Sasha’s ingenuity with traps. Also, she is a minor, and shouldn’t be alone out in the jungle.”

Though Nemanji wasn’t convinced (perhaps having felt a sting of betrayal from his young protégé), the others agreed (Kishtari with reservation) that they would set out after her. First, though, Gelik and Monica worked together, using charts recovered from the Jenivere, to calculate the likely wreck sites of the Nightvoice, the Pathfinder vessel Gelik wanted to find, and the Brine Demon for Jask. They concluded the Nightvoice likely would have wrecked somewhere on the northwest, near the ominous grey islet—"The Island of Never Going There." The Brine Demon, however, would have hit the eastern shore coming from Eleder, which was on their planned route of exploration anyway—after retrieving Sasha, wherever the troubled teen might have sulked off to.

Sasha’s Sudden Screams by the Sea Shore

monster-dimorphodonpng.pngJust over a mile south of base camp, circumventing the highlands and cutting across Mongrukoo territory, the heroes located a recent campsite containing the covered remnants of a firepit and bones from a large rat. The trackers easily concluded that the camp was Sasha’s, who made a good attempt to hide her passing. But not good enough.

The trail continued westward before turning south. Nemanji climbed a large tree and saw that the lands to the south sloped downward toward the lagoon from the north cape that lent the Shiv its crescent shape. The trees gave way to scrub before a steep cliff ledge preceded the water. While arguing once more against pursuing the girl, even sullen Nemanji was moved to action when a girl’s screams stabbed through the clamor of the southward surf. Sasha was in trouble!

The titian-haired teen was at the shore, ankle deep in the swirling water, having slid down a steep but descendible slope from the cliff ledge to the rocky beach. There she was, bruised, blood-spattered, and battling for her fleeting life against a flight of feathered toucan-like reptiles— dimorphodons! The things were venomous, too. Sasha seemed doomed!

But just as one of the needle-toothed pterosaurs tore out a gore-sputtering piece of Sasha’s neck, two of the bird-like reptiles suddenly fell unconscious into the surf. The dying girl looked toward the slope, where Kishtari was standing, eyes aglow with psionic power, statuesquely pointing toward Sasha’s attackers like a vengeful goddess. The other heroes were deftly skating down the scree-covered incline, drawing weapons.

Monica pulled out a fucking gun, out of nowhere, and said “I think I finally got this thing working!” before pulling the trigger and blasting one of the creatures’ wing membranes right through! Gorilla-armed Nemanji took a careful step and hoisted one of the giant spears that Dornas fashioned for him, spun and launched it into a spray of feathers, gore, and meat that once was a dimorphodon. “We eat good tonight,” deadpanned the demon-spawn.

Sasha, swooning, her face a merry mask of crimson, shouted, “aren’t they just adorable!” without a trace of irony. Then she spun and planted her rapier and kukri into both the slumbering pterosaurs, twisting the paired blades with delight. Kor’lec and Kai charged and surrounded a dimorphodon; the fleet theropod leapt and raked a gash across the flying reptile just as the druid smashed it down with his ensorcelled staff.
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Nemanji jumped upon the back of a wounded dimorphodon as it was about to divebomb Sasha. With his enormous bare arms, the red-skinned tiefling tore the animal in twain by the wings, showering the smiling girl below with bloody offal.

The last of the shrieking reptiles caught an updraft the hell out of there, but not to find easier prey, as it turned out. Sasha, as her wounds were being cleaned, revealed that the beasts attacked her because she had climbed up to one of their cliffside nests to capture a hatchling or egg. The would-be ranger wanted one of the venomous pterosaurs for a pet! Despite it all, Monica was quick to let Sasha know with all the sensitivity she could muster that they needed Sasha, they were all a team, and everyone would take her seriously in the future. Sasha thanked them for saving her life.

Nemanji retrieved a few eggs for his human protégé from one of the recently orphaned nests. Sasha promised to take good care of the hatchling, and wondered what she should name it. But what if more than one of the eggs hatched? someone wondered aloud. “Chicken salad!” said Kor’lec. Kai barked. Everyone laughed.

Fade to black.




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House of the Hive Queen

We have nothing to fear but fear itself. And spiders.

On the twilight return to base camp, the castaways chatted about a few of their ongoing plans and issues. Jask, Sasha, and Nemanji took turns carrying Aerys who was too drunk to even stand. The adventurers’ next move was to return to Black Widow Bluff and the cavern of webs where the telepathic power source was detected, though it was the likely home of the spiders’ “Hive Queen” that the injured mite talked about before Likki turned the gremlin’s head to a coconut smoothie. Nemanji bluntly stated “we need to be prepared for swarms.”

Their next(est) move was obviously the lighthouse at the far end of the island, which they all now knew to be inhabited by cannibals called the Thrunefangs. Gelik revealed that the Thrune’s Fang was a Chelaxian warship of the notorious House Thrune, reported lost in these waters. Perhaps the cannibals were survivors? Speaking of wrecks, the bard also said he knew of a Pathfinder ship called the Nightvoice, and she was lost on a mission to recover the treasure of Captain Lortch Quellig, an infamous pirate who buried his booty right here on the Shiv. Word had it that the Nightvoice had the only known map to Quellig’s treasure. “Since we’re already here on the Shiv, what’s the harm in becoming fantastically rich before we leave?” Dornas dourly crushed the gnome’s get-rich-quick scheme when he asked Gelik if he knew where the Nightvoice was, exactly. “It’s a small island!” he countered.

