Campaign of the Month: September 2016

Age of Serpents

Breakfast is Served

A tale of the castaways, here for a long, long time

monster_-_eurypterid.jpgDornas was the first to regain consciousness on a bright sandy beach with jumbled memories of how he got there, an angry beehive in his stomach and a throbbing head. Strewn about the beach were most of his fellow passengers aboard the Jenivere. A pinch in his feet awakened him to action, as several dog-sized sea scorpions tried to decide whether or not the bounty of meat they’d been presented with this morning was safe to have for breakfast. Dornas shrugged off the eurypterid’s venom… was the magus’s self-honed poison tolerance to thank for his timely awakening?

Realizing he was unarmed, the Taldan prodded awake the nearest body to him while backing away from the chittering vermin. This was his young countrywoman Monica Montana, who awoke with a start and shouted “Bugs!” Both Taldans realized that the nearby banyan tree presented some weaponry in the form of fallen branches and they quickly scooped up some promising clubs. Dornas also took note of the footprints and furrows leading to and from the water, and a deeper rut near the waterline that probably came from a rowboat. On the far side of the bay, he spied the Jenivere listing to port, the galleon scuttled and holed on some jagged rocks.

The next to awaken happened to be Kishtari, who realized that her mind-effecting powers would not work on the primitive arthropods. She tried hitting one with a crystal missile manifested from her mind, but missed. She wisely woke the hulking tiefling Nemanji who responded reasonably to the unexpected state of affairs by going ape-shit, erupting into a rage as if possessed by terrible Angazhan himself.

The demon-spawn hauled out a tree-trunk hunk of driftwood half-buried in the sand and brought it down toward the poisonous creepy-crawlies with an earthshaking smash—only to miss! Inspired to violence herself, Monica charged the menacing shellfish with a stick and—shouting “bugs! bugs! bugs!”—splattered one to bisque.

Dornas and Kish then took on the chore of waking the others, seeing that Gelik, Aerys, Sasha, and a manacled Jask were likewise unconscious heaps across the beach. Aerys awoke shaken and nauseous, but blasé enough to grumble “bloody hells, another shipwreck.” She then grabbed an empty bottle littering the beach, saw it contained no hooch, and threw it down in disgust.

Sasha freaked out, realized her blouse was in tatters and quickly turned her exposed back away from the others while demanding to be returned to her bunk. Gelik, citing his superior gnomish immune system, seemed to have the clearest memory of getting ill and falling unconscious at dinner. Old Jask was just happy to be outside, probably used to being shuffled around against his will and waking up in strange places. Dornas warned the convict to take cover in the foliage while the magus deftly leapt back into the fray to dispatch a eurypterid.

After another was smooshed beneath Nemanji’s comically large cudgel, the remaining killer crustaceans fled to the water, allowing the castaways to take stock of their situation. Most agreed that their dinner was tampered with. They found the half-elf Kor’lec curled up in a ball on the other side of the tree, deliriously murmering “Kai… Kai…” either still sick from the tainted food or suffering from some other ailment.

Monica, like some kind of human almanac, immediately deduced that they were on Smuggler’s Shiv, 40 miles from the mainland, and rattled off what she knew of the place—that it’s a shipwreck graveyard and believed by most to be haunted. She also speculated that the ship was deliberately scuttled on the Shiv—that there must be something on the isle worth a considerable measure of sabotage—but none could guess what that might be, who could be responsible, or why they alone out of the many officers and crewman survived.

Nearly everyone agreed that whatever crimes Jask was guilty of didn’t matter in their situation. Unfortunately, the tempered steel of the manacles binding the Garundi man’s hands and feet proved impossible for even the gorilla-armed Nemanji to break, and its locking mechanism just beyond Monica’s lock-picking skills even with utmost concentration. Meanwhile, a slowly calming Sasha began to lash together a makeshift cloak from drying palm fronds.

While Monica was curious to start exploring the forested interior, Dornas shrewdly observed that none of them were going to last long without food and weapons. He suggested that if there was anything that could be salvaged from the wreck of the Jenivere, they better get moving. The waves hitting the remains of the once-mighty galleon looked all-too eager to pull her into Besmara’s Chest.



