After divesting Laerlith of equipment and wealth, the rune heroes consider how best to capture rather than kill her. They settle on dragging her along with ropes. Before this impractical idea can be put to the test, shadow falls over the temple as a huge dark shape approaches. On the surface above the kraken cruise two hulls at impossible speed, one identical to the Lanun ship, the second even larger. The Aifon spirit-guide has retreated some distance to the south, but is still barely visible and gesturing frantically.
The Overlord priestess wakes to the sight of a silver rapier driving through her chest. Laerlith’s expression will forever be etched into Leelo’s memory. The rune-cursed dart away just ahead of the great kraken and Lanun ships, leaving behind a macabre tangle of tentacles and human limbs floating in the bloody murk.
For the next eight or ten hours the aifon-forms speed through the darkened waters in pursuit of a fleeting shadow. Time loses all meaning as the heroes are driven to the limits of their endurance, having gone without food or rest for nearly a full day. First one then a second coral reef pass by as the sea floor again rises up toward the surface. The exhausted swimmers struggle through the surf onto a sandy beach strewn with black volcanic rocks. The first rays of dawn illuminate coconut trees and grassy bluffs above the beach.
The five aifons change back to human form and struggle up the beach on shaky legs. The shadowy, almost invisible form of the spirit-guide is waiting. She smiles and bows to each rune-hero in turn. Her bearing is lightened by the lifting of a great burden borne in silence for thousands of years. One by one the aifon torcs fall away to dust. Alone among the rune-heroes Leelo is allowed to keep her torc, in appreciation for bearing the burden of the green pearl for almost two long years. The spirit-guide slowly fades from the world, a beautific expression upon her face.
Krag calls out in a feeble voice and points. A lone figure looks down from the bluff, then disappears. The drenched heroes run south along the beach. Around a small headland is the north side of a cove perhaps half a mile across. The cove is littered with the wreckage of broken ships large and small. Beyond the mouth of the cove a beach stretches five miles southeast where it ends n a headland of tall black cliffs.
All along the coast are the remains of derelict hulls driven onto the rocks. The wrecks are in various states, some semi-intact, others reduced to driftwood on the beaches. Most are Lanun, but many others are varied in origin. How many more failed even to make it past the offshore reefs? This desolate coast is a graveyard for lost ships.
A dozen raised bamboo huts are visible a short way up the bluffs at the west side of the cove where a stream flows down to the ocean. Several are dilapidated, others well-maintained. The fleeing figure first glimpsed by Krag is visible running down the beach well ahead. A rag-tag group of six more men approach from the huts armed with various weapons. The rune heroes meet them halfway.
Clearly these are shipwrecked sailors. They wear a collection of weapons and clothing looted from other ships or crudely fashioned from local materials. Finch helps the rune-heroes reach a quick accomodation with the lost sailors: each side has everything to gain by combining resources. The half-elf warlock’s native charisma and growing knowledge of sailing and the jargon of sailors helps ease tensions. See the appendix ‘Seven shipwrecked sailors’ below
That night over a dinner of land-crab and coconuts, apparently the main staples here, the rune-heroes learn more about each sailor and the island. The ‘Island of Lost Souls’ is perhaps 15-17 miles north to south and ten miles east to west, though no proper survey has been made. The sailors guess they are a few hundred miles east of the great southern continent and an unknown distance south of the Calabim empire and southernmost Lanun isles.
The silent jungles are devoid of animal life beyond a species of large land-crab, rats, poisonous snakes, bats and a few species of cliff-dwelling sea-birds that have survived the rat and snake infestation. The north end of the island is a narrow stretch of bare highland bluffs dominated by huge megalithic statues arranged along the northwest cliffs by some long-gone civilization. The southern half is dominated by a single mountain covered in dense jungle. On a clear day the fog-shrouded slopes can be seen from the bluffs north and south of the cove.
There is evidence in the cove of past occupancy by dozens of shipwrecked sailors at various times across the years. The current occupants report that twelve of their number left camp and headed around the north headland three weeks ago. This group planned to explore the west coast in search of intact ships or other castaways. They have not been heard from since. The leader of the sailors, a middle-aged sea-captain named Dorn, recently scouted the northern bluffs in search of their fate, but as no one else except Pavel would accompany him, that’s as far as he dared go. Slave-taking south and east of the Calabim mainland is common and no one wants to be ‘rescued’ by slavers.
