With Conrad Horst’s brush with death comitted to memory, the endless expanse of sea yawned out before the two ships. Scarcely twenty days behind them, the passengers and crew of the two vessels almost longed for trouble, if only to break up the monotony of what was to be the latter three quarters of their voyage.
The twenty-third day brought them to the mouth of the Havekihu River, where the two ships meant to refresh their water stores. The Blue Nixie, being the lead ship, went first, while the Sea Wyvern waited its turn. The planned lull allowed the residents of both ships to commingle a bit: Othar and Dorian invited over Churtle to spend the day aboard the Wyvern, though Othar was soon tempted away to spend the afternoon in Lavinia’s company. Traxen elected to stay aboard, as much to make time with Amella as to fulfill his role as Commander of the ship, while Kizziar ventured over to the Nixie to speak with Kaskus Kiel, of the Jade Ravens, with whom he was building a surprisingly strong rapport. With the Wyvern completing her resupply early in the evening and a few hours of twilight left yet to sail through, the two vessels resegregated their crews and set sail.
Little progress was to be made, however. Shortly after dark a thick fog rolled in off the jungle, and while Traxen and Urol were both quite certain that the weather was completely natural, it still hampered progress to the point that after only a few minutes, both ships had lost sight of each other as the crew of either vessel stood to port straining to listen for the waves breaking on the nearby beach, their only indication of proximity to shore. Finally, after a half hour of tense straining, the call was made from the Blue Nixie to halt sailing for the evening. Both ships dropped anchor in the sopping fog and their crews retired, a little earlier than normal.
Nobody knew what time it was when half the crew and most of the passengers on board awoke with a start, as the entire ship lurched shoreward, heaving many out of their bunks. While Traxen and Amella, in the Captain’s quarters, sprung into action immediately, it took time for Othar, Kizziar, and Dorian to make their way topside. It was Othar who did so first, meeting with Traxen above deck where they could see that the boat was clearly pulling to the port side, as if something was pulling on it. While Othar investigated the starboard side, Traxen looked over the port, and after a moment’s inspection announced with some confusion that all that appeared to be pulling the ship down was a massive clot of flotsam stuck to her hull.
As he reported this, a massive, octopoid tentacle that seemed to be made of the gelatinous flotsam stretched out over the edge of the ship and swept Traxen up like the fist of an angry giant. Othar immediately raised an alarm and let loose a volley of arcane blasts at the odd foe, whom it now appeared was nothing so much as a quasi-sentient ooze comprised of oceanic debris. As Traxen was swung about wildly, Dorian and Kizziar reached the top deck, followed shortly after by deckhands Skald and Lirith, who also engaged the beast. A pitched battle followed, with most of those that bothered to confront the creature being grabbed and flung into the air or slammed against the deck. Weapons plunged into the mass stuck fast, stolen by the clinging muck. Thanks to Skald and Othar’s volley of ranged attacks, however, the malevolent scum finally receded, dropping his quarry unceremoniously on the deck before breaking apart into clots of seaweed, whale fat, and other jetsam collected from about the sea. With the threat eliminated, the ship righted itself, her combatants returning to their quarters after some much-needed healing.
With the light of dawn, the fog had broken, and after a protracted search of the ocean floor beneath the flotsam ooze’s destroyed form, the group recovered their stuckfast weapons, as well as some new treasures from poor souls who had not fared so well. A little later than optimal, the two vessels continued their voyage.
The next scheduled stop, according to Urol, was the ruined Olman city of Tamoachan, which he reported that Lavinia had extended the Gang of Five’s services in exploring. This came as news to the men, who were only dimly aware that the stop was even being made. Othar made a note to discuss this with Lavinia when it was practical.
The opportunity to do so came sooner than anyone would have expected: two days after their battle with the flotsam ooze, Dorian took mysteriously ill, becoming weak, feverish, and wracked with pain. Hoping the illness would pass, the following day instead saw his condition worsen, rendering Dorian completely bedridden, unable to even stand. With the strong suspicion that he had become the victim of a poisoning, the rest of the group sent out a call to the Nixie to bring over Churtle, who they knew to be an expert on the subject.
