Black Sails over Leudendorf

The Boneshaper’s Island

 

 

The adventurers have two of the Full Fathom Five’s artifacts.  To find Yarashad—and return home to the Lands of Mist—they must wrest the remaining three from their undead owners. 

 

In desperate need of supplies, they turn their attention to the forested isle marked on Flint’s map with a pistol.  Here they will procure food and fresh water, and they will seek the next artifact.  But what can they expect from a seemingly bucolic island of gently swaying trees and grass, over which they once saw a flying crystal skull the size of a mountaintop, raining the bodies of kidnapped natives from its mouth like gravy spilling over a glutton’s chin?

 

 

 

Ketham

Sakari

Curtis

Gabriella

Fidanza

Dragomir

“Draya”

Vanev

Romany

Grey

Elfin Archer

Human Witch

Human Anchorite

Deva Blademaster

Human Gypsy

 

 

AND

 

Orlan

MacShane

Tianna

Rook

(Jonathan

“Johnny”

Grey)

Human Druid Barbarian

Elfin Bladesinger

Human Highwayman

 

 

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October 23, 740

Act II, Scene XVII: The Boneshaper’s Island

The adventurers row for shore on the island marked by a pistol.  Orlan, Tianna and Rook stay behind to help guard the Sea Lion.  After Bart’s death, and news of the horrors that awaited on the Isle of Moab Cys’Varion, Captain Caladon and his crew are much obliged.  Caladon and his men are as brave and deadly as any crew, but the terrors of the Yarashad Islands are beyond the scope of their experience.  To further bolster the ranks, the adventurers leave behind the magical hand ax they won from the lair of the Chief’s “many-headed fire-breathing monster.”  Ketham also leaves the enchanted bow taken from the Smoking Dragon, instead preferring his own magical bow.

The island is roughly skull-shaped, with rocky beaches lining the shore and dense jungles ringing the interior. A natural harbor rests on the west side of the island. From the water, the adventurers can see a large butte jutting up in the middle of the island; a white wall encircles the top of the island.  Cresting above the line of that wall is the smooth skull fortress last seen flying away from Moab’s island, and raining villagers from its mouth.

Just before the adventurers prepare to pull their small boat to shore, Gabriella and Draya notice the rotting infrastructure of another boat on its side next to their own.  It is another small rowboat, and it has lain on the ocean floor for some time.  Flanges of murky seaweed dance lazily in the rocking waves.

 

“Trap?”

-Ketham

 

“Trap.”

-Draya Vanev

 

“I’d like to know what caused the trap.”

-Ketham

 

“Okay.  Let’s spring the trap.”

-Draya Vanev

 

“No!  I don’t swim.”

-Gabriella Fidanza

 

 

After a few moments of study, and an admonishment from Gabriella on the subject of investigating what seems to be a trap while she sits on a small boat in full plate armor, Ketham rows the rest of the way to shore.  The beaches extend for about 50 feet before the jungle rears up.  The island’s beaches are uninviting, being composed almost entirely of sharp, shale-like rock. 

Ketham and Draya pull the boat above the waterline and tie it off to the nearest jungle tree.

Beyond the beach, they enter the jungle.  The thick canopy of intertwined branches high above block the sunlight from reaching the forest floor. Ketham stops just within the canopy, listening.  All of the adventurers hear suspicious sounds all around them: Something crunching through the leafy underbrush, branches groaning and cracking overhead, strange chittering sounds in every direction, and so on.  The bloated silence of Moab’s polluted island is left behind in favor of a frenetic cacophony.  Ketham nods; this was what he was hoping to hear—the jungle often goes silent just before a great predator strikes.

A short distance inside the jungle, Ketham climbs a tree to get a better idea of their jungle surroundings.  From the top of this tree he spies the skull resting on its hilltop, and the wall surrounding it.  He also spots the telltale clearings and smoke trails of a pair of villages, one northeast of the adventurer’s current position and the other southeast.  Ketham shimmies to the ground to reveal his findings. 

The adventurers resolve to make their way to the northernmost of the two villages.  They hope to learn something of the nature of the island before braving the perils sure to lie within the skull.  While Draya feels that some piece of information has revealed the master of this island—and the bearer of the enchanted pistol—he cannot put his finger on where he remembers hearing it.  None of his companions can corroborate what he remembers, and so the information remains tantalizingly out of reach.  Needing information, the adventurers steer a northeasterly route, with Draya in the lead, hacking a path with the enchanted two-handed sword they took from the body of Ragnar, Moab’s barbarian lieutenant.