Kor’lec had more important things on his mind than another side quest. The half-elf was all-tormented by the moral fiber of some of his adventuring pals. First issue to deal with was Likki, who by the way, had brought the Mongrukoo unguents—twelve doses of a greasy, foul-smelling paste that would allegedly protect those who smeared it on themselves from disease. Unfortunately, the ointment was extremely soluble, so the wearers would need to stay out of the rain. Anyway, Nemanji insisted that Likki should be fully accepted as a party member, but the others had reservations. The tiefling said plainly that he regarded the demon-blooded goblin as a brother. Kor’lec however was especially concerned about the Mongrukoo’s savagery, and Monica agreed with the druid—though perhaps Likki could be civilized over time. Dornas figured the toothy little oracle was a useful healer but needed to be kept on a tight leash.

All of this eventually brought the conversation to Nemanji and the Gorilla Death Mask. Everyone agreed that Nemanji was trustworthy and trusty in a fight—but the mask seemed to be a relic of the evil Angazhan cult of the Mwangi Expanse. So there was that. The tiefling revealed only that he was gifted the mask by the jungle itself, “the vines gave it to me,” he said. Monica took a close look at the mask and determined that it was old—and probably not of Bekyar or ape-man make. The sharp scholar related the story of Old Mage Jatembe and his Ten Magic Warriors, ancient legends of the lost, fallen Mwangi empire. Though it was almost certainly a replica, the mask reminded her of the golden ape mask worn by one of Jatembe’s famed companions.

That seemed to satisfy Kor’lec as far as Nemanji, but then Kishtari was next on his hit list. Preferring to chat alone, the half-elf volunteered for first watch and woke Kish up later in the night. The half-awake kalashtar deflected the druid’s complaints that she was less than a paragon of virtue, reminding her companion that she grew up on the crime-ridden streets of Riddleport. There, one did what one had too, and had to be hard, because there were no laws or heroes to protect those who couldn’t fend for themselves.

That night, Kor’lec dreamed an emerald serpent monolith raised him from death, but his reflection showed the skeletal face of an undead dragon. Meanwhile, Kish had trouble getting back to sleep, and her ruminations brought her mind to a childhood fable of blue dragon “guardians” who protected the mountains of Adar.

Urchin Sacrifice

Can you say anandamide?Jask served up a delicious breakfast of sea urchin (gonads), and apologized for not having rice or lemon when some of the castaways balked. Once everyone dug in to the gooey uni, a few of the baffling things that followed became explicable. First, a wild-eyed and shivering Aerys didn’t look too hot, but she really did tie one on yesterday and Kor’lec diagnosed her as needing rest and fluids (hangover). But no one else was all that hungover, and furthermore, nobody ever had a hangover that looked like late-stage rabies. Next, Sasha got completely pissed off at someone or took something someone said the wrong way. It was a discussion about the Red Mountain Devil, that Kor’lec said was a chupacabra but Sasha saw it too and insisted it was her stalker, the green-cloaked halfling in werebat form! Well, a few members of the group humored the teenaged huntress but pretty much everyone else thought Sasha’s theory was completely stupid and nobody was making any silverpoint weapons because of her.

So Sasha was all like, “you’re all just going to starve or die here! Good luck!” and then just took off. And Monica was all “I’m not letting you go!” (when everyone else was like “ugh, just let her go”) and tried to trip the girl with her archeology whip. But Sasha was like “Nope!” and with her rapier flicked the whip away, while her grass cape blew off into the sea in slo-mo, dramatically revealing her Red Mantis shoulder tattoo again. Then she was gone.

Hive Smoker

All filled with delicious happiness from the shellfish vittles, the adventurers blissfully flounced back on up to Black Widow Bluff without a care in the world—like the cobra they had to carefully sneak past on the way down yesterday. But the gods were with them, because the adventurers arrived at the entrance to Tlukkah’s Lair without incident, just as the high from their intoxicating breakfast began to wear off.

item_-_hive_cave.jpgBunching up into the tight squeeze afforded by the Klixarpillar’s failed stronghold, the heroes made their way back to the web-filled chamber. The enchanted power source, whatever it was, still thrummed inside, and inside the heads of those among the explorers sensitive to magic. Upon preparing to enter, Kish threw down some oil near the cave mouth. Proceeding carefully, Nemanji’s demonic eyes inspected the chamber which was draped and hung with webs on every surface, like linens in a hectic laundry room. The webs were filled with living diminutive vermin, and some bigger ones, and also spider molts and the desiccated husks of various prey creatures. But they were also strewn with bits of coin, precious stones, and other valuables the group couldn’t wait to get their hands on, just as soon as the guards were dealt with.

