Minutes of frenzied panic became an hour-long slog as the first moments of pursuit in all directions yielded the same, disheartening result; less than fifty yards from their camp, their flight from that center lead them into the darkness and consuming fog, only to deliver them back to where they began, a sick joke that made quick reclamation of their charges an impossibility. Whatever bane force held them in place, it had claimed Amella, Tavey, and Urol, and now taunted the Gang of Five with the promise of holding the three in thrall until their protectors could puzzle a way out of this enchanted glade.
Exhausted, with morale and resources low, the group saw no option but to rest for the remainder of the night, gather their strength, and strike out by the light of dawn to effect a rescue. They slept fitfully through the rest of the night, dreading what terrible torments might befall their friends, impotent to act to save them.
With the morning’s first light, the group rose and began to strategize as to how best to escape their situation. Being the only diviner in the group, Tobin was asked to consult with his deity about how best to proceed. After several minutes of quiet contemplation alone, Tobin returned, sullen and ashen, and told the group that by Irori’s guidance, he had detected a powerful and evil presence towards what would have been southwest, one he believed that he could track, albeit with a great deal of effort. Having no other leads, the group consented to Tobin’s plan, telling Avner to remain at the camp and hope for the best. Avner had nearly come to blows with Dorian the previous evening after the kidnapping, and it was Tobin’s intercession that stopped the brawl. Still stinging from the events of the night before and pushed to his utmost by the trials of the Isle of Dread, Avner was uncharacteristically quiet when ordered to stay behind. It was clear that he, too, was terrified, though unwilling to say it, and glad to not be accompanying the group for what they were to face next.
The infernal beacon that Tobin had picked up the scent of lead the group into the swallowing mists, but this time, rather than finding themselves back at camp, they ascended a small hill, lush and teeming with alien and tumescent flora, with a massive cave hunched at its summit. The great chasm yawning before them had two entrances; with Tobin’s confirmation that this cave was the source of the evil that permeated this place, the group headed in.
It was immediately apparent that their host expected them, and prepared accordingly. The first of the two cave mouths resulted in a cave-in which softened up much of the group. Exploring deeper lead the group into a temple of worked stone that seemed by the party’s amateur assessment to be even older than the Olman ruins they had seen. The temple itself bore a simian motif, a reflection of the twisted creatures who had abducted their friends.
The rooms of this sprawling shrine alternated between unworked, natural cavern and rough but clearly chiseled stone, the latter likely serving to provide passage between pockets of the former. The first chamber, a vast cavern illuminated by a pool of glowing blood set in its center, was crowned with a upper ledge that looked out to the room below. The group chose first to explore a nearby door, which lead them into a long chamber with a massive thrown squatting at its rear. The room was not empty, however.
No sooner had the door been opened than its residents – a massive, screeching, howling, writhing horde of hideously deformed baboons – surged forward with horrid speed toward the party. Before they could act, the apes were upon them, leaving the group desperately attempting to free themselves from a sea of hairy, cancerous arms and glinting fangs. While momentarily able to hold the door, the swarm quickly overpowered the party, who with the apes came pouring into the central chamber. Unfortunately, this chamber, too, was not empty, and as the yowling mob sped through the door, two of the ape demons that were responsible for the previous night’s kidnappings took the opportunity to strike a killing blow. While the two hideous simians began to employ their considerable magical and physical prowess against the group, the horde of diabolical baboons kept them unable to react, rendering their every action nearly impotent. It seemed quite seriously as though the entire group may meet their death in this baleful cave, and all of them, to the last, began to wonder if perhaps this was the end.
Tobin acted quickly. None of his friends knew what it was he did or precisely how he did it, but somehow, he managed to break from the pack of apes, run to the chamber door, and as if by magic, or primal instinct, the entire mass of diabolical creatures followed him. The group called out to him as he went, but the deed had been done, and as the last of the lesser apes chased the priest through the chamber’s doors, they slammed shut. Dorian Ridgetide, Kizziar, Othar Torr, and Traxen Cadrel were now alone with the two snarling demon apes. The forecast was grim, but it was a hope, and they would not waste it.
