Kizziar awoke sometime after noon, the scent of blood and saltwater in his lungs. Crawling ashore, he surveyed the wreckage of their shattered vessel: Tobin, Traxen, Dorian, and Othar were the first he checked on, all having miraculously survived. The Gang of Five remained intact, and as the group now combed the beach seeking survivors, they found a handful among them: Amella Venkalie, the ship’s captain; Tavey Nesk, the cabin boy; Urol Forol, the navigator and naturalist; and finally Avner Meravanchi, the insufferable noble son, along with his steed, Thunderstrike, who had survived by remaining tethered to the portion of the ship that yet remained above water, and Kif Kroeker, one of his manservants. Among the dead were Banaby Chisk, Avner’s other servant, the remaining crew of the vessel including her cook, and most terribly, nearly twenty remaining souls, man, woman, and child alike, all that remained of the would-be expats to Farshore.
Terribly shaken by the trauma, the survivors nursed their guilt, shock, and fear in silence as they collected the dead from sand and surf and piled them into a burial pyre before turning their attention to the task of recovering supplies strewn about the beach and still clinging precariously to the ruined decks of their now derelict vessel. Painful hours of silent mourning and laboring resulted in enough supplies to last the assembled survivors two weeks, which Urol, who had spent the intervening time discerning their location on the isle and charting a course for their unfortunate and necessary trek to the southern edge of the isle and Farshore, had assured them would be adequate to the task.
With the scent of burning, rotting flesh on the air, the arrival of predators was sure to follow, and the Isle of Dread had an abundance to offer. Crashing and roaring through the trees, first came a massive, bipedal reptile with an enormous, oversize head, powerful hind legs that allowed it to stand upright, and curiously small forearms that seemed vestigial. Letting out a terrifying roar, the mindless, atavistic beast lunged forward, beginning a protracted battle that nearly claimed Othar’s life as the creature swallowed him whole in one, terrible bite. With the massive animal finally felled, Urol chimed in that the creature was a wholly natural inhabitant of the Isle of Dread, one known to the local Olman peoples as a ‘Tyrant King’, and was regarded as among the most fearsome and indomitable of the island’s denizens.
Unfortunately, this difficult and costly battle was only the first of several that the group would have with the savage and feral beasts of the Isle of Dread. As the sun began to set on their first day on the isle, their dead buried or burned and their meager supplies collected, another scavenger came to call, a pack of them, this time drawn by the scent of spilled blood from the fallen tyrant king. Nearly three meters tall, these creatures were known as ‘Terror Birds’ throughout the isle: tall, long-necked, flightless birds with razor sharp beaks and taloned toes that hunted in packs and were among the more aggressive creatures that stalked the jungle. This pack numbered only four, and proved a tremendous challenge for the ailing group in their weakened and battle-fatigued state. Thankfully, victory was achieved, and the assembled survivors found out that despite their vinegary attitude, terror birds were actually quite delicious. Carving a few more rations out of their kills, the group at last rested for the night, casting a careful and wakeful eye to the screaming, writhing jungle just beyond their sandy shelter.
Morning meant travel, and a final check before leaving their crash site included a brief survey of the survivors under their protection. It was Amella who had been most affected by the wreck, suffering in silence as she blamed herself for the deaths of the passengers aboard the Wyvern as well as the destruction of the boat. Avner, in his typical, snide fashion, flogged Amella for her failure, in which he included the party. Traxen was first to threaten Avner over this behavior, admonishing him with a warning that the rules of the game had changed now and his attitude would not be brooked. Tavey was merely glad to be alive, but fearful of the jungle, and cleaved to his mentor and hero, Kizziar, for support. Urol, with his unsinkable optimism, regretted the losses of the crew and passengers, but had already mentally moved on to the task of cataloging and documenting their exploits on the isle, something the rest of his travelers felt was slightly unbecoming and ghoulish. Kif, long-suffering Kif, merely followed along, doing his job, as ever. With their business on the shore concluded, all that remained now was to venture into the threatening dark of the jungle canopy.
