6 Primus 1668 (Veldi)
In San Cristóbal, at a wine-house called "Esmerelda's," Ysabel de Sonseca de las Olas is meeting with Javier de Manuel de Rioja, a "friend" of her patron, Roberto de Jimenez de San Felipe. She is to act as his proxy and protect his interests in a deal that Javier is setting up with a relic hunter he knows.
While in San Cristóbal, Ysabel has been keeping track of a Captain John James Seymour. He is the captain of the Solemn Promise and gave her passage to San Juan from Connickmoor so long ago, despite her shadowy past and obviously troubled background. She has been keeping tabs on the captain in hopes of repaying the kindness he showed her.
As they wait for the arrival of the relic hunter, Ysabel notices, sitting alone at another table, with an impressive cache of empty wine glasses before her, Captain Seymour's young ward. Though Ysabel knows of her due to her inquiries regarding the Captain, the small young woman has never met Ysabel.
Tessa, the young woman in question, sits alone, drinking wine, and ruminating on how she can ease the anxieties of Captain Seymour's wife, Veronica Seymour. Captain Seymour has been away for six months and Veronica fears for his safety. His absence has cast a pall over the household. Veronica is Tessa's mother's cousin, with whom she has been staying a short while.
Across the room, at another table, a large Vesten woman with an axe leaning close to hand against the table, reads a letter. Fenneke Hagasdatter has recieved some news from her father:
My Dearest Daughter,
I hope all is well with you, that you have found honor and fortune in your travels.
I will get quickly to my point, Daughter, as you have always appreciated bluntness.
I call upon you, my dearest, to avenge your mother and brother. To find this enemy of our family and deal slow, cold, justice.
There is some light to be shed on this attack: I have used my resources around Vendel to try and track down this whore-dog. A woman fitting her description was seen boarding a ship called the Solemn Promise. According to my sources, it was setting off to the west on an expedition for the Explorer’s Society.
Find Yngvild. Retrieve your family’s shield. Restore our honor.
I place my faith in you and in the All-Father.
Fenneke grits her teeth in determination and at the mention of her enemy. At last, a clue to the bitch's whereabouts.
Rodrigo Panchito Sancho de la Rosa de la Amor strides confidently into the wine-house. He has received word with contacts in the Explorer's Society that Javier de Manuel de Rioja wishes to meet with him for a job. When he walks into the common room, he spots Javier across the room seated with a beautiful young woman. She is dressed well, but not ostentatiously. She seems to be taking in the room.
Rico swaggers forward and greets Javier warmly. He politely inquires of the name of the young woman at the table. Ysabel introduces herself politely, but with her full formal name. Rico, nonplussed, murmurs that if we are stand on ceremony, he is Rodrigo Panchito Sancho de la Rosa de la Amor—but his friends call him Rico.
Javier wants to get down to business, but Rico insists that they order wine first. Javier acquiesces. Once the wine is brought forward, Javier begins his tale.
Six months ago, Javier and Rico's mutual "friends" sent an expedition to a distant island in search of an ancient relic. That expedition has not returned, and their friends want Rico to sail forth in search of the mysterious island and the missing explorers.
Rico asks about the relic in question and Javier tells him that it is the Ninth Eye of Nioth. Rico has heard of this piece. It is Syrneth in origin and is reputed to lie on an island to the west of Théah. He relates this to Javier, who confirms that this is the relic in question.
Six months ago, scholars uncovered evidence that the Ninth Eye of Nioth might reside within a Syrneth city on one of the many islands west of Théah. Due to unsolved riddles of the navigation systems used by the Syrne, they could only determine the island’s approximate location. Their mutual friends immediately outfitted an expedition to find the island, the city, and the relic, and its explorers ventured westward on a ship called the Solemn Promise.
Two months ago, a Castillian trading vessel came across a small ship’s boat adrift in the Widow’s Sea. The boat’s only occupant was the corpse of a sailor who had been dead for several weeks. Her wounds suggested that she had been in heavy combat, and odd purple marks on her body seemed to be symptoms of some form of disease. The Castillian crew abandoned the boat, set it on fire with flaming arrows, and let it burn and sink with the body aboard.
