Friends of the Island
I didn't think anything could ride on top of the spiders?
With the Gaines Archeological Expedition finally settling in to begin their work, Figwit, FP, Patches, and Mr. Dodd start prepping for their journey into the jungle. Kazim assigned them to the task of following Eekha and Kraid back to the Avari village to negotiate for the right to take certain ancient relics from the expedition site. FP takes a few minutes to speak with Leofrick Runthane, one of the professors who knows his way around the medical tent. Leofrick and FP talk about their medical career beginnings, compare notes, and chat a bit. FP learns that the man heads up the biology and anatomy department so while he's here primarily for the dig itself he's also the backup medic. He learned his field medicine craft filling in during The Siege of Beldon for the village's deceased doctor.
Once FP has refreshed his medical supplies they join Eekha for a grueling four-hour trek through the jungle. Eekha and Kraid manage the jungle fine and with considerable teamwork the crew are able to avoid the poisonous bugs and toxic plants rather well. FP notices that Eekha uses some kind of sweet-smelling perfumes to keep the insects away so he replicates a noxious simulacrum of the substance which he pumps through his vents to help out the others. Eekha thinks it's absolutely revolting and offers up two bars of the Avari soap, which also contains the pest repellant.
Finally, they enter into a clearing that's host to a waterfall and the small lake it pools into. Around that lake is the Avari community of several dozen hide tents and mud huts. They notice the exterior of all the huts and tents are decorated with familiar images such as the massive Dragon Turtle and the great Fire Bird, Cinderwing. Things that have almost killed the crew on several occasions but that these people revere as sacred parts of the island chain. The people all gather to see the new comers, some excited and others cautious. Eekha takes them to meet the community's Nenae - a spiritual leader of some kind. Eekha leaves them at tent of this leader while she goes to gorge herself on the spread of food the Avari have laid out for them. While they wait for the Nenae (her name being Drosa, as they are told) the crew spots massive stone basins where the community makes their soaps and perfumes. They're all remarkable clean for a people that live deep in the jungle and care about personal hygiene deeply. They also note the decorations on Nenae Drosa's tent, crude images of old cargo galleys with masts depicting what clearly looks like a golden lion.
Before they can ponder too long the Nenae emerges from her tent, a gnarled old woman draped in hides, feathers, bones and beads. She starts looking them all up and down while Figwit tries his best to speak with her, letting her know they come in peace and simply wish to protect the university students and allow them to take a few key items back with them. Nenae Drosa doesn't understand a word of what he's trying to say though, so she angrily heads over to the feasting area and grabs Eekha by the ear, dragging her back here to act as a translator.
Eekha is surprised they wanted to come and negotiate this whole thing without speaking the language. She then translates Figwit's message while Dodd does his best to make sure everyone's body language is conveying peaceful mannerisms. With Eekha's help they find out that Nenae Drosa is saying that the artifacts belong to the friends and kin of the island, not to outsiders. And, that if they truly do come in peace, they'd be willing to make offerings to show that.
They all start emptying their pockets to see what they can offer in trade while FP tries to push a trade for medical services instead. Patches pulls out a Dragon tooth and scale that she acquired some time back. Nenae Drosa's eyes immediately grow wide and she starts hurriedly speaking to Eekha who tries to keep up with the translations. Drosa assumes that Patches slew a dragon to get those things and she's highly impressed. The Avari seem somewhat familiar with dragons, knowing that they were ancient tyrants who dominated all of Tairos before being slain by one of their kind. She says that Big Ruk Island used to be home to one of these dread beasts, Rharkhom, who ultimately was slain by the traitor dragon as well. The entire region where he built his lair became known as Rharkom's Maze, a gnarled and twisted region of thorny plants, toxic flowers, and corrupted predators. Fortunately, these many dangers in the region always stayed within the maze, that is until recently. Knowing that Patches is a dragon slayer, Drosa asks her and her friends to go there and put an end to whatever is disturbing the creatures that have settled in Rharkom's lair. If they do that, she'll consider them friends of the island.
No one was happy with the idea of having to go into a dead dragon's lair and sort out whatever was unfolding but they took the deal. Eekha told them the region is extremely dangerous and likely to kill them and when they asked her if she'd guide them to the lair she quickly declined. In her own polite way, she managed to find words in common to effectively tell them -this is your problem, not mine. She does however agree to lead them to the edge of the maze. They then all take the opportunity to grab food at the feasting table and relax for a bit.
Patches take some time to try and talk with Eekha and get to know her. The jungle warrior tells Patches that her own tribe was slain by enemy tribes that live on the eastern half of the island and that the Avari took her in when no one else would. She doesn't say much else about it, seemingly reluctant to talk about her past. Yet, she does talk about the enemy tribes. Telling them of a warlord named Zhikurvokhan and his vast tribal alliance known as the Fangs of Tairuk. Their symbol is a circle made of white spears with all their points directed inward toward a bloody red hand. Zhikurvokhan believed that all of the people of Far Harbor should be herded into the ocean and their settlements put to flame. She says he is cruel, cold, and has a talent for speaking to those that suffer at the hands of Far Harborers. Figwit asks about that specifically and Eekha says that outsiders do regularly come to the island to steal treasure, slice down their strudy trees, and even kidnap whole tribes and pressganging them to work on Stepping Stone Island. They do ask if they'll run into the Fangs near the maze but she says no. She says they'll know if Zhikurvokhan is near because he is a Thunder Rider too and his mount is the fiercest the island has to offer, a massive Sail Back.
