Campaign of the Month: September 2016

Age of Serpents

Shrine of the Serpent Lords

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

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

Knocked Into a Cocked-Hat

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

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

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

Bad to the Bones

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

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

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

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

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

Fangs for the Info

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boils and Ghouls

No great discovery was ever made without a bold guess.

After leaving the cannibal chief Klorak’s chamber, the Castaways made a quick search of the Thrunefang’s camp. In a shanty set aside for stores, Kishtari found a fat fluffy kitty that wasn’t interested in being “rescued,” and some smoked “human” strips in addition to some fruits and tubers. The latter rations the party stocked up on, and Likki merrily stuffed his pockets with the people jerky when he thought nobody was looking.

The late Malikadna’s lodge was a filthy mess, but within it the heroes discovered a trove of alchemical goods and potions that probably would have helped the witch’s tribemates tremendously in battle had she thought to distribute the material ahead of time.

Choosing to bed down in the Thrunefangs’ general bunkhouse, Dornas took first watch on the adjacent lookout tower. The Taldan noted that, true to his word, Klorak had one of his wives on the lighthouse balcony to keep an eye out for the now-canceled dinner feast’s late arrivals before the savages discovered their uninvited guests. The Castaways enjoyed an uninterrupted rest, fraught as it was with the seething stares and baffled mutterings of their cannibal hosts.

Breakfast in Blood

First light brought with it the inevitable challenge from one of the barbarians. A casual gesture from Kishtari toward the decaying bodies of the objector’s kinsman and a gentle suggestion from Dornas that anyone unhappy with the truce should take it up with Klorak, ensured the cannibals’ cooperation – at least for the time being.

After cowing the cannibals, the Castaways returned to their daily business — adventure. They cleared the sticks covering the hole leading to the subterranean caverns where they all knew Nylithati, the dreaded ancient “mother” of the Thrunefang tribe awaited them. After a brief discussion regarding the information they hoped to learn from this wicked matron concluded – namely, what had Ieana wanted from her? – the heroes descended into the hollow.

Kor’lec and Kai took point, followed closely by Dornas and his conjured globules of light. The rest of the party followed. The druid was unmistakably more sullen than usual, prompting Likki to ask his “big brother” what was the matter. Kor’lec responded that the armistice with the Thrunefangs didn’t sit well with him and as far as the half-elf was concerned, the only good reason to be in the caves was to remove a blight.

Recent prints in the cavern’s soil revealed the steps of a heavyset man, Captain Kovack. Alongside and across them, however, were track-marks that resembled… something, or someone, slithering.

A tight, winding cleft led the delvers to a gore-splattered chamber with some oubliettes carved into the north wall. Before these could be examined more closely, Kor’lec detected in a shadowed corner a pair of cadaverous creatures whose humanoid figures looked forcibly fractured into four-legged forms. When Dornas’s lights exposed them, the beings bounded over the jagged floor toward the intruders like broken-backed jackals – except very fast.

Kishtari had a crossbow at the ready and an itchy trigger finger. With a twang the psion’s bolt scraped a scissure in the wricked watchdog’s flesh, rupturing a line of pestilent pimples. The pus spouted like a fountain, but the heroes weren’t near enough to get sprayed. The undead abominations might have been dangerous in close-quarters, but their opponents were downright deadly in all the other quarters.

Dornas casually swung his voluminous black locks toward one of the creatures. To his teammate’s astonishment, the magi’s hair stretched forth and skewered the ghastly thing through the face! A coconut spun out from Likki’s over-sized hand put the beast down for good. As the goblin did a little victory dance, the remaining monster was shorn by an earsplitting report from Monica’s dual-barreled gun. As the archaeologist’s shot signaled the undead’s destruction, it just as loudly announced the Castaways’ presence to whatever else lurked down there.


Jask informed everyone that the creatures they’d dispatched, festrogs, were a type of failed, animal-like ghoul employed as guards in their master’s warrens. The grated cavities were probably where the accursed monsters kept those they allowed to transition into undeath. Monica added that ghouldom was a pitiable state that bestowed an insatiable, eternal hunger.

