3 CalistrilLittle to report in the first days after our departure from Port Freedom. The voyage has been easy going with the druids keeping the winds in our favor. If we're lucky these clear skies will accompany us all the way to Kalabuto.
In the predawn hours our vessel struck something massive that launched our group overboard. Zig and I were swept away in a flash flood as we struggled to keep his boar companion afloat. My memory dims as to what came next in those dark waters.
What I do recall is that hungry rush of air as I woke up along a rocky bank inside some hidden grotto. Slowly more of our expedition splashed to shore; most under their own power.
We explored the cavern and after some minutes discovered an entrance carved into the cave wall. With no other way forward, we opened the peculiar wooden door and entered a softly lit chamber. There was little to the room other than surging aqueducts around a central platform surrounded by four glowing braziers crafted to appear like skulls.
Vam approached the platform and discovered a journal in Polyglot. Calypso took the book from him and told us of its owner Jigeke, and his battle with a "Bewaarder'' as he sought out Amghawe's spear and mask. Every Mwangi with half a stomach full of mbege has called themselves the heir to Amghawe's spirit. They should stick to chasing antelope.
After some further inspection we came upon a second door. Beyond it was a series of twisted corridors filled with horrors beyond my understanding.
The shambling remains of a buccaneer (is this the fortune that awaits me?);
a moving pile of eyes, mouths and shapeless flesh that momentarily devoured Ned (I can't believe I put Ujamaa inside that thing);
both a monstrous treasure chest and jellied cube Vam stumbled headlong into;
a knotted mass of venomous snakes that sprung up from the floor (I should keep an eye out for traps)
The worst came when we heard feeble whimpers off in the darkness. We followed them to their source: the last surviving member of the Golden Fang gang that Ned had intimidated into joining us. Our reunion was short-lived as an enormous shape passed through the wall and cleaved Howard's body in half with a swing of its enormous axe. Within the light of our torches, the figure was revealed to be a half-man, half-bull who nearly filled the corridor with its hulking frame.
This massive foe harried us as we moved from skirmish to skirmish, having appeared before Vam's interaction with the mimic. As relentless as this man-bull was, he was no match for Maedra's ferocity. The boar gored him with every appearance until we vanquished the monster.
Our rewards were many, but none was more satisfying than finding an exit from this underground nightmare. We emerged from behind a waterfall and, to our amazement, regrouped with Sasha, Nkechi and Jabulani. They'd established a camp just outside of the small lagoon near the cave.
Any feelings of celebration ceased when the greedy Riverman, seeing our various trinkets, immediately demanded his "fair share". Lofty demands for someone who managed to wreck a fine vessel. He struck the Vanara in a show of authority before Ned gave him a sapphire in amends. This Riverman is no better than those shit-breathed overseers. If Ujamaa hadn't jammed from all that damn gore I would have ended him that very moment.
I write this now as we rest outside of the maze. If I had a patron, I'd pray to them in hopes the ship isn't too damaged. Even with this setback we can still make it to Kalabuto in good time.
4 Calistril*The top of the page is filled with several mathematical equations beside the rushed sketch of a pulley system and ship. Between the equations and sketches Olca has drawn a simple cartoon of George the Gorilla flexing.*
It's been over a week and sleep is still not easy to come by.
After breaking our fast, we traveled along a shady path for an hour towards the ship.
The Andoran struggled with the blued corpses of his comrades as he waded through the wreckage. We helped him bring them ashore and spent the morning felling trees to build three funeral pyres. The fourth is missing and presumed dead. Tristram is shaken with grief.
The damage done to the Skirmisher was grave. Her prow was aimed skyward. Much of the starboard hull was crushed. The mast was in splinters, the sail in tatters. Below deck, she'd taken on several feet of water. What the fuck happened?
We've done it! Noon came & went but the ship has been righted. We have begun fashioning a mast & pontoon from the tall sipos that surround the Skirmisher.
Some of the group has returned to the cave to explore it further. In this heat I prefer keeping close to the water and finishing this entry. After that, I don't know. Perhaps I'll boil down some bark to tar the mast in place.
P.S. I thought my entry for the day was done but the Laughing Jungle is generous with misfortune.
