Serpent Skull

Andy's Journal, 11th of Sarenith 4713
Rebellion!

When I entered the kitchen this morning for breakfast, I was surprised to find that Phi had left us. Leaving no word, she’d simply taken all her gear and, accompanied by Fi and the small flying lizard, had disappeared during the night. Though her survival skills and her magic were oftentimes useful on Smuggler’s Shiv – I don’t know that we’d have survived without her – I can’t say I’ll miss her surly demeanor and utter contempt for seemingly all humanoid races. The others seemed to share my ambivalence, eating in relative silence with little discussion of our erstwhile companion.

As we were finishing up our meal, a loud banging came from the front of the house and Jennie hurried to the door. I heard a deep male voice ask, “Is Andoran Flinn here?”

“Oh. Why, yes. As a matter of fact, he is.” came the answer, and a moment later Jennie re-entered the kitchen, pointing me out to a finely dressed young man who followed her into the room. The young man wore the crest of the Chelaxian House of Draga on his breast. On his left wrist perched a magnificent falcon.

“I am Brandon Draga, of the University of Egorian.” he announced haughtily. “I am to deliver this message to Andoran Flinn.” With that, he handed me a folded parchment that read,

Andoran Flinn,

I am pleased to hear that you’ve arrived at Eleder, even if it was not as soon as we had hoped. I’m told that you may have stumbled upon the lost city of Saventh-Yi. The university is very pleased to hear this and excitedly awaits your reports. This falcon can serve as a carrier to send monthly missives back and forth.

Headmaster Leroung

University of Egorian

I admit, I was more than a little dumbfounded at the speed at which this information had apparently reached the university and no less at the quickness with which they had located me in Sargava. A good reminder that secrets are difficult to keep in Cheliax. Even when one is not in Cheliax.

Draga’s voice brought me back to the business at hand when, seeing I had finished the letter, he declared with an audible sniff, “I will be leaving this wasteland now.” And, turning smartly on his heel, he strode quickly out of the bungalow and back into the city, pausing only to deposit the falcon on a small perch on the sideboard.

Just moments after Draga had gone, there was a second knock at the door and Gelik entered, followed by an outlandishly dressed stranger. Greeting us politely, Gelik gestured with his left arm, the steel pincer formerly at the end of it having been replaced by a black-gloved hand, adding, “This is Jade. She will be joining you on your journey.”

Jade stepped forward and greeted those of us around the table. She was a member of the race of Catfolk, jet black with bright green eyes and hair of the style favored by southern pirates. Her accouterments were also reminiscent of pirates: a bright red bandana covered her head and a large gold earring hung from one upright, pointed ear. Elvish-style leaf armor completed her exotic look. Gelik informed us that she was a cleric of Desna and a member of the Pathfinder Society. He then informed us that Amivar Glaur, the local leader of the Pathfinders, had requested a meeting with us where he would provide each of us with a Wayfinder, the magical compass used by every Pathfinder, and an ioun stone of our choosing. So, finishing breakfast, we gathered our gear and headed across the city toward the docks and the Pathfinders’ headquarters.

“All of the others – the Aspis, the Red Mantis, Captain Lewynn and her crew, and the Sargavan government – have all outfitted their own companies.” Gelik continued as we made our way through the throngs of merchants, beggars and other denizens of the capital. “They’ll all be heading for Kalabuto in the next few days. The leader of the Aspis caravan is a man named William Ravan.”

I started at the name. “William Ravan? Are you sure?” I asked Gelik. William Ravan was the bastard who took Kala! “Can you describe him?” I continued.

Gelik shrugged. “A fat man with black hair and beard. Why?”

That sounded like the William Ravan I knew and loathed. I didn’t answer Gelik. I was too busy remembering all the wrongs Ravan had perpetrated on sweet, beautiful Kala. I made up my mind to seek him out and have a little chat with him before leaving the city. But first we had to meet with Glaur.

As we approached the harbor, a column of black smoke could be seen rising above the rooftops of the city. The smell of burning wood increased and we began to hear shouts and screams. Locals passed us, running in all directions, shouts of “Fire!” and “The docks are burning!” ringing out from ahead.

Suddenly, the shouts of alarm turned to screams of terror and a mob rushed toward us from the warehouse district. Toshe’s arm flashed out like lightning, grabbing a dock worker by the elbow. “What is it?” she asked.

“Monsters! The Freemen have released a pack of monsters!” the terrified man screamed, tearing his arm free of her grip and bolting away down the cobbled street.

We looked at each other, and had just enough time to prepare ourselves before several creatures resembling Phi’s companion Fi turned the corner to the south. Just ahead of me, I saw Rarsk grow in bulk and muscle as up the narrow street raced a pack of small, bipedal lizards, each standing under two feet in height, but from snout to tip of the tail, longer than a man is tall. Tufts of brightly colored feathers grew from their heads and the ends of their tails.

I drew my pistol, stepped forward and fired at the foremost reptile. The shot grazed its long neck as it raced toward me, barely slowing it. When it was within several strides of me, it leaped, claws extended. I took several steps backward and it struck the ground just feet in front of me. The bullet had carved a deep groove just above the thing’s shoulder.

Simultaneously, a second raptor charged at Rarsk, a third at Toshe. Others surrounded three terrified Sargavans and began tearing them to pieces with talons and teeth. Rarsk reared up to strike, deep claw marks on his flanks, just as one of Toshe’s fire flasks exploded beneath him. Flames licked at two of the reptiles as the leopard’s fur began to smoke.

Behind me, I heard chanting and, unexpectedly, my confidence soared; a morale-boosting spell of some sort I guessed. The battle was certainly not going well enough to induce such a reaction naturally. Rarsk must have felt it, too, as his claws flashed, and the raptor in front of him fell dead with a loud screech, blood pouring from a large wound in its chest.

Realizing I had no time to reload, I stepped back a pace or two, holstered my pistol and uncoiled my whip. I looked up in time to see something silver flash by my head and bite into the neck of the small animal in front of me. A star knife sat there quivering for a moment, then flashed away in the direction it had come. Blood spurted from a small wound in the raptor’s neck. A moment later, the raptor was down; another victim of Rarsk’s claws.

With no target nearby, I stepped toward one of the beasts blackened by Toshe’s bomb, striking a glancing blow with my bladed whip. To my right, Toshe was completely surrounded by four of the small monsters. In desperation, she threw a flask at the nearest, catching herself in the blast, but downing one of her enemies. As the sound of that explosion faded, there came a deafening blast many times louder, seemingly from not far down the street. The lizard in front of Toshe dropped to the ground, blood leaking from its small ear holes. Another reeled away from a torn and bloodied beggar, stunned.

A bolt from Mwembe’s crossbow clattered on the cobbled street behind one of the lizard-things, but the monster’s luck didn’t last as it, too succumbed to the teeth and claws of the enraged leopard. I attempted to strike the remaining raptor, but barely scratched its thick hide. It seemed to take exception to that however, and its claw tore through my padded armor and into the skin along my rib cage. I recoiled in pain just as Mwembe ran by me and fired a bolt into the side of the creature. Taking advantage of the opening, I struck at it with my whip, the bladed tip cutting across its throat and finally killing it.

As the noise and confusion of the battle subsided, we checked on the three Sargavans but, seeing there was no saving them, we continued to the warehouse district at the docks. The city guard would presumably be along soon enough to clear the street.

From not far ahead, heavy smoke was rising high into the clear sky, and as we got nearer I could see that, of the four warehouses on fire, one bore the crest of the Aspis Consortium and another the seal of the Pathfinder society. I began running toward the burning structures.

As I neared the Aspis warehouse, a man’s deep voice rang out. “You!! Where’s Kala!? What have you done with her?”

I whirled to see a large, somewhat overweight, dark-haired man: William Ravan, now apparently the leader of the Aspis Consortium in Sargava. Caught off-guard, I sputtered, “Well, I could ask you the same thing. I left her with you!”

He lunged toward me then, but two Aspis workers grabbed him by the arms, while two others stepped between us, holding him back with outstretched arms. Another man emerged from the shadows of the warehouse, gesturing and murmuring an incantation. William’s eyes glazed over and he slumped a little as the five men pulled him back inside, out of the street.

When we reached the large doors of the Pathfinder warehouse, Gelik ran up to us, breathing hard.“The Freemen! They set the fires! And they’ve taken Jask!”

We all asked in unison, “Where?”

“To the Arcadia Whaling Factory. They called him a traitor. I fear they mean to kill him.”

“Well, shit.” Toshe muttered under her breath..

As we neared the Arcadian Whaling Factory complex, a man’s voice could be heard shouting over the sound of a large crowd, though we were as yet too far away to make out his words. Soon however, we rounded a corner and saw several dozen Sargavans gathered in the narrow street in front of a large, three-story warehouse building. Several small, thatched huts sat across from the windowless, fortress-like wall, while high stone walls extended from either end of the larger building. At the edge of the roof stood a large black man, apparently a leader of the separatist group known as the Freemen, screaming at the top of his lungs about “slaves” and how the Freemen treat “traitors”. To emphasize the latter point, he shoved forward a man in the uniform of the Sargavan military whom he had been cradling in one strong arm. Pressing a knife to the man’s throat, he screamed, “And we’ll start with this one!”

As he finished, he lifted the man’s head. It was Jask. But why was he in a Sargavan uniform?

Several of my companions pleaded with the man to spare Jask. “He is innocent!”

“He was a prisoner of the Sargavan government!”

The man was unmoved. “This is bigger than one man! Even if I believed he was innocent, I wouldn’t let him go. Not until all Sargavans are free!”

As he finished, he raised his fist into the air, then brought it crashing down against Jask’s jaw. The cleric slumped limply to the surface of the roof.

It was becoming clear we were not going to be able to reason with him, but the thick stone walls at the north and south ends of the building prevented easy entrance to the compound. So I began working my way northward through the crowd, looking for an entrance. As I did that, Mwembe and the others headed for the stone wall to the south of the main building.

Before my view was blocked by a small dwelling, I saw Rarsk leap to the top of the wall. Mwembe followed more slowly, almost losing her grip at one point. Then I turned the corner and saw a large courtyard surrounded by several large buildings. On the far side was a large winch; a thick rope led from the winch to the carcass of an enormous whale. The thing’s belly had been sliced open and blood and blubber flowed from the wound, covering the flagstones of the courtyard in a disgusting slippery slop. Gagging as a breeze from the harbor carried the stench of slaughter to my nostrils, I made my way further into the yard. From the southern end I heard shouting, the sound of bowstrings, and several small explosions. Suddenly, someone nearby yelled “Halt!”

It seemed to come from somewhere above me, but before I could locate the source, an arrow embedded itself in my shoulder. Gasping in pain, I backed away toward the street. At the far end of the enclosure, somewhere near the whale carcass, a man screamed in pain as he was mauled unmercifully by Rarsk.

Before I could reach the street, a door opened and a large man rushed out, swinging a wooden club. As the club descended, a burst of fire exploded around us, leaving the pair of us scorched and smoking, causing the club to miss my head by inches. I drew my pistol as the searing pain of a second arrow ran up my leg. I aimed and fired at the club wielder without halting my backward progress. He flinched at the fire, smoke and noise, then grabbed his arm as my bullet hit home.