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The Wreck of the Jenivere

The breakers were right beneath her bows,
She drifted a dreary wreck,
And a whooping billow swept the crew
Like icicles from her deck.

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In his delirium, Kor’lec remembers and dreams…

He recalls a moment during the voyage of the Jenivere, when he temporarily lost control of his velociraptor companion Kai. Kai leapt up into the arms of the normally unapproachable Varisian scholar Ieana. Ieana seemed uncharacteristically nonplussed and friendly with the animal, talking to the dinosaur as if she were a person. Kai seemed friendly with Ieana, too. Ieana asked what her name was, and Kor’lec said “its Kai,” but Ieana reproached him and said she was talking to the animal. After Kai made some chirping sounds, Ieana said the raptor’s name was really Rain of Talons—Whose Feathers Will be Bright. She then ordered the small theropod back to Kor’lec, sardonically ordering her “back to your master.”

Then, Kor’lec had a feeling he was in Kai’s head, seeing through her eyes, looking up and searching desperately for her druid friend as the ship was being tossed on a storm. She ran into Ieana again. “Little Rain, you are seeking your master. I am sorry. (She turned a moment toward a shadow) Lower your sword my love, the beastie and I have an understanding. Little Rain, you would be safest below. Yes, I know you hate the cages. But they will protect you. Go there, and rest—and if anyone should disturb you… (she whispered into her ear).”

Kor’lec awoke with a start, declaring that they had to return to the ship and rescue Kai! He was only slightly shocked by the fact that he was on a beach now instead of the ship where he was before going cataleptic—perhaps subconsciously absorbing his predicament through the debate his fellow castaways were having nearby about their next move.

Which was, in fact, to return to the ship. Mostly for their weapons and gear, but also for some salvageable supplies. And answers—Monica continued to conjecture that they were brought ashore by whoever caused the wreck, probably to serve as some sort of sacrifice. Most of the party agreed that that kind of made sense. Dornas, Kishtari, Monica, and Kor’lec set out for the shipwreck.

Nemanji refused to go, declaring that his first time on a boat demonstrated that “boats,” clearly, were “no good.” He would explore inland instead. Gelik, Aerys, Sasha, and Jask were still suffering from shock to various degrees but wished the others luck. Nemanji reiterated again his convictions that a) “ship no good” and b) “you all die” before the demonic savage vanished into the bush.

Boarding Delay

Though they set out in the early morning, a few hours were spent navigating the treacherous rocky surf that replaced the beach along the edge of the bay to the wreck. By the time the tide was starting to swell, the four reached the general area of the Jenivere, which was gored by rocks though her lower decks like the horns of an angry bull, and listing precariously against a tall cliff face. Taking a beating from the waves, it was clear that they didn’t have much time before the sea would claim her.

But hold steady she did, and fortunately so, for it took several hours for the quartet to figure out a way inside the Jenivere without being swept up in the violent whorls and rushes that swaddled her on all sides. Several attempts to telekinetically pull loose rigging lines to their position failed, as did any attempt to cross the ferocious surf. Finally, after some brainstorming, the team worked out a last ditch gambit that was so crazy it had to work. Calling upon Dornas’s extensive creativity regarding the applications of magic, Kor’lec summoned to the surface a mass of seaweed and kelp to provide a sort of carpet to walk on, while Kishtari identified the safest way to cross over to the ship. Monica was prepared to unlock a hatch they could access once there, but the heroes instead found a breach big enough to walk through.

Bittersweet Reunion

And so they did, as darkness descended on the rocking and groaning Jenivere, Monica created a magical light to guide the party through the gloomy lower deck. Carefully following the gutsy archeologist across the treacherous warped, tilted, and sea-sprayed deck, the heroes peaked in the crew quarters and then the main storage deck where several horses were secured—and all killed in the collision. Finally turning toward the area where the Jenivere kept cages for captive animals (which also served as a makeshift brig for poor old Jask), Kor’lec found his little dinosaur buddy. But the reunion between man and pet wasn’t the poignant moment everyone envisioned, for the beast acted scared and aggressive. Kishtari recognized the telltale signs of mind control, which had severe implications beyond Kai’s immediate hostility. Kor’lek was struck hard in the heart by the violation of his natural bond with Kai, and vowed to make the person responsible pay. With the druid’s permission, Kish gently put Kai to sleep so he could swaddle the animal in some canvas and netting found in the storeroom they came in.

