Savage Tide; Pathfinder

Chapter 5: Tides of Dread
Session III: Return of the Brother

With the Gang of Five making connections, winning allies, and gathering supplies on the island, things back at Farshore had grown tense. New Olman recruits arrived in advance of the party’s return, and not all of Farshore had welcomed them as friends. The ongoing feud between Lavinia and Manthalay for control of the town was scheduled to come to an end with the nearby election, but until then, Farshore remained a colony divided in all but the driving impetus to prepare their fledgling home for an assault they knew it was unlikely they would survive.

After returning victorious from their circuit of the Olman tribes, one major goal away from Farshore remained: recovering their vessel, the Sea Wyvern, from her wreck at the north end of the Isle. Preparing for such a task would take time and supplies, not the least of which was tar, for which a second trip would have to be made now that they had been liberated from the tyrant king of the Isle. The required preparations were initiated as the group, now back in Farshore, surveyed their progress and adjusted or instructed as necessary, helping to acclimate their new Olman friends, making peace between the Farshorites and the Olman to better facilitate an exchange of skills, and performing feats of magic and of strength that greatly aided the colony’s readiness.

Much had changed in Farshore since they had arrived, in fact: Amella, a near-shattered victim of the trauma she faced in losing her ship and then being kidnapped by Olangru, began to flourish again in a role of leadership in instructing the laborers of the colony how better to shore up their naval defenses, and her relationship with Traxen slowly began to mend.

Tavey had, rather happily, been taken in by a childless vintner and brewer who owned a farmstead flush against the outside of the Farshore wall. Kizziar, still deeply concerned for the boy, paid the couple a visit. Tavey was, at the time, away with friends, a small mercy he was thankful for: both the grim gunman and the boy’s new family agreed it may be best for his healing if he avoided reminders of the ugliness that befell him. Still very fond of the boy, Kizziar handed over his first pistol, a battered pepperbox, to Tavey’s adopted father, telling him that it was a gift for the boy from his hero, when he was older, if his new father deemed it wise. The couple smiled and thanked Kizziar for his influence in the boy’s life. Kizziar left, with high hopes that Tavey’s life from here out would be one of peace and joy.

Ever resilient, Urol seemed to be making strides in his own recovery, though by all appearanced he had lost the hand of the much younger Telda Syren, Farshore’s doctor, to the advances of Kaskus Kiel, the handsome dwarf. Spurned, but not despairing, he spent as much time as possible with Hevrik Aldwattle, the alchemist, contributing his formidable knowledge to the cause.

Of all the survivors of the trek across the Isle and the wreck of the Wyvern, however, Avner was, surprisingly, the one who seemed to be changing the most. Seeing him adopt a more submissive role in the face of his overpowering relative was one thing, but the bedraggled, tired man they returned to find was another completely. Still perforce campaigning for his uncle’s election to the office of Mayor of Farshore, he caught up with Dorian while taking a break at The Last Coconut and, to Dorian’s surprise, apologized to him, repenting his terrible behavior and thanking he and his friends for saving him and seeing him safely through the jungle. Dorian was more than willing to let bygones be bygones, and embraced Avner’s new attitude as a friend. By Dorian’s approximation, Avner had begun, at last, to start growing up, and his trials were forging a better man than he was.

The weapons and aid the Gang returned from the Isle interior were impressive; so much so, in fact, that Ulvar Kabbanja, leader of the Farshore militia and staunch supporter of Manthalay for mayor, rescinded his opposition to the group’s presence in Farshore. Showing himself to be a reasonable man, he made plain that while he wouldn’t be changing his vote, he also didn’t hate or fear the Olman, and was happy to have their skills and their sword arms, and expressed a desire to have a positive relationship with the men going forward. This new relationship was further cemented by Othar and Dorian’s successful attempts to recruit otherwise unwilling men of Farshore to the militia to participate in the colony’s defense. Meanwhile, Othar’s attempts to rebuild the chapel pacified the rage of Vesserin Catherly, who had spent the intervening month administering the repairs with a handful of volunteers. Hevrik, Telda, Dranys, Kaskus, and Jeran plied their respective trades in preparation for Farshore’s defense, all of them not willing to make a spectacle of their vote for leadership of Farshore, lest their efforts to defend the colony become hampered by politics.

With the supplies to repair the ship gathered, Kizziar, Traxen, Dorian, and Lefty sailed Lavinia’s ship, the Blue Nixie, northbound towards the fateful wreck of the Sea Wyvern. Othar opted to remain behind in order to continue aiding Lavinia’s campaign for Mayor, to oversee the tactical upgrades to the colony port, and to to use his battery of daily spells to help repair and bolster the colony’s defenses. Amella, an otherwise natural choice to come along on the ship recovery, instead stayed behind, still unable to face her perceived failure on so visceral a level.

Three days passed as the Gang of Five – less Othar – sailed to the northeastern tip of the Isle of Dread, along with Lefty and a crew of miscellaneous phanatons, Olman, and Farshore citizens who were handy at shipwright’s duties. The ship looked much as it had been left, sitting atop the reef that shattered her hull. Thinking it most prudent to scout the ship’s corpse before sending in a work crew, the five men paddled the ship’s boat to the broken-toothed hole punched into the vessel’s starboard side.

The caution they showed proved to be wise. In the weeks since the vessel became abandoned there, it had become home to an aquatic, spellcasting abomination later identified as a kopru, an abomination with a suckered mouth wreathed in tentacles, the puissant upper body of a humanoid, and the lower body of a shark, with a tail tipped with poisonous barbs. Clearly intelligent, the creature nonetheless seemed to be willing to brook any discussion, and attacked immediately, flinging spells and calling upon his companion, a massive, aquatic thunder lizard that – to everyone’s surprise – seemed to have conducted savage fever.

The battle was difficult, but ultimately the lone creature proved no match for the combined efforts of the heroes. The living quarters this creature kept, they found, were ghastly: bits of body parts were strung around a foul-smelling, barnacle-covered room, the centerpiece of which appeared to be a small shrine, but to what nobody could tell. As night began to fall and the tide receded, Traxen observed that the ship was functionally dry-docked when the tide was out. Work began in earnest to make repairs enough for the vessel to limp back to Farshore. By Traxen’s estimation, it would take a few days.

The days went quickly, with time spent not repairing the boat instead spent giving proper burials to the unfortunate victims of the crash, hunting for food and sport, and bonding. Thanks to his courage on the Isle in the weeks prior, Lefty was at last welcomed into the ranks of the group proper, an opportunity which he took to again recant the sins of his past and express a desire to start over and walk the straight and narrow. This time, he was welcomed in without reservations.

With the repairs complete, the two ships set sail in tandem for their return to Farshore. Weather was mild, and the return of the two ships was met with still more good news: in their absence, Lavinia had won the mayoral election, largely thanks to the efforts that Othar and Dorian had exerted in the days prior, and moreso the efforts that all four men and their allies had undertaken to defend and improve the colony since their arrival. Manthalay was furious, of course, but still retained enough sense to not jeopardize the lives of the people of Farshore for his pride. There would be time enough to plot against Lavinia after the battle, and if she should fall during the melee, well, naturally he’d be available to rise to the occasion.

As the Olman recruits and Farshore shipwrights set about repairing the Sea Wyvern, there remained much to do and precious little time in which to do it, with the arrival of the Crimson Fleet expected in only four short days. Traxen spent three of those days vanished inside the jungle interior, but when he returned, he did so accompanied by a veritable herd of thunder lizards, whom he had tamed and enlisted in the fight against their enemy. Kizziar, meanwhile, continued to oversee the construction of the siege weaponry to be fitted on the towers and palisades surrounding the harbor. Othar, having spoken to Vesserin during their restoration of the chapel, had learned that the people of Farshore were fearful that their loved ones recently deceased of the last raid would be raised up against them using necromancy, and so beseeched the Olman elders of Tamoachan for their aid in cleansing the Farshore cemetery, hallowing it so as to ensure that no restless dead would rise there. But Dorian, most of all, noticed the absence of certain players above all else: the Jade Ravens seemed to be entirely out of the fight. Something would have to be done.

First and most accessible of the Ravens would be Kaskus, who was easily found at the side of his new lover, Fareshore’s Doctor Telda Syren. Dorian asked if the Jade Ravens had any plans for the battle, or at least what they meant to contribute. Kaskus looked somewhat ashamed as he told Dorian that he believed that the Ravens were “over”; things had changed since they’d arrived in Farshore, he reported, and while Kaskus was at his happiest and most at peace in many years, the others had strained and broken:
Liamae”, he started, “Thass a sahd story, ‘tis. Dooring the sehm stahrm that soonk thah Sea Wehverrn, she wus’ tryin’ tae settle the tempest wi’ magics. Boot…somethin’ went wroong. Ah boolt o’ lightnin’ ‘it ’er smack-dead, an’ she passed oot. Weh all thooght she was dead. Non’a us could check on ‘er, what with jus’ tryin’ tae keep the Nixie afloat. Nex’ day, weh find the lass is stehl with us, but she don’ wake f’r dehs. When at last she doos, she’s all barmy, spekkin’ ‘boot divine intervention, an’ gevin’ up her life tae serve the gods, an such. Poor thing’s been stickin’ tae th’ chapel an’ actin’ like someone I doon’t know ever since.”
Zan”, Kaskus wrinkled his face in disgust, “Zan never wonted tae come in th’ first place, an’ ah soospect th’ only reason ‘e did was tae make Tolin ’appy. E’s been a depressive hoosk ever since we arrived, an’ spends moost of his days in his coops.”
“An’ Tolin”, he sighed, “Tolin was dooin’ rather well…until ye all returned. The wehks between our gettin’ here an’ yours, why, yeh’d think the man’d trned et all around. ‘E was ’appy, ’e was confident… An’ then yeh rehturned, er mahr ehmportantly, Oothar, rehturned, an’ Tolin ‘ad all ’is dreams’ve bein’ ehble to sehduce Lavinia dashed. Off tae the farrest with ’im, quick as yeh like, as soon as ’e rehlized yeh were back.”

