29/7/1472 – 04:12 – 04:40 – The group navigate the tunnels, hoping that they are heading back in towards the heart of the island. The tunnels are a mish-mash of ancient carved ways, and sections of newer (though still old) construction.
Although the party do hear the city watch enter the tunnels, there is no pursuit – though they are not sure if this is a good sign.
After about 10 minutes, the assassin and priest become aware of a distant, bloodless sound; a chitinous susurrus that raises their hackles, and makes them more than a little eager to be gone from this place.
04:40 – 04:45 – The group are in a section of slimy, fitted stone, and the water that pours from above stinks of ammonia and other acrid chemicals. Great mats of floating fat and greasy chemicals froth and collect in a churning scum along the tunnels, and it is quickly deduced that some kind of leather industry – probably tanneries – operate above.
The assassin is scouting ahead of the main group, his black eyes able to see in total darkness. He has come to the edge of a vast cistern chamber, into which pour fierce columns of stinking water. In the middle of the room, a curious tangle of bone-white, thin, segmented cords coil in loose loops from a drain chute in the ceiling, and something about the mass of oddly organic lines sends a shiver down his back.
As the rest of the group arrives, he advises them to turn around and find some other route. The barbarian wants to know why, and when he finds out, declares that the party should do the very opposite. This finds agreement with Thatari, but the rest of the group decide that another fight, in their exhausted state, might be foolish, and agree with the assassin's plan.
As the group leave, the rattling whisper loudly sounds from the chamber, and looking back, Jaeger notices that the bone like cables have gone...
05:25 – The group have entered a region of tunnels being used as sewers. They try not to think about the ordure that lies in slowly oozing piles along their floors, or the cockroaches, maggots and rats that feed on it, and focus instead on trying to find an exit to the surface that won't get them into trouble for climbing up it (there have been hundreds of chutes leading to the realms above, but most have been sealed off – one by a neatly laid floor*). They have heard the rattling sound following them on several occasions, though the source has not revealed itself, and all are eager to get out of the tunnels and away from it, the cumulative effect of it wearing on their nerves.
05:26 – 05:40 - A long straight tunnel is found which bears a line of shit caked chutes heading upwards. Frowning, the assassin attempts to climb one of them, and after a sickening false start (his hands sinking into the encrusted muck and sliding down the stone, lubricated by it), he manages, his gorge rising, to get to the top.
He finds himself within a mucky, humid chamber, next door it seems, to some kind of large heated pool, and he quickly realises this is the toilet block of a public bath. Sliding free from the hole, he moves to the exit, and sees a vast chamber of gold-plated bones, which serves as the grandiose home for a large pool of strongly rose scented water. A single elderly Aurymite gentleman is the pools' only inhabitant at this early hour, though the assassin can hear some voices echoing from beyond a flight of stone steps across the way.
Using the noise of the swimmer as cover, and hoping the stench he emits won't give him away, the assassin quietly moves up the steps, and peers around their top. To his relief, the voices are coming from two more early risers, intent on using the baths, idly chatting. A single, open door leads into the smoggy streets, pale grey light filtering through several barred windows either side of it.
Returning to the group, Jaeger fills them in. They decide they will simply stride into the pool, spin a tale about being contracted by the islands' council to slay some monsters in the sewers, and “commandeer” it for their “official” use. Then they begin to climb up the chute...
...However, as the last couple of adventurer's are moving into the chute, they hear the rattling sound moving at speed towards them along the tunnel below. Adrenaline surges through those able to produce it, and icy calm through the rest, as a nightmare, surrounded by a nest of whipping, hooked tentacles (these were what the assassin had seen hanging from the pipes in the cistern chamber) suddenly appears around a corner and hurtles towards them; a vast, chitinous sphere, mouthless, but bearing a single, massive, blood-shot eye, which floats towards them, filling the tunnels with its rasping chorus.
Spurred on by its appearance, and the last to climb, the Ulnyrr leaps into the chute, his feet barely clearing the tunnel below before six hooked appendages whip out to snag him. Pulling himself up the stinking, claustrophobic tube, he can hear the thing below groping for him, and as he emerges at the top – aided by his panicking companions – he risks a look down, and sees the chute filled below by the baleful staring eye of the thing.
“We should show his red eye our brown eye.” quips the assassin, a sick, exhausted smile on his face...
