The fortieth day of the twin ships’ travels brought them to a narrow strait between the northern tip of the Amedio Peninsula and the twin Olman Isles, the latter of which was home to Narisban, the nominal settlement run by members of the clandestine Scarlet Brotherhood, a group whose reputation throughout the region was dubious at best. A call was sent out for a halt, allowing Lavinia and Shen Vijil, captain of the Blue Nixie, and Traxen Cadrel and Amella Venkalie, captain of the Sea Wyvern, to discuss how best to maneuver the imminent blockade that the Brotherhood maintained in this narrow strait. On Amella and Shen’s recommendation, it was decided that the Nixie would go first, followed an hour later by the Wyvern, in the hopes that a lone ship would both be able to move more nimbly in the case of attack and draw less attention than two vessels traveling together. With all in agreement on the matter, the Nixie forged on through the strait, leaving the Gang of Five to dawdle and await their turn.
After a brief rest, Amella sent out the call to move on, and the anchors of the Wyvern came up. Progress was halted rather shortly, however, by the approach of another caravel class vessel flying the flag of the Scarlet Brotherhood, a groaning, well-worn ship that announced itself as The Purity’s Prow. Set on an intercept course with the Wyvern, an encounter with the vessel seemed imminent, and the orders went out for all nonessential hands to leave the deck, the ballistae to be manned, and for all crew to prepare for combat. Traxen and Amella discussed the best course of action, with Amella cautioning to exercise discretion; it was possible to yet pass the blockade without bloodshed, perhaps with some small tribute. Traxen agreed, but maintained the order for caution, which the approach of a burly-looking captain and his surly crew aboard the other ship clearly validated.
The hulking man aboard the other boat called out to the assembled crew of the Wyvern to stand down and prepare to be boarded for inspection, and as the ropes and gangplanks connected the two vessels, the mood on board the Wyvern became quite tense. The man, who announced himself as Captain Lars Helvur, strode across the gangplanks accompanied by six of his ten men, and in bellowing commands announced to the crew of the Wyvern that their ship was being commandeered by the Scarlet Brotherhood and that the themselves were to be expedited to Narisban to be sold into slavery! Lars, whom his crew appropriately called ‘No-Neck’ clearly seemed to underestimate the crew of the Wyvern, however, and a fight broke out during which he and his men were quickly routed, beaten back to their ship where a hasty retreat took The Purity’s Prow over the horizon, demoralized.
With that small barricade managed, the Sea Wyvern passed through the blockade without further incident, joining the Blue Nixie on the far side of the strait. Happy to forget the trifling trouble the Brotherhood had posed, Dorian announced they’d met with no trouble and the two ships sailed on, bound for their next scheduled resupply at Fort Greenrock.
Two days out from the blockade met the party with a strange sighting in the form of a flock of wyverns in flight high above the sea. While half the ship’s crew immediately went into combat mode, Traxen and Urol cautioned against battle, speculating that the creatures might simply pass if unmolested. Upon consideration, the group put all hands indoors and allowed the beasts to slip by. One broke from the pack momentarily to spin around and get a close look at the ship’s wyvern-shaped figurehead, but shortly after rejoined the rest of his pack, taking any danger of conflict with him.
A full week of boredom at sea passed, leaving the passengers aboard both ships looking forward to the warm hearths and solid ground of Fort Greenrock. As the location of the fort poured over the horizon, however, it became apparent that there was no hospitality to be found there. The massive wooden wall erected around the encampment had been razed, burned to the ground, and even from the ships it was apparent that the majority of structures within her walls had likewise been consumed by flame. Disappointed as they were, the party, along with Skald, Urol, Lavinia, and the Jade Ravens disembarked to investigate the catastrophe, as much to put their feet on solid ground for a short while as out of concern for the people of the fort.
Time spent surveying the wreckage turned up little of use. The fort had been sacked months ago, it was clear, and all but a handful of small dwellings had been burned to the ground. Nothing of use remained, and even the half-dozen or so charred corpses that remained had been stripped of their clothing. Not even bodies remained, for the most part, certainly not as many as there were people in the fort, though signs of a great battle were evident, with streaks of dried blood and broken weapons littered throughout the clearing. The most telling evidence of what fate had befallen the fort lay at her west side, which faced the jungle. The walls which guarded the settlement from that side had been battered down, and all surfaced that faced the jungle were pelted with hundreds of crude arrows bearing black feathers. A mob of footprints lead into and out of the fort, all of them bearing a distinctive four-toed, reptilian form. Lavinia, the Ravens, Urol, and Skald opted to return to the ship, leaving the party to follow this lead in the hopes of rescuing or at least discovering the fates of the colonists.