None of this news was good, but all of these obstacles, Dorian was confident, could be overcome: with the help of Othar and a potion from Hevrik Aldwattle, Dorian managed to beat Zan into sobriety long enough to agree to fight in the battle, but only on the conditions that Tolin return to lead them, and that Zan be granted transportation back to Sasserine when the battle was over. Othar begrudgingly agreed, and he and Dorian set off to recruit Liamae, who, despite her lack of interest in her old life, was persuaded to the cause thanks to Dorian’s silver tongue, which persuaded her that thrusting herself once more into the breach would be the ultimate test of the gods’ favor upon her. She, too, though, would only come if Tolin could be brought back. For obvious reasons, Othar left his unhappy task in Dorian’s hands.

Simply finding Tolin took some doing, but when he was at last located, Dorian succeeded in convincing Tolin of both the importance of his and the rest of the Ravens’ presence at the battle and in his own need to get over Lavinia. With his pep talk having seemingly sunk in, Dorian was assured that the Jade Ravens would fight in the upcoming battle.

As the appointed hour drew close, the citizens of Farshore, their Olman allies, the Jade Ravens and the Gang of Five, and the various beasts and individuals whom they had recruited from the island interior stood ready to beat back the invading Crimson Fleet horde. By ninth bell, the tall and dark masts of a veritable fleet of ships could be seen on the horizon, each flying the menacing jolly roger of the Crimson Fleet.

Scores of ballistae and massive rocks began to sail through the sky, their opening volley smashing Farshore’s warehouse stores to bits even as throngs of bloodthirsty pirates rowed for shore while diabolical sorcerers on the decks of some of the ships began to cast area-wide destruction spells into the largest concentrations of people they could spot.

The Farshore defenders were ready, though, and fired back with a volley of ballistae and catapults of their own, and the defenses they erected miraculously held. Casks of flaming oil and the aid of friendly spellcasters ensured that the bulk of the boarding parties would never reach shore. The assembled forces stood at the harbor’s edge and fought the pirates even as they came aground. These men proved little difficulty for the heroic Gang of Five, but almost immediately their attentions were diverted elsewhere as a quartet of flesh golems breached the shore from underneath the violent waters. Nearly impervious to magic, Traxen and Kizziar met these beats blow for blow, finishing them in short order and spectacular fashion as Traxen summoned his army of thunder lizards to gorge themselves on the constructs.

The Crimson Fleet brought many waves of attack to bear, however, and

Chapter 5: Tides of Dread
Session II: The Gang of Five Strikes Back

The people of Farshore had fewer than sixty days to prepare for what Lefty, the sole survivor of the attack on Farshore, explained would be a “massive invasion force” sent by The Crimson Fleet. There was no time to lose, on that all could be in agreement, even the disparate camps lead by Lavinia and Manthalay.

It immediately became apparent, however, that the two leaders of Farshore had radically different ideas of how the problem should be handled: Manthalay, the militarist, counselled closing off Farshore’s borders, aggressively annexing the goods and services of the native populations, and shoring up Farshore’s military might as much as possible in the intervening time. Lavinia, the converse, believed it was time to reach out to the neighboring tribes for aid, to gather resources and focus on more innovative strategies. Neither wished to be sidelined by having to fight for their perspective, much less so at the cost of neither plan being fully realized as resources were diverted in two directions, and so, it was reluctantly decided that an election would be held in two weeks time to decide who would lead Farshore as its mayor and as general in the upcoming battle. While Manthalay set his nephew, Avner, to campaigning almost immediately, Lavinia met with her trusted protectors to strategize where they could do the most good in the shortest time, and how. With the help of Lefty, the other members of the Farshorite Council, Amella, and – surprisingly – Kaskus Kiel, of the Jade Ravens, a list was made. In summary:

  • reach out to the Olman peoples for aid and support
  • recover the Sea Wyvern and return her to Farshore to be repaired
  • bolster Farshore’s defenses with the addition of watch towers, upgrading the infirmary, rebuilding the chapel, etc.
  • recruit more able bodies for the combat itself, with fewer than half of Farshore’s small population fit for combat and only half of those currently willing to participate in the battle
  • acquire material resources in the form of lumber, tar, stone, etc. to aid in facilitating trade and providing materials needed to upgrade the colony

With their goals before them, the only question that remained was in where to start. Lavinia suggested it might be a good idea to ask around town for any other ideas, especially to Jeran Emrikad, Farshore’s librarian, who fancied himself a bit of an expert on Olman history. Stopping at the hall of records, Jeran told the men that if they wanted to start with something small with a high reward, he had an idea for them: the island on which Farshore was located was called Temute, and many centuries past, he explained, there was at a time an Olman tribe called the Kawabusa who called it home. While they had fallen prey to predation and integration with other tribes, it was rumored that some of their wares could be found in the ruins of their temples in the form of their masterwork weaponry. This information he provided on the condition that they also see the foreman Dranys Sellis, whom he believed also had a task that could be accomplished without leaving the island.

Dranys, in fact, had told Jerad that the damage done to both the hall of records and the chapel could not be repaired without a good deal more timber, but that a tribe of troglodytes that lived on the island made an impossible with constant raids on the lumberjacks he sent into the jungle.

With a clear objective, the group made out into the island interior, returning late the following day with the discovered weapons of the Kawabusa tribe and the savage troglodytes on the isle thinned out enough that lumber could be safely harvested for some time to come.

As the group pondered their next move, it became impossible to keep their attention completely on the task at hand. Farshore was bustling around them, and they still had much to take care of with their friends and companions even as they attempted to perform all the dirty work in ensuring Farshore’s survival.

Tavey Nesk, Kizziar’s biggest fan and the orphaned cabin boy, had the good fortune to be taken in by a childless couple who operated a distillery and small farm on the opposite side of the Farshore city wall, and was reportedly doing well, in spite of his recent trauma. Kizziar decided it may be best to leave Tavey alone, for a while, as the grim gunman’s presence would likely serve Tavey only as a reminder of the horrors he had lived through.

Meanwhile, Amella tentatively began to make steps towards her own recovery. Lavinia had insisted that she be responsible for administrating the defensive upgrades for the harbor, and while initially very reluctant, Amella found that once she embraced the work, it began to return her to her element. Things remained strained with Traxen, though during a meeting at her room at The Last Coconut, they were polite, and she stated that she would only need some time, a request Traxen felt it important to honor.

Urol, perhaps most of all, seemed to be taking the horrors he had seen in stride, possibly through the power of cognitive dissonance alone. Throwing himself into his research, Urol made fast friends of Hevrik and seemed to be having an attempt at courting the lovely Telda. Only the nervous shudder or glazed look in his eye when examining a particularly gruesome specimen, or the occasional waking up screaming in a cold sweat, betrayed that there could ever have been anything wrong.

The Jade Ravens, on the other hand, showed outward signs of total disintegration. It was Kaskus who opened up on the matter to Kizziar, whom he found an odd kinship in. While he had begun to court the halfling doctor, Telda Syren, and spent most of his days attempting to help at the infirmary, the others had scattered. Tolin, he reported, spent much of his time in the jungle outside of Farshore itself. This was recent, however, as prior to the Gang of Five’s arrival in Farshore, he had spent almost all his time hovering around Lavinia. As Kaskus understood it, Lavinia had told him only the night before their arrival to back off, after he made a rather heavy-handed grab for her affections. Since then, Kaskus believed he didn’t want to be around Lavinia and around Othar even less, and spent much of his time in the jungle, seething. Zaan, on the other hand, could easily be found. Zaan had confessed to Kaskus on the voyage across the Vohoun Ocean that he hated sea travel, and the jungle, and that leaving Sasserine was the biggest mistake he’d felt he’d ever made. Since arriving in Farshore, he had begun to drink heavily, and as Kaskus observed, if one was looking for Zaan now, they had only to look for the alcoholic, self-pitying wreck that had become a permanent fixture of The Last Coconut. The case of Liamae, though, was strangest of all: shortly before arriving at Farshore, the Nixie ran afoul of the same storm that grounded the Wyvern. While Kaskus, Tolin, and Zaan aided in securing the rigging, Liamae attempted to use her magic to calm the storm, and was hit by a lightning bolt. The jolt very nearly killed her, and she didn’t wake again until they’d been in Farshore for days. When at last she did, she was changed, and not in a way Kaskus thought was very healthy, he admitted. Becoming almost madly devout, Liamae claimed to be touched by Desna, the goddess of fortune. She abandoned her arcane studies and became a devout adherent of Desna – and an almost entirely different person – in the process.

“The Ravens”, he concluded, sadly, “ah think weh may be done, Kizziar.”

Avner was readily accessible, and could often be seen bustling about town campaigning on his uncle’s behalf, even in the earliest days since the election was called. While Othar and Dorian both would make attempts at campaigning for Lavinia whenever they were in town, it seemed all Avner was permitted to do was huck for his family’s victory. It was clear, however, that a change had come over him: where once there was arrogance and self-importance, there was now a spark of humility and decency in Avner, and his meetings with Dorian and Othar were polite, and possibly even friendly. Dorian and Othar left each encounter with Avner with the distinct impression that he did not care for his uncle, nor his uncle for him, and that perhaps, somehow, Avner had grown as a person.

Lavinia remained busy. Even with her role as the leader of Farshore contested, her duties were many, her days full of meetings, planning, accounting, and fighting Manthalay’s campaign, which was actively portraying her as the clueless and inept offspring of her parents, unqualified to lead. Othar would meet with her whenever possible, usually during the evenings to take a meal together, or express their concerns, or for physical and emotional intimacy.

