As the ship’s billowing sails drew them closer to the Priest Barrens, Captain Ward told Prospero, “I’m not really sure what to expect here. I’ve never been to the Priest Barrens before, but there are plenty of weird stories about the area. Unfortunately, this is the only place where we might be able to find help for Simon.”
Prospero nodded, acknowledging the nervousness from the captain of the vessel without comment, and stepped towards the bow of the ship, deep in thought. A few hours later, the lookout shouted down to the captain, “Ship ahoy, a small vessel to our starboard side.”
“Helmsman, make for the ship,” said Captain Ward, “Let’s see if whoever it is in trouble…or causing trouble,” he added ominously.
Within minutes, the ship had come alongside the vessel, which was a small dinghy with a dwarf who was tossing buckets of water overboard at a rate that was clearly being exceeded by the amount of water coming in the bottom.
“Ahoy, master dwarf,” called the captain, “can we be of some assistance?”
“Nope, having a grand time, don’t need any help at all,” came the gruff reply from the dwarf.
Captain Ward watched for a minute or two as the water gained on the dwarf, coming up to mid thigh on him. “Master dwarf, again, I’d ask you to come aboard,” said the captain.
The dwarf continued bailing and said, “I’m fine here, really”.
Finally the dwarf ceased bailing, looked around him as the water began lapping around his waist and said sheepishly, “Actually, captain, it looks like I could use a ride, if you’d be so kind”.
A few moments later, the dripping dwarf stood on the deck of the ship as his dinghy slipped beneath the waves. He held out his hand, “Thank you for your help, captain. My name is Finnbjorn Ironstone, but most call me Finn.”
Captain Ward took the dwarf’s hand and shook it heartily, “Welcome aboard, then, Finn”.
As further introductions were made with the party, the sails were unfurled and the ship was dancing over the waves towards the water temple. Captain Ward called his crew together and said, “Men, I will give you this chance to put ashore if you wish, as you know the rumors surrounding our destination. We don’t know what we are going to encounter at this temple, and we also know that there is a reputation of the area being unfriendly to outsiders. None will think the less of you if you decide to put ashore, and I’ll send provisions with you as well as pick you up if we are able to leave.”
After a few uncomfortable seconds passed, Mr. Rackham spoke up, “Captain Ward, after all we’ve been through, I think that I speak for the rest of the crew in saying that none of us is willing to leave. We’re with you on this for the long haul.”
A ragged cheer went up among the crew at these words. “Well then, what captain could ask for more?” replied Captain Ward, “Back to your stations, lads, we’re getting close”.
The captain then went to the helm with a misty look in his eyes to ready himself for the unknown. As the day came closer to the hour of the cat, the ship approached the bay of the Priest Barrens. When they got closer to the bay, the remains of dozens of ships could be seen, some with weathered wood poking above the waves, and others visible through the water. Suddenly, the wind left the sails in spite of the efforts of Maelstrom to fill them again, and the ship drifted to a stop. After the ship stopped, silence descended on the deck, and no one seemed willing to break the silence. Without warning, the water around the ship erupted into the air as about a dozen men leapt from the water and quickly surrounded the crew, herding them into the middle of the ship. The men had grey skin, tattooed faces, wide mouths and eyes set far apart in their face, causing them to look eerily fish-like. One of the men, wearing a blue turban, stood slightly apart from the others, watching the proceedings. Prospero noticed that as Brine was pushed past the man with the blue turban, he laid his hand on the shoulder of his soldier, and bowed to Brine, keeping his eyes locked on him; the bow of a free man, not a slave. Brine’s eyes widened in recognition, but the only thing he said as he was pushed into the knot of men at the center of the boat was, “Do not resist what comes next”.
With all of the ship’s crew gathered, the man with the blue turban stepped forward, stuck out his tongue and licked each of the party and the crew on the cheek. He then stepped back and gestured to two of the sailors, who were brought forward to him and forced to kneel on the deck, with one man behind holding their arms pinned against their back and another standing to the left of one man and to the right of the other. The man with the blue turban spoke, “Know that I am Krimma, and I have tasted the salt in your skin, which speaks to me of the poisoning of the Lunam Oyster Beds. What do you know of this crime?”
The man to the left said nothing, but bowed his head and looked at the deck. The man on the right tried to stand, but was forced back to his knees by the man holding his arms. “It were an accident, see? We were being chased, and had to start pushing the cargo overboard. We never meant any harm! It were an accident!”
Krimma motioned with his hand, and quick as a flash, the men on either side of the prisoners drew wickedly curved knives from their belts and slit the men from their crotch to their throats. Blood and entrails gushed wetly across the deck as the men began to die. “Steady lads,” cried Captain Ward, “We’ve all got crimes in our past that we may be called to answer for. Let’s do nothing foolish.”
Krimma turned his attention from the men who were feebly trying to put their guts back inside and stop the bleeding. “Wisely spoken. Why have you come to our waters? Know that I have tasted your salt, and I will know the veracity of your words.”