Beating a Dead Horse

The quintet were then forced to make their way across a floor strewn with horse carcasses to reach the stairwell to the upper deck. However, one of the rotting equines was clearly ambulatory, and rose to face the source of the light. The beast’s back legs were broken, and it pathetically dragged itself toward the heroes by its forelegs, its horsey lips curling to reveal chomping teeth desperate to satiate a hunger it couldn’t comprehend. Though Monica pointed out it could easily be evaded, Kor’lec refused to allow the animal to suffer the agony of undeath. The druid, with a sleeping Kai strapped to his back, charged the zombie with a shovel he had grabbed in the storeroom and brought it down on the reanimated equine with an angry thwack. Monica likewise sprang across the rubble- and carrion-strewn deck and blasted the zombie’s face with healing magic—antithetical to undead. The horse somehow choked out a haunting neigh and lashed at the bardic academic with its front hooves and head, but Monica deftly weaved and parried.

Kishtari drilled the horse through its eye socket with a crystal dart. The fragile psion then bravely moved into striking distance of the risen animal to distract the creature. This allowed Kor’lec to sever it’s back with the business end of his shovel to a torrent of putrid cerebrospinal fluid. Dornas hopped over and shattered the dead beast’s face bones with his banyan tree branch, but was smashed in return by a mighty butt of the horse’s head. If the fight wasn’t soon finished, Dornas was done for…

Then something miraculous happened: Kishtari, demonstrating the frightening psionic potential of one descended from the terrifying spirits of Dal Quor, began to glow as an otherworldly light shone in her eyes. The rotting horse arose from the deadly ground and flew apart like tender roast meat shaken off the bones.

Answers Creating Questions

The victorious zombie horse-killing champions swaggered on up the stairs to the upper deck, though Dornas’s strut was mitigated somewhat by his shattered ribs, and Monica was a little shell-shocked by her first encounter with the undead. The party’s first stop was to recover their equipment from their bunk room, and as heroes should, they grabbed their fellow castaways’ gear too. Greed nearly got the best of Kishtari when she saw how much money the others had stashed, but Kor’lec reminded the former thief that she was no longer a criminal. However, curiosity succeeded where avarice failed, and the explorers wound up paging through Sasha, Aerys, and Gelik’s writings.

Gelik’s journal, read by Dornas, contained clearly embellished tales of his adventures as a member of the Pathfinder Society with more recent entries describing his trip aboard the Jenivere, complete with exaggerated descriptions of its crew, passengers, and his interactions with them.

Aerys’s papers, read by Kishtari, contained a draft of a poem, touchingly composed and luridly depicting a Sargavan riverboat captain named Kassata LeWynn. The essence of the work was the captain’s tumultuous, difficult courtship with an unnamed Shackles pirate that appeared to be an obvious stand-in for Aerys.

Sasha had an undelivered letter intended for Captain Kovack complaining about the presence of a green-cloaked halfling that no one aboard the ship would admit to seeing. The letter demanded the halfling be hunted, exposed, and removed at all costs, and suggested he was an agent of her mother’s that secretly boarded with her at Mediogalti Island. Kor’lec believed his superior elvish senses would have noticed a halfling skulking around the ship but suddenly recalled a few sailors joking about one of the passengers (Sasha) complaining she was being stalked by one.

Captain Kovack’s room was chock-full of treasure and information. A desk contained money and potions. An intact chest held Jasks’ gear, whose holy symbol to Nethys and spell component pouch exposed the old convict as a cleric to the god of magic. Dornas took one of the healing potions. On a hook hung the keys to Jask’s manacles. Finally, the captain’s log revealed a man slowly growing unhinged—he became obsessed with Ieana, paranoid that his First Mate Alton Devers and other members of the crew were eying her, and the final entry revealed his insane plan to change course to Smuggler’s Shiv so he and the Varisian could start a new life there together.

