Cautiously making their way to the beach below, the party encountered a horrible sight: among the narrow stretch of sand that wreathed the cave network known as Kraken’s Cove was a riot of smashed bamboo cages, crates bearing scores of stamps marking them as booty from equally as many stolen shipments, and bodies, dozens of bodies, a collection of dead that included men and women, all pirates, but several of whom appeared horribly twisted and mangled, their bodies broken and utterly, deeply wrong, covered in unwholesome spurs of bone, sores, tentacles, and teeth. Several had been pelted with crossbow bolts or bore wounds from sword blows, and somehow even more unsettling, those who were not twisted and mutated, the normal few, seemed to have died in excruciating agony at the hands of their fellows, huge swaths of flesh ripped from bone, limbs ripped free of their bonds, heads and organs split by some terrible, natural weapon.
Resolved to scour the beach for clues before investigating the caves, the party found a bag of spice and some other sundries they believed they could peddle. But as the sun at last slipped over the horizon and the roaring fires of the sea and nearby boats became the only source of light, the party was descended upon by two of the horrid creatures that lay strewn across the beach, two that still seemed to somehow yet live in spite of their twisted and horrid state.
While the party managed to neatly dispatch the loathsome creatures, in death they were found to behave much like the monkeys they’d destroyed earlier, their death throes violent and vicious, their unwholesome forms rupturing and exploding with an acrid slime as whatever energy held them together released. As much as in disgust of the creatures as in having exhausted their options on the beach, the party at last entered the dank and stinking caves.
Unfortunately, the caves provided no solace. While still well-lit, the acoustics of the cave carried screams of madness and primal rage from deep within the caverns to the party’s ears with every step they took, making it impossible to know where an attack may come from. As they reluctantly plunged the depths of the caverns, they found still more of the afflicted crew, their first room finding them in the hideaway’s kitchen, where two damned souls feasted on a freshly-killed and unafflicted fellow, while in the far corner the former cook dismembered a man while he still breathed, albeit barely. Desperate for fresh meat, the three attacked the party immediately as men possessed, but these few, too, were eventually put down.
One by one, the other residents of Kraken’s Cove attacked the group as they made their way through the tunnels, each one more strange or horrible than the last: a furry, kobold-like creature with bat wings who spoke a broken form of common even through his madness, a luckless gnome horticulturalist and the violet fungus that was his undoing, a ravenous and truly fearsome thunder lizard that hid in a room of drying silks and waited to spring his attack, and perhaps least dangerous but most frightening, the cove’s jail, a series of cages containing dozens of unclothed men and women who had all succumbed to the horrid fever, clawing each other apart and screaming madly against their bonds. Out of pity and disgust, the group ended these miserable creatures, pelting them from a distance until at last the caves grew quiet.
Deeper within, the group encountered the treasury and armory tended by Kigante Valeros, whom the party eventually learned was a former Crimson Fleet Captain that kept the caves at Kraken’s Cove on behalf of the fleet. While Kigante seemed to have a passion for massive nautical trophies including several massive shark jaws, masts and nameplates from scuttled vessels, and even more esoterica from the sea, it was a series of fantastically rare sea charts penned before the Sea Princes came to rule Sasserine and erase the city from history that proved to be both valuable and something that could actually be hauled away. Using these charts, a competent team of sailors could even navigate the Bay of Blood, as the Crimson Fleet no doubt had used them in the past. It seemed that Kigante, himself, had not survived the assault, however, as the party found his half-consumed skeleton having made its stand in his room, the bodies of five savage pirates dead at his feet. A quick turn of the room revealed a magical rapier, which Dorian claimed before moving on deeper within the caves.