With a day's work done and the sun half-sunk, we were suddenly beset by two monstrous vultures that dove at us from high above. One pinned Zig beneath its leathery foot, talons the length of daggers caked in gore, & almost crushed him. Ujamaa finished off the bird; something Calypso identified as a geier.
Out here we are all prey.
I should think of something to do for Zig (Whiskers?).
This morning Whiskers has convinced some of the others to join him into the undergrowth in search of fruits and mushrooms to bolster our supplies. I suspect he would prefer to spend the day away from camp given yesterday.
George's strength continues to prove invaluable. With him we've raised the new mast and as I write these words, the tar works to hold it steadfast.
There was a brief moment of excitement when Douglas was attacked by large mosquitos after going below deck but the group made quick work of the insects.
Our luck may be changing. Douglas found us a large canvas sail I've turned into a makeshift tent alongside the Skirmisher. We'll need it if I'm right about that storm.
P.S. Whiskers returned alone as the storm broke. He came in need of help, having left the others in a clearing with a boar as large as the Skirmisher.
Nothing we can do at the moment but save our strength. We'll begin our search once the storm abates.
6 Calistril*Thick splotches of candle wax cover the page.*
Barely cockcrow and there's news already. Spent the night in the crow's nest to keep an eye out for the others and I was not disappointed.
Calypso arrived late last night, claiming that Ned refused to return with her and she left him to sulk alone when she grew tired of him.
Valtyra's arrival closely followed that of the witch's. She began to quarrel with the monk over the perceived abandoning of Ned. Things continued to escalate & culminated with her being restrained by Vam and some rope.
I thought that was the end of it but she slipped off in the dark in search of the barbarian. Why is beyond me. Had she waited until daybreak she would have been present when Ned crawled into the clearing just minutes ago.
I'll wake the others shortly to discuss our options. Things might be better with the barbarian unconscious.
We've settled on splitting our time between building a dam further upstream & final repairs on the Skirmisher. Much to do after breakfast. I'll finish this later. *Streaks of dried blood stain the rest of the entry.*
The Riverman knows there is no mine. I should never have made a bargain with the scoundrel. What's done is done.
Must learn what happened the night of the shipwreck.
I owe Vam & Whiskers much; that tsvina hits, and smells, like a rhino
In an effort to ease tensions, Whiskers has invited me to accompany him back into the jungle. He wishes to collect some rubber he'd found in a clearing while he had been out scouting for Valtyra the previous morning. We'll head out after finishing the dam.
Spoke to Sasha about the Rivermen while working on the dam site. She was tight-lipped about their dealings with the Red Mantis.
We're heading out soon. I'll see if I can get Tristram to tag along and answer some questions.
O*Between the entries is a page covered in occult symbols.*
This jungle is cursed.
Yesterday was a nightmare. Even now on the Skirmisher, beneath a beating sun, I can't shake the feeling something worse is coming.
The journey to the clearing proved difficult for some of the group, so we slowed our pace. This gave me plenty of time to probe Tristram for information. The Andoran is still mourning his comrades but from what he recalls, it was the flash floods that dashed the ship to shore.
We silently finished our trek & arrived at the clearing some hours later. It was immediately apparent why Whiskers did not wish to be alone there; the air felt heavy with an evil presence.
The glade was dominated by an enormous rock covered in strange symbols I took some time to transcribe. After this, I investigated the broken stumps that surrounded the boulder. Something about those hollowed out trunks, filled with nail marks unlocked a memory from my childhood: Auntie Ipaishe told us of children the Bekyar would sacrifice by stuffing them in trunks for demons to come for in the night.
We took our torches & set the glade alight in an attempt to cleanse the place of evil. What we did instead was cause Ned to be possessed by what we assume was the spirit of Howard, whose head the barbarian continued to tote around. Tristram & Vam worked together to knock Ned unconscious while I destroyed Howard's skull with a well-placed shot.
This was the least of our troubles as Calypso summoned horses & we fled. The darkness of the jungle came alive & gave chase. We rode for hours, nearly losing Tristram during a great fall after traipsing past the enormous boar Zig had tried to befriend.
