Bjorn Berber: Dwarf/2
Wilber Wifflelinks: Halfling/2
James the Warrior: Warrior/2
Morgren Pickbeard: Dwarf/1
Nallo Morningstar: Elf/1
Picking up right where they off: Of the 28 rescuees from the ziggurat on the starless sea, 2 are appointed to stay in Sagewood to run the Dead Goblin Brewery - Under New Management, and another 8 volunteer to remain on land with the goal of creating and reinforcing a trading path between Sagewood and Townsville (aka Home Base, aka The Village, aka Nobody Remembers Where They Live).
Descending the waterfall at the northwest edge of Dead Goblin Lake while aboard Paragon is uneventful...a little eerily so. They find themselves drifting southward on the Empyrean Ocean, keeping the shoreline to the east just within sight. They see a couple of pop-up establishments along the coast and pick one with an empty, rickety dock to ditch the sealegs for a bit. (This may have been Paragon's suggestion.)
Our group is pared down to 6 brave adventurers for this sojourn, and they head - predictably - for the Lonely Mermaid, the only building advertising healthy beverages. The dwarves badmouth the local ale (of course) and James is one of the only party members tall enough to read the Wanted posters plastered around, most of which are for Captain Quenn, or Savage Quenn, or the former crew of the Black Mariah. James asks the barkeep but is shrugged off with an "I don't want any trouble" look. Rook, a drunken old pirate, shuffles up to explain and Bjorn buys him a drink. Rook had met Quenn during shore leave once, and the nickname was no lie: "Quenn has been terrozing the coast for years. Seems he sold the ship and split up the crew in order to keep their heads attached to their bodies, if you catch my drift." The narrative is interrupted by a large, foppishly-attired man entering the pub and asking for the owner of the magnificent ship. There is a lot of muttering and shrugging - who owns whom, anyway? - and finally, "We're with the ship." Much posturing from the merchant follows, then, "He's not for sale." They wait for him to walk by, and Rook continues to tell the group that it's said that Quenn and his crew is after the Black Pearl, as they could all lay low afterward and retire on what it's worth. It's in a tower, one that only rises once every few years. Might be a wizard's tower, who knows. But Rook's been there, of course. He can give 'em directions from the dock, for a paltry fee of 10 gold and a percentage of the haul, including the Pearl. The large man interrupts once more, introducing himself as Brady, and declaring that "The Savage" has seized far too many of his own goods en route, and offers a reward for both the Pearl and proof of Quenn's demise. He also seems far too fixated on Paragon: "That specimen could keep many a pirate at bay..." The dwarves dismiss him and turn back to Rook -- and talk him down to 3 gold, plus a full pitcher of ale in exchange for a makeshift map.
Getting back out to the dock, the confirm that the Black Pearl is indeed on the list of items on Paragon's radar that should be collected or destroyed or ... something. Morgren wonders again if they should change Paragon's appearance, or try to remove the runes, but Paragon claims that might be painful. At least the directions they've been given are back into the Empyrean Sea so they don't have to leave him moored and at risk of theft.
Having a built-in crew aboard Paragon is useful, especially when having to row to a small platform five miles from shore in the middle of open water. Spotting a crude longboat on the other side of the tower, they try to swoop in quietly. Paragon warns them as they disembark that their sense of time may become skewed, and, "Remember, in order to retrieve the Pearl, you must return alive." Real cheerleader here. The dwarves rush in to keep the pirates who were sleeping on their watch from raising an alarm. One is killed almost immediately, one takes cover behind a keg of rum, and one shoots Garrett. The third is hit so hard that he tumbles backward off the tower and lands halfway in his own boat. It's pretty gruesome. The last pirate is dealt with quickly, and the team takes a few moments to clear the scene. Bjorn jumps to the other boat and sniffs to find gold, Morgren searches the bodies up top, and all are placed in the longboat, which is then moved to the other side and tied to Paragon. Having a built-in crew for the purpose of collecting and stowing away founds items is handy too: Of course the keg of rum is coming with them!