While the adventurers make their way through the island interior, they note some random animals, including exotic birds.  At one point Draya clears a sheet of undergrowth and finds himself nearly face to face with a lizard the size of warhorse.  The creature rests upon a rock, enjoying a rare beam of sunshine in the tropical heat.  It returns Draya’s gaze laconically.  When Draya retreats cautiously, then begins to hew a path around the lizard’s resting place, the creature merely watches till the adventurers are out of sight.

After they have progressed some distance into the jungle, Ketham climbs another tree to get a new bearing.  Unfortunately, climbing trees this deep within the jungle proves more challenging.  The trees are taller, with fewer branches.  At the top, Ketham must brace himself and hack through the canopy to get a bird’s-eye view of the jungle.  Roughly half way through, a constrictor snake  slithers into view in response to the disturbance.  Ketham is stunned by the sight of the massive snake, and the thing nearly manages to loop around his body with its crushing bulk.  Only the wards within the horse totem the adventurers took from Ragnar—the same lieutenant who bore the magical greatsword the adventurers have been using to make their way through the jungle—keep the snake at bay.  When the snake lunges at Ketham, fangs bared, the totem again protects the archer.

Ketham’s reaction is swift and precise when it comes.  He trusts to his legs to keep him from falling, scoring a deep slash along the snake’s body with his katana as he slips away.  Badly injured, the snake vanishes into the canopy. 

Ketham seeks to regain his position but slips in the blood and broken branches.  He falls into Draya’s arms, far below.

 

“Well, it doesn’t look like its blood is poisonous.”

-Sakari Curtis

 

 

Still intent upon getting a good view of the skull, and the adventurers’ current position on the island, Ketham returns to the tree.  As he climbs, he recalls the sensation of the katana clanging against something hard within the snake’s body. 

This time Ketham breaks through to the brilliant blue tropical sky.  His first order of business is to locate the snake.  He sees it a short distance away, lying still.  What appears to be a stone hand juts from the gash in its belly. 

Ketham turns his attention back to the broader picture for a moment.  With spyglass, he focuses upon the skull.  It appears to be made of the same ceramic as the hand that protrudes from the snake’s belly.  The wall surrounding the skull, as well.  From here, and using the spyglass, Ketham discerns a path leading from the jungle floor to the wall and the massive skull beyond.  The path switches back on itself many times before reaching the opening in the wall where it ends.   At each bend in the road stands a stone head, ten feet tall and five feet wide, set with fiery red gemstones. 

Peering about, Ketham makes one final determination before focusing on the snake and its lost meal.  He sees that the village is now behind them; they had gone afield while marching in the jungle and turned on a route that would lead almost directly to the skull.

With this in mind, Ketham draws his bow and marks the direction to the village and also to the skull.  He draws a line of three arrows in one direction, four in the other.

Then he shoots one more arrow, this one through mouth of the snake.  He begins forward, hoping to navigate the dense jungle canopy to get to the snake’s side and claim that bizarre hand.  The boughs snap; Ketham falls, this time all the way to the jungle floor.  He lands nimbly, though, rolling to his feet with only bruises and scrapes. 

The disturbance of Ketham’s fall, though, also brought down the snake.  As it fell, the hand separated from its body; Romany saw where the hand landed. 

The adventurers take the hand and study it.  Draya, calling upon his skill at appraisal, determines that the hand is a piece of masterwork construction.  Further, it was inlaid once with precious metals, but no more.  It is designed to function; the fingers are fully capable of movement like those of any humanoid hand.   

A quick search reveals that there is no more of the ceramic man who lost the hand in the snake’s body.  During this time, Kari uses her knowledge of anatomy to take the best cuts of meat from the snake.  They also take the moment to bandage Ketham’s wounds.

With the ceramic hand stowed, the adventurers set out in the direction of the village.  Ketham uses the arrows he placed in the ground to shoot an arrow into the forest to keep an approximate line towards the village.

After the adventurers have been walking and hacking a short distance, they begin to hear drums: a dull thumping that quickly fills the whole forest and seems to be coming from every direction. Draya distinguishes two sets of drums working, just slightly out of sync of each other. 

