Sat aboard the Golden Ram, the wayward Zan’thire watches and listens as there is a flurry of frantic activity as the pirate crew set about dragging their booty back to their quarters, disengaging their own ship from the Questalis and then making ready for a swift departure. A young seaman, Jonas, comes into the galley, which is serving as the Elf Prince’s makeshift and not very secure brig. The young man looks quizzically at the stranger and asks a few pointed questions which are honestly, yet snootily, answered. Shortly, a huffing and puffing fat and bald man clutching various cooking utensils and crockery ambles into the galley. This is Hastins, the longest serving crewmember of the pirate vessel. He too enquires as to the identity and purpose of the stranger sat in his galley. Upon learning that Zan’thire is a new ship’s mage, he sets about keeping the newbie busy with a number of menial tasks and kitchen duties, dubbing the Elf “Sir Ponce” along the way. Zan’thire for his part decides to knuckle down and do as he is told, marvelling in the novelty of carrying out manual tasks as he does so.
After he has fed the crew his freshly cooked broth, the Elf prince hears the call to make sail from the deck above and soon feels the ship moving and the smell of burning as the pirates set fire to the Questalis. Returning to the galley the Elf begins to relax after having finished the last of Hastin’s tasks, but before he can fall asleep the veteran pirate enters the galley and tells Zan’thire to follow him. Walking to the aft of the ship he is taken to the Captain’s quarters. Inside the room Captain Lubbock is sat around his table with Smiling Jack and Perdin. The men have been looking at a map – Lubbock tells Zan’thire that it is time for him to prove himself. Lubbock wants Zan’thire to look at the map and tell him which island in the small archipelagos is the one he needs to get to. The pirate captain refuses to reveal the origin of the map or what it is he is seeking, merely saying that the map is of the Archipelago of Shadows & Strife, and that Perdin has been unable to perform the task. Zan’thire looks at the small plain and blood stained map and observes that it has been produced by an amateur hand and omits any labelling with the exception of sea depth measurements and the location of several surrounding reefs. There are ten almost identical small islands arranged in a vague arrow head shape for him to choose from. After several minutes of deliberation the Elf mage casts a divination spell that conjures up an image of Lubbock, Smiling jack and two crewmen surrounding another older pirate of stern features inside a tavern and murdering him and then removing the map from inside his pocket; Zan’thire then sees the a vision from the dead pirate’s memory of being onboard a vessel approaching a small jungle island with two other islands on either side; then he is pushing his way through a dense jungle with his crew and coming upon the ruins of a strange looking temple complex. It’s not much to go on but the Elf mage is being pressurized by Lubbock and after a moment’s hesitation he casts a clairvoyance spell and shares the vision with the Captain and with a bit of rough guess work based on what he saw he opts for the second island in the middle of the archipelagos.
The prince sleeps soundly that night and when he awakes he resumes his job as second cook and prepares breakfast and serves it to the crew. Early in the morning while going about his duties, Zan’thire hears a cry of land ahoy from above deck. A short time after he is fetched by Hastins and joins a party of ten getting into row boats while the Golden Ram weighs anchor off a small jungle island similar to the one in the prince’s spell vision. Soon it’s all hands to the oars as the group rows to shore; once they are all stood on the rough and slightly muddy sands, Lubbock enquires which of his two mages will lead the way. There’s a lengthy argument before Perdin relents and casts a divination spell to indicate the direction they should all head in – however, it soon becomes clear that the ship’s mage is not as good as he makes out as the results are very vague and inconclusive. A weary Hastins decides he’s had enough of the nonsense and tasks several of the crewmen to run along either end of the beach and pop into the jungle to see if they can find a path; and sure enough, one of them does. Minutes later the group is cautiously making its way through the muddy and rough hacked “path” through the dense bush. Everyone, less Smiling Jack, becomes aware that the island is eerily silent and devoid of the normal sounds of wild life; this prompts Perdin to cast a “Detect Trap” spell that only reveals a vision of a couple of tree snakes and an ominous pit in the middle of moss covered ruins that may or may not be the same one’s Zan’thire saw via his spell. The captain is anxious to reach his goal and pushes the party onwards and after ten minutes they stumble into a treeless clearing and upon the ruins Perdin recently saw in his vision.
A careful study of the fifteen foot wide pit sitting amongst the ruins reveals it to have been constructed by someone or something a long time ago and that it was once inside a building that had since vanished. There’s another lengthy debate as various people squabble about who’s going to approach the pit first and once again a tired and vexed Hastins commands one of the seamen to peer over the edge. Musket and cutlass in hands the pirate scuttles over to the pit and reports back that it is too deep to discern the bottom and that there are large regular steps leading down. Satisfied that there is no immediate danger the group surges forward and observe that the steps do indeed wind their way down along the wall of the pit, which is constructed from large well engineered grey stone blocks, and is without an inner banister. Again still, there’s a debate about who’s going down first and neither Zan’thire nor Perdin fancy the job much and begin slinging mud at one another; for a third time Hastins takes command of the situation and instructs two seamen with oil lanterns to lead the way with weapons drawn. An irritated and impatient Lubbock orders the two bickering mages to take second place and then the party descends the slimy moss covered steps, surprisingly without any dramas despite their alien seemingly non-human dimensions. The steps keep coming and it’s fifty feet down before the group reaches the muddy and filth-caked bottom.