The last thing Nemanji spied were oversized spiders who descended the web-strewn stones and skittered forward. Behind them, the smaller spiders began to swarm, and a torch was dropped in panic on the oil slick while the heroes jockeyed for position in the tunnel. While tactically withdrawing from the flames and smoke, the heroes took their shots at the pair of giant spiders, one of which leapt through the flames to strike! They also watched in amazement as the swarm threw itself into the inferno in an attempt to smother it.
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Washed the Spider Out

The heroes retreated to the lair’s entrance, where they finished off the advancing watch-spiders and waited for the smoke to clear. Re-inspecting the cavern of webs showed that the fire did little actual damage. Probably for the best, as most of the treasures, perhaps trinkets taken from the Hive Queen’s victims, were still intact. The room was bisected by a fifteen foot ledge into high and low sections, the way they came in was on the higher side. The great tentacled multi-headed statue that Grougak, Likki’s half-fiend grandfather, discovered and claimed was the Mongrukoo tribal god was visible in the southwest corner on the lower side. As it was wrapped in a funnel of webbing from its heads to the cavern ceiling, the heroes guessed that the statue was where the Hive Queen slept. They decided to pretend she wasn’t lurking in the darkness somewhere and tried to sort out their surroundings, which were no ordinary cave formation.

Monica, despite her fear of bugs, was giddy, for only partially obscured by ten thousand years of limestone buildup was the kind of archeological discovery that those in her field made their names on.

A serpentfolk sanctuary.

There was evidence among the still-visible carvings and motifs that the island was once a major holding of that extinct ancient race and that several powerful serpentfolk dwelt here millennia ago in the Age of Serpents. The chamber the heroes found themselves in was the throne room of a serpent lord named Ssialla, The Mistress of Beasts. The statue, in fact, was actually of her, horrifically vandalized by the goblins years prior in an attempt to make it resemble their idea of Mechuiti. The menhir in the center of the room allowed its master to use ritual magic to connect to and control the minds of the island’s beasts. Perhaps it could again, if the rocky crud was chipped from its surface and the proper rites could be discovered…

An idea occurred to the group. Though the true power of the menhir— The Beast Stone —was beyond their reach at present, perhaps a sufficient amount of metaphysical meddling (aka “faking it”) could at least break Ieana’s dominance on Kai. Monica poured herself into the task.

hive-queen.gifAnd that was when the impatient or hungry (or both) Hive Queen finally descended from the cavernous ceiling, tossing webbing upon the heroes, chattering curses in her hideously obscure insectile language. She stood erect upon her landing, and was vaguely humanoid, a flabby belly bulging with veiny purple eggs. Bones and humanoid body parts decorated her body, held fast by ribbons of webbing.

Kor’lec and Kai deftly avoided the thrown webs and wasted no time trying to surround and flank the Queen, though positioning was difficult on the verge of the drop where the arachnid monster had landed. But while the rest of her team were fighting for footing, Kish confidently strode upon on the psychic battlefield. A stab of telepathic noise forced the monster’s mind to brace, and though the Queen resisted, the attack revealed that the spider-thing, unlike a spider, had a mind to affect. The kalashtar’s next move was a simple assault that shut off the Queen’s waking consciousness. Nemanji stepped up and with his enormous club, swatted the arachnid horror toward a suddenly manifested gash in the fabric of space, where demonic hands emerged to drag her into their blasphemous world.

Perhaps this might have proved distressing to Kor’lec, but he was too busy thanking Monica for doing the impossible. The archeologist had successfully coaxed a forgotten magic from ancient, buried relic. She had broken Ieana’s hold on Kai. The velociraptor was free at last!
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Legacy of Fiends

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins

Having just defeated the Klixarpillar mites in their cavernous lair, Kor’lec tended to the wounds of the tortured Mongrukoo captives. Meanwhile, Likki scampered over to the last remaining mite, whom the heroes left broken but still breathing—barely.

The party stalled the vengeful goblin with some well-chosen words before he could follow through his intention to finish the mite off. Dornas, fed up with the little savage, knocked the coconut out of Likki’s hand and demanded he stop acting like a child. The term offended the proud tribesman, who reminded the magus that he was a chieftain’s son. “Than act like it!” Dornas countered.

With Likki successfully talked down, Kor’lec revived the wounded fey so he could be questioned. The delirious gremlin revealed that he and his five brothers were raised by Tlukkah for vengeance against the Mongrukoo. Together, the six young mites and their old adopted father were all that remained of the Klixarpillar from a brutal monkey goblin invasion years before. He also said that the cavern of webs was the lair of the “Hive Queen,” their master Tlukkah’s ally and mother to the hive spiders. Satisfied with the information, if not their role in the situation, the party allowed Likki to end the mite’s suffering. Unfortunately, mite’s natural resiliency precluded a quick coup-de-grace by coconut, so the oracle had to bash him a few (dozen) times before the fey finally expired.

Monica and Kishtari returned to the case for exploring the Hive Queen’s chamber, source of the powerful telepathic impression the magic-users were feeling. It was not safe descending Black Widow Bluff’s pathways at night anyway. Nemanji agreed with the ladies (mostly because he wanted to access the alleged Mechuiti temple the Mongrukoo had talked about), but Likki and the rest wanted to get the wounded back to their village as soon as goblinly possible. An agreement was reached that the party should return to the hilltop later, and headed to the cricket cave to wait for dawn in relative safety.

This Monkey on Our Back

monster_-_forest_cobra.jpgThe trip back down to the jungle was uneventful. Except for the major predator that the heroes might’ve encountered once they reached the treeline. The group’s combined wilderness expertise and sharp senses quickly noticed the telltale signs that a large snake—a forest cobra —prowled the area by way of it’s sheddings and stools. Pre-warned of its presence, the savvy explorers easily avoided the deadly animal, and chose not to harm it. It was briefly spotted in a stream bed from a distance.