As the caves grew quiet with the deaths of the shrieking monstrosities that lurked within, the group could hear a quiet sobbing as they entered the next room, where they spied a solitary woman, her back turned to them, standing before a tide pool in the corner of the cave, weeping into her hands. Cautiously approaching her, the woman turned to them, revealing the disfigurement she’d been hiding: a shock of corruption ran down the middle of her face and torso in a diagonal tear, her skin purple and writhing with knobby protrusions of bone and tentacles where it marked her. Delirious, she cried out to them, “Vanthus? My love, you’ve returned to me!” before screeching and loping towards them even as her arms and legs went twisted and horrible. In the brief skirmish that followed, the woman was mercifully put down, clearly afflicted with the evident fever that plagued so many here, but a search of her body revealed something interesting; still pressed deeply into the flesh of her palm was a silver locket bearing Vanthus’ picture within. From the description of the woman, her behavior, and the locket in her grip, the group rightly surmised the identity of the woman to be Brissa Santos, Vanthus’ lover and connection to the Crimson Fleet, who clearly had not survived whatever madness had come to this place. Taking the locket, the party moved on to the deepest chambers of the cave.
The final chamber met the party with the sounds of a horrific battle, and to their surprise, a noise they had not heard away from Kizziar – the sound of a pistol discharging. Hurrying to the aid of what they hoped would be the first sign of uncorrupted life they had seen at the cove, they rushed into the room to find over a dozen afflicted pirates, men and women, laying siege to a small barricade, behind which was a raven-haired, harsh beauty who popped out from behind her barrier with sabre and pistol to dispatch her foes. Upon spotting the group, she called out to them, telling them to help her or that they’d be next on the list of the dead. Her decree didn’t seem to matter, however, as some of the savage pirates had already broken off to attack the softer targets the party represented. The woman took this opportunity of the numbers around her thinning to leap out from behind cover, and while the group kept some of the pirates busy, the woman, still fighting expertly with sword and gun, dispatched twice over the number the party grappled with by herself.
When the last of the maniacs fell dead, the woman, clearly suffering from the fever herself, as the black, weeping bites on her arm and thigh attested to, kicked one of the chairs she’d been using as a barricade upright, and sat. “Introduce yourselves”, she commanded. The group did, and she returned the introduction, claiming to be Captain Harliss Javell of The Crimson Fleet. While she was frustrated that the party knew so little about what had transpired, she – likely due to the fugue state caused by the fever she suffered from – recounted her story of what had happened, telling the party that Vanthus and Brissa had come to her a few days prior with the story that they were interested in buying smuggled silks and hide to take to Sasserine. They stayed on as guests of the fleet for a few days, but an hour or so prior to the group’s arrival, she caught Vanthus attempting to steal one of the treasures on board her vessel, a massive black pearl the size of a man’s fist. Javell stabbed Vanthus, she recalled, causing him to drop the pearl on deck, and instead of simply rolling around, it cracked like an egg, shedding a cloud of brackish smoke and shooting out rays of darkness. Harliss said her mind went blank and her senses numb, and for a moment, all she felt was rage, like she’d never felt before, and an all-consuming hunger. When it passed, she was still on the deck of her vessel, with Vanthus and Brissa nearby, but Brissa, along with all of the hands on her ship, had changed, becoming twisted and savage creatures. Vanthus kicked Brissa off the port side of the vessel while she still was wracked with her sudden change, then leapt from the starboard side and swam to shore. For her part, Javell was forced to kill several of her men before abandoning ship herself, but thanks to the fires Vanthus lit after dumping her ship’s payload of whale oil into the bay, it was impossible to find him. She and her first mate, Drevoraz, who had also resisted the change, fled to the beach, leaving her ship to burn and her men to die.
While she retreated inside the caves in an attempt to find Kigante, the old salt who ran the caves for the fleet, she dispatched Drevoraz with a special task, and as Javell told the assembled men what it was, their blood turned cold: “The Vanderboren name is no stranger to me. Vanthus will pay for what he’s done, mark me. I’ve already sent Drevoraz to Sasserine to deal with him, and when he arrives, he’ll kill that son of a bitch, his family, his friends, his pets, anyone who owes him money, his drinking buddies, and any other slut he’s banging on the side.” It was immediately apparent to the group that Harliss was not aware that Vanthus was estranged from his only living family, and that in effect all she had done is ordered Lavinia’s death. The group immediately went into panic mode, though not to the extent that they couldn’t think clearly. While Traxen and Dorian left immediately to return to their boat, Othar and Kizziar stayed to ask for details of the attack in the hopes that they could better stop it. Offering Javell a potion to soothe her injuries and negate the effect of the fever seemed to impress her, along with how well the party had comported themselves in reaching her, and she seemed genuinely remorseful over giving the order, especially considering that Vanthus wouldn’t even meet punishment for it. Removing an elaborate, demon-shaped earring carved out of jade from her ear, she handed it to Othar, telling him that if they could find Drevoraz before he did the deed, giving him this earring would verify to him that whatever message they carried was genuine. It was, she regretted, the best she could do.