Draya, still hacking through the foliage, takes another swipe and spots a giant figure standing in the leaves, almost hidden in the foliage.  The dark gray figure stands perhaps 10 feet high and five feet across. It has a pair of fiery red eyes, each the size of a small shield. As he looks closer, he realizes the figure’s mouth is set where its legs ought to begin—the whole thing, in fact, is a giant head.  Ketham recognizes it at once as one of the headstones that stood watch over the trail leading up the skull’s hill.

Draya suggests moving along a different route, but before the adventurers move on they are preoccupied by the red gemstone eyes in the statue.  Unwilling to risk their lives for the gemstones—especially when they feel they are so close to the treasures of fabled Yarashad—the adventurers move around on a route towards the village.

The headstone swivels, turning to watch them go.

Not long after the stone is out of sight, the drums stop. 

A voice booms from the very air of the island: Battle is truth! The sword is good! Blood for the Skull! The Skull gives life!

Men charge through the jungle, rushing south from the direction of the village the adventurers have been approaching.

More men charge from the south, bellowing war cries and coming to meet the rest in battle.

The adventurers begin to surmise this is the way of things on this island.  The two tribes live in constant war with one another, battling to please the Skull.  Draya creeps forward to peer in on the conflict just beginning to rage.  Ketham once again climbs a tree, hoping to get a vantage on the same.  They both see a bloody, but largely non-fatal battle erupt.  The men wield black-hilted longswords, each weapon apparently identical to all the rest, and they fight with furious savagery.  They hack at one another, and when a man falls, the attacker moves on to the next standing warrior.  Those who fall crawl back in the direction from which they came, holding their bodies together as best they can.

A noise erupts from the air.  The melee halts at once.

A pair of ceramic skeletons emerges from the undergrowth on the far side of the battle.  Each has triple-jointed arms that reach to the ground, and a thick sheet of steel covers whirring and clicking gears within its chest.  The creatures each have a blade affixed to their right hands. Their left hands have been fashioned into a long tube, from which juts the tip of a long, sharp shaft. 

The Skull speaks again, demeaning the warriors and stating the it pleases the Skull that honored guests have come to the island.  The voice demands that the adventurers approach the Skull.  When Draya shrinks back into the foliage, the twin skeletons move on the adventurers’ position anyway. 

Only Gabriella resists.  She says that the men of these two villages need assistance—and there may be greater hardship to be addressed within the villages from which they came.  The anchorite walks into the clearing, and the men, astonished by the pronouncements that interrupted their fighting, stare at her in confusion.  The ceramic skeletons make no move to stop Gabriella.  The adventurers leave her to her work, hoping that they will see her again when their time with the Skull is over.

For hours they trudge across the island before emerging into the clearing at the foot of the great hill.  The skull structure stands nearly 600 feet high and several hundred feet in diameter, with giant rubies for eyes and a shell of five-foot-thick ceramic that’s tougher than steel.

The stone heads on the switchback trail turn to face the adventurers.  The ceramic skeletons depart, leaving them to their climb.  As the adventurers draw near to the headstones, one of the exotic jungle birds flies too close to the hillside.  Flames leap from the gemstone eyes of one of the headstones, incinerating the bird.  Ashes and bits of blackened bone fall to the trail.

Steeling themselves, the adventurers follow the trail.  After the first switchback, they realize that the swiveling heads will be watching the from at least two directions at all times.  The stones hold their fire, though.  Before long, the adventurers pass through the opening in the wide ceramic wall and stand before the Skull.  By this time, the adventurers are certain that the lord of the island is watching them through—at the very least—the headstones’ eyes, and most likely the huge gemstone eyes of the Skull, too.  Ketham addresses the master of the island.

The skull booms its reply: “The Skull is sacred! Why should it reveal its secrets to the likes of ye?”

“You invited us here,” Ketham says.

The Skulls last rejoinder is simply, “Prove your worth!”

 

 

 

 

Act II, Scene XVIII: Bones and the Revelation of Blood

Draya and Ketham work together to scale the ten feet needed to get over the teeth.  They pull Kari and Romany after them.  Beyond the teeth sits a slick, 15-foot-high ramp that leads to three apertures, each big enough for one person to squeeze through at a time. The one in the middle is a double door, opening downward.