The two beasts lay dead after a difficult battle, the remaining members of the party nearly broken entirely by the engagement. Their first thought was to go after Tobin, whose actions kept them alive, but the door refused to budge. Their grief and worry for their friend could not stay them from their course, however, and after several minutes of desperate struggle to reopen the doors, they reluctantly and despondently resolved to press on.
Returning to the now empty throne room, the party ransacked the room in anger and frustration, a turn that revealed a new and potent tool to add to their arsenal: a breastplate of brushed blue steel bearing a relief of a lone man standing upon a bluff overlooking a vast and barren landscape. The equipment fairly well exploded with powerful magical energies, and it was mutually decided upon that Traxen would be the one to wear it.
Gird for battle, the party proceeded on deeper into the hellish temple, slaying another guardian, a dark naga, and at last gaining entry to the central chamber, a massive room lit only by the dim light crawling up from a huge burning pit in the center of the room, over which was suspended the unconscious bodies of Amella, Urol, Tavey, and – to everyone’s surprise – Tobin. As the group rushed forward to save their friends, a snarling, gutteral voice called to them from the edge of the pit, announcing its presence by dropping its invisibility to reveal itself standing near a lever that could send the cages containing their friends plummeting into the fires below. The creature, who referenced himself in the third person as Olangru, stood nearly nine feet tall at his full height, and bore the head and body of a baboon, the legs of a great reptile, and rather than arms had a pair of unnaturally long, barbed tentacles, one of which was poised to fling back the switch that held his captives lives at a moment’s notice.
While clearly evil, and clearly malicious, Olangru was also clearly mad. Through his insane gibbering, threats, and pleading to a massive statue that dominated the rear half of the chamber – a statue that looked a great deal like Olangru, with the exception of being well over twelve feet tall, two tentacles per arm, and, strangely, two heads, both of which seemed more human than Olangru’s fundamentally simian skull presented – the party gathered that it was he who had been tormenting them during their travels about the Isle of Dread, in the hopes that he could lure them to this place so that he might sacrifice the group to his lord, whom he called “Demogorgon, Prince of Demons”. It seemed that Olangru had fallen out of favor with his lord and in exile, come to the Isle of Dread and erected this temple and the trap of Fogmire in a bid to win back Demogorgon’s favor. Decades of failure had taken its toll on an already warped and perverted mind, and Olangru was now utterly crazy, if indeed he was not already. At once outraged by the violation of his personal domain and delighted that the party had fallen into his trap, he revealed that they were his intended targets, not their friends. He knew from watching them that if he kidnapped the weak that they would come to the rescue, and then he could have them all. But it wasn’t the party’s power that drew his ire, but rather, a “scent” he claimed the party bore on them, which Olangru described as “the cloying stink of the Queen of Whores”, elaborating on this point by claiming that the party was in league with a woman whose name he spoke, a name that meant nothing to the men, going on to describe her in a dozen unflattering epithets. It was their unwitting and unknowing association with this woman that had drawn Olangru’s ire so, and with the group’s curiosity sated, they at last decided that the only way to rescue their friends would be with Olangru’s death. With a bestial how, Olangru pulled the lever to lower the cages, putting Tavey, Urol, Amella, and Tobin on a slow trip to the fires below.
Fearless in his madness, Olangru was a fierce and unrelenting combatant, who moved with an immensely powerful, loping gait which he employed to continuously knock the combatants into the pit of fire in the central portion of the room. As the fight wore on, the bodies of their friends came into grave peril, as a tug-of-war broke out between the party and the beast, both striving to stop and star the descent of the cages into the pit with every action. At last, the Gang of Five was victorious, but the victory was short-lived: with the death of Olangru, the terrible statue to the back of the room awoke, revealing itself to be a hell-wrought golem. With the party helpless to help their friends until the rampaging stone beast was destroyed, their charges remained unable to help, including Tobin, who’s help was so desperately needed.
