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.