They crawl through the aperture into a large, high-ceilinged room dominated by two massive metal cylinders, one along the right wall and one on the left.  Looking up, they see metal walkways lining the wall far above their heads and two large vats suspended among them. In front of them, racks upon racks of black-hilted swords are set on a series of tracks in the floor. These tracks rotate constantly, a sort of conveyor to—for now anyway—nowhere.  Everything in the place seems to be clanking loud enough to burst their eardrums—undercut with a sinister groaning and hissing.

 There aren’t any controls, as such, to monitor and control all this equipment. Through the artifact pistol, the lord of the island keeps track of the Skull’s various systems and processes more or less unconsciously.  But the crafty master does keep a horde of automatons on hand to make life interesting for intruders. Three ceramic skeletons like the two that guided the adventurers to the Skull cling to the sides of the overhead vats.  Six more with large, flat hands like spades wait in two long rows alongside the sword conveyor, directed by two smaller ceramic skeletons with articulated hands and the ability to speak. 

The automatons’ battle plan: the weaponized “Maulers” leap onto the adventurers as soon as they walk past the vats, and the “Haulers” start playing badminton with the black-hilted swords. Every round, three Haulers toss a handful of swords into the air, and the other three slap them toward the adventurers.  The Haulers aren’t particularly dexterous; they’ve been trained to stand in one spot and aim for a particular target by flicking their paddles just so.  The Haulers follow orders as delivered by their speaking commanders, the “Drawlers.” 

The battle is further complicated by the appearance of Moab’s final lieutenant from the far side of the engine room.  With him are four mutant supersoldiers from Moab’s garrison.  The man bears a striking resemblance to Romany and Rook, and he seems to see it, too.  When the automatons attack, the pirate lieutenant orders his men into action, striking from the ceramic skeletons’ opposite flank and granting a much better chance at survival for the adventurers.

The ceramic skeletons prove resistant to most weapons.  Magical weapons prove to cut through their hides easily enough, but several of the adventurers, as well as the supersoldiers with Moab’s lieutenant, do not possess such arms.  As the battle rages, one of the supersoldiers breaks his sword off at the hilt on a Hauler’s body.  In desperation he grabs one of the black-bladed swords from the conveyor.  With a single swing, he reveals the magical nature of every one of those blades.  His companions quickly heft the weapons, too.  Moments later, the adventurers begin to realize that the swords of the Skull bear a secondary enchantment.  Vicious bloodlust grips each supersoldier as he hefts the blade in battle.  They still obey the orders of their commander, but the control he has over them seems tenuous now.

Ketham and Kari seek cover crouching on the metal walkways overhead.  They release counterbalances on the chains hanging nearest them and ride the ascending lengths all the way to the walkways.  From that vantage, Ketham begins raining arrows down on the Maulers.  Kari takes subtler avenues.  Her first effort is to attempt to dispel the magic that keeps the conveyor moving.  If she can stop the conveyor, then she can stop the Haulers  pelting her companions and allies with enchanted swords.  Her abjuration brings her into contact with the Pistol of Harrimast, though.  Her vision is overwhelmed by the presence of THE GUN, looming before her as if thirty feet in length, adorned with golden imagery of Yarash in heroic battle, emitting a constant, atonal music. 

When Kari recovers, she understands.  The Skull is powered by the pistol.  Mortal magic cannot counter it.

So she turns her attention to the rubber tubes coming from the overhead vats.  Drawing a knife, she cuts one of the pressurized tubes, and the contents spray out in a geyser, over her, over the ceiling, all over the walkway.  She is doused in the viscous, butter-scented liquid.  When Kari has the tubes under control, she realizes she is no longer on the walkway.  She is hovering next to it.  The tubes are filled with potions of flying; they are the means by which the Skull flies from its hilltop.  Kari sees to it that her nearer companions—Draya and Romany—are doused, and then she cinches the tubes.

On the opposite side of the battle, Ketham begins to use the terrain to his advantage, as well.  His arrows begin to knock aside clamps on the long, large cylinders that line the wall beneath his walkway.  His arrows drive aside one clamp, and also punch through the ceramic surface.  A geyser of pale blue liquid splashes over the battlefield, but it will be several minutes before a battle-raging supersoldier rushes into the steam and inadvertently gets a mouthful—revealing that the liquid has healing properties.

