Campaign of the Month: September 2016

Age of Serpents

Invasive Species

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

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

Bolete the Drum Slowly

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

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

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

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

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

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

None Left Behind

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

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

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

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

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

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


Foray Among the Fungi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Probably a big mushroom,” deadpanned Nemanji.

Grey Matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing Faces

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

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

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

“He even shorter than me!” skreaked Likki.

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

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

The Spore You Know…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then a boulder rolled down the gulley right through them

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

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

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Food of the Gods

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

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

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

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

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

“Rats off to Ya!”

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

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

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

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

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

Sink or Swim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spirit of the Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Isle of Totally Going There

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

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

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

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

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Path of Redemption

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

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

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

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

Last words

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

Cannibal Ambush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crab Shack

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

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

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

Pezock's Place

The thing was the size of a house!

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

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

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

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

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

Mercy Cede

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By all means, leave us a comment!
Shiver Me Timbers

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

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

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

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

Ghost Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Man’s Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Usual Functional Discordance

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

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

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

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

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

And so they were off.

First World Problems

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

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

“I will fight,” said the monkey goblin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bloody Doll

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

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

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Thorny Entanglements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woes Among Thorns

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

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

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

Snake Sin

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

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

And that’s when Kishtari did the unthinkable.

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

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

Kick Against the Pricks

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

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

No Antidote for Doubt

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

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

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

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

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

Never Split the Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Home Wrecked

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

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

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

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

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

Independent Lady

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

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

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

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

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

Suspicious Minds

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

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

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

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

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

Preaching to the Fighter

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

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

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

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

Hedged Out

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Episode 13 Bonus Content!

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

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

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

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

Land Legs

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

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

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

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

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

Seizure and Search

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

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

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

Plundered Heart

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

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

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

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

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Secrets of the Strand

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

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

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

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

Ghosts of the Coast

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

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

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

Heroic Medicine

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

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

Ship Cemetery

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

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

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

Skeleton Crew

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

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

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

The heroes were victorious again! or was the real challenge awaiting them aboard the hulk of the Demon?

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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.

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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