Though Ieana’s room was difficult to move through on account of the fallen beams, the investigators were determined to be thorough especially where she was concerned. They found the remnants of a small personal altar with a fang-shaped dagger and broken bronze unholy symbol that Monica identified as representing Ydersius the snake god. She pointed out this god was beheaded by an Azlanti hero ten thousand years ago.

Additionally, the heroes uncovered a book with a well-paged chapter on Smuggler’s Shiv:

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And containing these margin notes, translated by Kor’lec and Dornas from the black tongue of Aklo

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The discussion among the heroes turned grave as they realized that the introverted “Varisian scholar” Ieana might not be human at all!

Deciding to see if any clues about the previous night’s poisoning could be found in the kitchen, the heroes opened the door to find the corpulent cadaver of the cook Rambar, who arose with a meat cleaver in his clenched hand and murder in his eyes.

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Eyes in the Night

Remember: A Paranoid is simply someone in possession of all the facts.

monter_-_zombie_Rambar.jpgWe left our heroes facing the podgy corpse of the Jenivere‘s mediocre cook, Rambar, who decided in undeath to expand his culinary skills to include humanoid flesh. But the only thing on the night’s menu would be Rambar himself!

Dornas reacted quickly by using a cantrip to shut the kitchen door, buying the party enough time to maneuver into advantageous positions within the constrictive halls of the aftcastle. As the zombie opened the door, who should appear to do battle but Nemanji! He quickly assessed the situation and chided “I told you boat no good!”

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Apparently the late hour had the demon-spawn worried enough to come to the aid of friends. And just in time too, to see the velociraptor Kai leap out from Kor’lec’s makeshift papoose and proceed to tear the dead chef several new orifices. While everyone moved to surround and assail Rambar, Kai was just a cyclone of teeth and claws and the zombie quickly collapsed in a heap of shredded flesh.

Though an autopsy was difficult considering the damage his dinosaur had done, Kor’lec concluded that the chef was killed by the fangs of a very large snake.

Spy Kai

Kishtari recalled a moment from her childhood, when her mother explained to her that the ability to take someone’s free will also enabled the psion to experience the senses of the thrall wherever they might be. With Kai awake and seemingly acting normal, the kalashtar had to explain her fears to the animal’s master with a heavy heart. The druid did not take the news well.

Kor’lec at first disbelieved his old friend, but scrutinizing his pet’s behavior proved to him Kishtari spoke the truth. Something seemed off about Kai. The half-elf was even more alarmed when Kish had to explain the hold on the little dinosaur’s mind could be endlessly reestablished from any distance, and that only a formidable psionic could effect animals.

Monica suggested that divine magic might be able to suppress or cancel the effect, and thoughts turned to Jask. In the meantime, the team agreed to watch what they did and said around Kai.

Back to the Beach

Great waves smashing against the Jenivere threatened to take her to pieces over the heroes’ heads. They grabbed what supplies they could from the kitchen, and salvaged some more essentials from the holed storeroom they came in. Tossed by the whorls, the galleon’s barely seaworthy jolly boat happened to float by just as the heroes were wondering how to get safely ashore. The presence of bloodstains on the inside of the hull was pointed out by the astute, and the heroes imagined that the small craft might have been the one used to ferry their unconscious bodies to the beach where they awoke. The desperate explorers boarded the flooded rowboat and used their staffs to pole it near enough to dry land to unload themselves and their supplies, just before the rocky surf finally took it completely apart. Behind them, the mighty Jenivere groaned her last, and behind a curtain of sea spray, buried herself and whatever treasure she might’ve still had in Besmara ’s Chest.

Once back, the adventurous castaways were able to release Jask and return to the others their gear. Gelik took the opportunity to graciously flirt with Monica, and when the Taldan archeologist reciprocated, the gnome swooned like a schoolboy. Aerys took her bow back and was pleased with the recovery of her poems, and if the half-elf was aggravated that the heroes didn’t recover anything from the galleon’s rum stores, she barely showed it. Sasha had a maniacal glint in her eyes when her blades were returned, and asked if any of them had seen the green-cloaked halfling. Though none had, Kishtari took the opportunity to inquire about the human girl’s fears. Sasha quickly turned defensive, and accused the kalashtar of not knowing what it was like to be hunted. After the moody teenager stomped off, an affronted Kish psionically knocked her out.