Several hours of tracking turned up a smattering of clues, including the skeletal remains of many humans in various ages and sexes, and groups of reptilian footprints breaking off from each other at various points, as though they were splitting up into groups or tribes. With nightfall five hours away and the party six hours into the jungle, it became discouragingly apparent that several troglodyte or lizardfolk tribes native to the area had banded together to sack the fort and cart away everything inside that was of any potential value, including its residents. Whatever fate had befallen them from there was months past, and so it was with heavy hearts that the group turned and crawled back through the jungle to their vessel before setting sail again.
The following day, a yardarm fell, nearly crushing Kizziar. It showed signs of obvious tampering, but the half-hearted search for answers met with the same failure as before. It began to seem as though the saboteur on board may be just another inconvenience the party would have to stoically endure.
A few days of leisure passed, with the two ships arriving at the massive and breathtaking Atikula Falls, a 900 foot wide, 200 foot tall waterfall that spilled into a freshwater lagoon that joined into the sea. In addition to restoring water stores here, the two groups were set to enjoy a day of rest and relaxation enjoying the marvelous sights and sparkling waters of the Atikula. For the first six hours, the Blue Nixie restored her water stores while Dorian conducted an impromptu excursion into the jungle with Tobin, Urol, and Skald. Traxen spent the time off privately with Amella, with whom he finally made his romantic intent known, while Othar spent his time with Lavinia, leaving Kizziar to simply spend his time on the deck. Kizziar’s vigilance, it turned out, paid off, as he was first to notice a massive shape moving beneath them in the lagoon, one he’d written off hours ago as part of the natural scenery beneath the water that now stirred. He immediately raised an alarm, giving Traxen, Othar, and Dorian precious seconds to put on their clothing or scramble back on board as appropriate. With a roar and a tremendous surge of water, a massive reptilian beast sprung from the lagoon, it’s seven heads howling with rage.
As Skald and Othar pelted the monster afar, Traxen ran in to engage the beast in combat while Kizziar and Dorian manned the ballistae, which they hoped to use against the beast. Quick words from Traxen and Urol cautioned the group against attempting to simply attack the beasts heads, as counterintuitive as the advice seemed, and to focus on the creature’s trunk. Several blows were exchanged, with one unfortunate casualty of a sailor who couldn’t scramble off deck quickly enough. With Othar’s fire brought the beast low, it was Kizziar’s ballista bolt that finally subdued the beast, sending it splashing down to the bottom of the lagoon. Tavey, the ship’s cabin boy whom had become enamored of Kizziar, was thrilled at this conclusion, redoubling his efforts to try to learn everything he could from the stoic half-orc. Reasoning that other sailors might have fallen victim to this creature in the past, Othar and Kizziar immediately undertook a salvage mission, where they found the grizzly remains of more than half a dozen scuttled vessels of varying sizes. A thorough canvass of the area turned up a half-collapsed chest full of gold, a set of enchanted chainmail, and a curious green cloak that Othar divined could protect the wearer from drowning. With the threat defeated and the water stores refreshed, the next goal in sight was the village on Renkrue, a week hence.
The passing week brought no new news, though Kizziar and Othar managed to make friends with Urol as Traxen’s relationship with Amella became more and more intimate. Seeking to mend fences, Othar approached and apologized to Lirith, who brusquely accepted his apology after expressing her frustration that nobody seemed to be showing any interest in her. With everyone feeling more or less at peace with the situation on board, Renkrue was a welcome sight, as all knew full well it was the last time they would set foot on dry land or have a chance to restore their stores or speak to anyone not on their ship until they finally reached the Isle of Dread.
The village of Renkrue was an Olman settlement, a native village whose close proximity to shore and location on the Amedio Peninsula made it the target of various trade interests and, most notably, a particularly devout paladin of Iomedae who had attempted unsuccessfully to convert the Olman people to worship of his deity. While the crusader ultimately failed, he did teach some of the natives the common tongue and built two structures in town of jungle lumber as well as opened up the first trade routes between Olman and non-Olman peoples. The resulting village of Renkrue was a well-fortified Olman settlement comprising a motley of Olman and non-Olman religious and social practices. Eager to stretch their legs one last time, virtually everyone left their respective vessels for a forty-eight hour furlough, with the exception of Traxen and Amella, who chose to remain aboard the Wyvern to continue to stoke their budding romance.