Damning Testimony

Able to have a look at the oubliettes unmolested, the heroes uncovered a scrap of leather near a word scrawled in blood: “MURDERER.” Also in blood was a message reading thus:

The testimony absolved the Jenivere’s captain in the party’s eyes, and cemented an already iron resolve among them to make Ieana pay for her crimes.

As to their enemy’s nature, the evidence was getting heavy. Monica was correct all along.

Ieana had to be purecaste serpentfolk.

Serpentfolk! whose prehistoric empire once stretched across the solar system and into the planes; a species that presaged the evolution of feathers and fur, and perhaps even predated the arrival of the aboleths and elder things. Their dominance was so complete that an entire epoch was named for them. But as formidable and eonian as their age was, the purecast serpentfolk of ancient myth were thought to be extinct – as dead as their patron saint – survived in the modern day by scaly savages with but a smidge of sapience…

Until now.

Ghoul Crush

Suffice to say that whatever the Castaways’ quarry sought, it could only mean ill. The delvers made their way ever downward through the constricting passageways of the cavern and before long encountered one of its denizens. The ghoulish thing might have been human once, but it possessed an unmistakably ichthyic cast. Even in tight quarters, the lacedon barely registered its own destruction before the party took it apart.

Kor’lec sensed the shuffling sounds of a potential foe in large chamber ahead of them. Kishtari unfurled her psicrystal Naga and sent it slithering onward to get the lay of the land. The serpentine construct went undetected by the waiting creature, and it relayed the chamber’s contents to its creator. A briny well laid in the center of a roughly circular chamber, surrounded by ridges of varying elevation. There were two more lacedons in there, and one was lying-in-wait – poised to claw the first creature out of the tunnel.

Kor’lec sent Kai up to draw the creature’s attention, relying on his animal companion’s quickness to avoid attack. The ploy worked. The lacedon sprang after the swift dinosaur, allowing the Castaways to hasten into the chamber unharmed. The aquatic undead was soon surrounded and cut down. The other ghoul joined the fray, but was just as quickly overwhelmed. Monica entangled the undead in her thorny whip, and with amazing panache, whisked it up into the cavern ceiling, where it was impaled on a stalactite! The ghoul’s blackened viscera, along with its death screams, attracted a shark-like predator swimming in the well. The beast shot up out of the pit and snatched the lacedon like a prawn off a toothpick before vanishing from whence it came.

Temple Out of Time

Having defeated their foes, and with several passageways leading out of the well chamber to choose from, the Castaways selected one seemingly at random. A short tunnel to the east, further inland as opposed to those leading toward the sea, appeared to be part of a construction – a ruined hallway. Following it, the delvers set eyes on something never before seen by living human, elf, or coeval race:

A serpentfolk temple, aeons old, remarkably intact. A graven image of a cobra-headed humanoid loomed over the hall, and before it, a large red-bronze urn-shaped object was etched with glyphs. Three great obelisks, topped with amber orbs preserving the corpses of prehistoric snakes, were lined up in a central row.

The structure was a discovery that would make the name and fortune of any adventurer or scholar of history a thousand times over and send shockwaves throughout nations – if it could be reported in civilized lands. If not for the fact that they were stranded on a desert isle – and a murderous, once thought-to-be-extinct member of an ancient, advanced race of mind-controlling reptiles were there ahead of them – the gravitas of this archaeological find might have been better appreciated.

Also, the undead present were a big distraction. Four skeletal serpentine humanoids hissed at the intruders from portcullis-enclosed alcoves. In the hall’s corner opposite the statue, a hulking lacedon in tattered leathers that resembled poor Captain Kovack munched and sucked on yellowed bones amid a pile of ancient remains.

Finally, from the large urn in front of the statue, like a cobra conjured from its basket by a Vudrani punji player, the skull of an enormous fanged serpent coiled upward atop a sinuous body of ribs.

The High Chief's Aegis

My old enemy… stairs.

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

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

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

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

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

Just Slay No

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devils in the Details

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cannibal Cataclysm

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

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

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

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

Unexpected Feint

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

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

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

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

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

No Enemy Survives Contact With the Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Trail

We’re not cannibals. Cannibals boil people alive in cauldrons. I prefer to think of ourselves as evolved eaters.

