Having struck a bargain with a holographic head in a box, the PCs promptly started plotting to betray it. They gathered up their new followers in the village they'd taken over, plus a group of soldiers from the church expedition, and marched this assembled force over to Hologram Head's workshop, where it was busy repairing the robot-men they'd crippled in their previous encounter. Claiming that this warband was going to descend into the control tunnels on its behalf and kill all the people who had once tried to delete it, they soon persuaded the megalomaniacal head to show them the location of the hidden hatch that went down into the tunnels below. The surviving robot-men then smashed the hatch open, revealing a narrow shaft with metal ladder rungs set into the walls, descending deep into the darkness.
Volunteering to go first, Jack climbed down the ladder into the unknown. Finally dropping to the bottom, he found himself surrounded by nervous-looking men in white robes, holding glowing globes and pointing strange metal implements at him. A tense dialogue followed, in which the robed men explained that the holographic head - which they called 'the mad one' - was the result of their failed attempt, decades earlier, to re-establish contact with 'the Great Machine' which their ancestors had once been able to speak to. Unfortunately, instead of awakening the Great Machine, their meddling had merely caused it to bud off an insane secondary personality; they had believed it deleted, however, and were very alarmed to hear of its survival. They pleaded with Jack to destroy the head, insisting that if it was allowed to plug itself back into the Great Machine, as it desired, the results would be catastrophic for everyone.
|Yes, it's basically these guys from Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Minus the psychic powers.|
Jack climbed back up, reassured the head that there didn't seem to be anyone down there, and set about 'briefing the troops' (i.e. telling everyone to betray the head on his signal). Meanwhile, the robot-man carrying the head moved closer to the hatch so that it could peer down into the darkness - so Circe, unable to resist, cast a Command spell ('Run') on it. Failing its save, the robot-man promptly ran straight into the open pit, dropped a hundred feet, and was shot to pieces by the men waiting below. The rest of the robot-men attempted to avenge this betrayal, but were set upon by the PCs and their solders and pin-cushioned with spears and arrows before they had a chance to strike back. Thus ended Hologram Head's brief bid for world domination.
Keen to learn more about these weird tunnels, the PCs climbed down for an extended discussion with the tunnel-dwellers, who were still very unhappy about having had their entrance hatch exposed. They explained that they were the descendants of human slaves who, in the last days of the serpent-man empire, had fled underground into the control tunnels and simply never came up again. The ancient machines provided them with the necessities of life, although many of these (including the Great Machine itself) had failed or fallen silent over the centuries. They also told the PCs that the tunnels connected all three islands. The PCs, realising that this provided a potential way of travelling between islands without risk of being eaten by the Putrescence, asked if the tunnel-dwellers would escort them to the other islands; reluctantly, the tunnel-dwellers agreed, but only on the condition that the PCs agreed to be blindfolded during the journey.
Several hours of blindfold tunnel-walking later, the PCs emerged through another hidden hatch onto another island, hiked a short way, and made camp. In the night, Hash's keen eyes spotted a group of creepy robed figures crawling out of the nearby woods: he quickly woke everyone as the figures surged to their 'feet', revealing only slug-like masses of oozing slime beneath their hoods! Brandishing torches from their campfire, the PCs held the slug-men at bay; and after making a variety of horrible slimy noises (which might have been an attempt at communication) the creatures slunk back into the woods.
The next morning, the PCs explored some nearby ruins, at the centre of which was a crude stone altar stained with blood and marked with crude inscriptions: a Comprehend Languages spell soon revealed that these were merely rantings about how something called The Devourer was coming to consume the world. A horrible slimy noise alerted them to the fact that the slug-creatures they had met in the night were now emerging from the ruined houses all around them, quivering in obvious expectation of a sacrifice. Thinking quickly, Circe pulled on the ritual vestments she stole from a dead priest of The Devourer several sessions ago, grabbed Jack by the throat, and told them - gesturing at the sun - that she would sacrifice him in the evening, when the time was right. The slug-creatures reluctantly oozed back into their hovels, and the PCs fled for the hills.
Avoiding the island's central peak after seeing large flying creatures circling it, the PCs made their way around the coast until they came to a small walled village, where they were warily welcomed by the inhabitants. The people explained that, a few decades ago, something had caused the dead to rise on the island, and the area around the central peak was now infested with zombies - thus the village walls. The PCs explained that they had come from the mainland, and claimed that they would try to evacuate the villagers from their now-cursed island if only they would adopt the party's (made-up) dualistic religion, and accept the worship of the Bright Lady and the Frog God. The chief explained that his people revered the spirits of their ancestors, but Circe and Erin agreed that they could continue practising their quaint traditions alongside their new religion provided the real gods were given their due. Enthused by the idea of being able to go and live somewhere that wasn't full of ravenous walking corpses, the villagers lent the PCs a boat, with which they rowed around the edge of the island and returned to the hidden hatch.
|Switching religions doesn't seem so bad now, does it?|
Another day of blindfold tunnel-walking brought the PCs to the third island, where the tunnel-dwellers were especially afraid to go, one of their own having recently gone missing there. Scouting the island, the PCs soon located the village which the church expedition had so disastrously attempted to contact, where the people wore clothes dyed with purple slime and worshipped the purple cloud-monster which roamed the islands. Some of the purple-clad villagers were busy excavating nearby ruins, so the PCs abducted two of them and interrogated them, learning that their current chief - who apparently had the ability to control the cloud-monster, at least to some extent, using something hidden inside his house - was obsessed with searching for 'relics of the ancient world'. Bullshitting wildly, Circe claimed that she too had worshipped this monster, until she received a revelation that it was only the emissary of even higher powers: she demonstrated her miraculous abilities, and told the captives to go and spread the word of the Frog God among their community. Then they released the villagers and ran away.
Heading to the far end of the island, the PCs came across a weirdly well-maintained arena, defended by a hulking half-robot ape-man which talked wildly of how the arena spoke to him, inspiring him to defend his title as champion of the ring against all comers. Further conversation soon revealed that he had been another victim of Hologram Head, but that he and one other robot-man had retained some measure of free will after their transformation: the two of them had escaped together on a crude raft, but after that his story became vague and confused. Concluding that the creature was somehow being mind-controlled by the arena itself, the PCs persuaded it that they were here as spectators rather than challengers, and went back into the ruins - only to come across a hunting party of armed men in purple, sent to capture them by force! Fleeing back to the arena, they told the ape-robot-man that a bunch of 'challengers' were coming to fight him, and then hid themselves. When the hunters arrived, the beast promptly butchered the first one he laid eyes upon, and the rest fled in panic. Concluding that anyone who was that good at killing people was clearly a useful person to have around, the PCs began speculating how they might free the creature from the arena's spell...
Communities allied with: 2.
Communities antagonised: 2.
Chance of this whole archipelago ultimately becoming the birthplace of a weird new syncretic religion with Circe as a deified prophet-figure: A whole lot higher than they were a few weeks ago.