The adventurers battle alongside their apparent allies from Moab’s island.  The lieutenant, a half-elf, wields a magical scimitar with impressive skill.  He orders his men to take out the speaking automatons when it becomes clear that the Haulers are obeying them.  He is beaten badly but continues fighting, leading his men from the front.  He daring cannot be denied, and when Romany extends an ambiguous wink and offer to “do this,” he cheers and throws in with the adventurers wholly.

Draya holds off a quarter of the automatons single-handedly in the battle, while the supersoldiers fight half of the Haulers and the two Drawlers with the aid of Kari and Romany and, after two more arrows send the canister rolling into two of the Maulers and a Hauler, also Ketham.  Ketham’s well-placed arrows into the gear plate of a badly damaged Drawler cinches the alliance between Moab’s lieutenant and the adventurers.

When the battle is over, a curious exchange begins.  The half-elf recognizes Romany, and he knows her name.  He does not know Rook’s name, though, but he recognizes the name Johnny.  It is revealed that the Johnny and Romany that the half-elf knows were the namesakes of Romany and Rook, who lived over 150 years ago, before the half-elf ran off to join Francisco’s fleet under Captain Moab Cys’Varion.  The man was also named after Johnny Grey; his name is Jhondal.

Jhondal is more than willing to speak about Zoltan Zaska, confirming that Zaska is the master of the Skull and sharing what Moab’s people have learned over the years.  News that Moab has been killed strikes Jhondal as a relief.

 

 

About Zoltan:

No one has seen Zoltan in well over a hundred years, but the last time he was spotted, he was still the emaciated, ghoulish fop, a pitiful joke of what he had once been.

Jhondal shares the same information that Lucien divined, and then a bit more.  When Yarash answered his plea, Zoltan, along with Black Jenny, Carthy, Moab Cys’varion, and Daen Danud, were returned to this world and promised eternal life as undead if they joined Yarash in creating a pirate band that would turn the oceans red with blood. Terrified of obliteration, Zoltan agreed, as did the others for their own reasons. The Full-Fathom Five was born.

But undeath proved too terrible a fate for Zoltan to bear. His vanity recoiled at his newfound ugliness, and the stink of the grave that clung to him. Slaughter for slaughter’s sake had never appealed to him, but he came to embrace it wholeheartedly as a way to release the powerful hatred he felt for his wretched, demonic self. And what a fearsome figure he made…howling from the decks in tattered finery, an unholy blaze behind his sunken eyes…

When Carthy turned traitor and gave the forces of Leudendorf the sextant, he cursed him and swore revenge. Now, in exile behind the impenetrable Hell’s Triangle, Zoltan sits and broods—and deteriorates—over his former life. Death initially took a hard toll on him, and the passage through the Hell’s Triangle’s maelstrom has left him a battered husk at best. But, in his weakness, he’s become more dangerous than ever.

Zoltan has constructed an elaborate flying fortress, in the shape of a skull, manned and guarded by a range of elaborate construct creatures. From this seat of power he lords over the wretched inhabitants of the island, mostly sailors who wrecked here after coming through Hell’s Triangle. As if the Triangle weren’t bad enough, these unlucky mariners have become pawns in Zoltan’s relentless “testing.”

First, Zoltan plucked the women of childbearing age from the marooned crews and secreted them in his fortress. Then he pitted the crewmen against each other in a state of constant war, encouraging them to fight with exhortations from his flying fortress, and dispatching enchanted weapons and healing potions from same.

The children are kept into adolescence, trained as dandies and warriors, and then are released into the wild to fend for themselves among the savage tribes.  Before long they have joined one tribe or the other and are indistinguishable from the rest.

 

 

 

Jhondal explains that Moab was aware that the Skull would raid Lake Town.  He ordered Jhondal and a squad of soldiers to allow themselves to be captured.  Then they were to lie low and strike from the inside.  All went according to plan at first.  Jhondal and his men laid low while the ceramic skeletons dragged off the captured citizens of Lake Town.  However, Jhondal and his men now have been trapped in the engine room for a week.  Up on the level of the walkways, directly opposite the entrance, sits another headstone, which remains pointed at the ladders rising from the engine room’s floor.  It waits for someone to come up, at which point it lets fly a cone of fire. The only door out of the engine room is directly behind the headstone.  After two of Jhondal’s men died trying to rush the stone, he decided to wait for a better opportunity to come along.  It seems that one has; though all of his soldiers are now dead.