We last left the Castaways gaping at the flotsam of the Brine Demon. Jask Derindi had been dragged off by the cannibal Thrunefangs. All that remained was Hesediel, the hatchling dimorphodon Sasha was caring for, who poked his tiny head up from under a mat of kelp. Kor’lec scooped the squawking reptavian into the pocket of his cloak. The creature seemed content to be among familiar scents.

A few more minutes’ investigation revealed that the cannibals struck between six and twelve hours prior to the adventurer’s arrival. Hoping the time-frame was in their favor, the heroes backtracked inland in the hopes of catching Jask’s kidnappers before they made it back to their camp.

Sleeping Lizards!

As fate would have it, Jask’s would-be rescuers encountered several delays. After pausing to ready themselves for travel during the grueling mid-day hours, a pounding thunderstorm blasted their enemies’ trail and forced the heroes to move with more caution than they would have otherwise. The party soldiered on through a rain that only just died down a dull drizzle an hour before dusk.

Once again on the south beach of the Shiv’s sickle-shaped lagoon, the explorers reached the road inland. They still had many miles to go southward to the abandoned lighthouse where the Thrunefangs lived. The Castaways opted this time to take the byroad through the valley they once avoided in fear of ambush, but remained vigilant for the snare traps they knew their enemies employed. Kishtari voiced her concerns that Nemanji hadn’t caught up to them yet, but the companions had to trust the tiefling savage was in less a fix than poor Jask. With nightfall approaching, the group hoped for the kindly old preacher’s sake that either the Thrunefangs ate dinner late, or that he was bait for a trap. That the best-case-scenario was that the Castaways were walking into a trap was just how bad things were.


The kidnappers’ footprints led west off the path after the heroes emerged from the canyon. It followed a slight, low tunnel through the bush that would have been invisible to any but Kor’lec’s keen elven eyes. Taking this trail forced the heroes to crouch at times, an impediment that clearly favored yet another of the island’s damnable menaces – a trio of Shiv dragons had caught the travelers’ scent and were closing in fast. Working together, Kor’lec pinged the large lizards’ location allowing Kishtari to psionically tranquilize all three.

On a Certain Creek Without a Paddle

Leaving the lizards to dream of easier prey, the heroes pressed ahead. The sidetrack eventually emerged at the lip of a vale overlooking a stream made swift by the afternoon rain. Though it was shallow enough to see the rocks that the rapids flowed over, it was no less treacherous on account of its speed. A few ropes tied to a post on the party’s side dangled down to the riverbank, the remains of a crude rope bridge cut by the Thrunefangs to discourage pursuit.

Monica thought to bypass the ravine in the traditional way of her adventuring archaeologist idols, by casting her whip into the canopy and swinging across. While her achievements as a novice already outstripped many of the explorers she’d read about, Monica wasn’t quite ready for the weekly pennibloods – she missed fantastically. But Dornas leapt right after her and midair tackled his Taldan countrywoman before her promising career ended on the rocks below. The magus’s levitation hex allowed the two to glide to the opposite riverbank with but a few bumps and bruises. This, however, left the party split, with Kish and Kor’lec up on the opposite shoulder of the vale. And that’s when the druid had a notion so harebrained it had to work.

Using the shovel he inexplicably carried at all times, Kor’lec uprooted a tree into the ravine. It landed in the rapids with a sploosh. The half-elf shouted down to his human companions to anchor it while he and Kish descended the disabled rope bridge to the river. The party would make up for lost time by riding the log!

The whole thing worked better than it sounds written down. There were protests, and yes, Kish accurately predicted she would eventually lose hold and require saving. But Dornas once again rose to the rescue of the frailer sex, casting a rope out to the telepath and reeling her back to the kinda-sorta raft. For as rough a ride it was, the tree was well chosen as a mode of transport, and the riders’ inability to steer it only became an issue after a good hour or so cruising.

Then the inevitable waterfall loomed ahead. If the river were any deeper at that point, they all would have gone over with the log. But the adventurers’ feet touched ground, and with some painstaking maneuvering and patience, the foursome managed to tiptoe their way to the water’s edge.