Churtle confirmed the group’s suspicions, claiming that Dorian had been stuffed full of massive doses of wormwood, a debilitating poison. The group investigated the ship for a second time, taking particular care to interview the cook and everyone else in the chain of custody for the meals he prepared. Most of the meals on board not served in the mess were brought to the crew by the women passengers, but a magically-assisted interrogation lead by the party and Tobin’s divine casting turned up nothing. Churtle, meanwhile, personally prepared all of Dorian’s meals, and while the investigation was a bust, Dorian was on the mend the next day. With security around mealtime permanently stepped up, the poisonings ceased, though with no easy answers.
Numerous sights could be spotted as the two vessels made their way towards Tamoachan. One morning greeted the crew of the ship with the sight of a massive jungle sprawl on shore covered with great and choking spiderwebs, alive and skittering with tremendous spiders, some as big as a horse. An impromptu competition broke out between Dorian and Kizziar, who manned the ship’s ballistae and took bets as to who could pin down the most spiders.
A few days later, the ships passed a massive burn scar that tore through the jungle’s heart and turned the sand that met the shore to glass. Eager to discover the source of this feature, the group called a brief rest to investigate, and rowed to the beach, which they found littered with shattered bits of smooth glass, indicative of some massive conflagration. Pushing into the jungle, they found the area to be strangely devoid of life, unlike the surrounding jungle, which teemed with insects and birds, if nothing else. A great stone plateau raised up a few hundred yards beyond the charred jungle edge, and climbing it revealed a terrible discovery. Within this great stone was a massive pit, some sixty or seventy feet deep, choked with the glistening white bones of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of bones from scores of different humanoid and animal creatures, all sharing only one thing in common: what remained of their skeletons were twisted and warped, covered in spiny protrusions. It was clear that this controlled burn wasn’t recent, and was in fact many years old. Could it be possible that what they had experienced at Kraken’s Cove wasn’t an isolated incident? Was this burial pit the result of a previous civilization’s attempt to purge the infection from their land? Answers were not forthcoming, and the questions left the men feeling very, very uneasy.
With the unpleasant and ultimately terrifying feeling that they were being watched or used as pawns in some greater scheme, the men moved on, returning to their vessel and headed for Tamoachan, spending the intervening time further attempting to make friends with their fellow shipmates. Lirith became quite popular when Dorian attempted to seduce her by challenging her to a bawdy drinking contest, but – perhaps owing to his recent battle with poison – submitted after only a few shots, leaving Lirith with the impression that he was weak and unmanly. Othar, conversely, got along very well with her, so much so in fact that Lirith misinterpreted Othar’s interest in her for being sexual, which lead to Othar being struck dumb when Lirith made her move on him. Unable to negotiate the situation diplomatically in the face of Lirith’s unwanted attention, he instead made quite possibly a lifelong enemy, leaving Lirith bitter and scornful of his leading her on.
With feelings sore all around, the group finally arrived at Tamoachan on their thirty-fourth day, their journey nearly half over. Othar had taken the opportunity of Dorian’s poisoning to question Lavinia about Urol’s claims, that their fate had already been sealed as his protectors during his travels in the ruins. Lavinia admitted somewhat sheepishly that she may have expressed the possibility and not corrected Urol when he assumed too much, but the group’s sense of duty to Lavinia, their desire to maintain harmony on board, and the promise of adventure ensured that they would attend Urol regardless, albeit somewhat begrudgingly.
It was Othar who had it in mind to ask Urol about Tamoachan and his interest in exploring the old ruin, a subject on which Urol was more than happy to elaborate. A few weeks before Lavinia secured her crew for the voyage to Farshore, Urol, who had been studying in Sasserine at the time, was approached by a one-legged, one-eyed sailor while drinking in his favorite local pub in the Azure District. His local fame, however slight, preceding him, the man had come to Urol specifically with a map he claimed to have found on the body of a dying elf he fished from the sea, a map which depicted the location of the lost Olman city of Tamoachan. According to the sailor, prior to the elf’s death he relayed the story of his ill-fated expedition to the city, where he and his companions faced a terrible, eight-legged lizard that forced his group back on their ship where they were shortly met a storm, which is when the sailor had momentarily reclaimed him from a watery doom.