After returning from their first foray into the island interior, Lefty was released into the custody of Dorian, whom Ulvar assured would be held responsible if anything happened. Dorian and Lefty decided to make a sort of home in the small schooner Slipknot Peet had brought his invasion force on, a vessel called The Hellfish, where Lefty revealed his story (eventually revealed only to be a small portion), wherein he worked on a merchant vessel, was an unwitting part of a mutiny by the crew, was forced to kill one of his fellow crewmen for the amusement of Peet, and how he was eventually made a servant of the Rat’s End pirates. To his own surprise, Dorian found himself becoming fast friends with the pirate, and offered to take him to the Isle of Dread proper when they returned to begin the meat of their work. Lefty, a self-confessed inveterate coward, expressed that the thought terrified him. “But then again, Chairman”, he called Dorian, “I don’t suppose I’ve made the best choices in the past, and perhaps it’s time old Lefty steps up and tries to do some good for once, huh?”

The Gang of Five’s next step would perhaps be the biggest: returning to the Isle of Dread and penetrating deep into his black heart, they would secure the aid of the Olman tribes, forge alliances with anyone willing to hear their plight, and gather resources to shore up Farshore’s defenses. Taking The Hellfish, Traxen, Dorian, Kizziar, Othar, and now Lefty would begin their journey by sailing to Mora, where they hoped to reach out to the Olman clan of warriors and tradesmen.

Unfortunately, the Mora tribesmen would not even see the outsiders to hear their request, as Manthalay had done much already to ruin the reputation of the colony amongst the Olman. Only the chief of the Sea Turtle clan would allow them a chance: single combat, wrestling, himself against their chosen. It was Traxen who stepped up, and, in an incredible display, managed to best the fearsome warrior, winning the respect and the attention of the Sea Turtle clan. Chief Hunapo spoke on the Gang of Five’s behalf to the other Mora clans, but they would not be so easily won. To show their prowess and earn the respect of the whole of the Mora tribe, the Gang would have to find and defeat a massive tyrant king named Temauhti-tecuani, “Great and Powerful Tyrant King”, who had made trouble for the Mora people by recently making the valuable tar pits his hunting grounds. Knowing that liberating the tar pits would be a valuable resource for the people of Farshore, as well, they group agreed to return with proof of their might.

The next stop was the coastal Panitube tribe, inhabited by craftsmen, boaters, fishermen, and riders of the oceanic waves. The Panitube, lead by the dashing and experienced Chieftain Kahunamoku, were surprisingly receptive to the group’s requests for aid, though she cautioned them that her people were not warriors: the Panitube are peaceful, but their skill in understanding the ocean is virtually unmatched. For the promise of friendly trade with the people of Farshore for comforts and advances her people could use, Kahunamoku promised she would send a contingent of volunteers to Farshore to teach the citizens to better understand and benefit from the ocean.

Lastly, they returned to the spiritualist village of Tanaroa, last stop before the Great Wall and the dreadful and dangerous island interior. Their evening came well into the evening, and from over half a mile away, thunderous chanting and bright lights could be seen emanating from the canopy near the village’s location. The group hurried to arrive to witness whatever ceremony was taking place, but the moment they arrived, the massive, burning effigy of a bat that sat atop a stepped pyramid in the center of the village seemed as if to burst, sending a massive chunk of the pyre to the ground below, and the Tanaroans scattering. But then, the shape began to move and writhe, and shaking off a blanket of coal stood a creature, somewhat taller than a man, with the head and skin of a bat, and the body of a man. The creature pointed a taloned finger at the Matron of the Tanaroans, screeching out in Olman “”/campaign/pathfinder-savage-tide/wikis/denizens-of-the-isle" class=“wiki-page-link”> Zotzilaha hears your sniveling prayers! You would appease the Great Bat!? Return that which has been stolen or burn!" His message delivered, the creature burst into flames, consuming him into ash at the same moment as a tremor shuddered through the ground and in the distance to the northwest, two great, twin volcanoes shuddered and belched a cloud of noxious vapor into the night sky. Most of the Tanaroans panicked, and those that did not fell to the ground in worshipful fear.

One notable exception was a young girl, perhaps of about twelve or thirteen years, who approached the dumbstruck outsiders and, addressing Othar, spoke in common “You are here to ask for our villages’ aid against your enemies. Matron Itzam-Ye wishes to propose an exchange of favors. You will come with me to see her.” Further perplexed by the direct young lady, Othar agreed, and the five traveled to speak to the matron of the Tanaroan people, the elder who had attempted to raise Tobin for them not more than a week earlier. The elder explained, using the young girl to translate, that Zotzilaha, their fire god, had grown angry over the disappearance of a golden idol taken from his temple months before. She had augured the Gang of Five’s reasons for returning to her, and she assured them that she would help them. But only if they would travel to the volcanoes to the northwest, the Fangs of Zotzilaha, and find a way to appease their god’s anger and quiet his fangs. With no real options, they immediately made their way for the Fangs of Zotzilaha.

Following the clouds of billowing smoke and gouts of flame erupting from the mouth of the twin volcanoes eventually lead them to the opening of a massive lava tube enshrined with offerings. The heat inside was intense, and stifling, but as the warmth of the lava hundreds of feet below a jagged precipice rose up to greet them and the batlike man whom they had seen at Tanaroa stood by, they knew they had come to the right place. With as much respect as they could muster with their sheer ignorance of Olman religious custom, they returned the idol they had found at Tamoachan. The massive bat thanked the group, and indeed, the mountains seemed to quiet their bellowing wrath almost immediately. In gratitude, the bat offered each man one of the tributes that had been left by warriors and travelers who had come before, with the caveat that the item had to be selected on sight alone, and that once selected, the choice was made. Each selected an item of some minor magical or monetary import, save one: when Kizziar went to select his item, he opted for a humble strip of leather connected to a long, thin fang, no larger than a thumb. Upon selecting it, the avatar of Zotzilaha sniffed and said “That one is not known to us. It does not belong here. Take it from here!”, and permitted him to select again. Not knowing the purpose or provenance of the mysterious tooth, they nonetheless put it aside for later, and left the volcanoes, heading out for the tar pits to the west, where they hoped to find Temauhti-tecuani, and hopefully, earn the respect of the Mora tribe.

The tar pits were an integral part of Olman life and would be a necessary resource to aiding in Farshore’s defenses, as well as repairing the Sea Wyvern and gaining the assistance of the Olman tribes in the area. However, it was known that for some reason the fearsome tyrant king Temuahti-tecuani had made the place home, driving away those who sought to use the valuable tar. It was for this reason that it was surprising to the men that, upon their arrival, the great beast was out in force, and appeared to be battling with a cluster of small creatures! About six in number, the small creatures were covered in fur, but wore armor and carried tools, and resembled nothing so much as bipedal monkey-lemures. And they were losing. The group leapt into action, and with the help of the quick-witted and quick-moving creatures, managed to lay low the tyrant king of the Isle of Dread. The fearsome beast had multiple scars from countless attempts on its life over the years, and upon inspection, scores of arrowheads and chipped daggers were found hidden in the beasts scales. Most impressive of all was a fine, cold iron kukri knife of Olman make lodged in the beasts’ foot. Using the blade to extract a couple of the creature’s fearsome teeth, they had both acquired control of the tar pits and recovered proof to the Mora tribe that they were worthy of their help.

The small creatures they had helped to save made themselves known, introducing themselves as creatures called phanatons. Chief amongst their scouts, a phanaton named Bimpo, insisted that the group return to their village so that they could be thanked for their help. Seeing another opportunity to make allies on the Isle and desirous of a good night’s rest away from the horrors of the jungle, they agreed, and followed Bimpo and his pack back to a treetop village deeper into the jungle. There, they were introduced to Chief Teketek, the phanaton elder and Most Interesting Phanaton in the World, who insisted in throwing a lavish party in the group’s honor. During the meal, Othar and Dorian broached the subject of the phanatons lending aid to Farshore’s defense. Chief Teketek thought for a moment and told them that eh would be glad to, provided they could accomplish a small task for him: deeper still into the jungle, towards the first Olman city of Tanaroa, lived an Olman tribe who had, in centuries past, traded with the phanatons, accepting tools and food in exchange for weaponry and toys. The tribe, rather tragically, had disappeared many years earlier, and the chief was curious to know both what had happened to them and if any of their toys remained. “Do this”, he said, “and I shall send objectively the second through twelfth best phanatons to support your cause”. Amused by his bravado and intrigued by the prospect of a cache of Olman weapons, they set out the following morning.

Two days hike saw the group arrive at a massive, mossy ziggurat, nearly sunken into the island interior. Covered in greenery, shielded by the jungle canopy, and very nearly in the middle of nowhere, it is virtually impossible they would have found it on their own, they remarked. The temple itself was only part of a larger civilization that had once existed here, but over the centuries, as the tribe had fallen to attrition and predation, their villages and towns had likewise diminished, leaving only this temple to serve as a headstone to the Olman tribe known as the Rakasta.

Venturing within, the men found a trap and a massive shaft that lead scores of feet down, into the ancestral burial chambers of the clan. Their presence stirred the awareness of a creature who called that lonely chamber home, they soon found: Tonatiuh, a couatl who had, in centuries past, served the Rakasta tribe as a spiritual guide and connection to their deity. Seeing that the men who had arrived now were not simple grave robbers or enemies of the Olman people, the feathered serpent sorrowfully related that his guidance was not enough: the Rakasta people were gone, now, killed by Olman-who-were-not-Olman, men who wore the skin of demons and slew their own. All that remains of their legacy was this temple, and the tools they left behind. Passionately imploring the couatl to allow the legacy of the Rakasta to live on through their weaponry in the fight against evil, the group managed to convince Tonatiuh to take all that remained of the Rakasta legacy to use against the Crimson Fleet: a cache of masterwork Olman weapons and, for their phanaton friends, a small collection of toys and amusements. Bidding the travelers farewell and good luck against their enemies, Tonatiuh declared his mourning complete, and the legacy of the Rakasta ensured. Thus, with a fond farewell, he returned to his home plane, while the party returned to the phanaton village, turning over the various toys they had found and the knowledge of the fate of the Rakasta to the grateful phanatons. As the party made its way back to Tanaroa, they did so with just under a dozen phanatons in tow.

