Present this adventure were:
Captain Jepta Crunt (Chris H)
First Mate Barlang Rift (Dan Voyce)
Ships Boy Bastian Blank (Ian Reilly)
The White Ape (David McGrogan)
Towards the end of the last session out heroes had decided to voyage the darkwards side of the isle of Tien Phrang to seek, rob and/or destroy the woman called Pan Chun Mei, thought to be the head of the hated 'Black Path'.
Mischance, and the poor adjustment of their navigator Bodagrottorna al Tenebres to the seas of the Imprisoned Moon, leads them to sail in exactly the wrong direction and after a few days they find themselves just off the shore of the island of Sula-Phrang, at the wrong side of the Phrang Sea.
Around the hull of the ship and in the sea before the shore, black and silver coral snakes are swarming, turning the surface into a pattern like sliding static, and where the snake-filled waves crash upon the beach the people of a hilltop village fenced by white cacti are diving into the surf whooping and scooping up the snakes and riding mighty horse-sized rainbow-iridescent Mantis Shrimp which plunge into moonlit waves.
Captain Crunt observes the village headman welcoming and beckoning the Falling Star and, since her ship is ony four days away from being starving and bankrupt, she summons her bridge crew and they row through the snake-infested sea, making for the shore of Sula-Phrang.
They are accompanied by the Fire Dervish Karlash Bloom, who at first seemed reluctant to join them and, as a passenger, is under no compulsion to do so, Bloom however, has formed a friendly relationship with the boy Bastian Blank and reluctantly agreed to go with him in order to protect him.
As the ships boat plunges through the surf, the White Ape intelligently snatches up a fishing net and scoops the coral snakes up from the sea. Jepta leads her associates up the beach and the headman takes the net of snakes, throwing it to one of the mantis-riders who whirls it, whooping, in the air.
A few snakes fly out and a handful of people seem to have been poisoned by them but they are dragged safely up the beach and placed in the recovery position. Nevertheless, the team make a good impression on Sugiarto Ivan Gunawan, headman of the village of Melolo and are invited to dinner.
On the way, the cheeky kleptomaniac scamp Bastian Blank ably pickpockets Sugiarto, relieving him of three Guilders, most of the cash savings of the entire village. He tells no-one of his theft.
Melolo itself is surrounded by a living fence of white cactus and the PC's find several skull trees where the heads of defeated enemies are kept. Sugiharto sadly informs them that the old ways are passing and now the people of Sula-Phrang hardly ever hunt and murder each other, although, about fifty years ago there was an unfortunate accident at a wedding which lead to the death of 300 people.
Though they originally intended to trade for much-needed food, the crew find the village very poor indeed, Sugiharto does offer them some of their rare printed fabrics in trade, though his main interest is to persuade them to accompany him to the harvest festival outside the main town of Gapu, in order to raise his prestige. The beginning of the festival is signaled by the swarming of the coral snakes. On this natural sign every village of Sula-Phrang will put aside its conflicts and send all the people it can to the plain outside Gapu, the primary urban area of Sula-Phrang and the seat of Lord Ey-Way-Woo-O of Kingfisher House, the technical regent of Sula Phrang on behalf of the trading houses of the Chain-State of Yaag-Sien, there, the young men will ride their ferocious Mantis-Shrip at each other and hurl the spears they have spent months individually carving.
The spears are too thick and blunt to penetrate flesh (usually) and in most years only a relatively small number of people are injured and killed, but the young men prove their bravery, feuds between villages are settled, pride and prestige are earned and displayed by the glory of a villages shrimp and all the blood spilt is thought to feed the earth, thereby providing bounty for the coming year.
Sugiharto is convinced that the timely arrival of the PC's just as the snakes are swarming, means they represent good fortune for his stricken village.
As the conversation turns to religion, Jepta receives a poor response to her radical anti-undead religious opinions as a follower of MANPAC. Sughiharto asks if these extreme beliefs must apply to even the dead of ones family or clan, Jepta moderates her opinion somewhat and claims that only the dead who are out of their place, specifically out of their body, are to be loathed and this appeases Sugiharto somewhat.