Before burning the boat, the Castillian captain had found a map clutched in the dead sailor’s hand. The captain was another mutual "friend", and upon inspecting the map, he found a evidence that the map belonged to these "friends." When he returned to port, he brought the map to these friends. There has been no further sign of the expedition since then, and it is feared that the explorers aboard the Solemn Promise may have met with a grim fate.
The map bears the initials “JJS”, which match the initials of John James Seymour, the captain of the Solemn Promise. Furthermore, the sailing directions on the map correspond to the area where the Solemn Promise had been searching.
Although it’s possible that pirates claimed the Solemn Promise, Javier will readily admit that Syrneth ruins are dangerous places. Syrneth structures are full of traps that remain effective despite the countless years that have passed since the Syrne vanished. Scholars have not established who these hazards were meant to deter, but the traps are certainly lethally effective against unwary human explorers.
Across the room, both Fenneke and Tessa hear the mention of the Solemn Promise. Fenneke immediately rises and approaches Rico's table. Tessa holds back to see how this plays out.
"Did I hear you mention the Solemn Promise?" Fenneke demands. "Are you looking for her?"
Rico and Javier hedge a bit, with Rico saying he doesn't know what she's talking about. Ysabel stays silent. Fenneke presses on.
"I'll help you. I don't need payment. If you're looking for her, I'll help."
Rico looks to Javier. Javier says that their "friends" are not adverse to Rico seeking out help. Rico shrugs and says "Very well."
By that time, Tessa has approached the table. "Are you looking for the Solemn Promise?"
Rico tells Javier that apparently his voice carries. Javier looks exasperated. "Apparently," he agrees, drily.
Tessa inquires as to the fate of the captain and crew of that ship. Rico says that they do not know, that they only have an idea of their last heading. "Are you going to look for them? I'd like to come."
"Is there room on the ship?" Rico asks Javier. Javier admits that there is.
Rico shrugs and acquiesces.
Javier motions toward Ysabel. "This woman represents one of our friends, Roberto de Jimenez de San Felipe. She will be procuring the item on his behalf."
Rico asks Javier if she is one of their "friends." Javier says that she represents her patron, not their "friends."
Rico asks if there will be payment for this expedition, or favor. Javier says that there will be much favor to be gained, some for embarking on the expedition, and more for each of the following objectives completed:
- Collect any information on any Syrneth ruins on the island.
- Find and bring back the Ninth Eye of Nioth.
- Determine what happened to the previous expedition and bring back any survivors.
Javier's friends will also be willing to compensate any others that join Rico on this quest.
Rico asks if there is a ship being provided? Javier says yes, the Magaurite captained by Lucien Pardieu. It will leave whenever the party is ready.
Rico doesn't seem pleased to have a Montaigne as a captain, but says nothing more about it.
Introductions are made all around. Rico calls for more wine. Fenneke (who indicates that she can be called "Fen") asks about the availability ale or mead. Rico reminds her that they are in a wine-house and recommends a sweet wine. Grumbling, Fenneke accepts this.
At one point, Rico, flashes everyone a look at his medallion, an ornate compass rose. Fenneke and Ysabel recognize it as the symbol of the Explorer's Society.
Everyone agrees that leaving in the morning would be best. Javier makes a toast to their good fortune and "happy hunting."
7 Secundus 1668 (Guerdi)
The party has traveled for a month in the seas west of Théah and have now entered equatorial waters. The unrelenting heat, even this early in the year, makes everything an ordeal.
Over these few weeks, the party has gotten to know each other a bit better. Tessa is very friendly explores the ship, a schooner, often. Ysabel, graceful and slightly aloof, sometimes finds a place in private (with Tessa's help) to be alone. Rico and Fenneke are seasoned travelers and walk the ship and enjoy the company of the party and the crew.
On this night, most of the crew and the entire party are on deck, enjoying the cool night air and avoiding the stifling heat of the hammocks in the hold. A lookout calls out an alarm and points westward. There, in the moonlight, they all can see an unnatural purple fog boiling toward the ship at incredible speed.
