As screams of pain and terror continued floating down the ridge from the palisade above, the sun was growing low on the horizon and Captain Daina ir’ Lizani had to make a decision. There was no time to wait for Rus and Torlan to catch up; Daina, Trucco, and Syl had to act, and they had to act quickly. “Double-time it” Daina growled as the screams began again…and then abruptly stopped.
Down on the beach, as Torlan continued walking and talking through his and Rus’ next move, the younger man came to a stop, clutching at his bruised ribs. That injury was nearly twelve hours old now, there had been no time to rest or recover since, and though the cuts he’d sustained in their latest brush with danger were minor, everything combined was starting to add up — and the adrenaline surge that had sent him barrelling into the jungle with Daina hot on his heels had left him as quickly as it had come. “Hey, Torlan” he panted, “do you still have that med kit with you, by any chance? I think I just need a compress or something, my wand arm is startin’ to feel a little laggy.” Torlan paused and nodded. “Come to think of it, I’m starting to tire out too. That crab got my leg a little bit.” The old dwarf handed Rus his satchel and went looking for some driftwood to sit one while the exhausted wandslinger dug around for some gauze and disinfectant, his hands shaking violently. He’d been putting on a tough face throughout the day’s trials, but his body couldn’t keep up the lie, and as soon as he found the supplies he was looking for, he found them scattered on the ground, having slipped right out of his grasp. As he went to collect them, his body betrayed him again, and shaky hands and stumbling feet crushed bandages and vials into the wet sand.
“Hey Ruskel, do you have those bandages?” Torlan called out, having found himself a log to prop his leg on while he attended to it. Rus clutched one hand in the other, trying to will it to obey him. “I’m sorry, Torlan” he gasped, “I— I’m not in a good way.” Torlan squinted at him. “You lost them?” Rus nodded; there was no sense trying to hide anything. “Yeah, I mean…it’s not useful now.” He didn’t meet Torlan’s eyes. The old dwarf frowned for a moment and then got back down to business. “Steady on,” he growled, “we’ll make do without it. You sit yourself down here and let me get a hand on ya, show me that arm of yours.” Deftly cleaning and wrapping Rus’ arm with the supplies that remained, he began working his fingers into the surrounding tissue to relieve some of the pain and pressure as the younger man continued to avert his gaze and began chatting as he worked. “Well, if I could see your face,” he said, “I’m sure you’d look spry as a young pup. I learned all sorts of medic tricks from Daina’s great-grandfather, you know.” Rus continued to look away, saying nothing, and Torlan gave his arm one last squeeze and abruptly got to his feet. “Well, hop to it!” he declared. “Time to move on!”
Up on the ridge, the screams had gone completely silent as Daina, Trucco, and Syl made their way to the top of the rise, where a tall wooden stockade encircled a massive tree whose branches reached well above the walls. The gate was ajar, and as he scouted ahead, Trucco could make out a small spring flowing from the base of the tree while Daina, her other senses compensating for the falling darkness, could hear some sounds of rough scratching come from the other side of the wall. A quiet word to Trucco sent the rogue clambering up to peer inside the stockade, and he quickly returned to report that there was a platform affixed high up on the inside wall, where a mounted spyglass overlooked the direction Rus and Torlan had gone — and, a short distance from the tree, was a small lodge swarming with flies. Trucco winced a little as the smell of rot and decay wafted over the top of the wall, but even more disturbing to his keen senses were the guttural sounds of chewing.
Back on the outskirts of the field, Rus and Torlan split up and each made disturbing discoveries: spikes planted among the corn, with the decomposed heads of humans and dwarves mounted on them. Regrouping, Rus relayed that he’d found a distinct trail leading through the field, but no footprints or other signs of life. Torlan agreed that there was nothing of immediate importance to be found there, and suggested that it would be faster for them to scramble up the side of the ridge than backtrack to the path Daina and the others had taken. “Last one there is a rotten grindylow!” Torlan grinned. “Oh, you’re on now” Rus retorted, his exhaustion forgotten in the face of a challenge. Torlan smiled to himself as Rus pushed ahead of him. Though he had a reputation for being brash and ornery, he knew a thing or two about getting young pups into fighting form.
Looking out over the ridge while Trucco continued scouting inside the stockade, Daina saw a yellow spark fly straight into the air and dissipate. Rus’ signal sent a clear message: he and Torlan hadn’t found anything important, and they were on the way back up. Her hand dropped down to her tago knife as she and Syl waited in silence for Trucco’s return. She nodded as he told her what he’d found, and stared intently into the dark as her fingers stopped dancing and tightened around her knife’s hilt. “Backup’s on the way” she told him, “but we might not be able to wait. Help me get up to that window.” Trucco hesitated. “Is it not better if I climb up there?” He was, he reminded her, very good at it! Daina kept her eyes trained on the lodge where the screams, smell, and horrible sounds had come from. She assured Trucco that she knew he was the best at getting up to high places, but that it would be better if she were the one to look inside and then tell him and Syl what she saw. That she, as his friend and now his captain, wanted to shield him from what horrors likely lay within, lingered in the air unsaid. Trucco silently extended his hands to Syl, and together, they made a step to lift Daina up.