Before the smoke cleared, two more arrows pierced my padded coat. Realizing I was in a very precarious position, I turned and ran headlong for the cover of the small houses along the street. Leaning against the stone wall of a rude dwelling, I pulled the arrows from my shoulder, legs and chest, pain coursing through me as each one came free. Then I fished in my pockets for the healing wand we’d recovered from Smuggler’s Shiv and reciting the activiation spell, touched its wooden tip to my chest. Immediately, warmth spread throughout my body and the bleeding slowed. I repeated the process twice more, then risked a glance around the corner of the house.

Hearing little in the way of battle, I reentered the courtyard. Six Freemen lay dead; most with the ghastly wounds caused by fang and claw. Some however, had also suffered burns and bullet wounds, as well as puncture wounds from Jade’s starknife. And at some point in the battle, the gargantuan whale carcass had caught fire, adding yet another component to the multi-layered stench choking the factory compound.

As I looked around, something landed at my feet with a splat. It appeared to be a burning hunk of whale blubber, about the size of my foot. Peering upward, I noticed a rebel on the second floor of the open-sided building to the east. His back was turned to me, and he seemed to be rummaging in large trough. At that moment, a door opened behind me and an angry voice boomed,“What’s all the ruckus?”

Over my shoulder, I said calmly, but loud enough to be heard across the yard, “It’s nothing. Just a little problem with the whale. We’re fine.”

“Gods-damned whale.” I heard him mutter as his footsteps faded into the interior of the building. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Toshe easing her way along the wall of the building. Slowly, she reached out and gently shut the door.

Meanwhile, up on the second floor of the open-sided building, the blubber-tosser turned and held a large, dripping piece of whale fat over a small flame, igniting it. Having seen his compatriot turn and re-enter the smaller building and Toshe close the door, he yelled in the door’s general direction, “Idiot!” Impassively, the door remained closed. Shaking his head in disgust, the rebel stepped to the edge of the floor and launched the stinking, burning mass downward in the toward Toshe. It missed the half-elf by several feet. He immediately turned for another chunk of whale fat.

Unfortunately for him, he never got to throw it. As he turned and lifted his arm, I fired my pistol. The bullet caught him in the upper shoulder, causing him to drop his makeshift weapon. Soon smoke started from the floor, which was soaked through with years of dripping fat.

As I began to reload, I spared a glance behind me, in time to see Toshe heading for the door to an even smaller building in the northwest corner of the compound. She pulled open the door, revealing a large, cylindrical machine emitting an earsplitting grinding sound. Softly calling, “Here stupid, stupid…” Toshe disappeared through the door, into the noise and darkness.

To the south, I caught the motion of an arrow speeding toward the building behind me, followed closely by Jade’s star knife. Quickly, the knife retraced its route, only to be thrown once more, this time toward the Freeman rummaging in a large box in the now flaming open-sided structure. However, I did not see whether or not it struck its intended target as my attention was drawn to a new actor in our drama. He came tentatively into the open square, looking around as if searching for someone.

“Who the hell are you?”, I asked gruffly.

“Uh, I have a package for Toshe.” he replied hesitantly.

I jerked my thumb over my shoulder to the still-open door, revealing the grinding machine. “She’s in there.”

“And, uh, there’s a whale on fire over there, and a leopard on the roof…?” Before I could respond, he reached in his belt pouch, pulling out a Pathfinder Society wayfinder. He held it up so I could see it clearly, as if to let me know he was on our side.

Suddenly, a small flask shattered against the newcomer’s back. As he turned to see the Freeman above grinning down at him, holding a second flask, I aimed my reloaded pistol at the separatist and fired. As the report of the firearm resounded off the buildings around us, the newcomer dropped his long knives with a ringing clatter on the stone floor of the courtyard. He turned back to me, wide-eyed. “Please! Sir! A little warning!?”

Ignoring him, I looked to my target, who had dropped his second flask as my bullet struck home. The flask burst, flames spreading across the floor and over the Freeman, who was now covered in whale oil from his earlier “weapons”. Screaming, he dropped to the floor, out of sight.

“Did someone say there was a package for me?” Toshe had exited the building with the cylindrical machine. I turned just as she slipped on the greasy flagstones and fell. Muttering to herself, she rose and sheepishly retraced her steps to the open door. As she went, Jade raced by in the same direction and, just like Toshe, lost her footing and crashed to the pavement. Shaking my head, I turned back to the newcomer to see him climbing a ladder near the corner of the open-sided building. He had almost reached the flaming second story. I had no idea what he was planning to do once he reached it, but there he was.

Seeing no danger from that direction, I shrugged and headed for the larger building behind me. There was a door on the ground floor, about twenty feet away. It was closed. As I reached it, I paused to listen. From inside the building I heard only more loud grinding sounds coming from what sounded like a rather small space. Before I could open it however, a flaming arrow struck the wall, just inches from the door and, not incidentally, my head. The dried wood of the wall began to smolder.

As I reached for the handle, I heard a thud somewhere behind me. Wondering if the newcomer had lost his balance and fallen from the ladder, I turned to see a body that looked suspiciously like that of Jask’s abductor lying in a heap in the courtyard. From the bloody gashes covering most of his body, I guessed that it wasn’t the fall that had killed him.

Turning my attention back to the door, I pulled the handle. It opened soundlessly. The room it revealed was filled almost completely by a large metal cylinder, the gears inside of which ground together ominously. Near one end of the cylinder stood a Freeman, smugly chuckling to himself as the grinding noises came faster and faster. Not liking his looks in the slightest, I dropped my pistol and unhooked the whip from my belt. In one motion I drew it back and then flicked it forward. The tip struck the man on the cheek, leaving a thin line of blood. He simply looked at me and laughed. A second arrow struck the wall to my right, increasing the flames climbing the wall alarmingly.

Then, with a deafening crash, the machine exploded, metal shards flying in all directions. Without conscious thought, I dove to the left – away from the door and the fire. But I wasn’t quite quick enough. I felt a burning pain along my side as a razor-sharp bit of steel cut through my padded jacket.

As the noise and smoke of the explosion died away, I stood up and looked around. All of the rebels were dead or fled; Mwembe and Rarsk stood at the edge of the roof of the open-sided building. Toshe and Jade were nowhere to be seen, while the newcomer was digging through a large box on the floor below the Zenj woman and her leopard.

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Andy's Journal, 4th of Sarenith
We Leave Smuggler's Shiv and Arrive in Eleder

4th of Sarenith 4713

We arrived in Eleder near mid-morning today, the 4th day of Sarenith, on the pirate ship The Last Hurrah. The previous two weeks had been spent resting, healing our various wounds and otherwise recovering from our endeavors on Smuggler’s Shiv.

When we had exited the lighthouse following the destruction of the snakehead altar, into the bright sunlight of a tropical afternoon, Aycenia was at the bottom of the stairs chatting casually with Aerys and Jask. Phi immediately headed toward the fern-haired fey. From the little I overheard, she seemed to be asking the dryad for help in curing Toshe of her latest curse. Aycenia shook her head sadly and Phi made her way over to Toshe to give her the bad news. The two then disappeared back into the lighthouse as we informed the rest of our friends of the altar’s destruction.

Over the ensuing week, Aerys, Jask and Ishirou continued their work on the lighthouse lamp and, after seven days of hard labor, with an ear-splitting screech the large brass mechanism atop the lighthouse tower began turning. That night, a bright beam of yellow light once again stabbed out into the darkness above Desperation Bay.

A lookout from the Last Hurrah must have seen it as, the very next morning during breakfast, a small band of pirates marched into Thrunefang. They were led by a tall, red haired woman with a large starburst tattooed on her forehead. She walked with the confidence and swagger worthy of the most powerful lord of Cheliax. A long sword swung in a leather scabbard at her hip.

“I am Kassata Lewynn, Captain of the Last Hurrah. Who is in command here?” Her voice echoed across the courtyard.

We looked from one to another helplessly. Finally, Mwembe spoke up.

“No one is ‘in command’. We make decisions as a group.”

“As a group? That seems woefully inefficient. Can’t run a ship that way.” Captain Lewynn replied.

Mwembe shrugged. “We are not on a ship.”

The captain inclined her head. “Point taken.”

At that moment, one of the others spoke up. “Can you get us off this damnable island?”

“I can. Though we’ll be wantin’ to search it first. Seems there should be a lot of treasure on an island no one could leave for all these years. And us bein’ the first ones here, it belongs to us by right. We leave in seven days.”

There was some grumbling at this, but there was no choice but to accept the captain’s conditions. The two score members of the Last Hurrah’s crew fanned out across the island in search of anything of value. When they assembled outside the lighthouse a week later, their number had been reduced by six. Apparently, some disagreements had arisen over ownership of some of the riches.

But eventually, the time for departure came. Sasha and Gelik had come into Thrunefang early that morning, and as we headed up the gangplank, Captain Lewynn noticed the tattoo on Sasha’s back. Immediately, her eyes went cold and, stalking stiffly over to her, she grabbed Sasha’s shoulder, turning the red haired woman to face her. She slapped Sasha hard across the cheek and stalked off across the deck in the direction of Aerys. As the two talked quietly, it became clear they had known each other prior to this chance meeting.

As Mwembe and Phi came aboard with their companions, Phi carrying the young flying lizard she’d raised from an egg, the Captain paused in her conversation with Aerys, frowning. “Your pets will have to be caged down below. Don’t want a bunch o’ wild animals roamin’ me ship.”

Phi’s eyes blazed. “If Fi must be caged, you must cage me, too!” she protested indignantly.

Captain Lewynn shrugged. “Hm. Have it your way.” She turned to Mwembe, “What about you?”

“No. You do not need to cage me. But I will stay below with Rarsk.”

Captain Lewynn nodded, then turned to the mate. Nodding toward Phi and her pets, she said, “Put those three in the big cage.”

The first mate, a large man with a thick neck and a thicker gut, looked to the druid and her reptilian companions. “C’mon, then.” he rumbled, and headed for the hatch. Reluctantly, they followed him. A moment later, Mwembe and Rarsk headed in the same direction, disappearing into the dark hold of the ship.

Finally, the others came aboard, Toshe heavily cloaked and hunched behind Jask and Ishirou, trying to attract as little attention to herself as possible.

After we had all been shown to our quarters, the ship’s mate came along with an invitation to dine with the captain that evening. Mwembe and I eyed each other nervously. Vague memories of our last dinner at a Captain’s table flitted through my mind. I can only assume the same was true of my friends.

Following the meal, we recounted our adventures for Captain Lewyn and her officers. When we finished, she said, “Sorry that silly seahag put ya out like that.” She shook her head ruefully. “Witches and serpent gods. Bad business. But…this Saventh-Yi ye’ve been talkin’ about…if you happen to decipher the location of such a place, I’d hope ye’ll take me and my crew with ye. You can go first, to lead the way. Our caravan can go behind; help ya carry out the loot.”

Seeing our hesitation, she added, “I’d pay 1,000 gold apiece in advance, if ye accept my offer.”

As delicately as we could, we answered that we would have to think on it, and discuss it among ourselves. Reluctantly, she agreed. “Well, be sure to let me know as soon as you decide.” That effectively ended the dinner and we all returned to our berths.