As the final blows were landed upon the infernal construct, the worst at last came to pass. With it’s final action before its own destruction, the two-headed stone abomination lashed out with one of its bifurcated tentacles, grabbing Tobin by the wrists, and pulling with such force as to shatter the bones in the unconscious priests’ hands, sending him plummeting into the fire below.
Dorian and Kizziar made a desperate attempt to save their good friend as Traxen and Othar rescued the rest of their companions from being roasted alive. With some difficulty, Tobin was recovered, but even if the fire had not by that time charred a significant portion of his body, enough that only the most powerful healing magics could keep him apart from utter agony, it was apparent that Olangru had been teasing them. As his final act of psychological torment, he had strung up Tobin to taunt the group’s efforts in spite of Tobin already being dead.
Few words were exchanged as the group left that terrible place. With the bare minimum of words required to communicate simply commands, the four men grimly, dourly collected their still unconscious friends and the body of their beloved companion. Olangru’s “throne” hid a bag containing the valuables Tobin carried on him, most significantly his bag of holding, which contained Tobin’s personal library, and Tobin’s private journal, which they decided they would read at a later date, when they were far from this terrible place.
The light of day greeted the men once again as they left that baleful cave, the curse of Fogmire lifted with the destruction of its creator and the desecration of his foul temple. Avner awaited them not more than a few hundred yards from where they stood at the mouth of the cave, and seeing the evident result of what had transpired within, he adopted a helpful, respectful tone for perhaps the first time in his life, seemingly eager to lend aid to the wounded and offering his own quiet grief over the loss they had suffered. Whatever darkness had been lifted away from Fogmire, perhaps it had taken some of the darkness out of Avner, as well.
In time, even with the party’s rudimentary medical skills, it became apparent that their charges had been put into a deep slumber, and they resolved to remain at camp, as terrible a place as it was, until the three were awake and well enough to walk. Minutes turned into hours, with the spell at last breaking, announcing itself with Tavey’s bawling as he woke. Olangru had alluded to the sadistic torture and rape of his captives, but as Tavey, Amella, and Urol began to awake, their reactions to their rescue made it apparent that there was little to be ambiguous about. Urol, for his part, thanked everyone for his rescue, but the chipper enthusiasm that characterized his personality had dimmed. Tavey sobbed uncontrollable, nearly for an hour at first, and afterwards needed several hours of gentle reassurance from Kizziar that he was not, in fact, in hell. Amella became nearly catatonic, her eyes locked in a thousand-yard stare. No one, not even Traxen, dared even speak to her yet.
Simply stating the obvious, the group decided it was time to move on. The Olman village of Tanaroa, the spiritual home of the Olman people, awaited them not even two days south, past the great wall which separates the hostile jungle interior from the peaceful, inhabited peninsula to the south. And beyond it, Mora, an Olman village of fierce warriors, the last settlement before their final and ultimate goal of Farshore.
The two days travel passed in near perfect silence, the gloom and utter, soul-wracking misery of their time since leaving Sasserine a incredible burden upon all present, Tobin’s linen-wrapped body a constant reminder of the cost of making it as far as they had.
The great wall at last came into sight, flanked by a pair of guards, one of whom mercifully spoke enough common tongue to understand the party’s request and let them pass, into Tanaroa. Tanaroa was a large Olman settlement, characterized by a high female population deeply embedded in the world of the occult and mysticism that was unique to the Olman. At the center of the village was a walled-off area in which lived the matron of the village and spiritual leader, but it was to a large medical care tent that the party was first taken, their need for care apparent.
A nursemaid of Tanaroa introduced the party to an Olman scout and former native of the Mora tribe who now lived in Tanaroa named Tlaloc, a handsome young man who spoke the common tongue fluently and was accompanied by a small velociraptor, his companion. Tlaloc listened to the party’s incredible story of survival and loss with rapt attention, utterly stunned that they had even survived. Deeply respectful of what they had gone through, Tlaloc spoke to several Tanaroans about ensuring that their charges were well taken care of and that the party was adequately supplied and prepared before moving on to Mora, with the added offer of staying in Tanaroa as long as was required.
