Our situation on the island has changed radically in the span of one night more, and so I write this in wondering anxiety at what Fate may have in store for us yet.
I pray that it is simple Fate, not something darker.
Once Stehlen had been taken, we three started back to the cave to rejoin with Owlbear and La’Luka. We did not make it far before the lantern light gave away our position to lurking tiefling pygmies which had the cleverness to keep watch for any who many have accompanied Stehlen’s arrival “from the Abyss”.
Rather than fight immediately, I persuaded Waku and Sava to wait for a more opportune moment. Which I hastened when we were carefully making our way along the narrow path down which crisscrosses the cliffs overlooking the cove beach. In the pitch black of night, we might have killed ourselves if we had not risked the lantern, so hindsight at least relieves me of the burden of that choice.
During my childhood, strange memories and nightmares would keep me awake. Of course, an insomniac child is quite a nightmare of its own, so Tabitha turned to the most natural remedy available to her: the Craft. I learned early and by example to give sleep to wakeful souls.
The halfling rearguard began to collapse quietly behind us, drawing the attention of their Tiefling kin. It gave us the advantage to strike. Waku’s hidden blade did have trouble finding its mark in the unreliable light, which awakened the halfling whose throat was not nearly as severed as it might have otherwise been. His scream alerted the leading demonspawn. The fighting was fierce and loud as we struggled in combat.
Several of them were sent over the edge to their doom by Sava’s wiry strength and a few more Hexes of Slumber. Waku was stabbed badly in the melee, but held them off long enough. I expended most of my spells in the span of a minute just to stay alive myself! I give thanks to the spirit of a Cheliaxan Gnome whose bone defended me effectively from several piercing strikes that might have killed me outright. Sava snatched a weapon and employed it to great effect and we eventually overcame.
The last halfling liked his chances on the jungle floor, more than seventy feet below, and Waku could not see well enough to shoot him under the cloak of night before he climbed away.
There was another band of the monstrous pygmies, alerted by the cursed wretch that escaped. They laid ambush on me while I was distracted investigating the odd magical equipment found on the corpses. We were exhausted and badly hurt, and they knew it. When it became obvious that we three could not possibly overcome another six of the fiends, I surrendered.
They had not killed us outright before, and they seemed much interested in subduing Sava when they might have simply hacked her to pieces against the cliff wall, so it was a logical estimation of their motives. They were irked enough give us each a blow to the head, knocking us unconscious for the journey back to their village.
I awoke this morning with, of course, a respectable headache and the familiar sensation of deja vu. There was Stehlen, at the right hand of the chieftan (his forked tongue finds agility under duress, after all), and a ritual circle was being prepared. I think I betrayed an embarrassing lack of education when I tried to use the Dark Tongue as it was taught to me to address the priestess. I get the feeling that I am ignorant of some nuance about the “culture” involved in the Lower Planes because the pygmies seemed disgusted and amused by something I said which I meant as a simple greeting. Stehlen’s expression suggested we would have been better off had I not.
The evil rites of savage tribes are certainly mesmerizing, in an artistic sense, but the horror of what was to come might be guessed and should not be described in too great detail. The pygmy hag leading their Circle selected Sava. I noticed her gaze lingering on the choker that the girl has always worn. There is something… I think I should investigate about that little trinket.
The twist is that the pygmies demanded Stehlen himself wield the ceremonial knife with obscene functionality. I cannot say quite why I did not speak out against it, to my shame, save only that I recognized the overarching goal of the ritual. It was related, in a way, to certain spells of soul transference and reincarnation. To be sure, with foul purpose, but I was not quite convinced of how much danger Sava might actually be in at that moment. Stehlen’s tongue slithers more than most, and his horns show he certainly has a Lower pedigree of his own, but I don’t think I believed him capable of the deed. In any case, Waku and myself were bound and helpless and surrounded by the entire tribe, including several massive specimens of beastly demonblood.
I did misjudge him.
They carried away Sava’s body to the shamans’ hut on the edge of the village, their heinous work mysterious and unfinished.
At this time, the chieftan and many escorts brought Waku, myself and Stehlen for a little tour. They showed us a large sinkhole where the chieftain told of their great temple which had been collapsed by interlopers. He implied strongly it was the shipwrecked Cheliaxan crew, without saying so.
When we returned to the village, Sava was sitting in the ritual circle in an almost vegetative state with only one mark on her… The mark which was not at all where Stehlen had stabbed her! There is now an ugly scar across her belly eerily like a grotesque cesarean while her breastbone is unscathed!
The chieftan told the old hag to give us further instruction on our task. The volcano has an entrance to a buried complex where one of their sacred altars lay. It was defiled by the same party responsible for collapsing their great temple. The volcano flows are thickened with molten precious gold, which they take as a gift directly from Baphomet who they worship as a god, and it was this molten gold diverted to desecrate the altar in some way that prevents the pygmies from approaching. I’m sure we will get a chance to investigate this matter in great detail as that is exactly the task which now lies before us. The pygmies seem to want to resurrect their temple, and they cannot do this while the magical warding bars their entry.
In the course of “conversation”, I managed to gain at least a little more information from the coy crone whose pride was too great to not enjoy a chance for a smug swagger. As I suspected, the girl sacrificed at the beach was the chieftan’s own daughter, which explains his reaction to Stehlen’s “tardy appearance”, and the ritual this morning was an attempt to reincarnate her soul in the vessel of Sava.
The witch gave away that the ritual did not work at all as expected, and she alluded some interference by a greater power with a vested interest in Sava personally… And this indicates to me that Sava’s soul still inhabits the body, despite some disturbing physical changes. I mean that her entire being seems somehow corrupted by the influence of sinister powers, not just the scar she bears.
And, speaking of scars, the pygmy witches have cursed Waku and myself to bear scars of our own. I recognize the Craft when I see it, and they mean these marks to serve as metaphysical links that they might work their Craft upon us. A threat and a reminder.