Arcanearth

Session 24: Don't Follow the Lights

AE-session24-dontfollowthelights_20181007.jpgDay 3

On their 3rd day after arriving at ‘The Island of Lost Souls’, the rune-heroes conduct a reconnaissance first south and then north of the sailor’s camp. Atop the headland south of ‘Witches Cove’ the bluffs peter out after a few miles. Jungle grows right to the edge of 100-foot cliffs. Nothing further can be see as the coast bends west and south out of sight. The party turns back toward the north end of the island.

North of the sailor’s camp is a treeless highland covered in rocky turf. Using a salvaged spyglass repaired by Mesmer, grass-covered tumbles of stone are spotted in the center of the open heath. Ruins! The remains of a wall, elevated roadway or aqueduct pass through the ruin toward the jungle a mile farther south. The northern bluffs end in cliffs rising up to 120 feet above the sea. Only a few scattered pieces of wreckage litter the north shore. The great eastern current and prevailing winds of winter seem to drive ships against the eastern shore of the island.

Great megalithic titans are arranged in ranks upon the bluffs above the north cliffs. Each statue projects up to twenty feet from the rocky sod. They appear to depict highly stylized gods, monsters and heroes. The oldest of these mighty sculptures are positioned closer to the sea, the more recent farther back and higher up the bluffs. Pieces of the oldest statues are visible lying in the rocky surf where the cliffs surrendered to ages of crashing surf. This part of the coast is notably uncomfortable. Chilly spray from the crashing waves is driven far across the barren highland.

Just then Leelo spots a line of flickering lights moving through the ruins a mile south of the cliffs. After a while the lights disappear into a ruined pyramid of tumbled stones covered in grassy earth. Could these be the lights warned of by the sailors and old crone?

The explorers decide to leave the mystery of the lights and nearby ruins for the future. Instead they embark upon a counterclockwise circumnavigation of the island shoreline. By end of day the five wet and cold adventurers reach a sheltered stream-bed along the western cliffs. Water rushes from the jungle and through the narrow bluffs before plunging down the 100-foot cliffs in a sparkling waterfall. The northeast winds drive a plume of mist far out to sea where rays of the westering sun create a vast double-rainbow. Mesmer and Leelo find evidence that others have camped here over the years, as recently as 3-4 weeks ago. The missing sailors? There is no evidence of wrecked ships here, though dry driftwood from past decades of broken ships allows for a cheerful fire.

Day 4

The morning is spent in a cautious sortie along the narrow stream and into the jungle. Ruins are soon spotted a mile in. Between the vine-draped stone columns, blocks and cracked steps run the tumbled remains of another elevated structure. Closer inspection reveals this to be the remains of a small aqueduct. The remains ends south of the river and extend farther to the southeast. A row of flickering lanterns appear among distant ruins between dark towers of vegetation. The rune-heroes watch, but heed the witch-woman’s advice and don’t follow. The lights slowly recede into the depths of the jungle ruins.

By evening the adventurers reach the southwest shore of the small island. The going is slow as thick jungle grows right to the edge of the cliffs. Care must be taken not to step out into space where the ground drops away to rocky surf far below. Numerous streams emerge from the jungle to fall down the cliffs in long plumes of mist. The great jungle mountain dominating the southern half of the island is sometimes visible from the top of a tree or clearing: high ridges and deep fog-shrouded valleys are covered in a dense carpet of trees, bamboo and undergrowth. The upper reaches of the mountain hide behind steep slopes and swirling clouds.

Days 5-6

Two days of crawling and climbing through bamboo jungle along the south side of the island brings the rune-heroes back to a stretch of bluffs along the southeast shore. Krag is afflicted with a strange disease that causes his eyes to swell and itch. Eventually they would completely close up and who knows what else, but for the curative potion given to Leelo by her brother Keelo when they parted ways east of Galveholm many moons past. After this, Krag and Mavriy use their magic to purify all food gathered by the party. Krag can summon gallons of pure water as well. The only problem is food, which is not plentiful on an island where the largest animal seem to be rats and land-crabs. Even these are in short supply along the sea cliffs at the mountain’s base.

Day 7

Another day brings the explorers back to the headland overlooking Witches Cove. The marooned sailors are surprised to see their return, particularly Urth and Grimshaw. Jank was preparing to consign the rune-heroes’ souls to Bhall. But Dorn and Ralmevik both see something more in their new comrades. Ralmevik is very interested in the details of their four-day journey around the coast, particularly any news of ruins bulging with legendary gold.