Most prominent in the group’s minds, however, was the matter of Tobin. It had gone nearly unspoken that they would have their friend brought back from death as early as was possible, regardless of the cost, and it was Dorian and Othar who addressed the matter with Tlaloc, thinking that here, in the spiritual center of the Olman, this feat could be accomplished. Tlaloc took the two to speak with the leader of the village and most powerful willworker among the Olman, Matron Itzam-Ye, leaving Traxen and Kizziar to care for Avner, Tavey, Amella, and Urol, all of whom still bore deeply the marks of the trauma of the last few days. Traxen, meaning well, further alienated Amella, whom he had been romantically involved with for some time, by taking their brief opportunity alone to ask point-blank if she had been tortured or raped during her abduction. Her response was one of wide-eyed, mute horror at the question, then of anger. She left the room and did not return for several hours, remaining taciturn when she did.
Meanwhile, Othar, Dorian, and Tlaloc carried the body of Tobin to speak to Matron Itzam-Ye and entreat her to resurrect their brother-in-arms. The conversation was a difficult one, fraught with the problems one would expect in attempting to communicate a sophisticated and very specific idea across language barriers. Even with Tlaloc translating, the Matron had difficulty understanding why they wanted Tobin “brought back from death”, as in Olman society, death was not seen as something to attempt to cheat, but a natural part of life, to be embraced when it came. Once the intent was clear, the Matron reluctantly consented to try, but after several minutes of preparatory prayers and chanting, she delivered a rather unexpected surprise: Tobin could not be brought back from death. Othar and Dorian immediately wondered what she meant by that, but the Matron was forced to confess that she did not know. Tobin’s spirit was not merely unwilling to return; it was as though there was nothing to call back. Leaving all utterly confused, the Matron, in an attempt to be helpful, offered to make Tobin an “ancestor”. This was not a term the group understand, so Tlaloc helpfully explained that in Olman society, the highest honor one can give the dead is to bring them back as a docile, helpful form of zombie under the control of a tribal elder, allowing beloved or especially liked Olmans to continue to serve their people and be active in their tribe even after death.
Horrified – and culture shocked – Dorian and Othar graciously rejected the offer, finally arriving at the grim conclusion that all that remained to them was to dispose of their dear friend’s remains as best they knew how.
The group was ready to travel to Mora the following morning, but it was decided that Mora and Farshore would have to wait to settle a more important and immediate concern. From books in Tobin’s library, the party researched through the night to learn the proper method of burial for adherents of Irori. By morning light, they set out to give Tobin a burial at sky.
With Tlaloc as a guide, the Gang of Five – together for the last time – ascended a nearby peak to reach a level plateau where carrion birds congregated. Over the course of nearly a whole day, they methodically cut the body of their friend into pieces, ground his bones and organs, and fed him to the beasts of the sky. The day was characterized by solemn mourning and celebration of the life of their friend, and marked the first of several readings from his private journal, which revealed a number of startling revelations that ultimately left the men with even more questions.
Tobin was at rest, as best as they could approximate, and with the sun setting on the horizon, they returned to Tanaroa. The following morning, the whole of their group: Traxen, Dorian, Othar, Kizziar, Amella, Tavey, Urol, Avner, Kif, and Tlaloc, as guide, traveled to Mora. Tlaloc left them shortly before, hinting at some bad blood between he and his former tribe, but offered them a document that would explain their plight to the Morans, who, not altogether enthusiastically, arranged for two canoes to take the group to Farshore.
Their eventual arrival proved to be a far cry from the warm welcome and long-awaited breathing room they were expecting, though. As the coastline of Farshore became visible in the distance, it became immediately clear that Farshore was under siege, and burned even at that very moment.