Returning to Tanaroa some days later, the continued quiet of the Fangs of Zotzilaha and the confirmation that the Tanaroan people could again access the tar of the nearby pits ensured that the Tanaroans would stand with the people of Farshore in battling the Fleet. And while the Panitube had already committed to the fight pending the fulfillment of peaceful trade with the people of Farshore, it was Chief Hunapo and the Mora who were most impressed and grateful for the defeat the tyrant king of the Isle and the unrestricted access to the tar pits his defeat would allow. The kukri that Dorian had recovered, they learned, belonged to the firstborn son of another Mora clan. The son had lost his life in the assault, and his father, now bitterly old, wept openly to see his son’s weapon returned to him. The alliance was cemented.

With little over a month left, the greatest obstacle still lay before them: to travel back to the northern side of the Isle and repair their vessel, the Sea Wyvern, enough so that it can make it to Farshore and undergo dry-docking and more permanent repairs. Time was running slim, but recovering the ship and its siege weaponry would prove invaluable to the defense of Farshore.

Chapter 5: Tides of Dread
Session I: A New Threat

The firelit skies above Farshore signaled not the promise of an inviting hearth, but of siege and slaughter. Even before the party’s canoes reached the shore, they could see the squat figure of a transport vessel flying the flag of the dreaded Crimson Fleet hunched at dock, and hear the screams and cries of the people of Farshore being carried on the wind.

The group’s Moran canoe captains were both unwilling and ill-prepared for a fight, but were willing at least to take them as far as a pier on which they could disembark and enter the fracas. Of the thirty-nine souls aboard the Sea Wyvern who set out from Sasserine, only nine remained, and far from arriving at their destination victoriously, the grueling ordeal that brought them to this place now seemed as though it would end in still another trial. As pirates ran about the colony cutting down men and women alike, it would have been easy to succumb to despair and a feeling of defeat. The remaining members of the Gang of Five, however, immediately knew without need for a word that these pirates had only picked a fine day to die.

With a lightning-fast assessment of the problem before them, the men split up to tackle the problems before them, assured that each of them would soon spill pirate blood.

Othar’s attention was immediately called to a nearby home, the figure of a single woman barely visible behind the glass through the flames that threatened to consume the building. Using his magics to allow himself to fly and gain a greater command of the field, his first task was to put out the fire that ate away at the structure, extinguishing the blast with a flare of pyrotechnics before sweeping in to rescue the barely-conscious woman inside.

Traxen resolved to come to the aid of a lone man who had been cut down by one of the pirates but still clung to life by a thread, bleeding out on the ground with a bundle of books and papers splayed out beside him. Neatly dispatching the curs who were about to finish the man off, he then administered expert first aid before turning the man over to Amella, Tavey, Urol, and Avner, all of whom Traxen directed to a nearby warehouse that appeared to be a haven others were hiding from the assault in. For Amella, there was a small glimmer of hope as she took charge of getting the others to safety and shepherding the frightening residents of Farshore through the darkness.

With the immediate matters before them resolved, Traxen and Othar both scrambled to reach the nearby chapel, where a group of a half dozen or so pirates manned a ram in an attempt to bash down the double doors and get to the screaming, shrieking colonists inside. The pirates’ efforts yielded fruit before the pair of heroes could reach the colonists, however, allowing the half dozen curs to enter the building before they could be stopped. While Traxen rushed to engage the invaders through the door, Othar believed he had a more expedient solution, and sent a fireball spell to the epicenter of the cluster of pirates, charring them to ash in a flash of magical flame. While this tactic was altogether effective against the pirates, it caused some unfortunate side-effects: not only did the tremendous amounts of smoke created by the spell threaten the safety of the very innocents he sought to save, but the chapel house itself was on fire, the dry wood and hanging tapestries become quick to light. While severely frustrated with Othar, Traxen nevertheless ran into the fire to escort the colonists to safety while Othar, having realized the gravity of the situation, unleashed another flurry of spells to extinguish the very fire he started. While the fire was, indeed, put out, a significant amount of damage had nevertheless been done to the humble chapel. Traxen escorted the frightened and smoke-choked inhabitants to the safety of the warehouse.

Kizziar, meanwhile, immediately ran to respond to a scene that made his blood boil: a snarling, surly half-orc, chasing an attractive, young, red-headed human girl around a building with an axe in hand, shouting lewd propositions at her as he gave chase, his quarry wide-eyed in terror and desperate to escape. “Assholes like this give the rest of my people a bad name”, Kizziar’s internal monologue growled. The report of a pistol stopped the marauding half-orc dead in his tracks, and as he looked around to see where the bullet that had just whizzed past his feet had come from, he saw only a dusty, trail-worn half-orc standing across the road. Without pause, the half-orc broke off his pursuit of the young woman and came thundering towards his rival, his tusks slobbering with anticipation of the bright madness of slaughter.

Thunder roared twice in the form of lead shot, and before he had made it twenty feet, he fell to the ground, dead. The young woman, who introduced herself as Ruby thanked her hero, who could offer the young lady only a wordless tip of his hat before running off to the next melee.

Dorian, lastly, made for a large building which several citizens of the colony desperately dousing with buckets and carrying out armfuls of books, in spite of the carnage surrounding them. Dorian’s efforts managed to aid the bucket brigade and rescue priceless records from the hall until Othar could come up from behind and douse the flames.

All the group’s actions served to drive the remaining pirates inward, towards the center of town, to their leader, and as the chaos on the outskirts of the colony was quashed by the party’s efforts, they then set tjeor sights on the man whom they saw to be in charge: a massive, ugly brute with a missing eye, coiled lengths of ships rope decorated with grisly trophies of human teeth and bone wrapped around his trunk and limbs as a form of ghastly armor, and a symbolic noose around his neck, worn like a necklace. The man, Dorian recognized, was ‘Slipknot’ Peet, a pirate who nearly met his justice at the end of a rope in Sasserine a few years earlier, but had help in getting free and escaping. Peet roared orders to the remaining pirates to stand and fight against the would-be heroes even as he continued his seemingly careless attacks on the villagers – almost as if he believed the men rushing to face him were a group of colonists – and for the first time in months, the party got a glimpse of Lavinia once again, standing near the Jade Ravens and a tall, handsome man with a massive blade who, themselves, continued a nearly hopeless melee with the pirates, who outnumbered them still.

With the combined might of the four men, however, Peet did his dancing at the end of a blade, with Dorian throttling him with the decorative noose the pirate wore, symbolically ending his wicked life even as he literally did so with a well-placed knife to the throat.

As Peet’s blood spilled into the dirt, the other pirates quickly lost their morale. Many ran, and were cut down in a volley of arrows, knives, and spells hurled by the combined might of the Jade Ravens and the Gang of Five, while some chose to stay and fight, and also were quickly cut down.

One, however, simply dropped his weapons and almost comically began to beg for his life. The man’s genuinely funny, bold-faced cowardice was enough to spare him for the moment, it was decided, and he was taken to Farshore’s jail for holding until such a time as he could be questioned.

Lavinia excitedly reunited with her friends and protectors, who explained, with grim faces, the trouble they had encountered in arriving in Farshore: of the disappearance of crewmen Lirith and Skald; of Journey’s End; of the storm that wrecked their vessel and killed most of her passengers and crew; of the Olman ruins and the dangerous jungles full of terrifying beasts; of the warmth and hospitality of the Olman tribes of Mora and Tanaroa; and lastly, of Fogmire, and the tragic sacrifice of their friend, Tobin. Lavinia relayed that she and the Ravens had made it to Farshore nearly a month in advance of them, and explained that this recent and totally unforseen raid by the pirates of the Crimson Fleet was, in truth, only the latest in an endless string of troubles, not the least of which was her power struggle with the handsome swordsman whom they had seen her fighting beside, the wealthy Manthalay Meravanchi.

Uncle to Avner and former traveling companion of Verik and Larissa, Lavinia’s parents, Manthalay had stewarded Farshore through the months between Verik and Larissa’s departure and Lavinia’s arrival, and in that time, Lavinia explained, much had changed. Manthalay’s politics were especially aggressive, his policies harsh: Farshore was safe, but would remain closed off to the surrounding region, isolationist and incapable of growth, until he could be persuaded otherwise or deposed legitimately. Lavinia introduced the man to her guardians, who greeted them with a gruff, dismissive demeanor, apparently convinced that he would have saved Farshore on his own had they not intervened. It was to be the beginning of an ongoing and bitter feud.

Avner, after the initial battle, had made his way from the safety of the stock house to meet his uncle, who seemed unpleasantly surprised to see his nephew among the newcomers. Avner’s pomp melted into obsequiousness in his uncle’s overpowering presence as he came to realize that he was unwanted here, a fact Manthalay made no attempt to hide. Before following his uncle’s command to move his things into the Meravanchi manor house, however, Avner shocked the group by thanking them: “I know I haven’t been easy to deal with”, he told them, “and…I wanted to apologize. You got us all here safely, and it was wrong of me to act the way I did. Thank you.” Leaving the group stunned, he followed his uncle to their Farshore home.