By the morning of the next day, we had sighted the harbor of Eleder. A dark haze of smoke hovered over the city proper, while thousands of gulls wheeled and dove around the harbor.

As the sun rose toward noon, we disembarked onto the wharf. Immediately, we were assailed by heat, noise and the stench of sweat, dead fish and worse.

Captain Lewyn was nice enough to point out the major hostelries and eating houses, saying that she and her crew would be staying at an inn called the Coachman’s Mug, though most of the crew headed for a decidedly different type of house for the night; a place known as the Retired Sword. I however, at the first opportunity, hunted down the nearest establishment I could find offering a bath, a shave and a haircut. The others scattered throughout the city.

Jask headed directly for the Capitol, papers in hand. Aerys went off with her apparently old friend Captain Lewyn, while Sasha ran down the nearest alleyway, taking a direction away from the rest of us.

Later, feeling refreshed, and cleaner than I had in weeks, I began to make my way to the south side of the city, to the home of Mwembe’s old friend, a man named Max. Before reaching my destination, however, I was stopped by an officer of the town guard.

“Are you Andy Flinn?” he asked gruffly.

“Who wants to know?” I replied guardedly.

Matter-of-factly, he said “Baron Utilinus.”

“Oh. Who’s Baron Utilinus?” I asked.

“The Grand Custodian. He wishes to speak with you about your companion, Jask. If you would come with me, please?”

Shrugging, I allowed him to lead me through the dusty, twisting streets of the city, to a large stone building that could only be the Governor’s Palace – though “palace” seemed a bit of an exaggeration in this case. I was ushered into a large room with a thick wooden table at one end. Behind the table sat a well-dressed, middle-aged man I took to be Baron Utilinus. To his right stood a younger man in the uniform of the Sargavan military. Near the wall stood Jask, once again in shackles and looking miserable.

Before the Baron could utter a word, the military man spoke up. “Can you vouch for this…monkey’s freedom, and these papers?” he demanded.

Taken somewhat aback by the slur and the man’s hostility, I answered honestly. “Yes. I can. I was with the group of castaways who found the papers in the wreck of the Brine Demon. They were locked in a small chest in the captain’s cabin.”

The man only growled and gave me a dark look before turning an even darker look on Jask.

“You must excuse General Havelar; he is a military officer charged with defending our fair city from native rebels. He sometimes speaks with less tact than he should.” The Baron gave Havelar a slightly disapproving look. If the General noticed, he did not show it. The Baron went on, “Now. With that matter settled, what I really summoned you for is to make you an offer.”

“An offer?” I had not the slightest notion of what he could possibly offer me, nor what he would expect in return, but all was soon made clear. It was an offer similar to that which Captain Lewyn had proposed, though this seemingly applied to me alone. In short, in return for leading a caravan owned and manned by the Sargavan government to the ruins of Saventh-Yi, the Baron was prepared to offer me 1,000 gold pieces, as well as some undefined tract of land outside the city and a noble title. In addition, he would throw in a squad of Sargavan soldiers to be under my personal command.

I’ll admit I was tempted at first, and not wishing to anger the Baron, I informed him I could not make such a decision rashly and asked to be allowed time to think it over. This I had time to do on the long walk to the home of Mwembe’s good friend Max. As I walked through the heat and noise of the city, I realized I had no use for a noble title, nor any desire for any amount of land in such an inhospitable country. And thinking of my Andoran parents, I could not in good conscience assist such a repressive regime as Baron Utilinus’. But most of all, I could not desert my friends.

Later I learned that the others had received similar offers. Toshe was apparently approached by the Aspis Consortium, while Mwembe met with representatives from both the Pathfinder and the Red Mantis Societies. Based on what Mwembe told me, the latter had initially stopped Phi on her way to Max’s home, but she immediately turned tail and ran off into the jungle, leaving the assassin no chance to make her offer. Eventually, the Mantis representative found Mwembe.

With few exceptions, the offers were the same: one thousand gold pieces, a trinket or other valuable to sweeten the pot and a caravan for supplies and assistance removing any treasure or other valuables from the ruins of Saventh-Yi.

I must admit, it makes me more than a little uneasy at how quickly word of our discovery had seemingly spread throughout the entire city of Eleder and possibly the entire country of Sargava.

Eventually, my wanderings brought me to Max’s dwelling. It was a small, well-built wooden bungalow, painted a bright green, with a fenced yard in front. The house backed up almost to the very trunks of the jungle trees. Max himself was a Colonial, sandy haired and fair, though of more recent immigration. His accent said he was not from Cheliax. His wife Jennie was preparing dinner for her unexpected guests. She was tall and blonde, apparently of Ulfen stock, and her cooking was exceptional.

After the meal, we each told of the offers we’d received and debated which, if any, we should accept. Phi argued vehemently for accepting the assassins’ offer; inexplicably, given her apparent terror of even a single representative of their society. Toshe felt the Aspis Consortium’s deal was best. I cannot cooperate with either of those institutions. Work with the Red Mantis Assassins? Unthinkable. They are a collection of murderers, or worse. Better to accept assistance from Captain Lewyn and her crew of “honest” cutthroats.

As for the Consortium…they are nothing more than slave traders and looters, governed only be a desire for profit. For me, then, that leaves only the Pathfinders and, after some heated debate – with Phi vociferously arguing for the Mantis’ – it was decided. We would accept the assistance of the Pathfinder Society. I sighed with relief. If any other decision had been made, it would have necessitated leaving the group and going my own way.

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Andy's Journal Day 38
Lifting the Curse

Last night, Toshe spent several hours studying the sheaf of papers taken from the mineral-encrusted cubbyhole. It seems they were a collection of notes on the history and magic of the ancient inhabitants of the island, written by Ieana. According to the notes, the only way to lift the Curse of Smugglers’ Shiv was to destroy the serpent altar in the dungeons below the lighthouse. Realizing that doing so was the only way off this accursed island, down into the depths the four of us went once more. We took with us several axes, shovels and other hard, metal tools useful for breaking stone.

As I entered the room and saw again the hideous altar, an involuntary shiver ran down my spine. Shaking my head, I steeled myself, crossed the threshold and soon the small room rang with sound of metal striking stone. The altar’s surface was incredibly hard and at first, only frustratingly small pieces chipped away. Once the surface had been broken away in some spots, the inner material broke more easily. Still, it took hours of backbreaking labor to transform the altar from a large serpent’s head into an indistinct pile of rubble.

As the last large fragment broke away, long gouts of blood began to flow from the altar’s base. At the same time, the room filled with the sound of hundreds, maybe thousands, of whispering voices. When the streams of blood hit the air, they puffed into a red mist, like water striking red hot metal turning into steam. Then came an unnatural gust of air, blowing the mist away. The whispers grew to screams and then howls of pain and rage, before fading away, along with the supernatural breeze. As the air stilled, and the voices faded, the floor shook violently, knocking me to the ground. I saw Mwembe and Toshe topple as well. When the last aftershock faded, it felt as if a great weight had been lifted from the air around us.

Then, our work finished, we headed back to the surface, to sunlight and fresh air. As we exited the lighthouse, I noticed Aerys and the others gathered around Sasha and Gelik, talking quietly. Gelik, still looking pale and drawn, was sporting shiny new replacements for his lost hands. His left was the mithril hook we’d found previously in nest of the Red Mountain Devil and his right was an odd crablike pincer device. Not wishing to intrude, I made my way to the shade of a large tree to rest until dinner.

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Andy's Journal Day 37, Part 3
Ieana and The Horror in the Blood Lake

I stood for a moment, staring helplessly up toward the small smoke hole in the arched stone ceiling then, gathering my wits, I pulled two vials of healing liquid from my inner pocket and downed them quickly. Warmth spread throughout my body and I immediately felt much better. Seeing that Rarsk was badly injured, I gave my remaining potion to Mwembe to administer to the big cat. Some of the color and glossiness seemed to return to his coat.

With many of our wounds healed, we turned our attention to the hole above. “She touched the statue before she changed. But she didn’t say anything, so there would seem to be no incantation needed.” I said.

I was suddenly interrupted by a cry from above. “Help! I’ve got her! Come quick!” We all stared in disbelief. It was Sasha’s voice!

Then Phi said, “Ieana cut her hand with a knife before she touched the statue! I saw her. Maybe the spell is activated by blood.” Then she reached out a claw already bloody from the preceding battle and…began to fade and shimmer before our eyes. Soon, she was mist drifting slowly toward the ceiling. Toshe, having reappeared from wherever she had run off to, quickly followed.

A moment later Mwembe and I heard Phi’s voice asking, “Sasha! How did you get down here?”

“I found another entrance; I touched a lizard-like statue and turned into gas.” came the answer.

Quickly, the two of us touched the statue with bloody hands as the sounds of fighting began above us.

I re-solidified in a cramped room just in time to hear Sasha cry, “Why!? Why did you bite my face?” Blood seeped between the fingers covering her features.

Across the room, Toshe was tugging on an iron ring in the floor. With a squeal, a large trap door opened and Toshe staggered back, her body rippling and shifting horribly. Her legs shortened and twisted, long talons grew from her toes while her ears grew hideously large and her mouth twisted as her teeth grew into fangs. Most horrifying of all, her arms lengthened and spread into large, leathery wings. She was no longer Toshe, but a hideous, bat-like parody of Toshe! She turned and looked at us, a mixture of horror and fascination in her deformed features, then staggered toward the wall, muttering, “I didn’t want to be a half-elf, don’t want to be…this.”

Phi ignored her and reached down into the space revealed by the open door. The small room was entirely encrusted with mineral deposits and crystals. Ancient mineral-crusted bones moldered on the floor. Phi pulled out a fraying sack, containing several items, among them a pair of scrolls, what looked like a large playing card, a thick blue candle and a block of incense. Finally, she removed a large sheaf of papers.

Behind me, I heard Mwembe arguing with Sasha, and though I recall hearing Gelik’s name mentioned, the content of the exchange eluded me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sasha step toward a small statuette – a replica of the larger statue down below, transform into mist and disappear down the smoke hole once more. Mwembe was right behind her. The rest of us quickly followed.

Once back in the hall below and solid, Mwembe, Phi and Toshe started off after Sasha. Suddenly the room was plunged into darkness. It must have been a magical darkness; even light spells could not pierce it. We stumbled forward for several yards until, as if stepping through a curtain, we were no longer in total darkness, but the familiar dimness of the great hall. But Sasha was gone. Possibly on a hunch, Phi and Toshe strode forward, following the blood trough toward the far end of the hall. When it reached the far wall, the stream of blood flowed slowly through an arched opening in the stone. The opening was small, but large enough for me to get through without much difficulty. It opened onto a series of narrow, empty tunnels. Carefully, we followed the stream as it wound its way along the stony floor, until it emptied into a lake of thick, crimson blood.

