A Crimson Shore, ACT 2, The Isles of Dread

Session 1: The Great Western Voyage

I thought this link was interesting…

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/nasa-provides-rare-images-transit-venus-144840865.html

The party has assembled in the dockside bars of Cillandar’s Grand Harbor.  Although several stay at the more upscale “Silver Flask”, the party seems to find much of it’s information at the Touching The/Her Flame or THF.  At the THF, the party is introduced to several sailors who give advice on those interested in setting sail into the unknown waters of the Western Sea.  The party decides to go with Ramses McQuaid, a disgruntled and down on his luck half-orc sailor, as opposed to Nina Longshot and her band of Halfling seamen.  But, a trip into the unknown doesn’t come cheap and the trip will cost the party nearly everything they’ve saved.

Not to worry! They have a thief! The party decides to use the better canner for the ocean food, and purchases several extra supplies for Ramses’ bare stripped boat.  Morin sets up a watch at the gnomish canners, and while they aren’t looking, makes his way into their office.  Finding the money he seeks kept in their hat collection, he leaves…but only 100gp richer. Proving he is a little Morin, as opposed to a little Moron.

Nonetheless, he worries about being caught and whisps his way around town in case he has acquired  a trail.  But as he gets back to the THF, he sees the  local SHIELDS have been called up immediately by the Gnomes and they have been searching for him.  So the thief decides to spend the night before departure on Ramses ship. 

While Morin is seeking fortune, Fuldron seeks information, and discovers the brother of a long lost adventurer still lives in Cillandar. He gains a map, and a note, with incredible information, if it is indeed true.

The party gets wind of the SHIELDS activity and heads to the boat. Getting lucky they just make it out of port with Ramses handpicked sailing crew and as the Sun rises, partially obscured by a now blackened out Illiune, the party wonders what lies ahead for them, past the Western Sea, into the unknown.

The Party’s Theme Song

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfR7qxtgCgY

Voyage of the Angry Hangman, Ballad as song by Bards at a later date…

Hork was a mighty sailing druid,

The fighter, Derethus, brave and tough,

Two clerics in the party came,

Because the seas were rough…

Because the seas were rough….

 

Morin stopped a mutiny,

The dead ringleader was tossed,

If not for the calculations of Fuldron the Wizard,

The ship could have been lost.

The ship could have been lost…..

During the voyage, the party battled storm, and windless seas.  Slowly they sailed into the unknown, steady west.  They encountered Mermaids on a lonely atoll, which took the life of a sailor. 

And in the 93rd day of the voyage, they encountered mutiny.  Morin infiltrated the group of seamen and discovered who the ringleader was.  Just as they were about to attack, the party confronted the man, Peter the Long Minute.  Derethus stabbed him right through the heart, as the pirates looked on at the steadfast faces of the Chosen, and thankfully the party ended the mutiny, for a time.

Should they press on…as if in answer the Divine Voice of Casseopia guided them “CONFIDENCE!” it reassured them.

Just as the food was running out, The Angry Hangman began to sail into calmer seas, in shallower lands.  As nightfall came on, the ship sailed softly into corral.  Captain Ramses sent  a sailor to the foredeck to navigate the ship through, but the reef became harder and harder to keep clear of. The party looked on to a forbidden and foreboding dense jungled Isle, the anchor dropped.  Night came on.

Drums. Lights.  The islands’ inhabitants were celebrating something, or maybe giving worship to some unknown deity.  The party dispatched a dinghy, their only.  But as they sailed over silent coral forests, the still waters were broken. Two sahuagin lept up from the water and attacked!

The party fought a fierce battle, but couldn’t work fast enough. Worried about shouting too loud with unknown natives nearby, the party dispatched the sahaugin with an entangle spell from Hork, and killed the other outright. But they watched 4 more stream like torpedoes to the Angry Hangman.  As the dinghy came around to make it back, they watched helplessly as the Hangman was pulled into the coral with a sudden crash!

And the adventure continues…

Will the party dispatch the sahaugin that threaten to take their ship down?

Will they make contact with the natives?

Will they be able to fix their ship?

Will they find the treasure they seek?

What will happen when the sun rises giving light to the Hangman stuck on the coral in full view of the denizens of ….the ISLE OF DREAD!!!?

 

 Session 2, The Island

As those who were known as The Chosen have embarked on a grand adventure to sail West in search of unknown lands, other members of the voyage were about to come to terms with their own courage and beliefs, stepping into action themselves.

Hork and The Chosen’s two clerics rode out into the waters towards the Isle.  Hork’s dolphin companion searching for a path through the coral for the ship to take once the Light returned in the morning.  However, as the party grew closer to the Isle, and the inhabitants’ drums and fires could be seen and heard, they were attacked by powerful sahuagin who sprang from the sea in an attempt to carry them under.  And two of them were, both clerics splashing into the waters and being carried away to an uncertain doom.

Back on The Hangman, the sailors there prepared for the night, taking down the riggings and sails. Nervous whispers about what would be seen in the morning or how much coin they would make for their share could be heard. When suddenly a terrible listing of the ship and the anchor’s heavy chain was pulled taught from below!  The ship turned hard to starboard in full force of the waves coming in from the open sea, and crash! The ship hit the coral reef, spilling water into it’s bulwarks. While several of the crew ran downstairs to attend to the damage, Captain Mcquaid barked orders from the wheel. Just then, the waiting sahuagin forces attacked.

Webbed feet suctioned the ships planks bringing nearly a dozen of the foul and ferocious beasts aboard.  Immediately several of the sailors turned towards training they had acquired elsewhere.  Mars, a mechanically designed being, threw down his rigging and picked up his glaive!  One of the quieter of the crew, a man of unknown origin to many on the ship, quietly threw back his hood and also entered the fray.  Apparently battle for him, was nothing new! Ian, the barbarian, who had run afoul of the King’s Laws before and sought the voyage perhaps as a way to leave troubles behind, defended the ship with broadsword in hand.

As Hork, the Sea Druid tried desperately to return, and Fuldron the wizard lay below helpless from sickness, the party battled the foes.  However, the sahuagin were able to take two sailors, both Mcquaid himself and a sailor named Curdly, who tended to the ship’s cooking. As the party killed many, the rest slid back into the water, dragging their prize back with them into the depths. The sahuagin used a slippery plant-like creature, attaching it to the mouths of their victims.  Clearly, they wanted the victims alive for some unknown reason.

As the party finished the combat, Hork returned yelling “Beware of attack from below”! Hork is often known for terrible punch-lines in his jokes anyway, which sadly turned him aware from his hopeful comedic career to a path of adventuring in the first place.

As the now formed new party on the ship forms a plan, the crew below is able to prevent the Hangman’s sinking thanks to the party’s new spiritual leader, a cleric who had kept his talents hidden up until now as one of the sailing crew.

Working desperately through the night, the party seeks out land in the morning, hoping to find help from one of the tribes believed to be peaceful from information they acquired while in Cillandar. As they land on the shore of a small beach, they see a line of stakes with heads and body parts atop them. The heads and parts move!

Just then, the tribal leader comes to the beach yelling and shouting, while others are seen in the treeline. But the party decides to parlay and are brought into the tribe’s living areas.  Thanks to a comprehend languages spell from the cleric, the party understands several key points from Umlat and Vano, the tribal leaders.

*Oloron is the central force the tribe worships, and they believe Oloron has brought the group to the shore to help the tribe!

*Vano’s daughter, the rightful next ruler, has been kidnapped by the sahuagin, the tribe is desperate to get her back.  The sahuagin have grown into terrible enemies lately, changing their habits and kidnapping members of the tribe whenever they can. Always, they are taken alive.

*A ship much larger than the Hangman is believed to be left derelict and abandoned in the Northern portion of the Isle.

*The interior of the Isle is dangerous and perilous and virtually unexplored even by members of the tribe.

*Slavers have ravaged the Isle for slaves for as long as the tribal leaders can remember.

*recent sulfuric eruptions have occurred around the island, scarring the Light out of the tribal members.

*Umlat seems outright frightened about something even worse, but is not sharing it with anyone in the party right now.

The party decides that the best course of action is to assist the tribe in getting back their lost tribal princess and perhaps in doing so they may find the Captain as well.  They leave the sailors that came ashore with them with the tribe, and the Hangman at sea, hopefully protected by a few there  who are  knowledgeable in the ways of combat. Following a scout, they circumnavigate the treacherous vine covered cliff faces and crags of the southern edge of the Isle of Dread and find the entrance to what the tribe calls the Guardian of the Sea Lizards.

As they crawl and slither down a tunnel into a sickening smelling void below, Mars is grasped and yanked into the murky depths of a ruined chamber filled with water. THE GIANT CRAB, known by the village name as Krong, ATTACKS!

Mars nearly avoids certain death at the claws of the giant crab, and is finally brought down by the party.

As they reconfigure themselves, they realize they are now in the lair of the sahuagin forces, and will have to find to the courage to give the fight of their lives to rescue those they came in search for.

Who will survive? Who will perish?  What will they discover about the sahuagin?

And what will they do if they return? Will they be able to fix their ship and journey on?

To be continued in session 3….

 

 

“Secrets of the Sahaugin”

INTRODUCTION

From Nick…Ian’s thoughts before entering the back tunnel entrance (that’s what she said) to the Giant Crab’s Lair, “Kani”, a guardian of the Sahuagin tribe inhabiting the lower portion of the Isle of Dread.

The gods are bastards. We are just a part of the show, and you can’t teach the gods anything. We play our part and they watch with either indifference or laughter. All these long years, hiding since the End Days, letting the savages, the barbarians, of the land fight their way to stay alive. Barbarians like me! Most likely they are all laughing at us still, waiting for us to destroy ourselves, like we always do…

Go on. Yuck it up. This one’s real fuckin’ funny.

The former Sir Ian Gabriel took a wary gulp from his wine skin. It was a fool’s errand for sure. But, what choice did they have? Marooned and with an unruly crew and no captain. Things would turn sour quickly. He had seen once already how quickly the lot had turned to mutiny. Without the right kind of leverage you can’t trust a man. Most men are only as loyal as the laws and good coin allow them to be, and The Hangman was in short supply of both.

He was hoping beyond hope that the crew had the wits to know that they would have all died, if not for him and the 3 others that made up his current party.

They need us as much as we need them, he thought.

The savages were somehow even less helpful than his already low expectations. And now they were being led into the belly of the beast. It was too late to second guess now. It was too late for a lot of things, he surmised. But, killing is what he was good at. It had led him here, treading upon a road of corpses, to this moment.

He lifted the wine skin to eye level. For the gods, he smiled wryly.  Taking a final drink before entering the cavern.

Andy’s first person narrative describing Mar’s thoughts after the battle with the crab…

“No one will believe the story about this crab, and the sheer size of it.  We’ve got to take one of these claws with us.  This thing belongs on a wall in the Touching the Flame Tavern back in Cillandar.  Ian, when you have finished refueling, help me sever this limb.  I’ll hold it up, and you…”

This island is amazing!  Mars had seen nothing like any of this back in the village, or on his brief travels to Cillandar.  Magic wielding fishmen, undying totems, and now a giant crab?!!  Jellywinks would love this place, as she often travelled to strange places while prospecting and returned with the grandest of stories.  There is so much to be learned here…too bad Lars is busy repairing the boat and it’s rigging and deciphering that codex.  Seeing such a thing would have him excited…but perhaps this is best.  Little brother isn’t even a mouthful for creatures like this, and his magic is still weaker than steel.

Mars picks up a few sea shells and tucked them into his pack.  Jelly would love these he thought…she’s alive, she must be.

In the end, this will turn out well, one way or another, but we’ve got to find out where the followers of ‘Oloron’ got that hexagonal fastener.  Lars should show them a few pages of the Codex, and see if they recognize any of the symbols it contains.  All in good time though…stay focused.  We have a princess, a captain, and crew to rescue…and more of these merciless fishmen to slay, for they will not willingly let us relieve them of their prizes.

MARS rounds the corner of the cavern, his eyes curiously scanning, his chest full of duty…and hope.

The Search in the Stronghold

Quickly, the party realized that the sahuagin had taken up residence in a once massive compound  of somekind. It’s outer form or function unclear as it appeared to have been virtually destroyed in some monstrous event. Clearly a part of the Before Days structures, it had suffered some unknown collapse, turning floors into walls, and making twists and turns between fallen stone in the watery muck that filled it since then.

The party scrambled through the rocky debris to find an awkward passage filled with water, the current coming through in strong pulses and waves, making their movements treacherous.  Malekai scouted ahead, finding a lair of younger sahuagin and their female counterparts.  Luckily, he wasn’t spotted, and the party decided to navigate in the other direction, with the current, into a darker and deeper part of the ruin.

Eventually, they came to a dead end, nowhere to go but down. Placing gillyweed across their faces, the creatures spread their leaflike tentacles into their mouths. Not quite used to feel of these plantlike critters, the party descended into the aerated current, down along collapsed rock walls and stacked boulders. The creatures began to filter the water, and the party’s eyes finally cleared through the flow of the current from the chamber they left.  Time seemed to slow down, as the silence of the water around them settled in, their hair moving to and fro slowly and in unison.  If they had been above the surface, they may have gasped for they gazed upon a colossal cavern so vast, the other side could not be viewed, much of it’s shape obstructed by enormous towers of stone, fallen and cracked, toppled on themselves.   The various underwater flora and fauna attaching to the towers left only an outline of once was, surfaces covered with the passage of time by the environment.  Around the party, swam reef fish, and other dwellers of the sea.  An eerie calmness filled the cavern, as if the scene had come to rest for a millennia after the disturbance that must have brought the structures down, and had been left since undisturbed.

But then Malekai, whose darkened past offer him powers in shadow, looked askance and noticed a darker opening lower and near the one they had come through.  It’s rocky rim looked cleared in an unnatural way.  As the party entered cautiously, they discovered a narrow path into the rock, opening into another passageway, clearly belonging to the ancient ruin.  As their heads came above the surface of the water into a pocket of air above, a large slithering mass awakened. Head askance, and jaws wide, the enormous saltwater crocodile attacked. Sideways!! The party returned the attack; moving as best they could underwater proved difficult.  Finally, Fritz the paladin was able to lay a final blow, saving Ian from a possible death roll.  A second croc attacked and was slain as well.  As the bodies of the two were kicked out into the drift of the cavern, MARS looked on in horror as the corpses begun to sway and move, as if animated by some unseen force.  Then a tail fin and pectoral fins appeared with mouths full of razor teeth. The party looked on into the depths as vicious sharks attacked the bleeding carcasses, tearing them to shreds.  Clearly the calmness of the cavern, was an unsettling illusion.  It didn’t take long for the party to move on…

Up in the pocket of air above the passage, the party tended to wounds, and found treasure, and eventually, moving on carefully, found their way to a circular chamber, with an orifice in both the top and bottom. 

 

Surprisingly the majority of this ancient chamber was left intact, after the apparent destruction of it’s other portions.  Around the walls, were once statues, their shadowy outlines now covered in a façade of tentacles carved into stone, intertwining themselves endlessly around and around.  Down below, a circular drop, above, the traces of old metal pieces hung from the dark.  Ian and Malekai decided to ascend the walls, and each attempted a skill challenge.  Malekai made it near the top but only Ian was able to hang on, and then a second challenge allowed him to make his way, from the rim through the tight passage even higher up. Eventually he scaled to a metal ceiling, circular, a metal wheel attached. Ian quickly realized the metal was so corroded that it was a matter of striking it, letting it fall away to enter.

