Finding little else aside from the disgusting “poop buckets” in the sailors’ living area, the companions continue through into the main cargo hold. Here there is some light offered up by a couple lanterns and they are able to make out dozens upon dozens of casks along either side of the hull as well as many more bolts of silk. Pausing for a moment the companions are able to make out the excited voices of several men coming from the other side of one of the stacks of casks. Curious as to who this group of men are the companions silently move forward, hoping to retain the advantage of surprise.
As they approach closer they are able to also make out the sound of water splashing and the growls of some sort of animal. Angered by the apparent torture of an animal Ornith and Sasha immediately raise their bows and fire, each wounding one with Ornith snuffing the life from one with a second well-aimed arrow. In an amazingly short amount of time all four men are slain and the only noise in the hold is the now weakened growling coming from the bilge.
Peering down into the mucky water Ornith is surprised to see a leopard of a sort she has never seen before. The leopard is covered in very dense grey spotted fur, and this particular specimen is extremely emaciated, bleeding heavily, and covered in large biting rats. With the leopard only four feet below them, both Ragnarok and Ornith jump down to save the animal. Ragnarok successfully keeping the rats at bay while Ornith hastily ties a rope around the poor creature. Tamull, Sasha, and Lars all haul the cat up while Ragnarok boosts Ornith out of the hole before following himself. Rushing over the creature’s side, Ornith is saddened to find that the body is already cooling and the heart still. Deeming the leopard dead she gingerly curls the body up and places it to one side.
The companions decide to spread out and search the rest of the cargo hold, and within a few moments a wooden cage is located with a small ball of whimpering grey spotted fur within it. After examining it a little closer Ornith determines that it is the same kind of leopard as the bigger one they had found, only perhaps younger and more scared than anything else. The small leopard refuses to allow Ornith to touch it, instead scurrying to the back of its cage if her hand gets too near. Deciding to try to make friends with it by offering it pieces of jerky Ornith stays behind as the rest of the group moves on to explore the nearby rooms.
Cautiously opening one of the two doors left to them, Tamull is pleasantly surprised to find a very much asleep man sprawled in a hammock, one arm dangling over the side ending in a curved hook. Swinging gently with the rocking of the ship is also a brightly colored parrot in a cage. Deciding to take his chances on waking the man up, Tamull creeps into the room with rope ready to tie up the smuggler. Suddenly the parrot stirs, squawking out noisily,
“Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”
The man however does not stir in the slightest and Tamull quickly binds his hands before slapping the man across the face to wake him up.
Finding few things of worth in the man’s cabin, coupled with his determination to not speak unless set free, the companions quickly move on to the final room left to them. A quick search finds only a small amount of gold (meanwhile Ornith opens the cage to the small leopard and watches as it nuzzles the dead body of the other leopard before curling up next to it. She decides to the leave the leopard for now and rejoin her friends).
Turning to leave this last room the companions are stopped dead in their tracks by the sudden muffled thumping coming from the back wall. Curiously Sasha carefully searches the wall for clues to anything, her goggles firmly in place. Finding a catch in the wall, causing a trap door to open, the companions are stunned to see none other than Turgut Pothorst!
“Of all the pox ridden, hardtack eatin’… Looks like thats two I be owing you!”
Taking that sentence as a sign that the old sailor is overjoyed to see them Sasha immediately sets to work picking the locks on his chain while Tamull returns to check on the tied up sailor.
“I confess I did be splicing the main brace. And these picaroons overhauled me and measured me for me chains. But dont hang the jib. I be a free man now, thanks to you.”
Assuming that the man had just explained how he came to be in some secret prison cell the companions all turn to head back up to the main deck when the entire ship suddenly lurches, the timbers groaning loudly in protest of the sudden upheaval.
“Get topside!” Turgut commands as he hurries forward, taking immediate control of the situation. “Show a leg! Smartly now!”
It isn’t until everyone reaches the upper deck and looks out upon the source of the turbulence that the real fear and near hopelessness sets in…“…. Well blow me down”
Lashing out in the waves surrounding the ship are massive, barbed tentacles, rising from the sea and crashing directly into and onto the ship. Suddenly a massive tentacle smashes down onto the deck and sweeps across it, sending buckets and ropes sailing off into the darkness. The arm pulls back into the water. Moments later it is followed by another further down the deck and then another, both smashing into the deck, causing it to shudder and the ship to groan. Unsure of what to do the companions can only stand and watch the massive beast attack the ship; until Turgut Pothorst’s voice rings out over the sound of splashing water and protesting timber!
“Thar be no quarter given here. You lads, weigh anchor!” Turgut yells out, pointing to Tamull and Ragnarok. Whipping around to Ornith and Sasha he adds, “Lasses, up that rigging and hoist the mainsail.”
“Wizard, I be needing you to give that beastie your best shot. It be time we need!"
And with that Turgut Pothorst himself springs to the helm, wrestling with the creature, waves, and the very ship itself to get it underway and headed to the safety of shore.