In the dimness, I could make out something large moving at the shore of the disgusting lake. The movement was accompanied by a horrifying slurping sound. Phi cast light on a large stone and tossed it onto the rocks at the edge of the lake. The fever dreams of the insane could not compare to the sight that met our eyes when the stone landed. A large shapeless mass, covered with what appeared to be hundreds of mouths and eyes of all sizes sat in the shallows, greedily lapping up the blood as it flowed from the stream into the lake. Every mouth was filled with dozens of sharp, glistening teeth.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Phi dashed forward toward the creature, teeth and claws flashing. Toshe followed more slowly. I moved forward, firing my pistol as I went. But with the poor light and the constant shifting of the creature’s body, I missed badly. I heard the bullet strike the far wall of the cavern, well behind the monster. Somehow Mwembe managed to make a bolt strike home in the creature’s spongy flesh. I reloaded as quickly as I could, while Phi and Toshe continued biting and slashing at the horror, somehow managing to evade the dozens of slavering mouths reaching for any part of them that came within reach. The creature’s blood was flowing freely as I took careful aim at a large, terrible eye near the the thing’s center. The eye exploded in a gout of blood as the bullet struck home and the hideous monstrosity seemed to deflate as it sank slowly into the shallows of the lake of blood. It was dead.

I let out a whoop that was a mixture of joy and disbelief, with some amount of pride and satisfaction tossed in; it echoed throughout the cavern.

Seeing no way around the bloody lake, we turned and retraced our steps all the way back to the main entrance hall. There, we spent the better part of an hour finally prying open the small trap door that had resisted our earlier efforts. The space was empty, save for a velvet wrapping containing two large, glittering, blood red rubies. They must be worth thousands of gold pieces!

Seeing no more reason to stay, we headed outside. It was daylight, and the sun was shining brightly; the jungle was beginning to steam now that the deluge had ended.

Our journey back to the lighthouse was uneventful. As we walked into the compound, I saw that our friends had made some progress on cleaning up the buildings and repairing the light at the top of the tower. A large fire was burning near one wall; the first attempt to burn the bodies of the cannibals had been doused by the sudden, unnatural downpour.

After a hot meal and some rest, I believe I shall spend the rest of the day attempting to decipher the ancient inscriptions I’ve seen the past several days and studying the scrolls Phi collected.

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Andy's Journal Day 37, Part 2
Ieana

Moments later, we were looking up at a pair of large stone doors, dripping seaweed and other dying sea life clinging to their surfaces. Every inch of the doors was covered with a multitude of horrific scenes of grotesque, vampiric demons chasing and feasting on beautiful maidens. Who had carved such scenes, I could not – did not wish to – guess. The doors stood open, revealing a wide stone staircase leading up into darkness.

The doors must have been air-, or rather, water-tight and tightly sealed until the water had receded, for the steps were bone dry. Before rushing up them into the unknown, Phi lighted a stone and tossed it upward into the inky darkness. As the clatter died away, we slowly ascended the stone steps. Suddenly, a low moan issued from somewhere ahead as, preceded by a soft shuffling sound, two monstrous skeletons lurched into the faint light at the top of the stair. From the shape of their heads, as well as the bony tails extending from their lower backs, they appeared to be the undead remains of two long dead Serpentmen.

Immediately, Toshe threw a small vial in the direction of the skeletal Serpentmen as they simultaneously loosed a pair of javelins in ours. The javelins flew by harmlessly. But Toshe had better aim; the vial hit the leading skeleton squarely, bursting into bright, orange flame.

As Toshe tossed a second vial, Phi and Rarsk rushed the monsters. Phi’s club smashed into the skeleton on the right, then Rarsk was on it also, his fangs gripping its arm. As the skeleton tried to pull its bony limb from the leopard’s mouth, Rarsk swung a paw at its midsection. A loud cracking sound echoed through the darkened hall as one of the thing’s rib bones snapped.

Attempting to be of assistance, I cracked my whip at the scorched skeleton on the left, but the bladed tip passed harmlessly between the thing’s ribs. As I swore under my breath, Toshe raced past in the direction of the stairs. “I’ll be right back!” she yelled, as she disappeared down the stone steps.

From the corner of my eye, I saw the skeleton to my right crumble under the claws of Fi. The the small lizard and its mistress then turned on the blackened skeleton in front of me and it was quickly dispatched. As the bone dust settled slowly to the floor, Toshe reappeared, holding a large piece of driftwood in one hand. She seemed somewhat put out upon seeing both skeletons destroyed.

Looking around the dimly lit room, I could tell it was large, with an elevated walkway running lengthwise across the space, about twenty feet above the floor. The walkway was supported by thick stone columns. At the far end of the room, I could just make out a tall bronze door. Disturbingly, in the dim light, the doors appeared to be dripping blood.

My attention was diverted from the doors by a cry from Phi. She’d spotted a large trap door just to the left of the stone stair. To our dismay, the door was stuck fast and despite repeated efforts – including a rope tied to the door’s thick iron ring – we could not budge it. Eventually, we were forced to admit defeat and I headed for the bronze door at the far end of the hall. Inspecting it closely, the “blood” turned out to be simply an illusion created by moisture and firelight on the golden bronze of the door. I breathed a sigh of relief, then pulled on the ornate handle and the door opened easily onto a short hallway. On either side of the hall, a staircase led downward into darkness.

After a short discussion, we decided on the left hand stair. At the bottom, it opened into a narrow passageway. We continued along this for several yards until, without warning, a rectangular section of the floor began to drop away beneath our feet, eventually revealing a score or more of steel spikes waiting to impale anyone unfortunate enough to fall into the pit. With little time to spare, Phi, Fi and Rarsk quickly leaped for the far side of the pit, while Toshe and Mwembe grabbed desperately for the floor’s edge. All of them made it to safety on the far side. I, on the other hand, had been a short way behind the others when the flagstones disappeared into the depths, leaving me unharmed, though on the wrong side of the spike pit. It also left me a jump of almost a dozen feet to join the others. I was not confident in my ability to jump so far and despaired of getting across to my companions. Then, like a flash, a solution came to me.

The passage had many rough stones projecting from its walls at odd intervals and, taking out my whip, I managed to wrap the end around one of these projecting stones. With the others looking on in astonishment, I easily swung myself across to the opposite side. As my feet touched the stone floor, I offered them what I hoped was a roguish smile and said, “That’s one way to avoid a pitfall.”

Gathering ourselves and continuing along the passage I began, a little belatedly, to keep an eye out for more traps. After climbing a short stair, we took a side passage on the left. As we started along the new passage, I noticed a narrow, and very straight, crack across the floor of the hallway. It differed noticeably from the uneven seams between the flagstones. Realizing it was probably the edge of another drop floor, I carefully searched the walls and floor until I located the switch. Pressing a large flagstone downward with all my strength, I was rewarded with the sight of the floor ahead falling away, revealing a second floor further down, covered bristling with metal spikes.

We all managed to jump safely across the gap and continued down the passage unhindered, eventually reaching a pair of doors that opened onto the “bridge” through the main hall. The bridge ended in a small empty room. Scraps of wood and bone littered the floor and the walls were heavily carved with strange runes. Here and there, a large snake head was repeated, it’s mouth gaping wide.

None of us could interpret the runes, unfortunately. When this adventure is finished, I must return to study these ruins. Oh, just thinking of the knowledge to be gained…! There is so much we don’t understand about the world before Earthfall, when the Starstone ended the empires of Thassilon and Azlant. The carvings on this island could fill many of those gaps. When I return to Kintargo, I shall have to discuss funding for an expedition.

With difficulty I brought myself back to our present situation. We continued through a small door in the far wall, entering a narrow passage. Around a corner to the right it opened on a large room with four small alcoves at regular intervals. Standing in the center of the room were four human skeletons. There was probably a connection there. The skeletons turned and began to move toward us, but they posed little threat and in moments they lay in pieces scattered across the stone floor.

The room itself was empty, however, and was apparently the end of the passage. Left with no alternative, we turned and retraced our steps back across the bridge and, returning to the original passageway, continued northward. Before long, we approached a large door. It stood open, and in our haste to enter the room, someone sprung another trap – either I missed the clues in floor, or this one was more well hidden than the last. Regardless, once again, the floor fell away, but also once again, none of our party ended up impaled at the bottom of a pit.

We did all end up inside the room, however, Phi once again in reptilian form. The moment the last of our feet hit the flagstones inside the chamber, I heard the sound of gears turning and chains clanking as a large sheet of bronze fell with a crash, completely blocking the door through which we had entered. Simultaneously, a matching sheet of bronze fell in front of the door on the opposite side of the room. Quickly, I looked around the room for an avenue of escape, but saw none. The room was small, with a series of large holes in the walls – I counted at least ten – at about the height of a man’s chest. In the center of the room was a circle of four stone pillars. At their feet, inside the circle, was a large pool of what appeared to be blood. There was no way of telling how deep the pool was.

Our inspection of the room was cut short when, with more grinding and turning of gears, a large, gleaming metal blade swung down from the ceiling and flashed across the small space, cutting a long gash in Rarsk’s back as it went. Reaching the far wall, the blade retracted into the ceiling and disappeared. No one else appeared to be injured. Immediately Mwembe dashed for the far door, searching for a means of opening it. Phi and Fi stood frozen in place and Toshe…well, Toshe dove headlong into the pool of blood. She floated there, looking incongruously, and ridiculously, relaxed in the disgusting pool. The bronze sheet, however, resisted all Mwembe’s efforts to lift or break it. And while she struggled with the metal barrier, I began to search for a mechanism to open the door.

Again, there was a sound of gears and again the blade swung down. This time, however, it came from an entirely different direction. Phi cried out in pain as the blade flashed through the room and disappeared into the ceiling once again. Calling Rarsk to her, Mwembe redoubled her efforts at the door as I searched frantically for the release mechanism or for some way of stopping the deadly blade. As the blade came down a third time, from yet another spot in the arched ceiling, I finally located a small switch or button inside a small recess near the far door. I pressed and fumbled with it, attempting to determine whether it worked the bronze barriers or the blade, or something else altogether. Suddenly, I saw a bright flash out of the corner of my eye and felt a sharp pain in my left arm; the blade had struck one more time. With this additional motivation, I pressed the button as hard as I could. There was an audible click, but nothing happened. At least, nothing obvious. Soon, it became clear that something had happened, as several minutes went by and the blade did not come down. Convinced it was now safe, Toshe climbed out of the pool, dripping from head to foot with sticky, oozing blood. Leaving a trail of crimson footprints, she crossed the room to aid Mwembe.

I continued fiddling with the mechanism while Mwembe, Rarsk and Toshe attempted to lift the bronze sheet blocking our escape. Eventually, Toshe managed to reach her hands under the bottom edge of the metal sheet and strained upward, grunting with the effort. When it was a few feet above the flagstones, Rarsk put his shoulder underneath the sheet and stood to his full height. Mwembe lent her strength to the effort, as well.

Suddenly, there was the all-to-familiar sound of gears and the blade swooped across the room. Toshe held the door as high as she was able, as Phi, Fi and Mwembe bent through the opening into the passageway beyond; Rarsk followed his mistress.

“Are you coming?” Toshe yelled to me, straining to hold the heavy metal plate.

“Give me a second.” I replied.

“I can’t hold this forever, you know.” Toshe said in return.

With a sudden revelation, instead of pushing the button, I turned it to the right. It clicked into place. “You won’t have to.” I said to Toshe as the bronze panel lifted out of her hands and into a slot in the ceiling above. Smiling, I walked calmly from the room.