Now that the area is cleared, they find the trapdoor covered with seaweed (which Wilber takes), and they have no idea how to open the door other than with brute force. 3 crowbars working together do the trick. The iron ladder isn't too bad through gloves for Nallo. They drop into a large, brightly-lit chamber filled with hundreds of candles of varying heights. Wilber stands on tiptoes to read the giant tome set atop a pedestal in the center of the room. It contains a never-ending list of names; some are identifiable as well-known heroes, some are crossed out. He flips through long enough to find his own, ensure it doesn't have a line through it, and then definitively slams the massive book shut and declares the entire room to be left alone. (+1 Luck to Wilber.)
The only way out is a round, wide, wooden staircase leading down. They take notice of the little ivory statues along the way, and ignore them until the last person is attacked from behind by the barbarian fetish. A very long battle ensues... Although only 4 small fetishes, their 8 HP damage resistance vs. non-magical weapons means that our heroes have to score a number of critical hits to breach the measly 2 HP max -- and Garrett and Nallo get quite a few, albeit late in the combat. After Garrett's work with his short sword, the ivory barbarian is dubbed "sinister schrimshaw". Bjorn gets so fed up with the panthers, he breaks out the iron coffer [found in the charnel ruins of Sailors] and traps one in it. No longer threatened, the figure stills. [Better hope that box doesn't open...]
Somehow, all of this is accomplished without falling through the 7-foot-wide gap in the stairs, and once all is quiet, they return to the candlelit room to secure a length of rope to the iron ladder and use it to descend to the next level. Here they discover a trio of portals, with the room divided into three segments by elaborate sigils on the floor. It doesn't take them long to realize that, of the dragons sculpted into the arches, only two have stones set into their eyes, and only one has a fresh pool of blood at its threshold. Bjorn wastes no time and sacrifices a point of his own [-1 Agil, temp] onto the same spot, under the dragon with pearls for eyes. He is rewarded by a shimmering pool of absolute blackness beyond, and in he goes.
As he emerges from the portal's exit, Bjorn barely has time to realize he's inside another underground passage before he is ambushed and very nearly dead. The party on his heels is able to quickly assess the situation, and the 5 pirates lying in wait soon lie in repose. The door to the side leads to a ceremonial chamber, which is hastily rummaged through. Finding that they cannot open the secret door they found, they head back out and down the steps carved into the stone until they reach a dock ... at a waterfront ... of another underground sea. No ziggurat is within sight, nor is far-off drumming heard. Instead, they are greeted with a skeletal boatman in a skiff. It extends a single hand; no word is uttered. As there are 6 of them, Wilber hands over 12 copper pieces and they all climb aboard. Neither the boatman nor the vessel budge. Recalling the portal, Morgren places 1 copper piece in the bony hand, and proceeds to cut himself over it. No reaction. Finally, each character pitches in. In no particular order: Nallo, 1 CP; Bjorn, 4 GP; Garrett, 2 GP: James 2 GP. When the sixth offering is complete, the hand turns over, dumping the proceeds into the water, and the craft begins to glide along. At one point a bridge is noticed overhead as the passage narrows to 40 feet. It's not a long journey, and the skiff comes to a halt at another dock.
Back on solid ground, they are received by more pirates, including one with a particular refinement to his appearance. This one steps forward and proposes a truce. He barely gets a chance to utter the terms before the party gives an unequivocal "NO", by way of Bjorn knocking him unconscious with the first blow and beheading him ("as proof for the merchant") before even dealing with the rest of Quenn's crew. Bjorn also swipes and stows the fancy rapier.
The giant iron gate before them is seen as a nuisance, and even the floor plate trap in front of it is dodged by all. One glance at the numerous skeletons littering this room with no rhyme or reason, and they book it for the set of steps at the end. Nallo stops at the skeleton pinned to the wall on the stair's landing, as it's still wearing armor, unlike the ones below. Wilber guesses at the spear trap and pinpoints the lock's weakest spot [nat 20] and, dislodging the "armor stand" from the wall, they don't even stay long enough to hear the iron gates swinging closed behind them. The stairs open up onto a balcony overlooking the lake -- and there's the bridge they saw earlier. It's in bad shape, but by the grace of spent luck, all 6 make it over and into the natural cave without event.
