Skulls and Shackles - PFO

Welcome to your Adventure Log!
A blog for your campaign

Every campaign gets an Adventure Log, a blog for your adventures!

While the wiki is great for organizing your campaign world, it’s not the best way to chronicle your adventures. For that purpose, you need a blog!

The Adventure Log will allow you to chronologically order the happenings of your campaign. It serves as the record of what has passed. After each gaming session, come to the Adventure Log and write up what happened. In time, it will grow into a great story!

Best of all, each Adventure Log post is also a wiki page! You can link back and forth with your wiki, characters, and so forth as you wish.

One final tip: Before you jump in and try to write up the entire history for your campaign, take a deep breath. Rather than spending days writing and getting exhausted, I would suggest writing a quick “Story So Far” with only a summary. Then, get back to gaming! Grow your Adventure Log over time, rather than all at once.

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Weather-worn Journal

While walking along the beach with your sweetheart, admiring the sunset, you stumble, literally, upon a small pitched-leather-wrapped package half-buried in the sand. Curious, you both unwrap it to find a beat-up journal. Miraculously, its gentle, measured script is still quite legible! The first page is uncharacteristically crowded, probably added in haste after the thing was written when the author made the decision to throw it overboard…

/*

In this life, I am called Nebril of the Mere. Once ship’s surgeon aboard a respectable merchant vessel, I am now a slave. My hope is that this journal may yet serve as my savior, for such things can serve as a link to me for the purpose of Scrying Arts. I beg of you, stranger, what help you may provide! Such recompense as I am able will be yours in gratitude, and good luck and fortune beyond, as well!

Day 1:

I awoke this morning with a pounding headache. I remember thinking to myself that I hadn’t had quite that much to drink last night, and the arrival of several surly thugs demonstrated why: I’ve been press-ganged! The drink must have been poisoned. What matter is it now, anyway: for here I am.

There was a Tengu among the number of us kidnapped, he has a peg leg and seemed surprised and flattered that I speak his language. His name is Waku. He seems friendly enough, and did promise to help me find my familiar, Mouchi. Mouchi, as it turns out, was quite safe and had managed to follow the ship by wing. He alighted on the railing and joined me while I was swabbing the deck. The mop was handed to me owing my poor performance climbing into the rigging. I really don’t know how the others managed so well, I was still quite out of sorts from the drugging and rough treatment. My role aboard ship has not been menial labor for many decades; worthy captains understand the value of such as I.

They killed a man today who had been caught stealing aboard ship. Keelhauled. Checking the mangled corpse, I can tell at least that he survived long enough to drown. I didn’t even catch his name over the chaos of the deck. The “justice” of pirates is no worse than land.

The “food” tonight consisted of some sort of fish entrails and rat. Mouchi didn’t mind eating the tail that was found in the sludge, at least. Life seems at this moment to be naught but a trial of the banal and grotesque in equal measure. What cruel, ironic fate has befallen me that, in my time of need, I find myself in ever more repulsive circumstances?

I saw the Tiefling applying sweetened tongue to a red-headed girl who gave him a book he seemed rather pleased to receive. A spellbook, no doubt. Pity she didn’t manage to bestow upon him a spell component pouch… The wild halfing girl looks to have headed to the main deck for sleep. She doesn’t speak a word of Common, and I don’t recognize the language she grunts. A real mystery, that one.

There is another Samsaran on board. Press-ganged on the same night as the Tengu and myself. He is a bitter sort, and seems to be uttering prayers to — Urgathoa! I hope he has the sense to keep his worship private! The pirates are a superstitious lot, and gods only know what they will think of a spellcaster making prayers to that dark goddess. Among our number is also a Catfolk with a decent amount of muscle on him. Good with his claws, too. He seems polite and willing enough to make friends, but I haven’t had a chance to speak with him much, as yet. There is also a lidded-eyed man among us. If I had to place a wager, I would say he’s the “land-lubber” reflection of a pirate. But at least a more pleasant sort of person than most of the creatures aboard this garbage scow, for he is most silent.

I wish I had my spell component pouch, too. There is a spell Mouchi knows for just such an occasion, but I dare not use it: I will need all my strength for the coming days of hard labor, I am sure. In any case, I have not got it prepared for use, this day.