A short distance farther on, the passageway opened into another large, cathedral-like space, with a high arched ceiling held up by two rows of thick stone pillars. A wide trough ran the length of the room, between the rows of pillars. Once again, the liquid in the trough appeared to be thick crimson blood. Against either wall was the remnant of a large pool, both long since dried up. At the far end of the hall was a small, circular alcove holding a stone statue; it appeared to be some kind of bizarre, bat-winged demon. In all my studies and excavations, I have never seen another like it. And standing in front of the statue was Ieana. But not the Ieana we had known on the Jenivere. She had been hideously transformed; her head was no longer that of a beautiful Varisian woman, but a venomous snake, with long curving fangs and a narrow forked tongue. From her back trailed a long, sinuous snake tail.

She looked up as we entered the hall and a look of surprise crossed her face. It was quickly replaced by one of hatred. “Ah, I see you survived the shipwreck. No matter. You will not halt my research here. Prepare to die.”

She gestured peremptorily at a small knot of skeletons standing in the middle of the great hall. They raised their rusted weapons and advanced on Phi-Fi and Toshe. Mwembe edged along the near wall, in the direction of Ieana, loosing a crossbow bolt as she went. The missile struck a glancing blow and Ieana laughed disdainfully. “You are as pathetic as you were on the ship. They should have left you with your tribe, savage.” she said, her lip curled in a sneer. Then, turning towards Toshe, she made another quick gesture and yelled, “Protect me!” Toshe merely stood where she was, frowning in confusion.

Ieana’s growl of frustration was lost in the echoing crash of my pistol. I had made my way along the far wall to the edge of the dried pool. Steadying myself against the cool stone of the wall, I fired at the serpent woman. Blood spurted as the bullet struck her hard in the left shoulder. I saw her wince in pain before she turned toward me, eyes narrowed. She hissed in pain and anger.

She had no time for me then, as Rarsk was upon her with claws and fangs and a second bolt from Mwembe’s crossbow left a bloody gash across her rib cage. Then a large, feathered shape shot past me, as Phi charged Ieana, slashing with her claws. Unfortunately for Phi, at the same moment, Ieana, opening her gaping serpent mouth wide, bent away from the attack to sink her poisoned fangs into the leopard’s thickly muscled neck as Phi’s claws cut through empty air. The cat yowled in pain and backed quickly away from the Serpentwoman.

Seeing an opening, I advanced, loosening my whip, and as Phi renewed her attack, I snapped it in the direction of Ieana. Unfortunately, the leather cracked harmlessly in the air over her head. As I pulled it back to try again, a small whirlwind appeared out of nowhere and zipped by and over Ieana. If she noticed, she gave no sign.

Taking a moment to glance around the room, I saw Rarsk run to his mistress, who appeared to feed him something from a small vial. Toshe was handling the skeletons with little trouble. Hearing Ieana’s hissing voice, I turned. Phi hesitated as six identical Ieanas appear out of thin air, surrounding the original. They had to be illusions, but in the confusion of battle, telling the real Ieana from the false ones was well-nigh impossible. Then the transformed druid struck viciously with her large, clawed foot. One of the Ieanas winked out of existence. She had “killed” one of the illusions. This must have thrown her off-balance as her next attempt missed badly and her large, reptilian head hit the stone wall of the alcove with a sickening thud.

At that point, with no idea which Ieana was the true sorceress, I picked one at random and struck with my whip. She vanished; it was another false image. The small whirlwind made another pass and a third image disappeared.

Then, surreally, all four remaining Ieanas raised their arms to the sky and chanted loudly in a language I did not understand. When they had finished, a small globe of intense blackness appeared in the center of the room and, faster than the eye could follow, expanded. As the blackness burst over us, I felt an intense pain, such as I’d never felt before and barely managed to remain upright. I heard the others cry out in pain as well. Quickly, Toshe and the two feathered lizards recovered and charged the four remaining Ieanas. One of them disappeared as Fi’s jaws clicked shut on empty air. A second false Ieana was destroyed with a flick of my whip. There were only two Ieanas left. And after another pass by the whirlwind, which I have since decided must have been a small air elemental summoned by one of my friends, there was only the true Ieana.

Looking about and finding herself alone, she repeated her chant and the blackness exploded outward again. This time, Rarsk whimpered and fell lifeless to the floor. The air elemental vanished. Staggering, I swung my whip again and watched the blade at its tip slice across Ieana’s serpentine cheek.

Again came the blackness and the pain. I struggled to stay on my feet and advance on the erstwhile Varisian woman, swinging again. Again, the blade bit. This time, Ieana had no chance to channel her dark energies; Rarsk was back on his feet, charging the snake-woman. She managed to evade the infuriated beast, but was not so lucky with the bolt sent from the crossbow of the cat’s mistress.

Alone and outnumbered, bleeding profusely, Ieana turned and ran toward the hideous statue at the far end of the hall, raked by one of Phi’s large claws as she went. Following as quickly as I could manage, I struck her again with my bladed whip. Thinking we had her cornered, we paused to catch our breath. It was nearly a fatal mistake.

Reaching out her bloody hand, Ieana lightly touched the cold stone of the statue. Instantly, her body became translucent, then quickly turned to mist and she floated up toward the ceiling and disappeared through a small hole. She was gone.

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Andy's Journal Day 37
The Ritual

When morning came, the downpour continued and, whether due to the extreme wet or simply the random diseases of the jungle isle, Toshe awoke shaking and shivering with fever. However, this was quickly cared for by Phi, and, following a very damp breakfast, we reluctantly left our shelter and headed into the dripping jungle fastness in the direction of the Red Mountain.

A couple of hours later, though time was hard to judge in the shadows of the jungle, we stood at the top of a small bluff, overlooking a deep channel that led to a large inner bay. The edge of the bluff had been kept clear of trees and underbrush by unknown hands; not far away was a pyramid about half the height of a man. Rather than a pointed top however, the pyramid had a small cup-like basin at the very tip, and deep channels running down each of the four sides. Small, empty basins sat at the bottom of each channel. Piercing the ground around the pyramid were four jagged standing stones that seemed more like stalagmites than anything made by man. Each “stalagmite” had a serpentine rune carved on its inner face. The extreme weathering of the stones gave them the appearance of great age. Strangely, the stones hummed and vibrated with unknown power.

As I stood, regarding the pyramid, I thought of the verses from the dungeon below the lighthouse.

To command the very tides to rise up and eschew what lies below:

Empower the four sentinel runes with the blood of a thinking
creature tempered by the kiss of a serpent’s tongue.

Anoint the Tide Stone with waters brought from the sea in a vessel
of purest metal.

Invoke the Lord’s sacred name to wrap his coils around the sea itself
that he might lay bare what lies below and cast down your enemies
on the waves above.

They were describing a ritual involving these stones!

“Hold on!” I exclaimed. “I think I can activate this! We’ll need a snake” – I shuddered involuntarily as I said this – “a pail of seawater and er, the blood of a ‘thinking creature’. We must splash the runes, here, with the blood, then allow them to be ‘kissed’, or rather, ‘licked’ by a poisonous serpent. Then we pour the seawater over top the pyramid and, finally, shout the name of Ydersius.”

“who is Yeh-der-seeus?” Mwembe asked.

Toshe answered, “Ydersius is the ancient god of the serpentfolk.”

“Oh.” replied Mwembe. “And then what happens?”

“I…don’t know, exactly. I guess we’ll find out.” was my only reply.

Within an hour, we had all we needed. Toshe willingly spread her blood on the runes of the pyramid by cutting her palm and smearing the stones with the fresh blood, while Phi used her druidic magic to summon a venomous serpent. Mwembe and I scrounged the area around the stones until we found a copper pail, which we hurriedly filled with seawater from the nearby bay.

With Toshe’s blood still dripping down the inner faces of the stalagmites, Phi held her snake to each of the four stones. Quickly, I emptied the pail of water into the cup at the top of the pyramid. As it spilled down the sloping sides, Toshe shouted the name “Ydersius” as loud as she could muster.

With a blinding flash and a deafening roar that caused Toshe and Mwembe to cry out and cover their ears with their hands, several lightning bolts burst into the air from the very top of the pyramid. Almost immediately, the rain lessened to a light drizzle and soon stopped altogether. At the same time, the waters of the small bay began to roil madly and then, before our very eyes receded into the sea, leaving a deep, rocky canyon, slick with seaweed and littered with dying fish and other sea life. A wide ledge jutted from the newly revealed cliff face about 20 feet below the edge.

As the thunder receded into the distance, I heard a harsh, croaking cry above me. Looking up into the rapidly clearing sky, I saw a large winged shape that could only be the Red Mountain Devil.

The thing was roughly the size of a man, with the face and teeth of a large lizard. It’s back bristled with large spikes. The beast was held aloft by a pair of large wings, like those of a monstrous bat, flapping slowly above it.

Immediately, Mwembe loosed a bolt from her crossbow at the creature, but it easily evaded the attack. As the bolt passed by the creature’s head, it turned toward Fi, the small, feathered lizard. Then, the bat-like Devil folded its wings and plummeted directly toward the small animal, grabbing it in disturbingly human-like hands and dragging it over the edge of the cliff. It hovered there, attempting with its dripping fangs to gain a hold on the small lizard’s thin neck.

Moving quickly, I aimed and fired, hitting the monster in the chest, as another crossbow bolt whizzed by its malformed head. Then Rarsk was at the ravine’s edge, reaching out his paws and clawing the Devil mercilessly. Trying desperately to escape, the Devil hesitated and dropped out of sight, below the edge of the ravine. Looking down, I saw that it had landed on the wide ledge below.

The remnants of a ladder led down to the ledge and Toshe raced for it. A few steps onto the ladder, however, her foot slipped on the slimy steps and she fell the remaining distance to the stony shelf. Phi moved to the lip of the ravine and loosed a sling stone at the monster, but missed.

Sensing a momentarily vulnerable foe, the Devil moved quickly toward the fallen Toshe. I attempted to distract the thing with the flash of a dazing spell, but it had no effect on the horrid creature. The monster was also nimble enough to evade renewed attacks from the leopard, Mwembe and Phi as it made its way toward the half-elf woman. Reaching for my powder horn and shot pouch, I reloaded as quickly as I was able.

The Devil had by now reached the prone Toshe and began tearing at her with fangs and claws. A slingstone slammed into its back with a sickening thud as Toshe stood, stabbing it in the chest. Finally, as bullet, stone and bolt clattered of the stones around the Red Mountain Devil, a transformed Rarsk reached the monster and it went down under the leopard’s teeth, claws and horns.

As we stood, recovering from the fight and assessing our injuries, someone – I don’t recall who – noticed a large nest at the narrowest point of the cleft, on the same level as the ledge. The nest was made from bits of driftwood and jungle vines. It seemed likely it belonged to the recently deceased Devil. We made our way carefully along the slippery surface of the ledge until we could see down into the nest. The floor was littered with refuse, from bits of bone and cloth to other odds and end that glittered in the tropical sunlight.