Ysabel runs down to the hold to fetch her pistol and her dagger. The others watch as the fog rolls relentlessly onward. Ysabel rejoins them just as the fog is about to encompass the Magaurite.
Suddenly, a rotting galleon with tattered sails lurches forward out of the thick fog on a collision course with the Magaurite. A mob of walking skeletons is poised at the bow of the vessel, their bones and weapons flickering with purple flame. Several of them launch blazing purple arrows while the rest leap through the air and land nimbly on the Heroes’ ship.
Five arrows strike the ship, three on the main deck and two in the masts. The arrows burn with an intense purple flame.
Fenneke and Rico take up their weapons (an ornate axe for her and a rapier for him) and move forward to engage the skeletons. Ysabel moves to put out flaming arrows. Tessa nimbly moves between all of the combatants, looking for opportunities.
With a mighty swing of her axe, Fenneke takes out over half of a squad of skeletal warriors. Rico nimbly makes his attack, felling his entire squad in a dazzling display of swordsmanship. "Olé!" he cries, joyously.
Ysabel uses sailcloth and a barrel of water to douse the flames of a few of the arrows.
Tessa manages to catch glimpse of the corroded brass nameplate on the side of the mysterious galleon: The Lion of Arisent. As one of the skeletons fall to Fenneke's axe, a locket is dislodged and skitters across the deck. Tessa nimbly scoops it up and pockets it.
The skeletons attack, scratching Fenneke and leaving a nasty, purple wound on her skin.
Rico moves to take on another squad of skeletons, deftly taking them out in a line with a well-placed lunge. Fenneke, grim and determined, faces down her remaining foe, taking it down. Ysabel draws her pistol and takes aim at a water barrel across the deck. She fires and the barrel explodes, sending water all over the deck and dousing the remaining arrows. Tessa barrels into a squad of skeletons with reckless abandon, taking them all down, but sustaining a nasty, purple gash across her abdomen.
They all spy, on the deck of the attacking ship, a monstrous, eight-foot-tall-figure with purple glowing eyes and tattered pirate's clothing the color of old blood. She is surrounded by two more squads of skeletons.
Suddenly, one of the squads of skeletons rise to fight again.
Rico springs into action, and in a series of dueling maneuvers, takes out the skeletons once more.
Fenneke makes a powerful leap onto the deck of the other ship, landing amongst the skeletons and striking them with her axe as she lands. The two squads band together and strike out at Fenneke, dealing her a nasty gash across the chest. The mysterious captain casts her glowing eyes upon the Vesten and says, in an unholy and hollow voice, "Go back."
Ysabel rallies the crew to start throwing skeletons overboard. Tessa observes the crew chatter and learns that the ship, the Lion of Arisent, was captained by Catherine de Valois. It disappeared at sea some time ago. She was an honorable captain with a good crew.
Rico swings across, with a cry of delight and, in a dazzling display, swings over the skeletons and lands in a crouch before the captain, his sword at the ready.
Ysabel fires at the captain with her pistol. With two reports, the balls lodge themselves into the monstrous form of the captain and she turns her glowing eyes toward Ysabel.
Tessa dodges about, looking for an opportunity to help.
Fenneke handily takes down the remaining skeletons, impressively spinning about on the balls of her feet and swinging her axe in a mighty arc.
The captain looks down at Rico and says, "Fools…" as she takes the helm and spins it. The galleon lurches away from the Magaurite, threatening to take Fenneke and Rico with them.
"Ah, you are a sneaky captain," Rico says as he grabs a line to make his way back to the Montaigne ship. Ysabel and Tessa start throwing lines over to help their new friends escape the haunted ship. Fenneke deftly, in a display of supreme grace and talent, runs along the railing of the lurching ship, grabs a line, and swings across, landing on her feet on the deck of the Magaurite. Her northern features, demeanor, and shining axe give her the aspect of an avenging Valkyrie descending upon the deck.
Rico swings across in a wide arc, laughing as he goes, and lands nimbly on the deck as well, calling for wine.