The lodge was small, no more than twenty feet across, but there were no torches or other light inside. There was still some sun above the horizon, though, and Daina could make out all the usual things one would expect in a living space: a bed, a desk and chair, what looked to be a cold cooking fire, assorted crates and barrels…and in one corner, a figure hunched over on all fours, its back to the door. It was hunched over a body on the ground. And it was eating.
Gesturing to Syl and Trucco to set her down, Daina pulled a bottle of alchemist’s fire out of her satchel and held it out to Syl. “If I tell you to throw, throw it through that window” she ordered. “Wait for my signal.” As soon as Syl nodded her assent, Daina went straight for the lodge’s open door with Trucco cautiously following. The skin around her eye began to burn as her dragonmark flared to life, enveloping her in House Deneith’s trademark shield of blue sparks as she took a big stride into the lodge to grab the attacker and throw them off of their victim…
…and her foot caught on something in the dark, sending her pitching forward into the lodge as the shadowy figure whipped its head around with a hiss. Its dark, sunken eyes focused on Daina and she steeled herself as it lunged at her, gore dripping from its mouth and claws. Thankfully, Trucco was right behind her. Though his heightened senses sent him reeling at the overpowering stench of death and decay, he gritted his teeth and launched himself at the ghast, pinning its arms to its sides as he braced it against himself and wrestled it around to face the door where Syl had appeared with her crossbow. This sight and stench was even beyond the horrors she’d witnessed as a Cloud Reaver, and her shot went wide as panic overrode her normally steady trigger finger. “Drag it outside, Trucco” Daina yelled as both her and Syl’s attacks left the creature unphased. “I have an idea!”
Having decided to bushwhack their way up the ridge instead of backtracking to the path Daina and the others had taken, Rus and Torlan were making good time when Rus felt the ground lurch beneath his feet and saw a large, mandibled creature burst out of the dirt and pin Torlan beneath it. As he struggled to keep its mandibles away from his face, saliva dripped from the creatures jaws and onto Torlan’s face as he cried out in pain…and as soon as the creature had jumped him, a huge thunderclap rang out and sent it flying end over end. With the tide turned against it, the creature burrowed back into the ground as Rus returned Fôh to his bandolier and quickly wiped the acid from Torlan’s face before they continued up the ridge with renewed urgency.
Inside the stockade, Trucco continued wrestling the ghast, readjusting his grip to expose its vitals to Daina as he began pulling it towards the door. He saw Daina throw something past his head, heard the whoosh of brush catching fire behind him, and felt its heat on his back. Bracing against Syl’s hand on her own back, Daina raised her leg and kicked at the ghast’s chest as it squirmed in Trucco’s grasp, breaking some of his hold. Jumping forward into the fray, Syl kicked at the creature’s legs as Daina braced herself again with a hand on the surly dwarf’s shoulder. Blue sparks swirled down off Daina’s hand and enveloped Syl as she leaned back and drove her foot into the ghast’s chest again while Trucco released his hold on the creature and jumped out of the way. This time, the force of Daina’s kick sent the ghast flying. It slammed into the stockade wall and dropped prone into the waiting pool of alchemist’s fire where it began to shriek and flail. Charging forward, she drove her sword into the creature’s chest with a guttural scream. It went still and silent, and Daina immediately turned and closed the distance back to the lodge. She had to know who was in there.
Lighting a torch, Daina knelt down beside the body the ghast had been feeding on. One of its legs was missing, one of its arms was badly mangled, but enough of its unnaturally sunken face, frozen in a mask of fear, was intact enough to identify. They had found Scourge at last.
Daina’s immediate relief at not finding Tamroth or Sandara among the dead quickly turned to frustration: there was no sign of either of them here, and they didn’t have time to chase more dead ends. While Trucco squatted beside down to have a heart-to-heart with his nemesis’ corpse, Daina turned to search through the desk on the other side of the lodge, and the chest next to it. There was still no sign of her missing crew, but a ship’s log caught her eye, and as Trucco began relieving Scourge of the gold teeth he wouldn’t be needing anymore, he heard the sound of a book slamming shut and looked over his shoulder to see a new and unfamiliar rage darkening Daina’s face.