The bulk of the conversation as the party made their descent happened out of earshot of the monkey goblins, as it involved their groups’ continued collaboration with the Mongrukoo. Of course, both Kish and Nemanji argued that they desperately needed native allies, while the tiefling took it further by asserting that Likki should become a full member of their nascent group. The rest acceded that while they were getting something useful out of the current arrangement, they had no desire to become any more involved with the savage tribe. While Kor’lec admitted that he had previously argued on the goblins’ behalf, the party were very clearly manipulated into fighting—and finishing—a war for them, one which the Mongrukoo were the clear aggressors. Dornas wasn’t thrilled with that little detail either, and concerned that the goblins might use their “big damn heroes” to try and solve other problems.

Monica brought the cosmic wheel into the debate by reminding everyone that the goblins were unapologetic demon-worshippers, and demons were literally made of evil. Not to mention chaos. Demon-blooded Nemanji naturally took offense, Kish took offense as one also descended from extraplanar entities, and Kor’lec wondered to himself again why he was putting his life in the hands of Nemanji, who admitted again to have been born into the Cult of Angazhan, the Kallijae elves’ traditional enemies. “Good. Evil,” concluded the tiefling, “here, there is only survival.”

The rest of the journey passed in awkward silence.

Monkey House

The Mongrukoo “village” proved to be a modest affair of crude nests and hutches in the canopy, rather than the elaborate tree-houses and boardwalks favored by more sophisticated arboreal races such as wild elves that absolutely nobody was expecting. Most of the monkey goblin dwellings were little more than clusters of branches with loose leaves used to keep the rain off their inhabitants. The castaways grew uneasy when Likki asked them to wait alone for a few minutes and not do anything threatening, like have their weapons at hand. Everything he said seemed tinged with menace; Likki’s “cuteness” ended for most of the group the second they had seen him (lengthily) execute a helpless foe.

The adventurers did not have long to contemplate their impending demise. Though the goblins streamed en mass from the trees via thrown vines and surrounded them on all sides, most had peaceful expressions and were open-handed; i.e. sans coconuts. The heroes were approached by a goblin that must have been the leader by virtue of his elaborate tribal attire—Basako, sire of Likki and Cenkil. Dornas noticed at once that the monkey goblin chief appeared quite differently. He was more erect, more stately in bearing—and had a tail that was longer and whiplike, ending in a barb like a denizen of the lower planes. Basako was a tiefling!

The demon-blooded goblin also spoke perfect Taldane, and he addressed the heroes in that language. He thanked them for saving his son, for rescuing the wounded braves, and for killing the mites. “We’ll have a feast in your honor of course,” he said, “not tonight though, I have some plans. But, let’s make it late afternoon.” Chief Basako reaffirmed that he would honor the agreement that the adventurers had made with Cenkil (for the disease-fighting unguents, remember?) and would cease any further aggressions against their base camp.

Further?

While Away…

Basako admitted the Mongrukoo had indeed attacked the explorers’ base camp, and the other castaways had comported themselves well. “Your friends are fine. In fact,” he confessed, “we only lost a few of our own. But those idiots probably wouldn’t have amounted to much anyway.” And “say, why don’t you go get them? We should all be friends, now.”

Nonetheless, the heroes hustled back to their beachside hideout. There, they found everyone intact, except a few goblins who had met their end at either Sasha‘s impressive traps or Aery’s equally impressive fists. Everyone except little Gelik, who had run off into the bush during the attack!

Monica wasted no time and set out after him, while the others caught up to the Taldan archeologist to help her negotiate the wild. Nemanji and Kor’lec had little trouble finding the gnome’s trail—a rhinestone sequin here, a smudge of expensive shoe polish there, a splotch of pomade on a low-hanging branch—soon enough Gelik’s whereabouts were traced to a hollow log. Calling him out, the gnome adorably and timidly poked his head out like a chipmunk. But upon seeing his rescuers (and the object of his crush), Gelik vaulted to his pointy-shoe-shod feet and straightened out his appearance with a touch of gnome magic.

Sweetly, Monica didn’t judge or call the gnome out on his less-than-valiant flight. Gelik claimed that he was following a very sensible plan that he said everyone agreed to, which was to fall back into the woods and rally to retake the campsite later. Despite a lot of eye-rolling from the others, Monica assured the gnome that he did the right thing and was now safe. “Oh, and we’re all going to go have dinner with the goblins now.”

“We’re what?”

Feast of Goblins

Turns out, the Mongrukoo threw parties like they threw coconuts—with the intention to whack their victims, er, guests—silly. The castaways were treated to a table (a plank balanced on some rocks) of shellfish (sea scorpion) drenched in butter (coconut oil) and fixins’ (weeds and shipwreck salvage), which everyone agreed was scrumptious. The goblins brewed an enjoyable, potent liquor made of coconut milk, a local mango-like fruit, and traces of eurypterid venom that proved mildly-to-severely hallucinogenic to non-goblinoids and was apparently a potent aphrodisiac to its makers—either that or the Mongrukoo just loved to fuck. Indiscriminately. Probably the latter. They also liked to dance, prance, beat drums, and play with lit torches.