The sailors fear and avoid the deep jungle, which quickly grows into a dense mass of hardwood trees, bamboo and vines 100-200 yards inland. Some of the pirates who have been here longest, notably Grimshaw, believe savages live inland, for they have seen their fires and lamps. Never has anyone seen these people clearly in the jungles, nor upon the coastal bluffs, cliffs or beaches. The locals, whoever they are, keep to the dense jungle dominating most of the island.
Leelo and Finch press Grimshaw for more details later that night. The pirate breaks down under the pressure, and Leelo’s cantrip of mental influence, and admits to having been a sailor on a ship hired by a party of explorers. He accompanied them inland 18 months ago where they were ambushed by something that Grimshaw never saw clearly. Several fell into a pit that opened in one of the stone ruins dotting the inland jungles. Grimshaw abandoned them in terror. As far as he knows, none survived. Grimshaw now avoids the jungle at all costs. The others overhear and approach, worried about the mental state of their only skilled carpenter. Finch comforts the sobbing pirate and the pair give up their inquiry.
The headland five miles down the beach is avoided by the marooned sailors. Dorn is happy to explain why. A reasonably-intact schooner is stranded in a lagoon below the headland, but is inaccessible by reason of sharks and the sailor’s fear of a ‘witch-woman’ who lives along the nearby cliffs. The witch is described by the sailors as an ugly old crone, obviously an evil witch according to Grimshaw and Urth. When the sailors first approached the lagoon months ago, the withered old crone appeared from a hidden cave in the cliffs and struck lightning into the sky from her fingers. In a cackling voice the witch demanded the sailors perform a service, but the men were already running back up the beach and heard nothing more except disparaging laughter. None have dared return since.
At dawn the rune heroes head southeast to explore the ‘Witches Cove’. As soon as they are out of sight behind the bluffs, Mesmer uses magic to identify the nature of the breastplate, bracers and diadem taken from Laerlith. All are certainly magical, exhibiting both enchantment and abjuration magic. But the rune-heroes are wary of strange Overlord magic.
Finch however can’t resist the lure of magical artifacts, despite prior horrible experiences, and puts on the bracers. They are light and incredibly strong and protect as well as a buckler in defense. So far so good!
Next the warlock tries on the breastplate of greenish/blue metal carved with scenes of giant tentacled beings consuming mortals, rending ships apart and destroying coastal villages. The salt water seems to have tarnished it not at all. The armor weighs perhaps half the steel equivalent yet seems much, much stronger than steel. Upon fastening the two halves across back and chest, the armor magically welds into one piece…and will not come off. Now Finch is stuck wearing possibly-cursed armor that he’s unfamiliar with, preventing casting of any spells. Not so good!
Casting caution to the winds, Finch lowers the diadem around his neck. This is a blue-green sunburst diadem with a glassy black eye in the center, hanging on a heavy golden chain. The diadem immediately fastens onto the breastplate with a claw-like grip and cannot be removed. The glass bauble transforms into an inky black eye like that of a squid or octopus. The eye rolls up to stare back at Finch. Krag, Mavriy, Leelo and Mesmer notice that wherever Finch looks, so does the horrible black eye. Finch receives the knowledge that this eye can cast curses up to ten paces upon whoever is deemed unworthy in the eyes of its wearer. Better!
Finch attempts communication with the diadem-entity using his awakened mind. The half-elf’s eyes roll back into his head to be replaced by glistening orbs of oily black, mirroring the eye in the diadem. He collapses onto the sand, unconscious or dead, no one is sure.
The rune heroes discuss the unfortunate fate of their none-too-cautious companion. How to get his gear without exposing themselves to some unspeakable doom? Mavriy notices dead-Finch’s three new eyes are tracking whoever happens to be speaking. Ugh! Krag prepares to read the old Luchuirp scroll found earlier in the year. The spells on the scroll are beyond Krag’s knowledge, so removal of the cursed diadem is a risky bet.
Meanwhile, Finch’s astral body has been drawn across gulfs of space and time into a watery realm of horror with neither up nor down, left nor right, here nor there. Foul gelatinous beings course through the non-space, indeed through his very substance. The half-elf attempts to walk, then swim, with no success. A number of long rubbery members flail before his vision. The stricken half-elf realizes these are his own extremities.