In the hours that followed, Lavinia gave leave to her friends to explore the colony and meet its people, advising them to introduce themselves to the men and women who were responsible for Farshore’s continued prosperity, the so-called ‘ Farshorite Council’: Ulvar Kabbanja, the sheriff and jailor, a hard-minded man who threw his support behind the strongman figure Manthalay; Malfus and Bonne Firewind, owners and proprietors of ‘The Last Coconut’, Farshore’s inn and tavern, and Lavinia’s chief supporters by virtue of the strong relationship they had with her parents; Vesserin Catherly, the half-elf chaplain of Farshore’s non-denominational chapel; Telda Syren, Farshore’s resident doctor and herbalist, a halfling; Doctor Hevrik Aldwattle, a former adventuring companion to Verik and Larissa and an accomplished scientist, and, as it turned out, the man whom Traxen had saved from bleeding out in the dirt when they first arrived; Jeran Emrikad, keeper of the Farshore Hall of Records, a strangely animated, larger-than-life figure for a man with so humble a profession; and Dranys Sellis, the half-blind dwarven master craftsman who operated Farshore’s lumber and pottery mills.

Making the rounds, the group introduced themselves to the people of Farshore, catching up with Amella and Tavey, the former of whom had taken the latter to The Last Coconut and acquired a room for the time being, and Urol, who seemed to be rather taken with the doctor, Telda Syren, and divided his time between the laboratories of she and Hevrik, a fellow naturalist. Most heartening of all was their reunion with Churtle, who in the month since the arrival of The Blue Nixie had been taken in by Malfus and his wife, and had begun working as a cook and maid at the tavern, and for all purposes seemed to be happy with her new position, and was elated to see her friends again.

The following day, it was back to business. Lavinia, Manthalay, Hevrik, Ulvar, Vesserin, Telda, the Jade Ravens, Avner, Amella, and the Gang of Five met in the Farshore hall of records to discuss the attack and plan for the future as the people of Farshore buried the dead, pirate and citizen alike, and began the slow and painful process of grieving and rebuilding. Casualties, it was reported, were mercifully minimal, as the pirates seemed more intent on looting than slaughter, but Othar’s fireball had nearly destroyed the chapel, and the hall of records would also need some rebuilding. It was clear that there were several barriers to having a productive dialog on the subject of Farshore’s future, however: Manthalay’s camp was opposed to Lavinia’s, which included the party, the Jade Ravens seemed to nurture some indignation or outrage towards the Gang of Five and seemed almost disappointed they survived, and Vesserin attempted to restrain his outrage for Othar’s desecration and destruction of the chapel, and all of this was aside from Amella’s attempting to contribute while nearly blind from grief over her perceived failures as captain of the Sea Wyvern and the excruciating torments she had undergone at the hands of Olangru.

Ultimately, it was decided that the wisest course in the immediate would be to speak to the pirate they had captured from the raid, a lanky, shaggy-looking man named Lefty, according to Ulvar, his captor. Manthalay put forth that he be the one to “interrogate the prisoner”, but the Gang of Five opposed what they believed would be his brutal methods, and at an informal vote, only Ulvar, Manthalay, and Avner supported a brutal interrogation. “Fine!”, Manthalay exploded. “Coddle the little murderer all you want. When he tells you nothing, we do things my way.”

With Othar and Dorian leading the interrogation, Kizziar and Traxen stood on as “Lefty” was questioned. A man of about thirty, Lefty wore an eyepatch – though he had both eyes, he kept it for night-blindness – and was missing his left hand, which had been replaced with a crude hook. When approached in his cell, he remained cautiously guarded at first, unsure as to whether he was to be killed as soon as whatever information could be extracted from him was had, but with Dorian’s word that he wouldn’t be killed, Lefty began to relay the events that had lead up to the previous day’s raid: all of the pirates had come from a nearby Crimson Fleet outpost set up in a cove called Rat’s End, where Slipknot Peet lead a modest detachment of about fifty men, about half of whom were low-ranking Crimson Fleet recruits, with the other half – including Lefty – being made up of slaves or victims of shanghai who were forcibly conscripted into the fleet to serve as navigators, deckhands, and the like. Peet, he explained, was – aside from a brutally stupid tin-pot despot and sadist whom even the Crimson Fleet hierarchy seemed to believe was too rampantly, mindlessly violent to be given more command – only supposed to be bringing his crew on a scouting mission at the behest of his superiors in the fleet. The Crimson Fleet, he revealed, had apparently promised a place in the fleet proper to Peet and his men if they could scout the colony in advance of a massive attack force that was coming soon after, but that Peet, seeing the Nixie arrive at port and believing, quite reasonably, that it was a merchant ship laden with goods, decided to cut ties with the Fleet and loot the colony before they could arrive. While this greed and hubris was Peet’s undoing, the news that the infamous Crimson Fleet was sending a massive invading force to Farshore set to arrive in two short months made their victory seem suddenly very trifling.

His tale relayed, Lefty begged for his life, claiming to have repented the choices that lead him to this place, and explaining even that he had taken no steps to harm the people of Farshore, only that he stormed the beach and tried to stay out of the way until things had finished. Convinced that his remorse was sincere and that his knowledge of both the Isle and the Fleet may prove useful in the months to come before the attack, the Gang of Five promised Lefty that they would see his life spared. For the time, however, we would remain in the brig.

Returning to Lavinia with the grim news Lefty had given them, Othar, Dorian, Traxen, and Kizziar met with their patron and the other leaders of the colony to tell them what they knew. The Crimson Fleet, they reported, would arrive in two months time. There was much work to do.

Chapter 4: Here There Be Monsters
Session III: Fogmire

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.

Chapter 4: Here There Be Monsters
Session II: Gaslight

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.

Chapter 4: Here There Be Monsters
Session I: Bloodwash

Kizziar awoke sometime after noon, the scent of blood and saltwater in his lungs. Crawling ashore, he surveyed the wreckage of their shattered vessel: Tobin, Traxen, Dorian, and Othar were the first he checked on, all having miraculously survived. The Gang of Five remained intact, and as the group now combed the beach seeking survivors, they found a handful among them: Amella Venkalie, the ship’s captain; Tavey Nesk, the cabin boy; Urol Forol, the navigator and naturalist; and finally Avner Meravanchi, the insufferable noble son, along with his steed, Thunderstrike, who had survived by remaining tethered to the portion of the ship that yet remained above water, and Kif Kroeker, one of his manservants. Among the dead were Banaby Chisk, Avner’s other servant, the remaining crew of the vessel including her cook, and most terribly, nearly twenty remaining souls, man, woman, and child alike, all that remained of the would-be expats to Farshore.

Terribly shaken by the trauma, the survivors nursed their guilt, shock, and fear in silence as they collected the dead from sand and surf and piled them into a burial pyre before turning their attention to the task of recovering supplies strewn about the beach and still clinging precariously to the ruined decks of their now derelict vessel. Painful hours of silent mourning and laboring resulted in enough supplies to last the assembled survivors two weeks, which Urol, who had spent the intervening time discerning their location on the isle and charting a course for their unfortunate and necessary trek to the southern edge of the isle and Farshore, had assured them would be adequate to the task.

With the scent of burning, rotting flesh on the air, the arrival of predators was sure to follow, and the Isle of Dread had an abundance to offer. Crashing and roaring through the trees, first came a massive, bipedal reptile with an enormous, oversize head, powerful hind legs that allowed it to stand upright, and curiously small forearms that seemed vestigial. Letting out a terrifying roar, the mindless, atavistic beast lunged forward, beginning a protracted battle that nearly claimed Othar’s life as the creature swallowed him whole in one, terrible bite. With the massive animal finally felled, Urol chimed in that the creature was a wholly natural inhabitant of the Isle of Dread, one known to the local Olman peoples as a ‘Tyrant King’, and was regarded as among the most fearsome and indomitable of the island’s denizens.

Unfortunately, this difficult and costly battle was only the first of several that the group would have with the savage and feral beasts of the Isle of Dread. As the sun began to set on their first day on the isle, their dead buried or burned and their meager supplies collected, another scavenger came to call, a pack of them, this time drawn by the scent of spilled blood from the fallen tyrant king. Nearly three meters tall, these creatures were known as ‘Terror Birds’ throughout the isle: tall, long-necked, flightless birds with razor sharp beaks and taloned toes that hunted in packs and were among the more aggressive creatures that stalked the jungle. This pack numbered only four, and proved a tremendous challenge for the ailing group in their weakened and battle-fatigued state. Thankfully, victory was achieved, and the assembled survivors found out that despite their vinegary attitude, terror birds were actually quite delicious. Carving a few more rations out of their kills, the group at last rested for the night, casting a careful and wakeful eye to the screaming, writhing jungle just beyond their sandy shelter.

Morning meant travel, and a final check before leaving their crash site included a brief survey of the survivors under their protection. It was Amella who had been most affected by the wreck, suffering in silence as she blamed herself for the deaths of the passengers aboard the Wyvern as well as the destruction of the boat. Avner, in his typical, snide fashion, flogged Amella for her failure, in which he included the party. Traxen was first to threaten Avner over this behavior, admonishing him with a warning that the rules of the game had changed now and his attitude would not be brooked. Tavey was merely glad to be alive, but fearful of the jungle, and cleaved to his mentor and hero, Kizziar, for support. Urol, with his unsinkable optimism, regretted the losses of the crew and passengers, but had already mentally moved on to the task of cataloging and documenting their exploits on the isle, something the rest of his travelers felt was slightly unbecoming and ghoulish. Kif, long-suffering Kif, merely followed along, doing his job, as ever. With their business on the shore concluded, all that remained now was to venture into the threatening dark of the jungle canopy.

The first day traveling into the island interior met with almost immediate and relentless resistance. A second bout with a clutch of mature terror birds softened the party up before they came to a vast, barren scar in the jungle not far from where they started. The pattern resembled nothing so much as an impact crater, either from space or from one of the massive volcanoes that rose above the island’s skyline. This barren stretch was populated by lazy, pendulously large quadrupedal beasts with necks like snakes and legs like tree trunk, which Urol pointed out were a breed of thunder lizard called “Longnecks”, a docile, herbivorous breed that attacked only in defense. Safely moving past these creatures, the group heard a commotion coming from the far end of the scar ahead, and thundering out of the jungle was a juvenile longneck taking flight from still another pack of terror birds, these ones clearly intent on making a meal of this pack-lost child. Urol begged the party to save the creature from the despicable birds, arguing that the creatures were few in number. While their companions stayed back a far distance, the Gang of Five ran in and slew the birds, at once helped and hindered by the poor, bleating longneck’s massive tail sweeps. With the birds defeated, the calf rejoined his family, leaving Urol over the moon with the characters. Begrudging of the matter, the group moved on, southward towards the cliffs that separated the Isle of Dread’s eastern shore from its interior.