Unexpected among the detritus of a predator’s nest, we discovered several seemingly valuable items, several of which suggest that a rather rich pirate captain’s career was ended prematurely by an encounter with the Red Mountain Devil. The strangest of these was a silvery metal hook, apparently meant to replace a lost hand. In the evening, when I had time to examine the hook more closely, I was able to determine that it was made of mithril. Mithril! It seems our unknown captain had run quite a lucrative trade before his or her untimely demise.

Collecting the most valuable of the items, we returned to the top of the bluff. Looking out into the deep water of the bay, we could make out the dorsal fins of several large sharks. To the south, we could see that a second canyon had been revealed by the receding tides; lying across the canyon bottom was the dripping wreck of a small sailing ship. We decided to investigate it.

To get to the ship, we had to jump a narrow, but deep part of the cleft and walk along the far side to a spot where we could make our way to the bottom relatively easily. The hulk was several feet offshore and, remembering the shark fins, we jumped across onto the slippery, rotting deck. We walked carefully forward toward a small hatch near the bow. Once below, our several light spells revealed a small room with all its furniture piled in a large heap in the center of the deck, and in which almost every surface was covered in seaweed and kelp. A door in one wall was propped open with a small wooden chair. Cautiously, we went through the door into a once fine cabin, probably belonging to the ship’s long-dead captain. The entire floor was covered in several inches of seawater.

Suddenly a high-pitched voice broke the silence. “Stand tall and report on this damnable low tide!”

I whirled to see a small grayish green creature, about the size of a halfling or gnome, with thin, leathery wings, very large, pointed ears, a long, pointed nose and two small horns on its forehead. Its face was stern, and it stood as straight and tall as it was able.

“Low…tide?” Toshe asked, cautiously.

“Aye! And not the first low tide today. You’re not the first strangers to come by, either.” The small person replied.

“Oh?” I said, as Mwembe asked, “Who else ‘came by’?”

“Strange person. Snake head; snake tail. Rushed by. Went through the scary doors.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, to the south.

Toshe again: “The…scary doors?”

“Aye.” the creature said again. “Big scary doors. Down at the end of the cleft, there. Underwater door. Well, usually, anyway. Covered with scary vampire carvings.” The creature spoke in short, clipped sentences.

The members of our party glanced dubiously at each other. It was obvious we were all thinking the same thing, “Vampires?”

Suddenly, Toshe changed the subject. “But, who are you?” she asked the winged being.

“Me? Captain Ekubus, that’s me.” He stood even straighter and taller. “This is my ship. Salty Strumpet’s her name.”

“And how long have you ‘owned’ this ship?” asked Toshe.

“Eh, a long time.” Was the terse reply. “Now, about this damnable low tide…”

“Oh, I think we did that.” Mwembe answered.

“Really? Why?” asked Captain Ekubus. We gave a quick, and not very detailed, explanation of the ritual and who we were after. The “captain” looked thoughtful. “Oh. Well, in that case, carry on.” He turned away and began rummaging through a ruined desk in the corner of the room.

I looked at the others and shrugged. We headed back into the sunlight above.

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Andy's Journal Day 36
Rain!

During my watch last night, I was startled from a reverie by a blinding flash of lightning and a deafening crash of thunder. These were quickly followed by the sudden onset of a torrential downpour. I spent the remainder of my watch staring into a wall of water from the doorway of the lighthouse. It was still pouring when I turned in.

When I awoke a few hours later, the rain was if anything, coming down even harder than during the night. As we sat, unsure of how to proceed given the weather, the conversation turned to Gelik’s injuries. Though he had been healed, none of our party possessed the power to restore his lost extremities.

Phi spoke up. “Perhaps Aycenia can help. She did offer to heal us of any injuries.”

“You are right; I will ask the birds to call her.” Mwembe replied. Then, calling to the few birds hardy enough to be abroad in the monsoonal rain, she asked them to summon the dryad. In little more than an hour, Aycenia appeared at the door of the lighthouse.

Nodding, she said with a smile, “Well, I see you’ve taken care of my ‘cannibal problem’”. But, before any of us could reply, she changed topics, gesturing at the nearby window. “This rain worries me, however.”

When we only looked at her quizzically, she continued, “Have you not noticed? This weather is not natural. Can you not see the auras?”

“Auras?” Mwembe asked. “I do not know this word.”

Patiently, Aycenia explained. “Every type of magic gives off a particular signature, or what the scholars call ‘auras’. When you know a particular aura, you then know to which school of magic any given spell belongs. This storm, for instance, is very strong transmutation magic.”

“Trans…transmoot…transmootayshun? I know not this word, either.” Mwembe said, apologetically.

“Transmutation magic is magic that changes the inherent properties of something. In this case, the weather. It began last night with a great roaring of thunder from the direction of the Red Mountain. Why, even the tides are unnatural. Have you not noticed, they never recede back into the sea?” Aycenia asked.

Knowing little of seafaring and tides, Phi, Toshe and I could only shake our heads as Mwembe continued attempting to pronounce “transmutation” under her breath.

“If I could ask just one more favor from you, I would ask that you investigate this…” Aycenia gestured again at the black clouds and blinding downpour. “Is this why you have summoned me?”

Phi answered this time. “No. We called you in the hope that you have the power to restore our friend. The cannibals have taken his hands and we do not have the necessary skill to bring them back.”

Aycenia looked sympathetically at Gelik, but shook her head. “Alas, I also do not possess such power. I wish that I did. I know of no one on this isle that has such strong restorative magic.”

Our faces fell with our dashed hopes, but there was nothing we could do.

Toshe broke the uncomfortable silence that followed. “Do you know what happened to Sasha? We left her wounded on the path two days ago.”

“Ah, yes. Sasha found her way to me after you left her. She is healed and living on the remains of her ship with Pee-zok and the two young flying lizards. She has expressed concern for the gnome. If you wish, I will take him to her.”

We agreed that was likely the best course of action and, with that decided, Aycenia left us and made her way to where Gelik sat glumly against the wall. She spoke to him in a low voice for a few minutes before taking him by the arm and leading him outside.

When Aycenia and Gelik were gone, the conversation turned to our future plans. The former prisoners were in favor of repairing the lighthouse lamp in hopes of increasing their chances of leaving this accursed island. Mwembe also expressed great interest in the endeavor. So, over the objections of Phi and Toshe, we decided to assist them in their task. However, with my severe lack of knowledge in mechanical engineering and Mwembe’s distinct loss of interest after little more than an hour, the four of us decided to leave Aerys, Jask and Ishirou to their work while we investigated the strange weather at its apparent source: The Red Mountain.

Accordingly, we set out to the southeast. Between the heavy rain and the thick vegetation, we could see no more than a score of yards in any direction. After barely a mile of struggling through soggy undergrowth and thick, sucking mud, we were all thoroughly wet, filthy and miserable. Stopping briefly to rest, it occurred to me that I had not seen a single animal or bird the entire day. I brought this to the attention of the others and they agreed it was very strange and ominous. With a growing sense of dread, we continued on our way for several more hours, until we were exhausted.

We had halted near a hillside with a good-sized waterfall running down the nearest face, probably due to the constant rains. While the others argued over whether to halt by the trail with no fire, I peered more closely at the fall. It seemed to me that there was a darkness behind the curtain of water. I asked Mwembe if she saw it, also. “Yes. I think maybe it is a cave.” she replied.

The two of us climbed partway up the slope until we could see that, indeed, there was a shallow cleft in the rocks behind the falls. We quickly called the others over and, after several attempts, were able to finally get a fire lighted. We spent the night hidden from the dangers of the jungle by a wall of falling water.

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Andy's Journal, Day 35
Caverns, Ghouls and the Captain - or What's Left of Him

While the four of us – Phi, Toshe, Mwembe and I – went through our morning routines and rituals, the erstwhile prisoners set to work gathering up the corpses of their former jailers and the preparation of a large funeral pyre. Gelik seemed to take special pleasure in kicking and spitting upon the mutilated bodies. After a time, we turned our attention to the trap door in the floor of the lighthouse. It was a simple round, wooden door with a latch on one side and no traps that were apparent to me. Carefully unlatching the door and pulling it open revealed a deep well, leading into thick darkness.

Gathering up her rope, Mwembe cast a light spell on it and we lowered it down into the hole. The faint light revealed that the well was no more than 20 or 30 feet deep, with solid ground at the bottom. So we tied the rope to the thick wooden bed frame and climbed down, one by one. Rarsk and Fi simply jumped over the edge, landing lightly on the sandy floor below.

Two more light spells were cast and the entire room lit up. The ceiling was somewhat less than twice my height; the surface was uneven and stained with what looked like blood; bits of bone and broken weapons attested to the probable truth of this theory. Besides these grisly remains, the cavern was empty but for remnants of wood and some leaves that must have drifted down from the opening above. A circle of inky darkness showed where a narrow tunnel opened at the far end.

Phi cast light on a large stone and tossed it into the tunnel. The glow from the stone showed a large curve in the passage, blocking our view of the tunnel beyond. Toshe immediately followed the stone, heedless of any danger. Her disappearance around the curve of the passageway was quickly followed by a series of low growls and a cry of surprise from Toshe. Not long after came the blast and light of an explosion. The passageway was obsured by the ensuing cloud of dust and debris. As it cleared, Rarsk disappeared down the tunnel in a blur of yellow and black.

After several minutes of deep growls and piercing shrieks of pain, there was silence and Rarsk trotted back to his mistress. Taking this as a sign that the danger was past, we began single file down the passageway. Just beyond a sharp curve in the tunnel we came upon Toshe, standing over the rent corpses of three disgusting, undead…things. The faces were hideously human, though the skulls were elongated and the lower jaws seemingly too large. The huge mouths were filled with sharp, triangular, serrated teeth, the bodies the color of corpses and covered in what appeared to be hundreds of welts and boils. All in all, disgusting creatures I was quite content to encounter dead, rather than undead. Examining the monsters, I had a sudden memory of my studies of ancient dungeons; these things were festrogs, more commonly known as dog-ghouls. Remembering also that these horrors live and hunt in packs, I remained alert for others. Cautiously, we continued on.

The tunnel soon ended in a wide cavern. Entering the room, we gagged on air thick with the stench of decay. To our right, the ceiling dropped until it was little more than three feet above the sandy floor. To our left, a large dome opened far above. Six small alcoves lined the cavern wall; most likely the “homes” of the dead things behind us. The number of alcoves seemed to indicate that there might be more of the things still roaming the caverns, though the room itself was empty. A brief search revealed nothing but bones and bits of old flesh at the lower end. Among these grisly artifacts, we found a scrap of parchment. It was an apology of sorts, written by Captain Kovack. In it, he named himself the “betrayer” of his crew and “destroyer of the good ship Jenivere”and hinted at a “punishment of hideous unlife”. Was he one of the dog-ghouls Rarsk had so recently dispatched? I shuddered at the thought.

Continuing, he blamed his actions upon his “enslavement” to Ieana, a “serpentine demon who wore a Varisian’s skin”, hinting that she was also responsible for his current fate and warning that she seeks something “dire” on the isle of Smugglers’ Shiv, with a particular interest in the “Red Mountain”.

The letter ended with a plea for its finders to seek out whatever horror he had become and destroy him, and Ieana as well.