An Incredible Discovery

Climbing in, Ian discovered a tiny vestibule, clearly intended for one person, encased in thick glass, most of it’s outer surface was covered in lifeforms and crusty coral, but just enough of a spot could be seen that told Ian he was standing inside a glass capsule of somekind, gazing out into the sea. The discovery was amazing and unlike nothing he had ever seen in any of his travels in Gallinor. All that glass, and in such form had never been seen anywhere in Cillandar.  Around him lay a pile of rubble strewn about the inside, any resemblance to it’s original function all lost to the decay of time, clearly destroyed by age. The only exception seemed to have been what once was a well built case, now only a thin tattered shell, where two shiny helms shone from inside.  Each helm bearing a small symbol, etched in front.

A Vision in the Helm, Ian and Glorian.

Donning the helm, a feint flash erupts in your ears.  At first you imagine it is something within the helm, but just as you are about to take it off, you realize that it is no longer on anymore.  In fact, all around you is the growing brilliance of a bright sunshine, much stronger than any you have ever seen.  As you stare up you see a red sun, much deeper in hue then it should be.  Looking down, you can see that the floor you are standing on is made of oaken planking, and that it lists from side to side, slowly, your feet finding the rhythm.  Clouds and a gorgeous blue stretch out from the deck of a grand ship. You are standing at it’s aft, nearby and in front of you the outline of the captain stands at the ready, hands gripping the wheel.  Just then, there is much yelling, screaming, a large explosion sounds behind you, throwing you off your feet.  As you try to stand, you notice the floor below you drops out, as the entire ship seems to careen starboard down into the deep.  You seek the safety of the railing crawling over to it as gravity pulls and pulls you to the planks.  Just as you grip it you look through the ballistrades and see, in shocked disbelief that the ship is not in the ocean, but rather in mid-air, hurtling towards an island of jagged cliffs and overcome with a green jungle.  Noises and shouts fill your head, pounding deep inside your temples you watch in horror as the earth and it’s green rushes at you, and then with a sickening finality, everything goes black.  You are standing back where you were, sea water rushing around your ankles in turbulent swirls.  You look out from the helm to see the rest of the party, staring at you, asking if all is ok.

The Descent or The Cleric on a Rope

Carefully navigating back down the precarious rock façade, Ian descended and joined in the conversation with those staring into the abyssal hole in the center of the chamber.  The water was much warmer here, it seemed to be emenating from below. Glorian, who had just donned one of the helms with Ian, discovered it gave them the ability to link telepathically. He volunteered to go down on a rope, to investigate. As the others above braced themselves and held tight, he slowly was lowered. Staring down, little by little he was lowered. He began to see a large and gently drifting bubble coalescing from somewhere beneath the gloom, larger and larger it collected before him, until it was a phenomenal mass, it began to rise slowly and then as the cleric looked on in horror, it’s shape moved with a singular purpose.  This was no mere natural phenomenon! The creature swallowed him whole, an acidic burning beginning to radiate in all of his skin.  The cleric had just been engulfed by an aquatic cube!

Glorian immediately alerted Ian via the helm and the party decided to unify their strength to pull him up. Up he came, but he brought something with him!  Once again though, the party’s sheer number of swords took down the beast, before Glorian was killed, just in time to save their friend.  Fritz, again, dealt the killing blow, spilling Glorian out of the glop. As the cube was hacked down, it seemed to liquefy into a putrescent film that slowly rose to the top of the water, creating a film of pungent muck above.   Glorian swam out, his face contorted in fear, wounds covering his body from where the acid had eaten away at his flesh.

Again the party caught it’s breath, healing wounds, giving aid to their only cleric, Glorian. Who thanked them in turn by giving divine healing to all. This time, the party descended together, tying the rope onto a gigantic stone in the base of the domed chamber. Lower they went, until a darkened pass lay visible, a collapsed section of the cavern. Taking great care to ready themselves, the party sent Ian ahead with the Helm to report his findings to the group.

PART 4: A View to a Kill

The barbarians wet torso rose above the waterline slowly (like Schwartzenegger after he fell in the mud in Predator…Get to the chopper! J), as he pulled the gillyweed from his face, he carefully and quietly inhaled his first real breaths since plunging into these watery ruins. Looking through the rocky debris he saw an incredible cavern, vapors and steam rose above the water in swirls. From where he stood, a platform of beams had been newly constructed out to a center  ledge that seemed to lie adjacent to a large pool of super-heated water, jets of steam rising and popping on it’s surface. On the ledge, a make-shift altar seemed to have been erected, prostrating before it were two sahuagin, one bearing the scars of Malekai’s blade from the fight on board the Hangman. The air’s humidity seemed to sear his insides as he breathed.  And then he saw them…

Standing at the ends of the platforms, almost unnoticeable at first for their lack of movement, stood the naked forms of those the party had sought! McQuaid, the surly captain, now standing head dropped, back rising and falling with each breath, his body pale and covered in what could only be described as searing burns from the steam. His clothes lying in a pile at his feet.  A young female, obviously of the tribe’s origin, hair scattered about her sad face, gazing down.  Pitifully, her once delicate form, now covered in the hideous marks of the steam. Curdly, the cook, and Dave the cleric, taken by the sahuagin the first night of their exploration of the Isle! All equally stripped bare, their frames tormented by the heat. Why were they standing there?! And to what end?

As if on cue, the two sahuagin stood and walked ceremoniously to wear Curdly stood. They turned him around, and walked him back along the walkway to the altar. 

And then, from below the hissing well, emerged a gigantic form, it’s blackened body rising slowly at first, covered in bulbs and hooking horns, breaking the surface of the water, around it, large tentacles roaming over the edge, pulling itself up past the platform, and above it, the super heated water dripping from it’s sides in large droplets, steam coming off it’s form in swirls. 

At first Ian thought this foul beast had the lifeless form of a human or tribe member’s body in it’s jaws.  The limp form hung motionless, well above the sahaugin, but then, unbelievably the man’s mouth opened, it’s eyes, although lifeless and glazed, looked down at the sahaugin and Curdly, the Hangman’s cook.  Ian could tell even at this distance that the flesh hung in tatters off the leg bones, the poor man’s head and face appeared oblong, perhaps crushed, as if the inner portions had been partially squeezed out. But somehow, he was still alive, using his faculties, in a way that seemed as though he was now part of this monstrous creature!  Now, Ian could discern smaller tentacles, embedded into the flesh around the man’s head and back. They began to detach themselves with sickening squelches, pulling back into the creature. As the last of them withdrew, the body suddenly grew rigid, the head drooping, and the lifeless and spent corpse fell into the water.  What appeared to be a gigantic mouth opened and closed several times, enormous tentacles reaching out for Curdly, who was pulled from the sahaugin to the creature’s gaping orifice! The sahuagin shrank back, and looked down in fear, but Ian could not.  He knew before it happened what he would see.

The same smaller tentacles that had once pierced the now dead man’s head and back broke through into the flesh of Curdly.  Curdly gasped, head tilted upward in a silent scream and his arms and legs twitched. Then, his eyes broke open with a  swiftness that could not have belonged to him anymore. They looked at the sahaugin as  Curdly’s mouth opened and a voice erupted in the sealizard’s language. The voice reverberated around the cavern. A shrill, but mighty and deep voice, powerful, old, dominant.  Finally, the hideous beast crawled back into the water, Curdly now part of it’s workings and the sahaugin knelt. Turning around, they rose and began to walk towards the party!

The Battle with X’hellac

Ian alerted the party to the approaching guards, and immediately they created an ambush.  Malekai emerged silently from the water and placed himself stealthily in the shadows of the cave in the rocks near the watery entrance.  Others knelt in hiding below. As the sea lizards dove into the tunnel, the party attacked.  One was cut down immediately, the other, near death, pulled a small fish from his bag. Awakening, the fish pointed itself upright and began to swim back in the direction of the sahaugin tribe!  Just as it looked like it might get away and alert the their enemies, Glorian struck out cut the tiny target in two!

The party earned level 2!

And they formed their strategy to rescue their Captain, the Princess, and the cleric, Dave. Malekai and Ian went first, moving stealthily along the platform to each of the still forms of the captured.  Glorian approached Dave, but as he turned him around to let him know they were saved, a shrill, and deep voice rose all around the cavern…

“THEY KNOW LONGER BELONG TO YOU, SURFACE WORM!!!” “THEY BELONG TO ME, they belong to X’hellac, just as your cursed world has always provided for us, so these  are provided too! Fuel. Nothing more. Soon, they will be a part of me, just as you will be too. YOU AND I, WILL BE AS ONE. (Then he put his tentacles together like in Jerry Maguire and said, “You’ll complete me…”)

“To the hells we will, Demon!” Roared the party as they rushed to the side of those they came to rescue.  As the tentacled form emerged from the water again, the party ran to the victims, only to see each in turn, pick up a weapon below and attack their would-be rescuers!

As combat ensued, X’hellac attempted to Dominate those who did not wear one of the helms, which seemed to provide some protection from her powers.  Glorian, giving up this protection, placed the helm on Dave, who nearly came to.  He then rushed to the aid of the others, bold and swift.

Ian, Fritz, MARS and Malekai fought for control of the Captain, and the princess, eventually knocking each unconscious. As X’hellac’s form grew nearer, she began to lash out with her tentacles, knocking Ian and Fritz to a near death state.  The party knew that this moment was critical.  As they considered escape, Glorian was able to thwart X’hellac’s charm, and this marked a turning point in the battle.

“SERVE ME!” X’hellac’s voice boomed “AND I WILL SPARE YOU.”

It was at this moment, when Malekai, leaping from across the ramparts, laid a swift stroke across the face of Curdly, attached to the monster X’hellac.  A thunderous scream erupted as Curdly’s body was dumped, and X’hellac dropped into the water giving the party a moment to redouble it’s efforts.( I wonder what the Dark Disciple’s journal would sound like about this moment sacrificing the poor curdly for the sake of the team…)

The warriors reassembled then, grabbing the body of McQuaid. Ian placed the helm on the young tribal woman, within moments,she writhed and came to, in anguish and fear, taking in the pain of her tortured body and mind.  “We’re hear to save you!” the adventurers barked, “but stay with us, we’ll get you out. I know you are in pain, hang on!” Glorian assured the troubled woman.

“It must be stopped! Once and for all” the woman’s voice came out haggardly. Incredibly, she spoke common!

And it was then, that the party turned to see X’hellac’s tentacles writhing for them from the waters again; the swelling anger of the beast now eclipsing it’s pain from the previous attack. But, it was unfortunate!!! As it lunged to kill, dragging each of their bodies into the steaming depths with it, the adventurers in turn lunged and parried, each swiping their own killing blow!

As the damage was done, X’hellac for the first time in a very long time knew real fear. An uncomfortable thought rang through it’s inner mind.  Shrinking down, it  withdrew slipping over the ledge, to the safety of it’s pool and the deep, deep depths below it….but it would not get far! (I’ve forgotten who dealt the killing blow, email me so I can finish or YOU!)

The party collapsed in on itself, huddling together. They stared unbelievingly at the foul form floating below them that had clearly done so much evil and would have done more, had it not been for them.  But, dwelling on such business was for tankards and taverns (which by the way is a new RPG under the Open Gaming License coming to a Hobby Shop near you soon), and it wasn’t long before the Cleric aided the sick, and the group searched and planned what to do next…

What in the 9 hells was X’hellac?  What do the discoveries in the Sahaugin stronghold mean, and where will they lead the party? How will they navigate their way back to safety keeping their rescued compatriots safe while lacking sleep and the ability to cure themselves? What choices will they make to find their way back?  To the Hangman, to the village?

What other dangers await them?

WHILE ON BOARD THE HANGMAN…Narrative Interlude…

Consider your second character carefully. There is always a way to work characters into a story.  Sometimes it needs to be done, sometimes it doesn’t.  Good luck tomorrow.  Hopefully, we won’t have to “work” any characters into the story just yet.

—————————————————————————————————-

Morning turned to afternoon and all the while, the breathless crew went about their work. An occasional “Any word?” shouted up to the nest, “None to speak of,” the quick reply. Those who stayed behind on the Hangman continued to bilge the water from the lower deck. 

 Lars waited on the ship’s fore for news from his brother who had gone ashore on the make-shift raft designed by the adventurers. He knew best than to interfere in the work below. After watching his brother land, and parlay with the inhabitants, he had waited anxiously for his return pacing back and forth on the Port side, eyes scanning the small stretch of beach where the raft still rested.  Only once,  did a member of Mcquaid’s crew come again to the beach with a mirror signaling a few pieces of information about the tribe they had encountered.  There had been little but speculation as to what the adventurers had found there. Then, the messenger returned again, this time via the raft, describing a plan that drew anger, fear and cursing from the assembled sailors aboard.    The party was then watched navigating along the cliff wall shortly thereafter.  

As several hours passed while those on board could only stand and wonder, the climbers eventually disappeared into the watery crags on the Western side of the isle, To what end?  Several times the signaler  in the crow’s nest attempted to parlay with the climbers using the mirror system common in Cillandrial sea trade, but his efforts, in earnest, were unreturned. No doubt the men were attentive to their dangerous task of crossing the vine strewn walls.  The watchers could only hope for the best.

All around, the water seemed calm.  Clear enough too so that as Lars gazed down through it’s depths into the coral forest below., he could make out a vast underwater forest.  A miriad of brightly colored fish swam in patterns, an occasional larger shadow lazily moving through with the tale-tell motion of a shark’s form sweeping side to side.

“The coral is full of them,” Hork muttered to Lars as he came to rest against the foredeck railing, “unusual to have so many within the smaller coves of coral here.  Not enough of a food resource, unless I’ve missed something”.

“Perhaps, they are being fed by our friends, the sahaugin,” came the tired voice of Fuldron, as he stepped onto the deck from below. “I found several scrolls in the Cillandar Library before we departed noting the relationships these creatures have with sharks. They seem to revere them.  Let’s hope we will not help feed them ourselves”.  The incessant hammering and bucket scooping did nothing for his mood, or his arcane studies.

“I think it quite possible that you are correct, Mage, but I have something to tell you more alarming than a few pet sharks.  I’ve been waiting for a time when I could discuss it with our colleagues without alerting our susceptible crew”. The speed at which the vast majority of the men agreed to mutiny around their now dead comrade was still fresh in their memories.  What would the men do under even more strained circumstances, their Captain carried off to some uncertain doom, and the ship unseaworthy?  Hork motioned to Morin, who had been sitting green, it seemed, for nearly all of the journey. A thief without a lock to pick, or a meal he could keep down for too many days.  Hork continued, lowering his speech, “My dolphin companion has been scouting for me this very morning, at great peril to itself.  Although, the damage to our ship is repairable magically, we must replace several planks along the outer frame to keep it seaworthy upon the high seas if we are to get home regardless of any arcane casting that I am aware of.”

“But there is more, and you must hear it, The dolphin has also been searching  for a path through the coral once the ship is brought free of it’s accident.  In so doing, it seems to have found something ….of interest.”  Hork looked off in the direction of the Isle and then back, his voice barely discernible. “It appears as though there is a wide swath of perhaps 15-20 meters that runs through the reef.  It continues all the way out to open sea and runs like a …”canal” through to the very location that the sahuagin escaped to with McQuaid.  Hork pointed to the now visible ancient ruin carved into the craggy cliffs, a giant monumental fortress taking punishment from the waves, for who knew how long. The very place the adventurers sent ashore were now headed.