The purple fog and the galleon roll away back to the west at breakneck speed.
The deck is cleared of skeletons as Captain Pardieu comes forward, thanking the party for their assistance. He assures them that a reward will be forthcoming when they return to the mainland. When asked abou the Lion of Arisent, he confirms what Tessa has already learned.
Fenneke and Tessa see the ship's surgeon, Dr. John MacNairy, to get their wounds cared for. Tessa pays him for the service on their behalf. As the wounds begin to heal, the purple hue begins to fade.
Wine is brought out and the crew and the party celebrate their victory as the Magaurite continues to the west toward the island.
8 Secundus 1668 (Redi)
Around midday of the following day, Rico is playing lookout in the crow's nest. He calls out to the others, "Land ho!"
He has spotted an island who's contours match those of the island on his map. The island is ten miles long by five miles wide. As marked on the map, there is a beach on the south shore that would make an excellent landing point, while cliffs surround the rest of the island. The terrain is thick with trees, and slopes up to a hundred-foot high summit at the island’s center.
Near the south shore, a man-of-war is anchored. The ship flies no identifying flag, but large occult symbols cover the entire hull, carved deep into the wood. Fenneke recognizes this as the calling card of Captain Isadore de Valderrábano, whom fearful sailors refer to as "Bloody Izzy."
The pirate's ship, the Athame, sits at anchor near the beach. Rico spots movement on the deck, but also spies a boarding party on the beach surrounding something the can't make out.
Rico convinces Captain Pardieu to fly the flag of parley. As the Magaurite approaches, Rico notes that the boarding party notices the schooner's approach and are boarding their ship's boats to return to the Athame.
Rico then sees that the boarding party were examining: the corpse of a crushed pirate, its bones broken in many places. Strangely, there is no sign of blood on the body.
Soon, the man-of-war approaches the schooner, flying its own flag of parley. The big Castillian ship stops within shouting distance of the Montaigne ship. A male voice calls out from the deck. "Hola!"
"Hola!" Rico returns. "We would like to disembark on the island!"
"After my Captain finishes her business, you may." The, a Castillian, seems nervous about something—but it's not the Heroes.
"How long will she be? We are on a schedule," Rico says.
"A day, maybe two," the man says.
"Why not let a boarding party leave? Perhaps we can help your captain. A single small party is surely no threat," Rico says.
The man, whom the party has learned is named Bartolomé, is the Ship's Master for the Athame. Other men of their crew have been killed by some mysterious force in the jungle. He opines that if a boarding party from the Magaurite ventures in, they will not survive.
Rico insists that they could be helpful to his Captain. Tessa, with her friendly demanor and approach, seems to break down the man's apprehensions. "Very well, you may send a party."
"And we have your word that you will not attack?" Rico asks.
"Upon my honor, you have my word that we will not attack unless your captain gives us reason to do so."
The party loads up into the ship's boat and disembarks for the island.
Upon landing, they go to examine the corpse on the shore. Rico determines that the body has been exsanguinated and that there are no tracks around it but pirate boot prints. One set leads into the jungle toward the city marked on the map. Ysobel notes that there are no animal sounds coming from the jungle. The party elects to head into the overgrowth, following the tracks.
The dense jungle and the heat make the climb to the center of the island slow and uncomfortable. Even the more well-traveled heroes note plants and insects that are unfamiliar to them.
When they reach the top of the slope, they find not a plateau, but a bowl-shaped depression, a mile wide and several hundred feet deep. Hiding within the bowl, nearly smothered by jungle growth, is a city of tall, narrow buildings the color of bleached bone. The buildings are no taller than the depth of the bowl, and so the city remains invisible to anyone elsewhere on the island.
The slope from the lip of the bowl to the floor of the city is steep and rough, sparsely populated by a few trees stubborn enough to cling to the incline. Rico can tell that the buildings are of Syrneth architectural design. He can also tell that the bowl is not of volcanic origin nor is it the result of natural erosion. In addition, water has not accumulated at the bottom, though the floor of the bowl is below sea level, and the soil does not seem porous enough to permit rapid drainage.
