I began the day by speaking with Gelik again; I found that he is in fact a member of the famous Pathfinder Society, though his position within the group seems to have fallen recently. He wouldn’t elaborate as to why, but he did mention that he was headed to the Sargava coast to search for a ship by the name of the Night Voice, which disappeared on Smugglers’ Shiv some time back and that he believed that by discovering the ship’s final resting place he would raise his standing with his peers.
While I was busy talking with the gnome, Mwembe apparently called on the local bird population once more and was informed that there are a number of humans in the immediate vicinity and that they “wander about, making camp near the water and the big, unnatural mountain”, which can only be the immense red peak we glimpsed on one of our first forays to the interior of the island. She mentioned that they also told of a “tall, stone tree with fire on top” and (irrelevantly) that it was “good to perch on because the fire did not burn the tree”. We could only conclude that they meant some sort of lighthouse. But the truth of the matter, as well as who or what built it – if it is indeed a lighthouse – will have to wait for another day.
Due to Phi having had some bad luck conjuring goodberries the previous night, it was necessary for us to spend some time foraging in the morning. So, after relaying the birds’ message, Mwembe took Rarsk and went into the jungle. After what I judged to be about an hour, she returned with three large rabbits, which I assisted her in skinning and roasting. Despite the restorative powers of Phi’s berries, it was heavenly to eat something more…natural to start the day.
After breakfast, we decided to head south, following the trail running by our new camp and exploring the jungle on either side. Late in the afternoon, after several hours of zig-zagging back and forth across the trail, I began to feel flushed and faint. Eventually, I stumbled and told the others I could not continue. I felt I could not take another step, but must sit and rest or collapse. It was Phi who came to my rescue; she stepped up to me without a word, holding out a hand, a single goodberry nestled in her palm. I took it gratefully and immediately felt energy flow into me, and my dizziness faded. I was able to continue on, but not indefinitely. A short while later, I again felt dizzy and weak; my skin felt clammy and I was terribly thirsty. Again, Phi handed me a berry, which enabled me to make it back to camp without incident.
Unfortunately, we found nothing of note on our journey other than a large snake den. Assuming the only snakes on this accursed island were most likely highly poisonous, I kept a prudent distance. But the others – more reckless than I – investigated the hole more closely and informed me that the snakes appeared to be either absent or sleeping. Or possibly they were lethargic after having recently fed.
The rest of the evening passed quietly and I took up my watch with Ishirou. We chatted a bit, but for the most part we just sat in silence. This turned out to be a lucky thing, as I began to hear strange sounds from the darkness of the jungle. Sounds like something, or rather several somethings, moving quietly through the thick undergrowth. I peered into the dim light outside the range of our fire and saw shadowy, humanoid shapes moving toward us. I sprang up, whistling loudly through my teeth as I did so. Apparently not loudly enough as only Phi and Fi awoke.
Preferring to use a weapon more effective than a bladed whip, and having foolishly forgotten to load my pistol, I stepped back several paces toward the opening of the shelter. As I moved, I took a lead ball from my shot pouch, muttering the incantation for a spell to replenish any ammunition I might use, then lightly touched the pouch. I looked up just in time to see a savage-looking warrior leaping over our campfire; he landed on the balls of his feet directly in front of me.
At the same time, from the corner of my eye, I saw one of his compatriots swing a decrepit scimitar in a wicked arc across the chest of Ishirou; the scruffy Tian grunted in pain. Suddenly, something flew by my ear and a moment later, there was a flash of flame on the far side of the camp fire; it must have come from Toshe. Flames licked the backs of three savages, leaving their bare skin smoking faintly in the firelight.
With the warrior in front of me pulling back his arm for a blow I can only believe was intended to relieve me of my head, my options were few. Stay where I was and attempt to load my pistol before the blow fell, for which the odds of success were not good; use my unloaded pistol as a club with the odds once again not in my favor or…run. I chose the third, and in my opinion most sensible, action. I turned and ran. My adversary was quicker than I gave him credit for, however, and I felt a sharp pain across my shoulder blades. Luckily, my padded coat blunted much of the attack.
Through my pain, I saw Toshe throw another bomb, and there was a flash behind me; almost simultaneously, I heard the roar of the big cat followed immediately by a scream of pain, I assume from one of the savages. Turning back to face the fight, I thought I heard the twang of a bowstring. As I frantically poured powder and shot down the barrel of my flintlock, I saw Phi drive a long spear into the chest of one of the fighters, while her reptilian companion struck down another. Neither moved again.
Peering around the camp, I saw only one remaining attacker, dueling fiercely with Ishirou. Suddenly, Toshe sprang forward, dagger in hand, but the enemy fighter evaded her easily. He was not so lucky with Mwembe, however, as a crossbow bolt took him in the shoulder; the leopard leaped at him from behind. Unfortunately, all of this activity took away any hope of a clear shot, so I moved into a somewhat better position to one side. I fired, but missed badly in the darkness and confusion. Finally, however, the savage’s valiant stand was over, as he was overwhelmed and Phi drove her spear through his midsection, ending the brief but fierce battle.
After collecting our wits, Jask emerged from the shelter and lifted his arms to the sky in supplication. There was dazzling blue flash and the pain in my shoulders was gone. Despite my misgivings about religion, I have to admit having a priest nearby during battle gives one a certain feeling of reassurance.
Feeling better, we began a search of the bodies, hoping to find some clue as to the reason for their attack. The four men were identically armed, each with an old, broken scimitar, three small javelins and a light, apparently homemade, wooden shield. Nothing remarkable there. Each warrior did wear a small amulet made from a red pearl. I wonder if that is at all significant The bodies were a different story, however. Each man was deeply tanned, with a pentagram tattooed on the right shoulder. All any of us know concerning pentagrams is that they are frequently used by witches in casting their spells and hexes. That connection is somewhat alarming. Much more alarming were their teeth, which had been filed to sharp points, almost fangs. I’d heard of this practice; these men were cannibals!
The discussion then turned to how to dispose of the bodies. Obviously, we couldn’t leave them rotting in our camp – or worse, attracting scavengers. None of us wished to waste the time and energy necessary to bury them. That left only one logical solution. Toshe was the first to suggest it. “We must burn the bodies.”
“Yes. We should take them to the rope trap you told us of and burn them there.” added Jask. After some discussion, we all agreed.
Before sunrise, a thick column of black smoke was rising from the jungle to the south.