Day 2:

The alarm rings altogether too early. Drudgery awaits. The call of Life, as shrill and capricious as ever.

There were four of the brutish thugs barring our passage to the top deck before we could report for duty. I don’t know what they have against us, nor why I am being lumped in with the other four. All we really have in common, as far as I can tell, is that we were shanghaied on the same night. The Tengu, Waku, seems more than willing to indulge their violent urges, though.

We had some trouble at first until the Catfolk warrior decided he’d had enough and let loose on them. Nearly killed two of the swine before they other two ran. The Tengu pecked out the half-orc’s eye… and ate it! The other Samsaran and myself managed to save their lives. They’ll not so soon forget the whipping, though, despite our healing Arts. Fists had put our Tiefling comrade on the ropes until I got to him, too. He looks sturdy enough, as the bookish sort go, but they surely had it in for him for whatever reason. Maybe they really did believe that silly jibe about summoning a Kraken…

*/
You glance at each other in wonderment. You can only guess at the age of the book, but its authenticity is quite convincing to your small-town sensibilities. The stuff of Bards and legends does not so often fall at the feet of commonfolk! With the book still open in your trembling hands, you glance at the ocean surf for a moment before considering whether to read on or bear it to the elder straight away.

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The Sea is a harsh mistress

We were all tied to the mast and given three lashes with the whip due to our tardiness after the fight below deck. Naturally, our assailants were deemed to be punctual, despite there being not a hair’s breadth between our arrivals on top deck. When my turn came, Mr. Scourge weilded the whip with particular gusto, and I passed out halfway through.

Sandara Quinn bestowed a measure of divine grace upon me to heal my wounds, which brought me back to consciousness. I thanked her and promised to repay the favor. If only Flipps Chumlett could be so grateful for the healing I have afforded him…

Day 3

I managed to find time while swabbing the deck (possibly because Stehlen’s cantrip was doing such a good job of it) to go below and see Grok. I convinced her to return my Tarot to me in exchange for telling her fortune and providing a “blessing” to her and the ship. I drew for her a Three of Cups, a Seven of Swords and a Queen of Cups while reading the tea leaves to give her an admonishion to deal kindly with others and be mindful of Karma. I also hinted strongly that she may need to be the instrument of Justice to help ease the burden of her past sins.

Day 4

Sea voyages are largely similar, all. Long drudgery and empty oceans. Jack did fall from the rigging several times, tangling the lines, but thankfully not harming himself seriously. The whipping it earned him did the most damage by far, putting the poor lad unconscious. He at least has a charming sense of humor and rare gratitude for my gifts of healing, though.

Flipps insists he is fine, still, despite his wounds and missing eye looking simply dreadful. I am certain I could help if only he would let me — but more to the point, if I can convince him to be an ally…

While making repairs on the sail, one of the swabs came screaming out from belowdecks about “something in the bilges”. What a surprise that the Captain randomly selected all of slaves to go below to see about it… It was oppressively hot and the stench of course is famous. I did get bitten rather badly, but it doesn’t seem infected, and my Healing Arts worked very well. We killed the rats handily enough after discovering them.

Jack got a bad beating for running away from the rats, though. Someone fell asleep in the Crowsnest, but his beating wasn’t quite as bad. Giffer Tibbs was whipped within an inch of her life for being unable to fix the sail.

Day 5

Today, the Mr. Plugg thought he would have a bit of sport. Without dogs to fight, he needed some other poor beast, and he has one, apparently, in the form of one “Owlbear”. The simpleton has been kept chained below decks, but he is a brute of a man. I feared for LaLuka’s life. Luckily, despite wearing fatigue, he was able to exploit Owlbear’s half-blindness to push him to surrender. I shouted over the din of the deck, and I think LaLuka heard me because he accepted Owlbear’s concession, despite the “encouragement” of Mr. Scourge.

Waku and I stayed up all night mending the horrible whipping Mr. Scourge gave him for the (expensive) disappointment.

Day 6

It has begun raining badly.

Stehlen and Waku earned a nasty whipping again for some failure, imagined, no doubt. Waku will spend the next day working the bilges alone. A prospect he seems not unhappy about, considering his preferred snack.