What Cenkil looked like shaved, that is, to Kish while she was drunk and high.

Kor’lec, Dornas, and Jask were the wet blankets, but everyone else indulged at least a little. Nemanji and Aerys got blotto, but neither were violent drunks. This time. Probably fortunately. Aerys passed out early while Nemanji got clingy with Kishtari. That did not seem to matter to the kalashtar or her persistent suitor for the evening: a smooth-talking Cenkil. Under the effects of the Mongrukoo spirits, the grizzled monkey goblin warrior appeared handsome and mostly hairless to her. The goblin (actual) prince charming brought up his gladness to see the heroes triumphant over their ancient enemies, the safeguarding of his weird brother, and especially Kishtari’s return. The panacea was theirs, he affirmed, a dozen jugs plus the option to trade for more. Kish attempted a subtle threat to impel her patron to reveal the recipe, but realized that the chieftain’s son and she were hardly alone. Several coconut-throw-happy goblins surrounded them. Cenkil laughed and looked down at his nethers. “I’m afraid you are incapable of reproducing the ingredients.”

Monica noticed Gelik, whom she remembered on the Jenevire as being gregarious and always up for a good time, appeared nervous and withdrawn. He was surrounded by cavorting goblins. Though these had tails, their mannerisms were similar to those on the mainland who’d plagued gnomanity for eons. The human woman sat with the gnome for a long while, and the two conversed over many scholarly subjects. In a sweet exchange, Gelik said Monica was special because she was able to make a gnome feel at ease during a goblin party. Gelik finally admitted that he was too academic, Jask too old, Aerys too drunk, and Sasha too immature to be adventurers; but that Monica and her group were exactly what the most exciting Pathfinder Chronicles were made of. And he wanted to write them. And maybe be their agent. In fact, he’d already started. He just needed something to call Monica and her friends other than “the castaways” or “the heroes,” which was really tripping him up.

Dornas and Basako kept each other company while engaged in a battle of wits. Basako was a statesman through and through, with the responsibility of keeping alive a small, probably inbred community of his chaos and fire-loving kinfolk. Basako was quite candid about the low opinion he held of the monkey goblins, and believed that his eventual successor, Cenkil, would be a far better leader “for the morons.” Dornas got the savvy old chieftain to admit, circuitously, that he kept knowledge of the outside world from his subjects and sons. Basako was indeed a tiefling, his father a half-fiend, his mother also from the lower planes. From his parents, he learned of the world beyond the island’s shores, though Basako half-heartedly tried to cover up his lies from Dornas by claiming it was all in books he recovered from shipwrecks. Basako didn’t even believe in the tribal faith, professed it was a tool of the witch doctors, and that his son Likki was probably inspired to divine power by something beyond their ken. He was on a confessionary roll, so the goblin chief went ahead and admitted also that the only reason he sent his sons to Black Widow Bluff to retake the temple his father discovered decades prior was to give them something meaningful to do, and to reinstall in his subjects some measure of zeal.

Oh, and also that the Mongrukoo usually killed and ate “wreck-born” like Dornas and the castaways, but then again so did the Klixarpillar mites. So really, everyone wins, right?

Party Poopers

Kor’lec eventually got tired of brooding at the table so he and his dinosaur pal Kai went into the bush to scout around. And not for the first time in history and fable, someone’s inhibitions worked in the favor of those with no (or few) hibitions. The sun had gone down, and in the distance, the druid’s keen elven eyes spotted… nothing. But he definitely heard something. And that’s when Sasha’s hand appeared on his forehead, and guided Kor’lec’s keen elven eyes to the distant treetops, and horror met his gaze. A bat-like monstrosity was crushing two monkey goblins’ bodies in each hand and squeezing their blood into its gulping maw. When the creature saw Kor’lec and Sasha, it intelligently gestured its recognition, howled, and flew off; discarding its wrung-out victims like spent squeeze tubes.monster_-_red_mountain_devil.jpg

Kor’lec decided that the party was over. He attempted to imitate the creature’s sound, but few of the drunken party guests registered it or the original. Dornas, however, noticed it amid Basako’s droning on, and magically amplified it. The effect on the goblins was immediate and dramatic. All seemingly sobered up and scampered into the treetops, many murmuring in Goblin or Abyssal “The Devil!”

Cenkil grabbed Kishtari’s wrist and lifted her up into his hutch, one of the only Mongrukoo lairs that was decked out with furnishings, art, and a roof. There, the goblin Casanova pulled out a few mismatched glasses and popped open the brandy that the tripping telepath had given him when they met. After a lengthy exposition as to how his proposals would benefit her, Cenkil finally cut to the chase about the two things he wanted from Kishtari; first of which was for her and her friends to help him kill his father. He wanted to be chief, and Basako was still too tough to beat in a fair duel. In exchange, there was a large tribe of cannibal humans guarding the lighthouse to the far southwest called the Thrunefangs. Basako would not move against them under any circumstances, but if the Mongrukoo were led by a new chief (and a cshief; which was the second thing Cenkil wanted)…

Kish said she’d talk to the others, but needed to get back to them immediately. Cenkil said he understood, but wanted to give “his beloved” a parting gift, so the goblin yanked out a of thick shaft of wood, to which he affixed a glowing, clearly enchanted obsidian spearhead. Before presenting the weapon to the kalashtar, Cenkil said, solemnly, “return to me with it, or on it.”

