Skull and Shackles
The Journal of Ezikial Hands, Gunner Part Two
Upon reaching the Fort, I noted that the walls were likely to fall should anyone walk upon their tops and that a good stonemason would be required to repair them. When we reached the courtyard through the broken gates, we could see several buildings, all in states of disrepair, some with obvious function and some without.
The Chapel held a gold icon of Aroden and whilst we contemplated recovering it for its gold and historical value, giant spiders with human faces attacked us. These spiders were able to attack and vanish all in a moment and it was only by careful readying of our weapons that we were able to prevail.
Scouting the other buildings, we found that the forge, kitchen and mess-hall had seen signs of recent use. In the mess-hall, as we headed towards the upper levels, we encountered two misty, smoky creatures that threw spells at us. These creatures cause fear and weariness but dies all the same when filled with lead. The upstairs held only bedrooms of no real interest.
The guard house, did, on the other hand, hold something of interest; namely the voices that spoke to us about the “Immortal Dreamstone” and another of the mind affecting mist-beings. Which was dispatched in short order. A discussion ensure on the relative merits of purging by fire or explosion for the entire fort and its attendant spirits.
The basement of the Gurad house was a prison with a concealed door in the south wall that we entered. After a short passage, it lead us to what appeared to be a treasure room. There was also, conspicuously, a corpse in the middle of the room, with no apparent cause of death.
We contemplated the possible reasons for his death, including spirits, suffocation and poison. While we were at this, a true spirit appeared. A Mwangi man, that identified himself as Bikendi Otongu.
He told us this tale:
Millennia before the formation of the Eye of Abendego, in the heyday of the Age of Serpents, the cyclopes of Ghol-Gan ruled over much of the territory now claimed by the Shackles. Many of their ruins still stand, including those on the remote island now known as the Island of Empty Eyes. During the days of Ghol-Gan, the cyclopes built a mountain retreat called Sumitha. This retreat contained an underground vault known as the Eye of Serenity, which held an artifact called the lens of revelation. The cyclops seers of Sumitha guided their fellows in using the Eye and the lens therein for personal sojourns and divine introspection. But with the waning of their civilization, the lens turned dark and the cyclopes abandoned Sumitha. Many cyclopes retreated into the Darklands, leaving only a handful behind, who gradually degenerated into brutish savages. Centuries later, sailors saw the eyeless statues on the island’s shores and hillsides and gave the island its current name. Long since prized away by opportunists and treasure seekers, the statues’ single eyes – once represented by fist-sized gemstones – are now just empty sockets.
In 4110 AR, Chelish explorers stumbled across the island and made landfall. The settlers explored the island’s interior and discovered the ruins of Sumitha, stirring up conflict with the few remaining cyclopes in the stronghold. The Chelaxians lost several soldiers in the ensuing battles, so they built a small fort overlooking the island’s inner bay to defend themselves. Eventually, however, the giants’ attacks grew too numerous and organized, spurring the settlers to abandon their island home and f lee to the mainland, joining the larger and newer colony of Sargava.
The degenerate cyclopes left behind on the Island of Empty Eyes fell on hard times themselves. A few years after the Chelaxians abandoned the island, an earthquake shook the region, collapsing the few remaining tunnels to the Darklands. As the cyclops survivors emerged from the vaults of Sumitha, their huge appetites nearly depleted the island’s remaining food sources. The cyclopes were forced to search for new ways to fill their stomachs, plying the seas in giant whaling vessels, traveling to neighboring islands to capture dinosaurs to herd as livestock, or simply raiding ships and coastal communities to take what they needed to survive. The tribe, now led by a great cyclops named Ishtoreth has lost much of its cultural identity in the years of seclusion and stagnation. Discarding the sense of honor their ancestors displayed during the Age of Serpents, Ishtoreth’s tribe has descended into utter brutality, posing a significant threat to any seeking to make the island their own.
