Trapped at the top of Black Rock Mountain, our heroes faced off against the Red Terror of Valusia for the second consecutive time. The newly reconstituted horror drank the blood and flesh of the remaining captive crew from the Black Galleon. As it grew in size, the giant skull the group had witnessed as part of Cassandra’s dream arose from the ritual circle. The viscera of blood and sinew warped and formed around the skull, hardening into a giant and menacing humanoid. Grabbing one of the black rock slabs nearby, the horror pulled the stonework out of the ground, revealing it to be a giant sized obsidian sword!
Fritjof sustained a terrible wound from the abomination as he was struck by the weapon. Bloody tentacles attempted to wrest and hold Kwaris, but the canny sorcerer used his undead flying minion to carry himself and the Nordheimer barbarian into the air and away from the chaotic scene.
Sir Marcellus and Declan, hearing hundreds of screaming maws on the shambling monstrosity outside the collapsed tunnel, began their long retreat back down the length of the mountain. Alternately, Artemios used his acrobatic contortionist skills to squeeze through the small gap in the collapse at the end of the tunnel.
Horath, himself moving down the mountain from the side of the summit, saw a distraught Cassandra stop her descent and begin moving back to the summit platform after the sounds of battle were renewed. Torn between duty and the promise of gold, Horath began climbing back up to the battle. A helpful Artemios assisted Cassandra in rising to meet the Red Terror head on.
A tearful Cassandra pressed her necklace into Horath’s hands, turned and began walking determinedly towards the monstrosity. Everyone present witnessed a face and humanoid shape stretch the bloody makeup of the Red Terror, only for the pulp around it to reform and bury any semblance of a person back into its entity. She and Artemios narrowly dodged a sweep of the horror’s attacks just as Cassandra unleashed the cosmic power contained inside of her. The Screaming Silence blasted out of her lungs as she screamed a single word: “FATHER!”
Horath felt the sting of the metal charm burn in his hands as its enchantments protected him as they did Nasos originally. Artemios, seeing all sound die around him and the color drain from the world felt his heart leap into his throat. All the pict raised warrior could hear was his own heart as it began to stop pumping blood throughout his body. In a move of desperation in the face of unbelievable adversity, he reached out and grabbed the same necklace Horath held.
As the Red Terror began to fall to pieces, a reddish light flowed from Cassandra to the giant skull before it crashed and sundered on the summit floor. The Screaming Silence having left her for good, Cassandra fell as well; defeated by her curse. Where the horror had previously stood, now law the desiccated corpse of Nasos. Father and daughter lay dead at the top of Black Rock Mountain.
Regrouping at the base of the mountain, the group rested and made their way back to the bayside encampment in somber silence. Carrying the corpse of Cassandra with them, Captain Octavos lamented the loss of his crew as well as the demise of both King Karis’ son Nasos and his granddaughter Cassandra. Reboarding the Black Galleon and sailing back out onto the misty waters, the crew witnessed Dano tribesmen along the overlooking cliffs giving their sign for a good journey as they finally made their exit from Black Rock Island.
Beyond the mists, however, a shadowy vessel seemed to mirror our crew’s every step through the mists…
Days later, the crew was awakened in the early morning by sounds of commotion on the main deck. Several of the sailors had found floating corpses in the sea outside their ship and had decided to pull them aboard and strip them of the many baubles and invaluable accoutrements that adorned the bodies.
Initially drawn in by his lust for gold, Horath slyly lifted a piece of treasure from one of the other sailors. Before he could stow it, however, he noticed some symbols and craftsmanship in the design of the treasures that were being pulled from the sea. He recognized the contents as being from another age entirely; that of the age of Acheron. Knowing what kind of curses befell those at sea who robbed the ancient ones, Horath implored his fellow crewmen to abandon such treasures and return the corpses back into the sea.
Lured by the thoughts of gold and fame, many of the crew rejected these calls. It wasn’t until the rest of our heroes assisted Horath’s efforts in kind that the crewmen listened. Many were particularly moved to resist their greed after having heard Declan the bard’s tales of old curses and the effects they typically had upon one’s genitalia.
Days soon turned into a week as the crew of the Black Galleon still appeared to be trapped inside the neverending mists. Many of the sailor’s normally long and jovial conversations soon became terse and short. There were murmurs of a ghost ship beyond the mists and a few fights that had broken out among the men.
To reassure his crew, Captain Octavos explained how he had confirmed their course via the map and how they would soon make it onto land. Looking to bring an offer to the table, Kwaris approached the captain with a possible solution; if he were free to conduct a ritual atop the ship’s deck at midnight, he would invoke the aid of a deep sea patron. One who could expediently usher their way home sooner rather than later, despite an otherwise bumpy ride. Relenting, the captain agreed and made arrangements to give Kwaris his space.
Horath, taking initiative, moved with Iurlach into the captain’s quarters to confirm that the Galleon was on the right track. It was here that the first mate asked the sea raider about his loyalty to captain Octavos. Citing the unrest among the rest of the crew, Iurlach asked if Horath would back his move for leadership should it come up later. Horath rebuffed the first mate’s speculative questioning and came to the same conclusion as the captain; they should have reached land days ago. They were being ensnared by the Eye of Xotli.