The brief respite of Renkrue provided little comfort, however. Lavinia busied herself with brokering to restore supplies for both vessels, Othar faithfully in tow, while Skald took off into the jungle alone. Urol contented himself to poking around the numerous tide pools that surrounded the village, scribbling merrily in his notes. Lirith, strangely at home among the people of Renkrue, took to carousing and making time with the native girls and boys instantly, leaving Dorian and Avner to likewise seek the village for impressionable young natives to insinuate themselves with. Kizziar met up with Kaskus, the two men enjoying their shore leave in contented silence, like two old friends, Kaskus enduring the prodding exuberance of Tavey with good humor, as the boy almost unfailingly stayed close to his hero’s side. Lastly, Tobin disappeared for almost the entire time ashore, though he claims after the fact that he had spent the time in council with the Olman elders attempting to absorb as much as he could about their fascinating culture.
One day of relative peace passed, with Dorian attracting the attention of a naive young Olman woman named Leilani and Lirith finding comfort with several native villagers. The pursuit of flesh went afoul for Avner, however, who attracted Othar and Lavinia’s attention during a loud and very public argument with the chief of Renkrue, a man named Chief Ixawhani. Lavinia and Othar raced to the source of the outcry, calming down Avner, who claimed that he was being scorned for trying to make a “simple business transaction”. Chief Ixawhani cut in, pointing out that Avner had apparently attempted to purchase one of his daughters as a slave. Avner, in his ignorance, believed he was doing the young woman a favor and that she had no place to protest, but Lavinia and Othar were clearly on the side of the Olman chief, and after curtly ordering Avner back on to the ship under threat of violence, managed to calm down the chief, who relented on his initial claim that he’d have no further dealings with the party. Having managed to soothe the chief’s anger, Lavinia decided it would be best to finish their business and cut their visit short, lest something else go wrong.
As the Sea Wyvern set out on her final, vast push to the Isle of Dread, the crew found themselves exchanging one passenger for another., the con artist whose life the party had saved from a slaad-worshipping cult, approached Traxen, Amella, and the rest of the party shortly before they departed Renkrue and announced that he’d be staying. Penitently, he claimed that he would try to live up to his false identity in Renkrue and be a real servant of the gods, and make good the second chance they and the party had given him. Meanwhile, Dorian had been unable to shake the Olman girl he attracted, and Amella begrudgingly permitted Leilani on board, albeit only because Conrad had elected to leave and because Leilani seemed to have some skill at a deckhand, and the Wyvern was down one on account of the hydra encounter.
The following evening after leaving Renkrue, Leilani woke Dorion late at night as the Wyvern was anchored along the shoreline, and after performing a seductive dance for him, bid him come to the top deck for a midnight skinny dip in the warm, ocean waters. All too eager to indulge the tawny-skinned girl, Dorian joined her on the deck and stripped down to nothing before following the nude woman into the water. While she initially teased him to come in after her, Dorian found that once he was in the water, Leilani was nowhere to be seen, and realized with horror that he was under attack from a massive, aquatic predator. Screaming for help, Dorian’s cryies roused Othar, who scrambled out of bed to the side of the ship, where his bleary-eyed use of arcane power saved Dorian’s life from a massive shark that had torn him nearly to shreds. Assisting Dorian’s shivering, bloody frame in getting back on board, the two men found that the shark had disappeared, and as they hurriedly looked around for clues as to what happened, they spotted a gruesome sight; silhouetted against the moonlit sky, the ship’s wheel clearly had a figure straddled to it. Immediately, Othar raised an alarm, getting Traxen and Amella out of bed as Dorian investigated the ship’s wheel. Closer inspection revealed the terrible truth; Leilani was dead, her throat slit, her body pinned to the ship’s wheel with numerous daggers. Traxen and Amella agreed that this deed bore the marks of their saboteur, and furthermore that the matter could not stand another moment. Traxen and Amella remained on deck while Othar and Dorian cut down the young woman’s limp frame and then went below deck to wake everyone on the vessel and corral them onto the deck, everyone from the hands to the passengers. No one else would die because of their dereliction of duty.