In more recent times, the Mwangi wizard named Bikendi Otongu led a band of pirates to the Isle of Empty Eyes. They swiftly restored the Chelish fort and began quietly scouting the island’s ruins. Bikendi used powerful illusions to hide his people’s presence from the cyclopes for many months, all so he could conduct his research without interruption. Obsessed with dreams and alternate realities, he believed he could extend his life without relying on an undead apotheosis like lichdom – turning instead to the heartstone magic of night hags. Using such a gem, he hoped to bind his soul in an arcane ritual, preserving it as he separated his consciousness from his physical form. As his body passed away, his mind would remain vibrant and free to seek out the Dimension of Dreams, living on for all eternity in whatever world he could imagine.
To carry out his plan, Bikendi searched for the perfect gem to create a heartstone, carefully consulting the magic of ancient Ghol-Gan and looking for a flawless jewel among the ruins of Sumitha. He found exactly what he needed in the lens of revelation, and moved invisibly among the cyclopes of Sumitha until he could steal away the stone used in their ancestral divinations. But to craft a heartstone from the lens, Bikendi also needed to cultivate a relationship with a night hag willing to help him. Thus he made contact with a night hag named Lodhotha and offered her a hundred souls from captives taken in his raids in exchange for crafting such a heartstone from the lens that he could use for his ritual. Lodhotha readily agreed, accepting Bikendi’s hapless victims even as she made plans to keep the new heartstone, called the immortal dreamstone, for herself. In the meantime, she feasted on the nightmares of those held in the fort’s prison, raiding their dreams each night until she could harvest their souls for the dark markets of her nightmarish realm.
T_o fulfill his part of the bargain, Bikendi increased his raids, using the island as a base from which to assault passing ships. These efforts attracted the attention of the cyclopes, however, who discovered the lens of revelation was missing from the Eye of Serenity and rightly surmised that Bikendi’s pirates had stolen it. The Cyclops chieftain, Ishtoreth, sent warriors to test the fort’s defenses, but the pirates held on, adding captured cyclopes to the allotment of souls due Lodhotha. Bikendi realized, however, that the giants would eventually overrun the fort, so he escalated his plans by imprisoning some of his own men – those who had shown fear or doubt in standing against the cyclopes. This gave him enough souls to meet Lodhotha’s quota, sating the hag’s appetite and convincing her to craft the immortal dreamstone. Knowing full well that Lodhotha would rather use the stone on him than relinquish it, Bikendi anticipated her treachery, and sprang his own trap before the hag could double-cross him. Bikendi instructed his apprentice, Ederleigh Baines, to pickpocket the dreamstone when Lodhotha arrived, thus depriving the hag of her most significant weapon and preventing her from escaping into the Ethereal Plane as well. Bikendi and his followers then slew Lodhotha, even as Ishtoreth’s cyclopes began their final siege of the pirates’ fort._
bq. Ecstatic with his prize, and realizing that the dreamstone’s magic would last only 24 hours following Lodhotha’s death, Bikendi retreated to the fort’s tower to attune it to himself, intent on completing his ritual before the cyclopes breached the outer wall. Unfortunately, not only did the ritual prove more challenging than Bikendi had anticipated, but without the wizard’s arcane assistance against the cyclopes, Bikendi’s forces were quickly overwhelmed. The giants sank Bikendi’s ship with thrown rocks, then broke through the main gates and slew the fort’s defenders before turning their assault on the tower itself.
bq. Rushed by this impending doom, Bikendi missed a vital step in the ritual, shearing his soul and mind from his body, but failing to open the right portal to the Dimension of Dreams. Before he could correct this error, the cyclopes broke into his sanctum, destroying his preparations and reclaiming the gem that he’d stolen from Sumitha. While the cyclopes then returned the lens of revelation to the Eye of Serenity, Bikendi’s spirit lingered in the Material Plane. His trapped ghost still haunts the fort in a fruitless effort to reclaim the dreamstone so he can finish the ritual. But Lodhotha’s sister, the night hag Haetanga, has sent her own minions to track down her sibling and retrieve the gem. These creatures also now lurk within the fort, ready to threaten and interrogate anyone who ventures there…