“It is but a simple path then, an underwater high way of sorts for the sahuagin who raided us. Is it not? Once free, we can use it to steer back to open water and rid ourselves of this cursed island, once and for all”, Morin had known the journey a mistake the second he threw up his biscuits and hash from the seaside bar in Cillandar.

“That deduction might be true, master thief, and perhaps it very well may be the safest route for us to take. However, that is not the reason I have kept it’s discovery from the crew.  But this is…” from under his robes, Hork produced a flat and jagged object, with a curved and indented surface on one side.

“A shell of somekind?” deduced Lars.

“I wish that it were,” muttered Hork.  “Look again.” This time, as he moved the object up and turned it to the side, there could be no mistake as to what it was. It was a scale. A scale of incredible size.

“But a scale that size, would have to belong to something vast. Incredibly vast.”

Hork leaned harder on the rail and turned again to his companions , the afternoon sun highlighting his concerned features.  “Yes, it does. Judging by my knowledge of the sea and those creatures inhabiting it that wear scales, I’d guess it a fresh scale, only lost this season.  My animal friend found it embedded in the coral along the path.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“I have,” whispered Fuldron, a strange look of bemused sarcasm or perhaps fear spread across his features.  “I’ve seen just such a scale in the Throne Room of His Majesty where I performed a magical performance once for our Lord Borindin.”

“More importantly, it belongs to something that perhaps needs 15 meters to maneuver it’s bulky way to the very place our friends, and your brother are now headed.”….

“The Isle of Dread” Session 4

A Moment of Concern

X’hellac’s evil form sinks into the dark muck below. As the sounds of battle die away, a scene of carnage and chaos lies around you.  The chamber is hot, putrid and decay burns in the steaming water below, leaving a stinging scent of death which brings tears to your eyes.

Your party begins to search for signs of the survivors…and loot.

Glorian’s unconscious body covers a still form beneath him.  Ian comes to the cleric, checking for a pulse and realizes that the cleric passed out with the effort of protecting the girl from the beast, but has managed to stay alive. The beautiful and exotic princess from the Ata-uh-un looks up at Ian. For a moment, he is struck by her beauty and pride, even after the torment her body has been through.

Opening her eyes, she suddenly looks at the barbarian hero in terror! “Where did you get the Malenti’s helm? How? I must know. Tell me!” Amazingly, the princess of the Ata-uh-un speaks a form of common and addresses the party in a regal manner despite her situation and wracked condition.

“I…I…we got it from inside the fortress.  Are you Ulua? Are you hurt?”

“I am Ulua, and yes I am…hurt,” she says accepting his hand as she stands. “But we have other problems now, off-islander. Listen, you all must listen.  The Malenti wears a helm like yours and he uses it to communicate telepathically. He will know soon we are here! (And the symbol!) …If he hasn’t already.  How did you come? Did scout lead you? Did you come from the Guardian Chamber?

The party members relate their story to a demanding Ulua, as Captain McQuaid struggles to find himself after his time controlled by X’hellac. While the party tends to the wounded, they realize that Glorian and Malekai have grown weary from their wounds. Although not dying, neither is capable of moving under their own power.  The party finds a thief and a druid lying heaped in the corner with a wild tale.  Both were slaves aboard a giant vessel. Taken, they managed to work together to escape the ship only to be captured by the sahaugin that control the Western Islands off Dread.  Their story captivates the party but Ulua insists they depart!

“This is not the time for being sentimental. Do you think X’hellac was the only one of his kind!? The Malenti has many forces and much more is going on here than you know. I spent time in the …company of the Malenti…he will catch us and peel the skin off your bodies, giving the rest of us to the demons. WE MUST LEAVE NOW! I

Just then, a consciousness forms itself in Ian’s helm, it’s sinister mind worms into Ian’s and he realizes it does not communicate in common.  Nonetheless, Ian quickly can tell the helm can give valuable clues to this being and decides to take it off.  “Guys, we’re going to have company!”

The party gathers their belongings, while the druid uses the sea plants around him to make a paste, healing some of the many wounds the party has ripped over their frames. They place the gillyweed in their mouths and submerge in the water chamber again, following Ulua’s directions to a secret passage she has seen the sahaugin take.

“Don’t worry thief,” whispers Fritz, “It tastes like chicken.”

THE ESCAPE

The party quickly enters the chamber and prepares to descend, letting the gillyweed fill their lungs with water.  As the thief works the stones, MARS comes over to open the hatch for him, but takes a spear in the arm from a trap!

The party drops through the hatch entering into a small chamber that connects to the bottom of the Guardian’s Lair, and moving the various rocks aside, they manage to crawl out and find the tunnel they first found out to the cliffs. But where is Scout?

Just as the last of them are entering the tunnel, a hideous face breaks the surface. Red gleaming eyes of hatred expand and a clawed hand points at the party “FLLEAAASSSS….Why do you run my frienddsssss…..” then, as other reptilian faces emerge, he whispers to them “KILLL THEM ALL!!!Do not let them return to their SHIPPP!!!! And bring my pretty one back to me! It is time I taught her to bow properly, the mighty princess!”

Scrambling to escape, the party wrestles with the unconscious forms of Glorian and Malekai, MARS takes up the rear, holding the Sahaugin at bay with his spear.  But then Sanjaya places a hand on his metallic shoulder. “My friend, you must go now, allow me…trust me…” Although not in his nature, something about the way the druid speaks tells MARS it is time to follow and not lead.  Sanjaya then places his hands on the ropelike tendrils of seaweed that litter the chamber, and uttering words, begins to move his hands in concert with the plants. They shift and writhe, capturing the sagaugin in their grip. The Malenti’s eyes gleam hatred at the druid, as others fire sling bullets to no avail.

Meanwhile, the others have begun to climb the cliff surface, unable to find Scout, they do their best to remember where the footholds were he had shown them.  With a few slips they all manage to make it up as MARS waits for Sanjaya to return from his spell.

“They are held for a while, but we don’t have long,” Sanjaya yells to MARS over the swirling winds. “We must hurry!”

“After you…this time…” MARS murmurs.  Something about the last journey across these accursed cliffs unsettles his bulky frame and he is not anxious to try again.  Sanjaya nimbly climbs onto the crags, and then MARS gives it a go.

But, MARS quickly realizes his massive bulk won’t find a steady perch without scout showing him the way, and as he nearly slips to his death, he decides to fall back to the tunnel’s mouth, landing with a thud.

MARS looks around him, and hears the sounds of his enemies quickly moving towards him.  Insert catch phrase here. “MALENTI!” he roars into the tunnel.  “I fear you not.  And it is I now who comes for YOU!!!!” Ducking his head, spear thrust before him, MARS charges into the sahaugin force which has clambered up into the tunnel. Finding the MALENTI first, he bears down, his eyes agleam through his metallic helm, their weapons collide!

Although the sounds of battle, and the dim clings of steel on steel echo off the cliff walls, the party cannot only guess at what has become of their friend.

“Keep going!” yells Fritz, “MARS has chosen the way of the warrior, our path is returning ourselves to the LIGHT! We must make it before the Light fails today and nightfall obscures our handholds!”

“Stay silent heroes and move with trepidation, the winged devils come out at night, and no doubt they have taken scout with them. We cannot be noticed, or else we will suffer the same fate!”

As Sanjaya begins the crossing, pulling at one vine and then the next, he sees a familiar form, massive and slow lumbering across the waters past the island’s western crags.  The red and black rimmed ship that he once was prisoner on sails into view, within just a few hundred meters of the Hangman!

What became of MARS? The secret stays with ANDY!

WHILE ON BOARD THE HANGMAN, Interlude 2

A Sudden Visitor

As the setting sun begins to drift towards the endless blue, you find yourself taking a break on the top deck of The Angry Hangman.  Hands are sore and blistery from your last duty bilging out the invading waters belowdecks.  All you hear is the endless rocking of the ship, when a slight gasp comes from the Crow’s nest.  “Ship sighted! Ship sighted! All hands on deck!”

A large and bloated galleon has just circled the pass at the far Western outcroppings of the island, and is lazily drifting several leagues outside the reef.  You see the feint gleam of a spyglass lens, small and artificially bright for just an instant.  Clanking and a yell of men, splash and an anchor drops.  Several of the sailors approach the decks, bringing all manner of glass to their eye, trying to see through the brilliant sunset.  But only silhouettes appear, and the men have trouble making things out.  A small vessel is lowered to the starboard side, with several figures inside of it.  As it steers it’s way in your direction, you can tell that a lone figure stands at it’s fore, one leg resting at the gunwale. The small vessel stops and maintains itself just off the railing of the Hangman, several yards below. Several other figures surround this one standing as rowers pull it over the reef and closer to the Hangman. Many appear to wear horned helms and other dress that throws their appearance off, one looks to be winged in the silhouette form it bears.

And then a handsome face and a deep and rich voice spoken in a strange accent of Common, “Hello, my friends!! Whatever has happened to you?”

As several of the crew tell a story of being attacked and shipwrecked, the man then smiles…

“My friends! It is then fortuitous I came across you like this! But forgive me, allow me to introduce myself” a formal bow, “My name…is…Cerventaz De Leon SANDURKAN..and I am at your service. Did ….I …hear correctly that you have traveled from the…the…EAST..no?”

A member of the Hangman indeed acknowledges this to be truth, and several on the boat of  Cervantez’s look at each other, their faces showing a look of shock for only a moment.

“My friends, you mean, you traveled past the Still Waters…no?” As the party again acknowledges this to be true, the looks on the faces of Cervantez’ crew grow even more stunned. Cervantez nods to a young woman near him.

“Well, then you must have had a most incredible journey! A most incredible journey indeed, and one worth telling no doubt! But again, look at me forgetting my manners.  Please, join me and we will return aboard my vessel, the pride of Sasserine, the Cussara Darquaeux.  My chef will prepare a dinner for you worthy of your tale, and you can rest, and ….BATHE.  Heh? Please, friends join me…in the morning we will come back, and repair your ship. You will find I have much…labor…at my disposal” and he extends a hand.

“Well, it is a pleasure and I humbly accept!” Lars the gnomish alchemist who has traveled aboard with his brother Mars steps up to the gunwale.

The woman to Cervantez’s side winks at the gnome, and lithely approaches the rail, her hair thrown back in the breeze. “What a wonderful little man, Master Gnome, please, allow me Captain.”

As the gnome is about to accept the help from the beautiful woman, a small young boy, no more than eight years old, hides among the food barrels in the lower deck. Listening intently to the conversation above, he has spent enough of his life in the streets of Cillandar to arouse his suspicions, but then something happens. He hears the faintest of moans coming from the vast ship now hidden with the setting sun.  Slavers! He decides, that he must warn someone, despite the fact that he will have to give himself up as a stowaway finally!

Quickly making his way through the passages to the top, he pulls on the tunic of the gnome.  “No, Master gnome, you mustn’t! It’s a trap.  Slave ship sir!”

Lars pulls back and makes several excuses, but in so doing, the female with Cervantez seems to sense a change in the parties view.  Quickly and subtly she asks them about their captain. When the party tells them he is not aboard, Cervantez formally takes his leave and the crew of his craft pull away, leaving the party alone once more. The boat oars back to it’s larger bearer.

“That was close!” whispers LARS to Crow, “and by the way, who the hell are you?”

A Guest

A small splash comes from the large galleon  and several more splashes follow, much stronger as if something were being thrown into the water.  As the party gazes into the water, they begin to make out the emaciated form of a small boy, struggling to make his way to their ship.  Several times, he is pulled under by the rolling sea, and still a few arrows are fired from the Carussa at him.  But, he makes it! And is pulled on board the Hangman, thanking the group with prostrated bows. “Thank you. Masters. By Olo-rahn, thank you Masters.” Before passing out from the exhaustion he has suffered at the hands of the slavers and the sea, he tells a harrowing tale. A tale of being used to capture other slaves in a young dismal life after being captured himself.  Of mistreatment and malnourishment leading up to tonight, when he finally decided to perish in the sea, or be free once more. His name is Abros.

It doesn’t take long for the PCs to decide that abandoning ship is the best course of action, deciding that in the morning light, Cervantez will certainly mount a raid or sink the ship outright. The sounds of click-clacking and the readying of metallic and wooden things begins.  Then the  bombardment starts from the Curassa Darquaex, hitting the waters off into the night, spraying columns of water around them into the night air. They quickly take the items they know they can and load up the dinghy and their previously built raft and depart. Rowing into the dark waters, a few of the sailors look back, watching their only lifeline to Cillandar disappear into the gloom of the sea mist. What will become of them now?

A Return to the Ata-Uh-un…

The two groups convene onto the beach of the Ata-uh-un albeit at different times, and as the sailors from the Hangman are welcomed by a jovial Umlat and even a smiling Vano, they make their way into the heart of the tribe’s land, into their ceremonial place, a large rocky bowl carved into the earth by many generations of hands.  They join the rescue team that brought Ulua and McQuaid back. As they sit, they are decorated with brilliant flowers, fragrant and strange, served meals of delicious stews…as Lars see the rescue team he mildly asks. “My brother…where is he?”

The dancers of the Ata’uh-un prepare for their Creation Dance in honor of the accomplishments that day, and for a time LARS tears and sobs are drowned out by a cacophony of voices and chants.

Creation Story of the Ata’uh-un

When the world was new, great and mighty Olo-rah’n lay buried in the rock and mud of the earth.  After many ages, he awoke and decided to create a substance on the surface of the world that would entertain him while he walked the lands,swam the seas, and flew in the skies of his creation.  However, this substance was too consistent and predictable to him, so Olo-rah’n used his breath to give life to these creatures.  In order to sustain their life once he slept again, he created the Sun to give them warmth each day.  Thus, Olo-rah’n created Man, Woman and the animals, and he was so amused that he spent his time on the surface observing them and watching the many things they did many times before his slumbers.  Olo-rah’n greatly desired to tell these beings that he enjoyed their company so that He, even the mighty Olo-rah’n would not spend his time on the surface alone.

So Olo-rah’n revealed his identity to his people.  However, when the Men gazed on him and saw his many wonders they were overcome with envy.  Instead of thanking him for the breath of life in their substance, they instead grew jealous, and tried to make themselves better in form and function, just like he was. Why had he kept the best things for himself?  After many attempts they were unsuccessful, but one Man, a man whose name is no longer spoken, observed the various animals one day and created a plan. He watched the birds, and fish and insects and realized that a secret of power was given to each.

To the mighty ant, strength.

To the fish, the ability to swim in the seas,

and to the bird, the gift of flight.

It was then, that this Man came to each of the animals, offering his power of Flame and ingenuity.  Tricking them into believing he would share his knowledge with them, he stole their powers and gave it to Men and Women of his village, making them more powerful.  He then created strange and abdominal beasts, a mixture between man and animal in many forms.  The many creatures that the tribe observes today  are the descendants of these abdominal forms. (As the party watches the event, they see dancers wearing masks of what seems to be the sahuagin as well as two headed ape-like beasts, horrid women with legs and wings of a vulture, and many others).

Alas, Olo-rah’n watched all this from below and began to realize that these petty creatures had become too powerful and he was angry that they had manipulated his creations.  So he awoke once more and coming to the surface, became struck by the hideous beings he saw.  Men had manipulated the trees, the stone and the ore of the earth and even their own bodies. They soared in the skies, and used their new powers to rape the land of it’s wholesomeness.  In rage, he blocked out the Sun taking their life force and made new animals, hideous versions of the older ones.  In order to give these new deadly things a sustaining energy without the Sun, he created the Three Moons.  One for the creatures of the Sea, one for the Creatures of the Land, and one for him so that all Beings of the Surface world would remember why they were being punished.