On the south lip of the bowl, several ropes are tied to stout trees at the top and hang down the inner slope. This is recent work, and Isidore’s pirates seem to be the obvious cause. The party, starting with Rico, grab the ropes and start climbing down.
Once they find themselves in the city, they note that the stone of the buildings is seamless and nearly indestructible, and a heavy blow with a metal pick would leave only a scratch. Doorways are triangular, fifteen to twenty feet high, and five feet wide at the base. Most doorways are open, though a few others are sealed with stone doors. None of the buildings have windows.
Inscriptions and carved images are everywhere, providing a feast for scholars. Rico translates many of them for the group. The purpose of the inscriptions varies, from identification marks (THE VAULT OF FORGOTTEN INTENTIONS, THE TEMPLE OF THE UNWORTHY, THE TWELVE BLESSINGS HALL) to invocations and charms (MAY THOSE WHO WALK HERE DREAM OF WINGS) to historical documentation (REMEMBER THE YEAR OF STARFIRE WHEN ALL GREEN THINGS BURNED). In some cases, the carved images provide additional context for the inscriptions, though it takes a practiced eye to derive meaning from the odd symbolism and artistic viewpoint used by the Syrne.
The group splits up to explore the area while Rico translates inscriptions. Tessa finds that based on the tracks left by the pirates, it appears that the pirates marched directly to the tower containing the Eye, without any other exploration or looting. Ysabel finds a tarnished but bejeweled Montaigne dueling sword as well as the corpse of one of Bloody Izzy’s pirates caught in the fork of a tree, twenty feet off the ground. Examination will show that something crushed the body and drained it of blood, only a few hours ago.
Ysabel ventures into one of the buildings. Lying in the moss-stained interior is a sailor from the first expedition sent by the Explorer’s Society. Her name is Karen Osborn, and she is dead— but still conscious. She expired from injuries she received from the undead sailors who guard the island. The island’s curse kept her spirit trapped in her body, and for the past three months, she has resisted the unearthly influence that compels her to defend the island against mortal invaders. She is too weak to move or to speak in a voice louder than a raspy whisper. Ysabel looks on in horror as Osborn explains that while most of the crew was ashore searching for the Eye of Nioth, a ship full of walking skeletons emerged from a purple fog and attacked the Solemn Promise. The undead sailors sank Captain Seymour’s ship, then went ashore and butchered the rest of the crew. Osborn knows that she is doomed, and begs for Ysabel to show her mercy, to release her spirit. Osborn motions toward the pistol at Ysabel's side.
The rest of the party is startled by the report of gunfire echoing through the city. They gather together at the base of the tower that Tessas has determined to be where the pirates went and should contain the Ninth Eye of Nioth. Ysabel explains what she found. Tessa shares her findings and Rico shares his:
Nioth was a warrior, scientist and traveler from far, far away. A Syrneth magician named Elkelin asked Nioth for help against a great Enemy of the Syrne. With trickery and bravery, Nioth triumphed over the Enemy.
As they are determining what to do next, Fenneke points up. Looking up into the overhanging foliage, everyone can see a large shadow in the branches uncurling itself slowly. The shadow reveals itself to be a bizzare creature. It resembles a squid, twenty feet long from the top of head to the tips of its tentacles. Its slimy hide shifts its color to match its surroundings, making it difficult to spot from a distance. It's gaping maw sports two protuding fangs.
Rico springs into action, and with his rapier, makes quick work of its tentacles, slicing and stabbing to disable them. Tessa stabs at the body of the beast with the Montaigne rapier Ysabel found. Ysabel, for her part, fires her pistol into the beast. Fenneke raises her shield to defend herself and the others from the beast and hacks at its body. The creature bites Fenneke .Then Rico and Fenneke team up, with the burly Vesten launching Rico up to the top of the beast with her shield. She follows by running up on one of the thick tentacles. Rico stabs into the beast and rides the cut down, spraying purple ichor everywhere.
The party now stands before the entrance to the tower, knowing that there are pirates inside, staring at the corpse of this strange creature oozing its indigo blood into the stones of the mysterious city…