The first steps on the Old Olman Highway were less comforting than Urol had predicted. Half destroyed by the ravages of time and disuse, the shoddy pathway was at its best points broad enough for everyone to walk three abreast, and at its worst scarcely large enough for Thunderstrike, Avner’s mare, to walk. But these physical impediments were by far the easiest dealt with and the least unsettling: from the first hour after the travelers began the lonely trek along the crumbling road, it seemed as though the world had begun to go mad. Perhaps, the group of weary castaways posited, it was they who had begun to loose their grip on sanity, somehow scarred beyond repair by the events of the last few days.
The ominous portents were not subtle; scarcely four wordless hours along the path, Dorian spotted in the distance a young, Olman man standing at the edge of a cliff further along the trail, looking out to the roaring ocean. As Dorian called out to address him, the man turned, looked, and seemed as if to cry before slitting his own throat and hurling his body into the sea. The group ran forward, but caught only a glimpse of the man’s corpse before being swallowed by waves. This first strike in what was to be an ongoing campaign of psychological warfare hit its mark, scarring and disquieting the group for hours. More odd and idiosyncratic events followed, and the Gang of Five began to question their own senses, unsure as to which of the many odd happenings were real and which were fabrications meant to erode their will. Over the course of three days, they counted among these freak incidences tracks from no known creature that started and ended without notice, gulls crucified and tied to crosses awaiting the group’s arrival at various landmarks, the traces of Olman encampments that had been long since abandoned in spite of their obviously solid placement and construction, canoes moored on rocks that floated eternally, piles of dead snakes left to rot in the middle of the path, a landslide of skulls falling in front of them containing a number of and types of skulls equal to those of the group and their charges.
Worst of all, however, were the abuses that came at night. Paranoid as they were already, the group maintained a rigorous watch, but their diligence seemed only to serve whatever mad creature tugged at the loose threads of their sanity by giving him an audience for his torments. On the first night, the fire spontaneously went dark, and Traxen’s attempts to wake the rest of his group for what he assumed to be a nocturnal attack were stymied by his inability to make any sound or see. When at last the darkness abated and the light of the moon was visible again, the campsite was found to be surrounded by their own packs, opened and with their things strewn in a neat, orderly fashion across the sand.
The second and third nights came no more comfortably, and the abuse began to take it’s toll not just on the companions of the party, but the Gang of Five, themselves. While Tavey lived in constant, skittish terror, Amella became overtly superstitious, blaming the ill omens on the wreck of the Sea Wyvern and her hand in causing it. Urol became quietly frustrated, attempting to analyze every grim portent through the lens of science and reason, with Avner left to brood, furtively attempting to hide his dread behind a mask of arrogance. Tobin seemed to fare best of the bunch, his connection with his deity seeming to give him a solemn serenity that spoke of great inner strength. Dorian, conversely, seemed to unravel against an opponent he could not see to fight, and as the lonely, solitary days along the Olman highway pressed on, he began to take extreme measures to attempt to shield himself from the madness, sleeping in the ocean through the use of magical aids and staying awake as much as possible.
The only relief from the constant abuses came in the form of two attacks on the second and fourth days made by a clan of gargoyles from a nearby island off the coast. While posing a nominal threat to the group’s charges, they were quickly dispatched and, while the party believed initially that the creatures may be responsible for their troubles, it become quickly apparent that these beasts lacked the sophistication to arrange a campaign of psychological warfare. Their unexpected incursion, however, proved in a curious way that they had not yet gone completely mad; life existed outside of their lonely road. There was one notable casualty, however, in the form of Avner’s horse, Thunderstrike. Among the hazards and signs of (former) life on the trail was a lift constructed by the Olmans to address a gap in the cliff face. While the party and their companions were able to make it across with a tremendous difficulty, the ponderous bulk of a barded horse was too much for the ancient edifice to bear, and the great, white horse plunged to the rocks below, taking a significant portion of the group’s rations with them. Morale was low, and it was only the second day.