06:40 – 15:00 – The group manage to leave the public baths, bathed and smelling a little sweeter (to the outrage of the men when they see what they are covered in, and, more importantly, when they see that a woman has been brought into a male only baths), and soon find themselves rooms at the “Home from Home”; an expensive inn, specialising in foreign business persons.
They are exhausted by this time, having been on the go for almost 24-hours, and those that sleep are soon out cold, the others allowing a torpor of sorts to take them (all of them taking a bath first, of course)...
16:00 – Jaeger and Thatari head out to try and find out if anyone in the island's less reputable world knows about the hidden Shadrakuul cult. This is because Grigori has realised that the worship of Gods in the Aurym Isles is seen as a strange, foreign trait; the idea of trusting a powerful supernatural entity that is not “family” like the ancestors are, frightening and strange to them (this is despite the fact that in the late Second Age, before the ancient city of Cran Aurym mostly sank, there were a number of local deity like “super ancestors”, who enjoyed the same kind of adoration as Gods do). Because of this, the cult must be an underground order, hidden from the eyes of the general populace.
16:15 – 16:25 - With the rest of the group shadowing them, the pair move to a nearby market, and soon spot a group of young men, selling something they clearly don't want to be caught selling, from behind the innocent cover of a dried fish and fish paste stall. Initial attempts to get the lads to talk fail, with one of them – a gobby young fellow in his late teens, overconfident in his youth and position amongst his peers – telling the pair to disappear. However, their cockiness vanishes when the warlock warns them telepathically to stand down, and the assassin remains utterly unmoved by their threats, his deadly, cold manner exuding palpable menace.
They are clearly reluctant to talk, but eventually give the group a name of a local merchant known as Dadda Mdawa (this is pulled involuntarily from the leader's mind by Thatari, the boy's horror at having “ratted” out the crime Lord almost sending him into meltdown).
16:26 – 20:00 - Further asking about Mdawa reveals that despite his public face as a genteel philanthropist and fair trading merchant lord, he is the head of a powerful group of criminals called the “Hidden Men”, who specialise in smuggling slaves across the globe, fixing markets and a host of other criminal endeavours. The group are warned a number of times to leave the island, as many believe that Mdawa will come to hear of their questions, and will seek an “audience”.
20:01 – 07:00 (30/7/1472) -The group return to the Home from Home, and the assassin manages to disable the trap on Santhiel's chest. Opening the chest, it is found to be empty, though lined with a curious leaden black material. Along its bottom, a complex series of magical glyphs have been embroidered, and it is quickly realised that the chest is actually a portal – though it looks as if it must be placed in a specific area to be activated (Groans as they realise that the special “somewhere” is probably within the Exquisite Gusset).
The group rest, though they take steps to protect themselves – just in case Dadda Mdawa sends anyone to harm them...
07:01 – 07:45 – The group awaken and take some breakfast. Whilst doing this, they are approached by a middle-aged Auyrmite, who quickly explains that Dadda Mdawa would like to meet with them to “make them a business deal”. The group consider a number of actions at this point, but realising that they have, so far, merely asked about the crime Lord, they decide to meet with him and see what he wants.
The nameless servant appears more than a little relieved when the group agree to accompany him Grigori and Jaeger notice, and they are unsure as to what this might mean. Outside, four huge men flank a gaudy palanquin, which the group realise is barely large enough for half their number to ride in.
danger senses whirring, hands close to weapons, the group allow the nameless man to push back the drapes, revealing a finely wrought hoop of gem encrusted gold, within which shimmers a portal.
“Please,” smiles the man, bowing and gesturing at the portal, “'dis will take ye to see me master.”
07:46 – 08:10 – The group enter the portal, and after a split-second of disorientation emerge into a large room of wood, which they quickly realise, is within a large ship, far out to sea.
The room is hung about with assorted trophies, and the skins of a number of powerful felid predators are spread over the floor. Unseen presences whir about the place, though none of the party sense them, and the air is thick with bitter, milky smoke.
Dadda Mdawa reclines on a number of silk beanbags, watched over by several hulking men wearing golden face paints, worked into the designs of skulls. Behind him a huge bay window looks out across empty miles of green-grey water, and the group realise without needing to look, that the portal is, for now, no longer active. Dadda smokes from a spectacular, 5' high hookah, carved from chiming crystals, and filled with coloured fluids that shimmer and gleam as he draws smoke through them.