Eekha leads them to the entrance to the maze after their meal. She gives them what advice she can; that the maze is populated by giant spiders and that Rharkom's lair is deep within a colossal crack in the earth. With that, she gives simple directions to find the fissure and leaves them to camp for the night. Potato and Fuck Pile take first watch. FP makes Potato some additional bolts for her crossbow then learns they may or may not be responsible for anything Potato kills with the ammunition. The others chat about the potential to run into a dragon's ghost and if that's better or worse than a live one. FP reconsiders giving Potato the ammo but before they can make a final decision on that matter some of the mazes denizens are drawn out by the camp fire and the prospect of an easy meal. Five giant spiders. The conflict is brief and violent but together they're able to defeat the ambush and slain the huge pests. While the others get back to sleep FP examines the remains and learns that these hulking arachnids are juveniles of their species.
Come morning light the crew begins the long, razor-sharp, journey through Rharkom's Maze. Once they enter, the thick canopy of trees overhead block off most of the light, leaving only a few columns of sun in an otherwise dim expanse. All the vegetation here is barbed and bladed, snagging at their skin and clothes. Blood-red flowers breath their sweet spores and welcoming anyone to draw near for a taste. The piles of dead insects at their base suggest the price paid for that taste is a steep one. However; with teamwork, careful steps, and some expertise from Figwit, they're able to make it through relatively unscathed. Though any amount of jubilation they feel is quickly eclipsed by Rharkom's lair.
Sinking before them a pit unlike any they've seen before. A fissure in the earth that reaches an untold distance in both directions and spans wider than the full length of the The Paradise Lost. When they look over the precipice of the crack they can see the walls below are coated in jungle's growth, yet even more ragged and twisted. Gnarled trees, massive thorns, choking vines all knotted together... and webbing. Spiders dwell here dozens of them in fact. Most the same size as the ones fight last night but among them are lumbering behemoths who's backs are coated in scrambling tides of young. These brood mothers spin their webs and lay their eggs here among the throngs of cocooned dead left to desiccate.
Figwit calls a storm overhead and casts down searing lightening bolts to strike at the arachnids, sending many tumbling to their deaths and causing the others to flee into the dark. After a lengthy discussion about anchoring ropes and who's the lightest they opt to send Figwit over the edge. He's lowered past the grasping thorns and sticky webs. Midway down, near the central mass of the webbing, he hears a voice caress his mind. One that's soft, caring, and kind. It asks "Why have you come? Why have you brought fire? I want to speak with you little one."
Wiggling through the strands of webbing is a massive, fleshy knot, at least 10 feet in diameter that drifts through the air silently. The front opens to reveal a throbbing red eye while tiny slits open across the thing. From each slithers a long tendril coated in viscera and ending in toothy mouth. Figwit calls down one of his lightening bolts while howling to be pulled to the surface but the electricity seems to simply dance and crackle harmlessly across the thing's skin. Then, all of it's tendrils launch at the druid shredding him till he dangles in their grasp, unconscious and clinging to life. They're able to yank their elf free and haul him to the surface quickly where FP pulls him back from the brink. Dobb acts as the distraction for a time but the creature rises closer to the surface, its tendrils swatting wildly at them as it does. Back on his feet, Figwit transforms into a mighty gorilla, pounding his fists into the earth and then leaping down the crack toward the beast... and then past the beast. He overshoots it completely and slams into the wall. His grasping hands manage to clench around some of the wall's brush before he can fall to his death. He ignores the groans from his fellow crewmates up above, noticing that the walls of this fissure are also embedded with bits of masonry. When the land opened up, it took some kind of structure with it. Gorilla-Figwit doesn't ponder the implication long, instead he pulls a large piece of the stone masonry out and hurls it at the offending eyeball thing.
FP can see the thing coming for Figwit again, who's still rather helpless and clinging to the walls. Before it can sunder him once again, FP loads one of his syringes and fires it into the creature and immediately it shrinks down to a much more manageable size. The clockwork doctor warns their allies about how brief of a window they have to deal with this creature before it returns to full size. Dodd, Patches, and Figwit pummel the creature for a few brief moments before it quickly retreats into the dark as well, whispering into their minds that it doesn't want anything to do with this battle. Rather then let the thing escape Patches and Figwit hurriedly begin to follow, knowing the thing is wounded, weak, and still shrunk down.
Figwit reaches the bottom first and can quickly see that the remains of a great temple-like structure still rest here. He also spots the trail of blood from the wounded beast and follows it back to a dug-out hole in the earth, packed knee-deep with bloodless corpses. This seems to be the eyeball's nesting place and where Figwit makes his stand. He reverts back to his elven form and begins hurling flames at the thing while it struggles to land a blow in return. Patches soon follows and peppers the thing with her buckshot and turret rounds. Squirming and barely alive, Figwit uses a final casting of his flames to boil the central eye till it exsanguinates on the stone floor.
Figwit and Patches begin dragging the carcass back to through the main chamber so they can take it back when a voice from the long corridor into the temple itself echoes out. "I see you've dared to challenge me in my own lair! How bold. How foolish. Come then, try and wrestle it from my claws. See what it gets you. Death awaits you little things. Bow and tremble before your god!"
Friendship of the Avari people and permission to take items from the dig site
Character(s) interacted with
Eehka, Nenae Drosa