With everyone in the ship on deck, Tobin provided a zone of truth that permitted an inquisition to take place, where everyone on the boat came up clean and truthful, from the deck hands to the passengers, even including Avner and his servants. With that hurdle cleared, the group now decided to scour the boat top to bottom, front to back, leaving no stone unturned until they found evidence of wrongdoing. It was thanks to this dogged and thorough determination that the group finally found a clue: as Traxen had noted, the daggers used to pin Leilani to the ship’s wheel were common, uniform, of the quality one might buy at a shop in bulk. Armed with this information, the group paid special attention to the cargo hold, where they knew a large number of supplies – including weapons – were being held to help supply the people of Farshore.
A thorough inspection of the area that they had otherwise surrendered to Avner turned up one moist boot print matching the size of a woman or teenager. Dorian closely inspected the area, which cut off at the to abruptly disappearing into a massive ten by ten crate full of supplies, and found that one of the planks that made up the side of the crate could be easily slid aside, allowing one entrance to the inside of the crate. And what’s more, the contents of the crate, with the panel now slid aside, seemed to have been rearranged as though from the inside in such a way as to allow a tight passage to squeeze through. Dorian elected to squeeze through the passage himself, his size making him the best candidate, and sure enough, on the far side of the crate he found another panel which could be slid aside, revealing…nothing. Past the crate, there was a triangular room, fifteen feet wide narrowing to only five, at the tip of the boat, containing a bedroll and a half-barrel table, on which sat two small, empty vials that bore the scent of wormwood. It seemed that they had at last found the location of their stowaway saboteur, but where were they?
As Dorian relayed this information to his companions on the other side of the cramped crate, the answer to the question on everyone’s minds presented itself as with a hiss, the ashen, starving, desperate form of a woman whom Dorian knew too well came into view: the last member of the Kellani family and the only one to escape their justice,, had finally been cornered. In a desperate attack, she stabbed at Dorian with the intent to kill, clearly mad with grief, her isolation at sea, and who knows whatever she had gone through since their last meeting, now heedless of her own life. Dorian, unarmored and wounded, was very nearly killed, but decided to stand his ground rather than squeeze back through the crate and make himself an easy target. Thankfully, his friends didn’t let him down, and thanks to Kizziar’s expert gunplay, Tobin’s radiant healing light, and Othar’s spellslinging, Rowyn Kellani at last breathed her last. Wracked with a cathartic exhaustion, the party stripped Rowyn’s body in silence and wrapped her body in a shroud before piercing it through several times over and, in a final act of parting with the Kellani clan, pitched her corpse overboard. With few words, they informed the assembled crew and passengers that the saboteur had been found and dealt with. In stunned and lethargic silence, the night wore on.
Three days hence brought the Wyvern to an area of the Vohoun Ocean known to be home to the Pearl Current, a swift-moving jolt of water that was known to carry some ships up to hundreds of miles in mere days – but frequently in the wrong direction. Both Amella and Shen, captain of the Nixie, knew of the Pearl Current and were prepared to grapple with it, but no amount of preparation can tell a crew when or where the current starts, or in what direction it might take you. Nevertheless, the two ships were soon swept up in the churning current, and at least for the time being, it seemed to be favoring their direction.
Nearly a week following, the Pearl Current had taken the twin ships rapidly south across the endless azure sea, past a massive chunk of land with no places to port that the maps identified as Ruja. The group considered stopping to explore this strange geographical feature, with it’s massive and foreboding cliffs, but ultimately such good progress was being made and under such fair weather that it was deemed foolish to not continue on while they could.
Unfortunately, the good weather the two ships had enjoyed for nearly seventy-five unbelievable days couldn’t last forever, and three days after passing Ruja in the open sea, a great fog rolled in from the sea and brought with it a howling, mad tempest, tossing the Wyvern perilously close to destruction. Traxen, Lirith, Skald, Amella, and even Dorian worked through the night to keep the vessel afloat, but as the storm broke with the light of dawn, a new problem became apparent; the Blue Nixie was nowhere to be found.
Lavinia had discussed this possibility before the journey began, however, and Amella was prepared for this contingency. In the event of separation, both ships were to continue on to Farshore as normal and reconvene at the colony. With no sign of the other ship in the endless horizon and the knowledge that the storm and the fickle Pearl Current may have carried either one of or both of the ships tens of miles off course in a single night, they were left with no option but to forge on, their spirits tested, but not yet broken.