With the rapid closing of the first day, the collected travelers found themselves in a macabre ruin. Clearly Olman in design, the ruins were abandoned, and centuries old. Neither Urol nor Tobin, the resident experts in Olman history, knew of this enclave or why it became derelict, but the teeming, blanket-thick stretches of spiderwebs that covered every stone might have been some indication. Cautiously progressing through the ruin, the group was given pass by fist-sized spiders that skittered away as they approached the ruin’s southern side. Towards the edge of the crumbling settlement, they spied a curious sight: seated on a throne sat a squat, upright figure of an incredibly old Olman woman. So old, in fact, the group at first mistook her for a mummified corpse, but to their surprise, their proximity to the site caused the ancient woman to open her eyes and speak.

In severely broken Olman, a language understood only by Tobin and Urol, the woman announced herself as Xochicotzin, claiming to be of the island. She requested that the group announce themselves, which Dorian did, stepping up to speak for the group using Tobin as his translator. The woman seemed passive, curious, and asked Dorian about their travels off the isle. Excited to see another face, Dorian recounted the whole sordid tale, from his life on the streets of Sasserine to their arrival on the isle. The elderly crone smiled, almost laughing, and thanked him for the thrilling tale before imparting upon them some wisdom and a warning: she told the travelers that to the south, they could find a pass through an old Olman outpost that would take them to the eastern shore of the isle and an ancient Olman highway. But, she added, they would need to be careful. Eyes were upon them in this place, eyes of hate and madness, and she believed it would only be a matter of time until the hand behind them struck. With that, she bid them good luck in their travels, and as the group collectively turned their heads away from her to discuss this development, the impish old woman disappeared, leaving a cluster of hundreds of spiders in her place that scattered to the four winds as soon as they appeared.

Their light rapidly fading, the group hastily trekked the last few miles to the entrance the old woman spoke of. Set with a pair of massive, carved, stone heads, it stood out amongst the sheer rock. However, it was not unattended, they soon found, with yet another small clutch of terror birds – one of them a massive, hulking brute sitting atop a nest – to contend with. Thanks to the advanced matriarch, it was a difficult battle, but eventually the group overcame, scoring an unhatched terror bird egg for their troubles.

The outpost was cool and dark, and thankfully uninhabited, at least at first glance. A massive tunnel stretched on for miles through the solid rock after a small antechamber, so with relative cover from either side, the travelers laid down their packs and slept.

The second day on the isle began with the group traveling the tunnels beneath the eastern mountains attempting to reach shore. While Thunderstrike was unnerved by the terrain, Traxen did a competent job of settling her nerves. The ruins eventually opened up into a larger area, still within the mountain rock, a sort of military outpost built by ancient Olmans to seal off their highway from the rest of the Isle of Dread. Within this Olman outpost were a number of perils left over from centuries past, parting gifts from the Olmans who abandoned it so many years ago. But with no loss of life and minimal difficulties stemming from an aggressive black pudding, some Olman mummies, and a trapped crypt, the group breathed the fresh, salt air of the eastern shore of the isle. All that remained was to travel the coastline to the village of Tanaroa, and then to Farshore. Or so they hoped.

Chapter 3: The Sea Wyvern's Wake
Session IV: Journey's End

The Gang of Five’s return to the Sea Wyvern at nightfall proved to be bittersweet; with the dying of the day’s light, the ship had been attacked by the writhing plant horrors that had been described to them in the log book of The Rage, and in the party’s absence, Skald, Amella, and Lirith could only defend the ship so well. Two of the would-be colonists had been grabbed and taken from the top deck of the ship, leaving a sobbing mother and now widow behind, and with the last rays of pale sunlight swallowed by the fog and the horizon, only the promise of further assaults remained.

A tight watch rotation was established to include anyone who could swing a sword on the top deck, either patrolling or sleeping in the Captain’s cabin, while all non-fighting personnel were ordered to remain in the hold. It didn’t take long for the watch to prove useful: Skald spotted them first, and signaling the party, they readied their weapons for an assault. The knobby, stinking, vine-caked horrors came slowly at first, but as each moment passed, it seemed more and more climbed aboard the vessel, until nearly a dozen swarmed the deck, wreaking havoc as they clawed at the crew like frenzied demons. These terrible vines seemed to use the dead that Journey’s End claimed as vessels, snaring themselves around bone and through organs to create a creature that was mostly demonic sargasso wrapped around a rotting, stinking carcass.

Just when it seemed as though the last of the creatures had come, however, a great row could be heard from below deck. Somehow, these creatures had infiltrated the hold, the party knew, and so it was that after dispatching the last of the creatures on the deck, they hurried below to discover the source of the panic.

The truth was worse than they had imagined. Two of the creatures had squeezed into the hold through an impossibly tight crack between two planks, and had immediately assaulted one of the passengers on board, wrapping around him like a hellish suit. Even worse, the man contained within was panicked, screaming, and it seemed as though his flesh was sickeningly translucent where the vines had hold of him. The others trapped in the hold stood to the rear, screaming, as some of the braver men attempted to ward off the creatures with mop handles and poles. As the group burst in, they found one of the vine horrors slinking out the way it had came, and most horribly, it seemed to be somehow taking its hapless victim with it, squeezing his flesh into a soupy putty that it could drag through with it. While the group acted fast to try and cut the vines off the hapless passenger, it was too late, and the task required too much precision. Even as they could see the organs and bones of the luckless passenger through his rapidly-softening flesh, he begged them in a burbled gasp to kill him. Reluctantly, but with no other options, they obliged him, destroying the vine creature in the process, his body falling apart into a liquid soup shot through with the tumescent leaves of sargasso weed.

Watch was maintained throughout the evening, but no more attacks came. Only the soft whispers of “Outsiders…” on the wind from time to time indicated that they were still not alone.

With the morning’s light, the group decided that something must be done to save themselves and the people in their charge. They would seek the black heart of this land and stab at it, as all knew there would be no other way out. Saying what might have been their last goodbyes to the crew of their ship, the five set off across the sargasso to slay whatever horror created this briny, salt-caked hell.

Traveling in the direction of their vessel’s sargasso-frozen bow, the party found the land to be unforgiving and treacherous. Even as the greater density of seaweed comprising the earth assured them better footing, the nature of the otherwise exanimate vegetation became downright hostile, its sweeping vines seeming as if lashing out to grasp the men as they passed. But as the vegetation became more hostile and dense, it became clear they were reaching the epicenter of whatever foul aberration created the bane place.

Hours of careful travel brought the group over dunes of piled sargasso into a veritable forest of weeds, framing the wholly-consumed, partially-submerged hull of another ship, a massive galleon christened The Thunderer. Carefully, the group boarded the vessel, finding that the deck of the onerous hulk was shockingly clear of the same signs of decay and consumption as the other vessels in Journey’s End. All that remained of what was once The Thunderer were the skeletal bodies of a handful of old salts, untouched by the consuming green. Tobin and Traxen were both aware of this vessel’s history: The Thunderer was a Crimson Fleet vessel that left Sasserine decades earlier, when the Sea Princes were still in charge. Lost at sea, her tale was one of the great precautionary tales of maritime lore; that all the fear and reputation you can muster means nothing to the sea, she will take what she will.

The group’s arrival on the ship was heralded by an even more ominous portent than this gruesome lesson, however. All out across the sargasso forest, on all sides, shapes began to writhe and squirm around them, growing up from the sargasso into man-like parodies whose empty groaning droned like a chorus as they took shape and made their advance on the ship. Whatever demon spawned this place, it was clear that they were close, and that time was running out. Hurriedly, the men ran below deck, ready to confront their fate.

The ship’s lower decks were fairly sick with unclaimed pirate loot which the group hastily grabbed up, but it was the groaning, teeming noises coming from the hull that were of more immediate import. Creeping to the lowest level of the vessel, what the men found inside was startling: a garden of almost horrid beauty, delicate leaves of sargasso yawning up the walls and across the ceilings, flowering into fernlike fronds that behaved as though underwater. The entire lower section of the ship could quite easily have been held together by the sargasso alone, and as they entered this strange, wonderful, terrible area, the vines seemed to come alive behind them and seal their route of escape. The trap was sprung. All that remained was a massive, tumescent aperture on the far side of the vessel, a carrion black pit well below sea level and yet not wet, but slimy, writhing, full of cancerous, twitching growths and aberrations.

Something growled from deep within it as they approached.

Without warning, then came the dark lord of that hellish place, a dislocated sack of foul-smelling vegetation wreathed in screaming humanoid forms that struggled to free themselves from the foul flesh of the beast. A vast, distended belly bathed in foul green mucus hung from this massive beast’s vaguely humanoid form. Infantile cries echoed from the hideous passengers that struggled to slowly pull themselves from their mother. At nearly twenty feet tall as it stood at its full, erect height, the grotesque hybrid of woman and plant showed itself a nightmare of mucoid arms and clustered eyes, a deviant being of rot, a pryamidical bulk that rose to a head of barbed, thorny teeth: The Mother of All.

Shocked into mute terror, the resolute men knew that only be slaying this monstrosity could they ever hope to be freed. Steeling themselves, they drew their weapons and pressed their attack, a howl of rage in their throats.

Their weapons could scarcely injure it. Their armor was useless against its massive, crushing sweeps and jagged, daggerlike teeth that held them fast with a hundred tiny arms. Even as they swung to strike it, the horror would recede into her home and reappear elsewhere, spawning a clutch of new horrors with her rebirth. The fight seemed to last forever, and yet, through patience, resolve, and stoic spirit, the massive beast at least screamed its last, sent hurtling back into the darkness.