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Signs and omens

Day 10

I didn’t have time to make any journal entries since the last. The storm kept us all up and working through the nights. We were exhausted to the brink of collapse by the time the storm abated.

Despite all our efforts, and by rights the ship is lucky to still float, Mr. Plugg was not satisfied and tied half the crew to the mast for lashings, citing poor performance of course. I confess, climbing the tangled rigging of a storm-tossed ship is rather less than a supernatural feat of skill. Though, perhaps of daring. Poor Waku did land with a horrid splat, though a little less awkwardly than I.

Asmos was washed overboard by a chance wave that caught him as the deck dropped suddenly. I was quick enough with the rope since I had been hauling it but I would not have been able to get him back aboard ship without LaLuka’s help.

Owlbear is much more active lately, since Mr. Plugg has been forgetting to chain him up below deck. Gods only know what sick pleasures he pursues instead, though I wager Caulky the cabingirl would just as well. I have scarce seen her at all during the voyage. If our esteemed Captain Harrigan minds sharing his sweets, he doesn’t let it show. Plugg is easy enough to look at. From a distance. The distance that a voice might carry. What a sharp contrast I find between our dear Mr. Plugg and Owlbear whose disheveled appearance and simple manner belie a heart of gold. Truly, adversity breeds mettle.

Stehlen, that sly devil, is certainly getting headway from a certain tartly sprite who is charmed enough to keep a hammock warm after a grueling day’s work. It’s too bad the crew quarters are open enough that we all must bear it as well…

Grok seems to have received an omen from the Spirits of the Deep, following my guidance and blessing of the ship. I instructed her to keep the omen around her neck, as it is a powerful symbol of good luck and a reminder that the spirits are watching always. It seems that she has been given a personal emblem. It is of a woman holding a sword and cup… What an amazing sequence of events, indeed. Now, who could have foretold the change wrought in her outlook in so short a span of time as a tenday?

It will be very interesting to see what develops of her growing connection to the spirit world. I have very little doubt there may yet be discovered further signs and omens in the days ahead, should she violate the spirits’ trust!

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The Helping Hands of Fate

Day 13

It has been a busy few days, catching up after the storm. Even Mr. Buttplugg seemed content to give the Cat a rest, though not to his credit, for the entire crew performed impeccably in their daily tasks.

Stehlen and I spotted a light on the horizon while keeping watch overnight. We were certain it was a ship, perhaps a mile or two away. By the time dawn arrived, however, as we approached, we could see that it was a shallow island, washed clean by the storm surge. The reef’s bounty tempted the Captain’s appetite, and he sent four of us (Stehlen, Owlbear, Sava and myself) swimming out and back to catch crab for dinner. The reefclaws were in a foul temper, but Owlbear enjoyed flexing his, admittedly enjoyable to view, muscles and stuffed them into the trap pots just as well. Crab, he enjoys eating even raw, though usually the much smaller variety, so it is good to see him in such high spirits after being chained belowdecks for so long.

I even had time to read the journal La’Luka brought to me… It was written by Flipps’ mother who had also been press-ganged! It would seem our rotund bully has a sentimental streak, and La’Luka aims to exploit that weakness to drive a wedge into Mr. Plugg’s group. A fight did break out when Stehlen, quietly directed by La’Luka, mentioned in passing that Narwhal, Aretta and Ratling had been cracking jokes about Flipps’ mother. I may have chimed in that I had heard a particularly vivid metaphor involving the capacity for traffic of a seaport comparing unfavorably with her loins. To be fair, they were responsible for Flipps’ berthing, so surely the analogy wasn’t too stretched.

Speaking of rotten, old, barnacle-infested sea whores, Aretta is notably grateful to La’Luka for her new haircut. It was probably rather uncomfortable the way Flipps was gripping her during the fight that broke out.

Remarkable, that. A soothsayer with prodigious powers of hindsight might recognize her blossoming affection for the Beastman as something of an ingenious devising.

Such wicked tight webs Fate does weave with a helping hand!

Young Scrimshaw and myself also managed to win a rather respectable sum of money from the scurvy swine, Narwhal and Kipper, using a deck of playing cards I had the good fortune to bring along with me… A pity he didn’t recognize a good opportunity for gratitude when it was dealt him.