Hanging onto the rigging for dear life Ornith and Sasha just barely get the sails unfurled as tentacle after tentacle coming smashing onto the deck. Both immediately drop to the deck to help Lars distract the creature while Tamull and Ragnarok finish hoisting the anchor. Suddenly the ship lurches forward toward the shore, a surge of hope races through the companions as they realize they just might yet make it out alive! The journey to shore seems agonizingly long however as tentacle upon tentacle sweep across the deck, causing both injury and damage, and everyone watches in horror as a tentacle wraps itself around the captive sailor present on deck and drags him screaming into the roiling sea. A moment later Turgut yells down to hang onto something, everyone grabs a piece of railing or rigging save Ornith who hurls herself down the stairs and into the cargo hold to rescue the small leopard she had left down there.
Wading through two feet of water that is quickly rising Ornith finds the small leopard panicked and frightened. Grabbing it by the scruff Ornith is unsurprised when the young animal lashes out, raking its sharp claws down her arms. Happy that she found the leopard in one piece, the ranger turns to return up the stairs, cursing loudly when she hears the loud squawking of the parrot, still trapped in its cage. Unwilling to let an animal suffer when she could save it Ornith quickly swims across the cargo hold, grabbing onto the parrot’s cage just as a tentacle comes crashing through the side of the ship knocking her unconscious. Lucky for all three, Tamull had made his way to the room at the top of the stairs, flinging the door open just in time to see Ornith hit. Jumping back from the bedraggled ball of fur exploding up the stairs past him, Tamull quickly pulls Ornith from the water, tossing the caged bird up the stairs to Lars.
Chaos reigns on the deck however, and not just from the tentacled beast. Turgut had managed to crash the ship on shore, but the creature still attempts to drag the ship to a watery grave. Chasing the terrified leopard around the deck, Ragnarok manages to send himself sailing out over the railing of the ship, landing with a splash in the shallows near shore. Giving up on the cat, Tamull hauls Ornith overboard with himself, followed closely behind by Lars, the parrot, and Sasha. Just as the ship is about to be pulled back out to sea however, Turgut throws himself from the ravaged deck, the limp form of a small leopard cradled in one arm. With a thunderous crash and an ear piercing scream the companions watch as the smuggler’s ship is torn asunder, its cargo spilled out and floating on the water as the creature’s tentacles disappear into the depths once more.
Turning to the stunned companions, Turgut can only utter:
“Don’t be crackin the bumboo yet. That beastie in this close to shore is not natural. It be havin’ a powerful master driving it. You be makin’ dangerous enemies.”
Quickly stabilizing Ornith and ensuring the small leopard is alive, only listless and in shock, the companions quickly gather themselves together and decide to head straight for town. Before leaving however, Ragnarok insists on taking a piece of the debris with them to show to the town’s council. Reaching the shallows he is surprised to see the bright glint of something metal within the wreckage of a cask that had contained alcohol. Moving the debris aside the fighter exclaims aloud at the sight of a dozen shortswords lying in the wreckage! Apparently the weapons being smuggled in were hidden in the alcohol casks the whole time! Picking up one of the swords Ragnarok returns to the group and they make their way to the town.
Not five minutes down the road however and the companions turn to see a small boat beached on the shore, the remnants of rope lying in the bottom…most definitely a clue that this is where their hostage sailor had come to shore. Following the obvious tracks from the boat to the road, the companions continue on, assuming that at some point they will run into the sailor, whether on the road or in town. A few feet further down the road yet another boat is spotted beached on shore, this one almost identical to the previous, only with two sets of footprints leading to the road…could this have been the elusive captain? Unable to answer the question, the companions can only continue on their way.
Reaching the edge of town the companions are suddenly assailed by the Pross Brothers. The brothers are obviously unsure of which emotion to feel the most, concern over the limp body of Ornith, or awe at the tale being told. After Ragnarok is rude to them for no reason, the two brothers waste no time rushing off, no doubt the companions will be the talk of the town before the sun even sets. Finally making it to the inn Ornith is immediately placed in her bed and allowed to rest while Tamull and Ragnarok leave to speak to the constable. Its no surprise that the Constable has to be dragged from his home to hear the news, and even further no surprise that he simply lets the two men know that a council will be convened in the morning. Returning to the inn Tamull and Ragnarok attempt to get as much rest as they can.
The next morning all save Lars and Ornith attend the council meeting. laying out to the councilmen the entire story of what occurred, whether the whole thing is believable or not the councilmen seem to take every word for the truth, even Ragnarok’s overdramatization. Deciding that it best to inform the Count Tobin of Roshtar who oversees the town the council votes for sending a letter, but also adds to the companions that it might be best if they went in person to explain the events that took place. Agreeing with this course of action the companions inform the council that they will take but a day to rest before setting out for Count Tobin and Roshtar.
Even the best laid plans are foiled though. As Lars lay in a light sleep a voice came to him in need of aid:
“Daedelus. Daedelus.” Shocked into half wakefulness Lars simply listens to the voice for a few more minutes, questions quickly forming in his mind. “Your battle mage name carries great honor. Did Brodan tell you of your namesake? He named you for Grand Mage Daedelus the Unmatched.”
“Who are you?” Lars whispers in his mind.
“I was Grand Mage Daedelus’ master. I am called Stahlbo, I knew your master, Brodan. I am held captive in the Tower of the Shattered Sphinx. You must come to my aid!"
Unwilling to leave a fellow wizard to the possible dire and torturous fate that could befall him if left unaided Lars promises that he and his companions will find this Tower of the Shattered Sphinx and rescue him. Thanking him the voice slowly fades away, leaving Lars to the bright new morning sun and a new adventure awaiting on the trail!