Things came to a head on the second and third nights as the torments grew even more bold. Even with Dorian sleeping in the sea, the campsite blackouts grew longer and more worrisome, the latter due to what the group would find in their campsite when light returned. On the second night, their campsite was surrounded by crucified gulls, much of their clothing torn to shreds and their rations buried in sand. The final night proved the most jarring of all, however, as not only did the events of the previous two nights repeat themselves, but they were accompanied by large tracks through the sand, as though massive snakes had wandered through their camp, encircling their tents and lurching within inches of those brave enough to sleep under the stars. Whatever bane creature it was that meant them harm, it was not afraid of them.
The fourth day at last brought the party to a fork in the path, promising a return to the island’s interior and – if Urol’s navigation proved accurate – a last push to the great wall of the island, a massive structure erected by the Olman tribes who fled the island interior eons ago, and beyond that wall, the safety and hospitality of the Olman tribes before, at long last, their final destination of Farshore.
Not willing to play dice with the decision, Traxen and the others requested of Tobin that he perform a divination to choose the best path. The retort was unambiguous that down both paths lay great difficulty, but that only the path that veered deep into the island interior represented a challenge that could be overcome. With spirits at their lowest since leaving the inviting shores of Sasserine and starvation on the near horizon, the group reluctantly turned to the heart of the island.
The jungle interior was a lush and stinking jungle hell that seemed, to the weary travelers, to be as uninviting and inhospitable a damnation as ever they could imagine. Drenched, teeming with insects, and so foggy as to make visibility nil, this portion of the island was nevertheless oppressively hot, clammy, and left one with the feeling that they had something crawling on them at all times. A difficult half day of travel brought the group through the choking fog to a small campsite, seemingly set up in the ruin of an old stone structure. With night approaching, the group decided to bed down once more in the hopes that they could reach Farshore the following day.
This campsite quickly proved to be yet another symptom of a sickness that sat on this land, however. Urol’s normal survey of the immediate area at any spot the party camped at turned sour, leaving the little gnome to wander around looking at bloated, pustulant flora and fauna and muttering comments on how everything in this place seemed “wrong”. It was Urol’s exploration of the site that turned up the most disquieting (and blatant) manifestation of the hand of their tormentor in this place, however; on the far northern side of the camp, just within earshot through the smothering fog, was a gutted, dessicated, crucified corpse lashed to a cross. The man, an Olman, served as grim testament to the presence of something dark claiming this place. And then it spoke.
Urol’s shrieking quickly drew the rest of the traveling group, giving the haggard corpse an audience for his declarations of doom and death to whomever came to this place. His master, he claimed, would soon kill them all, as he had the corpse who spoke to them. The once-man served as a doomspeaker and herald of his master, who called this place home, and who, according to the corpse, would soon be coming to claim the party, having walked right into his trap. In disgust, the group sent away their charges and then cut down and burned the mocking corpse, so as to at least silence his cruel and mocking tongue. The last word he spoke before eternal quiet was one of thanks.
Warned and fully expecting catastrophe, the party clustered their friends in a tight circle around the fire along the inside of the crumbling structure walls, hoping it would be most defensible. Taking watches in pairs, they hoped that they could make it through the night safely.
It proved to be for naught, however. Shortly before the change in watch, four massive beasts leapt from the shadows, a flurry of scale and claw and horrid shrieking. As if coming from nowhere, the beasts were upon the hapless friends of the party before anyone could react. Through the smothering fog, the darkness, smoke, and rapid fury of the moment, no one could even be certain of what they saw; all that was apparent was that they were targeting the weakest members of the pack, snaring Tavey, Urol, Amella, and Kif in snakelike arms before disappearing again as quickly as they’d arrived, leaving nothing to mark their sudden appearance but vapor, and the absence of four people whom they’d sworn to protect. Traxen, alone among those that remained, managed to get even the most fleeting glimpse of their tormentor. As Amella was ripped away from his very arms and vanished before his eyes, he saw the snarling, leering face of a horridly intelligent mandrill ape over her shoulder.