Kish slid down the vine to the forest floor around the same time as Likki, as the action-ready adventurers joined backs-to-backs prepared for a battle that wasn’t actually coming. And though, by prematurely ending the party, the heroes were spared any further half-truths and intrigues from their “allies” on Smuggler’s Shiv, they still hadn’t gotten the panacea they were promised.




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Fight With All Your Mites

History is written by those who have hanged heroes

mite.jpgOur heroes crossed the wobbly, web-woven bridge to the ledge before the maw of the mites’ lair. They were faced by a crude stick portcullis blocking entry, but the winch and pulley made to raise it was visible on the other side in the shadowy foyer of the cavern. The posted guard, out of ammunition due to Monica and Dornas‘s magical trickery, had run back into the blackness further down the cave, shouting an alarm in the Klixarpillar’s crude pidgin of Sylvan and Undercommon, “Alert! Intruders! They are here!”

Nemanji charged the barricade of staves, intending to burst through and give the mites a good scare, but was surprised to find the gate stronger than it appeared, for it held true; which gave the slightly embarrassed tiefling nothing but a sore shoulder for all his strength.

The mites were quick to arrive in force, five more feisty fighters and the gate guard—re-supplied with arrows. Their apparent leader, an elderly mottled mite the invaders guessed correctly was Tlukkah, lingered in the shadows behind his younger gremlin warriors. His eyes were wrapped in cloth, and a hive spider skittered on his shoulders. He betrayed his identity by the tone of his voice, the same voice that had promised the adventurers and their Mongrukoo cohort a grisly death, a voice that beseeched his god for a blessing that bathed his bodyguards in divine light.

Flashback Twists

So consecrated, the mites fought like demons. Arrows, bolts, and sling bullets streamed back and forth through the portcullis, though few found purchase in their targets, and the mites’ First World flesh proved highly resistant to conventional weapons. The nasty fey focused their bulging eyes and attempted to heap their inborn ability to curse foes with fear upon Kor’lec—the druid was the closest caster-looking foe who commanded a dangerous companion in the form of the velociraptor Kai. The mites probably reasoned that removing the half-elf from the field would rid them of two opponents. But Kor’lec, though he felt the effects of the compounding curses, kept his composure.

imageedit_13_6609738685.gifStill, the sensitive Kallijae found himself privy to the collective consciousness of the Klixarpillar, who were fueling their magic with their own memories of terror: Kor’lec saw brief visions of child mites taking drafts of a potion of invisibility, from the same large decanter that Kishtari‘s homunculus Naga dragged out of a tunnel in the cricket cave. The medley of scenes shaped a narrative of the mites’ lair being invaded by terrifyingly huge monkey goblins who were killing everything in their path. The matronly mite who gave the six children their invisibility potion was gruesomely cut down by laughing goblins while the little mites fled unseen through the tiny tunnel.

Kor’lec may not have been frightened by the mites’ magic, but his eyes were opened wide. Realizing the druid was far too strong of mind, the gremlins turned their flashing peepers toward Nemanji at their master’s order. The barbarian proved far more susceptible and was subjected to a vision of mite genocide. Though he was shaken by the mental intrusion, Nemanji’s opinion of the Mongrukoo held firm. After Likki used a protective spell on Kishtari, the demonic barbarian invited the goblin oracle to piggy-back on him throughout the battle.

Shattered Constructs

Attempts to move the winch and raise the gate proved futile—even by the archeologist with a whip—but Nemanji finally smashed the damn thing down. Dornas magic-blasted his fey foes with a cone of crippling colors, but only one succumbed. The paralyzed mite’s throat was hungrily chomped down on by Kai. The remaining mites fell back into the darkness, though one was left grappled in Nemanji’s ape-like arms. However, the Klixarpillar were smart enough to cover their retreat with another swarm of hive spiders, whose slow advance elicited groans of aggravation from the heroes.

By this time, Dornas had proceeded furthest in the tunnel, and found himself engulfed by the arachnids. Though he suffered some painful bites, the magus was able to get away before the spiders could chew off anything… vital. Nemanji tossed the mite into the swarm, hoping to slow the bugs down with a free lunch, but the little blue bastard just ran right through and escaped to the safety of the tunnel depths.

The heroes tactfully withdrew to the entrance of the cave, and set up to saturate the nucleus of the swarm with oil and ignite the creepy-crawlies with torches. Likki proved most adept with his torch-play. With a little caution and persistence (and a lot of fire), the hive spiders were finally dispersed.

The magic-users of the group (everyone but Nemanji) began to sense a strange and powerful force coming from the left, which they identified as a telepathic-enchantment effect. Kishtari sent her psionic construct further down into the dark cavern to reconnoiter, but it made it about thirty feet before plummeting into a pit covered by dusty webs. The crystal serpent shattered into pieces in the pit’s bottom, and Kish reeled from the effect of losing a piece of her soul, even if the effect’s temporary.