After probing the wizened gnome for further details, Urol admitted that the eight-legged lizard described was very likely a creature called a basilisk. The reputations of these fearsome creatures was well known to even children, and the party rightly balked at the prospect of dealing with one. Urol consoled them by claiming to have a salve that cured the “paralysis” caused by basilisks, and to not worry. Reluctantly, the group disembarked and crawled forth into the steaming jungle, where only a few moments travel started to expose the crumbling, sandy-white faces of Olman stonework.
Urol’s map indicated a spot towards the center of town, one of the few structures that had not been leveled by years of weather and dozens of looters, a massive ziggurat that the map claimed hid a huge internal chamber that had yet to be breached. Urol was immediately enraptured by the feast of archaeological information, and brought up the rear as the group cautiously made their way towards a crevasse in the wall.
Urol’s assumption proved to be spot on, as a massive reptile the size of an alligator crawled out of one of the shaded cracks in the wall and poised to strike! Dorian was caught unawares and immediately turned to stone, leaving the heavy hitters of Kizziar and Traxen stuck at the front where they’d be forced to crawl around his immobile form to get to the beast. Thankfully, while the basilisk was fearsome, it was also starving, and worried for its own life after a few devastating strikes, attempted to scamper back into the jungle, where it was put down by Othar and Traxen. Urol revealed at this point the secret of making his “stone salve”, which was in fact a very simple compound made from the blood of a basilisk. From the slain creature he made a few more doses of the stuff, which revived Dorian and allowed the party to move on.
The narrow passage into the old ziggurat opened into a massive chamber that appeared to house a scaled-down replica of the city of Tamoachan, with the structure they had just entered sitting square in the center replaced by a stone preparation table with grooves along the side, which Urol pointed out was likely used to prepare the dead for interment. From the look of the inside of the building, Urol believed that the ziggurat was a crypt, and that the room they were in was used to prepare the bodies. A thorough investigation of the room turned up nothing new; in fact, it appeared as though the room had been thoroughly looted in the past, with the damage to the scale model Tamoachan almost perversely reflecting the actual damage outside. Urol’s map, however, indicated that there was another chamber beyond this one, accessible through another crevasse in the wall that was opened by an earthquake only in the last few years. Locating the crack, the party squeezed their way through, where the chamber opened up and revealed not fabulous archaeological riches, but a plain, flat, featureless wall of iron.
Investigation of the wall proved fruitless, save that it was magical in nature. Its purpose and intent were a mystery. The group was about to turn around and leave, believing they had been stymied, but Urol begged the group to try and batter the wall down, indicating with a knock that it clearly couldn’t be that thick. Tobin pointed out that in all likelihood, the wall was the result of a wall of iron spell, and that if his calculations were correct, the wall was likely only an inch or so thick, easy enough to penetrate. With an axe and pick in hand, Traxen reluctantly set about battering a hole in the blank sheet, and after several minutes, had created an aperture large enough to crawl through. With naught but darkness to be seen through the hole, the group (again) reluctantly poured through the gap and into the hidden chamber.
Othar lit up the room once through, revealing a truly impressive sight. Almost mirroring the last room, this room, too, contained a scale model of the city, though this model was in near perfect condition, as though it had been untouched since the city’s fall. Massive carvings of bat-men eating or torturing humans were etched into the walls, and where in the last room there had been a preparation table, in this room stood a massive replica of the ziggurat the group now found themselves in. Urol hypothesized that this room was meant to reflect the last intentionally, with the last room representing the physical realm, and this room representing the spiritual, or afterlife. Joyously, he immediately set to work examining the minutiae of the room, leaving the rest of the group to explore its other features, starting with the ziggurat in the center of the scale town.
A quick investigation of the structure revealed it to be an upright sarcophagus, and thanks to Dorian’s inspection, a trapped one, at that. Unfortunately, his attempt to disable the trap literally blew up in his face, and the wheeze of the pressurized chamber infected Traxen and Kizziar both with a terrible ailment that left them looking like living mummies, and significantly weakened. It wasn’t all for nothing, however, as the bandaged corpse inside the burial urn wore about its neck a gold necklace with a magical aura about it, but unfortunately nothing else. Noticing an opening on the south side of the room, the group warily made their way over, where they were shocked to see a man-sized, bipedal bat-creature waiting for them! Shrieking with rage as it spotted them, the creature belched up a gout of fire and flew into the larger chamber to attack.