But none could be happier than Jask, whose release from the irons meant he was truly free. The old Garundi pledged his gratitude, and reverently kissed his holy symbol when it was placed back in his hand. After relaying the story of his incrimination, Jask offered to provide whatever help he could to the explorers. Kor’lec—barely holding it together—practically bit the priest’s head off in asking if he could free his animal companion’s mind. Jask admitted he could but only temporarily—their enemy’s control would resume after a few seconds. Once again, the druid cursed Ieana’s name and swore to end her.

And because things just weren’t bad enough, Nemanji chose a dramatically grave moment to reveal something he found earlier scouting out the nearby bush and dropped a maggoty carcass into his companions’ midst. The body was a small, tailed, green- and brown-splotched goblinoid—quite dead and drained of blood. Dornas quickly quelled the notion that the goblin was victim of a vampire, as there was no sign of necrotic energy. Unfortunately, that didn’t rule out many other kinds of terrible bloodsucking monsters.

Base Camp

Not knowing who or what rescued them or why, Ieana’s psionic shenanigans, a nearby goblin presence, and a mysterious vampire-like predator—all or any of these factors attested that it was time to move elsewhere. It was already very late in the evening when the castaways arrived at a shallow seaside abri they had passed earlier on the way to the Jenivere. There, Kor’lec and Nemanji lead the others to building a secure campsite—the tarp and lumber they recovered from the shipwreck were made into lean-tos while the grotto provided additional protection from the elements and hid their campfire. When it came time to determine how everyone would help contribute, Jask said he was a healer and a fair fisher. Gelic remarked he also knew some healing charms and would be happy to keep morale up with his gift for comedy. Aerys, though shaky from withdrawal, dourly countered that should they tire of the gnome’s humor, she had a way with words when inspiration struck. Failing that, the half-elf had a right uppercut that struck like a warmace and was itching to crack open a skull.

Sasha reacted with derision when Nemanji offered to teach her survival skills. When Kish called her on her rudeness, the fiery young girl casually tossed her kukri behind her, impaling a bat. Sasha said she knew full well how to hunt and set traps. She remarked her childhood wasn’t normal, and that’s when Sasha revealed her Red Mantis tattoo. If Nemanji was surprised or insulted by the young lady’s attitude, he didn’t show it. When the tiefling requested Sasha take watch with him, she quietly assented.

…And It Ain’t No Man

It would be nice to say at this point the rest of the night, short on hours as it remained, passed without incident. But Kor’lec was disturbed by a dream involving snakes in everyone’s soup back at the Jenivere mess. And Nemanji was even more disturbed by a pair of red eyes he saw in the upper branches of a cluster of banyans just beyond his night vision. When he moved closer, the eyes vanished to the sound of flapping wings.
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What he found instead was a dead goat, drained of blood, just like the monkey goblin. Bringing it back to camp, he threw it down and scared everyone awake. “Can you go half a bloody day without dropping something dead on us?” complained Aerys.

“No.”




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Monkey's Bum

Now goblins are cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted. They make no beautiful things, but they make many clever ones.

Breakfast was eaten, spells were prepared, wounds were healed, and the castaways discussed their agenda for the day. Monica, ever inquisitive, suggested it was time to explore inland. Dornas agreed that they had a lot of ground to cover if they hoped to find Ieana, and sharply deduced that the mesmeress must have made landfall elsewhere on the coast. It was put forth by Kor’lec that they should seek higher ground in order to get a better lay of the (is)land. Nemanji and Kishtari were likewise keen to venture into the jungle.

Meanwhile, the others were given tasks to maintain the campsite. Gelik offered to keep spirits up with stories and yarns. Aerys agreed to take her anger out on any threats. Sasha whined about scavenging for food because the camp was so far from the forest, so Jask agreed to fish so she could set traps instead.

Frayed Knot

So as to quickly ascend the cliffs to the mainland from their seaside base, the party came up with an ingenious system. Needing two knotted ropes expertly tied together, all turned to Aerys—who bestowed her usual piratey guff after being asked to help. “Just tie the fucking ropes,” Kish countered, tired already of that aspect of the sailor’s character.