The Men of the earth  and Olo-rahn’s new beasts fought a great battle, and in the end much death came to pass.  With the sun’s demise, many of the Men lost their “life” and became shells of substance, morbidly wandering the land devoid of their humanity (Here the party sees a group of young children dressed like zombies meandering through the storytelling area).

Few survived the Great War, and nearly all the world was annihilated by it’s destruction, but finally Olo-rah’n’s thirst for punishment was quenched.  As he was about to return to his sleep, satiated after a large battle, he passed a Mother crying for the loss of her child, wounded on the battlefield.  She had loved her child so much that during the battle she had taken up a spear and slain the beast which had attacked him.  Nonetheless, it had made a devastating wound in the youth and her he would soon perish from the Light of his being.  Taking pity and admiring the woman’s courage, Olo-rah’n decided that as a last act, he would spare the child and breathe the gift of life back into his body.

Coming to the woman in disguise as a simple man, he told her he would help the child. But at this, the woman lamented and asked him not to.  Surprised by such a request, Olo-rah’n did not understand and inquired of the woman.  She told him there would be no warmth for him to awaken to, and that the people left would one day become either hollowed or fall from the Light forever.  She knew know that she did not want her child to live in such a world.

At this, Olo-rah’n at last knew that his creation of life, brought not just the evil he had witnessed, but the good as well and that neither could exist without the other.  He called back the Sun for the Woman’s tribe, and left the Moons to give power to those abherrant beings to balance life’s many forms.  Because the woman had shown him this truth, he granted her the ability to heal and chose her and her fellow women of the tribe to bring the understanding of this Balance to the people. To this day, these women appear as warriors, communicating their tribal customs and sacred traditions to Olo-rah’n as a sign of their continuing debt.

The many creatures that inhabit the world are still demons from the time when Man tried to steal the power of the animals.  The tribe believes the ancient ruins they see are remainders of those who raped the land and used it’s stone and metal to create large fortresses.  They believe to live simply is Olo-rahn’s way, and that anything else is to bring his wrath once more.  The tribe is familiar with an increasing coming and going of new craft which patrol the waters searching for people to enslave. They know these vessels make Olo-rah’n  angry  and this is why the volcanic activity has been so plentiful.  It is no coincidence then, that when these eruptions begin, often the denizens of the dark become more powerful and noticeable.  Sometimes, even the hollowed remains of those who lived in the ancient times are set free from where they fell in battle and begin to wander, hungering for the flesh of those who live in the Light by the grace of Olo-rah’n, the great and mighty.

And as the dancers take their leave, the assembled men and women drift off to their places of sleep. Many of the men look down with serious expressions murmuring things to the smaller ones, as if to say, may you learn the lesson of the ancients!”

A Discussion with Fritz, Man of Honor and Faith

A tired and weary adventuring party and what is left of the sailors of the Hangman bed down for the night.  McQuaid talks to him, encouraging them that their ship will be alright in the morning and a plan will be made to find their way off the island. 

As Fritz is about to turn in, Abros, the small slave boy comes to sit next to him.

“May I speak with you, Master Paladin?”

“You know of my charge, young one, eh?” says Fritz amusedly.

“Why yes Sir. I was taken in my youth by the slavers and have met many at various ports who serve a higher power.  I know you are someone of honor and faith. You also come from Cillandar, do you not. Is the King well?”

Wiping sleep from his eye, Fritz finds the pointedness of the lad interesting. “Yes he is. And to your question. That is true boy.  Honor and faith. My creed is to keep both.”

“And may I ask you something, m’Lord?”

“Of course, young one. But make it quick, my body aches from the battles of the day.”

“What faith do you have in men’s honor?”

Fritz chuckles and looks at the boy. He seems to have already forgotten his question, looking into the grass next to his feet. Fritz answers the question, if not more for himself then for the child. “Well, honor is what a man is born to be.  By the gift of the Light. By the gift of the Silver Flame.  Keeping his honor is the highest charge a man can make for himself.”

“And do you, good sir, believe that most men in our times keep their honor?”

“What an inquisitive child you are….No, I do not always believe that.  But, it is not for me to decide what other men do.  The Flame is a source of those who do RIGHT. And I am it’s wielder. When I do RIGHT, I bring honor to those who can’t.”

“And how do you know what RIGHT is, master Paladin…”

The question is so provoking, that Fritz sits up, and gazes on the child. His back turned as again he stared into the grass as if uninterested. Fritz sees the whip marks across his back. Perhaps, he thinks, this question is crucial for the child, and no doubt he knows why.

“I don’t always know m’boy…but I know what it isn’t. RIGHT is using the power of our collected worship to help others, and not ourselves. To bring our fellow Man out of the Dark and into the Light is what must and will save us in the times to come so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of our past.” And with that, Fritz turns over, sleep finally overcoming him.

The young boy looks around. The thief has gone in pursuit of the tribe’s hunters.  And Abros knows he soon will have visitors elsewhere.  This group offers much consideration. They may indeed be able to find what he has long searched for, if their foolish concerns for others don’t get in the way.  They have already discovered symbols of the Kasilians.  Silently raising, he steps over to a snoring Fritz, “I admire you brave warrior for thinking you can stop the Darkening, just as those before you tried. Should you survive the isle, it will be interesting watching your pursuit of RIGHT. Good luck, Master Paladin of …the Flame.”

While the thief takes first watch he overhears a heated argument at the tribal sleeping area between Vano’a and  Ulua. Sensing something is up, he packs his gear and follows Vano’a and his hunters through the jungle in the dead of night.

The thief comes across prisoners being kept in wooden cages hanging from trees.  Vano’a takes out one young boy from the cage. Inspecting his chest area, the thief can see that this boy has a tattoo of the very symbol on Ian and Glorian’s new helms.  The boy is taken out and tied and gagged.  Yells and shouts come from the other prisoners. Some whimper and cry.  The hunters take the boy down to a canoe and sail up river out of the thief’s sight.

The thief returns to the others with what he has seen, and as the party realizes the sinister fate waiting for them, they must decide what to do.

Conrad Horst, priest

Tavey, scared child

Uron Furol, Gnomish archaeologist

Skald, elvish male, prideful

Lirith, quiet and solemn

Avnar, arrogant and beligerent

Amella, Captain of The Sea Wyvern…

 

NO TREASURE AWARDED. Only loincloths…

What’s Next?

With enemies closing in all sides, what will the party do?  Will they leave the colonists to their fate? Or trust in their help? Will they venture into the heart of the island? Try to rendezvous to Farshore?

Next session should be filled with battles and treasure or I’m going to guess lots of slavery.  We’ll see what you guys do.  Feel free to figure out your plan before meetup…and Good luck!

 

Escape to Silvershore, Session 5

 

The Diversion

With the Hangman now boarded by Sandurkan and then sunk, and the tribe looking like they may indeed sacrifice the party to the entity known as The Seeker, the party decides leaving is their best bet.  They plan a diversion, sending Crow to light a small fire, Ulua covers them taking Vanoa aside and they head out to the clearing where the imprisoned colonists are. The plan: To make the journey through a mysterious passage through the mountains to Farshore, a colony apparently located on the Northern shores of the Isle of Dread.  Furol, the gnome archeologist, tells them he must have his journal to open the Serpent’s Tail passage, so they help him acquire it but this puts the tribe right on their tail once they discover they have left!

The Swamp

As the party moves through the river and swamp, the tribe begins to gain speed on them splitting up into a faster group and slower one.

Walking through the mud and muck, Glorian is given part of Furol’s journal and begins to study it as he goes. His studies of the journal give useful information about the island’s flora and fauna presumably from an earlier expedition.

In a short time, they come to a place where the game trail they had been following stops. Not wanting to go around with the hunters on their heels they wade through and find themselves in a clearing with carnivorous plants!

Large venus fly traps reach down and ensnare half the party, their gigantic tentacles reaching down from the upper canopy. Meanwhile Glorian the Cleric is seized by a colossal pitcher plant.  Despite attempts to rescue him, he is about to be placed into the paralytical ooze inside, he makes one final attempt to resist, and with help falls to the forest floor.

The party finally is able to clear from the plant’s reach, and Sanjaya who can now recognize their pattern leads them safely through the more treacherous part of the swamp.

Thunder Beast Crossing

Taking care to observe his surroundings, Sanjaya leads the way and begins to recognize large footprints, bigger than a man in the now sandier riverbed. As the party comes onto familiar territory to Furol, they come to a river crossing that Sanjaya confirms is a perfect ambush point for predators.  In fact, a large plant eating dinosaur’s partially consumed carcass lies next to the river and the remains of Furol’s last expedition’s bridge. As the group makes its way carefully out into the open, a Tyrannosaur is spotted downriver. The party leads the way! They use the remaining pieces of the bridge and everyone crosses, wading through the river while gripping the netted rope.  Fritz takes the rear and tries desperately to climb the steep entryway up the mountain pass.  But Sanjaya jumps into action, casting a Fog spell that stops the charging T-Rex and just allows both the colonists and Fritz to make their way off the sand and out of reach of his treacherous jaws.

Serpent’s Tail

The party moves upward and into the mountain trails directed by Furol and his coded gnome journal. Finding a craggy region, the party stops to rest and heal wounds, then continues the trek, looking out at the treacherous sea below.  Around them, more winged dinosaurs circle and cry, so the group keeps low and quiet. As they reach the top they see evidence of tracks. The party comes upon a vast landing with gigantic statues. Each statue bears a lantern held aloft, the platform has stacks of ballistics and two large structures that might be nests.  The statues seem similar or perhaps the same as the images on coins the party will later acquire.  A large stone carved serpent’s tail tapers at the end of the platform.  The area is clearly an END DAYS structure and it shows signs of having been re-used since then by something or someone much more sinister. The murals of evil beasts scraped over the stone can attest that. The nests contain some kind of planked timbers, very old. This is evidently some sort of protective platform for the fortress at Serpent’s Tail for some unknown power.

The party detects movement from the nest and Sanjaya comes over to a group of Terror Birds. He uses his magic to calm the smaller  creatures, and the party attacks the larger Bird, killing it in the process as it’s gigantic beak does significant damage to Fritz, nearly killing him.

The party heals and searches for treasure, Furol begins to decipher which statue could provide entry to the Passage and warns the party not to touch the statues. Unfortunately, Avner does not head this warning and is struck down by a bolt of lightning from the statues mouth, but still left breathing. Using his now priceless journal, the gnome finally discovers a latch in the stone and begins the tedious work finally setting the mechanism in place. The statue slides over it’s enormous frame as a puff of ancient dust swirls through the entry!

The Ancient Armory

Then, as Fritz is walking over he sees something in the stone near a different statue, so he goes over to investigate and lo and behold discovers a secret armory behind the statue of ballistics weapons and racks of weapons.  A beautiful suit of armor and the plans of tremendously powerful ballistics weaponry make this a remarkable treasure room indeed!

The Greeting Chamber

But what lies within? Moving inside, a scene of terror meets the parties eyes.  Hideous statues, deformed into shapes that are half man and half beast surround a larger, more terrible statue leaning down a skull and innards held aloft in it’s hands as it smiles grotesquesly with two baboon faces on separate necks. Around them, the party can tell that this once pleasant entryway was at some point “renovated”. Huge iron doors sit on the far wall.

Using various clues from the statues, Ian the Barbarian pulls down the beast’s hand holding onto the skull and a chain begins to sound from beyond the doors.

The doors slowly move outwards, chains clinking, unseen gears grinding.  Through the widening gap hideous shapes twist and wiggle, writhe and squirm. Bodies of grotesquely manipulated forms are chained above, the mechanism lowering them to the ground.  A horde of ghouls is released from the chains through the traps gears as the beasts rush at the party. Several are bloated and vastly mishappen, as though their insides were filled with some kind of viscous jelly.

In the battle, one of the bloated ghouls is torn apart and rot grubs spill out, leaving a treacherous area. Nonetheless, the party is able to quickly defeat the ghouls, Fritz (now wearing his new armor) only taking several hits and luckily the dreaded disease they carried is not transmitted to him.

While the party attends to the wounded, and checks to make sure the colonists are unharmed, they witness a scene between Furol the gnome and Skald, one of the quieter colonists. 

That scene will be detailed in the next interlude I’ll be sending out before Session 6 this next Saturday….

Treasure and Awards

340 gp, 114 pp Coins are each imprinted with a picture of a man holding a lantern similar to the statues. One is of an older robed figure with long hair and a staff, one is of a warrior bearing a great sword, one is of a warrior in plate armor wielding a large hammer, one clearly a Cleric of the Silver Flame and there is another, a woman with long hair, beautiful. Each holds a lantern aloft.

McNally’s Dagger of Throwing+1: Acts as regular dagger+1, unless thrown. Deals double damage on successful hit. Will not return.

McNally’s Sword Feather Token: Transforms from metallic feather token to a normal longsword when gripped and swung.

 

Hero’s Plate Mail +1: A beautiful suit of plate armor with a concentric circle emblem on it’s breastplate. Found in a place of honor in the Serpent’s Tail secret armory cache.

Sketches of  Ballistics Weaponry: Information on how to construct a variety of ballistics weaponry.

Scroll Tube 1: Druidic Spells “Please accept these Master Klein as gifts from his honorable lord, Felspar. We believe these spells will be of great use to you in your arcane research in order to preserve our world during the Darkening. For the Sake of All.” Scroll spells next session.

Scroll Tube 2:  Clerical spells. Unopened.

Furol’s Journal of the Flora and Fauna of the Isle of Dread: This is a journal acquired by Furol from an earlier expedition to the Isle. It contains vast amounts of information about the plants and animals that inhabit the island.

Shield+1:Sword bears the image of a standing, reaching dragon in the old medieval style. Standing in front of the dragon, is a man bearing a lantern held high. Several runes are carved around the outside inner edge. Furol says these runes correspond to word meanings which seem to say “For the Sake of All”

Arrows+1, Keen Arrows (5)

Vial of Sovereign Glue (1/2 bottle remaining)

Druidic Armor (Self-Made by Sanjaya) : Fashioned out of hardened reeds and other materials strung together with sinew and vine.) AC Bonus +2

Medallion of Spell Exchange: One cast spell per day may be recast when a spell of it’s level or higher is removed from the caster’s spell slots available list.

Session 6, Isle of Dread Adventure Wrap

Serpent’s Tail, Narrative Interlude 3: An Oversight

Skald steps forward and taking Furol by the collar lifts him up next to a mural of a two headed ape chewing on the sinews holding together a human skull and a spinal cord.

“Spill it Gnome. What do you know?”

“Nothing….it’s nothing…it’s just that …”

“What?”

“It’s just that those aren’t supposed to be out..”

“What do you mean….OUT?”

Arvella steps forward and looking around at the gnome and then at the others whispers “This isn’t just a passage, is it…?”

“It is ..it is….I’m not an expert at this…I’m just a researcher.  I’m trying to get us to Farshore Arvella!”

“You lie Furol! Every night I watch you..watch you with that damned journal. You’ve made the secrets there invisible for a reason. You’re looking for something, aren’t you. Seeking something? Tell us.” The glint of a dagger as it’s pulled free.

Through the Broken Gate

Heavy doors hang on gigantic hinges, a single phrase is stamped on the front of the door.  You recognize it as the same as on the Shield you found in the Terror Birds nest.  It is written in a form of speech unfamiliar to anyone in the party.  Furol mouths it in astonishment.  “For the sake of All”….