Jepta agrees to go with the people of Melolo to the festival and to attend as their guest. The crew are left for the night and Bastian sneaks out to follow Sugiharto and overhears him sending his Mantis-cavalry into the nearby Coral mangroves to hunt "low caste bastards" who are hiding there for some reason.
The next day Jepta sends for food and trade items from the Falling Star as an offer of friendship. Sugiharto is itching to begin their march but pauses for long enough to be deeply impressed by the ruffs presented to him, and by the last of the meat of the Silver Boar. As a gesture of returned respect, Sugiharto offers to allow Jepta to ride 'Wakes-The-Gods', the villages largest and most impressive Mantis-Shrimp. His oldest son Eko is much less impressed, since he is being displaced from his high-status ride.
Jepta aces her roll and 'Wakes-The-Gods' stampedes into and out of the surf, rearing up and snapping its claws like gunshots. The watching crowd have no idea how close Captain Crunt has come to total disaster and assume this is a bravado display of Shrimp Mastery, the Captains legend grows...
The village faces a long march to Gapu (Sugiharto does not wish to stay in the hills overnight due to fear of ghosts, and perhaps a more prosaic fear of other villages).
The journey takes the crew and people past a number of other processions which seem to be of different villages, all going to Gapu for the same festival. Jepta's manner and ride earns her, and the village of Melelo, a number of admiring looks and remarks, it is rare to see high-status foreigners on Sula-Phrang, especially ones from the maritime empire of Nox, across the Nightmare Sea.
The procession pauses briefly when someone sees something in the air that may be a small bird close to, or a VERY BIG bird very far away, but it quickly passes from view.
The town is dominated by its docks, which are now little used compared to their size, by Kingfisher House, the home of 'Lord' Lord Ey-Way-Woo-O, technical Regent of Sula-Phrang. 'Kingfisher House' being both the name of his house or clan and also, due to the sometimes literal thinking of the people of Sula-Phrang, the name of his actual house.
The docks have a handful of fishing canoes from Sula-Phrang as well as some Borobuders and Phinis.
The Falling Star is by far the largest and most well-armed ship there (having followed the PC's round the coast at the captains order).
On reaching their assigned camping ground, the PC's and villagers collapse and eat. Jepta converses with Sugiharto until everyone is disturbed by the dull sounding of copper bells. The PC's notice the villagers fall silent and deport themselves in a more conservative and restrained style. The tolling comes closer and, slowly, the mummified body of an ancient man, wearing staggeringly valuable amber jewelry and followed by the corpses of his wives, with their mouths stitched shut, tolling copper bells, marches into the meeting place.
Sugiharto goes to greet his grandfather and an awkward family scene takes place. Grandfather is enraged by the sight of his grandson consorting with foreigners, eating foreign meat and, most of all, of allowing a foreign woman to ride 'Wakes-The-Gods', a shrimp he himself raised from an egg. He berates Sugiharto for allowing the village to fall into poverty from the greatness and wealth to which he himself raised it in his lifetime. Sugiharto points out that by selling the villages Whisperwood trees to the Kingfisher House, his grandfather created a disaster of erosion which has swept away much of their farmland and ruined their water supply, and that his grandfather is himself wearing much of the wealth he generated.
Nevertheless, he ultimately prostrates himself in shame before his illustrious ancestor. Grandfather informs him that he will be watching the villages performance in the festival tomorrow personally.
Around this time, Bastian confesses to Karvash Bloom that he has stolen most of the villages funds. After considering for a moment...
|'The First Temptation of Karvash Bloom' by Ian Rielly|
Bloom drags Bastian to Captain Crunt, forcing him to give up the cash and explain. As this is happening, Sugiharto arrives. Not realizing that the pouch being waved around as he came in contains his villages funds, he confesses to their loss and his shame and asks Jepta more about the worship of MANPAC, he seems to be re-considering his former judgement of The Great Consumer' Eventually he begs Jepta Crunt for aid.
Captain Crunt is merciful and agrees to give/loan Sugiharto a mixture of cash and trade goods in recognition of what she expects to be a profitable future partnership. She then dumps the problem on Barlang Rift and receives a rather strained letter from Lord Ey-Way-Woo-O, delivered by what look to be tattooed mercenaries and asking after her nature and allegiance in somewhat frantic terms. She writes a reply on the back.