Tower of the Cannibals

Whilst traveling the road from the nadir of the falls, the Castaways found themselves approximately a mile and a half from the derelict lighthouse. The cannibals’ camp surrounding the tower occupied a peninsular point and was flanked on either side by a steep and sizable drop-off into the churning swells of Desperation Bay. Worse for Jask’s would-be rescuers, the vegetation on this part of the island was sparse at best, and provided little cover.

The sun’s fading light combined with the smoke blowing down from the Thrunefangs’ fires, casting the scene in a red haze and deepening shadows. Beating drums and harsh voices likewise carried from the south. Here, at least, the Thrunefangs had no caution – no fear. The Jenivere’s survivors were firmly in the enemies’ backyard.

Despite every attempt to stick to the bush at the south side of the road, the concealment it afforded became less reliable as the cannibal’s tower loomed closer. It was not known how far the Sargavan colonists who occupied the site generations ago got along on its construction, but if any of the current tenants were keeping watch from the old lighthouse, the heroes would be spotted for sure.

The party began to plot out their rescue, and that’s when a returning Thrunefang hunting band traveling the road caught wind of them. The hunters dropped their carrying pole of dead monkeys, then swiftly made their way toward the heroes. As soon as the savages drew javelins, Dornas conjured up a concealing mist, buying the Castaways a little time to ready themselves. Kish stepped out from the magical cloud and a twang from her crossbow presaged the bloody explosion of a Thrunefang’s shoulder. Abandoning the javelins for the spiked gaffs they seemed to favor in melee, the cannibals charged and hollered hideous threats in their pidgin devil-speak.

The battle was short ‘n sweet. The Thrunefangs underestimated their enemies, and quickly got themselves surrounded. Kor’lek’s boon companion Kai leaped into the fray and showed the humans what a natural predator was capable of with tooth and claw. Dornas was a blur, twirling his staff and using it to strike necromantic weakness upon his foes. Monica tore open fatal wounds upon one of the barbarians with her thorny lash. After two had fallen, the third cannibal dropped his weapon and started to back away. The heroes didn’t let him get far.

Rat Slink

The Castaways stopped just short of torture, but gave Kish free reign to pick apart their prisoner’s surface thoughts. Even before he was magically charmed, the Thrunefang was haughty and forthcoming, confident he’d live long enough to see his captors ripped apart and eaten. Monica’s first question, translating from Taldane to Infernal (and vice versa his answers), was “why do you eat people?” The barbarian shrugged and replied simply, “we like it.” His thoughts, however, betrayed that some sacrament and ceremony were involved. The man they captured, Jask, would at midnight be sacrificed and eviscerated in a feeding frenzy by all those gathered. There were approximately seventeen Thrunefngs at base now, with the more on the way for the feast.

When queried further about their religion, far from the systematic diabolism practiced by the Thrunefang’s Chelaxian ancestors, the cannibal mentioned one Nylithati, Mother Thrunefang. “She teach us the way of Zura, this here island all Zura’s place.” Monica struggled to recall what she knew of those names, but couldn’t place them. When asked about Ieana, the savage said she was a witch and the chief gave her quarters in the tower with him. “She went below with her slave, the big man, to speak to Nylithati, but the slave did not return with her.”

Additional leading questions gave Kish a good idea of the camp’s layout – a few large wooden structures that never were completed by the Sargavan colonists and only partially reinforced by the Thrunefangs. Kish noted a corral of walking skeletons, and asked the prisoner about them. “That be old Malikadna raisin’ them there bones, she wise and powerful.”

With that information, the heroes began to draw out their rescue plan. The lighthouse, thank the gods, did not seem to be used as a watchtower. The Thrunefangs instead had two elevated platforms for keeping an eye on the road approaching the camp. However, they had allowed a stretch of land between the southern cliff’s edge and the clearing to get overgrown enough that a stealthy approach under the stars could succeed. Jask was being held in an old animal corral, tied to a post. The walls of the pen were damaged or never completed. Directly behind Jask was a deep pit the cannibals used as a waste dump. This was swarming with rats.