By Stehlen’s report, Grok was much obliged to return good favor for the chilled tea he provided on such a hot tropical day. Maybe the glowing icon I discovered on the inside of the crab shells served for dinner also bear some weight in what passes for her mind.

In truth, there will be blood in the water, and soon. And I don’t need to read cards to know it.

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What Dreams May Come

My nature as a Samsaran is still a mystery I struggle to understand, young as I am by the standards of my “kind”.

Thinking on Flipps’ possibly deceased mother stirs in me a reverie of — what? Nostalgia? Anxiety? The sense of having lost a part of myself irretrievably. My own parents were not the most gentle, loving folk with respect to me. I was born in a mist-shrouded village of the mossy deltas of the Sodden Lands, east of the Eye of Abendego. I did not stay long, for my empty white eyes and “unnaturally colored” hair and skin marked me as different immediately. My parents were, frankly, ill suited for the task Fate dealt them, and they abandoned me on the doorstep of a witch who lived not too far from the village outskirts, figuring that she had some hand in my conception and so she should raise me. The crone was well withered even in my infancy. To the simple minds of ignorant folk, an “unnatural babe” simply seems to naturally require a supernatural fecundity — and who more responsible for such a feat than the local mystic, eh?

She did occupy something of a paradoxical position in the society. Simultaneously a “wise one” who could be petitioned for magical aid (notably, the Crafts of Healing of course, and I did learn such Crafts from her wizened hands) while also an object of weirding dread and loathing. I now know that this is not an unusual state of affairs for wonderworkers in any given locale of the world, but as a child, this status caused me no end of frustration at my alienation. Yes, my strange appearance, born to a faithful human couple, did magnify the attributes that were already ascribed to me simply by dint of being the reputed bastard of a witch.

I still consider myself amazingly fortunate that the old hag was aware of the Samsaran race, a people adrift on the currents of history, if you will forgive a lapse into melodrama for so trite a phrase. She somehow recognized what I am, though human herself, and was able to aid in my development while also teaching me some of her Craft. It was a cruel thing, to inflict a needy babe upon an ostracized old woman, though even in this, a strange sort of mercy might be found. The humans who birthed me, I was to discover, still suffered for my conception at the hands of their fellow townsfolk, for the ignorance of man knows no bounds. Yet even so, my fate was kinder than murder. I still to this day wonder if they had hoped the lonely old hag could provide for me something they realized they could not, and that by knocking on her door they believed themselves to be performing a profound act of charity.

Tabitha, as she was called, never once complained in my hearing for it. If I did not know her, it would seem suspicious, but she was a kindly wretch in no ambiguous way. Bitterly pragmatic, as is the habit of those who have seen much grief in a long, hard life, she bore me with rolled up smock sleeves and a stern will to leave the world with a satisfied smile on her wrinkled face.

And so she did.

I was barely of-age when she died. Perhaps she had been waiting all along to be sure her work was done, for such was her way. It has been more than fifty years now, and my body has scarcely aged. I am glad she did not linger in pain, and did not witness my seemingly endless youth while her arthritic fingers curled into useless claws and her back stooped into a shepherd’s crook.

I know only a little about the life cycle of my kin. I know I have lived before, for I still dream of past lives and sometimes seem to witness snatches of events long past in those quiet moments when a moth’s wings seem to still and candle flame freezes in mid-wobble. I know when it is not the future I see just as easily as I can discern the nature of any other memory whether distant or not.

Good Mistress Tabitha taught me of the natural cycles of the cosmos, of the seasons and stars, the sun and moon, the tides of life: she believed me to be an incarnation of the cosmic attribute she called “The Veiled One”. A spirit, an entity, a force of the secrets beyond mortal existence. That which exists only in dreams and vanishes when the wakening world threatens to impinge, the afterlife, the before-birth, the in-betweens of reality and the very nature of what it is to be secret and unknowable, she said. This is why I touch my other lives, so she believes, why I remember who I have been. She even hinted that I may, in fact, sometimes, brush against who I will yet be. It is implied, is it not? In a cycle, one part touches the “before” just as much as it touches the “after”.