Nemanji donned a gorilla-faced tribal death mask that allowed him to climb like an ape—an item he must have had on his person the whole time but no one noticed until now. It finally donned on Kor’lec that the demon-spawn was clearly involved somehow with the Angazhani, ancient enemies to his own tribe, the Kallijae elves. Heedless of the half-elf’s scrutiny, the tiefling scaled the 70 foot cliff and dropped a knotted rope for the others to ascend, or in Kish’s case, be pulled up.

The party struck west, along the apex of the cliffs overlooking the sea, toward immense forested hills. The going was slow, the topography was pocked and rutted and there were no trails through the enormous trees when the heroes were forced further inland—or rather, no trails on the ground.

The Coconut Effect

monster_-_monkey_goblin.jpg Kor’lec was the first to see it, then Dornas—but it was too late. The coconut had whirled out of the trees from the goblin’s hand like it was shot from a cannon. It cracked against Kishtari’s skull with a clang. The kalashtar’s head rang like a gong, but that ringing would waken a sleeping giant of psionic force.

There were three of them—monkey goblins—two youthful braves and an elder veteran by the look of the latter’s hairy, grizzled countenance. The coconuts flew fast and furious. Kai raced toward their raised position along a series of fallen trees, and her master followed close behind. Dornus was hit hard by one of the flung fruits, and began firing his light crossbow into the trees, wounding one of the aggressors. Monica and Nemanji drew their bows and returned fire—Nemanji summoned his demonic wrath, honed to allow for an archer’s precision. But the goblins had chosen their attack vectors well, and were occluded by the thick wood.

The elder monkey goblin growled a challenge and drew his pitted bone blade before bandy-leggedly ambling across the fallen tree to meet Kai in melee combat. He chose his path carefully, out of direct line of fire from the archers. But, the little velociraptor was right up in the primitive’s prognathous grill in a blink—raking with her foot talons and digging her teeth into goblin meat.

After a good shot struck down one of the monkey goblin braves, Kishtari focused her attention on the critically wounded goblin elder. Shards of crystal manifested in the air before her, as if she shattered a pane of stained glass with the force of a ram. The shards pincushioned the elder goblin whose standing remains then liquefied into acidic goo!

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The last goblin said “dhon den!1” and hightailed it through the canopy.

Goblin Bluffs

The heroes turned south, and began an arduous ascent up a overgrown slope that turned into a nearly sheer climb. This time, the group’s teamwork came together nicely and their combination of skills allowed them to overcome the challenge successfully. At about 100 feet, the group found a fairly wide ledge path. Traveling west along it’s length, the sea was all that was visible on their left while the mainland remained hidden behind the rise.

The sound of angry goblin voices halted the party’s egress. Kishtari then revealed her companion Naga for the first time. The psionically-crafted being resembled a tiny serpent, but was made of crystal. The construct slithered off, telepathically relaying to the kalashtar everything it sensed. After reaching the vicinity of the goblins, it reported that there were many, most injured, one dead, with two heatedly arguing among themselves.

An intense debate erupted among the quintet. Nemanji and Kishtari thought it was sensible to attack the goblins while they were weak—they were injured, out in the open, and their kind already demonstrated hostility. Better to be rid of them before they could pose a threat down the line. Monica and Kor’lec were totally against attacking, and rather disturbed that their fellow adventurers were so bloodthirsty. Kor’lec argued vehemently that they, meaning the castaways, were the intruders here. Dornas cast the deciding vote in the objectors’ favor when he made it clear he was disinclined toward unnecessary violence.

The matter was decided, but the argument underpinned what could easily become a rift in the adventurers’ ranks. Kish thought her old friend Kor’lec might be too soft to do what was necessary, while the druid mused that he might have been better off not getting involved with the group at all. Nemanji thought the peaceful ways of his urbane companions crazy, and demonstrated such when the group noticed they, in turn, were clearly being spied on. Before the tiefling’s arrow turned it into a blue stain on the rocky cliff face, their observer appeared to be an arachnid of some kind; a cobalt-colored cross between a spider and a termite about the size of a housecat. The party had been made, and in a compromising position, but by whom this time, or what?