During the casting of this spell, an enormous storm rolled into the area, causing much disruption among the crew. Then, beyond the mists they witnessed it; a pulsating green eldritch light that illuminated the night sky. As the mists parted, the crew witnessed something impossible; an enormous jet of green flame shooting upwards from the eye of a colossal whirlpool. Here at last the crew of the Black Galleon had come to confront the Eye of Xotli itself.
A frantic captain Octavos shouted orders for the ship to reverse course and sail away from the maelstrom. Unable to resist the pull of the enormous whirlpool, the Black Galleon was pulled into the outer orbit of the phenomenon, circled its inner radius and finally pitched forward into the impossible yawning maw of darkness and fire. Upon impact at the end of their long fall, everything turned pitch black around our crew as they fell into unconsciousness.
Waking up on the shores of a massive rocky island at the center of an enormous underwater cavern, our heroes found their ship had been dashed to pieces and many of their crewmembers were missing, dead or were seen as having fallen into the monolithic emerald fire, never to return. Those who were left of the crew blamed captain Octavos for their fate, others blamed Kwaris.
As tensions came to a head, many drew their weapons and faced off with one another. Several of these mutinous sailors backed up closely to the first mate, some behind their captain. Our heroes were able to temper their passions just in time, however, as many witnessed short, gibbering, physically warped humanoids emerged from the peering darkness nearby. This horde of underwater neanderthals clawed their way to the group and began pushing them back towards the mysterious green pillar of fire.
The crew fought arduously in the face of incredible odds, cutting a swath through the throng. Towards the far side of the chamber, Horath was able to spot a large corridor that seemingly connected this massive cavern with another of its kind. Emanating from the adjoining cavern was a curiously faint light that seemed to come from no known source.
Fritjof, in the throes of a berserker rage, showered in the blood of the subhumans around him until he realized everyone else had begun to leave. Deciding not to pursue the rest of the fleeing enemies further into the shadowy recesses of the chamber, he resolved instead to calm himself with great effort. Behind him suddenly the Nordheimer barbarian heard a curious sound. Turning quickly, he witnessed a member of the Black Galleon fall out of the great emerald fire with nary a scratch on his naked body. Wild with mania, it took Fritjof considerable effort to snap the crewman’s attention back to reality. When asked what happened to them, the crewman stared back at the barbarian and recounted wild and impossible things he had seen after being consumed by the fire.
As the rest of the crew arrived in the other cavern, they immediately noticed that most of this cavern was filled with water and a nearly identical maelstrom to the one that had stranded them here existed at the far side of the chamber. In the waters, they saw dozens or more ships dashed to pieces and marooned on the shores of this ancient cavern. The flotsam around the chamber seemed to rise mysteriously inside this funnel in complete opposite operation from the whirlpool they encountered earlier.
Aside from the many destroyed ships, however, the crew noticed one ancient vessel that appeared untouched by the ravages of time. Though smaller than the Galleon, it was sufficiently small enough to run off of the current sized crew. Captain Octavos remarked that perhaps their luck was changing now that they had found themselves a new ship.
Just then Octavos grunted in pain as Iurlach’s sword found its way into his back and through his chest. The injured captain dropped his horn at Horath’s feet and promptly expired at the hands of his first mate. “My ship, you mean,” Iurlach sneered.
Aided by some of his fellow mutineers, Iurlach gave the present heroes an ultimatum; join the munity and serve under him or die. Horath spoke for all present when he claimed the title of captain, snatching up Octavos’ horn and remembering back to their first meeting inside the Knave.
“As long as you hold the horn, everyone knows who’s captain. And Horath, I promise you; come with me and you will be a captain again,” the departed officer had said at the time.
Horath gripped the horn, drew his sword and clashed steel with the first mate and his men. The others joined the fray and were successful in easily dispatching Iurlach’s mutineers. Kwaris lent the strength and ferocity of beasts to Horath, giving the sea raider a savage ferocity to his attacks. This allowed him to pummel and claw Iurlach to death, ripping portions of his face off and caving in his skull with his bare hands.
Taking up the captain’s horn, Horath gave his first order as captain of the Orrean; sail into the maelstrom.
As the ancient ship entered the reverse whirlpool and began to rise to the surface, the spaces around the vessel began to darken. Ghostly visages and forms began to emerge from a menagerie of souls that made up the other Eye of Xotli. Many in the crew glimpsed faces of people they knew in their lives.
Artemios witnessed the people who raised him before being separated extend a hand. Fritjof saw the specter of his father appear and extend a hand as well. Finally, Kwaris’ entire tribe appeared before him and offered for his spirit to join theirs.
Both Artemios and Fritjof rejected these spectral onlookers. Kwaris, on the other hand, used his power to absorb one soul into himself; instantly becoming 10 years younger. What followed, however, was an avalanche of souls that entered his body. Overwhelmed with the experience, Kwaris lost consciousness.
As the ancient vessel ascended into open waters above and parted the curtain of mist around them, the crew of the Orrean sailed on into the horizon and towards safe harbor beyond.
And thus ended Act 1: Spring of Denial…
But fear not, dear readers, for there are further adventures to be had in our tale of Three Black Coffins. The action picks back up in Act 2: Summer of Anger.