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.