Dates: January 22nd to 23rd 1000 PCE.
Adelle Mirodar (Jayne’s companion)
Captain Zachary Thorpe
Lilith Johnson (First Mate)
Herschel Dupree (insurance banker)
Freeman Skinner (Quartermaster)
Thaddeus “Tad” Tillerson (Bosun)
Jaun Silva (Master Carpenter)
The Hive Vine Sargasso, inside the wrecks of ships Gannet and Vendetta, aboard the Hawke
Experience Points Awarded: 1850 XP
“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”
As the Gannet began to rock and sink, the party started scrambling for top deck, but in the greasy hold of the vine-tangled ship, the more heavily armoured adventurers couldn’t help but slip and flounder in their efforts to escape. Though the more nimble-footed managed to get their bearings and climb for top side, they quickly realized that the mighty Mattheus, encumbered by the mass of his own girth and war gear, was still trapped down below. Cole, having just freed both himself and the barely conscious Rob from a watery fate, was first to dive back into the hatch in an effort to save their hapless companion from certain death. Accompanied by William and Edmond, Cole led the effort to hoist Mattheus’s massive 600 pound frame up and out of the sinking vessel before all was subsumed in the onrushing current of water.
“It’s running now? Oh…”
Even as the party struggled down below to save Math’s life, those out of the sinking ship found no safety in the sunlight. Two more vine-formed figures, hideous parodies of human life garbed in green made to resemble flesh, could be seen slowly stalking across the sargasso toward the party. The destruction of the animate Vine Horror that had ambushed them within the Gannet, an encounter that had triggered the sudden sinking of that ship, had roused these horrors to life and to attack. Jayne loosed an arrow at one from a distance of 60 feet and struck it a blow. In response, the creature hastened its pace and began closing in more quickly. Soon the party was locked in a grueling battle of attrition against these new Vine Horrors, which seemed resistant to simple blows and utterly tireless in their pursuit of blood.
“Come to me, Rob.”
Unable to create effective lines of fire, the lightly armed archers in the party found firing into the inescapable melee situation a hopeless proposition. (See this link for rules information on overcoming all-too-common melee impediments to ranged combat). The battle dragged into a protracted affair, the stakes of which were further punctuated by the distant report of gunfire echoing from the party’s safe haven to the south.
Further complicating matters were the sudden convulsions of Rob, who, though now fully conscious and cognizant, nonetheless began suffering after effects from his earlier communion with the sargasso Hive Vine. Rob felt his mind begin to burn with an overwhelming pain. Spectral white flames began sparking and crackling around his field of vision, and he could feel the awareness of an alien intelligence beyond his own mind lurking at the edges of consciousness. Suddenly experiencing the embodied sensation of the miles and miles of vines and fronds sprawled around in every direction, Rob wondered if he was sensing what the Hive Vine felt, thoughts and feelings without human intelligence, without the structural frame of human language, an intelligence aware of itself but not yet able to fully articulate itself. As his mind groped for the words to describe what he was experiencing, he realized that the vine itself was probing his thoughts and trying to extract those very words from him for its own as yet unformed lexicon. Rob felt his thoughts rejoining and repeating as the Hive began assimilating the newfound language enfolding his fleeting ideas.
Suddenly an image cut through the mental fire: a golden city hidden within a vast jungle, which opened up to Rob’s mental eye and revealed itself under a pillar of flame rising into the heavens. Emerging from this hallucination, Rob felt his own thoughts probing beyond the precincts of the mind, of even flesh itself. He felt a force emanating from those thoughts and, remembering how it felt to sense what the vine sensed, Rob reached out and felt the vines of the shambling Vine Horrors move in response to his own will. Psychokinetic force, directed by Rob’s own will: this was psychic awakening.
Detecting this event through psionic probing but not realizing the precise nature of it, Cole viewed Rob with suspicion and expected at any moment for his comrade to once more become thrall to the Hive Vine. The tension distracted the party and divided their efforts sufficiently to derail any attempts to coordinate effectively against the present threat posed by the Vine Horrors. Perhaps realizing that he was moments away from being considered a threat himself, Rob remained passive as Cole proceeded to check his every movement.