The angle of his vision is odd. It appears his head is now mounted upon the end of a long flexible stalk or tentacle. He cranes his ‘neck’ around and sees himself: a monstrous being that will forever haunt his nightmares. Finch’s burbling screams are heard everywhere and nowhere at once.
Somewhere within the watery void is a warm glow, a fleck of purity lost in the miasma of cosmic filth. Finch-form struggles toward this uncertain salvation. A terrible presence rises to block his way: Hastur, Lord of Nightmares. The faceless King in Yellow.
Back on the windy beach, Krag curses as he botches the unfamiliar words of the Luchuirp holy spell. The Angel of Earth seems unwilling to bestow her magic to Krag without a challenge. By a miracle of luck the half-orc priest corrects himself, barely managing to direct the veering divine magic successfully.
The diadem slides to the sand, the gelid eye again nothing more than a glass bauble. Leelo quickly scoops the diadem into her lead-lined matchbox (previously used to store the green pearl). Finch-monster’s black eyes roll out of sight and Finch-half-elf’s eyes roll back into view, wide and staring. The warlock convulses and spews forth a stinking black mess resembling jellyfish tartar. Krag fastidiously rolls him over with a boot so he doesn’t asphyxiate.
After five minutes or so Finch is able to stand shakily, effectively poisoned and weak, but still as sane as he ever was. As with the episode in Galveholm Finch preserves his sanity, if we can call it that, by stuffing the detailed memories into a deep, dark place. All he can remember of the experience is the horrible power that rose to block his desperate effort to reach a glowing place of safety, before being snatched back into the mortal world.
Unfazed by this interlude, the party continues down to the end of the white coral sand beach. Cliffs rise up to the headland, blocking the way south. A 90-foot schooner of two masts is beached upon a small coral atoll in the center of a wide lagoon. Other than missing rigging, sails and topside damage, the ship’s hull appears intact. Between 80 and 120 yards of water separate the atoll from the lagoon shore. Scores of dark shapes cruise swiftly below the surface of the clear blue lagoon: savage reef-sharks 6-10 feet in length. This would be a long and dangerous swim, even for Leelo in aifon-form. The exit to the sea is 30 yards wide and perhaps 15 feet deep, more than enough to tow the schooner out if it weren’t for physics. And the sharks.
After investigating the lagoon, the party walks up the cliffs to the top of the headland. To the east and stretching southwards are sheer cliffs almost 100’ high with only rocks and crashing surf below. The ‘witch-woman’ doesn’t make an appearance. Maybe it’s her lunch hour? Mesmer summons his familiar, a snow owl that is a bit out of place, and conducts an aerial inspection of the cliffs southeast of the lagoon. Mesmer owl-eyes quickly spots a crevice and ledge 20 feet from the base of the cliff, invisible from both the beach and clifftop, upon which stands a little old lady of fascinating ugliness, dressed in what appear to be rags washed up from shipwrecks. The old lady’s vision is apparently still keen, as she cranes her neck to follow the owl’s flight. Two other narrow openings in the cliff are also obvious only from the air: these open onto the sands at the base of the cliff below and to either side of the higher opening.
The adventurers return to the beach and approach the cliff where the ledge should be. The ‘witch-woman’ steps forth to look down upon her visitors. She is indeed terribly unsightly, with a huge mottled nose reaching out nearly to the end of her long pointed chin, eyes like glassy pits, and a mass of matted black hair trailing almost to the stone where she stands. With a cackling laugh, often to be repeated during the exchange that follows, the ancient crone claims to know the hour of the rune-heroes coming, “We’ve been waiting, what took you so long! There’s scarce few heroes on this dank blot of jungle and sand, like those fools you wasted the night with.” The witch-woman seems to enjoy referring to herself in the ‘royal we’.
After a few minutes of banter, the crone gets down to business: “We need heroes to fetch the Crown of Danalin from ruins on the island…and no we don’t know where it is, only that it’s somewhere on the island! We will grant those of you who survive your ‘hearts desire’ if you return with the Crown. Now, you first! What is your ‘hearts desire’, my dearie?” One by one the heroes bicker and waffle about their heart’s desires. Mavriy initially wants a ‘gnome servant’, perhaps to find out how much the crone truly knows about the rune-heroes. Indeed she replies with “but didn’t you already have one of those? Did you lose it?” Leelo talks Mavriy into wishing for the sharks in the lagoon to go away.