As you pass inside, you see a structure unlike any you’ve ever encountered.  A long hallway stretching on and on.  To the left and right are circular passages that are made of a strange stone material that appears to not have any seams! As you look more carefully at the circular passages you realize they are not passages at all.  Or at least none that you recognize. The floor is several feet lower than the central hallway you are on, and the ceiling is also higher.  In fact, the ceiling in these arcing corridors doesn’t seem to be a ceiling at all, gaps exist on all the corners against the walls, as though the ceiling were separate from the rest of the structure.

Debris which has long rotted, crumbled and decomposed rests in several locations, as well as bones and various skulls which litter the area. On the floor in certain areas you can make out the tell tale sign of rust in the outlines of weaponry, long since rusted, or removed.

From down the darkened corridor, a circular ball seems to bob in the air. It seems to undulate slightly side to side as if held on some invisible string while a gust of wind comes by.  You wonder what in the world it could be. As if in response, it turns it’s frame and begins to drift around, two small eyes popping open in unison directed on you!

The party instantly begins to attack the floating spheres but then one erupts! Ripping the air into a fiery explosion and threatening to collapse the now freely suspending outer rock walls.  The party moves back into the ghoul chamber and is able to take out the gas spores from a distance, saving themselves a whole lot of trouble.

With the gas spores defeated, the party begins to wonder what other beasts have been released to terrorize them from what now appears to be some kind of ancient manufacturing site of organic weapons.

The Well of Souls

But just when they think they have the placed figured out, a new scene meets their eyes. One which is confusing and disturbing. The party passes through the outer walls of concentric stones and into a vast circular orifice with a  dark abyss dropping below.

Walking out onto the platform you gaze around you and below in utter horror.  A scene of such tremendous chaos lies before you that at first you forget that your sense of sound is also disturbed. A crescendo of shuffling and moaning, beating and wailing comes from below.

Looking over the edge you see a vast network of chains which seem to be much rusted over the years.  Two small metallic platforms nearly completely corroded hang adjacent to the central walkway.  A wave of nausea hits you as the smell of rot and death rises all around you. Down into the darkness, you see a cone shaped area that impossibly deep.  Different platforms angle around it in ever widening arcs as tiers in a pyramid.  On the first, a few rays of your light source manage just to reach the edge where instantly a horde of pale and hideously deformed flesh ruined faces shrink back into the darkness. As your face leans out to take in the scene, you see light reflected in the dark from different points, hundreds perhaps thousands of pairs of eyes all now point in your direction.   A horrid, animalistic and inhuman chant begins to form itself from the constant screams of horror.  “Release us!!!! Release us!!!! RELEEEEAAASSEEEE  USSSS!!!!!!” The moaning rises higher and higher, as you get the sense that a mass of hands are all reaching for you.

Battle at The Platform

A sinister wind kicks up and debris from the darkened opening far below swirls and swirls of small bones and metallic items, other clutter, rising faster and faster coming together into an ever changing shape recognizable as something alive. The ever howling air mass seems to solidify somehow, taking on the shape of a massive beast with devilish fangs and a gaping maw. Two large hands turn to swirling fists, as the aerated material of it’s body begins to become dense, it’s facial form looks on at you, two eyes made from small gaps in the wind and debris and a mouth opening to roar “Innocents! Chosen! Betrayed by slaves to be made slaves! Long have we waited for vengeance. DIE NOW!”

During the battle the creature rises to the platform pounding the fighters with it’s massive arms.  Several times Glorian and Fritz attempt to talk with it. They learn several things but are not able to commune with it enough in order to calm the obvious anger manifested into this creature.  What they learn however is strange indeed:

*The people below are not evil. What has happened to them is.

*A betrayal of such strong magnitude exists here that it’s lingering effect has caused the monster to exist.  The monster is a manifestation of these emotions.

*This well was meant to be a place of protection. It is clearly no longer.

As the party is able to destroy the monster, a vast silence temporarily silences the sounds of the 100s and 1000s of the undead mass below.  A wave of relief and release of pain familiar to the healers in the group erupts from the pit.  Nonetheless, the feeling is fleeting.  The undead contingency below, clearly not satiated even by this.  It’s gigantic stirring begins again, leaving little to the imagination at the size of the horde that must exist below, in the dark, waiting to render anything alive to shreds.

The party relunctanctly moves beyond the well, past another section of the same concentric walls they saw before.  Here they come across another set of broken doors and then a dark salty chamber.

THE ELEVATOR

A massive structure lies just beyond.  Four colossal chains hang suspended and rise into the darkness. Below, endless black.  Two ruined cages, barely discernible through the ages lie as if thrown down, obviously whatever contents once in them, no longer are. Behind you on the chamber wall rests two smooth sections of stone that stand out from the cavern rock which obviously was cut from some unknown force to build the space.  Two runes lie on either side.  Four total.  A rune below your feet is the second rune to your right. Using Furol as guide they discern that the lift is currently on level 3. Hitting the rune for what appears to be 4, they drop slowly into an abyss.  Unfortunately, the air begins to smell saltier and the sounds of movement in the water below frightens the colonists.  What awaits?

Hitting Rock Bottom

As the elevator makes it’s way to the first landing, the whole platform begins to be enveloped by cold water.  Splashes are heard, the sound of living movement.  Suddenly, three large bright lights attached to appendages run up from the water, each trained on a member of the party.  Several forms slide themselves up onto the lift, and drag themselves forward on slippery fins. Gigantic mouths open ready to swallow whole the few who stand at the edge!

The party however dispatched the Stun fish quite quickly, passing all their saving throws.  The fish were cut down as the water enveloped the players and the runes for 1 were quickly set in place. As the lift rose once more, the water fell away and the Stun fish dispatched. Easy encounter!

Level 1: MELF

Arriving at the top of the shaft, the party now realizes that level 2 is perhaps the entry to their long sought after passage. However, once arriving to level 1, the lift stops and this time appears to lock in place.  Two separate chamber doors rest on the same wall, and no runes exist here either.

Walking into a well constructed, ancient and efficient laboratory the party finds a crude and heavy sarcophagus in the middle of the room, small alcoves lead off, inside the party finds evidence of tiny creatures long dead. Tubes and other periphernalia lead off from each as though different things were inserted or taken away.  This is clearly a laboratory where changes are made to studied creatures.

The party sees a large metallic doorway beyond. It appears as though something has hacked, clawed and pounded against it, nonetheless, the door has held.  What could it be?

But the party instead decides to investigate the heavy sarcophagus.  And is rewarded by the awakening mummy, MELF, chained to 6 ghouls who immediately set upon the party.  MELF’s sinister humor is still evident as he pulls forth a wand and lays Ian the Barbarian down. While the battles ensues, the colonists await beyond on the platform, huddled outside the outer entrance.

Although, the Mummy nearly killed the barbarian, the party fought bravely, eliminating the horde first and then easing MELF’s rest. Their courage emboldened by Fritz the Paladin and Glorian the Cleric, none of them were affected by the FEAR affect. An impressive feat! As MELF passes into the shadow beyond, a feint warmth permeates the sanctum of what must have been his many, many years of study, some of which no doubt were producing foul beasts.  The party wonders, what could have led to his mummification, and what happened here?

Combat Protocol 715 and 815

The TINKERER’S WORKSHOP

Investigating the door beyond, a magic mouth appears and repeats the riddle that the invaders never seem to have been able to crack. Luckily, Luke has a cell phone.

I am the beginning of sorrow and the end of sickness. You cannot express happiness without me yet I am in the midst of crosses. I am always in risk yet never in danger. You may find me in the sun but I am never out of darkness.

Answer

The letter S.

Upon speaking the answer, the circular door swings inward, a puff of ancient dust showing this chamber sealed well from an ancient time. What mysteries will lie within? Could this chamber reveal secrets from before the END DAYS?

This room is nothing short of miraculous. Around the room, apparatus and glassware are found on benches and tables, their contents long since evaporated or used, but still nonetheless looking as though they were just used. A massive layer of dust however belies that fact.  Around the chamber are several marble blocks, upon which stands suits of armor.  Each suit is quite complete, in fact, little space is seen except for two empty places for eyes.

A weapon dangles next to each, as if each gauntlet had settled itself into a grip even over the many years they must have been here. Despite their obvious age, none of them are rusted and dust seems to hide a still magnificent glean.

One of the suits suddenly lifts its head and says “Tell the password” At least this is the interpretation that Furol gives you.

When the correct password is not given the suits come to life. You hear “COMBAT PROTOCOL 715 INITIATED Protect the master!”

The Warforged fought  to the death. Despite having amazing weaponry, the party sprang to action and impressively hacked them down with cunning skill. One suit does not come to life. Inside lies perhaps an incredible treasure. A sphere which pulses and emanates a powerful dwoemer of magic. Just like the one that Lars knows is found inside MARS, if ever he can find him, this sphere may just be able to bring him back from the dead, if he is dead.

This room is a treasure trove of information about the END DAYS. A particularly interesting book details lists and lists of figures about something labeled the REFUGE. Humanoid numbers exist along with names of locations not recognizable.  On a separate page appears the ancient symbol for DRAGON well known to most people through archeological research. Next to it appear two names:  Sherserakshen and Gulgol written in common. These names are scratched out. One name lies below circled. Abraxas.

A second book appears to be the journal of MELF and chronicles his attempts to create these metal golems, and shows pictures of various creatures that the party does not recognize. Many of them appear to be hybrid forms of humans and beasts.

A lone journal also exists, much of it is lost to time, having been placed outside an apparent circle of magic. The few lines within the sphere that can be made out discuss something about studying the slaver’s language so that the enemy is better understood. The script is not written in Common, and certain passages refer to words clearly in common as the slaver’s language.

As the party searches for MELF’s other desirables, particularly his SPELLBOOK, they come across dusty and we strewned busts atop a semi-circular desk, where perhaps, once important scrolls lay, now lost to time.  Wiping the webs away, the party is stunned to see that the busts are emblazoned in what could only be images of themselves!!!!!!!!!!

Treasure

A single tome lies on MELF’s shelf that the party at first missed.  Along the binding it says “MELF’S MILFS”. Apparently, he was something of a player…

We will discuss party treasure at the table in the next session.

 

 BEHIND THE SCENES…

The idea of an ancient workshop where monsters were created is something I really wanted to throw at you guys.  I’ve always been interested in how the D&D monsters came to be; my favorite section being the Ecology articles in Dragon Magazine.  When I conceived of the idea of a large secret facility where creatures were magically “designed” that was taken over, I began to check out lots and lots of resources for monsters from D&D that would match.  I wasn’t disappointed. It seems like DMs forever have created enough to make a secret weapon factory from the Age of the End Days blush.

In order to get yourselves through the passage with the colonists, you’ll have to use cunning, teamwork and at times, perhaps, brute force.  The colonists are counting on you, and Silvershore awaits!

 

Session 7, The Seeker

After defeating the foul mummy MELF, and exploring his laboratory to the fullest, the party decides to rest for the evening, making the most of it’s resources and location.  During the night, Malekai offers to take first watch and the party happily accepts, having fought and hacked their way through many encounters since entering the Serpent’s Tail.  However, during the first watch, something feels not quite right for the Barbarian, Ian.  Is it the strange runes carved into the stones of the laboratory. The three concentric rings posted in a variety of odd places or carved into different structures around the laboratory like the candalabras and light sconces? Just what the Light are those damned rings anyway? Maybe it’s that damnable phrase that Furol has told you all means “For the Sake of All”.  For the sake of who exactly? And just what are they being saved from?

THE TRAITOR

Startled by ill dreams, Ian awakens to discover Malekai is slowly walking by the campers to the platform beyond the lab, but what is that in his hands? Why, it’s the helmets you and Fritz acquired, as well as the yet, unopened tube? But, what the Light is he doing with them now?

“Malekai where are you going?”

But he’s going, and the platform seems to have been raised higher than it was, did he press the runes in the Tinkerer’s Workshop, but why? It’s chain releasing the mechanism and lowering him down, he stares at you, whispering, “Go back to bed barbarian. I will wake you on second watch.”

But this is wrong, something is wrong with him, so you chase. And just like that, Malekai is producing a grappling hook and his rope, chucking it up to the other side. He scrambles up but barely avoiding your charge.  As he climbs, you grab onto his belt, a parchment scroll loosens from his robes fluttering to the platform.

Click. Click. Clang. Click. Click. Clang.

Up moves the platform locking itself into place at the foot of two gigantic and ancient doors long since broken open.  Malekai is nowhere to be seen. “Malekai!” You call, “Malekai, you Darkened bastard, where the Light did you go!??”

THE LETTER

Returning to the group, Ian explains what has happened and produces the scroll he was able to take off of the Dark Disciple’s person.  The letter reads:

“You have served me well. And soon you will be rewarded.  As I have told you, my brethren to the East are not so kind. You seek the control of the slaves from the End Days and you shall have them, here from the Island’s Vault.

Convince the Heroes to search in the bowels of the passage. Seek a passage through the mines that I myself cannot go.  There you will discover a craft, and a key.  Bring the key to me at the Orifice.  I will be waiting. You will know it as the grand eye several leagues into the passage.

If the others suspect you, you will attain their helms and the tube the fools have yet to open.  With this, you will lead another group from Farshore.  Quickly eliminate any colonists and do so quietly. 

One way or another, I will have the key, and you will have control of the slaves. Beware of Melf’s creations, let the party dispatch them for you.

Do not fail me, Dark Disciple.

When the Darkness comes again, you will need all the Power you can get your hands on. Lest you become a slave like all the others.” 

A

“We have all been betrayed then,” smirks Skald, “By your stupidity Gnome, and now by this Darkened bastard! We were better left in the clutches of the  Ata’Uhn!”

“Quiet Skald, we are at the mercy of our saviors, these Heroes,” says the beautiful captain, glancing from each of the colonists and then to the party with a  look of something akin to awe, “Can you not tell something here is afoul? There is more here than meets the eye.  I have not said anything yet for I could not voice it, but now I am certain.  These heroes are destined. For what I know not. But there is no doubt that they hold some major part in the Darkening to come. You know what the Sovereign Host says? You Horst, you are a man of Faith. Surely you can read the signs here! These men and this woman (she points to Ulua), are CHOSEN. It isn’t just for our own necks we must make it to Farshore. We must get them there alive, and we must discover their part. Skald, you speak plainly. I have spoken plainly, do you not agree?”

“I do not believe these are chosen. I believe we are in trouble. And these heroes are as much to blame for our destruction as our rescue. Now if you wish to speak plainly, I suggest we plainly get the LIGHTED HELLS out of here before that bastard brings whatever seeks their treasure down on our heads!!!!!!”

For several minutes, the adventurers and the colonists form a heated argument.  Around and around, ideas are thrown, not once but twice, is Avner struck across the face, finally into unconsciousness.

THE PATH

Finally, the party decides that to follow Malekai and get the HELLS out of the passage is the only sane choice. They begin by stooping through the heavy doors, stepping into a vast cylindrically channeled cavern stretching on into the mountains above.  Ancient and rotting smells meet their noses, each tinged with the faint aroma of a metallic smile, not unlike what a dwarf might expect from a mine, albeit one that perhaps has stopped producing ore.  As the party moves on they encounter the usual cavern critters, and discovers a few twists and winds in the enormous passage.  In one junction, the passage bends and winds down, and it is odd that stalagtites grow in large supply here but not elsewhere in the cavern.  One seems even to be growing from the side of the cavern, but wait. It seems to have moved upward! Through proper investigation the party has discovered that this stalagtite is actually a creature unknown to them. One of MELF’S  creations, a creature meant to pierce them as they walk below it! Only Fritz develops a plan, using his magical shield, he runs down the stairs drawing their attention, as they slowly fall through the cave at him, the others slay the odd beasts, the party has escaped unharmed!