“I expect a Kale Salad.”
Only after aggressively flanking and attacking the Vine Horrors en masse with overwhelming numbers did the party manage to successfully overcome the encounter and gain access to the SS Vendetta. Upon the defeat of the first vine creature, a terrible roar erupted from within the Vendetta. Jayne thought to rush headlong towards the new challenge but relented after his comrades indicated their desire to have done with the immediate threat first. That much finally accomplished, the party had to wonder how many more of these beings lurked within the miles and miles of sargasso yet to be explored.
“Burn in Hell with Marius!”
The Vendetta, not yet sunk as deeply as the Gannet had been before it had finally plunged into the abyss, rested high on the Sargasso mat. A large pile of wooden fragments lay heaped beside the hull, making for an easy climb to the top deck. Beside that pile, the blackened embers of a makeshift fire pit were visible. The party left this area unexplored as they hastened to climb up onto the ship.
The deck was a scene of battle carnage. Weapons and bodies, both human and Sahuagin (fish man/sea devil), lay scattered everywhere. Rob took the moment to arm himself with a spare bow and blade. The scent of rot mixed with the general odour of the drying sargasso mat was nearly overpowering. Edmund was first to overcome the stench and examine the bodies more closely. Though most of the dead were obviously felled in some kind of fight, many of the bodies were deformed and contorted in a manner altogether unnatural. It appeared as though the flesh of these unfortunate victims had grown inside out and burst their bodies open with eruptions of mutated vestigial limbs, hair, and teeth. Looking on, Marsala assumed a grave mien. Scenes of such unholy carnage had been witnessed before in the streets of Noirlan. He had seen these effects with his own eyes and he feared he knew the cause all too well.
Atop the poop deck, the party found the rotting body of a young woman lashed to the ship’s helm and bearing a note, which read, "A reward for loyalty. Burn in hell with Marius.” Marsala recognized the body as that of Salome Reynard, a woman born into the wealth and privilege of Noirlan high society but fallen into vice and criminality. This woman had been the lover of one Oliver Chastain, a notorious crime lord in the Noirlan underworld. The name “Marius” had been Oliver’s nom de guerre during his self-imposed exile from polite society, from every acquaintance he had ever known, indeed from his family: none else than his very own twin sister, Orphea Chastain. Marsala resolved to report these findings to Orphea whenever the party could finally get back to the Hawke and Arcadia.
Within the Vendetta, the party found “Marius’s” captain’s quarters, a well appointed cabin fitted with fine bed sheets and a quality writing desk containing fragments of a personal journal. In the center of this chamber, the party found a large seven pointed star, a heptagram, scrawled in black powder. Dried black leaves lay scattered about the scene and though the walls of the captain’s quarters were braced with thick sargasso fronds, not a single strand of vine breached the circular perimeter of the heptagram. Moreover, each of the seven star points bore a uniquely inscribed symbol. At the center of the Heptagram, the party found a blackened crystal orb, six inches in diameter, sitting atop an ivory pedestal, and draped in a white samite cloth. Upon seeing the dark globe, William felt an inexplicable twinge of recognition and experienced an involuntary impulse to reach forth and grasp the strange object. Before he could react, Marsala, his worst fears regarding the horror above decks now confirmed and taking care not to touch the surface of the ball with his bare flesh, secured the artifact for safe keeping.
“My brother was on this ship. I need to find out what happened to him.”
Edmund, recognizing the name of the Vendetta, sought out the ship’s manifest and verified his hope and fear at a single stroke: his brother Antony Andrew had embarked on this voyage from Memphis a few weeks before. If Antony had met his fate here, Edmund would at least confirm the worst and put his conscience to rest. But he could find no trace of his brother’s remains, and a search of Antony’s footlocker revealed that his possessions had been removed. The personal effects of a further three sailors were likewise missing raising the possibility that they had absconded from the wreck and somehow escaped whatever terrible doom had befallen this place.