The victory was short-lived, however. With the death of the mother, the children breathed their last, and whatever black magic held the monolithic bulk of Journey’s End together began to dissolve, as well. The hull of The Thunderer shook, making it clear which way the wind was blowing. With precious seconds to spend, the group ran to the top deck of the ship even as the sea at last claimed it, leaving nothing but errant strands of seaweed and various scraps of derelict driftwood.

For what seemed like eternity, the group remained adrift at sea, awaiting rescue. Exhausted, they paddled their buoyant object of choice in the direction of the Sea Wyvern, praying furtively to the gods of the sea that they would meet. After long last, they at last spied the creaking vessel’s stern on the horizon, framed by the last rays of the setting sun. Desperate, they cried out, and with some struggle, their rescue was finally effected.

There was more bad news to be had, however: Skald and Lirith had set out hours prior to find them, after the sargasso first unclotted, with a few days worth of water and food. Thinking that they would be able to find the group sooner and save them from possible drowning, they struck out on their own, and had not been seen since. Hours of searching revealed no trace of them. Had the sea almost carelessly taken their lives as toll for escaping Journey’s End? Or would they eventually find their way ashore? No one could tell. All that was left was to continue on to the Isle, and then to Farshore. With only a few weary days to go, their goal was at last in site.

The weather the following days was foul. Throughout the day after leaving Journey’s End, the rain came with wind, tossing the vessel all about, threatening to capsize. The shores of the Isle of Dread were now in sight, only a few hundred meters away, but the approach would be treacherous, near suicidal, leaving no hope of simply waiting out the weather. When it seemed things could get no worse, the boat tossed, running aground on the jagged reefs of the isle. The immediate deaths sent bodies spilling out of the cracked hull, drawing the attention of all manner of sea predators, chief among them a massive, aggressive eel known as a “masher”. While the party was successful in fighting it off and dislodging their limping vessel from the rocks, the storm would collect its due in spite of them: as an exhausting evening of fighting the weather and the failing structural integrity of their boat nearly reached its end, a final, massive wave surged up from the depths.

At long last, the Sea Wyvern was lost. Her passengers were thrown to the unforgiving sea.

Chapter 3: The Sea Wyvern's Wake
Session III: The Coming Storm

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. Content Not Found: conrad-horst, 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, Content Not Found: rowyn-kellani, 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, revealed _Content Not Found: log-of-the-rage-excerpts about 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.

Chapter 3: The Sea Wyvern's Wake
Session II: Three Sheets to the Wind

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.

Chapter 3: The Sea Wyvern's Wake
Session I: Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash

With three weeks before their intended departure for the colony of Farshore on the forebodingly-named Isle of Dread, the members of the Gang of Five turned their attentions toward settling up affairs in Sasserine, knowing full well they would not see their home creep up over the horizon for at least eight months after they left. While Dorian eventually successfully located Moxie and spent the subsequent weeks both romancing her and getting into trouble with her, Othar continued to woo their patroness, Lavinia Vanderboren, with both young men securing for themselves a serious emotional, romantic, and sexual entanglement, albeit one without fidelity in Dorian’s case, and one without nearly a year of absence to look forward to in Othar’s.

Kizziar, for his part, returned to his good friend Mistah Dakka, whom he found still grieving the loss of his beloved wife. In spite of his despair, Mistah Dakka assured the gunslinger that he brooked no thoughts of following her; he was simply very sad, and understandably so. Kizziar spent most of his time making a close companion of the old man, who in the short time before the group’s departure had recovered something of his former self.

Meanwhile, Traxen set his sights on matters a good deal more practical and political, an odd fit for a man of his disposition. Having spent much of his time aboard his recent acquisition, ensuring she was fit for the journey ahead, it was eventually decided between himself and his compatriots that the Sea Wyvern be fitted with a pair of ballistae and a ram prow. He also acquired a panther cub, with whom he formed a fast and strong bond. Of far greater import, however, was the matter of the office of Harbormaster of Sasserine, an office left vacant since Keltar Islaran’s death by members of the Lotus Dragons Guild weeks earlier. Sea trade in the city had been virtually paralyzed, and the harbors of Sasserine remained a ripe fruit to be but plucked by any enterprising group of pirates who became wise to that fact. Equal parts patriot and mariner, Traxen resolved that something must be done to redress this before he left his home. But to do so, he would need help, and accordingly, he turned to his brothers in arms to help him in resolving the issue.

The first idea between them was to speak to Worrin Lidu, Head of the Dawn Council and most recently a friend and fan of the group, who was now responsible for a great deal of good in Sasserine, not the least of which was bringing to justice Tegan Kellani, the girl responsible for his granddaughter’s death. Their idea, unspoken to Worrin, was to install the competent and merciless Lienne Tiel as the city’s new Harbormaster. However, Worrin’s forecast for the group’s intent was grim: Keltar’s only two children remaining in Sasserine were his youngest daughter, Miriam, a girl of about fourteen, and his youngest son, Kolta, who nearly drowned as a child and had been left with a paralyzing fear of water. Neither was up to the task of taking over the job of Harbormaster, but the prospect of installing an outsider in the position was equally poor. The job brought a good deal of prestige and money into the Islaran household, and even though it had ground sea trade in the city to a halt and left the harbor exposed to pirates, it was unlikely that Kolta would relinquish the position easily, and it was likely that the rest of the Dawn Council would back him solely out of hereditary fealty. Worrin suggested it might be possible to wage an electoral war on the Islaran heir, build up popular support for a new candidate and petition for a vote, but any such candidate would, by the governing laws of the city, need to be a noble, something that their proposed candidate was not.

Slightly crestfallen, the party decided to appeal to Kolta’s sense of reason and patriotism, visiting him in his home. While Traxen was by far the most vocal voice of reason, he was speaking a language that a bureaucrat like Kolta simply did not understand, and even with Othar and Dorian attempting to manipulate the minefield of rhetoric, ultimately Kolta seemed unmoved in his position; the role of Harbormaster would stay with the Islaran family, even if it meant “trouble for a time”. Kolta’s, a stuttering youth of about twenty who had gone into accounting, had no patience or time for the group’s pleas, no matter how well-reasoned. Frustrated, the group left with the feeling that they were running out of options.

Eventually, they sought the help of Tobin, whom they hoped might be able to offer some insight on the matter with his wide breadth of knowledge on all subjects, especially those pertaining to the city itself. Tobin’s evaluation of the matter was succint: in order to install Lienne Tiel as the Harbormaster, she must either be a noble who can run opposed to the Islarans, or she must be an Islaran, herself. As to how one might become a noble, Tobin pointed out that nobility in Sasserine is little more than a position one buys into, effectively becoming a patron of the city by making a tremendous contribution. Other than that, Lienne would need a manor home of suitable size befitting nobility. He estimated that the cost of achieving this could be anywhere from two to five thousand gold. Immediately, the group remembered the Kellani estate, empty now with the recent suicide of Heldrath Kellani following the incarceration of her daughter Teagan and disappearance of her other child, Rowyn. Realizing that perhaps they should take the matter to Lienne herself, they moved the discussion to her shop in the Shadowshore.

Lienne was eager about the idea of filling the position, they found, but understandably skeptical about her ability to achieve it. After listening to the group’s plan, she pointed out that it was workable, but not without fault: spending thousands of gold to elevate her to nobility, while very generous, was no guarantee of her victory in a popular election or even that she could successfully petition the Dawn Council for a chance at one. And even if successful, she would have earned the ire of the Islaran family for the rest of her life. Traxen pointed out almost dismissively that the only other option would be to make her an Islaran, herself, which, to his surprised, prompted Lienne to wryly quip, “Tell me more.”

Kolta was not an especially handsome man, but he was well-groomed, well-nourished, and it was clear from their brief meeting that he very likely did not draw the attention of exotic, beautiful women. It was Lienne, surprisingly, who suggested the idea of an arranged, political marriage, one that would neatly benefit both parties. After laying out her counter-proposal, she asked the group to get her an audience with the young Islaran heir.

It was apparent from the moment that she walked in the door that Lienne, ten years senior and ten miles out of Kolta’s league, had enchanted the young man. After delicately expressing their intentions to the young Islaran, laying out the merits of the mutually beneficial arrangement they proposed, generously lubricating the conversation with their own gentle persuasion, it was again Lienne who finally sealed the matter. Taking Kolta by the hand and staring into his eyes, she coolly decreed, “Marry me and make me Harbormaster of Sasserine. These idiots will pay for a lavish wedding, and afterward I will control all sea trade in the city and ensure Sasserine’s continued prosperity and safety from pirates. In return the title of Harbormaster will stay with your family and continue to benefit you. We will also fuck on occasion.”

And it was thus, five hundred gold and a lavish ceremony later, that the city of Sasserine finally had her new Harbormaster, in no small part thanks to some generous donations to the publishers of broadsheets in the city, who were more than happy to put a romantic spin on the story of a young noble and a savvy older woman from the wrong side of the tracks and their whirlwind, star-crossed romance.

With the harbor in good hands and the matter at last at rest, Traxen and the rest of the party now turned their attentions to preparing for the long voyage ahead. With only a week left to departure, Lavinia informed her trusted troubleshooters that the financier of the voyage, Zebula Meravanchi, has requested ten tons of space with which he intended to send his son, who would serve as his emissary and eyes on the voyage. Curious as to what the ten tons of space were required for, Othar set out to speak to the young man who would be accompanying them, Avner Meravanchi. What he found was a pompous blowhard, a man obsessed with himself who deflected all of his questions by treating him like a servant or simpleton. Eventually it was revealed that Avner intended to bring two manservants, Banaby Chisk and Kif Kroeker on board with him, as well as his horse, a dashing white beast he called Thunderstrike. Somewhat befuddled by the man’s incredible bombast and reflecting that this idiot was, indeed, financing the voyage, Othar relented in his objections, albeit under duress.