Day 8

Flashes of unwelcome memories from the brush with Hastur return to blind Finch’s sight. A few times during the day he is reduced to trembling fits of cold sweat when all he can do is stare fixedly at the rolling gray surf. The warlock elects to stay behind. Strange voices babbling in unknown languages drift from his hootch throughout the day. The sailors carefully avoid Finch’s end of the camp.

Leelo, Krag, Mesmer and Mavriy head north to investigate the stone dolmens and ruins in more detail. Krag and Mesmer examine the monoliths all morning. Krag is able to determine those arranged closer to the sea are only a few centuries older than those higher up the bluffs. The older statues exhibit a clearly different and more sophisticated style. They depict heroes, priests and gods, one of which is certainly Danalin from a time before the loss of his children, the Aifons. Another statue may be Condatis, the long-lost archangel of Danalin. Others might be ancient Aifon heroes or notables. The more recent statues father from the cliffs are in the Zencotan style. These are generally smaller, simpler and appear to depict stylized humans and gods. Unique among the Zencotan-age colossi are a pair of regal humanoids with fanged bat-like visages carved from black basalt. These appear to be non-human nobility, like a king and queen or emperor and empress.

While proceeding south toward the central ruins, a flickering firelight appears through the wind-blown mists. Light from a smokeless fire glows in the depths of a cave at the base of one of the larger stepped pyramids that seem to be a common feature of the ruins. The ziggurat is now little more than a humped outline buried beneath ages of soil and thick turf.

Hanging from the ceiling of the natural cave are scores of somnolent bats: the vampiric creatures mentioned by the sailors? Leelo attempts to sneak through the cave. The narrow cave widens into a small chamber. The source of the firelight is not visible, nor is the smell of smoke or other signs of habitation apparent, but flashes of silver and gold glimmer in the darkness. Leelo nears the far end before the bats awaken. She eludes the swarming creatures by crawling along the uneven floor through a thick layer of slippery guano.

After the bats become quiescent, Krag wards Leelo with a shield of faith. Mesmer makes the elf invisible as well. Leelo again sneaks into the cave, this time with Mesmer, Krag and Mavriy close behind. One by one the swarms of fanged bats are put to sleep with Mesmer and Leelo’s magic. Krag and Mavriy dispatch bats that fall to the floor of the cave. A few remain asleep where they hang from the ceiling. Unfortunately Mavriy is bitten by one of the bats. Dark lesions appear on the bitten leg, but the half-demon’s native constitution wards off whatever horrid disease the bat carried.

In the dank chamber at the end of the cave is a narrow pit before a rough stone altar. The altar and pit look like they were constructed well after the great megalithic structures above. Twelve feet down the pit are rounded river stones and fragments of ancient bone. Among the stones are well-worn coins of green copper and bright gold, and also coins of a strange metal unknown to the rune-heroes. The greenish-silver coins remain untarnished and gleam as bright as the day they were minted. On the face of each coin are the worn reliefs of two profiles resembling the semi-human bat-like royals depicted in a few of the more recent stone megaliths. Inscriptions around the circumference of the coins are worn away from use and time. It seems these coins were in circulation for some time before finding their way into the sacrificial pit. Several hundred coins are looted from the pit by day’s end.

Inexplicably, the rune-heroes choose to spend the night within the cramped cave. In the dark hours of earliest morning, Krag is on guard when a cold white light shines from behind. A pair of lights appear out of thin air to bounce up and down above the sacrificial pit. Krag turns slowly to see two more lights dancing toward him from the entrance tunnel. At this close distance, the spectral outlines of ancient men and women are dimly visible around the bright will-o’-wisps. They wear strange headdress of feathers and beads, cloth kilts, sandals and sometimes capes of animal skins or feathers. Two carry farming tools, another a basket of gourds, the last a spear and war-club. As the lights flutter down upon Krag, the half-orc makes out whispered questioning, begging or commanding in an unknown language, each according to their old station in a life long lost. Krag bellows words of censure against the undead spirits, but none are affected!

Leelo is in deep meditation when the cave is shaken by Krag’s shouting. After one glance, the speedy elf runs fleet-footed from the cave. Mesmer and Mavriy stumble past a few seconds later, dragging their armor and weapons along behind them. Krag feels cold jolts of energy course through his body as he stumbles towards the night sky at the cave’s end. The whispering death-lights harry the war-priest mercilessly, but he manages to reach open air before collapsing into a stupor. The lights recede back into the cave and darkness returns. As the intruders stumble away, warm inviting firelight once again glows from the cave…

The party quickly moves south a mile from the ruins and makes camp behind the cover of fallen aqueduct columns. At dawn the explorers follow the remnants of the aqueduct south into the jungle. The following days are spent mapping out the various ruins, streams and connecting aqueducts.