Nemanji offered to scout ahead, his demon eyes unclouded by the gloom of the cave. He stopped at the ledge of a small decline that preceded a fork in the tunnel—one branching left to a large, web-filled chamber and the other continuing forward and down. At the entrance to the chamber of webs a hive spider was chewing on a goblin skull until Nemanji shot and killed it. “Your friends are dead,” said the tiefling. Likki reminded his big buddy that the heads of the goblin dead were taken by the Klixarpillar from the ambush site, but the captives were likely still alive despite the lengthy respite the would-be rescuers took in the cricket cave. “The Klixarpillar would use them for leverage,” the monkey goblin noted, “though they will have been tortured.” And in a declaration that educed suspicion from his new friends: “any Mongrukoo would pull out his own guts if he could strangle a Klixarpillar with them.”

Final Stand

It was apparent that the mites didn’t retreat into the web chamber, and most of the party were keen to pursue. But Kish and Monica made an argument for checking out the web chamber, clearly the source of the ancient, doubtlessly evil magic power they all detected (except Nemanji). “Maybe we can use it!” Kish reasoned. “It is important to my research!” Monica contended. “Yes, maybe later,” Dornas said flatly, settling the matter.

Apparently, it was now Kor’lec and Kai’s turn to scout ahead, though the half-elf’s eyes weren’t quite as adapted to the dark, his theropod companion’s sense of smell compensated. But the chamber where the mites had retreated for their final stand appeared around a bend sooner than expected, and Kor’lec found himself standing right at the entryway without having first doused his torch.

monster_-_Tlukkah.jpgThe battle was on! The mites jockeyed for position and opened fire with their little bows, attempting to keep some distance from the invaders in the tight quarters. Monica distracted them with an illusion of Mongrukoo ninjas rappelling down a rope in the ceiling, that drew their fire long enough for the heroes to close into melee.

Tlukkah cast some protective magic that was hopelessly ineffective against the less-than-lawful castaways, and disastrously ineffective against Likki. The Abyssal-chanting goblin, bone dagger and torch in either hand, leapt off Nemanji’s back and onto the ledge the elderly mite was on. His fang-filled face transformed from ugly-cute to downright predatory. Meanwhile, the castaways were making short work of the unsightly gremlins. Kishtari caught one point blank with a psionically-manifested crystal shard and wiped the ugly from his face by wiping off his face. Nemanji found that their resilient flesh nicely contained bones and interior organs from splooshing all over when the dark fey were smashed flat with a club, and Kor’lec followed suit by enhancing his staff with druidic magic and caving in a skull or two.

After taking a few shots, having his pet spider killed (which Dornas correctly surmised served as his eyes) and having Likki’s torch extinguished in his sallow chest, old Tlukkah just about had it—only to reveal that strapped under his cloak was a crude suicide bomb made of tindertwigs connected to sacks full of blackpowder and nails. The thing was inadvertently armed by Likki’s attack, and fizzed and sparked ominously. Monica prayed that someone prepared a cantrip to produce water. No one had. The foul old fey cursed and spat at Likki, “I die happy knowing I’ll take you with me, spawn of Grougak!”

Thinking as one, Dornas and Kishtari called upon the wild underpinnings of their respective mystic sources— Kish unleashed a sudden psionic lash that launched the old mite upward as if gravity was somehow upended, as Dornas let loose a freezing blast from his fingertips that trapped the exploding gremlin to the rocky ceiling beneath sheets of ice.

The last functional mite limped into the final chamber, where the adventurers assumed the captives were held, but Likki was right on top of him, and blocked his path before the others finished him off.

The Mongrukoo captives were still alive, barely, crucified to wooden crosses with their eyes pried out. Likki prayed to heal them but their sight and sanity were gone. The heroes searched the immediate chambers for valuables, and discovered some useful salvage in the storeroom where the hostages were kept, and some jewelry and weapons in a trunk on the ledge in the room where the mites slept. On one of the sleeping mats was a scroll, the blood used to scribe it still fresh1.

One of the gremlins, critically wounded, was coughing out his last breaths. Likki turned toward him with a sharkish grin and a raised coconut in hand.
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1 A scroll found among the dead, scribed in Undercommon in the writer’s blood. The choice to read it is yours. But oftentimes, in the world that adventurers find themselves, necessity demands shrewd choices, and ignorance is… if not bliss, than at least lets one rest at night.

Scroll Found Among the Dead
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The Cricket Pitch

If you play good cricket, a lot of bad things get hidden.

The last things Dornas saw from the top of Black Widow Bluff was a makeshift bridge leading to a cavern on an adjacent, slightly smaller rise, and another cave mouth leading off the downward trail. After making certain that there were no threats potentially lying-in-wait, the heroes proceeded into the narrow gully where Likki and his companions were earlier ambushed. The goblin suggested that the mites could be tracked to their lair from the ambush site, though the group presumed that the hideous fey had probably withdrawn into one or both of the caves Dornas spied.

Starday, Bloody Starday

At the ambush site, the party saw for themselves the grisly results of the Klixarpillar mites’ assault against their monkey goblin foes. The Mongrukoo had been caught beneath a weighted net and peppered with arrows. Then the hive spider swarm had engulfed them and two of the goblins were utterly torn to pieces. Dornas inspected the net, and realized that it was made of strong, sticky silk fibers not unlike spider webs—though these would have been excreted by a very big spider. Likki noticed that the heads of the dead were taken away from the kill zone along with two injured captives. Likki dropped to his knees and growled an Abyssal prayer of vengeance to Mechuiti, and Nemanji joined him.