I remember once listening to her teachings by the fire, young and with clovers in my shaggy hair, when she uttered the advice that, though I am still a creature in the present, I am not bounded by it as others are. I asked, in the manner of children hearing things they cannot understand, what did she mean by such a silly phrase?

And her rheumy eyes regarded me with an expression I still do not recognize and she said, “What dreams may come to you, I do not envy, child. Yours is a fate burdened and blessed most peculiar, and it is your purpose in this life to serve as witness to it.”

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The Vertigo of Standing On A Shore And Looking Out

One day is much like any other while at sea, so it is difficult to expect sudden and extreme change while pumping bilges during a perfectly ordinary work day. It has been more than a week since we escaped the Wormwood. From what the others have said took place, I hope I can assemble some semblance of accurate recollection, but you must bear in mind that I was not present for the event that instigated our little exile from Captain Harrigan’s demesne.

The others had been going about ordinary daily chores on top deck when Waku and Stehlen noticed Sava being accosted by two of Mr. Plugg’s men. From what I can gather, the halfling woman, who doesn’t even speak a word of Common and seems to be of quite an uncivilized background, did not take kindly to the threats and petty abuse while she swabbed the deck. A mop handle was broken over one of the men’s face and the jagged remaining end ended up in the shoulder of the other.

Waku and Stehlen felt obliged to intervene on Sava’s behalf, creating quite a spectacle for all on deck to take note of. La’Luka had been watching from the rigging where he was working, and I believe he attempted to lend aid as well, though I am not as clear on what happened exactly. I believe he might have drawn a weapon and fired it to either kill or very seriously injure one of Plugg’s men, considering Captain Harrigan’s reaction. My four friends were subdued and shackled in the bilges.

I imagine my expression must have been interesting, to see eight-odd crew stumping belowdecks with black eyes and blacker glares shooting back and forth. I realized of course that something violent must have happened, but I don’t think I could have known what would become of it.

The captain was in a rage, and called his officers together to discuss the punishment which Sandara Quinn alerted us was to be a keelhauling that evening for the “offending” members of the crew. Even pirates, it seems, have a keen understanding of the need for discipline and living crew while at sea.

Our allies among the crew put their heads together while we were still taking stock of the situation, such as it was with myself the only one not chained to a bulkhead (Mr. Plugg had remembered to anchor Owlbear in mid deck that day). While we were still managing to break free with the zealous use of a hammer, Barefoot Samms arrived to tell us of the plan they had concocted for us. Naturally we would rather not simply wait to see Sava and La’Luka keelhauled, so rebellion was the obvious choice to make for survival, even as ill-prepared as we were. Few of us fancied our chances at open mutiny without more time to prepare, and Sandara Quinn had arranged with Grok for a little “diversion” to cover our lowering of the longboat and the fouling of the main mast rigging. We snatched what we could with what little time we had, and emerged on top deck to a well-timed burlesque game which the women staged on our behalf. By the time we were in the water and shoving off, it was too late to stop us and the officers had rather fortunately bad aim, even Riaris Krine the ship’s gunner. Peppery Longfarthing, the sorcerous sailing-master, boiled some water in a hurry but couldn’t see us clearly enough to target through Stehlen’s darkening devilry.

The “mast” of our little boat was four of the oars lashed together and a “sail” rigged with it. It’s amazing what pressing need can accomplish, for we made good speed at first during our escape, allowing Owlbear and La’Luka only time for a few return shots. I’m sure Mr. Plugg wishes he had kept his bald head down.

If you have never tried to seriously navigate the open ocean in a longboat with a bedsheet for a sail and only two days’ water, just suffice to say that the fire is a good deal more dire a landing spot than the pan.

We made at first for the island we passed days ago, but then veered north because Stehlen was certain we were not far from land and it did not make sound tactical sense to escape to a barren atoll which the Wormwood still had fresh in memory. The pitiful excuse for a sail kept falling apart and we languished in dead waters for days while frantically trying to fill the sheet. We were exhausted and dying under the glare of the tropical sun on our dwindling rations of water. We spent a week limping north and the last three days were the worst. Just as we were certain of our doom, however, La’Luka’s trained hawk returned with a waterskin!