I was almost left behind at the very end when high above in the canopy, I noticed pale figures in Chelish livery as they stalked us.
If it had not been for Nkechi we would have ridden headlong into a spike trap the pursuing darkness had directed us towards.
We returned to camp, subdued by the experience. Nkechi has offered assistance with my temper: perhaps the hermit has a point.
Calypso has renegotiated terms with the Riverman. The witch is shrewd and has a mind for coin.
With the Skirmisher back in the rising waters of the tributary, we are prepared to continue our voyage. Whiskers has predicted heavy rains tomorrow night.
Nothing left to do but wait.
P.S. This jungle is very fucking cursed.
Yesterday continued smoothly after the Skirmisher had settled into the water. Sunset loomed after spending some hours training with Sasha, so I went in search of Nkechi for my lesson. Curious of the hermit's ways, Vam accompanied me and together we participated in Nkechi's ritual to show us Gozreh's will. I'll be damned if that old man didn't make the river slow for a moment.
Nkechi, moved by his connection with Gozreh, performed an augury that warned us of an incoming attack that night.
We prepared for the worst and were woefully unsuccessful.
A fog had settled over our camp with the setting of the sun and persisted until after the attack.
It all began with what I thought was a child at the time. It stepped out of the mist on to the upper deck just as I exited the cabin. Blue-gray flesh hung slack from its partially exposed skeleton. It reached out for me and I fired my guns. What ensued was mayhem obscured by mist.
Through the murk I could hear the others fighting and the occasional flash of Ujamaa brought the others to me. We were able to push the children back into the night through a unified effort, but not before one of them laid its claws upon me.
Its touch... did something to me. All these blankets and I still can’t get warm.
Things could have been much worse; apparently those things could take over the minds of simple beasts like Maedra and Jabulani.
We’ve decided to return to the rock when the sun rises.
The mist children are dead and Zura's monolith has been destroyed. One less evil in the world.
We are making final preparations for our departure tonight. I've returned from the dam site with Vam. We plan on using some more of my black powder reserves to destroy the dam and ride the surge back on to the Korir proper.
What a sight that will be. I think I'll take a nap before tonight. I could use the rest.*Olca's normally bold script is replaced with light, shaky lettering.*
Woke up. Head swimming. Body covered in bruises. Peel boots off and head above deck. Got to help.
At first light Nkechi took me aside. He chanted & channeled soft blue light from out his hands & through my body. I could feel the swelling from my bruises subside immediately.
I hear Douglas stirring. It appears Nkechi was able to cure him as well.
Within a few days I should recover completely from my illness. But that diminished sensation…Nkechi says that shall remain until we can reach Kalabuto and find aid from a temple.
Here comes Whiskers now. After half a month in his company I think I'm starting to recognize when he's smiling. What is he up to?
Vam is dead. He fought bravely, and he is still dead.
At this moment his remains are wrapped in the bedroll I bought in Eleder at the start of this expedition.
I watched it happen. I did everything I could, and he is still dead.
A chance encounter with some Zenj fishermen led us to a village a half-day's walk from the anchored Skirmisher. All talks of trade were brushed away as bowls of food were passed around. The strange combination of spiced peanut stew, wild tobacco and the nearby midden heap touched me deeply. For a brief moment, I recalled my childhood in Oubingakiji while we sat around the fire and ate.
Then came the truth from the lips of a squat nganga with a shock of gray hair as we settled in to sleep. The village was plagued nightly by terrifying apebears. The nganga claimed it was a curse and asked us to lift it. We agreed and made our first mistake: we separated.
The only solace I can find in Vam's death is saving that village from chemosits. With these tokens from the apebears, I shall never forget what happened.
The village nganga gave us a map and the shrunken head of a monkey. TUM is not pleased with the witch's new fetish.
A group of the villagers have joined us temporarily as rowers. Kalabuto is a week away.
Our sense of urgency has increased. Beyond the expectations of the Red Mantis, Nkechi's magic can only preserve Vam for so long before resurrection is no longer an option.
I have heard tales of others being brought back from death. Now I am entering a pact with the others to ensure none of us knows death too long.
Whiskers has made friends with an enormous bat. What's next?