The adventurers make a plan and take some preparations.  Ketham cuts lengths of tube from the vats.  He ties these off and then fills them with potions of flying and healing.  Then the adventurers take flight.  Draya and Jhondal lead the charge, knowing that the headstone will breathe on one of them.  When Draya realizes that Jhondal is slowing purposely when they draw near, the blademaster steels himself and continues on, taking the brunt of the fiery attack while Jhondal coasts through on the opposite side of the room, unscathed.  The two meet at the headstone and batter the thing to rubble in moments.  Then Draya returns to the canister of healing potion and drinks until his wounds are gone.

 

 

Act II, Scene XIX: The Hexagon of Evil

The door from the engine room opens onto a small hexagonal chamber of gleaming white ceramic with a round metal door set into each wall. Once the door to the engine room is closed, it locks behind the adventurers, and it cannot be reopened from inside the room.

The adventurers approach each door in turn, then cycle around until each has been thoroughly searched.

Door One: The adventurers hear nothing behind this door, but a search reveals a few flakes of ash clinging to the handle. They also detect a faint smoky odor coming from the door. Behind the door is a headstone in an alcove, primed to fire as soon as someone opens the. The stone can only fire once every two rounds, like its cousins, but the door has a nasty surprise in store, one that the adventurers discover after the danger has passed.  If they had tied to slam the door on the headstone, a 12-inch spike would have shot out from the lock, preventing it from shutting all the way. The spike needs to be snapped off before the door can be shut. The headstone would still fire if the door is forced partially shut, forcing the door open and burning those within again and again. 

Door Two: The adventurers hear a gentle sloshing behind this door, which is slightly cool to the touch. Opening the door drains the Skull’s sinuses, and a pounding torrent of water rushes into the room, filling it within two minutes.

Door Three: Behind this door the adventurers hear a gentle whirring and scraping. They’ve heard something like this before. When the adventurers open the door, they find themselves facing a small room—big enough for three people to squeeze into—that’s completely empty but for various twirling gears and other apparently functionless pieces of machinery built into the walls. As soon as Draya enters the room, a ceramic skeleton torso emerges from the back of the door, grabs the frame, and tries to slam the hatch shut. Then a Mauler breaks out of the far wall, intent on going crazy on the adventurers trapped inside the room.  Draya is saved by Romany’s quick action; she wedges a handle of her nanchaku between the door’s hinges, wedging it open until Draya can leap to safety.

Door Four: This door leads to the engine room.

Door Five: Behind this door, the adventurers hear the distant hum of machinery, and when they look closely they see scratches at the base of the door—made, it appears, by human fingers. Behind the door, they see what appears to be a corridor that runs for roughly 20 feet before taking a sharp turn to the left.  In fact, there is a 20-foot-deep pit trap just beyond the doorway; the “corridor” leads to nothing but a ceramic wall, just out of sight.  At the bottom of the pit, Draya finds the intricately scrimshawed bones of unlucky adventurers who never made it past this room. Among the relics gleams a polished skull that turns out to be the head of the artiste: a particularly creative Mauler.   Draya, still under the effects of a potion of flying, catches himself just below the level of the illusionary floor; then he flies away before the Mauler can injure him with its javelins.

Door Six: There is nothing at all to hear behind this door and nothing to spot but a few flecks of oil on the floor in front of it.  Opening the door reveals a set of four levers: red, blue, green, and transparent (glass). Right next to them is a fifth lever; it’s painted black.  Each of the first four levers opens one of the four trapped doors in the room. Red (for fire) opens Door One; blue (for water) opens Door Two; green (for earth) opens Door Three; transparent (for air) opens Door Five. When the adventurers open one of the doors by pulling a handle, the door can be closed immediately by pushing the handle back up; this is the avenue they use, and so they negate the impact of the spike on the reverse of door one, discovering it after the headstone has been overcome.

The adventurers quickly identify that the rooms are related to the elements, even before they pull a single lever to reveal what lies within one.

 

“We have air.  We have wind.  We have fire.  Earth.  And…”

-Draya Vanev

 

“Spirit… That’s where they take the people?”

-Sakari Curtis

 

 

 

 

After much experimentation—nearly all of which puts Draya at risk, a role he accepts graciously—the adventurers fall upon the trick of pulling one of the four handles and the black handle. Each time the corresponding door opens and whatever trap was in that room reverts to full strength. For example, after the adventurers kill the Mauler in the earth room, and then they pull the green and black handles at the same time, the door to that room opens—and another Mauler waits in the wall.  The only exception to this is the glass handle for the pit trap.