THE FACTORY

Steadily, the party makes it’s way through. The colonists doing their best to keep up and not alert the denizens of the cave to their presence!  As they progress, they come across several smaller paths branching off and decide to investigate one of them. Within a hundred meters a spectacle meets their eyes unlike any they have seen.  A vast cylindrical chamber, hundreds of feet high, with a circular platform long since rusted or worn.  Below, instruments unlike any they have seen.  Evidence of a vast production, perhaps the place in which MELF’s foul beasts were created and manufactured on what seems to have been a massive scale!   As the party begins it’s journey again though, they now discover a mine, and soon small beasts begin to emanate from it, climbing towards them on the walls, ceilings and floor are rust monsters! The treacherous creatures smell their metallic weaponry and armor, charging headlong after them, ravenous to feast!

Although the party dispatches them, they lose several important items which are now in need of repair. Luckily, however the creatures did not destroy any of them! Taking stock, they realize that no one has been hurt, and although several items are now unusuable, they have much to be thankful for! With a  slight nod to caution, they embark again making good time and being for all intents and purposes left alone, when up ahead, however, their eyes begin to see a small ray of light beaming straight down.  The party stops, and sends several ahead, quietly they creep as they come onto a scene that they had not expected…

THE SEEKER

Bowing, on one bended knee Malekai Tebows before a small child. A child, with fuzzy hair, and as he turns, the unmistakable lashings of Abros’s back reveal themselves in the light of the orifice above.  A voice, deep and rich, and hearty as the earth itself speaks from the boy. It’s very vibrations seem to ring off the walls of the cavern.

“These lashings remind me of that fate which I, like those of my remaining brethren, avoided in the END DAYS, Malekai….They remind me of my purpose…

“not that which my race foolishly chose then, but that which gave those of us remaining our very existence. That purpose is survival.”

“And now you tell me that you serve your fear more than your own singular purpose of survival. You are but a fool, Malekai.”

“But m’lord, I have searched! I know not of the passage that your map suggests.  Perhaps, in Farshore, I may find another group to assist me. I will not fail you m’lord!”

“You have already failed me disciple.  Not only have you brought me NOTHING, but you have brought the slaves to me here, now.

COME. COME AND MEET ME….

The voice rises, and rings in your ears, and your head, “The boy knows we are here!” Rising slowly, cautiously from your hiding places, you approach the scene.

“Master Paladin. So, how is Faith in man these days? Are you still in the service of those who cannot help themselves?”

“I serve those in need, as the Silver Flame guides!”

“Truly. And do those include the members of your group that would betray you, keep….secrets….from you….”

Malekai….”

“I DO NOT MEAN MALEKAI!!!!!!!” Roars the voice….

“Speak plainly then, boy. What do you mean.”

“I will….show you what I mean…”, as the body of Abros turns , an illusion begins to fill the chamber, swirling vapors and colors glow, a scene unravels before the party’s eyes,  behind, Abros’s form is no more, in it’s place a hideous shape, wings outstretched, it’s gaping mouth now roars! “See for yourself!”, yells the dragon!!!!!

The scene begins to fill the space, Ian and Glorian look on, as the others watch. 

“A feint flash erupts in your ears.  In fact, all around you is the growing brilliance of a bright sunshine, much stronger than any you have ever seen.  As you stare up you see a red sun, much deeper in hue then it should be.  Looking down, you can see that the floor you are standing on is made of oaken planking, and that it lists from side to side, slowly, your feet finding the rhythm.  Clouds and a gorgeous blue stretch out from the deck of a grand ship. You are standing at it’s aft, nearby and in front of you the outline of the captain stands at the ready, hands gripping the wheel.  Just then, there is much yelling, screaming, a large explosion sounds behind you, throwing you off your feet.  As you try to stand, you notice the floor below you drops out, as the entire ship seems to careen starboard down into the deep.  You seek the safety of the railing crawling over to it as gravity pulls and pulls you to the planks.  Just as you grip it you look through the ballistrades and see, in shocked disbelief that the ship is not in the ocean, but rather in mid-air, hurtling towards an island of jagged cliffs and overcome with a green jungle.  Noises and shouts fill your head, pounding deep inside your temples you watch in horror as the earth and it’s green rushes at you, and then with a sickening finality, everything goes black.  You are standing back where you were, sea water rushing around your ankles in turbulent swirls. 

“Why have you not told the rest of your Vision, servent of the Flame? And you barbarian, where does your true loyalty lie. HEROES  OF THE LIGHT indeed!”

Glorian and Ian then explain that they saw these visions many days ago in the Sahuagin Lair, but did not reveal it to anyone.

The colonists shrink in horror at the sight of the Dragon.  A wave of heavy nausea and fear seems to coalesce around you, making the air you breathe rich with a metallic odor.

“I AM ABRAXAS. THE SEEKER. And you will now serve me, in the LIGHT, or in the DARKNESS, I care not.”

You will find my KEY, and you will meet me at the Serpent’s Maw upon the second moon from this moment. If you serve me, I will allow you to join with your colony. If you fail me, you will know a death unlike any you have witnessed before. Warrior of the Flame,  Barbarian, Gnome, do you know of the deaths that I speak of?”

Some memory passes in your minds, of losing your families to a horde of undead, of seeing their bodies rise, of knowing their fate, and it stops you dead in your tracks. How does the dragon know of this?

“You demand we serve you, and yet you offer nothing in return! You shall give us a token that you will keep your end of the bargain. Kill the traitor, the Darkened One who has led us here!”

“Slave of the Flame! I am your master now! What once was, will be again, and the same FOOLS will attempt to save themselves. It is your destiny to be among them. DO NOT ATTEMPT To NEGOTIATE WITH ABRAXAS. And perhaps, I will let you serve out your pitiful journey once more.”

“You, are you indeed a traitor? Or do you seek the only purpose that leads to salvation during the DARKENING?”

“You know I serve only your ways my lord. Your instruction!”Malekai mutters sheepishly, a fear spread across his brow.

“Then know this, slave, when the DARKNESS COMES only those who can TAKE that which they need, will SURVIVE!”. You stare in horror, as the body of what once was your traveling companion and friend is torn apart by Abraxas’s gaping jaws, his legs dangling from side to side like a ragdoll, his innards strewn around and bloody droplets spraying the area. Abraxas, stares at you, letting his body drop limply to the floor.

“I will be waiting for you at Serpent’s MAW. That which you need is found among the tube you never opened and that which my disciple was unable to convince you to open.”

“I hope you are able to find the key and return it to me. You will know it for the runes upon it.”

“For the Sake of All, I bid you Good Luck Heroes of the Light ( a mocking laughter)….”

And with that, Abraxas spreads forth his hideous wings, the smell of nausea wafting itself before you as he pushes the air downward and his ancient mass upwards, your hair blows back, dirt from the cavern floor swirling around you.

All watch the dragon from below, driving himself into the air, out of the eye from above.   The hideous voice rings out one last time “Do not suffer the same fate as Malekai, Master of the Slaves…”

Many of the colonists, until now, frozen with fear, are crying. Avner is retching.  And SKALD is staring into the light, a mask of anger covers his face, his clenched fist raised to the sky…. Several minutes pass, nothing said, as a quiet descends back into the cavern, crickets and cave noises envelope you once more.  You stare down at where the lifeless body of Malekai should be, but it isn’t there.

And then you hear it.

From behind you a shuffling, and a laughter that you recognize although throaty, the haggard, torn and bloody frame of what once was Malekai stumbling off into the darkness back from where you came “They are mine! Mine to command!!!!”

Session 8, A Serious Buzz, THE FINALE

Behind the Scenes: Luke’s malekai had to take his leave when Luke moved, but I never intended him to sabotage you.  I decided to play a few hints that he might be bad and see what you guys did with him. Your ultimate distrust of him is what led him down the path that Luke created him for.

The Dark Disciple, Malekai

Behind the Scenes: Yo, dawg.  I left the character sheets and the printout for the Dark Disciple class there for you if you y jever want to use any of it.

Malakai and his sister were changed when they were hit by the negative energy.  Their town was actually assaulted by a lich with what amounts to a nega-bomb.  The rest of the townsfolk (as far as the characters know) all either straight died or turned into mindless undead.  The undead left them alone, though.  The Dark Disciple (the way I was RPing it) sort of registers to undead as a fellow, due to the negative energy within them.

Malakai was part of the town guard, so he was kind of a rough edged guy (NG Fighter).  When the bomb hit, it shocked his mind as well as his body.  He went completely apathetic, except for this urge to find sources of negative energy (CN).  As the game progressed I was going to go one of two ways.  If there was a lot of saving his life or the group RPed something about caring for him, I was going to slowly shift his alignment to good.  Otherwise, his alignment would keep shifting to evil and would actually be evil at about level 10.  His personality was going to start coming back as he leveled, regardless.  Around level 10, he’d probably be having conversations and small friendships if he was good.  If he was evil, he’d just recognize the importance of the group, but be using them and plotting for his own thing.  I figured he’d eventually shift to the negative energy plane and start building a kingdom for the undead.

His sister was a bard and was all happy go lucky (NG).  Her mind was shocked as well, but her positive personality bolstered her will enough to not be hit too bad.  She’s a little quieter, but still mostly her old self (CG).  She was going to get back to NG at level 10ish and be fully her old self, except as a thiefy Dark Disciple.  I didn’t really have a full story for her.

 The Key or Not to Key

With the betrayal of their fellow adventurer Malekai, The Dark Disciple, and the encounter with the dragon, Abraxas, behind them, the party finds themselves in the middle of the ancient manufacturing fortress, needing to make a decision. Surrounded by the leftover monsters of an age long since, and still concerned about the concentric circle rings and strange portal filled with undead, the party considers it’s many options. Do they search for the key long coveted by Abraxas and return it to him? Do they attempt to escape without finding the key?

After a long discussion, they first use the resources in the tube they found in the Sahuagin Lair. They find the following items:

  1. A map showing them that the Isle of Dread is but one of the larger islands, and the furthest East in a chain of islands that end in an unknown landmass, that according to the Map shows habitation and civilization. The major city on the map appears to be a port capitol called Sasserine. Sanjaya can make out his native isle.
  2. A map of the Serpent’s passage, however, a strange feature which appears to be a river crosses it. Several miles down an “x” marking along the river, and a word “ship”.
  3. A note heavily smudged, and water damaged with only the following discernible words “meet Furol at the river crossing”.

All eyes fall on Furol and the party uses it’s skills to ascertain the truth from the tightlipped gnome. Apparently, Furol has a much stranger story to tell then anyone thought, and getting it from him is now a matter of who he thinks the party is…

“I…I …..was here before…as you know….the Sasserine government pays well, I serve them, but I serve the people too! Do you not understand yet, what this place is?”

“Yeah you bastard gnome, it’s a fucking nightmare! Now quit the stories, what DO YOU KNOW!!!” yells Skald, his patience obviously long since evaporated as the dragon’s fear effect still lingers.

“Ok…Ok….it’s an attempt. The last stand of whoever lived here.  These “weapons”, a way to hold back the enemy.  They….obviously failed…MELF, tried….he failed.  You saw what became of him. How they….punished him….the others…For the Sake of ALL? Do you not understand!!!? They tried to save themselves.  But couldn’t!!!”

“I was sent here because of this place, and what it could tell us about their failure.  We found a map, a part of a story. A key, a key that could unlock the mysteries of an age, the knowledge of an age. The key to the LOST LIBRARY.” Horst looks pale as both Glorian and Fritz come to terms with what Furol is saying. The Library of the Ancients, long believed to be the last surviving refuge of the wisdom before the END DAYS. Obviously a story that these Westerners have heard of as well. “ I’ve learned much, but what I never knew was what I would learn about YOU!”, here Furol looks around at all of you, a new look appearing on his face, a look of awe.

“You all. I never understood.  YOU are the faces on the stone! The images on the coin! The busts in MELF’s workshop! The Old Man, the Woman, the WRATHFUL ONE, THE Faithless BELIEVER, and THE KNIGHT.  Somehow, someway your destiny is entwined with the END DAYS war. Somehow, you must SURVIVE!”

Muted silence fills the cavern around the party as the colonists, huddling near,  take in these words from Furol. Until now, no one had said what so many had thought. But Furol’s logic could not be refuted anymore, he spoke the obvious signs they had seen here.  Could the party somehow be connected to some heroes of legend?”

So then what is the key furol? What is this blasted item that Abraxas seeks?” Fritz growls.

“It is said that during the END DAYS when all was failing for those who lived amongst the Light, that a vault was made, a vault sealing the Knowledge and Wisdom of our advanced ancestors. It has been written that this vault was compromised but that a key was created and then hidden. It is this key which Abraxas believes he has found, which the Sasserine leadership believes they have found. Which I have come back for.”

“My first journey led to disaster. We entered Serpent’s Tail, but we were slaughtered to a man, me. As my party was blasted apart by the floating spheres, I watched in horror as the remaining parts slithered back into the giant hole. I ran….fear overtook me…I reached a small niche and edged inside, something chased me, I thought I was dead, there was no escape, then I felt cold water, and crawled further, water lapped at my feet, then my legs, overcome with the need to escape I pushed on, was swept away, I found myself alone on a beach, not sure how long I had been there.”

“I promised myself to return, to search for the key, but not for the Sasserine Circle. Not for me. But for the SAKE OF ALL. DO YOU NOT SEE? Something sinister happened here!!! These were good people. A benign people. They were betrayed! By something, by someone. Dying here means joining the others in the Well. Dying here means living UNDEATH! It is why the dragon will not seek it himself. This key is our answer to the riddle. So that we do not repeat their mistake when the DARKNESS comes again! It is up to us now…we must not fail…”

As these words ring in the ears of the party, Sanjaya thinks back to the times of his younger years, hiking in the mountains and sacred areas of his island. He remembers seeing the images that once tore apart his faith and gave him the knowledge of what sinister things had once done to the BEFORE PEOPLE. Could the gnome be telling the truth? Was it indeed the fate of all to again fall down this path? Regardless of faith, of goodness, could the Lighted Folk once again fall victim to an unknown enemy? He remembers the images, the reliefs, the statues. The first time he looked upon the image that Furol referred to as THE OLD ONE. He remembered his shock at seeing it, the likeness to his own visage.  Then, awaking in X’hellac’s Lair. The Knight, the Woman, The BELIEVER, the Barbarian.  Head swirling, Sanjaya must know more, a new dedication to finding the truth spreading into him.  Perhaps, this is the purpose he was meant for. Perhaps, his captivity was but the beginning of his life, not the end as he had thought those many nights in the hold of the slave ship.

A DECISION IN THE DARK

“By Odin, The Wyrm must not gain this key”, whispers Glorian.

“By my death, He shall not!”, speaks Fritz.

“He will have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers first,” roars Ian.

“We must protect it, and find safe passage for the colonists and others,” Sanjaya says as he looks into the faces of the troubled colonists…

The party then decides to send the colonists with those amongst them who can protect them through the passage to Serpent’s Maw. They are concerned that the dragon may find them, but with Skald leading the way, believe it is the only way to keep them safe, and search for the key.

A River Runs Through It

As the party comes to the river, vapor and mist forms all around them through a roaring torrent which has ripped itself into the passage from some tremendous flow above.  As the colonists clamor and cling to the rocks strewn across the passage, the falls of this mighty river fall around them…”Safe passage,” Sanjaya firmly speaks as he says a silent prayer to the divine forces of nature, his hair matted with the droplets pouring off the water’s cascade. Skald looks back, a scowl covering his face as his gaze passes the gnome. “Good bye, Heroes, see you in the Light”.