“That sounds…bad.” I thought to myself, folding the letter and placing it in an inner pocket of my padded armor. The others moved toward an opening opposite the one we had entered through and I followed.

A short, narrow tunnel led to a small underground lake, or perhaps a large pool, many feet below. A narrow ledge, only wide enough for two persons to walk abreast, spiraled along the cave wall, down to the water’s edge. A handful of large openings were interspersed along the ledge, leading off into darkness. We took the first opening we came to, and after less than a score of feet, saw a well-made floor of flagstones stretching away into the dark distance. As we moved into the room, Phi tossed her lighted stone ahead of us. The dim light revealed a large, cathredal-like room, its distant ceiling held up with four large, stone pillars carved into the shape of snakes coiling upward. Seriously, I’m not joking anymore. Why does it always have to be snakes?

The walls, too, were carved with likenesses of serpents, though these walked upright like men. Other hideous images portrayed women and children devoured by large, slithering snakes. To the right was an immense pile of bones, formed into the shape of a gigantic coiled serpent. I began fervently to detest the place.

Glancing over, I noticed that Mwembe appeared more unnerved by the bone pile than even I was.

Suddenly, a low shuffling sound drew our attention away from the decor. Two humanoid shapes slowly walked into the light of Phi’s stone. Gaunt frames, with ribs and joint bones showing clearly, topped by heads with ghastly mouths full of razor sharp teeth. I recognized them as lacedons. But what were they doing so far from water? As the others advanced on the ghouls, I drew my pistol, aimed and fired; I was rewarded with the appearance of a small hole in the thing’s chest. It stumbled slightly but continued on. Unfortunately for it, this only led to its death under the claws of the Were-Toshe. Hearing a thrumming sound to my left, I looked over in time to see Phi release a stone from her sling. It connected with the remaining ghoul, which was wearing…an eerily familiar tricorn hat. Could it be? Was this Captain Kovack?

The slingstone had little visible effect on what remained of the former captain of the Jenivere, so I quickly reloaded and fired again. This time, the small hole appeared in the horror’s forehead, just below the forward point of its tricorn hat. It pitched forward on its face and did not move. The former sea captain had barely hit the floor, however, when Mwembe turned and raced in the direction of the bone pile. Amid the clattering and dust that accompanied her frantic kicks as she obliterated the serpent-shaped pile, I turned my attention to the rest of the room. In the far wall, I saw two small cells, fronted by rusted steel bars, with a matching pair of cells in the opposite wall. The cells, thankfully, were empty. At the northern end of the long room, an immense carving of a snake’s head loomed out of the dimness. A large, ash-caked wooden door appeared to be clenched in its jaws.

As I moved slowly toward the awful, ominous portal, I reloaded my pistol. The floor around the doorway was littered with empty glass vials. Several of us recalled seeing Ieana with similar bottles. Once again, heedless of any potential danger, Toshe pulled open the large door. Inside, the small room was empty save for a low stone altar, its sides carved like coiling snakes and its top carved to resemble the yawning maw of a viper. All around, the walls were carved with horrific scenes: serpentfolk using strange, pointed megaliths of stone to work great feats of magic—transforming an army of humans into zombies, or calling down flaming bolts of lightning from the stars. One in particular seemed to have been recently cleared of dust; from what I could make out, it seemed to depict a ritual for parting the waters of the sea to destroy sailing ships by dashing them upon the exposed rocks of the seabed below. There appeared to be several lines in a language I was unfamiliar with – Toshe informed us it was Aklo, the ancient language of the serpentfolk. These looked to have been “painted” with inks or possibly even blood, in order to make the reading easier.

Then, a strange thing happened. The carving must have had some magical properties, as I was suddenly able to decipher its words. This is what I read:

To command the very tides to rise up and eschew what lies below:

Empower the four sentinel runes with the blood of a thinking
creature tempered by the kiss of a serpent’s tongue.

Anoint the Tide Stone with waters brought from the sea in a vessel
of purest metal.

Invoke the Lord’s sacred name to wrap his coils around the sea itself
that he might lay bare what lies below and cast down your enemies
on the waves above.

It appeared to be some sort of ritual, requiring a “thinking” sacrifice, seawater and, of course, snakes.

Mwembe was insistent that we destroy the snake altar. However, we had no means of doing so, so it remains intact. Finding nothing else in the small chapel, we returned to the high-domed chamber and its remaining passageways, taking the next one further on. A short passage led to a large room, entirely empty. A narrow tunnel led from the western end of the echoing chamber, into another large room, also empty, save for gnawed and broken bones strewn on the sandy floor. Through a large opening at the far end could be heard the dripping and sloshing of water.

Emerging from the short passageway, our lights revealed a small beach, with dark waves lapping gently on the sand. Looking at the water, Mwembe shuddered and said, “We have encountered aquatic ghouls in the other room. I am very nervous about meeting more of them.”

We looked about warily, but saw no movement aside from the small waves. Seeing no immediate threat, we continued our explorations. Seeing a small opening to our right, we entered a cramped, curving passageway that led to yet another large, irregular room with a sandy floor. Advancing through the chamber, we noticed a large hole in the floor near the northwest wall. The hole was filled with dark seawater. Dozens of non-human footprints led to and from the hole. It was obviously a passageway of some sort. Bending down low, Toshe peered at the tracks and followed several along the small beach. “Mwembe is right. These tracks were made by at least a dozen aquatic ghouls.” There did not, however, seem to be any of the things nearby.

In the wall opposite the pool was yet another large opening, this one leading to a long, curving corridor that dead-ended in a tiny cave, the walls of which were entirely covered with crude carvings of snakes and skeletons. A disgusting mound of bones and seaweed sat dripping along the far wall. A nest? At the bottom of the “nest” lay a lacedon, unmoving and apparently dead. The monster wore a large amulet in the shape of a turtle shell and a silver ring molded in the image of a series of foam-topped waves. Toshe requested the ring and I placed the amulet in an inner pocket.

As this was apparently the end of the trail, we cautiously made our way back to the fresh air and light of the lighthouse, encountering no difficulties on the way.

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Andy's Journal Day 34
Attack on the Lighthouse

Ugh. I awoke this morning with the now-familiar sensation of itching and burning skin. Looking down at my arms, I saw they were cracked and dry, with greenish pus oozing from the wounds. It’s the damned greenscale again. Luckily, Phi saw the ugly splotches on my skin and cast some sort of healing spell on me. The skin of my face felt less dry and more supple. While I am still suffering from the disease over much of my body, maybe I’m not quite so repulsive now. Small favors, I suppose.

But I refuse to let this illness hinder our efforts to leave this accursed island and within the hour we were back on the trail. Almost immediately, I spied another net-trap and quickly disarmed it.

As we neared the lighthouse, we saw its stone tower looming above the nearby trees and paused to formulate a plan of attack. Mwembe offered to scout the camp. Not wishing to blunder blindly into a village full of cannibals, we agreed to her proposal. She and Rarsk set off into the trees and were soon lost to sight.

To pass the time as we waited impatiently for their return, I inspected and cleaned my pistol, then loaded it. Phi spent the time pacing rapidly back and forth, before bursting out, “She’s been gone too long. I’m going after her.” then stalked off into the jungle. Toshe followed. Shaking my head, I trailed after them.

Before we had gone far, however, Mwembe appeared before us as if by magic. Crouching down in a small circle, we listened as she gave her report.

According to Mwembe, the lighthouse compound was arranged in a rough circle, the road entering from the northeast, where a large lizard was tied to a post, presumably to guard the main entrance. There were no walls or gates, but immediately west of the lizard’s post was a small guard tower, about twice the height of Mwembe. At least three warriors were stationed in it. To the south of the road was a small wooden enclosure holding – according to Mwembe, and I had no reason to doubt her – ambulatory skeletons! Whether the skeletons were prisoners or allies of the cannibals, she had no way of knowing. Personally, I felt it boded ill; undead and necromancy are never a good sign.

Directly west of the skeleton pen was a large central plaza, in which a handful of men were building a large fire. I shuddered, thinking of the most likely reason for building such a blaze.

Edging the plaza were several buildings. In one, Mwembe had only been able to glimpse a single warrior before retreating to avoid being discovered. A second guard post was situated along the western edge of the compound, overlooking the sea. Another trio of cannibals stood watch there. At the northwest corner, dominating the entire camp, was the lighthouse itself: a stone monolith three stories high. Mwembe had been stymied in her attempts to see the interior of the tower.

Lastly, she reported that our friends were being held in a large, rectangular building to the southwest, opposite the lighthouse. The building had a large hole in its southwestern corner; the hole was “guarded” by a large, stinking mound of trash. From the smell, she was pretty sure the mound was also used as a latrine. At least two human guards were stationed in the building.

When she finished, we got down to the business of devising a plan of attack. Again, Mwembe took charge, proposing that she and Rarsk sneak to the edge of the compound and attempt to release the skeletons into the camp, hoping to create a diversion and, while – hopefully – a large number of warriors raced to quell the disturbance, the rest of us would enter the large building through the offal and extract our friends. Her strategy seemed to have a better chance of success than walking straight into the camp, past the guard lizard and demanding the release of our friends.

Accordingly, Phi, Fi,Toshe and I slowly worked our way through the trees, around to the southwest corner of the lighthouse complex. The rising stench left no doubt that we were heading in the right direction. Ahead of us, through a maze of branches, I could see a rough, wooden building with a ragged hole in one corner. A low hill of filth and mud extended several yards in all directions from the hole. The stench was almost unbearable. Suddenly, off to our right, we heard several harsh screams, with cries of “Monster!!” clearly audible. That was our cue.

To my left, hearing Phi muttering under her breath, I turned my head in time to see her skin brown and harden to a texture like the bark of an old oak. A moment later, she began to shift and distort until she appeared as a large, wooden, bipedal lizard. Hearing a growl to my left, I tore my eyes away from that bizarre sight to see that Toshe had once again taken on her were-hyena form. Surrounded by these monstrosities, my pistol felt entirely inadequate. I drew it from its holster anyway.

Phi, Fi and Toshe immediately dashed for the ragged opening beyond the trash mound. I followed more slowly and, seeing a guard inside the building, decided to attempt a dazing light. I quickly uttered the key phrases and made the gestures, concentrating on a point inches in front of the barbarian’s face. I was immediately rewarded with a short, bright burst of white light. Unfortunately, the savage quickly closed his eyes and turned his head away from the dazzling display. When the light had dimmed, he turned back to face me, a smug little smile revealing teeth filed to sharp points.

Suddenly, several more of the “fallen” descendants of Chelish sailors came tearing around the corner of the building, as several more appeared inside the structure. Instantly, Toshe and Phi were virtually surrounded, while two of the savages bore down on me. Among the warriors inside the prison was a figure, taller than the others, with flaming red hair and carrying a flashing scimitar. From the way the others deferred to him, I surmised he was their chieftain. With that thought in mind, I raised my pistol, aiming for the head beneath the red mop of hair. I pulled the trigger and saw several of the cannibals flinch from the fire, smoke and noise.

The chieftain also flinched from the bullet that struck him in the back, just above his right shoulder blade. He turned and looked at me in astonishment, his brow furrowing. I guessed this was his very first experience with the wonder of firearms.