The two lanterns reveal that there are four arched doorways in the chamber and there’s another discussion about how best to proceed before Hastins instructs a seaman through each of arches. After two makeshift torches are hastily made the four pirates ready their swords and pistols and head through the arches which all quickly reveal themselves to lead into lengthy corridors. The first man to reach the end of a corridor shouts back that he has found what appears to be the remains of some kind of storeroom, largely due to the number of empty weird-looking metal pots strewn about the floor. The second man reports a similar room, also containing metal pots. The third shouts that he has found an odd looking room with a stone pedestal and walls covered with strange swirling bas-reliefs. Smiling Jack tells the first two men to come back and bring a metal pot back with them just as the fourth and final man reports back with a shout. The fourth man has found a long room covered in ornate swirling bas-reliefs and more disturbingly, there are four people sat there in the dark with their backs turned to him. Smiling Jack orders Zan’thire into the fourth corridor to determine just who and what is in the room. The reticent Elf, cursing his current predicament, tries to order the pirate into the room but the crewman is having none of it and tells Sir Ponce to go to hell; the ship’s First Mate instructs Zan’thire to go into the room and investigate. The mad Elf persuades the crewman to at least lend him his torch so that he can see into the room better, which he begrudgingly does. Zan’thire sees that the room is twenty foot long by ten feet wide and that the floor and walls have strange swirls and channels carved into them. He observers that the four figures with their backs to him appear to also be pirate crewmen, comprising of an Orc, a Dwarf and two humans. They are all sat stock still with their legs dangling down into something. There’s no other choice but to get closer and Zan’thire skilfully creeps into the room and slowly approaches the figures, seeing as he gets nearer that the pirates appear to be sat on the ledge of a shallow pit or empty pool. Close enough now to touch them, Zan’thire opts for subtlety (not!) and kicks the Dwarf pirate off the edge of the pit where he disappears from view and lands with a crumple. At that exact moment a sentient brown-black ichor shoots up from the pit and onto the wall in front as if on fire; the three other sitting pirates turn and cry out, revealing eyes coloured the same dirty brown as the ichor. Zan’thire wastes no time and turns and runs back towards the doorway with the ichor in close pursuit – the seaman also doesn’t hang around and also flees back along the corridor.
The rest of the group hears the shouts and yells from the dark archway and moments later the frantic fourth seaman comes diving out, shortly followed by Zan’thire, just as the ichor creature flaps out and shoots out a pseudopod which grasps the Elf mage around the ankle and brings him down to the floor with a crash. Hastins leaps forward and slashes the tentacle with his cutlass, severing it. The creature flaps back into the darkened tunnel and Perdin shoots a fireball in after it; seconds later a flaming possessed pirate, the Orc, emerges with a roar. Hastins and two of the seamen fire their flintlocks but only the veteran cook finds his mark and blows a hole through the Orc, but this doesn’t prevent the burning pirate from leaping upon one of the seaman and bathing him in flames; it takes a savage blow from Smiling Jack’s cutlass to end him. Another two possessed pirates, humans, emerge from the tunnel with swords drawn; one engaging Hastins and the other landing a blow of his blade across the prone Zan’thire’s back. Steel clashes against steel and Captain Lubbock determines that this isn’t the place he was looking for and that it would be prudent to leave; he heads straight for the steps and heads back on up, taking one of the crewmen with him. Perdin goes to follow suit but confuses himself when he tries to pick up a discarded sword enroute and manages to spectacularly fall flat on his face in the mud. A badly injured Zan’thire scrambles to his feet and over to the steeps, and frantically attempts to race up them, only to slip down. The third crewman emerges like lightening from the third tunnel and sprints past both Perdin and Zan’thire, flying up the steps. The first mate and the cook are still battling the possessed pirates and manage to run them both through; the latter then runs up the steps as fast as his legs can carry him. The first mate walks over to Perdin and helps him up just as a Dwarf pirate with a broken nose emerges from the fourth tunnel and comes at them with sword swinging. Smiling Jack avoids a couple of blows and manages to strike the Dwarf down with a couple of sharp swipes; he then turns and runs up the steps just as Zan’thire manages to pick himself up and scramble, bleeding, upwards to safety. Figuring on the threat now being gone, Perdin decides to look around and perhaps search the bodies, just as the brown ichor comes flapping out of the tunnel once more. This is Perdin’s queue to run for his life; he turns and flees with the creature in rapid pursuit. The pair keep perfectly apace going up the stairs and it becomes clear that if Perdin slips then it will be the end of him. He makes it, just; reaching the midway point first where there is enough sunlight to drive the deadly ichor back.
The group is now on the surface and free of the pit – they sweat and breathe a sigh of relief at so narrowly escaping a terrible fate. Deciding that it was just a bit of a scare and only the loss of one man, Lubbock wastes no time and reprimands Zan’thire for his poor divination skills. He then instructs the wounded and beleaguered Elf prince to pick another island so that they can make tracks to it. Studying the hated vague map again the weary mage plumps for the middle island.