It had found land to our north! And that land had fresh water on it!

So it was that we dredged ourselves ashore to a beach of black sands in a cove formed by high cliffs on this island of forbidding paradise. While drifting to a landing, we passed the wreckage of what we would identify as a Cheliaxan slaving vessel called the Black Orchid. It was while Stehlen, Sava and I were exploring the wreck that Waku, La’Luka and Owlbear foraged and explored along the beach. They found the prints of a very large bird and an overwhelming sense of dread that sent them all scrambling back to the rally point on the beach near where a small stream empties into the sea.

The sounds of tropical life are a cacophony of arboreal calls, so when the jungle hushes — beware!

No one has seen the bird that made the prints, but it is certainly large, which begs the question of how a beast of such size can sustain itself in any reasonable population on a small island? Of course, we have no idea how large the island is. Our priorities had to be securing shelter and food. Stehlen and La’Luka are optimistic that they may be able to make enough repairs to the wreck of the Black Orchid that she should be seaworthy again… with perhaps a year or three of hard labor, given our resources with naught but an untamed jungle and the sea.

Our ancestors managed to craft a civilization with nothing more, so why not?

As the sun sets on our dark paradise, I look out over the lapping waves of the reef and marvel in wonder at the strange fortunes of life’s gasping, crawling, desperate reach for mere survival in a cruel and hostile cosmos.

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Through A Glass, Dimly

The glitter of celestia on the ocean’s waves makes for quite a serviceable focus of premonitory trance.

I recall, as through deep waters, past lives in which I was born a woman, though I do not remember ever being so solitary among a group of men. Sava, if she feels any tension, seems to bear it with the casual stoicism of an animal always wary. Stehlen’s favorite toy is probably sailing westward on the Wormwood, currently, and I am sure he must feel her lack. The horny devilkin must be descended of a particularly lascivious fiend, though gods only know how his lying tongue can remain serviceable with so many knots in it. Perhaps that is the entire secret. Waku, La’Luka and Owlbear seem far more concerned with the matters at hand rather than, shall we say, survival on generational time scales.

I don’t remember ever, in my many lives, being castaway on an island, so this is a unique experience. I wonder how my future selves will regard it. I cannot pretend that I am not still discomforted by the rudimentary resources we have available to us. Even growing up as a pariah of a small marsh village afforded a number of creature comforts which most people will never have the misfortune to do entirely without. Little do we realize, until at sea, surrounded by empty wastes of water, how much we each rely on the web of commerce, the “security” of social justice (if one is not entirely an outcast, of course, I imagine), the simple things like bread, cups, candles, wine and nails which civilization makes available.

Tabitha once told me that our little cottage, humble as it was, should be understood with content gratitude. “Our existence here,” she said, “is an illusion. What comfort we find in our surroundings bears no significance on the wider cosmos. Have a care, child, for each moment of grace, joy and contentment you feel is but a breath from death’s door. And yet, still not a step through the threshold.”

Death is but a breath away. Life is but a dream. Nightmare or sweetness, it is for us each to create within ourselves. Happiness cannot come from without, for the world is wasting of want.

I must admit, I have not her knack for finding peace “whatever may be”. Even when a storm caused a tree branch to crash through the roof, even during drought and when the villagers were furtively cruel — she bore it with a serene patience, though not without a stinging witticism when warranted in the latter case. Her focus was always on the ephemeral nature of mortal existence, knowing wisely that whatever pains the present brought would pass.

I remember once, while exploring the little cottage we shared, as small children do, discovering a simple mirror kept in a box under her bed. I had never seen a mirror before, at that age, for none in the village were so wealthy or so inclined to share such a treasure with the witch’s bastard.

When she discovered me staring into it with awe, she snatched it from my hands with a look of pain and smashed the thing to pieces then and there. “Turn your eyes inward to see yourself,” she cried over my tears, “Spend your life staring over your shoulder and you’ll never live!”