“n33d… m0r3 vv0rd5…”
The sound of groaning wood and rushing air finally led the party to explore the Vendetta’s cargo hold. In the darkness a quivering nest of rustling vines could be seen extruding from a huge maw carved under the keel of the hull and through the platform of the bottom deck. Rushing blasts of air periodically blew from the maw in a manner indicating some kind of respiration. The party explored the other end of the cargo deck and found a pair of locked chests showing some signs of tampering. Incredibly, a single strand of vine grew forth from the maw and traced a path across the deck floor until coming to rest beside one of the chest locks. The vine seemed to point at the lock as if pleading for it to be opened. At that moment a voice, halting and rasped, emanated from the maw of the Hive, saying, “Open. Need more words.”
As Jayne and Everest, dulling their weapons in the process, proceeded to smash the chests open, none of the party held any expectation that they would willingly hand over their contents to the Hive Vine. The Hive tried to communicate with its crude and childlike patter and pledged to spare the lives of the party if they would simply recover a certain book contained within one of the chests and read its pages aloud to it. Sure enough, a book was found along with three sets of fine gentlemen’s clothing, a map, and something which appeared to be a broken timepiece. A quick scan of the book’s pages revealed it to be a spell book detailing the arcane research of Oliver Chastain, including his attempts to master the psychic energy of the Phoenix Order, his discovery of Leymen mystic lore, and his apparent communion with an extra-dimensional entity known as Lukan, whom the text referred to as the Black Fire Demon. When asked what had happened to Oliver Chastain, the Hive said Chastain had been hiding and fled when the party came near to the Vendetta.
Seeming to improve its speech with every passing moment of conversation, the Hive then indicated a desire to achieve its own communion with the Black Fire, thus revealing the nature of its interest in the book. Whereas Oliver Chastain had failed to master the power of Lukan, the Hive would succeed. It had glimpsed the power of Black Fire in its dreams, had seen that power hidden within an unknown jungle, and felt chosen by Lukan to seek it, harness it, and ultimately master it. Finally, the Hive predicted the fate of the party: eventually they would all perish, succumbing to thirst, starvation, or exposure on the sargasso mat but not before having their minds stripped of all thought by the probing tendrils of the Hive, which would extract knowledge enough to read the book on its own and thus summon the emanation of Black Fire.
“I think we can beat it.”
The party considered the grim prospect laid forth by the Hive, and stalled for time. They wondered how their companions fared on the Hawke and Arcadia and doubted their own chances if they dared to oppose the unknown power lurking within the gasping maw of the Hive. Little did they know that they were as microscopic fleas on the surface of a superorganism only barely aware of their presence let alone capable of directly interdicting them. Yes, the sargasso mat and the Hive controlling it had power enough to sieze a mighty ship and hold it firmly in grasp, power enough to wrestle a kraken or cleave the sea bottom. But what is such strength to a mite clinging to a single unfeeling strand of hair? What is physical might before the infinitesimal threat of an unseen germ? The party could not comprehend their relative position in this struggle. They had arrived here from their vessel like a colony of bacteria introduced to a new host. Before now they had skittered harmlessly across the surface of the great Hive Vine. Only within the Gannet when they had attacked and disabled one of the beast’s “limbs” did the Hive even begin to take notice of them and respond with crude and clumsy gestures like an embattled host organism producing antibodies to fight a heretofore unknown infection.
And so the scene was set for the final encounter. The Hive, caught with none of its ersatz human Vine Horror animates near at hand to attack and surely not daring to submerge the ship and thus ruin the yearned for spell book, began animating lifeless vegetation in order to create cruder, less threatening sentinels than before. Greater in number than the horrors already encountered, these animates proved to be far less hardy foes and the party scrambled in response to defend themselves and get free from the Vendetta. When the Hive finally sent its avatar presence forth from the maw to attack, the party feared the worst, but were heartened by Cole, who stepped forth with a psychokinetic stomp which laid the avatar and his twig animates prone during a decisive morale-boosting action. Once more, the party fell into an encircling formation and overwhelmed their quarry with superior numbers.