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1 Goblin: fuck this!




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Gob-Webs

I’m a little spider watch me spin
If you’ll be my dinner
I’ll let you come in
Then I’ll spin a web to hold you tight
And gobble you up in one big bite!

Our intrepid explorers were faced with a mountain to climb—literally! Though the ledge they were on appeared to gradually wind up and around the bluff they were ascending, a large encampment of monkey goblins ahead meant turn back, fight, or go straight up. Straight up it was.

The bluff at this point was too steep to scale by hand, so the party opted for a rope and piton system where Nemanji would climb ahead and assemble the rigging. The voices of the goblins ahead started to echo closer, so Monica wove an illusory rockslide that appeared to block the ledge and halted their approach.

Mite Get Ugly

At about 40 feet up, the tiefling wedged in his hoof and began pounding in a piton. There, the cagey hunter noticed a concealed outcrop and two small, ugly blue men with bows trained on him and his teammates. Once the mites realized that Nemanji had spotted them, they attacked. A large swarm of blue termite-spider things oozed out from the rocks around them and clambered toward the tiefling. “That’s a swarm!” exclaimed the archer, warning his friends below.
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Fortunately, the swarm was slow in its advance. The arrows of the mite snipers were considerably less so. Dornas got grazed and returned fire with his crossbow, but the unsightly fey were well-entrenched and thicker-skinned than they appeared—a result of their resiliency against weapons not forged of cold iron. Kor’lec began to insult the mites in Sylvan, hoping to draw them out for the benefit of the archers. The others drew bows or torches, and prayed to providence that Nemanji could get away from the swarm before he was engulfed.

The demonic savage slid down the rope and dropped amid his companions no worse for wear, but the chittering swarm turned toward the group. The mites’ arrows were raining down around them. Up the ridge, angry, loudening monkey goblin voices suggested that the illusory blockade had been breached. Caught between foes, the heroes considered their last words or the survivability odds of fleeing back the way they came.

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Kishtari was prompted to appeal to the very goblins she had advocated slaying only moments before. The startled humanoids limply formed ranks around their elder upon seeing the kalashtar approach, but did not immediately attack. They were, as Naga reported, severely injured.

Kish was quick to establish a telepathic rapport with the goblin leader, called Cenkil, and found his mind to be refreshingly articulate. The Mongrukoo — as Cenkil referred to his tribe, were accomplished tacticians, and as hurt as they were, turned the tide of battle in a moment. Kor’lec goaded the mites, who cursed their foes for allying with the Mongrukoo. But the revolting fey couldn’t line up a shot without being pelted by monkey goblin coconuts. They were soon routed, and in retreat averred in Undercommon that they must tell “Tlukkah” that the Mongrukoo had found new allies. While the nasty gremlins were ignorant of the fact that Dornas was very fluent in that language, they were clever enough to have the arachnid swarm cover their retreat.

But with some seamless teamwork between the monkey goblins and the castaways, no one suffered the stings of the flesh-starved swarm. The heroes pooled oil in the insects’ path, and when the bugs attempted to cross it, the goblins tossed their torches and engulfed the army of vermin in fire.

While the swarm was about broken, it might have rallied were it not for some inventive spellcraft from Dornas. The magus saturated his own torch with eldritch energies— and upon striking with it the nucleus of the swarm erupted into a tempest of flame, from which a torrent of carbonized arachnids fell like snow!

Climbing Climax

Not certain if their new allies were just using them, the wary monkey goblins surrounded Kishtari and pulled blades. The glib-tongued kalashtar appealed to their leader Cenkil and eased them to stand down, which the battered Mongrukoo did with obvious relief. Deciding they were all friends, the goblins agreed to go in peace. Before they did so, a notion occurred to the grizzled goblin hunter and he related to the castaways what they knew about the mount they called “Black Widow Bluff.”