The party hunters—Nemanji and Kor’lec—effortlessly followed the mites’ trail down through the furrows of the sun-scorched summit. Unfortunately, not a few of their companions were being slow-roasted by the afternoon heat—worsened by the lack of shade so far above the treeline. Even Likki was stricken. He guessed this was why his grandfather had abandoned the area, “Mongrukoo belong in trees, maybe Klixarpillar belong in the rocks.”

Soon after, the grim mood was broken by a mocking voice that echoed and boomed across the chasms:

“The warm blood of your goblin friends will make delicious dinner wine!” and “This mountain is your tomb, foolish trespassers! I shall enjoy gnawing on your bones after you are gone!” While the castaways discovered a small-sized passageway just above the main trail that the mites could have been using to get around without being seen, a reconnaissance of the tunnel by Naga—Kishtari’s psionically-linked homunculus—showed no signs of the fugly fey.

It Actually IS Cricket

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Scouting ahead, Kor’lec cautiously approached the first cavern mouth while his ape-demonling colleague covered his position. The Klixarpillars’ trail seemed to continue past that cave and the only immediate sign of danger was a single large-ish insect print in the dust—yes, a giant cricket. But the druid also noticed that the thin pillars of rock outside the entrance weren’t entirely natural, and had some markings that might have been text. Monica confirmed the etchings were Sylvan; and when made out and translated appeared to be warnings and curses against trespass. This was most definitely a mite site, and the castaways conjectured that the big crickets within might be bound to the service of the bug-loving gremlins.

Still, the team of adventurers had reached a point where many of their capabilities were exhausted until they could rest, and the midday sun proved to be their most inexorable foe: the only enemy so far in which retreat was the only option. Risk or not, the cave needed to be secured.

Kishtari sent Naga to survey the cavern and fell into a trance—the psicrystal became her eyes. Monica cast a light cantrip on the serpentine construct intending for the party to follow behind it. After a short passageway, the crystal snake found itself in an expansive chamber. In the center was a big firepit that hadn’t been utilized in years. Several expansive recesses radiated from the central cavern. In one there lay the corpse of a large flying reptile that perhaps had crawled into the cave to die.

Naga came very close to sharing that creature’s fate when danger emerged from the dark.

Three giant cave crickets, their hunting instinct piqued by the tiny crawling construct, hopped toward Naga. Kish, standing with her companions at the mouth of the cave, abruptly abandoned her telepathic trance and babbled something about Naga being attacked—but her companions had already sensed trouble and leapt to action.

Nemanji’s demonic fury kicked in and he stormed the cave bow drawn; Dornas, Kor’lec, and Kai close behind. Even Likki noticed the sudden change in tempo and charged forward coconut in hand. Though she couldn’t really understand his Goblinoid words, “Your familiar is in trouble, yes?” Kish nodded affirmatively to the courageous intent. In that split-second exchange, the kalashtar regretted wanting to kill him earlier.

Nemanji took his stance at the narrow entrance to the main chamber and fired his bow at the giant insects. Naga wasn’t helpless though, and deftly rolled and sprung clear of its predators. Detecting intruders at the mouth of their den, two of the crickets hopped over to Nemanji while a third’s backlegs were used instead to affect a deafening chirp. Taken aback by that cricket’s racket, the tiefling took its den-mate’s kickback to the chin. But Likki was right behind him with a healing prayer that set the barbarian’s jaw back in place.

Nothing was getting past Nemanji’s chokepoint though, save Naga, who coiled back up into its creator’s arms; Kish then backed up outside of the cave to where Monica was waiting with her bow drawn. “Not going in there,” the archeologist made plain, “Bugs.”
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But Monica didn’t have long to fret about her phobias, as her companions made short work of the offending arthropods. After the rest of the team retired the other two, Kor’lec used his staff as a bat, and slog swept the vermin into the air, allowing hawk-eyed Nemanji to pull a hat-trick and clip off its legs with arrows. The insect landed with a splat on its stumps, and the match was over.

Web of Illusion

The cavern secured, the castaways had time to rest. Though Likki’s Mongrukoo companions were in grave peril, they had little hope of rescue with the team spent and suffering heat stroke. A search of the place showed that this lair was abandoned some time before. The explorers discovered a decanter in a tiny tunnel barely big enough for an adult mite to squeeze through. An inspection of the residue revealed that the container once held a few drafts of an invisibility potion and the remaining residue could be made active with a few drops of water.

Fresh after their respite, the heroes resolutely descended the path down to the bridge, which they saw strait away was woven of webbing. A hive spider spy scurried along the bridge’s underside to the lair entrance on the next tor. Knowing they’d been expected, the adventures took cover and considered their attack cautiously. Dornas’s cunning spellcraft emerged again, the magus suggesting using a cantrip to wobble the bridge while Monica created an illusion of something crossing on it. She fashioned a prowling cat, which was predictably fired upon from the dark cavern entrance. After a while, the hidden sniper ran out of ammo.

The invaders took advantage of the lull and crossed the bridge into the cavern entry and were halted by a crude but sturdy wooden portcullis. Beyond that, the darkness inside the cave seemed to tremble with the evil of gremlins and the almost alien nature of the spiders that doubtlessly awaited them within!




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