The first hints of light appear behind the twisted, sickly trees that line the beach’s edge, revealing a scene of chaos and destruction. The clean expanse of sand is marred by the detritus of battle, centered on a camp, with the remains of a campfire scattered about an upturned rowboat. A pup tent stands, apparently unmarked by battle, a few dozen feet from a hammock strung between two trees. The sand all around is stained with blood, already beginning to dry. Three corpses are scattered here, their forms vaguely human but lumpy and misshapen in strange ways. In place of eyes, noses, mouths, they have strange slits. Their skins are grey and tough-looking and their arms are far too long. They are blasted with strange holes, slashed and pierced by blades and axes and other things not immediately obvious.
A long trail of blood and churned-up sand leads away from the camp to the south, along the beach.
Some sixty feet from the remains of the battle are gathered a catfolk in bloody studded leather armor, a war-painted half-orc with a greataxe. Both orc and axe are covered in strange ichor. Next is dwarf wearing plain clothes through which blood is seeping in great lines, and a human in leaf armor leaning heavily on a massive musket, the leaves of his armor dripping blood onto the ground with every beat of his heart.
They are gathered around two bloody bundles in the sand. One is another of the strange creatures. It is covered in blood and its head has been split in two, right down to the shoulders, by an enormous blow from behind. The other is smaller. It is a red-haired half-elf wearing clerical vestments. On her chest is a holy symbol in the shape of an outstretched hand. Her face is drawn and pale, but her neck and arms are covered in blood brighter and thinner than that which spills from the head of the downed creature. She looks weak, as if the life-force has been torn from her.
She is dead.
- * *
Sixteen Hours Earlier
- * *
As the rowboat draws steadily towards the bay that marks the approach to the Lady’s Light, the shape of a wrecked ship became visible in the clear waters beneath the boat. Darmok, peering over the edge, is struck by a sudden urge to explore. He strips to his breeches, ties the end of a silk rope to his waist, leaving the other end with Haxe. Eira pulls a short length of reed from a pouch, mutters a word, and touches it to Darmok’s mouth. A burst of power disintegrates the reed, then Darmok dives off the edge of the boat.
The water is warm and clear. As soon as Darmok gets within ten feet of the wreck, though, something kicks away from the ship to meet him. The watchers on the boat see only a blur of bone and a flash of rusty steel, and then the undead sailor is upon Darmok.
The sailor is little more than a skeleton, with a few tattered bits of flesh still clinging to its bones. It stabs at Darmok with a rusted, barnacle-covered rapier. The blade of the rapier passes between Darmok’s arm and his chest, and as the skeleton’s arm passes by, Darmok grabs it. A boom, a splash of water, and a bullet from Reason takes off the skeleton’s other arm.
Just in time for the skeleton’s undead crew to latch on to the side of the rowboat. A splash, and Eira is over the side, her heavy armor dragging her to the bottom of the sea—only around 10 feet down, but still enough to drown in, especially in plate.
Jericho, Haxe and Harlank begin to repel the boarding skeletons, but soon Haxe is in the water (not before destroying several skeletons) and only Harlank and Jericho remain on board. Harlank sweeps the head from one skeleton with his rapier, and Jericho bashes another with the butt of his rifle.
Darmok, still underwater, drags the skeleton captain with him as he swims toward Eira. The skeleton struggles vainly to escape Darmok’s grasp, but is soon tied up with the very rope that had kept Darmok to the boat.
As Haxe approaches the sinking cleric, a flash of white light bursts from her and the skeletons in the water and clinging to the boat are blasted into bonemeal. The nearby fish, though, look fantastic. The tied-up one, apparently the leader, survives—if you can call it that.
With help from Darmok and Haxe, Eira makes it back into the boat, where Haxe makes quick work of the skeleton leader.
Darmok, ever curious, returns to the shipwreck—he notes that the name on the side reads “Impdrake” but finds nothing of interest in the wreckage except for some small crabs. He collects half a dozen, intending to cook them for dinner.
Once back on the boat, the party heads for the larger of the two islands ahead of them. They troop inland, looking for anything of interest, but find only swamp and hard going. As evening falls they find themselves back on the beach near their rowboat. They collect the boat and move down the beach. A sandbar connects the island with the peninsula holding the Lady’s Light, and it looks like they can make it across if they start with the morning’s early tide. It’ll be tricky, and a hard day’s journey, but by this time the next day they’ll be at the base of the Lady’s Light.
They make camp at the edge of the woods. They cook and eat the crabs. Eira sets up her one-person tent, and Haxe slings his hammock between two trees. Jericho, Harlank, and Darmok roll out their bedrolls near the campfire and overturned rowboat.
Eira takes first watch. She hears a faint splashing from the water, but nothing more.
She mentions this to Darmok hours later as his watch begins, then retires to her tent, removing her armor for sleep.
Darmok sits cross-legged atop the rowboat, staring out at the water. After a few hours, he hears splashing near the water’s edge, and a creature emerges from the water. It has a body like a horse’s, but four flippers, a long neck, and a head like a deepwater horror. Darmok doesn’t breathe.