But then they see the sarcophagus. And of course, it must be opened. Despite the huge dragon carved atop the lid. All but Nallo show off their strength until it's dislodged. And, of course, there are shiny things that gold-sniffing dwarves just can't leave alone. The crown looks like it's worth dying over, apparently. Just to make sure its owner doesn't try to wake up, Bjorn swings his battleaxe and separates the crown-wearing head from the rest of its body. [The resulting Patron Bond spell is failed, and Bjorn takes -3 Agil.] He reels back as he's hit with a sudden palsy, but Wilber sees the crown -- and just has to have it for Vinnie, the skull with faintly glowing eyes that he still wears above his own head. [Wilber does not fail the Patron Bond spell. Wilber's gonna be a funky little halfling by the end of this campaign.] Garrett spies the sparkling red stones amidst the sarcophagus, just the right size to fit into those dragon eyes back down in the portal room. Meanwhile, Morgren scopes out an escape route and finds a secret tunnel a little way in, and stands near the lever he finds, ready to get his party out of the cave. Joining up, they tumble in through the back wall of the ceremonial chamber, and back to the main hallway of the pearl-eyed dragon's portal. The large sigil carved into the floor is the perfect place for James to bleed for the cause and get them back [-1 Str].
Well, there's a dragon portal with emeralds in its eye sockets. Let's try that! (They're green, by the way.) Garrett makes the attempt [-1 Sta], but there is no discernible effect. No shimmering blackness, no lit-up emeralds, no nothin'. The short folks work with James to get the rubies inserted into the empty sockets, and Nallo bleeds to open this portal [-1 Str]. Walking through, they find themselves on a wide platform flanked with braziers, with deep steps descending into a water-filled room below. At the far end is a statue of a snarling dragon....with an enormous black pearl in its mouth. The fact that the statue sits on a level below the base of the room, and the water, stymies most of them, especially when they notice the multitude of small snakes writhing within the water. But wait! They have this leftover explosive stuff (TNT) from their task of demolishing the gicastor's dam. That eliminates most of Wilber's obstacles, and he sloughs through, with a rope tied to his waist so his party can keep hold of him in case the bottom turns out to be deceptively deep. It's slow going for the little dude. Once across, he scrambles up the statue, and it takes a couple of tries but he does manage to slip the Pearl free. And then - predictably - all hell breaks loose. The rope is useful in getting Wilber back, and although he avoids the water crushing him against the dragon statue, one of the small snakes manages to sink its fangs in on his return. Noting the floor-carved sigil on the large platform on the dry side, Wilber lets his wound drip and gets them back [-1 Agil] to the portal room. With an increased sense of urgency, the 2 tall people help the dwarves and halflings to retrieve all the stones from the portals' dragon frames, and they begin hauling themselves up the rope to the iron ladder. They express worry - briefly - about the candles in here, but the concept of this being a magic tower, and this room obviously full of protective magicks because the tower has been underwater for who knows how long, and that settles it: The only objective at this point is get out and detach from the tower before the whole thing goes under again, and pulls their ship with it.
Brady awaits them at the dock upon their return to the home of the Lonely Mermaid. Nobody likes him much, but Wilber - feeling properly big for his little britches tonight, after all he's been through - takes point on the negotiations. The merchant certainly doesn't want the head of Savage Quenn, but he's more than happy to pay 50 GP for that damned rapier. Finally, it's worked out that he'll pay each of them 15 GP for their trouble...but there's no way they're going to trust him on his valuation of the rapier ("after all, it has a name") nor of the measly 250GP for the Black Pearl. Even Paragon, who doesn't necessarily want to hold on to these things, knows that's not a fair estimate on the Pearl. He is certain there are others within a short distance who know its true value, and perhaps they can see about a couple of those other "black" issues along the way...
The idea of a black emerald still makes Bjorn twitch.
Bjorn Berber: +15 Luck
Wilber Wifflelinks: +15 Luck, +1 Luck
James the Warrior: +15 Luck
Garrett: +15 Luck
Morgren: +15 Luck
Bjorn: jewelry (6 GP) / ivory panther fetish / "Whisker" (rapier +1)