“There’s a fire pit up here?”
The party made off with the loot already mentioned as well as with the remaining chest, bearing a treasury of 500 silver coins (Merikan Stars: worth the equivalent of a DnD silver piece back home in good ol’ Merika but not guaranteed to be accepted at face value or even treated as legal tender at all outside those regions.).
Top side, they realized the sargasso was now slowly sinking back into the sea. Edmund took a final look around and even climbed the crow’s nest of the Vendetta to get a better vantage. At this point he realized that the life boat of the Vendetta was missing, as were the sails of the ship, which appeared to have been carefully removed from the ship’s rigging. Jayne, Everest, and William looked around for signs of tracks and saw that a single set of human footprints led north away from the Vendetta. The tracks were human and fresh: laid within the last few hours, an observation that seemed to verify what the Hive had said about Oliver Chastain’s presence earlier in the adventure.
The waters rising at their feet, the party debated whether it would be wise to follow the tracks heading north or safer to simply make haste south before the sargasso became fully submerged. With some regret, Edmund, wondering if knowledge of his brother’s fate was to be found north, nonetheless relented and headed south with the party. This proved a wise decision since in the three hours it took to return to the Hawke the party found themselves wading through thigh deep waters. Any further detour would have surely left the party swimming in the open ocean.
Captain Thorpe welcomed the party back to the Hawke and informed them that the ship had been attacked by Vine Horrors. Laid out beneath a white shroud on the top deck, the lifeless body of Herschel Dupree’s manservant Bob served as a grisly casualty report. Soon thereafter, Orphea came aboard accompanied by her Laradan bodyguard, Tashtego. She told the crew she would address new developments after hearing an account of events from Marsala. She and Thorpe acceded to Edmund’s request to sail north in search of any sign of whoever was leaving tracks near the Vendetta, but no trace of any survivors was to be found.
Meanwhile, Rob conferred with Herschel and came to a new understanding of their association in light of Bob’s recent demise.
The rest of the crew was curious about the party’s exploits and looked with envy upon their cask of silver booty. Perhaps taking after the scholarly inquisitiveness of her grandfather, Adelle expressed interest in the recovered spell book. Jayne thought little of it. Jaun Silva asked to see the timepiece, a golden disc that upon closer inspection had no manipulable parts and made no discernible sound like other mechanical timepieces. The hands of the clock face were permanently fixed at the time 2:14. Most interestingly, Marsala claimed that the timepiece emanated a moderate magical aura indicating divination properties.
“I couldn’t save him.”
Tillerson and Thorpe took a final cross bearing and quickly put the Hawke back on course for the Zone Coast. As the day waned, the vessel made good time chasing the fall of sunlight in the west. Facing the bow, Freeman Skinner struck up a somber tune on his guitar and watched the sun sink below the horizon.
Marsala went to confer with Orphea and Edmund spoke with Herschel, who was still in shock after the death of Bob. Clutching his pistol, Herschel sat in his cabin muttering that he was too afraid to fight back when the Horrors came. According to Herschel, Bob lay dead because of his hesitation. Edmund proposed weapons training and firing drills and promised Herschel he’d be ready for combat should the need rise again. Herschel accepted the offer and confided that he’d come on the journey to represent the assurance company for personal reasons. His uncle Abner had been serving as governor of the Farport Colony since before the close of the Silent Sea route, which had left Abner stranded in the jungle for over twenty years. Herschel’s mother Marie had long missed her dear brother and sent Herschel with a letter for him. Herschel asked Edmund to pledge an oath: if Herschel couldn’t make it to Farport alive, Edmund would deliver the letter to Abner. Edmund accepted the pact and, heartened by the oath, Herschel took to the mess hall with a couple bottles of Reynard Distillery Absinthe. In an uncommonly magnanimous gesture, Herschel began sharing the bottles around the table with all the crew. Glad to be alive and back underway, the party made merry with Herschel and damned the darkness with laughter.