Today marks a great victory for the Freemen: the foul-breathed slaver Leadlegs has been slain!
After two days of double-shifts we'd made excellent progress despite the fog. The Lake of Vanished Armies lives up to its name. We can barely see more than twenty feet ahead of the prow.
Heavy winds and steady rains were our only company until midday when we espied another ship through the thinning mist. I recognized those colors immediately.
The battle was a blur of bodies and blood, steel and smoke, all atop the Lake's churning waters. Vam's death has proven a powerful motivator. We fell into formation naturally, with Ned, Maedra and the Riverman holding the frontline as Sasha, Tristram, Valtyra, and Whiskers held the flanks. I took to the rigging and rained volley after volley upon the Shackles.
After the battle we were reunited with Ras, the golden lizard man from the night of Umagro's death. He had been taken prisoner after the ship he'd attached himself to was attacked by Leadlegs.
Ned has taken his armor. The Riverman has taken the ship to settle all debts. I've taken the Captain's colors, as well as his magical cloak. With it I feel somewhat restored.
Apparently one of his crewmen was a Pathfinder. This trinket should prove most invaluable to me.
Tonight the captain's quarters of the Skirmisher are my own. I find the privacy the cabin affords strange, but I was able to finish this entry in peace.
I wonder, what shall Kalabuto hold for us? With our delays, have the Mantis abandoned us? I shall have to think hard on how best to make up for lost time.
We shall be arriving at Kalabuto tomorrow. As such, Calypso called a meeting with the others to discuss how best to use our time. This came after she pulled me aside the night before to warn me of Kalabuto’s social conditions. I told her I am well aware of the Chelish stranglehold on the city but will do my best to control my temper while there. The others? That is another matter entirely.
Other than that, there is nothing to report other than nearly watching Ned be devoured by an enormous undead shark. Given what we've faced these past weeks, a shark attack on a cursed lake seems routine.
What has this journey done to me?
I'll be saddened to leave the Skirmisher; she's a fine vessel to get us here after the Hell we've been through. May the wind forever be at Tristram's sails. I'll send word to Eleder through our contact of our arrival and suggest further strengthening the Freemen's allegiances with the Eagle Knights.
O*Olca’s handwriting has regained some of its flair.*
Our first night in Kalabuto was an eventful one.
We arrived late yesterday morning after a final push by the rowers, the sweet tang of pineapple on the wind. What we thought was an overgrown hilltop surrounded by patches of swaying date palms revealed itself to be the ancient city as we grew closer.
Even the dingy plank and mortar establishments along the riverbank were a sight for sore eyes.
After some minor purchases and watching a treacherous child (and possible informant) be tormented, we took Vam’s remains and made our way to the local priest; a mutengesi by the name of Batulu, dressed in Chelish finery.
The trials of the past weeks (and Calypso’s warning) have prepared me well to swallow my anger when faced with matters of grave importance. Following brief negotiations, we paid the cleric of Abadar his coin, and Vam was resurrected. I am to return today for my partial restoration.
The Vanara was surprised at using our sparse resources on him. We informed him of our concord then made our way to Cheiton’s tavern, the Shrunken Head. Inside, Zenj women danced atop tables to a raucous group of sailors, workers and adventurers.
We’d just settled in to drinks at the bar when a man in crimson armor like Chivane’s called Sasha, Calypso and myself over to his table. The Mantis are disappointed with our late arrival. It seems Chivane and the main expedition departed the day before our arrival. It took some effort on Calypso and I’s behalf, but we convinced him we could still make good on our initial contract as the advance party.
The rest of the night was spent in conversation after we walked the block to Cheiton’s home. There we learned of possible dangers ahead of us: demon worshipping ape-men known as the Charau-Ka; the violent city-state of Mzali and its god-king Walkena; and the cannibalistic fey known as the Eloko.
After offering us his spacious home, Cheiton left to procure our supplies. After some days, I devised a way to slingshot past the main expedition and presented my idea to the group. They’re not too keen to return to the water, but it’s the only way.
Ras has offered his armor and a restorative scroll in exchange for winnings from Saventh-Yhi a year from now. I took the lizard’s offer; I doubt he’ll survive that long in Kalabuto with his behavior.