Cenkil shared that his idiot brother Likki and he are the sons of the Mongrukoo chief, with a village at the base of the highlands. The chief tasked his sons with investigating an old shrine that their grandfather had captured from the mites, the Klixarpillar, twenty-five years before. The goblins thought they had wiped out the repugnant blue fey, but apparently not all of them. Cenkil lost five of his braves in an earlier ambush by the mites and a swarm of “hive spiders.” Most crippling was the death of the goblin party’s witch-doctor, whom the Mongrukoo warriors relied on for magical healing. Two other goblins were killed, and two more were captured by the mites. The latter issue led to the heated argument the castaways got a snippet of earlier.

Likki, the younger brother, wanted to try to rescue the captive braves, while Cenkil advocated a tactical withdrawal. The brothers parted in anger. Cenkil offered to share his tribe’s knowledge of disease panaceas if the castaways could safeguard his brother. The heroes readily agreed, with Monica in particular eager to lay human eyes on the old shrine. Kish sealed the alliance by offering Cenkil the expensive brandy recovered from the captain’s quarters of the Jenivere. The elder monkey goblin smelled the potent spirits, smiled as wide as a crocodile, and accepted the gift with grace. He offered a spell scroll in trade that could shield one against arrows, the only item of value recovered from their warbands’ dead shaman.

npc_-_Likki.jpegIt did not take long for the castaways to locate Likki, an oddly sophisticated goblinoid seer who began fawning over Nemanji right away. The monkey goblin spoke the scathing demonic tongue of the Abyss, which Nemanji understood and Monica happened to have letters in. Likki referred to the tiefling as the son of Mechuiti, a name Monica recognized as an avatar or herald of Angazhan, a demon lord of cannibalism and jungles worshiped by less savory savages across the Expanse.

Despite the not-entirely unexpected reveal that the Mongrukoo were demon-worshippers, Likki proved to be quite holistic in his outlook, believing that Mechuiti was present in the jungle’s splendor in addition to its savagery. The goblin oracle admitted that the shrine could be anywhere—his father was very vague and the highlands were riddled with gullies and caves. He agreed to take the party to the place where the Mongrukoo were ambushed near the apex of the bluff, hoping the mites could be tracked from there. Dornas was hesitant to enter the furrow where the goblins got bushwhacked, opting instead to climb up the last few feet and check out the view.

On the way, Nemanji was excited to talk shop with his little counterpart, ignoring his teammates’ warning not to reveal too much about where they came from. To the monkey goblin, the world ended at the seashore and visitors to the island were “born of the wrecks.” Regardless, Likki didn’t quite believe their fantastic tales of “other worlds” beyond the surf.

At nearly 300 feet up, the castaways were able to behold the breathtaking entirety of Smuggler’s Shiv, all (roughly) 40 square miles of it. To the far west was an islet with an unsettling, grey undulating terrain upon it the heroes dubbed “The Isle of Never Going There.” To the far southwest the adventurers could barely make out the only clearly man-made structure discernible on the island, a lighthouse. To the south, the eagle-eyed among them noted the tell-tale swatches of roads or rivers between the endless blanket of trees. To the southeast they saw an honest-to-goodness mountain that dwarfed the high hill they were standing on. Likki called it “Red Mountain” and casually pointed out “the Devil” lived there. When Kish asked about this devil, the snarky little beast retorted “THE Devil. I knew you were born of the wrecks, but I wasn’t aware you were born yesterday.”




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The Cricket Pitch

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

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

Starday, Bloody Starday

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

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

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

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

It Actually IS Cricket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Web of Illusion

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

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

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




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Fight With All Your Mites

History is written by those who have hanged heroes

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

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

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

Flashback Twists

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

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

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

Shattered Constructs

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

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

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

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

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

Final Stand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scroll Found Among the Dead
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Legacy of Fiends

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

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

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

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

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

This Monkey on Our Back

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

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

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

The rest of the journey passed in awkward silence.

Monkey House

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

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

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

Further?

While Away…

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

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

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

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

“We’re what?”

Feast of Goblins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Party Poopers

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

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

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

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

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




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House of the Hive Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urchin Sacrifice

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

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

Hive Smoker

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

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

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

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

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

A serpentfolk sanctuary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preacher’s Plea

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

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

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

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

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

Sasha’s Sudden Screams by the Sea Shore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fade to black.




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