If the beast sees the camp, it makes no sign of it, and it wanders down the beach until it is out of Darmok’s sight. All is quiet once more.
As his watch ends, Darmok hears rustling in the woods behind the camp. Quietly, very quietly, he moves to Haxe’s hammock, just inside the woods, trying to get a better look. He taps Haxe gently on the shoulder to wake him.
Haxe startles and falls out of his hammock, as two grey, misshapen humanoids run from the woods, waving longswords in their too-long arms. Darmok yells “Visitors!” and hurls shuriken at the approaching foes—for foes they clearly are.
“Yelling for your friends won’t save you,” one snarls, and then they are at the camp.
Jericho and Harlank are up, the thunderous crack of Reason punctuated by the whisper of Harlank’s bow, finding their targets in the dark. Haxe stumbles to his feet as one of the featureless monsters wraps its awful arms around him. The arms cut into his skin, and blood wells up at their touch. The slits on the monster’s body seem to absorb the blood, and it gets stronger, while Haxe gets weaker. But a weakened Haxe is still far stronger than most, and the runes on Spiderbane begin to glow with a fiery light.
More of them come out of the trees. Eira stumbles, unarmored, from her tent, rubbing sleep from her eyes. She sees the monsters approaching and calls out a prayer to Irori. Her allies fight with renewed vigor and the monsters seem staggered.
A longsword bites Darmok in the shoulder and the blood flows out. The monster’s other arm comes sweeping through the air. Darmok seizes it in his hands, there is a blur of motion, and Darmok has the monster in his grasp. Its companion comes to flank, and the area near the hammock erupts into chaos, with Haxe’s greataxe cleaving the air, longswords and long arms flashing and drawing blood, and Harlank moving like a living shadow, sinking daggers and rapiers into strange, unnatural flesh and ducking back into the darkness.
Eira and Jericho are getting the worst of it. Eira is unarmored and the longswords bite deep. She stands firm, calling dooms on her enemies and blessings on her foes, but the arms of the enemy sap her blood and her strength. Jericho is surrounded and battered. With an anguish look to Eira he flees the monsters, trying to get enough distance to bring Reason into play against the enemy.
Darmok has, improbably, managed to tie up one of the monsters, though it struggles mightily against its bonds, but the other is proving a match for him, Haxe, and Harlank combined, seeming to shrug off their attacks. It wraps Haxe in its embrace once more, feeding on his blood—which is surely boiling with rage. Somehow it finds the time to lash out with its other arm at Darmok. Darmok dodges, though, and under its arm he ducks, forming his hand into a knife-shape and plunging it deep into the creature’s eye hole. Stunned, it drops its sword, releases Haxe, and stands there unsteadily, clutching at its face.
A longsword sweeps through the night and Eira is down, bleeding in the sand. A monster crouches over her, absorbing her blood with its strange grip.
A sudden leap and Spiderbane is there, propelled by hundreds of pounds of enraged half-orc.
“Leave Healing Lady ALONE!”
A flash like lightning, and the two halves of the monster spark as they fall smoking into the sand.
Within seconds, the other two monsters are dead—after a flurry of desparate misses, Darmok manages to find a vital organ with one last desperate punch.
Harlank, torn between eliminating a threat and helping a friend, makes a tough choice. He slits the throat of the tied-up monster and rushes to Eira’s side.
Another thunderous crack as a bullet whizzes through the air and hits the remaining monster.
Its allies suddenly dead, the lone remaining leech-creature finds itself outnumbered. It slings the dying half-elf over its shoulder and sprints down the beach, its strange arms seeming to sap Eira’s life further. She’s bleeding out, but she’s also looking older, more frail, as she is borne away by the strange beast.
With all the strength left in his body, Haxe throws himself down the beach after the escaping monster, veering in front of it and blocking its path. Darmok reaches within himself for one last surge of energy and moves faster than anyone has seen him move, down the beach in a blur, and makes a desparate attack at the monster, but he trips on something half-buried in the sand and his fist goes wild.
Jericho, battered and bloody and close to death, can’t move and load his gun at the same time. He hurriedly reloads his musket and aims it at the fleeing monster, calling down a judgment of guidance, asking for his god to guide his shot. It’s a long shot, but he’s made longer.
It’s too long, or the light is wrong, or luck isn’t with him. The bullet whizzes just past where the monster’s ear would be if it had one, and Jericho slumps to the ground.
The monster is surrounded by foes, and knows there’s no escape—not with the burden its carrying. Contemptuously, and to the horror of those around it, it draws its sword across Eira’s throat.
It dumps her dead on the sand and takes off for the woods. It doesn’t make it two steps before Haxe’s axe splits its head in two, but by then it’s too late.
The first hints of light appear behind the twisted, sickly trees that line the beach’s edge. Four adventurers gather around the bloody, drained body of their friend.
They are on an island surrounded by jagged rocks, in a place traders, sailors, farmers, dare not tread. They haven’t fully rested. They are days away from Magnimar, through treacherous, monster-infested terrain.
They are bloody and exhausted and some are close to death. For one of them, the journey is over. But not for the rest.