Lost and exhausted in the tunnels beneath the Purple Islands, the PCs had no choice but to rest. They stretched themselves out miserably on the bare concrete floors, sleeping in total darkness to avoid using up their torches, with Kroak and Hash - the only two party members able to see in the dark - taking turns to stand watch. They both felt something watching them from the darkness, and sometimes even glimpsed flickers of movement in the distance, but whatever it was did not approach.
|Probably nothing to worry about, right?|
After getting a bit of sleep (although not much), the PCs took stock of their remaining torches and set off through the maze of half-collapsed tunnels, marking their path, Ariadne-style, with threads unwoven from Kroak's rags. (Kroak usually hides his inhuman features under heaps of rags and tatters so that people will think he's a leper or something, and thus be discouraged from investigating further.) Some hours later, they finally emerged into an area manned by a group of nervous-looking tunnel-dwellers with guns and light globes, obviously on the lookout for the monster. They were glad to hear that it was now dead, but made it extremely clear to the PCs that they were no longer welcome in the tunnels, despite their previous services. Escorted back to the exit, they found a group of tunnel-dweller workmen wearily repairing the busted hatch for a second time in two weeks, who pleaded with the party not to lead any more monsters into their hidden home.
Reporting back to Elder Amelia, the PCs spun an unlikely story about how they'd tricked all the remaining mutant ape-men into falling off an illusionary cliff before scurrying off to read the book they'd stolen. It turned out to be a necromatic spellbook, crammed with unholy-but-exciting-looking magic, most of it far beyond their meagre ability to use; Hogarth, however, did manage to learn a spell which allowed him to temporarily animate a corpse, and Hash learned one for magically preserving dead bodies. While they were poring over its pages they were interrupted by the arrival of a lost-looking tunnel-dweller, carrying a metal broom over one shoulder. Introducing himself as Derek, he explained that he was a bit of an outcast among his people, who had sentenced him to permanent tunnel-sweeping duties for certain crimes and indiscretions he didn't really want to talk about. Seeing the PCs magically translate books which had defied the most knowledgeable of his people and inspired him, and he had decided to abandon his tunnel-sweeping career for a life of adventure on the surface - and, if possible, a chance to learn some of their surface-dweller magic.
Instantly recognising him as a fellow misfit, the PCs welcomed Derek to the party, and proceeded to quiz him about the movements in the dark that they had seen. He explained that the tunnel-folk were fairly certain that something was hiding down in the darkness with them, and probably deliberately collapsing tunnels to keep its lair hidden, but that none of them had ever been able to find out what it was. Intriguing though this was, more pressing business now claimed the PCs attention: Amelia was determined not to spend winter on the islands unless she had to, and ordered the PCs to go and investigate the village on the south island, in order to find out how they were controlling the purple cloud-monster and, if possible, stop them from doing so.:Once it was gone, there would be nothing to stop the repaired ships being able to move freely back and forth between the islands and the mainland. Having rather outlived their welcome among the tunnel-dwellers, the PCs decided to travel to the south island via raft, and Amelia ordered one to be built for them by some of Captain Matthew's sailors.
The next day, the party set out across the water accompanied by two of Amelia's minions: the Angel Andrew, whose talents of levitation had impressed them during the battle with the ape-men, and a soldier called Paul, both of whom had orders to keep an eye on them and assist with their mission if necessary. Unfortunately for the PCs, they were halfway between the islands when the cloud-monster suddenly appeared in the sky and came racing towards them. Knowing it would only attack what it could see, they all jumped into the sea and clung to the underside of the raft, holding their breath as best they could while the immense purple pseudopods of the monster reached down to curiously investigate the floating raft, smashing it to pieces in the process. Desperate for air, Jack started to panic and swim for the surface, so Kroak grabbed him and held him underwater until the monster flew away, by which point he was very nearly dead from drowning. Finally the party swam ashore with the shattered remnants of their raft, where they left the still mostly-dead Jack shivering by a driftwood fire and nursing his new phobia of the sea.
|What Jack will be dreaming about every night for the rest of his life.|
Everyone agreed there was no point in trying to infiltrate the village until night, so with true PC logic the party decided to do a spot of light ruin excavation to pass the time. They hacked their way through the undergrowth which choked the nearby ruins and found a mysterious-looking crater, but a brief encounter with a man-eating plant soon persuaded them that it was probably a location best explored on another occasion. After dark Kroak and Hash sneaked into the village under the cover of magical darkness, with Kroak using Command spells to send nearby dogs running off before they raised the alarm, and Hash crept into the home of the village's chief, finding a strange machine in the upstairs bedroom which seemed to be generating a small cloud of purple mist. Unfortunately, his attempt to investigate further disturbed one of the sleepers in the room, and he fled back out again before they had time to properly wake up.
When Hash described the machine to Derek, the tunnel-dweller-turned-adventurer became excited, declaring that it was almost certainly an item of ancient serpent-man technology which the villagers were using to control the cloud-monster. He thought that the purple mist was probably some kind of biological interface, and argued that as the only member of the group with any knowledge of such lost technologies, he should be the one to operate it. The party retreated to their hidden camp, spent the day resting (along with the now slightly-less-dead Jack), and the following night returned to make another attempt at reaching the machine; but Hash's break-in had clearly not gone unnoticed, and now there were guards with torches scattered around the village. An 'A-team' of Andrew, Erin, Kroak, and Derek totally failed to sneak in without being spotted, and ended up fleeing into the forests, with several guards in hot pursuit; so it fell to the 'B-team' of Hash, Circe, and Hogarth to creep into the chief's house while everyone was distracted. The one guard inside the house who had remained at his post swiftly became an impromptu sacrifice to the Frog God after a silent but terminal encounter with Circe's magic dagger, and the three adventurers crept up into the bedroom to examine the machine, while the chief and his family slumbered all around them.
|The Mysterious Purple Cloud awaits!|
Hogarth went first. He put his hand into the cloud, and experienced little except dizzying synaesthesia; but upon removing his hand all those trippy colours suddenly turned into very powerful, very ordinary pain, and he slumped back ashen-faced, biting his lips to stop himself from screaming. Circe tried next, and with her customary recklessness shoved her whole head into the purple cloud. All at once she was the cloud-monster, seeing in all directions with hundreds of kaleidoscopic eyes that saw far into both the infrared and ultraviolet ends of the spectrum. The attempt to make sense of this perceptual overload totally overwhelmed her brain, and she yanked her head back out of the cloud, bleeding from her eyes, ears, and nose. Believing that his magical training would make him better-equipped for such tasks than his witchy companion, Hogarth then tried again, putting his head into the cloud - and, sure enough, he was able to get some kind of a grip on the alien body of the cloud-monster, and began guiding it towards their current location. Minutes passed, and Hash and Circe began to get rather worried about the sheer quantities of blood that were dribbling out of the cloud that Hogarth's head had disappeared into - but then, suddenly, they heard a terrible keening sound coming from across the sky. Looking out of the windows, they could see the cloud-monster hurtling through the air towards the village, apparently on a collision course...
Will Team Tsathogga destroy the village in order to save it? Who will survive, and what will be left of them? Find out in the next thrilling Actual Play installment, coming soon to ATWC!