I only pieced together over the course of my youth what the significance of that mirror was to the old crone. A beauty, she was, in her youth. She loved a man of the village, but he loved another. Tabitha, vain as only a pretty young girl can be, was still the source of legends about her jealous feud with her homely rival. The stories I overheard are rife with exaggerations about how she employed the blackest of Arts against the good wife of her passion. Invariably, they concluded that her bitter frustration led to a long life of suffering for her while watching the happy couple spend their days in idyllic bliss. The common folk meant it as a lesson against the, ultimately futile, abuse of power and pride, as good myth should be.

When I asked Tabitha herself about the mirror, years later, her eyes never left the fire.

“The Craft grants a mortal heart many Arts, but not the wisdom for their use. ‘What might have been?’ is, at best, a fool’s question quite apart from ‘what may be?’ and regret is a poison more painful than hate or envy. The glass shows truth only dimly, reflected, flat, unreal. When I finally grew to accept what I could not change, I put the glass away and found contentment in what is.”

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Drums In The Jungle Night

To establish civilization with naught but sand and jungle wood is a tall order. None should say La’Luka is not up to the task, though. He has labored ceaselessly since our landing to create a smelting kiln and forge, and he is remarkably capable at working the native obsidian stone into effective weaponry. It took days to pile the stones together and stoke the fires hot enough to smelt the hematite sands of the beach. I admit to no small measure of amazement on my part at such feats. It is little more than rocks and fire, after all! Ingenuity and sheer persistence are the engines of industry.

While he set about with the ambition of recreating the world, Sava and myself were occupied with reaping the sea’s bounty. She for food and I for pearls, though with rather different scales of success. The little bay does not seem too rife with mollusk, as steep as the drop is into deeper waters. I do feel safer having her around.

The wreck of the Black Orchid looms large and foreboding in view.

Stehlen has been quite eager to explore the little island, leading Owlbear and Waku in all-day forays into the dense jungle. They followed the stream to a small waterfall, and of course there is a cave there where the waters have exerted their own industries against the rocks.

The exploring party also sighted, in the distance, small figures cavorting around a fire at the foot of the mountain, casting lurid shapes and shadows that flicker and draw the eye even from a distance.

La’Luka took a break from his forgework to explore the cave with Sava, Stehlen and myself while Waku and Owlbear minded the camp at the beach. There was quite a large anaconda lazily digesting what we morbidly discovered was a twisted pygmy wretch. The claws and horns betray a fiendish association beyond simple indigenous decorations. I dread to discover how a tribe of such peoples feeds itself, given the limited scale of the island. What good can come from the hells?

Further into the cave was a truly impressive specimen of spider, fully filling the alcove where it had set up an abode. It was troublesome, but Ebony’s talons found its brain with a vengeance. A disgusting pile remained of yet another pygmy fiend, cocooned and wrapped with a small obsidian weapon. Curiously, the weapon bears a minor enchantment upon it! Perhaps the tribe is more capable in the Ways of the Craft than I would like to discover? I still feel a horrid dread of meeting any of the wretched spawn alive.

We found rooms beyond which seemed to have been used for sleeping and cartography. There was a sextant made of brass and one, more rough, of wood. The survivors of the Black Orchid were generous enough to plot our general position on the badly decayed maps they left. The sextants alone are a marvelous fortune to have found, and certainly vindicated the danger of exploring the poisonous cave.

There was a room barricaded in front of the cave. It had the bony remains of what I think was a gnome and a human or half-elf, and they were more than a mere few years old. The vipers which had found their way into the chamber were weak and easily frightened away, but what drew my attention was the ventilation hole they used for their escape. It is not a naturally occurring crevice, and seemed to have been burrowed by something with claws that is very small. It leads outside, naturally, but — why? It could not be a mole’s burrow. Nor do I suspect the pygmy people are small enough to fit, despite their mutated physiology. It just does not seem to fit logically in any case.

Why create a hole for ventilation in the forward room instead of the rear? We found sconces for torches all throughout the cave, which indicates to me that there was no need for extra ventilation. Why would the barricade have been from the outside of the front room? The serpents we found within were certainly not old enough to have been the cause of death for the two poor souls we found there. And they had shelves in the room for the remains of the food which we found as well. How did they die?

If I were the sort to bet on the draw of a card, I would wager all I have that it has something to do with whatever made that hole…

And the drums we hear in the distant jungle.

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When Nightmares Do Come

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.

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