 

“Repetitive symbolism.  You’re creative, you old bastard.”

-Romany Grey

 

“That word, I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

-Draya Vanev

 

“Old bastard?”

-Romany Grey

 

 “Creative.”

-Draya Vanev

 

 

In the process of experimentation, Kari is relieved to have the butter scent washed off her clothes; it clung to her after the flying potion sprayed over her in the engine room battle.

When the adventurers pull the glass handle and the black handle at the same time, they hear a gentle scraping of gears. When they investigate, they find that the blocked-off wall at the end of the corridor is now gone.  The sloping passage continues down into the skull.

Just as the adventurers begin to descend the ramp, the door from the engine room opens and Gabriella steps through.  The anchorite explains that she did what she could for the villagers, but then the leader of the northern village—a man named Konnery—told her that she was more needed within the Skull.  She came from the village as quickly as possible, but not before she saw that the people of the village all bore a strong resemblance to one another.

Romany and the others fill Gabriella in on the atrocities that have been occurring on this island for the last century and a half. 

Then Romany urges Gabriella to quaff a potion of flying and return to the engine room to restock the adventurers’ supply of healing and flying potions.  When Gabriella is shocked, Romany reveals her genuine excitement over the discovery of so much magical liquid. 

 

“They’re vats of butter-fly!”

-Romany Grey

 

 

 

Act II, Scene XX: Head Games

As the corridor bends, the wall falls away, and the adventurers find themselves on a gangplank overlooking a vast atrium bathed in crimson light—from the round ruby windows, they realize. They’ve found the Skull’s eyes. Small crowds mill around the floor of the atrium, which is dominated by a revolving statue: a massive, ornate sculpture of a pistol. The gun, at least 30 feet high, appears to be the source of dissonant notes that echo through the high-ceilinged chamber.  Kari recognizes this as the same gun she saw in her vision earlier, when she attempted to dispel the magic that kept the conveyor moving in the engine room.

Moving cautiously, the adventurers make their way around the gangplank.  Along the wall are semicircular portals, and behind them, in full view, is a nursery, with cradle upon cradle filled with babies. Two Drawlers patrol the aisles, attending to the crying infants. The automatons seem surprisingly gentle with the babies, picking them up and rocking them to sleep, feeding them milk from a beaker, and adjusting their covers. The adventurers notice the painting of a fetching, dandified pirate hanging on the wall of the room, a pirate who somehow manages to be roguish and beatific, cradling a child in his arms. The painting sends out potent magical waves; Gabriella swoons at the sight, and both Ketham and Jhondal  feel woefully inadequate.

Farther along the gangplank are more portholes.  The next attraction in Zoltan’s parade of grotesqueries: five-year-olds to 10-year-olds being drilled in pirate history by a Drawler.  Again, a portrait of Zoltan hangs at the front of the room, but this time he’s at a desk, deep in thought. The children wear different-colored robes (basically, contrasting shades of red) and that the colors seem to correspond to the children’s ages.  The Drawler gives an account of Zoltan’s career and the events leading up to the sinking of Francisco’s fleet—heavily tilted toward Zoltan’s perspective, of course. Black Jenny was the most beautiful woman in the world, a siren of the deep; Ezekiel Carthy was a coward and a boor. According to the Drawler, Yarash was a virtuous sea-god who rescued Zoltan (and, at Zoltan’s urging, four lesser but worthy captains) and the Full-Fathom Five were heroic rogues of the Sea of Sorrows.

The next series of portholes look in on young adults going through the years of adolescence. Under the watchful eyes of Drawlers, several groups of teenagers learn the ins and outs of courtly life. Several teens practice sword fighting, while others learn proper manners at an elegantly appointed table (served by several liveried Haulers) and others learn to dance the quadrille, with Drawlers as partners. (Somehow, they’re keeping time with the atonal music coming from the gun.) Once again, there’s a portrait of Zoltan, but this time, it’s a mural showing him leading a charge on the deck of a ship; attending a courtly ball; and kissing the hand of a lady prisoner.

