(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.