The adventurers awoke the next morning with renewed vigor and strength from the night of feasting and the faint smell of smokey meat lingered over the town. Gathering what they knew they stopped by the shopkeep for some last minute provisions before departing the tiny spot of civilization amid the broad frontier. In the interest of haste towards an already long missed person, they skirted around the town of Kowiringa and journeyed south. With the forest to their west and the marsh to their east, the narrow avenue of the plains between allowed them to make truly impressive time with the guidance of their more rugged members.
With nary a delay, Koapani led the other four to the thicket of dense thorns near the maze like crags where he’s lost the trail of the whistler, now known to them as Grismund. Despite the sun high in the sky, the dense foliage forbade most of the sunlight from penetrating all the way down. Those without adapted eye sight produced their own light sources, and into the thicket they plowed.
At the first divergence in the paths between the jagged rocks, mysterious ink faded into vision as they drew close. The message was as unknown as the method by which it was revealed, but there was an unmistakable arrow beneath it indicating one path. Mary recorded the inscription to decode at a later time. As they moved from ravine to ravine, at each fork another strange glyph revealed itself once they came close enough. After several more they found a different inscription indicating an upward ascent. Keen eyes now spotted a jagged opening in the rocks that might lead to a cave into the earth. While they readied the climbing equipment, Kailen dispatched his hawk Bullet to examine the entrance.
Bullet flew back down quickly, his beak and talons covered in blood not his own. From his connection, Kailen could sense only fear from the falcon. Directing the avian to the overhang, he did not order his companion further into the rocks, instead leaving the feathered friend as a warning should someone approach from outside. Koapani and Koorie made the ascent without difficulty, and with their assistance, the others clambered up.
Inside the cave, they were greated by a gruesome stain of blood mixed into the cave floor as though from many animals slaughtered. Streaks near the edge of the pool deeper in implied that something had dragged the bodies further. After several twists in the passage, away from the blessings of sunlight, they spied upon blighted corpses. These desiccated bodies appeared to be animated in death, all the blood drained from their forms. All races of Mahi-Tahi were found shambling about the cavern. Striking with fury, and in the case of the spellcasters, divine might, their stealthy approach took the dimwitted zombies by surprise. Koapani, holding the line, bravely fought off three at once, but was briefly dragged down by their numbers. A radiant emission from Koorie drove them away and Mary administered curative magic. Asmund’s dagger struck from shadow after shadow, neatly dispatching a multitude.
As thy licked their wounds, Kailen spotted footprints tracking blood deeper into the cavern, that most definitely belonged to colonial feet. The party began to seriously suspect that the missing whistler had not befallen ill tidings, but rather had become quite twisted. The haunting parody of whistler song that soon tortured their ears added credence to the guess. Peeking about a corner, they did indeed see a gnome whistling a disquieting tune in front of a bloody ritual attended by blood formed into the wretched parody of men.
Wasting no time, and not wishing to subject themselves to a tiresome monologue, they rushed the ritual. The two bloated blood forms tried to keep them away from their master, but Asmund was too quick. Before they interposed themselves, he had dived past, dagger in hand. Koapani and Kailen made to protect the frail casters, but in the confusion of the melee one of the boats found an opening and laid low Koorie with a savage blow. Kailen was shaken by the ferocity of these abominations, and found his fingers for the first time fumbling with the matchlock on his musket. Mary’s energy and Koapani’s brute force soon reduce both of the guards to mere puddles. All the while Asmund kept interrupting Grismund’s songs and with his companions joining him, made short work of the short whistler. Tightly binding and gagging the gnome, Kailen immediately smeared the crisp lines of the blood ritual about the floor.
Rousing the bound foe, they made it clear that any further aggression would be swiftly halted. He freely admitted to leaving in the guise of a whistler, to come south and sow distrust of the colonial profession, killing and spreading rumors. He claimed to have gone by many names but declared he was truly Sanguinas, the Herald to the Maggot King here to spread word and secure a vessel fit for his liege. The gathered adventurers were thoroughly underwhelmed by his revelation, even after learning that other “members of the court” had been strategically placed to ensure his arrival. Sneering that his work was already done, he let out a shrill note and before anyone could intervene the remaining blood in his body boiled away.
Not wanting equipment to go to waste, his magical garments were removed and his pack rummaged. Inside were only traveling gear, including his official whistler papers, and more of the strange script written on particularly fine leather. Koorie’s eyes grew wide at the sight of it. Considering the genuine interest and relaxation she showed examining corpses, the plain discomfort on Mary’s face with all the whistler talk was curious, but no one said anything about it to her.
Finding one last passage into the earth, an even stranger sight was waiting for them. Emerging from the wall as though the stone were just another cresting wave was a beautifully rigged frigate of Mahi-Tahi construction. Pulsing with magic, their investigation was unable to sort out exactly what it was doing here. Asmund did locate a chest with gold and some valuables inside, but nothing to clarify the out of place vessel.