Disguises, illusions, and that old standby, the “I surrender, suckers!” scheme were hotly debated. Finally, a very solid plan took shape. This was to get their charmed captive to lead any number of his tribesmen away from camp while the party stealthily made their way through the brush to the pit behind the corral.

The first part of the rescuer’s plan succeeded, though their charmed captive only managed to lead away a group of four. Once at the pit, one of the Thrunefangs in particular looked to be a problem. He was on a deck overlooking the prisoner’s corral, preparing additional foodstuffs for midnight’s menu. Kor’lec called upon the earthen spirits to give him the form of a dire rat, and attempted to coerce the rats in the pit to help him free Jask. The animals were not at all interested in risking their lives, though they invited their new big-brother to partake in the their never-ending banquet of shit, garbage, and bones. Still in muroid form, Kor’lec climbed up to Jask and began gnawing away his bonds. Kish remained hidden, prepared to put the cannibal chef to sleep if his attention wavered back to the prisoner and his rodent rescuer.

Jask had been stripped and beaten to near-unconsciousness, and his skin was chapped and sun-blistered. He awoke from delirium just enough to try and warn Kor’lec away, whom he recognized even in the shape of an animal. “I’ve lived a full life and thanks to you I will die as an innocent man,” pleaded the old Garundi, “you mustn’t risk your lives now.” Kor’lec made the rodent-equivalent gesture of “fuck you” and kept on chewing.

As the bonds gave way, Kor’lec returned to humanoid form to carry Jask to safety. The Thrunefang finally noticed what was happening, but slumped over into sleep before he could raise the hue and cry. Kish wanted to finish the cannibal off right there and attempted to vault over the pit …
In another lifetime, the alien telepath might have botched her acrobatic hurdle. She might have landed squarely in the septic filth of the pit, scattering its screeching vermin in every direction. The clamor would have surely alerted the rest of the camp’s inhabitants. The heroes would have then been forced to fight the entire slavering tribe with their backs to the cliff. Jask would have been slain in the melee. They would have lost. Their story might have ended far more ignobly than it once promised to be.

In a moment that seemed destined to fail, Kish instead soared up and over the pit like a champion athlete, landed with sublime grace next to the sleeping cannibal, and with his own butcher knife, delivered him to whatever obscene afterlife awaited his soul.

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

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

Destiny's Hinges

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hill Has Spies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grove’s Synthesis

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

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

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

Smoke on the Water

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

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

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

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

Toxic Reactions

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

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

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

Ras Boot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fungus Among Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Speaks But Cannot Be Heard

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

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

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

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

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

Invasive Species

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

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

Bolete the Drum Slowly

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

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

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

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

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

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

None Left Behind

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

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

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

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

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

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


Foray Among the Fungi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Probably a big mushroom,” deadpanned Nemanji.

Grey Matter

I became gradually aware that here the vile fungus, which had driven us from the ship, was growing riot. In places it rose into horrible, fantastic mounds, which seemed almost to quiver, as with a quiet life, when the wind blew across them. Here and there it took on the forms of vast fingers, and in others it just spread out flat and smooth and treacherous. Odd places, it appeared as grotesque stunted trees, seeming extraordinarily kinked and gnarled – the whole quaking vilely at times.

Night fell quickly after the Red Mountain Devil flew back to its lair, and our protagonists wisely backtracked to a less barren section of the first islet, to make camp among the ravenalas and elephant grass that comprised the rock’s sparse vegetation. As bereft of flora as the islet was, its copses of trees and a small population of hares and goats were a stark and assuasive contrast to the alien grey blanketing its silent twin further north.

Kor’lec took first watch, as usual. Shortly after the others fell into sleep, he awoke Kishtari. Several matters had been weighing heavily on the druid’s mind, and the loyalty of his psionic teammate was among them. After bringing her out of earshot of his sleeping teammates, Kor’lec, Kai twitchy at his side and ready to pounce, asked flatly, "are you in league with Ieana?" Kish was taken aback. “No,” she sputtered.

The half-elf wasn’t satisfied that she’d been entirely forthcoming; Kish’s own potent telepathic abilities and passionate regard for serpents, even above the well-being of those she was fighting alongside, were throwing up the proverbial red flags. “I know how it looks, but no,” she repeated.