“Thrice-damned Karrns and their Six-damned hubris!” she swore. “We need to go back down the ridge to the south. That’s where the grindylow are, and hopefully, our people will be there too. We have to wait for Rus and Torlan to catch up or else they won’t know where we’ve gone.” Rubbing a hand over her face, she stared at Trucco and Syl intently. Had either of them been injured? Had the ghast gotten either of them with its claws? They assured her that they were fine, and she ordered them to each don one of the leather shirts that the lodge’s previous occupants had left behind. She couldn’t say for sure if they’d killed all the ghouls on the island or not, but according to that journal, anyone scratched by such a creature would become infected and turn into one themselves.
It was almost fourty minutes more before Rus and Torlan arrived. “We need to get the rotten six hells off this island as fast as possible,” Rus announced, leaning against the stockade while he caught his breath. “There is a remorhaz on this island, under the ground…” Daina frowned at him. “What are you talking about?” “A remorhaz!” he continued. “I thought they only lived in cold climates, but” Trucco cut him off. “A what? And what happened to your beard, Torlan?” Still exhausted, still nursing some injuries, Rus stress began to creeping to the forefront again as he started to babble. Remorhaz were apex predators, they burrowed under the ground, they spat acid, and he had no idea how one had ended up on this island, it was a mystery for the ages and…
“Rus,” Daina cut him off. “Rus, focus. We have a lead. They’re not here. Scourge is here, Scourge is dead, we didn’t kill him, and the grindylow are down the ridge to the south. We need to move.” Rus perked up a little at that, and Torlan piped up from behind him. Where was Scourge? “He’s in there,” Daina pointed at the lodge. “What’s left of him, anyways.” The old dwarf disappeared inside, and a few moments later the others heard a triumphant cry coming from the window: “Ah-ha! I knew it would work!”
As Trucco went back to playing with his prize — the spyglass he’d manage to remove from its mount on the stockade while waiting for Rus and Torlan to catch up — Daina continued to brief Rus. “There’s some spears in that hut if you want something extra to go after the grindylow, and Syl—” Daina put a hand on the Cloud Reaver’s shoulder and raised her voice enough for the others to hear. “You did good. Let’s finish what we came for, yeah?” Off to the side, Torlan emerged from the lodge with some fresh dirt on the knees of his trousers and a confident grin on his face. “I feel confident now,” he declared, “we’re being looked after. The rest of our time on this island will go off without a hitch. Let’s go find Sandara.” Daina stared at him in disbelief. What was he talking about? “The Sovereigns are looking after us” he replied. Daina shook her head. If he believed that, it would have to be enough for both of them. It was time to go.
Behind the Scenes
- Question of the Week: Who is your biggest rival? How did that come about?
- The first of this session’s four critical failures happened right out of the gate when Rus rolled to support Torlan’s healing roll. Critical failures on support rolls impose a -2 bonus on the roll being supported — but Torlan’s dice exploded to overcome both the -2 and his Fatigue penalty, successfully healing himself and then healing Rus in turn. Kevin took it on himself to narrate what that failure looked like (Rus’ shaking hands causing him to ruin the supplies) and that translated to an expended use of the Healer’s Kit.
- Let’s just get this out of the way: a lot of our critical failures come from chasing raises on already successful rolls, and that is exactly what happened to Daina when she entered the lodge. I had The Drop (+4 to hit) and the ghast had a penalty to resist as well (though I was not privy to how big a penalty it was), and even with The Drop, I only rolled a 7 — a basic success, just shy of a raise. Daina had no idea just how bad shape the ghast’s victim was, and I wanted her to attack to be swift and decisive. Instead, she tripped on a step and fell.
- Without trying to chase a raise, Torlan critically failed his notice roll to spot the “remorhaz” — resulting in a -2 to his roll for that Quick Encounter — and Rus critically failed his Common Knowledge roll to identify the creature, which is what led him to be completely convinced of what it was. Kevin then ran with it and changed his tactics to one that would be better employed against a remorhaz instead of…whatever that thing actually was. I love how eagerly everyone at this table leans into their character knowledge and separates it from their player knowledge.
- Dealing with the ghast was a proud moment for me as a player. I’ve often struggled with using Savage World’s combat options and cinematic qualities to their fullest, and in this session, everything finally clicked. Daina tossing that alchemist’s fire out against the stockade wall and then kicking the ghast into it translated mechanically to using a multi-action (one to throw, one to kick), the environment, a skill she’s proficient in (Athletics), and an inventory item all in one turn, and Trucco and Syl had made support rolls that negated her multi-action penalty. Unfortunately, many plans don’t survive contact with the dice, and a bennie spent by Phillip opposing Daina’s kick resulted in a dice explosion and having to try again next round.