Apparently, deciding I was too far for retaliation, or figuring I was no longer an immediate threat, he returned his attention to the adversary in front of him, who happened to be Phi. He swung a vicious forehand with his scimitar, following it up with an equally vicious backhand. Both cuts opened huge gashes in the large animal’s wooden hide. Phi quickly retreated from the onslaught. The red-haired barbarian followed.

A sound to my right brought my attention back to my own safety. A ragged fighter ran toward me swinging a rusted and broken scimitar. I ducked it easily and moved away. Seeing that Phi was in a bad way, I edged toward the large reptilian form, pulling a small healing potion from an interior pocket as I did so. She took it awkwardly in her relatively tiny claw. Making no move to drink it, she moved back into the fight, where her smaller companion was ripping and tearing at the large, muscular chieftain and his followers.

My cannibal friend tried again with his scimitar, missing so badly that the rusted blade stuck fast in the gooey sludge of the trash mound. He pulled mightily for several seconds before releasing the hilt and reaching for one of his javelins instead. While he was thus distracted I attempted the daze spell once more. A bright flash exploded inches from his face, and he staggered back, rubbing his eyes.

Taking advantage of his disorientation and backing away further, I began talking rhythmically to the several angry men in front of me, as I had seen a hypnotist in Rahadoum speak to the street crowds. Before I could finish however, the dazed fighter recovered his composure and loosed a javelin in my direction. Caught up in the rhythm of my words, I was unable to move quickly enough and pain shot through my body as the small spear lodged in the meaty part of my thigh. My words faltered and the barbarians continued toward me, unaffected.

From the building’s interior, I could hear the sounds of a pitched battle: bestial growls from Toshe, cries of fear and encouragement from the human warriors, screams of pain from both sides…

Turning my attention back to my immediate surroundings, I decided there was no time to reload my pistol, so I holstered it and limped forward, gritting my teeth against the pain in my leg. As I went, I uncoiled my whip. Before I was within reach of the cannibal, I snapped the end of the heavy leather whip toward him. The tip flicked across his cheek, drawing blood.

He recoiled, and threw another small javelin at me, missing high. Before I could strike a second time, the small feathered reptile flashed like lightning across the empty space between us and struck the barbarian down with its slashing claws.

Looking around, I saw that all of the enemy fighters on our side of the compound were dead. Sounds of battle were still audible from the other side of the building, however, so Phi and I moved as quickly as we were able around the corner of the prison building. I emerged into a small alleyway in time to see Phi crush a skeleton to powder in her massive jaws. The fight was over.


The following was related to me by Mwembe, concerning her part in the battle of the lighthouse:

Following her reconnaissance, Mwembe left the compound to return to the clearing in which she had left us. Surprised at meeting us on the forest path, she halted and relayed what she had learned. Then she proposed the plan noted previously. While the rest of us crept around the southern edge of the enclosure, Mwembe and Rarsk positioned themselves in the treetops above the skeleton pen. While they waited, Mwembe transformed the leopard; his claws grew longer and sharper, he grew large, curving horns from either side of his head and his body crackled with blue lightning.

When she was sure she had given us adequate time to reach the building in which our friends were being held, she dropped down from the trees and, quickly pulling the latch, threw open the large wooden gate, releasing the skeletons. Simultaneously, she ordered Rarsk to eliminate the large lizard guarding the road. He leaped from a large branch to the ground below and streaked across the edge of the clearing toward the roadway. Cries of “Monser!” followed his progress. In moments, he reached the monster lizard and easily dispatched it.

Before Mwembe could react to the released skeletons, an old hag – some sort of witch doctor – appeared and seemed to be controlling the undead things. At the sight of the hag, Mwembe lost all reason and, ignoring the shuffling skeletons, raced directly at the old woman. As she went, she called Rarsk to the attack.

The leopard turned from his kill, darting past a knot of pursuing cannibal warriors. He went by so quickly and looked so fierce and otherworldly, that one of the barbarians swung so wildly that he tangled himself in his accoutrements, while another hesitated, looking visibly ill. A third swung viciously with his scimitar, badly missing the streaking cat. Meanwhile, another trio of warriors closed in on Mwembe, dealing several vicious cuts along her rib cage and back.

She adroitly tumbled away from the three like an acrobat and continued in the direction of the hag. Rarsk easily dispatched another cannibal and a skeleton who tried to intercept his headlong rush. The big cat finally reached the witch – evading several more cannibals and a pair of skeletons on the way – just as she finished a rasping chant; as the words faded away, Mwembe’s mind filled with terrifying visions – she would not speak of them – and she turned and ran back toward the jungle bordering the compound.

The witch turned to face the leopard as his claws tore through her ragged wrap, leaving long red gashes on the exposed skin. Unconcerned, the hag raised one hand in a gesture similar to that of the Varisians’ Evil Eye, but Mwembe saw no visible effect on the feline.

As she reached the treeline, Mwembe’s fear suddenly left her and she wheeled around, running back to the aid of her friend. As she closed the distance she saw the witch gesture with one gnarled hand, while the other brushed the large cat’s head. A grey fog seemed to flow from the leopard’s mouth to the hag’s extended hand and some of the vitality seemed to leave Rarsk; the brightness of his coat dimmed noticeably. Simultaneously, the witch’s wounds began to heal. At the same time, several cannibals attacked the leopard from the sides and rear, inflicting grievous wounds with their rusty, notched scimitars. Rarsk screamed defiantly, blood pouring from several gaping wounds. In a rage, blue lightning flashing, he lashed out and a skeleton exploded into shards of bone; then a cannibal went down beneath his claws. Finally, he drove his horns into the midsection of the old hag and she crumpled to the ground, dead.

Outnumbered and bleeding from many wounds, Rarsk turned to face his remaining foes. Three rusted blades fell and the cat staggered back and stumbled toward his mistress. Mwembe rushed forward, quickly laying her hands on his head and chanting a healing spell. Several of the worst gashes closed and the bleeding of several more slowed. As Mwembe rose and Rarsk turned back to the fight, two feathered lizards, the larger appearing to have been carved from wood – Phi and Fi – burst around the corner of the largest building, into the midst of the remaining cannibals and skeletons. In moments, the fight was over.


With bits of the shattered skeleton still dropping to the ground, Toshe and Phi headed off to find any remaining enemy fighters, while Mwembe returned to free the prisoners. I decided to search the bodies, finding nothing of interest on them, other than a small, steel key on the body of the red-haired chieftain. As I was finishing up, Mwembe came walking toward me. She had no way of freeing our friends from their shackles and, remembering that I had once picked the lock on Jask’s handcuffs, asked if I could do so again. Quickly agreeing, I followed her into the foul-smelling structure. As I looked over the padlock on Jask’s chains, I remembered the small key I had found on the chieftain. Taking it out, I placed it in the keyhole of the lock and turned it. The lock sprung open. I quickly moved on to the others.

Jask and Ishirou were out cold, with large lumps forming on the backs of their skulls. Apparently, they’d been hit over the head during the melee. Poor Gelik was bound around the waist and ankles, his arms ending in recently healed stumps, loosely wrapped in dirty rags. He stared blankly at the dirt floor and did not react in the slightest as I removed his shackles. He stood stiffly and, almost like a zombie, walked slowly out into the sunlight. Upon being released herself, Aerys ran quickly to check on her companions, especially the mutilated gnome. Not long after, Toshe and Phi returned from their reconnoiter and the half-elf handed Jask a flask containing a healing potion. He downed the red liquid in a single gulp. Apparently, Toshe and Phi had found several of the small flasks in one of the compound’s many buildings. They distributed two to each of the party.

Leaving them to care for the prisoners, Mwembe and I set out on our own investigation of the lighthouse compound. Most of the structures were little more than wooden huts, and most were empty of any interesting or useful items, so we turned our attention to the lighthouse itself.

The first floor contained a bedroom just off the entryway. The room was sparse, furnished with just a wooden bed frame and straw mattress, a chair and a table. Alarmingly, however, there were several crates with “Jenivere” stenciled in large letters on their lids. I’m not sure exactly what this means, but it could mean that the Captain and Ieana have been here with the cannibals; whether as prisoners or friends, I cannot say. On one side of the room, a wooden trapdoor was set in the floor. We decided to leave it for tomorrow.

A narrow, winding stair led to the second floor, which also contained a bedroom. This one was lavishly furnished in comparison to the one below. A large bed dominated the center of the room and a large, wooden footlocker sat at the end of the bed. The locker was open, apparently already ransacked by Toshe and Phi, filled only with rotted canvas sacks. The upper stories contained only a small door leading to a balcony and the trap door to the light at the top of the tower. This light is broken, though Toshe believes it can be repaired with no more than a few days’ labor.

We’ve decided to spend the night in the relative safety of the lighthouse and I am eagerly anticipating my first night in a real bed in at least 35 nights.

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Andy's Journal Day 33
Capture!

This morning, I was startled awake by the scream of a large cat. As I stumbled to my feet, I realized it was Rarsk. Gradually, the reason for his warning became apparent. Something was coming down the trail. In the darkness to the north I heard labored breathing and something large pushing through the brush. I reached for my pistol as a bloody, beaten woman stumbled into the firelight. The yellow light reflected from long, flame-red tresses. It was Sasha and she was in bad shape. The shafts of several javelins protruded from her body and in her arms she carried two small flying lizards. One of them appeared to be injured.

Mwembe and Toshe rushed forward to help the wounded woman as she collapsed to the ground, still cradling the winged reptiles. Toshe examined her closely, eventually pronouncing, “She’s alive.” Mwembe began chanting and her hands glowed as she gently held Sasha’s head. Color began to flow back into the red-haired woman’s cheeks and some of her wounds began to close, the flow of blood slowing noticeably.

Without waiting for questions, Sasha began speaking, her words coming between ragged gasps.

“Camp…attacked. Heard sounds of battle…tried to help. Too many. At least…a dozen…cannibals. I saved the…babies.” She held out the winged lizards. Phi rushed forward and took them gently in her arms.

“But why come to us? I thought you did not like us?” interjected Mwembe.

“I like you…better than cannibals. And…I am fond of…Gelik. I…have been visiting…your camp when you are away. I try to…protect them in your absence. The cannibals do not…kill right away. If you are to save your companions…you must go quickly!”

Without warning, Mwembe began twittering like a small bird. She listened intently while the surrounding jungle erupted with bird calls. She turned to us and shook her head. “Of the local birds, none have seen our friends.”

Sasha spoke up again. “The cannibals camp at the lighthouse. It is likely they have taken them there. Go!”

Quickly finishing up our morning preparations and gathering up our gear, we started down the trail to the south. Realizing we were heading into hostile territory, we went cautiously, scanning the edges of the path for the spike-and-net traps we know all too well. Sure enough, we came across two of the evil things. Thankfully, I was able to disarm them with little trouble, carefully cutting the trip lines and letting the nets fly harmlessly into the treetops, while the others stood well clear.

Frustratingly however, the day began to wane before we came in sight of the lighthouse, so we prepared to camp for the night, knowing we would be of no use to our friends if we were to attempt a rescue exhausted as we were. Tomorrow we should sight the lighthouse, occupied by who knows how many cannibal warriors. I fear we have a bitter fight ahead of us.

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