Just as combat began with the fire-spitting bat-creature, however, another player emerged on the field: as if summoned into existence, a glowing orb the size of a man’s head came into view. Any questions as to its priorities were dispelled immediately as it announced its arrival by arcing a bolt of electricity at the bat-creature, who shrieked and howled at the orb. The fight, however, was still at the group’s doorstep, as the creature continued to attack them, laying down carpets of flame and diving to attack with its barbed tail and an odd metal baton. Seemingly intelligent in spite of its ferocity, Tobin attempted to speak with the creature, but confirmed only that the beast was probably mad with hunger and not open to negotiations. Finally the combined efforts of the group and the mysterious floating orb sent the beast crashing to the stone floor below, where Othar snatched up his curious weapon. A new problem immediately raised its head, however, in the form of the orb, who spoke as though by vibrating the ambient air into the tones of speech. The creature thanked the group for helping to dispatch the interloper who crept into his chamber and subsequently shut him out of it, and accordingly for permitting him to return to his lair. While easily powerful enough to slaughter the entire party, their lack of fear for the creature seemed to negatively affect the alien creature’s desire to fight, and for its own inscrutable reasons, relayed to the group that they could take from the crypt whatever trifles they desired, so long as they left in short order. Graciously, the group thanked the odd creature for its mercy and hastily searched the remainder of the tomb.
In the adjacent room where they had first encountered the bat-creature only moments before, they found indications of his desperation: atop a massive stone glyph in the floor sat a modest pile of bones from a dozen or so disparate creatures, polished white and gnawed soft. Whatever water the creature was drinking seemed to be dripping in a drop at a time from a muddy crevasse in the ceiling. Beyond this platform, the party stood in awe of the actual Olamn crypt, a hollow, cylindrical chamber that stretched up some thirty feet and down into the yawning dark. At regular intervals in this great tube were hundreds of semicircular holes large enough for a body, with nearly each one containing the mummified remains of an Olman ancestor. Not wanting to draw the ire of the mysterious alien orb and without the time or desire to individually search a few hundred burial niches, the group was about to turn to leave when Dorian spotted something; in one of the nearest slots, there sat at the opening what appeared to be a massive hunk of something brilliant. After some cautious climbing, the item itself was recovered: a gold statue of a bipedal bat with rubies for eyes and slivers of pearl for fangs and claws. Not only valuable for its materials alone, Othar immediately spotted that the idol was magical, and for reasons even he could not explain, he was overcome with the sensation that this object was a key of some kind. After relaying this to the rest of the group, the party decided it would be best to move on quickly. They snatched up Urol, whose obliviousness had spared him the combat and was now sketching the Olman burial chamber, and beat a hasty retreat out of the chamber.
With one last small vein on the map to explore, the party quickly crept down a wide hallway that ended in a smaller chamber containing a huge statue of a man decorated in cracked skulls, his tusked mouth half-open as though ready to swallow his enemies. At the further end was a modest well, which inspection revealed to also be full of bones. This was initially confusing, as the bat-creature they had encountered before easily could have left this area had he been here, so from where did the bones originate? The question was answered quickly and mercilessly as a burbling sound accompanies Othar’s panicked and short-cut scream. The party turned and saw Othar standing with his entire form engulfed in a fleshy mass of eyes, tongues, teeth, and claws, struggling desperately to get out. Unsure of how to attack this horrid thing without killing Othar, the group demurred at first, but it was Traxen who, with one savage and expert blow of his sword, cleaved the creature neatly off Othar’s body and sent it screaming back to whatever hell it rose from.
A quick turn of the well turned up a smattering of valuables from this fleshy, gelatinous masses’ former victims, mostly jewelry, and none of it worth the knowledge that such things as they had just encountered existed in the world. It was, at least, some small consolation that of all the abominations they had encountered thus far, these madness-inducing and alien aberrations that could even turn the bodies of men to their infernal aims, all of them could die. With this bittersweet confirmation, the men fled from the ruined city. The spartan comforts of their ship seemed all too inviting by contrast.