Days 9-13

AE-session24-isleoflostsoulsExploration_20181007.jpgThe party stops by the sailor’s camp to donate a few dozen vampire-bat corpses. No one will touch them, not even the survival experts Grimshaw and Dorn, until Krag and Mavriy purify the tainted meat. Leelo shows a few of the looted coins to Dorn. Even this level-headed sailor is affected. Ralmevik catches sight of what transpires and through him word gets out. The sailors, some of whom are certainly pirates, become excited by rumors of precious gold. Their ardor is seriously dampened when Leelo gives them the exact location of the will-o’-wisp cave and invites them to go exploring…on their own.

Finch believes he has recovered sufficiently to rejoin the expedition. Horrific visions blot out his vision only 2-3 times per day now! The sailors are visibly relieved to see the cursed warlock depart their camp.

The jungle is eerily silent, with not even birds to enliven the void. Only snakes, rats and the ubiquitous land-crabs roam the tangled trees and vines, bamboo thickets and tumbled ruins. Several times each day and night flickering lamps, torches or campfires appear in the distance. Each time the rune-heroes observe, but avoid following the lights.

By the end of the twelfth day the northern jungle below the mountain is mostly explored. A swamp is discovered at the base of the mountain. Within the watery morass are many twinkling lights of different hues: pale green, pink, ghostly blue. They dance and cavort always just beyond clear sight. The lights seem almost disappointed when the interlopers fail to follow them. At night they come even closer. At these times the spectral outlines of accursed spirits are visible gesturing, imploring, commanding and begging to no avail.

By the thirteenth day it is obvious that a central aqueduct leads directly up the mountain. Little of the impressive structure is still standing, but the remains bear testament to the incredible engineering skill of the Zencotan people (and their teachers?). Occasionally a section of surviving water-bridge spans a gorge or hangs precariously in mid-air from the edge of a cliff.

AE-session24-isleoflostsoulsjungleruins_20181007.jpg

Day 14

After retrieving five days of food from the sailor’s camp, the rune-heroes begin their climb up the steep jungle-shrouded mountain slopes. Near-vertical ridges give way to deep gorges where streams of cold water tumble from ledge to ledge. While not as challenging as the Dragonfangs, the climb is not one for the unskilled. Leelo’s newfound climbing skill makes up for the absence of Xar, her mountain-ranger henchman. On at least one occasion Finch must be saved by magic from a bad fall. Leelo finds it impossible to forage anything edible during the climb. The day ends in a precarious camp upon a narrow ledge with misty jungle far below and fog-shrouded pinnacles high above.

Day 15

Through swirling mists the heroes climb higher and higher. At noon a brief vista appears across the northern island. Even through the spyglass the huge dolmens ranging the north cliffs appear only as tiny specks. Four more hours of arduous climbing brings the explorers to a high valley near the top of the mountain. A dam of colossal stone blocks stretches from one ridge to another. A ruined Aifon structure, possibly a temple, is built into the center of the dam. Subsequent Zencotan additions climbs the sides of the original temple. Bare foundations of long-lost structures, both Zencotan and Aifon in origin, cover the floor of the valley below the dam. Two aqueducts spring from the base of the temple. A colonnaded boulevard passes between the mighty spans, ending in a wide flight of steps leading up to the temple.

AE-session24-Zencotan-small_20181007.jpg

With daylight quickly failing, the adventurers make haste along the wide street between the towering aqueducts. As they walk among the cracked foundations and piles or rubble, the earth suddenly spins and tumbles with a roar of collapsing masonry. Five explorers plunge downward into the depths of a subterranean ruin far below the valley floor.

Relative silence returns, broken only by groans, coughs and shifting rubble. Leelo, Mavriy, Krag, Mesmer and Finch lie upon dusty flagstones surrounded by broken bricks, mud and gravel. As eyes adjust to the absolute darkness, all but Mesmer see a wide chamber or hall with a small domed structure in the center and a blank-faced stone door in the wall at the opposite end. Several waist-high niches are carved into the walls along either side of the chamber. An odd sulfurous smell fills the air, causing eyes to itch and throats to burn…

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