Prospero said, “We bade the captain bring us here, we are looking for the water temple to seek resurrection for a friend of ours who was recently killed fighting Chaos.”
“We are not trying to interfere…” began Ellisandra.
Krimma interrupted her and looked at Brine, “Boy, where did you get that armor?” he asked.
“It is my father’s armor, given to me when I left to make my way in the world,” replied Brine.
“Oho,” laughed Krimma without humor, “And did your father know of Sargos?”
Brine said, “Yes, my father told me tales of the battle of Thenga Sheru, he spoke of Sargos often, and said that his followers had secreted him away when he fell, why do you ask?”
“Because we are the Sargosi, and your father was an ally. Your presence is all that has spared these unbelievers so far, but whether they stay alive much longer has yet to be decided,” replied Krimma.
Turning to Prospero, Krimma said, “So, land dweller, tell me why you should live.”
“The friend we are trying to resurrect was a great Chaos fighter, and the work we do on the land helps keep Chaos from the oceans,” said Ellisandra.
Krimma considered this for a moment. “I am not convinced. We care nothing for the surface; you will be fed to the sharks, eels and Kraken,” he said.
“Perhaps we could complete a task for you,” said Prospero.
Krimma looked at Prospero intently. “Perhaps you may have some use after all. Choose such companions as you would bring with you, and we will discuss this matter with the high priest.”
Within moments, the party, along with Captain Ward and Simon’s body, stood assembled in front of Krimma. Each living member was given a small shell. “Place these under your tongues, and we will be on our way,” said Krimma.
Prospero placed the shell under his tongue and cried out involuntarily as he felt something stab his mouth. Even as he doubled over in pain, he glanced to his side and saw each of the others suffering similarly. What else he saw was that each of the party members had sprouted gills from their necks! The transformation complete, the party brought Simon and followed Krimma over the side, leaving the crew under both the command of John Rackham and the watchful eye of the Sargosi.
The group swam into an underwater cave that opened out into a sort of road. They passed other of the Sargosi who stopped what they were doing to stare at the outsiders being led into their world. Krimma led the way, making signs to the giant eels that poked their heads out of caverns to the side of the main road, like giant watchdogs. Prospero got a glimpse of a giant squid in a side chamber that appeared to be asleep, but one of its monstrous eyes opened and trained on the road as they passed. Eventually, the passage ended at a great chimney, and as they started swimming up, they swam through a pod of sharks that guarded this passage. Finally, the group surfaced inside a large natural cavern filled with air. The party was surrounded by guards riding on the backs of giant crabs, and Krimma’s men collected the shells from the party. Once the shells had been collected, the guards moved back to their posts, and allowed the party to pass. They were marched between columns that surrounded the central temple area, and there was a robed Sargosi towards the back of the chamber setting up an altar.
“Krimma, why have you brought this rabble of surface dwellers to the shrine of Sargos?” asked the priest.
Krimma replied, “Sarma, I have tested their salt, and find they are Chaos fighters. They have offered to complete a task in return for their freedom and the resurrection of their friend. I remembered that you had spoken to me just last week concerning an expedition to the surface world, and I thought perhaps a bargain might be in order.”
Sarma came forward to where Krimma stood. “There is merit in what you say, Krimma, but I would hear it from the mouths of the surface dwellers,” he said.
“How did your friend die?” asked Sarma.
Prospero stepped forward, “He was fighting against a vampire while we were in the process of clearing out a nest of Chaos in the Wailing Ruins. The foul creature sent a blast that killed him. We have fought many creatures of Chaos in the past, and it was simple misfortune that made this encounter fatal.”
“It’s true,” said Captain Ward as he stepped up next to Prospero, “they have saved my ship multiple times from all manner of creatures”.
Sarma went to Simon’s body and laid his hand on it. After a moment, he spoke, “There is a throne, a Journeyman relic, that we have heard is in the hands of vermin a few marks from here. As it is on the surface and far inland, we cannot travel there easily, and yet, this relic cannot be allowed to remain in the hands of those who now control it.”
Sarma moved away from Simon’s body and stood before Prospero and Captain Ward. “This relic is a magical throne. If you will recover this relic, then I will raise your friend, and you will be free to go. Directions will be provided to you. I will hold onto your friend and you, captain, will stay here until your friends return. I will preserve the body, but I cannot keep your friend’s spirit from the halls of silence for more than five days, if you take longer than that, I will not be able to help him. The relic is being held about a day’s journey from here, so you should have time.”
The dwarf stepped forward, beside Captain Ward and Prospero, “Priest, have you heard any tales of Terrel’s bones?”
Sarma looked at the dwarf, “No, I am not familiar with them.”
“Perhaps have you seen another of my kind?” asked Finn.
Sarma chuckled, “You are the only surface dwellers who have ever made it into this temple.”
