In the days after establishing our humble dwelling in the cave behind the waterfall, what was at first merely disconcerting grew to be truly horrifying.
Recalling events now as I write this, I can only barely place things in the order in which they occurred. I remember Stehlen wanted to explore the western side of the island, the side where the lake had grown in the towering shadow of the volcano, and the fierce crocodile which ambushed us. As an aside, let it be recorded that those of us who grew up in a swamp know better than to pry into a crocodile’s nest without knowing where the mother lies. Sava must have been eager to gather some eggs, and the bite she got for it was well earned.
While the creature dragged and thrashed her about, Stehlen’s quick thinking and fortuitous preparation of spells allowed us to destroy the monster once it was incapacitated. And by “we”, I mean that Stehlen had managed to procure from the Wormwood a dagger mightily enchanted as an effective weapon against beasts. The blade sank so greedily into the scales of the lizard, a veritable explosion of gore was all that might be seen.
The wretched creature apparently had managed to subdue another poor soul some time ago: we found a tome containing powerful spells and several precious gems as well as an enchanted sword and cloak in the nest! Perhaps the last legacy of a survivor of the Black Orchid? Stehlen, naturally, was quite pleased by the discovery, and his powers have profited by it. Indeed, so giddy became he by the addition of new spells to his own grimoire, that a curiously uncharacteristic burst of generosity overcame him as he gladly handed me the cloak whose enchantments seem oriented toward strange protections.
We also discovered, to our horror, while reconnoitering the beach where we had first made landfall that our longboat had vanished! We searched for hours with no sign of what might have taken it but for a mostly buried, evil-looking altar. It was graven with demonic runes, drunk with the blood of many living sacrifices. We had not the knowledge, between us, of what the glyphs might mean only that none of us recognized the markings as any sort of language.
The altar was directly at an odd marking on the map we had found in the cave days earlier, and there are two more of the same mark elsewhere on the island. I suspect the bonfires we glimpsed from a distance were placed at the mark directly east of the altar found on the hematite beach.
The affairs and manners of Wizards do not lend themselves to extroversion.
He obsessed himself in brooding study of the new tome for at least a week, scarce leaving the cave for any reason as he transcribed the formulae and diagrams. The ways of the Art are not unknown to me, and I recognize several of the spells, as obscured as they were by the trappings of the written word. None quite seemed his forte, dealing more with the alteration and obfuscation of creatures rather than their summoning and binding, but I am certain he is quite capable of manifesting their effects nonetheless.
I occupied myself more with diving near where I had discovered the hat pin of another Black Orchid crew member. Clearly Cheliaxan in design, it struck a chord in me. What poor soul must this simple, mundane object have belonged to? And what else may there yet be discovered, wrecked upon the reefs?
My curiosity was well-founded, too, for I also found a most marvelous treasure near the same spot! An uncut ruby gem the size of my fist lay glowering in the waters of the bay where the tides and currents must have carried it. The island is a trove of geological treasures dredged from the bowels of the world, and several green spinels, also, did I find there. Perhaps under that spot there is a surge of the hot blood of the earth, carrying untold riches in stones and jewels? With patience and diligence, I believe I might make good use of these natural spiritual focii to fashion devices of the Craft. The prospects enlivened me with possibilities.
Meanwhile, Stehlen began to find himself beset by brutish figures in the dark of dreaming night. He awoke many times with a strangled scream at his throat, reporting visions of a demonic entity that haunted us.
It was later in the week that I, too, began to experience the nightmares.
A towering beast of smoking horns, bulky muscle and eyes that burned with fierce, ruby light. We believe it to be the visage of Baphomet himself.
At first, the severity of the plague of nightmares was, while terrifying, sporadic. But we all soon began to fall prey to them with alarming frequency. The haunting interrupted rest, causing us great fatigue during the days when it is so crucial to our survival that we all be in peak performance. I set the others to gather salt from the sea by drying it on the hot sands, but it was a slow process and the maleficent phantoms of the night were incessant.
We did not suffer long before Waku noticed one evening the approach of drums from the eastern jungles.
In a panic, we barricaded ourselves in the cave, praying the vicious savages did not know of our current whereabouts. The tribe passed by the waterfall and headed to the beach. With growing dread, four of us followed in secret, taking the high path to the bluff overlooking where we had found the demonic altar. Owlbear and La’Luka remained in the cave, making preparations to be besieged since we had planned to make better haste than the savages on our return if we discovered they were to attack us there.
Sure enough, the tribe of mutant primitives had congregated there by torchlight. Their twisted shapes seemed to be wearing gruesome masks with bullish horns and shaggy manes, their wicked ritual was driven by the slow pulsing beat of drums.
They dragged a girl to the altar and made preparations all too obvious. The sight defies description of how the priest slaughtered her with a blow to the chest, and how a monstrous figure emerged therefrom as if in sickening parody of birth.
At that moment, Stehlen, half mad from sleep deprivation and desperate to put a stop to the pygmies’ plans, cast an illusion from the cliff where we hid in an ill-conceived scheme to portray himself as an emissary of the Abyss! I can only assume he meant to use his fiendish features to this effect and thereby gain some measure of influence over the tribe, but the efficacy of this ploy can only be euphemistically described as ineffective.
Though they did not slaughter him outright, the warriors which climbed the cliff were not nearly as overawed by his presence as he obviously expected. Sava, Waku and myself had the good sense to remain hidden, waiting for violence before revealing ourselves.
It has been only hours since they took him, and last we saw, he was under close and suspicious guard.
I may not be perfectly educated in the primitive religions of backwater pygmy tribes, but I am fairly sure that the messengers of gods are not commonly escorted at spearpoint while the chieftan scowls with furious disgust.