With no further ado and facing a sever case of exhaustion, Rift promptly drugs himself with a mixture of Dream Lichen from Uter-Phrang and alcohol, negotiates with Sugiharto's alienated son Eko, managing to soothe and impress him with a mixture of hard drink and lies about his own combat capacity. Barlang shows Eko the ivory harpoon they recovered from the lair of the Silver Boar and deceives him into thinking that Barlang carved this himself over many months. Eko agrees that perhaps it would not be so bad if Barlang rode for his village in the festival.
Rift then visits the Falling Star, updating them on events and telling Suharto Ary Setiawan, the senior crewmember in charge, to be civil to the local authorities, but not to allow them access to the cargo hold. He returns with a barrel of whale oil and a crate of Macemaker silk, having achieved all this without having slept for 32 hours. The stimulant tonic he took is however giving him some serious hallucinations.
Captain Crunt allows the villagers of Melolo 40% of this bounty as a gift and promise of future co-operation and Sugihatro bows to her weeping.
"You are the saviors of my village!"
Even Eko seems nonplussed.
The day of the great festival arrives. The place is filled with a staggering amount and variety of people. The crowd is HUGE. Palm guitars twang, people dance, fighting pits are laid out, food is sold, drugs are taken, it seems like anything could happen.
On their way into the festival, the PC's are asked to attend upon 'Lord' Ey-Way-Woo-O at his pavilion. They are lead to a large framed building covered with tapestries, within this is a closely guarded palanquin, itself draped with silks and net curtains and closely guarded by well-armed but bored-looking mercenaries and enslaved Crab-Men.
'Lord' Ey-Way-Woo-O speaks with a high pitched and soft voice. He and Jepta spar a little. He asks about the Empire of Nox and their interests in the Isles of the Imprisoned Moon. Jepta replies that though she is 'of' Nox she does not work 'for' Nox.
Things become a little heated. 'Lord' Ey-Way-Woo-O takes an interest in the White Ape. It's not clear who first suggests it (I think Chris?) but a wager is agreed to. The White Ape will battle one of Ey-Way-Woo-O's Crab Men, the bet will be 700 days worth of rations against the remaining 60% of the crews trade goods that have been brought to shore. A fight to the death. Winner takes all.
Jepta and the crew try to prepare the Ape by oiling him up. Jepta subtly kicks some stones into the pit to provide aid.
A gigantic crowd gathers to witness this once in a lifetime combat. 'Lord' Ey-Way-Woo-O is brought to the side of the pit in his palanquin. One of his men translates an offer to the Crab Man 'Mister Snips'; win this fight and you win your freedom. It's not clear if the Crab Man understands this, or anything that is happening, but it seems ready for battle.
The match begins. Both fighters posture and circle for a second before the Mr Snips dashes forwards with alarming speed. The Ape dodges just in time but leaves a snatch of white fur and blood in the Crab Man's claws.
Mr Snips swings again and the Ape brilliantly catches it, hurling it onto its back in a judo throw. The Crab Man lurches to its feet swinging wildly, and purely by luck, takes out a slice of the Apes flesh.
Though wounded and winded, the Ape grapples Mr Snips again and, with his incredible strength, rips one of its claws clean off!
The Ape gestures gleefully at the cheering crowd, snapping the crab claw in mockery.
It celebrates too soon. Though mutilated, the Mr Snips still lives and swings savagely with its remaining claw. Its aim is true and the claw tears into the torso of the unsuspecting White Ape.
The Ape collapses to the ground gasping, not quite dead but badly maimed.
Mr Snips looms over the Ape, leaking ichor from its severed arm, it lowers its remaining pincer around the Apes neck to snip of its head.
Only for the White Apes head to explode in a shower of gore. The crowd gasps in shock and all eyes turn to Captain Jepta Crunt who stands wreathed in smoke from her custom repeating pistol. Perhaps as a mercy, perhaps simply out of contempt, she blown out the brains of her own Ape.