As the colonists are just making it across into the darkness beyond, a wall of roaring water separating them, the party can just make out their sillouettes moving into the tunnel beyond, the heroes descend into the river’s banks beyond, crawling over and then under the mighty rocks lining it’s current.  As Sanjaya takes the lead, Ulua clings to Ian, and Furol, a self imposed determined mask on his face, walks onward.

Winging It or Nippling It In the Bud.

Although the river flows quickly, the party maneuvers down into the depths with care. They encounter debris and carcasses of the creatures and flora from the jungle outside. It is a dank, miserable place and soon the party is soaked to the bone, covered in grime, and the foul muck of things long rotted and rotting still.

After grueling work, the party enters a place where the water slows, and although a portion of it’s current continues on steadily, it becomes apparent that a chamber lies beyond, large boulders lining it’s bottom, and from above, the outline, of some wrecked and ancient ship. A foul stench filled the air. A carcass lies ripped open above on one of the gigantic boulders as large as a small house. Something skitters away as Sanjaya tosses lighted stones around the chamber.

The tops of the rocks appear wet and most, Ian moves in to investigate, nearly having his arm ripped off by a monster blanketing the top, it looks just like the rock itself, only lying flat above it. The party attacks it, ripping it off and tossing it in the river, watches it slither away creepily.

But then, a set of claws spread themselves over the ships’ broken ballistrades…and an insectile voice erupts the chambers steady rhythm of the water…”So Abraxas has sent more tasties to steal my BOBBLE…hmmmm…..but do these talk…or do they cowl in fear as the last ones did?!!!”

“Talk? Show yourself!” yells Fritz.

“They do talk….hmmmmmm….oh yes…these slaves do, in their slaver’s tongue…they do….tell me Heroes, how goes the time of the Light? Have the darkened days come yet? Are the THREE risen? Has my mistress shown herself once more! Hmmmmmmm….?!!”

“We know not of what you speak! Who are you?” yells Glorian.

“Oh, I will show you….Hero…hmmm…..”, as the claws elongate, other legs appear, two then four, then six, a high pitched droning sound envelopes the cavern as four ghastly wings rise into the air, followed by a head grostesquely sitting atop the shoulders of what might have been considered a female humanoid form now the only remaining features left in a giant insectile form . Where the mouth should be, a disgusting proboscis. “Now, we shall talk….hmmmmm….my sisters and I love to talk…..we have been here in the dark….with our Bobble…for so long…”

As the party watches other shapes emerge. Five giant flies, each bearing the tell-tale traces of some human like qualities but each clearly a disgusting mix of insect, resembling more fly than anything else.  Buzzing noises fill the chamber.  “Kill them!!!! Sisters….But slowly, we want to talk to them…..talk…..and talk……while we eat them..hmmmmmmm…..”

The party enters their most difficult battle of the adventure. As Sanjaya envelopes a cloud of fog around those he can, Ulua, Fritz and Ian battle Ceres, the fly demon. Ian and Fritz fall under her effects, slowed from the dizzying drone of her wings.  Ceres takes great pleasure in attacking Ian, who had insulted her.  She uses her probiscus to land atop his chest, plunging her member into his chest, slowly sucking out the liguified flesh and tearing him apart. She then turns invisible and attacks Glorian, draining charisma, and using his liquefied flesh to heal herself, Glorian watches in horror as his meat flows into her body, healing her of wounds.

Ulua, is knocked unconscious, as is Fritz and Ian, all seems to be impossible. And then, Sanjaya transforms himself into an eagle. Escaping around the fog barrier, he trusts Furol’s sudden belief that something in the ship, some light may help them!  Sanjaya flies into the ship and sees the preserved form of a man, a woman and a Lantern hanging from a ring.  Among the body is a sword, a sword that looks like Ian’s, only the hilt has been oddly changed into a semi-circular shape.

Just as the other sisters are being killed or have flown off, Ceres is near her defeat of the party, Glorian now about to be her victim.  But, Sanjaya flies back with the Lanthorn, and Furol bravely brings Fritz into it’s golden glow.

As Ceres screams. The party realizes that it’s light offer some protection.  They heal, bringing both Fritz, Ulua, and Ian back to consciousness, they huddle near the lamp as Ceres buzzes around it, cursing them.

But the party stays within, and one of the last sisters decides to relieve her mistress’s sufferings flying at the party inside, as her form writhes and disintegrates, Ceres yells again, and offers the party safe passage or a slow death. 

“Foul Beast! This Light belongs to us now!” screams Glorian.

“Then, you can die slowly as I prolong your suffering! You will grow to hate me even more hmmmmmm…..” Ceres casts some unknown an hideous spell as the party, staying within the lanterns glow searches the inside of the ship.

The same suction noises they heard previously begin to fill the air, as the creatures that lurk on the tops of the rocks begin to move, closer and closer, their numbers clearly growing!!! The party backs up to the walls of the cave, as Ceres offers them passage for her Bobble. But the party has seen through her bluff, and the creatures fail to react harmfully to them in the Lanthorn’s Light. What is this magic?

Ceres disappears, threatening revenge, “You will not have long, my mistress will return. The Three shall rise.  When they do, I will return to take from you all that you are, and all you ever were shall never be, Heroes…hmmmmm!!!!!!!!!!

Discoveries, Treasure and XP

And the party has successfully defeated Ceres! Found an object of incredible power, and recovered a sword, unmistakably that of Ian’s but with a strange hilt, semi-circular, with runes, that appear to be torn on both sides.

Searching carefully down the river’s tunnel, the party begins to see daylight beyond. As they step out onto a sunlit ledge, the first rays of sun they have seen in many days shine down on them, warming their bodies.  All around them, the sounds of the jungle, and below as the water from the river cascades over the ledge, a brilliant blue pool. Taking turns, they plunge into the pool, letting the water revive their spirits, but as Glorian prepares to descend, he looks past the trees, and sees in the distance, the clear signs of clearing and what must be the roofs of the colony’s buildings inside. As he smiles, he steps off into the air, and as he falls, a final thought occurs to him. The smoky drifts coming off the buildings were too thick with smoke.  The air too filled with the smell of burning. Something is wrong with the colony.  It burns.

A few minor magical items were found among Ceres lair. I will award those next session.

Nice work everyone!

SILVERSHORE, AT LAST, A FRONTIER TO ADVENTURE

Journey to Silvershore, How the Colonists Escaped the Clutches of Abraxas

 “Follow me, if you wish to live,” Skald roared over the thundering falls behind them. “We may not be sent on the fool’s mission from that blasted Wyrm, but it is now aware of us.  We must be clever if we are to escape alive. We must outsmart whatever else MELF has left lying in wait. I am not interested in spending my eternity clawing around in that hell hole back there!” Removing an arrow from his quiver, Skald latched it in the notch of his bow and pointed it into the darkness beyond.

Walking out of the water, dripping wet, Avner looked around, throwing his arms wide. “Well, this is just great! Just beautiful!” Then he looked at Skald and flinched, Skald had warned him that if he shouted again he would be left behind for the monsters to have. Whispering now, he breathed “Why the hell did we let Furol go with THEM?! Isn’t he the only one who knows the way out?!” His right eye was sore and puffy still, and he limped slightly. The passage was obviously taking a serious toll on him. Much of his former arrogance appeared to be gone or perhaps simply masked by extreme fear and caution. Between the Dragon and watching what had become of Malekai, everyone had become serene and the different personalities of the group were all tinged with a  slight menace. Even the more jovial in the group were on edge.

Lars , the gnomish wizard, came through the mist next, behind him trailed Crow, the young stowaway from the Angry Hangman. Crow had become a constant companion of Lars, finding the gnome a constant in a world of variable. Lars never seemed to get discouraged. Although it was obvious he was as afraid as everybody, talking to him gave Crow the sense that they would make it to Farshore, and the hope of starting off anew, away from the issues he had in Cillandar seemed actually possible.

As if in answer to Avner’s question, Lars chirped “Furol left for me his journal,” he reached into his pack, and brought it from it’s seal skin protective pouch.  “According to this, there will be a chamber not too far ahead, and from there we have simply to decide the proper path.  Serpent’s Maw has a simple locking mechanism that can be undone through a key room near the grand entrance there. If we work together, we should find our way out by the end of this day.”

Arvella came bustling through the water, her hair streaked across her face, she brushed it back and stepping out from the rocks, motioned to Skald, herself still dripping from the underground river , “Skald, take point, Lars hurry up and come here, we need a light source. The rest of you keep quiet. Control your breathing Avner, damn you. Now all of you listen for noise, sounds, we don’t know what might be lurking on this side.  What does the journal say Lars?”

“Here, is where I think we are, but up ahead is a waypoint. A sentry point is what Furol wrote, it was somekind of abandoned guard station. But, Furol told me it would be long deserted. We should be able to pass it quickly and then choose a path from there.”

“What do you mean choose a path,” Skald looked back whispering the words in Lars’ direction.  “How many choices will we have?”

“I don’t know”.”

“What????”

“Furol didn’t say. It all happened so fast. His journal says simply to take the path less traveled. ”

“Take the path less traveled?” said Horst with a dry smile. “An odd time for the gnome to use an expression of Faith.” Horst spoke so infrequently, that whether by inquisitiveness, or sheer shock, when he did, he usually had an audience from them. “Are there any other indications of which choice we should take?”

“No Horst, I am sorry” replied Lars, “It merely says take  the ‘path less traveled’ written next to the map. Here, do you see?”

Sure enough, although the rest of his pages and maps seemed to have quite a bit of notetaking associated with them, this page showed merely a chamber marked sentry point, the words “abandoned” and “take the path less traveled” clearly the only things of note anywhere on the page.

“Then I will pray for guidance,” Horst stepped aside, heavily bowed, Lilith and several of the other colonists prayed with him. It was an odd ritual, one in which the Cillandrians had never witnessed.

To be Continued in game…

Narrative Interlude: ULUA, Daughter of Destiny

“The whole earth, perpetually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, the extinction of evil, the death of death”.
Joseph De Maistre

“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.” Salman Rushdie

“If you love something, set it free. If it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it.” Anonymous

A Visitor

Ulua  e’Vanoa placed on the last of her ceremonial bracelets and other garb. As the daughter of Vanoa, tribal elder, it was her responsibility to remain calm, clear of mind, and composed.  This she would do. Soon, she would walk down to the ancient place of worship to O’lorhan,  and she felt like once again, she could remain clear and focused, throughout the Scattering, as she had done every year, it was after all, her birth duty to be calm.

As she was about to duck around her domicile’s roof  into the rays of the First Moon, she heard footsteps approaching. The slow and familiar sound of her father’s sandals.

“Good evening, daughter”, spoke the elder.

“Good evening, Chief Elder, Protector of the Ata’uh un”, she returned, repeating the greeting everyone gave him, regardless of stature.

“Are you prepared for the Scattering?”

“I am,” said Ulua simply. Looking at her father, the chief, she noticed a wearied look, he seemed lethargic this evening.  It never occurred to her perhaps until tonight, how it would feel to be the one whose actions chose the sacrifice, but asking her father about it would not be tribal custom, and so it had never been discussed.

“May I walk you to the beach tonight, daughter?” Ulua nodded, smiling. The Scattering custom was not an ancient one, so it’s custom was still in some ways unknown, but nonetheless, he had never offered before. “You are a Princess, Ulua, calm of face and mind. You make me proud to be your father.  “

“Someday, this ritual will end. Our hunters will find the key the Seeker searches for, and our tribe will finally come to know peace here, on this isle of dread. We will increase our numbers, and return to our native isle where we may defend ourselves from the Takers and their large ships. Peace will return, we must only trust in the ways of O’lorhan.”

“I know, father”…

“Do you?”

“Yes, father. I do. I believe it will all my heart.”

“And what if you were chosen then daughter. What if your stone stood closest to the Coral? Would I still be your loving father? Would you still understand the actions I’ve taken. The pact I’ve secured, with….with the Seeker?”

“Father, I am but your daughter, and but a member of our tribe. We are but one people, and we all must work together. The hunters seek the key in the interior, many have not returned.  If I must, I will lay down my life for the tribe tonight. For you father, for the others.” As they talked, others came out from their sleeping places, and began to walk slowly out into the trails of the camp. A slow procession began to wind it’s way down, around them, behind them. Few spoke.

“Father? You have never spoken of how you and the Elders created the Pact with the Seeker.”

“You know better than to ask that which you are not meant to hear. Daughter, as I have told you, we made the Pact  to protect us, many years ago, when I was but a young man, and newly appointed chief. We protect ourselves from the Takers, and from the Wrath of the Seeker. That is all you need hear, child.”

As they came to the center, Vanoa and Ulua moved to the center near the altar where her father would perform the Scattering tonight. “You….will someday make…. a great chieftess. You are…”, Vanoa paused, turning to kiss his daughter’s cheek, he removed the Coral from  his satchel and placed it in that of the ceremonial bowl where each tribal virgin had placed her stone earlier that day.  Whatever she was would have to wait. He seemed to be caught up in the actions of the ceremony now. He turned to her though, and smiling, touched her cheek tenderly with the back of his rough hands. Ulua knew then how much he struggled as chief.  One day, would it be her duty to perform the same? She certainly hoped it would not. This was not a position to envy.

Ulua glanced down. She could see her stone there, mixed in with the others. A small, darkened stone. The one she had first chosen during her first Scattering. Some years the bowl seemed to contain fewer than others. Tonight, her stone lay next to the Coral, giving her an ominous feeling as she took her place next to the other unwed girls

The Scattering

“We have come here this night, to perform the rite that will choose the offer to The Seeker. Let us not forget that we perform this ceremony in the light of all three moons, for did O’lorhan create them in order to guide our way, as he did for all living things on our earth and in our sea. Through this sacrifice, we, as one people, are kept safe from both the Takers and their slave ships, and the Seeker himself. We have but one duty besides, to find his key. Many of you have searched. Many have died. The thunder beasts and other horrors have taken our husbands, brothers and sons. Tonight, I wish to renew our oath anew. Let us search harder, farther. Let us seek with new effort. So that the Scattering next year, may never need be done.”

A slow chant in response came then, slowly repeating the chief’s wishes. It slowly  rose from the assembled mass. Around the chief stood the other elders, In front, the virgins , those whose stones now appeared in the bowl sat, heads bowed.

“Let us begin.”

“Mighty O’lorhan. It was you who discovered the innocent goodness of man, your mighty creation.  In our extreme hour of pride, we thought we could steal that which only you can give. We thought we had the power to change that which only you could create!!!! We humbly acknowledge that now, in your guidance we trust, and we affirm our innocence to you. We accept our lot in life, our destiny.  It is not for us to decide, but for you.  Please choose our Sacrifice with your infinite mercy.”

Lifting the bowl above his head, the chief held it up to the night sky, as the moonlight now from two of the three moons silhouetted his frame.  All around, the cascading resonance of the song of the Ata’uh un rose and pulsed.  And then, as he had many times before, the chief brought the bowl down and walking to the sand, cast the contents of it far and wide.

Stones flew and landed, the coral coming to rest in a small valley between two beach dunes, as it finally slowed, Ulua watched it carefully sliding adjacent to a small, dark rock.  It was hers.