The first day traveling into the island interior met with almost immediate and relentless resistance. A second bout with a clutch of mature terror birds softened the party up before they came to a vast, barren scar in the jungle not far from where they started. The pattern resembled nothing so much as an impact crater, either from space or from one of the massive volcanoes that rose above the island’s skyline. This barren stretch was populated by lazy, pendulously large quadrupedal beasts with necks like snakes and legs like tree trunk, which Urol pointed out were a breed of thunder lizard called “Longnecks”, a docile, herbivorous breed that attacked only in defense. Safely moving past these creatures, the group heard a commotion coming from the far end of the scar ahead, and thundering out of the jungle was a juvenile longneck taking flight from still another pack of terror birds, these ones clearly intent on making a meal of this pack-lost child. Urol begged the party to save the creature from the despicable birds, arguing that the creatures were few in number. While their companions stayed back a far distance, the Gang of Five ran in and slew the birds, at once helped and hindered by the poor, bleating longneck’s massive tail sweeps. With the birds defeated, the calf rejoined his family, leaving Urol over the moon with the characters. Begrudging of the matter, the group moved on, southward towards the cliffs that separated the Isle of Dread’s eastern shore from its interior.
With the rapid closing of the first day, the collected travelers found themselves in a macabre ruin. Clearly Olman in design, the ruins were abandoned, and centuries old. Neither Urol nor Tobin, the resident experts in Olman history, knew of this enclave or why it became derelict, but the teeming, blanket-thick stretches of spiderwebs that covered every stone might have been some indication. Cautiously progressing through the ruin, the group was given pass by fist-sized spiders that skittered away as they approached the ruin’s southern side. Towards the edge of the crumbling settlement, they spied a curious sight: seated on a throne sat a squat, upright figure of an incredibly old Olman woman. So old, in fact, the group at first mistook her for a mummified corpse, but to their surprise, their proximity to the site caused the ancient woman to open her eyes and speak.
In severely broken Olman, a language understood only by Tobin and Urol, the woman announced herself as Xochicotzin, claiming to be of the island. She requested that the group announce themselves, which Dorian did, stepping up to speak for the group using Tobin as his translator. The woman seemed passive, curious, and asked Dorian about their travels off the isle. Excited to see another face, Dorian recounted the whole sordid tale, from his life on the streets of Sasserine to their arrival on the isle. The elderly crone smiled, almost laughing, and thanked him for the thrilling tale before imparting upon them some wisdom and a warning: she told the travelers that to the south, they could find a pass through an old Olman outpost that would take them to the eastern shore of the isle and an ancient Olman highway. But, she added, they would need to be careful. Eyes were upon them in this place, eyes of hate and madness, and she believed it would only be a matter of time until the hand behind them struck. With that, she bid them good luck in their travels, and as the group collectively turned their heads away from her to discuss this development, the impish old woman disappeared, leaving a cluster of hundreds of spiders in her place that scattered to the four winds as soon as they appeared.
Their light rapidly fading, the group hastily trekked the last few miles to the entrance the old woman spoke of. Set with a pair of massive, carved, stone heads, it stood out amongst the sheer rock. However, it was not unattended, they soon found, with yet another small clutch of terror birds – one of them a massive, hulking brute sitting atop a nest – to contend with. Thanks to the advanced matriarch, it was a difficult battle, but eventually the group overcame, scoring an unhatched terror bird egg for their troubles.
The outpost was cool and dark, and thankfully uninhabited, at least at first glance. A massive tunnel stretched on for miles through the solid rock after a small antechamber, so with relative cover from either side, the travelers laid down their packs and slept.
The second day on the isle began with the group traveling the tunnels beneath the eastern mountains attempting to reach shore. While Thunderstrike was unnerved by the terrain, Traxen did a competent job of settling her nerves. The ruins eventually opened up into a larger area, still within the mountain rock, a sort of military outpost built by ancient Olmans to seal off their highway from the rest of the Isle of Dread. Within this Olman outpost were a number of perils left over from centuries past, parting gifts from the Olmans who abandoned it so many years ago. But with no loss of life and minimal difficulties stemming from an aggressive black pudding, some Olman mummies, and a trapped crypt, the group breathed the fresh, salt air of the eastern shore of the isle. All that remained was to travel the coastline to the village of Tanaroa, and then to Farshore. Or so they hoped.