Dorian meanwhile visited Tobin to ensure that he would be accompanying them to Farshore, and also in the hopes that Tobin might have some insight to share on the strange blade they had recovered from Tegan Kellani. What Tobin revealed was startling: after extensive research, he determined that the knife had a minor enchantment on it that made it sharper, and that though he could not identify the purpose of the necromantic aura on the knife, he could, in fact, determine the enchantment effect: by having the knife in one’s hand or one one’s belt and making a brazen sexual move on an individual, one could cast a charm spell on that individual, and the potency with which one would do so was quite great. Of more interest, however, was the fact that the knife itself appeared to be a puzzle of some kind. Small seams along the various parts indicated a moving mechanism, and while Tobin reasoned that it was almost certainly mechanical in design, it likely required some form of magical or emotional trigger to begin deciphering, sort of like a portal key. Thanking him for the information, Dorian left with the knowledge in hand.

At last, the momentous day arrived, and the party convened at the harbor to meet Lavinia, who was being accompanied by the Jade Ravens aboard the Blue Nixie, as well as the captain and crew that Lavinia had hired to crew the Sea Wyvern and the passengers who would be traveling to Farshore with them. The captain, Amella Venkalie, immediately hit it off with Traxen, as both had a strong appreciation for the vessel and its origins, while the other crew members simply went about their business at the time. As Lavinia got the group and crew of both vessels together to discuss the itinerary, there was only one notable absence: Avner Meravanchi. As the ships began to ready themselves to leave, the group found itself waiting on the impudent noble scion, who even now made them late for departure.

At last, Avner arrived, some half hour late (“fashionably late”, he assured), and demanded that the Sea Wyvern’s hands accommodate his horse and servants while he inspected the vessel. Lavinia beseeched the party not to treat Avner too harshly, as his family’s funding for the venture was crucial and she was certain that any harm that befell Avner would leave her homeless and perhaps exiled when she returned to Sasserine. Begrudgingly, the party complied, but as they were just about to set sail, Avner came out of the hold yelling and cursing oaths, furious that apparently he had not been assigned private quarters. Again, with gritted teeth, the party made special preparations for the spoiled ass, building him a makeshift room in the hold from cargo crates and decking it out with some of the finer things on the ship. With that parcel of idiocy and trouble finally behind them, the two ships set sail for the Isle of Dread.

Time passed slowly at sea, and with a more than ample crew between the hired crew and the party members who could sail and with plenty of fair weather, there was little to do, leaving the group to make friends with their fellow passengers and crewmen. While Traxen seemed to almost fall into a flirtation with the ship’s captain, Amella, with whom he – as commander – shared a cabin, Dorian and Othar attempted to better get to know some of the more interesting people on the boat, including Father Feres, a priest of Iomedae, Lirith Veldirose, a tomboyish young woman who was part of the crew, Skald de Styes, an enigmatic and secretive man who also crewed the ship, Urol Forol, the ship’s navigator and a nearly famous professor of naturalism, and Terrance Paine, another passenger on board the vessel. Meanwhile, Kizziar attracted the attention of the ship’s cabin boy, the twelve year-old Tavey Nesk, who seemed to be thoroughly dazzled by the gruff gunslinger.

The first respite from sailing came after about the sixth day of straight sailing. Before pulling up anchor that morning, Lavinia sent a messenger to the group’s ship explaining that she’d like to have them over to the Blue Nixie that evening at the conclusion of the day’s sailing for a lavish dinner, and among those invited were the Gang of Five, Captain Amella, the deckhands, and Avner. Excited by the opportunity to stretch their legs on the slightly larger ship and with Othar eager to further his still blossoming romance with Lavinia, the day of sailing ahead was long, but as night fell, the two vessels anchored near each other and set out a line with a rope swing between the two. Lavinia and the Jade Ravens received them on the top deck as one by one they boarded the Nixie and entered the mess.

It was clear that the event was meant to be as lavish as possible, and everyone wore their evening best to try to impress or seduce the other diners. Dorian was relieved to see Churtle again, as she had taken up duties on Lavinia’s vessel as an assistant to the ship’s cook, and despite Avner’s insanely stupid outburst where he called Churtle a monster and nearly drew his sword, the dinner began well. Kizziar maintained a polite and professional rapport with the Jade Ravens, who thanked him again for his part in saving them during the assault on the manor, and they spoke pleasantly for hours on the subtleties of combat. Othar, of course, stuck close to Lavinia, breaking her company only briefly to ask Churtle in her native tongue if she could put something “special” in Avner’s drink. Dorian attempted and failed to seduce Lirith, who incredibly seemed more interesting in Avner, which only further fomented his hatred for the pompous, rich braggart. Traxen, meanwhile, stuck close to Amella, and happily found she felt likewise when he began to groan and bristle about the excesses of the occasion.

As the event wound down, Skald excused himself early to go above deck. Suspicious of Skald’s intentions and tired of drowning in his hostility towards Avner, Dorian followed shortly thereafter. The remaining diners enjoyed a delicate dessert, all except Avner, who had “mysteriously” taken ill, then went above deck to say their goodbyes for the evening and the crew of the Wyvern to cross back over. It was Traxen who went first, which proved to be an unavoidable mistake. Halfway across, the line between the two ships snapped, sending Traxen plummeting into the warm sea. As the rest of the group scrambled to help him, the empty deck of the Wyvern issues forth a loud popping noise, which was immediately followed by the presence of a small, devilish-looking humanoid with wings who immediately bridged the distance between the two vessels and attacked! While nearly invincible by virtue of its being and most of the assembled celebrants from both ships without their arms or armor, it was Othar who brought the creature down with a concentrated blast of flame, but only after the creature dealt him a serious wound and covered both Othar with acid and the deck with a noxious gas that left the better portion of the dinner’s efforts on the deck. With the problem at least temporarily handled, the groups parted ways, albeit with the assurance that they would investigate the matter and send word to the Nixie when they discovered the source of the trouble.

It wasn’t a long search; someone had clearly cut the rope to a hair’s breadth on the swing between the two vessels, and a thorough turn of the deck revealed a small jar half-filled with formaldehyde, which they assumed explained both the popping noise and the presence of the creature, which Tobin later identified as a mephit. Thorough investigation the following day and interviews of all crew and passengers turned up nothing, and as the days passed, the matter was allowed to rest, but far from forgotten.

The second week brought both vessels to their first resupply stop, the small, well-gated, jungle-choked point called Fort Blackwell. After a nominal inspection, both ships were allowed past the sea gate into the harbor, and Lavinia announced a twenty-four hour shore leave for all. More comfortable at sea, Traxen chose to remain on the boat, while Othar, Kizziar, and Dorian pursued their interests in town. Father Feres, Skald, and Avner both left the Wyvern, though none of them were followed or drew much attention.

Kizziar wasted no time in trying to discover more about the pickled mephit, but his search turned up little with the limited academic resources at Fort Blackwell, save that the creatures was a water mephit, a resident of the elemental plane of water, and had been somehow bound in that bottle, probably by a powerful wizard. His search lead him to the small church of Iomedae in the city, where he encountered Father Feres, who claimed he’d be staying the night with the priests there. Dorian spent his usual time carousing and having fun, unconcerned with any troubles on the horizon, living for today, and Othar, naturally, spent as much time as possible with Lavinia, whom he spent the night with in one of the fort’s inns.

As morning came, the two crews reconvened on their respective vessels and set sail again, albeit with no small amount of bittersweetness for Othar and Lavinia, who were becoming closer each time they saw each other. For days afterward, things seemed quiet again, and with their next stop still some three weeks away, things on both vessels attained a measure of normalcy with the passing days.

A week out from Fort Blackwell, however, something went wrong: Father Feres, the priest of Iomedae, grew strangely ill, became feverish and pale, and was unable to keep down food or water. It was mutually decided upon that Tobin would serve as the ship’s medic, and asked him to evaluate the priest. To everyone’s surprise, Tobin discovered that Father Feres’ illness was altogether unnatural; there was what appeared to be a massive egg the size of a bread loaf gestating in his stomach. Immediately he set to work with his surgical tools as best he could, and after a great deal of difficulty and the help of Nurse Kizziar, he managed to extract the object, which revealed itself to be unmistakably the still-living embryo of some horrific, bipedal, froglike creature that seemed to grow and pulse even after being taken into the open air. Urol Forol, ever the clinician, excitedly begged the group to hold the disgusting thing still while he sketched and cataloged the discovery, and even seemed to wince a little as Kizziar and Traxen smashed it to bloody bits when he was finished.

When Father Feres recovered and was able to speak again, some days later, the men demanded answers, and after a good number of veiled threats and impassioned demands, Father Feres at last relented and told the truth, that he wasn’t Father Feres at all, but Conrad Horst, a small-time con artist from Cauldron who had come to Sasserine to escape prosecution at home. His passage on the vessel and his fake persona had been arranged by an unknown patron who, in return for Conrad’s safe departure from justice, demanded Conrad act as a mule and deliver to the priests of Iomedae at Fort Blackwell a small, wooden box. Conrad didn’t know what was inside, only that when he made the delivery, he was told he would have to stay the night to fulfill his contract, and that was the last thing he remembered before waking up the next morning to get back on the ship. Whatever they had done to him, clearly they had no intention of actually honoring their bargain, and had apparently used him as a womb to give birth to some horrible creature, though he had no idea why. He begged the group not to out him to the other passengers and swore that if they let him go, he would turn over a new leaf and make an honest living when they got to Farshore. With Fort Blackwell over a week behind them, it seemed unlikely that they could ever resolve the matter. As a token of good faith, he turned over his priestly trappings to the group, which included some curative items. Provisionally, the gang complied to his requests, though the future for Horst is an uncertain one, and there is still a great deal of sea before them.


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