The Sacrifice

Ulua looked out through a web of hands. Some were familiar, some just were there. Her father’s worn, and cracked hands seemed to be closest, surrounding her face. Other hands, softer, seemed to be gripping around her arms, holding her over the surface of the sand, a voice, The Voice, of Umlat, Tribal Father, telling her what he had told all the others before, “Congratulations daughter of Ata’uh, by your strength and generosity, are we all spared.”

Later, as Ulua was being led to the Waiting Place, she realized how little time the Chosen were given to say their goodbyes. First, there had been the tear filled last talk with her father. She could see the mourning in his eyes, even as he told her to be brave, how he was so proud of her. Of course, the elders and Tribal Fathers completed their prayer ritual to her and wrote the rune signs on her body as they did whenever someone’s soul was sent to O’lorhan. Others came, those of her childhood friends, even the hunters that she had spent much time with, being of course a Warrior Princess, as she had been raised to be. Then, of course, there was the few minutes she had with her Husband to Be, always supervised by the elders. Not much had been said, as she had known there would be little. She had never loved this man. And in a strange way, seeing him here, helped her find peace as the elders tied her arms and legs to the rings the Seeker had once given them.

It was a cool night, a night that would keep the thunder birds in the interior, preferring the smaller animals that still found warmth there in the open, rather than the less numerous fish that would seek deeper water on a night like this. A wind sprang up, coming from the East, blowing her hair through her vision, even though much of it had been tied up, beautifying the gift that she now had become. A gift to the jaws of what would soon come for her.

She knew in the tree-line, even though it would be ordered that they were not to be there, would be many of the tribal youth, and even some of the adults as well.  She knew once she had done the same, and the memory of that night, years ago when she was but a little girl, now filled her with terror.  She prayed to O’lorhan that she would be taken swiftly, taken and consumed. Gifted to the Seeker, her being united with O’lorhan, she would live on in the tribe, the way the elders preached.  The knowledge gave her peace, but as soon as it came it disappeared once more.

The water near the shore began to swirl and rise. A vast shape  erupting from it so fiercely that it’s form could not yet be made out until the water had time to pour from it. Salty spray covered her, temporarily shrouded what little vision she had left through the wind in her hair. As she waited for her eyes to regain their sight, her heart began to beat, and she felt an uncontrollable tremor. Looking  directly into the jaws of the same beast she had seen those many years before, Ulua collapsed around the post she was tied to. Her body slumping to the ground, she could only just make out the jaws widening, teeth as large as the tips of spears in a zenith coming for her. The large, dark body lifting itself slowly from the water toward her, mouth agap.  A hot, retched stench bringing heated tears to her eyes as her skin burned. Searching inside for guidance, a portion of a prayer her father had often used to comfort her about her mother’s death came to her.  She began to recite it as both nausea and fear overwhelmed her into oblivion. I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.” And then she knew no more.

Abraxas, the Ancient

“Do you believe it, daughter of the Ata’uh?” A voice, firm and authoritative, yet somehow tinged with a sense of conviction and neutrality  came from the darkness. It was a man’s voice. And it was speaking her language perfectly, not the crude speech of the Takers.

Ulua tried to sit up, found she already was. And spoke into the warm and humid black air “Who…who are you?”

“What makes you believe you are not with he whom you  were last with?” This time, the voice had a clear edge of satisfaction to it. Ulua felt a sense when it began that it was a voice accustomed to listening to itself speak. And something else, a subtle, yet powerfully unstoppable quality, like gravel scraping over gravel at the ocean’s edge. An ancient quality, each word in it’s speech seemed to speak more than it’s sum parts.

“You claim to be The Seeker?” The words kept coming, Ulua daring not to think about how she found the courage to speak them.

“Claim? Oh, you do have spirit, Warrior Princess.  I CLAIM to be he who seeks. This is the claim I have given to your tribe these many years. Who I am is ABRAXAS. Abraxas, the ancient. As the voice spoke, Ulua could just make out the tell-tale sign of echo, indeed, the darkened veil before her eyes was also beginning to lift, she could tell a form moved in front of her. The silhouette of a shoulder and head began to inscribe itself in her darkened view. 

“Are you yet scared  Princess? One of the chosen of your tribe, given to ‘The Mighty Wyrm’ so that others might live…” Ulua made out a hint of laughter in it’s voice as the form now, clearly that of some manlike creature moved to the other side of wherever they now were. “And what of your dramatic prayer, to O’lorahn no doubt, are you still but just the sum of all that you ever will affect….?”

Ulua had no answer for the voice. Too many emotions had finally overwhelmed her, first fear, then grief. She recalled the enveloping wave of acceptance as death came for her. Now there was fear of the unknown. Confusion.  She simply waited, slowing her breathing to control her mind, the way she was taught to do before battle.

“Your people have always interested me, even before I learned of their proximity to the key. Your language is beautiful. I often practice it still.  It was, one of the few languages surviving the Enslavement. Mine was not so lucky. But look at how well we are getting along, you have yet to answer my question.

Do you believe it?”

“Believe….believe what?”

The figure shrank, or perhaps it was merely sitting. Suddenly, she heard a flaring noise, like an ember in the communal fire erupting. A blinding light filled her view, filling her eyes with pain. How long had she been here? She covered her hands with her face, peering through her fingers she saw a slender hand gripping a small yellow object. A flame from a stick was placed inside it, and the yellow item erupted in warmer, softer light. The hands placed the object before her.

“You are beautiful. A beautiful sacrifice. Do you truly believe that your sacrifice will save your tribe?”

“Save us. From..the Seeker…from  you? Is that not why I am here? If so, then why not finish it. I do not wish to be toyed with!”

“YOU  are here because your tribe believes it can save itself by sacrificing part of it’s own For the Sake of All. You could say that it’s a tradition that has been around a while…”

“Save ourselves from you? From what? You speak in riddles. If I am not here to save them from you, then what am I supposed to now save them from?”

And the light rose by the hands holding it aloft to a face. A rugged, and remarkably handsome face, of a man with dark, night black hair, and mesmerizing night black eyes.  Two lips came in to view giving origin to the voice. “Why Princess…to the Darkness that will surround it…”

And with that, the lips blew out the light, casting all into oblivion once more.

In The Lair of The Seeker

Of the many days Ulua spent in the chamber, she learned of few things beyond it.  She slept on an odd device that ultimately hurt her back so much that she would sleep on the cold of the stone at her feet instead. Several of the items which Abraxas called “candles” were lit giving her vision in the small chamber.  Bars of metal rose from floor to ceiling around her. She was never shackled and found that food appeared near her cell upon waking. It was always plentiful, and even the water brought her was as refreshing and clear as the streams her tribe found it’s water from.

As time dragged on, she was visited by the man calling himself Abraxas most evenings. He would pull up a chair near her cell, and talk with her. Just talk. He had a quality about him that even though he was her captor, she found herself debating with him, discussing with him. They talked of many things. Of faith in higher powers, of her tribe’s philosophies of the past. She never once brought up her release or her eventual fate and she had an inner perception that it was for this reason primarily she was still alive. She never asked him about how he came to be both in this form and that of the Seeker, but as time passed she began to doubt he was indeed both. She also had a growing sense that he was enjoying these talks, although he would never show it, she was sure. Ending them as pointlessly as whenever he cared to.  Still, his visits seemed to come more frequently, and they lasted longer. One night, Abraxas asked her about the end of the world., what her tribe often called “Night Without Moon”.

“And what says the Ata’uh un of the Darkening?”

“…We believe the lands will Darken again if man ever angers O’lorhan like he once did.  O’lorhan will cast the moons from the sky, and bring night throughout the day. He will release the creatures that man once made in an attempt to live in his mighty image. All will perish. This time, his wrath will be all consuming.”

“And what of those who have not angered him? Will he not spare them?”

“The Ata’uh un believe that all people are one.  We believe that we live, breathe, and pray as one. Our souls, our energy are just an extension of that which was first given to the people from O’lorhan himself. When the Night Without Moon comes, there will be no innocence.”

“And what about you child? Do you believe that all on that day are guilty? Guilty to be ripped apart by the hideous monstrosities that you declare they once created themselves? Is that the extent of your faith in man?” Ulua could see he was clearly becoming angered, his voice taking on a strange quality, seemingly coming from all around the chamber, not just from him. She opened her mouth to answer, but he continued “Do you believe that those who walk in the Light should be thrust in with All the others? If you could choose, would you allow it?!!!” His voice was now a roar, reverberating in the cavern.

Knowing that she must answer, Ulua quickly stammered, “But it is not for me to decide. That is for O’lorhan. I am just a part of him. He is a God! The Mighty One. The creator!”

“But daughter of Ata’uh. Listen to yourself?!!! Don’t you hear what you say? If you are but a part of O’lorhan, then it IS up to you to decide. And so it shall be, as it once was before. So I ask you again, Princess, what would you do?”

Abraxas’s eyes stared through the cell into her. His handsome face a mask of emotion as it always was.  A long while passed before unblinking, she spoke more confidently than she had since the night she was tied to the beach. 

“I would save them. Save them All.”

With that, Abraxas rose, and as he was want to do during their talks, turned his back on her and left the chamber without another word.

Escape and Capture

Time passed, and Ulua began to lose track of it.  For a time, Abraxas’s visits became less frequent. Food continued to appear though, and one morning, very early, she discovered by whom.  A creature like a man, with the head and tail of a serpent. Wings attached to it’s backside.  It looked similar to that of the Seeker itself. She had never seen it’s like before, and it did not speak.

And then one day, Abraxas returned for a discussion. But this time, his questions were less philosophical.

“The Scattering comes soon, Princess. A new sacrifice will be Chosen.” He paused, Ulua sensed from their many discussions that he was waiting for her to speak.

“For you, Seeker?”

“Yes, for me. Your tribe has failed to find the key I seek once more.”

“And so now you will kill another member of my tribe. Along with me no doubt.”

“I will take. It is our Pact.”

 “And yet you question the faith and courage of man these many nights. You are nothing more than a hypocrite, mighty Abraxas. A killer. A monster pretending in our human guise!”

For a moment, a look appeared across his brow. Ulua had never seen her words affect him like this.  He seemed…if she wasn’t imagining it, to be pained by them. “You who consent to follow the will of others lecture me about the ways of the bold! You who would follow the will of that which you believe wrong because of faith would tell me of hypocrisy?!!!

“I know you are a monster! Nothing more. Your disquise does not fool me, mighty Abraxas! I saw you once as a child. You are a foul beast!”

“A beast? And what of those who made the pact, Princess? Are they beasts as well?”

“You are hideous, cruel!”

A shudder passed through Abraxas. Ulua had never seen him appear anything but calm in her presence. But not now, he seemed larger, as though he had somehow grown in size. Perhaps, it was her imagination. A trick of the low light she had grown accustomed to this past year. He seemed to be reaching a conclusion, and when he spoke she knew he had made one of some kind. “You will learn what blind faith is. You will become a disciple of it. And perhaps someday I will ask you again what you think of faith.”

And then, speaking in a language she had never heard, he  called to something outside the chamber. Four large creatures, like the ones she had seen days before, came into the cell, picked her up and brought her to him. Face to face, he was even more regal, noble even.

“Goodbye Princess,” he whispered. “I will tell your father you served him well. He was most displeased when the elders decided upon your stone to be the chosen one. But  then,  like you, he decided to give in to his beliefs, even in the face of his daughter’s destruction.” Strong clawed hands gripped her, dragging her away. Abraxas smiled, as a sudden thought occurred to her. She fought through the claws, twisting down and around, she ran back at Abraxas, stopped by her captors just inches from his face.

“WHAT DO YOU MEAN? WHAT DO YOU MEAN MY FATHER ALLOWED THIS!!!?”

“Why, surely Princess, you do not think your Scattering ceremony is meant to choose. Your elders choose! It is only for your tribe to be placated. Just as you have been these many years. Just as you will continue to be in your new life. Fairwell, daughter of destiny, your fate, once again, has been chosen for you as you lack the courage to make it yourself!”

Screaming, Ulua was dragged through dark tunnels and smooth passageways. Ancient chambers of magnificent construction. Her head swimming, she remembered seeing a grand ceiling, and a vast opening to the sky. Light hurting her eyes, she gazed at her first view of the Light in what must be a year, streamed down through the center ceiling above. A grand cavern in which a river roared nearby.  Steam and warmth. And then, for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime, she found herself among green and fresh earth below her feet.  Dragged, Ulua was then blindfolded, fronds and branches slashing her as she was taken forcefully through some kind of path. She could just make out the light through the cloth over her head, even knowing it was there was both pure joy and pure terror. Would this be the last time she viewed it’s rays?

Several hours passed. Ulua felt herself go in and out of consciousness, she no longer attempted to walk, but rather let her captors drag her.

Finally, she was laid down on the dirt, the beasts then spoke. She could hear other noises from something or someone else around them.

“This is a grand gift from my master,” spoke one of the captor creatures in a raspy form of the Taker language. “You may take these chests as well as this young prize for the yearly tribute. These lands are sacred to him and are to remain off limits to your Sasserine Circle.”

“Grand indeed! Grand she must be to keep us from taking the slaves from the Southern Tribe. Tell your master, the tribute is to be increased this year. We know there are more jewels and magic in the ancient ruins of this isle. The items you have brought are but a portion of what we can take for ourselves, should we choose!”

“My lord wishes to remind you that you do not know this isle as he does. You are….unwise…to challenge him, as the last group was. He wishes you do not fail as they did to keep to the borders of his agreement with your leaders in the East. The Southern part of this isle is his. You have been warned. Now, take this slave girl as my master’s prize to you. She is a mighty gift for your lords to the East. A Princess of the Ata’uh. A Princess given by the chief himself, willingly.

“We will judge her beauty as we have judged the others….but beauty does not pay as well these days as jewels and magic, beast! We will return to this spot in a fortnight. We have business to attend to elsewhere but will remain nearby.  When we return, tell your master we will expect a higher tribute, or else these lands will soon be ours to decide with as we wish. The Sasserine Circle will claim this land, and he will be put from it.”

“I will tell my master, and he will be most displeased,” came the hoarse reply.

Ulua was then lifted by several sets of hands, but this time, by those of people. Carried aloft, she felt herself being carried down, the sounds and smells of the sea came to her. She felt herself aboard a canoe, and taken out to the ocean.

Lifted onto the Slaver Ship, Ulua’s veil was pulled back as she came face to face with Cervantez De Leon Sandurkan himself.

“Why hello, my flower….,” he said, brushing aside her hair. “Do you wish to dine with me tonight?”

As Ulua looked around, she saw the men and beasts of the Takers on board their  mighty ship. Cervantez smiled. Below her the waves crashed against the ship’s hull. She knew that in this area, the coral would be razor sharp. Sharks would be plentiful here.  The words of Abraxas came back, ringing in her ears. “They chose you…”, “Blind faith”. Her father would have known she was to be chosen, perhaps even consented to it. Known her stone would have been selected. By some magic, perhaps? Was this a trick? Her instinct told her he wasn’t lying.

It was but an easy decision for her to turn and taking  two steps launch herself from the ship’s deck into the water below. Abraxas was wrong about one thing. She would choose her destiny from now on, even though the only choice she had left was when and how she would die.

 

What Sacrifice Is

Of what happened to her as she dropped from the ship. As the sea lizards dragged her down, placing a creature in her throat that breathed for her is but a tale that she could barely recall. How she spent time enslaved by the Malenti, and finally how she became tribute to X’hellac, a tale  that even she could not tell in detail, or completely.

And of her rescue, and return to the tribe by the adventurers and of what her father and her spoke of there. Well, that is a story for another time.

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