Mdawa is an older man, with grey hair worn in a low afro, and a soul-patch style beard, which is mostly white. His eyes are stained brown with age, but are bright, hard and alert. He smiles at the group, revealing a lot of gold and ebony in his mouth.
“Please,” he says in a rough, smoker's voice, “Come in and share me smoke. I bin hearin' dat ye be askin' about me, and am wonderin' what a bunch of strange folks like yerselves might be wantin' with me.”
They settle down and talk.
The group are honest with Mdawa, and he with them. It quickly comes to light that they share a common enemy – Santhiel Burr – though the reasons for this enmity are different. Mdawa couldn't care less about the Shadrakuul cults or a missing vyrleen, but is very unhappy about Santhiel's people smuggling ring, which he has established without “permission”, and without paying the Hidden Men their “rightful” tax.
The group ask why the Hidden Men can't deal with the problem themselves, and Mdawa explains that he cannot be seen to be attacking the Dohr'Khustan's, as their ships would seek out his own, and very likely sink them with little effort (he is very clear about how deadly the corsair nation's ships are, and how finely they have perfected the art of nautical combat and ambush) – an action that would make life incredibly difficult for many of his “businesses”. So, in order to send his message, he must do so through a second party...although officially, he will deny having anything to do with their actions...
And so it is agreed that the group will smash the Dhor'Khustan's people smuggling operation on Zebora, sink the three ships they use (he can only give them the name of Santhiel's own vessel, The Ravager), and send a clear message to anyone else that would try to get away without paying the Hidden their dues, that this is not possible. As this will involve smashing the Shadrakuul cult, and hopefully finding out what happened to Kheshan, they agree.
08:11 – 08:15 – Dadda Mdawa offers the group some additional aid, and they are more than a little surprised when an obese man, dressed in green and gold robes decorated with polished serpent scales, and bearing the same golden skull face decoration as the guards, appears from nowhere, having been invisibly watching the exchange the whole time. He introduces himself as N'gau, “Spirit Binder”, and quickly explains that he will craft a “Clay Walker” to accompany the group in their endeavour.
“Meet me at midnight tomorrow outside de Gusset. We'll see to it that the guards be forgettin' to stand watch that night. 'Den ye can go into de rooms, open yer chest, and find a way into tha' cult's heart. Also, I can bring ye da' Clay Man without raisin' too many eyebrows.”
The group agree, and head back through the reactivated portal to the streets outside the Home from Home.
10:00 – 21:00: The group do some questioning and discover that the other two vessels that sail with The Ravager, are the Sunken Bell, and the Squall, though they are unable to determine who captains them.
00:00 – 00:15 (1/8/1472): Good as his word, N'gau meets with the group outside the silent whorehouse, accompanied by a 12' tall golem made from wet, grey clay. It is a crude thing fashioned to be rudely humanoid, and it stinks of rotten water and wet graves. Its only feature is a vothniir plated human skull, carved with snaking necromantic runes, pushed into the blank “face” of the thing, and Shnecke quickly names the golem “Skull”.
The control rod – an etched femur – is given to Grigori, and the way to control the golem explained. They are also warned that the spirit that animates the golem is a hateful ghost, and that it may turn on the group if allowed to slip free of the binding spells.
“If da bone grows cold, or it snaps, ye need to be getting' away from de golem, for it will be comin' for ye.”
Aelnaerys shines balefully above, more red than violet, the millions of mythen stones glimmering a sickly green around it. A vague wind whispers along the strangely empty street, and the group feel a prickle of fear pinching at their nerves as the necromancer steps into the shadows of a nearby building, and vanishes.
00:20 – 00:25 – With the golem thumping along with them, the group enter the stillness of the Gusset, and after a little experimenting find the spot within Santhiel's chambers, where the portal within the chest is activated.
With the gateway open, the air in the room becomes bitterly cold, and a layer of frost suddenly begins to cover everything within a few feet of the chest. Within, ominous darkness yawns, a flight of black steps, barely visible, descending into the throat of the portal. With a deep breath, the group steel themselves, and one by one, enter the gate, and whatever place lies beyond...
* Shnecke has, since it was decided that erupting through someone's floor would not be the most subtle means of leaving the tunnels, moaned constantly, angrily arguing that they could kill anyone that saw them. An exasperated Jaeger has told him time and again to forget the idea, backed by both Varracuda and Lia, but he remains annoyed at being denied his “awesome” exit from the realms below.