“You aren’t a half-elf,” Kor’lec referred to Kish’s habitual cover story concerning her race. To the druid, is was blown by Aycenia, the dryad on whose behalf the adventurers presently quested. The fey never once gave Kishtari the notice her kind typically paid elvenkind.

Kish knew she was busted, or she’d grown weary of the secrecy. Brooding and sanctimonious at the best of times, Kor’lec was at least trustworthy, and that made him a good choice for a confidante. The kalashtar revealed that she was of a race hailing from the planet Golarians called Castrovel, a neighboring planet closer in its orbit to the sun. Kish and many others of her world were refugees from an oppressive regime founded by the Inspired, a species of psionics closely-related to hers. Like them, her people were close enough in appearance to elves and humans to pass as kin. Kish suspected that Ieana was one of the Inspired.

“Castrovel is sometimes called the Green Star,” Kish had mentioned. “That’s funny,” Kor’lec chewed on those words for a second before disclosing, "my people, among the Kallijae, we are called the Emerald Star." Resolving to trust one-another again, the two returned to camp and wondered whether to reveal Kish’s secret to the others.

Though he made little sense of the words, the entire conversation was heard to one who was as shadow among the palm-like fronds of the ravenala above and beyond the sight of even Kor’lec’s keen eyes. He had been tracking the party at a distance for days. Tomorrow, the shadow thought to himself, tomorrow everything changes.

Changing Faces

“Good morning!” said the amiable halfling. No one had seen him come up on them, as if the green-cloaked stranger was there all along. But there he was. The chipper young halfling introduced himself as Tyst.

“Pardon us,” said Kish, “but we thought you were imaginary.”

“Wow,” said Kor’lec, "we really owe Sasha an apology."

“He even shorter than me!” skreaked Likki.

After a few pertinent questions all revolving around some variation of “who in the Hells are you?” details started to emerge about their breakfast-time visitor. Clearly, this was the very same green-cloaked halfling that Sasha swore up-and-down was trying to kill her. But Tyst seemed friendly enough… The stranger claimed, earnestly, that he’d been following the adventurers for some time. He’d woken up on a beach near them and had only recently regained some of his faculties. His memories were vague, but it looked like he’d been a passenger aboard the Jenivere like the rest of them – though probably not a paying one, as nobody but Sasha knew he was there. Likki was the first to mention amnesia, which he said was a common affliction among his tribesmen, “when real big coconut conk you on the head!”

"Are you Red Mantis?" queried Monica, who had paid enough attention to events to connect Sasha and her much talked-about stalker to the assassin cult. Tyst appeared not to remember, and was either a world-class liar, or truly had lost his memories. In any event, the group were about to face some difficulty and needed an extra sword arm. Or sling arm, as Tyst demonstrated when asked what he could offer in terms of help. The halfling tossed a spiked melon into the air and splattered it with a quick flick of a sling. “I have some skill in sneaking, too, obviously,” Tyst added. Having escaped even Kor’lec’s notice on the Jenivere and across Smuggler’s Shiv proved his skill. As they all had explanation enough to entrust their very lives to each other, the group proceeded to the Isle of Never Going There.

The Spore You Know…

Before hopping across the broken rocks linking the islets, the party concocted a hair-brained scheme to set a captured goat free on the fungi-covered land mass to test its safety. Goat in hand, the Castaways closed in on the grey islet toward a beach covered with mold and giant fungi the size and shape of elder pine trees. Beyond the beach was a towering cliff with some natural switchbacks and a gently sloping gully leading up onto the plateaued interior. Just before Nemanji could hurl his goat ashore, a trio of hideous grey-purple reptiles crawled out from beneath the ancient bridge-stones. The fungal iguanas attacked indiscriminately and bit hard, with one wounding Tyst. The halfling was unused to fighting outside the shadows, and tumbled past his opponents to regroup. Unfortunately, the lizard-shaped plant-thing had tasted blood and gave him chase. Worse still, Tyst’s attempt to get away from it put him in range of a pair of snipers who were hidden in the fungal trees – small humanoid forms likewise made of purplish-grey fungus.