Within the hour, the party was on their way to the surface, shells giving them gills again, with crude hand drawn maps that showed a box canyon as the location where the throne was being held. Once on the surface, they travelled for the better part of the day and made camp. Morning broke, and the party began to scout the area, quickly finding the entrance to the box canyon marked on the crude map provided by the Sargosi. The party moved up the canyon and discovered that the area had been blocked off. A stone wall led to a large door or gate, with a tower standing to the right of the door as they faced down the valley. Walac scouted closer to the door and returned to the party with bad news, “There are at least two hobgoblins manning the tower. The construction is fairly new, not more than a few seasons, based on the weathering on the door.”
Prospero said, “Let me do a little more scouting before we do anything”.
Prospero cast armor and invisibility on himself, and then cast his burrow spell. Moments later, he emerged from the ground on the other side of the wall, and began to take stock of the situation. In the building to the left side of the gate, which made up the stone wall portion of the barrier outside, he could see the large, repulsive form of an ogre lounging on the stone floor. Prospero quietly unlocked the gate and moved to the door of the tower. As he got to the tower, he could see a campsite further coreward from the tower. Disconcertingly, he could also see one of the hobgoblins pointing directly at him and shouting. Once the shouting started, the sound of a whip cracking came from the building rimward of where Prospero was standing, and the ogre followed it out, along with guttural shouts from whoever (or whatever) was cracking the whip. The ogre went to the doorway, and a hobgoblin with a whip emerged and followed it to the door, trying to see what was going on.
Outside the gate, Nightshift heard the shouts, and said, “Uh oh, cat is out of the bag,” and began moving towards the gate with Brine. Maelstrom picked Ellisandra up and the rest of the party moved up with them, with Finn pulling out his blunderbuss and taking cover behind the hulking troll. Nightshift threw a javelin at one of the hobgoblins on the wall, hitting it a glancing blow and stunning it momentarily. The hobgoblins in the tower began to call out to their brothers that they were under attack. In the confusion, Prospero went to the back of the building and saw a large number of skeletons standing in formation in the center of the building. As the call went out about the attack, he saw the skeletons begin to move out of the building. Prospero sent a blast spell to the choke point between the buildings, killing two hobgoblins, and wounding two others, even as arrows from the skeletons began to land around him.
As the blast went off behind him, the ogre threw open the door and saw Nightshift. Without hesitation, he rushed the troll and missed him with a wild sweep of his club. Finn discharged his blunderbuss, but in the fury of the moment, missed the ogre entirely. Trish stunned the ogre with a slash from her blades, but didn’t wound the creature significantly. The ogre swung again with his club stunning Trish with a glancing blow, and missing Nightshift completely. Nightshift’s axe bit deeply into the ogre’s flesh, causing him to howl in pain. The ogre held off the attacks of Finn, Nightshift, Trish, and Alorrah, but he was fighting a losing battle. A skeleton came lurching out of the gate behind the ogre, but a swift shot from Walac caused the creature to fall to the ground in a heap. Swinging wildly, the ogre missed Walac and Nightshift with his club, and Nightshift took the opening to hit the ogre with his axe again. Trish wounded the creature with her runeswords, and after a blast from Ellisandra, the ogre fell face first in the dirt, dead.
While the others were fighting the ogre, Maelstrom moved past the door and began to thunder, stunning many of the creatures that had gathered in the doorway. The thunderclaps began to wear down the opposition, first stunning, and then killing many of the creatures gathered there who could not hit him due to his magical nature. Prospero cast burrow again, this time coming up outside the door to the tower, just as Alorrah shot and killed one of the hobgoblins that was stunned by Maelstrom’s thunder. Nightshift shook off an arrow that lodged in his armor from one of the hobgoblins in the tower, and charged forward, killing a skeleton and then a hobgoblin on the backsweep. Finn’s blunderbuss killed one of the hobgoblins that rushed through the gate, and Trish took care of a second one. As Prospero worked on the door to the tower, he noticed a hobgoblin running to the back of the canyon, and blew it away with a quick bolt spell.
Walac and Finn looked for more targets to come out of the doorway, but they were both surprised when the ogre stood up and took a swing at them. The ogre hit Finn, wounding him. At Walac’s surprised shout, Trish came running out of the doorway and stunned the ogre with another quick attack. Quickly enough, the ogre was felled again, and Trish began chopping it into pieces to prevent it reforming and attacking again, while Ellisandra set fire to the remains.
Prospero made it to the top of the tower, killed one of the hobgoblins, and wounded the other. The wounded hobgoblin couldn’t find Prospero due to the invisibility spell, and as he searched for his attacker, a well placed arrow from Brine found it’s mark and ended his search forever.
Meanwhile, Grimclaw, while trying to find and help his master, Prospero, was surrounded by skeletons and heavily wounded. Nightshift and Alorrah began working their way through the remaining foes to assist, and Nightshift took and arrow in the sternum and fell to the ground unconscious. Alorrah, seeing the bad state Grimclaw was in, cast shimmer on him to help shield him from attacks, even as Prospero, Grimclaw, and Trish took out the last of the combatants.