We settled in to the first night of comfortable sleep in weeks. The comfort would not last. In retrospect we were fools to not establish a watch. Thankfully Whiskers is a light sleeper and we’d decided on sharing a room. Without him, that ambush could have proven deadly.
I slipped my guns out of their holsters and snuck to the doorway where I watched two shadows slip into the master bedroom Ned had taken for himself. I picked up the scent of something noxious as Vam yelled a warning out to Ned and alerted our would-be assassins.
The four attackers upstairs posed little problem to us, especially after a new ally arrived (through the second-story window) and attacked one of the assassins. Beyond stealth and poison, they let vipers loose in Ned’s bed.
With our attackers secured, we moved to the first floor to check on Douglas. I wish I hadn’t. The manacles on Leadleg’s ship brought a chill to the pit of my stomach. Now I was in a dungeon, where hundreds hung from the ceiling, some swaying with exhausted mwangi. I heard the Ijo song the slaves in the pineapple fields sang back in Crown’s End.
Infuriated, I stepped past Sasha and the newcomer and opened fire on an armored figure in the center of the room. Whatever it was, it bled, and it was angry. It attacked me with a length of chain that erupted from the floor and lashed across my chest. My anger chilled and I was overcome with fear unlike anything I’ve felt before.
Sasha and I ran through the darkened streets for blocks until our pace slowed and our poise returned. We returned in time to find the armored figure slain. We stripped the attackers of their valuables and prepared to interrogate the survivors when a knock and shout at the door announced the arrival of the city guard.
I snuck upstairs and spent the rest of the night sleeping in Sasha’s room with Ujamaa at my side.
This morning Vam and I left the others resting and returned to Batulu. The cleric took the golden key that hung around his spindly neck, sprinkled the dust from several diamonds over our heads and touched us with the key.
The sensation was a strange one. Like a cold, cleansing rain after hours spent working in the mines. The dust flaked away and I could feel myself be partially restored.
In a week’s time I can have Nkechi use the scroll the lizard gave me.
This rejuvenated feeling has inspired much writing. After a meal at the Shrunken Head, I’ll be gathering my own supplies as the Hermit agrees the river route is our best option. If I’m right, these fan feather tokens will aid us considerably in this race to ruin.
The others have interrogated our attackers and learned of their involvement with Leadlegs and the Free Captain Kassata Lewynn.
May have discovered a new ally in J. Must send word to Eleder and strengthen this coalition. A solid foothold in Kalabuto could do much for our struggle against the Chelish.
Chimurenga and these enchanted tokens shall face their first field tests later today as we plan to rent a raft and see if the nganga’s map is worth anything.*A rough sketch of a long-necked aquatic dinosaur in mid-thrash separates the entry. There is a noose wrapped around the beast’s neck.*
Not even midday and we’ve returned to Kalabuto. These fans are amazing.
The map led us to an old Chelish barge wrecked along a shoal on the River of Lost Tears. After dealing with an enormous reptile that had taken up residence in its cracked remains we discovered a chest full of valuables. None more so to me than this machete that can cut through steel with ease.
The others have settled on using the remainder of the day to craft magical items for the upcoming journey into the Screaming Jungle.
I’ll use this time to speak with my contact in the city, perhaps purchase a horse and offer Whiskers something in exchange for converting it into a small token, like he does with Maedra, until needed.
Kalabuto is nearly a week behind us thanks to the fan feather token.
After a precarious 200’ climb, we stumbled across the remains of a Shackles camp picked clean. It appears the Red Mantis have another forward party in play. They left one of their sawtooth blades skewered through a pirate as a message.
Our first night’s camp outside of crumbled ruins set us directly in the path of a Mzali war band and their putrid, undead minions. If it had not been for Vam’s keen eyes and Zig’s spell keeping our campsite hidden, things could have gone poorly.
We took three of the four Mzali alive and after checking them for further weapons, set about interrogating one after Calypso cursed him to speak only truths. With some theatrics on my behalf we learned much of Walkena’s punishments, and their nearby fortifications.