The rest fared better – the treacherous, sludge-draped rocks posed few problems to the dexterous sextet. Nemanji and Likki worked like the blades of a murder-windmill. The monkey goblin, from the safety of his big buddy’s papoose, would jab with his spear or hurl a coconut before Nemanji pirouetted around with a swipe of his great axe. Dornas, Kai, and Kor’lec comported themselves just as well, and soon all but Tyst’s persistent pursuer had been crushed and scraped off the stones like moss. Kor’lec looked again at the fungal trees and saw what had to be a dozen or more of the manikin-faced, plantoid people maneuvering and adjusting positions, silently waiting for the invaders to come into range of their javelins.

Using the vine-like strands that grew from their bodies as amentums, the fungal pygmies loosed their short spears with pinpoint accuracy and speed. Tyst was caught in the crossfire of two vegetable men midways up the first tree on the beach. He was struck forward and back with the whip-spun javelins while the last funguana nipped at his heels.

Monica saw that her new companion desperately needed help, and perhaps by reaching him could give the enemy another target. She skipped over to him as the halfling dropped to his knees from blood loss. By the time the archaeologist was close enough to magically mend his wounds, Tyst was bent and quivering, his muscles rippling in odd ways beneath his cloak. When he stood up, nearly twice the size he’d been, the cloak fell away and revealed a hirsute, nightmarish visage. Monica stood eye to eye with a werebadger!

Tyst, fully transformed, let out a snarling roar that Mwangi natives such as Kor’lec and Nemanji knew belonged to one of the jungle’s most tenacious predators. Even Kai appeared ready to bolt in fear as Tyst ripped apart the funguana with claws capable of burrowing into rock. Tyst pointed a claw at one of the fungal pygmies who’d shot him, as if to say "you’re next." In an instant, the lycanthrope was bounding over and up onto the tree to get to his prey.

The rest of the party regrouped, recovered themselves and stormed up onto the beach after him. Monica was close behind, bravely running past and over a carpet of undulating mold without thought to what it might do to her, “I guess we know its safe now.” Its sacrifice no longer required, Kish freed the poor goat whom would have thanked the gods if it could.

Kor’lec had that morning communed with the elements to bestow upon him gifts of flame for the day, and was crestfallen to discover none of the fungi, ambulatory or otherwise, were much harmed by fire. Dornas wasn’t surprised, having deduced that the entire biome here was of extraplanar origin, Abyssal, specifically. Once that was communicated to Nemanji, the tiefling tried asking the fungal pygmies in the Abyssal tongue, “why are you trying to kill us?” as if the infinite conflicts between the Abyss’s denizens weren’t worlds more slaughterous.

With a booming report from a barrel of her pistol, Monica turned one of the vegetable beings into a fine mist. “He won’t truffle anyone again!” Tyst likewise dispatched the pair who struck him with extreme prejudice. But the small victories against the eerily silent beings, who were resilient for their size, only emphasized the difficulties to come. There were at least 8 to 10 more, in the swaying fungal trees and along the cliff. And they were in no hurry to die, either, wisely falling back up the cliff to find cover and regroup. The party had yet to face an enemy so tactically prepared, and it occurred to them that the Thrunefangs and Ieana would be even more so.

And then a boulder rolled down the gulley right through them

Except for Kish, who decided to stay out of the battle. She was poking around in a particularly big swathe of grey mold. It felt like a greasy sponge. Something out of place caught her eye within it. The psion dug it out with her staff. She was shocked to find Aerys‘s tricorn hat. Searching and prodding revealed one of Sashas’s blades, or rather shards of a broken kukri, its minor enchantment fading. Last, one of Gelik’s extravagantly pointy boots was uncovered.

All of this would have been puzzling enough, and perhaps troubling, had any believed their friends capable of reaching the grey isle before themselves, unnoticed. The only problem was Gelik’s boot, or rather, the gnome’s severed foot that was still in it.

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Food of the Gods

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

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

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

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

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

“Rats off to Ya!”

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

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

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

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

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

Sink or Swim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spirit of the Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Isle of Totally Going There

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

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

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

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

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