Hurrying to catch up, the party ran at full speed out of the caves and back through the jungle to reach the small, sandy beach where they had been dropped off by Captain Malcolm and Lienne Tiel. As the sun finally dropped over the horizon and the sky grew dark, they spotted a fire in the distance, and ran for it. What they found, rather than the expected, waiting vessel, was Lienne, sitting by a fire, a sour look on her face. As the party finally reached her, she could barely contain her mirth about the practical joke she and Malcolm had decided to play, the idea that the party lost yet another boat even when it was staffed. The boat, in fact, was a couple miles up the shore, waiting for them. The joke did not go over well with the party, who was in a frenzy to reach Sasserine before Harliss’ hit crew. Finally reaching the boat, the party set sail across the Bay of Blood, but were advised that their progress would be hampered by the fact that their boat would need to crawl along the coastline to maintain an accurate route, but that this could only be done during the day. Reluctantly, the party bore the weight of uncertainty and the knowledge that they could not sail under darkness with their current vessel and crew. Sasserine awaited them, nearly a day and a half away.
Abandoning thoughts of hurrying along the overland route after a consultation of their maps, the Tittyfish docked in Sasserine just before sundown the following day at a pier in the Merchant District, but as the sun began to set the party could see scores of green fires hovering throughout the city, and it occurred to them that the Wormfall Festival had begun, meaning their route back to Vanderboren Manor would be a troubled and crowded one. Steeling themselves to muscle their way through mobs, the party disembarked and began to move as fast as they could through the assembled celebrants.
This task, of course, was fraught with problems, some expected, some not. Crowds were inevitable, as were entertainers, displays, and merchants out in force even more than usual. Drunken festival-goers proved to be a small obstacle, and one churlish gnome even attempted to waylay Dorian for his perceived rudeness. The group managed to swiftly get away from this roadblock, only to be confronted by a more pressing matter up the street: a wagon float had come loose from its bonds and was on a downhill path to a nearby tavern. Their reputation as heroes of Sasserine preceeding them, the group acted fast and managed to stop the runaway float before disappearing almost before they could be seen doing their heroic deed. Finally, in the square in front of the Vanderboren Manor, a much more overt distraction was launched. From behind, Othar was attacked by a lithe woman wearing a full-body black stocking with a grinning skeleton painted across it. As the macabre figure danced gracefully around him, striking him with her fists, a troupe of nearby stiltwalkers dropped their disguises and launched their attack, throwing bottles of alchemist’s fire at the party, filling the square with fire and causing a panic. While Traxen thought quickly and attacked the woman in the bodysuit, forcing her to retreat, the rest of the party went to work on the stiltwalkers, dispatching two before the other three fled. The city watch arrived almost immediately, demanding an explanation of what occurred. While Traxen and Dorian were comfortable risking jail time to waste no time in coming to their employer’s aid, Othar and Kizziar remained behind to explain the situation, aided greatly by their visible medals and the word of several people in the square who claimed they saw the group be attacked. The watch tentatively let the remaining group go, taking them at their word that they’d check in.
Finally, having reached Vanderboren Manor, the group found the gate locked, something they had never seen before. Traxen had already scaled the wall, and unlocked the gate just as those who had stayed behind with the watch arrived. Running towards the still quiet manor house, they tried the door, finding it both locked and nobody arriving to attend it. Frantic, Traxen smashed out one of the windows that would allow him into the receiving room and dove through, barking at the others to follow.
As he came to his feet inside, he was met by two hideous, stinking, froglike creatures brandishing spears. Neither were pleased to see him.