Our second night set us in the Screaming Jungle proper. We needed the rest after striking a hippo at maximum velocity and flying some fifty odd feet through the air. Things looked grim for a moment there with those enormous lizard men. After meeting Ras I assumed all lizard men were small. How wrong I was. Pierce, the newcomer, proved himself to be quite capable against them.
Today we’re deep into the canopy and managed to avoid crossing paths with anything other than endless rain. It’s almost a mist that has lingered for hours.
The insects have become more than mere annoyance. Set up the netting along with an extra smokey fire to protect us.
Calypso and Pierce have dedicated some time to analyzing Yarzoth’s notes and learned details of our fabled destination. Saventh-Yhi may be the tomb of a slain god and contains something called the Pillars of Light.
P.S. Damn Ned for throwing away my earplugs. I could have used them tonight with these howling monkeys. I understand the Screaming part of the name now.
If I ever find that nganga, I’ll hug her so tight she might snap. Without that shrunken monkey fetish we all would have died last night.
By this point, our mornings had become routine. I would assist others in breaking down camp while Whiskers and Calypso prepared their magic for the day. We set off in good spirits, continuing to follow the Upper Korir as best we could while Whiskers used a spell to create a clear path for the horses. Barajika was a wise purchase: the young pinto is strong and heeds me well. “Many Thanks” is a strange name, though. I’ll have to think of something flashier.
This deep beneath the canopy, we were saved from the blazing midday sun but had to deal with humidity that weighed us down in our saddles. We paused for a moment to rest and hydrate when we became aware of a presence stalking us through the brush.
The tense silence was only broken by the nervous stamping of our mounts when we were charged by a lonely chemosit. The mere sight of the apebear sent Vam into a fury that did little to aid in his fight. Once again, the monk was almost killed when Pierce bound his shadow to the chemosit and rooted it in place long enough for me to blow its face away with Ujamaa.
Hoping to put distance between us and more chemosits, we continued on foot after Calypso’s summoned mounts disappeared. We marched for hours until we reached a bend in the Korir and discovered a gruesome scene.
Another demolished camp, only now the bodies were unrecognizable. Whoever they were, they had entered the territory of a dire ape. Just like us. We dismounted to see what we could learn from the corpses when the creature returned and grew furious at our company. It howled and something primal in me stirred.
I ran. I don’t know for how long, but I ran until I felt safe then took cover behind a tree and listened. Separated and with no other choice, I fired into the air to alert the others. It took some time but we were all reunited, save for Barajika. The horse bolted into the undergrowth.
Pierce and Whiskers informed us they’d slain the ape, but something worse rose from its carcass: a shadow being they were unfamiliar with. Calypso told us of powerful beings from other realms that made pacts with witches for power. If this being is from another realm, it can be banished there. We recalled the nganga’s fetish and devised a plan. Calypso assured us she was no such witch. I hope so.
The witch and her sister are also aware of Havelar’s benevolent nature. This is a curious development. The Ekujae would prove valuable allies. She claims they are difficult to deal with, at best.
We were able to sleep for a few hours before the shadow being found us.
The fight was brutal as the shadow seemed immune to everything we threw at it. It summoned a second demon and the two kept their distance across the water, while throwing destructive orbs of pitch into our ranks. Each of my regular killshots glanced off their inky flesh. A third orb nearly sent me to my grave and knocked Calypso unconscious.
Once more it attempted to terrorize us. This time we resisted its spell and finally the moment presented itself for Vam to use the fetish. The two of them were engulfed in a column of white light as the stitches that had held the shriveled head’s eyes and mouth shut snapped open.
The light subsided and the shadow was banished. We gathered around a wounded Sasha and unconscious Calypso and began tending to our wounds.
This morning we returned to the demolished camp and I set about tracking Barajika while the others gathered what they could. Vam accompanied me and after a few hours we returned atop my humbled steed. We found it in the river, nearly a mile downstream from where we’d been attacked the night before.
The others cleared the scene of bodies and have decided to make camp here as Whiskers has come down with something.
Poor little fellow, he is shaking terribly and can’t hold any food down. I saw him vomiting into the river when I returned to camp. I’ll keep watch over him until the morning when Nkechi can attempt to cure him.