The next four days were difficult ones. The absence of the Nixie and her crew left its mark on the morale of the Wyvern passengers, and with nothing but the endless sea in all directions, the loneliness was starting to get to some of the weaker-minded individuals on the boat. Land was no less than a week away, and that was simply to the northern tip of the Isle of Dread. Still, even if there were no stops to be made on the isle, it would be some small relief to see land again. With a week remaining until the peaks of the isle were due to crawl over the horizon, the crew of the Wyvern awoke one morning after a particularly foggy but otherwise unremarkable evening to find the latest in a series of disheartening surprises awaiting them.
During the evening, their vessel had apparently become stuck fast in a massive clot of sargasso weed, ensnaring the ship and making progress impossible. As the pale streamers of light shot in through the thick, soupy clouds above, the horizon became visible, and it became apparent that to her rear, the Wyvern was snared and surrounded by the seaweed out for half a mile or better. The story to the other end was worse; to her front, the unrelenting sargasso stretched on as far as the eye could see. No wind filled the Wyvern’s sails. No wind blew in this place at all. Most of those on the vessel were confused by this development, but Lirith, Amella, and Traxen knew better, enough to be afraid, and sick to their very stomachs.
Large clots of sargasso like this, Traxen relayed, were not uncommon at sea. An especially large cluster of weeds stirred up with other flotsam and jetsam might be as much as a mile across, but here, the endless choking green went as far as the eye could see. Sailors, he said, told tales of such a place, a place where the malevolent green blossoming forth from some wicked, verdant heart crept across the world’s oceans like a floating cemetery, claiming ships it encountered and swallowing them up into its black maw, never to be seen again. To those who lived or worked at sea, it was the bogeymen, the story old salts told their children to frighten them, a place where impious or rash people went, never to be heard from again. Sailors had a name for this place, which they spoke in hushed whispers: “Journey’s End”.
After getting over the initial shock and feelings of dread, the ever-tenacious Gang of Five decided that something must be done to free themselves from the curse of this dreaded morass, real or not. After confirming that the ground was stable enough to walk on (albeit barely), the party set their sights on the only other vessel in sight, a slightly smaller caravel class ship which, after a ponderously long walk across the uncertain and slippery weed, announced itself on its nameplate as The Rage. Climbing atop the half-sunk vehicle, the party found signs of a battle on the top deck, with broken weapons and splashes of blood strewn across the deck, but curiously, no bodies. The door to the lower decks was splintered open and overgrown with choking sargasso, and as the party cautiously descended, they found that a ballista, now shattered, had been dragged from the deck above and put at the bottom of the stairs so as to allow it to shoot upward, out the doorway. Another check of the doorway from the inside showed that it had been fortified at some point, but that those fortifications had likewise been splintered.
The deck below – the only deck still accessible, as the cargo hold was now claimed by the sargasso and entirely underwater – was almost empty, the broken siege weaponry aside. The only feature in the room was a single door, still closed, at the back of the ship. The door swollen shut with moisture, Kizziar made short work of splintering it apart and allowing himself entrance. Once inside, he was immediately overcome with the stench of decay, as he spotted in the corner the still fresh corpse of a bearded human. From the state of decay, it would seem he had been dead for weeks, which dated the wreckage, as well, no doubt making The Rage the latest acquisition to the choking weed prior to their arrival. Of particular interest to Kizziar, however, was the means by which the man had died: still clutched in his hand was a magnificent pistol, a six-barreled and fierce looking weapon that apparently sat in a hole made for it cut into a briefcase which also sad beside the suicidal sailor. The case was leather, lined with velvet, and contained spaces for both the pistol and a bottle, which also sat next to the corpse. Kizziar sniffed the bottle and took a small swig, which confirmed that it was, in fact, a very potent liquor, before stuffing the contents back into the case.
By now, the rest of the group had entered the room and spotted the only other notable feature within, a massive table sitting center in the room, on which sat a leatherbound tome that announced itself as the ship’s log of The Rage_. Many of the pages were either torn, waterlogged, smudged, or simply mundane, but the most recent entry, presumably written by the gun-toting sailor, revealedabout Journey’s End, as well as information on the ship and her crew, which now seemed to be a group of fighting men bound for a city in the Pirate Isles called Scuttlecove.
With night due to fall in only a few short hours and a feeling of unease they had never felt before digging its claws into them, the group resolved to head back to the Wyvern to ponder their fate, and perhaps how they could escape it.