The witch seems to find this exchange immensely entertaining. She cackles and babbles to herself all the while, cooing with joy or screeching with derision as she hears each ‘hearts desire’. After everyone has stated their far-fetched wishes, the witch grows impatient and bids the rune-heroes begone. “Find the Crown and bring it to us. On our word as a nameless old lady you found in a cave, you’ll each get your ‘hearts desire’. Cawww-Ackack-Heeeeheeehaaw! Oh, and don’t follow the lights…”
Five somewhat-mystified explorers trudge back up the beach to another dinner of steamed land-crab and coconuts. With only rats, snakes and bamboo-shoots to enliven the menu, this island is far from gastronomic paradise. The sailors look on with envy to see someone actually enjoy what they’ve been forced to eat for months on end.
Seven shipwrecked sailors (left to right)
Grimshaw, a hard-bitten Lanun pirate adrift on a raft of planks for 10 days after his ship struck one of the reefs. He’s survived on the island for two years with five different groups and is an expert at living off the islands limited resources (along with Dorn). Grimshaw was a carpenter aboard his previous ship. He’s armed with a handaxe and possesses a store of carpentry tools looted from other wrecks.
Ralmevik, an outlaw pirate raiding the northern Elohim coasts, originally hailing from Illia. A lost eye is replaced with one of yellowed glass that always looks in the wrong direction, making conversation with Ralmevik somewhat unsettling. His longship became lost while fleeing an Elohim frigate over the open sea. They were carried south for weeks by the north current until a storm swept the doomed ship southwest. Most of the crew had succumbed to thirst and hunger by that point. Ralmevik does not go into details about how he survived. He’s been on the island nearly as long as Grimshaw (over one season). Ralmevik is obviously a skilled and intelligent rogue. He tries to curry favor with the rune-heroes and constantly questions them about their deeds and origins. The new arrivals are happy to oblige and regale the seven amazed sailors with tales of their exploits.
Jank, half-orc Acolyte of Bhall, is depressed and sullen. The other pirates are surprised to hear him speak to Krag. Apparently these are the most words he’s spoken in months. Jank arrived at the island by way of a Grigorian merchant galleon on which he served as healer. The galleon was blown far south by a storm while trying to reach Amuria with a cargo of Grigorian wheat. Jank wields a Harpoon and cudgel.
Pavel, an experienced Lanun freebooter and sometimes-pirate whose ship was lost in a storm recently (only three weeks past). Pavel is taciturn, but opens up with stories and humorous anecdotes when the rune-heroes show themselves competent. Pavel and Dorn are the only survivors from their ship. Pavel is armed with a glaive and a dagger.
Dorn, the nominal leader and eldest of the castaways. He was 1st officer on the Wyvern, a 40’ single-masted schooner, formerly engaged in river-pirating and slaving along the mainland coast of the Lavrentine Gulf. After Dorn killed the captain in a duel and took command, they switched to the lucrative pearling trade south of Innsmouth. Dorn and Pavel’s ship was driven south by a storm last month after venturing too far south in search of new pearl beds. Dorn knows the basics of navigation and has salvaged a working sextant from one of the shipwrecks. He estimates their latitude to be approximately 900 miles south of Innsmouth, but lacks reliable charts. Dorn is clearly a competent fighter, armed with the best weapons: cutlass, small-sword, dagger and short bow.
Ramas, the youngest of the seven, acts the part of a pirate without much conviction. He is stuck with the most distasteful tasks such as carrying offal from the camp, and catching rats. Ramas is quiet, thoughtful, and avoids speaking of himself.
Urth, a middle-aged indentured galley crewman of the Calabim who happened to be gathering coconuts on the bluffs when the rune-heroes crawled from the surf with nary a ship or raft to carry them. Urth’s Calabim galley Black Hand capsized in a gale last winter and the wrecked hull was carried to the island along with Urth. The former galley-oarsman is superstitious, uneducated, crude, and bitter over his lost years. He is pessimistic by nature and lives in fear of his former vampire masters. At first Urth is suspicious and accuses the party of being witches or sea-demons. His wild words might carry weight with certain of the sailors, but for the influence of Dorn and his level-headed 1st mate. The pirate is terrified of Finch’s greenish breastplate inscribed with sea-monsters and avoids the cursed half-elf. Urth is armed with a cudgel and brace of throwing knives.