Finally, the last portholes before the bottom of the gangplank look in on a house of worship.  In a domed, red-lit chamber, young men and women sit in rows before a podium, where a Drawler in white robes stands. At his side is a fountain; behind him is a fresco of Zoltan Zaska being raised out of the ocean by a stylized, sanitized Yarash. Below Zoltan, Yarash saves four smaller figures in the same way; the adventurers recognize the figures of Moab Cys’Varion, Ezekiel Carthy, and Black Jenny Ramsey.  They take special note of the others: Zaska and, apparently, Daen Danud.

The automaton holds forth for the assembly on the general beneficence and magnificence of Zoltan Zaska, who provides bounties of food, who keeps those in the Skull in peace and harmony, and who lets the brutes in the jungle give vent to their passions but not destroy each other. Zoltan’s general wonderfulness reaches its apex in the Great Pistol, the relic the Lord of the Oceans gave to him and which enables him to maintain his subjects in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. “Someday,” he says to the boys in the audience, “you will return to the savage lands beyond this castle and try to become the image of your master—to lead the barbarians beyond their bloodlust so that they may return to the master’s fold. And you,” he says to the women, “you have the most glorious responsibility of all—continuing Lord Zaska’s line, until he decides his people are worthy of salvation and he rejoins them from his secret chambers in the upper reaches of the fortress.”

The congregants look rapt, but a quick study reveals something more sinister. Not only do the men all have that “Zoltan Zaska look,” the women all have identical faces: dark, glinting eyes, black curls, long, straight nose, and full lips. The adventurers have seen this face before, not in person but on canvas.  It is the face of Black Jenny Ramsey, former Full-Fathom Fiver and Carthy and Zaska’s love. While the adventurers watch, the Drawler calls the women to the fountain, and they all take a drink.

The adventurers briefly consider joining the congregation and drinking from the fountain.  If the waters disguise them all as Jenny Ramsey, then they may be able to move about more easily within the Skull.  What they don’t know, though, is whether the disguise would come with any other sort of effects, such as mental domination by Zoltan Zaska.  This leaves them all with enough concern that none of them choose to follow through on the plan.

They turn back from the church, entering the atrium at the base of the gangplank.

Small clusters of milling people—mostly children under the instruction of a Drawler or women traveling in groups— fill the atrium floor of the atrium. None of them pays much attention to the adventurers. They all seem to be in awe of the gun, and it certainly is impressive. Up close, the adventurers can see that it’s covered with gold curlicues and engravings that seem to mirror the paintings in the Temple of Harrimast back in Leudendorf. In this case, of course, Yarash takes center stage in the action.  And there’s one more thing: scripted onto the side of the pistol in large letters is a word:

 

ARKABUS

 

The atrium has two exits: steeply sloping ramps on the north and south sides of the room.

The adventurers wander and explore the atrium a bit.  They do not attempt to make contact with any of the wandering citizens of Zaska’s island.  After a few minutes Gabriella turns to look over her shoulder at one of the ramps the leads to the second gangplank circling the atrium, higher up from the entrance the adventurers used.  She sees a woman running down the ramp, closely pursued by two Maulers.

The gun’s music goes silent and a booming voice echoes through the atrium: “A daughter of darkness is among you! Avert your eyes! She has violated the grace of Zaska!”

The adventurers immediately take to the air, flying to the woman’s rescue.

When she sees the adventurers, her eyes go wide, and she runs straight for them. Her face does not match Black Jenny’s. She cries out, “You’ve come—just as the gods foretold! Please! Help me! Things are worse than you know!”

While Draya, Ketham, and Jhondal dispatch the Maulers, Romany, Kari and Gabriella take the woman by the arms and fly her away from the creatures.  The woman introduces herself as Carlotta Ramplin; she points the adventurers toward the ramp on the opposite side of the room, telling them to hurry.  There, Carlotta reveals an occluded passage, formed from a series of folds in the Skull’s superstructure, which from beyond looks like a lightly shadowed section of wall.  As Carlotta passes through it, seems as if she’s vanishing into the wall itself.  Finding it would be nearly impossible, but Kari quickly uses a spell of the first circle to tell her companions where to look.  

Beyond this snarl in the superstructure lies a series of catacombs, low and narrow. Carlotta moves through them swiftly, and it takes some work to keep up with her.  It quickly becomes evident that a whole culture exists within the superstructure of the Skull, right beneath Zoltan Zaska’s grasping hands.