A thousand giant, flapping appendages, pink and smooth, part like a living forest as the Arno*Shark presses forward…
The Changeling’s heart flutters sadly as they watch the poor Rak’ta being slowly dragged down into the mouths of the Anemones. You all got here too late…there was nothing you could do. Below you, the Man O’ War is being bashed against rocks to break the Ship open. The Anemones frantically attempt to scoop out the insides of the boat, like Bluurg messily shucking oysters at dinner.
Finally, bodies begin to float out, one after another. The Anemones snatch at each of them immediately, dragging them down into their maws so quick that Arno barely has a chance to get a good look at the poor sailors. But one, apparently missed by the Anemones, floats free for a moment, and begins to ascend towards the surface.
He looks to be, every bit, the pirate. Large black beard, peg leg, eyepatch. Standard issue, dictionary-picture of a pirate. But then, as Arno continues to watch, a transformation happens. The beard begins to disappear, vanishing back up into the face. The eyepatch suddenly pops out of the man’s skull, displaying a full, milky white eye beneath. And then, the peg leg is wound down, pulled off, and floats away, as a pale, thick white foot pushes in to take its place. The “pirates” clothes tightly constrict around a too-big body, clearly made for someone several sizes smaller than the person currently wearing them.
They’re Doppelgangers. How or why they’d be pretending to be pirates, Arno isn’t sure, but the deception looks to have gone pretty deep. Arno gets one more second to look, and then a nearby Anemone realizes its mistake, and moves to *SCOOP* up the creature with one hand, while another half dozen move to scoot, scoot, SCOOT! Arno out of the way of stealing their food….
As the Anemone “forest” closes off the massarcre behind them, Arno makes to *BITE* at one of the slowly sinking bundles of palm leaves falling from the Rak’ta skiffs. Maybe getting a good look at what this fight was over might help solve the mystery of what happened out here…
At Oak’s instruction, the Rak’ta have an immediate seat in the skiff, moving in unison. They both look up at the Shifter expectantly.
The Blueish-Green Rak’ta hisses at Urixes’s questions, and answers with a familiar (but now, just slightly different) refrain: “Zey came out of nowhere…za Pirates. Wanted our cargo, to steal it…or so we zought. Handed zem over, and zey tossed our goods in za water to sink, and then tried to take usss captive. Und when we wouldn’t surrender…” The Rak’ta’s story continues again, in the same loop you’d heard before, as the bitter lizard smacks himself about the face and neck in deep, awful regret.
“Help her!” The yellow lizard says. “Pleasssse!”
Jack...is not made to be a medic. The Chameleon moans softly in pain, occasionally rolling form side to side as the young Shifter tries to get the lizards wounds kept closed. Jack tries his very best, but, well…After what seems a long while, but must have only been five minutes, the Chameleon finally, quietly, passes.
The Yellow frilled Rak’ta and the Blue-Green Rak’ta sense it as it happens. Both stand inside the skiff, raise their arms to the sky, and let out a throaty, hissing *BELLOW* of pain and agony, enough to split the skies! The noise echoes and rings along the open ocean, a sound of sadness and betrayal at the cruel nature of Fate. That sound will remain with you, and the Crew, for some time…
The Ghostly Rak’ta fade from view, disappearing before you all in their final open torment. The Skiffs around you, well-made as they are, are slowly taking on water. Around the watercraft, predatory fish are already beginning to gather, eager for a free meal. Nothing left to do, then…the large bundles wrapped in palm leaves seem to be valuable, something the Rak’ta had risked their lives to escape with. No reason leaving them to the Ocean…
””He”” is preferred, thank you for asking!” Slevin says, beaming brightly as he goes to offer the Changeling a steaming cup of pine-tea (really, just weak-pine flavored hot water, but he’s very proud of it!)
Doctor Hugo is giving Ril a depth perception test, pushing him onto his backfoot to test his balance, shining a light in the Aaracokra’s eyes. “Just coming off sickbed with “Vertigo”. The last of em’!” Slevin explains happily. “Hugo’s an absolute miracle worker with talk-therapy and herbal remedies!” The Doppelganger sighs, longingly, as he watches the Doctor work.
The handsome Dwarf before Arno stirs his pine tea, listening carefully as the Changeling tells him of what they saw under the waters before the Anemones intervened. “Hmmmrph,” Slevin De’Tres says as the Changer finishes, running his hands over his beard. “Now, I only had my first five days to spend with my brethren and the remaining Demons, mind. Still, s’strange. Thing about Doppelgangers and the Expanse is, good number of em’ came out here because they didn’t need to change; for this place of *anyone* *YOU* know, Arno; the Expanse cares very little, maybe less than most places in the Rational Realms, about appearances. I mean, sure, from our ranks you’d get your usual Deep Plants, out of mission or habit…pretend heads-of-state, pretend long-lost-kin, pretend lover-thought-lost-at-sea-returns…but those are all one-offs, rogues or the elite."
"Now, a group of Doppels, all-together…in disguise…in stolen clothes, no less?” The Dwarf* stirs his drink with a spoon, clinking the metal implement against the sides of the tin cup in concern. “Sounds like…proper organization. From the top. Like, Evvdia’s planning something.” The hands which grip the spoon are white with fear. Sweat builds on the Doppelganger’s brow. He looks scared; for himself, and for Arno. Slevin mutters thickly, staring deeply into his drink, “My people, they don’t need to blow holes in our Ship to hurt us. I’ve heard of Evvdia destroying men’s entire lives, without a lifting a blade. Just the right face, in the right place. Take care out there!”
Ril receives a clean bill of health from Hugo the Aasimar. The Aaracokra nods, curtly, at Arno as the big bird passes and heads back above deck.
Either still enraptured with Hugo or eager to change the subject (maybe both), Slevin goes on, “Now, what Hugo does, I feel like I could never do. Just the talent involved in being able to look at people, see what makes them sick, help make em’ better, you know? Although, he keeps telling me it isn’t just talent…it’s mosty education…”
Gradually throughout the 40th day of your Voyage, the seas beneath your Ship grow more and more “temperate”. The overgrown tangle of the Kelp Forests become sparser by each mile, and soon the oceans beneath you are devoid of all but the heartiest aquatic creatures. Brilliant greenery is replaced by arid, empty dessert. The sight of hydrothermal vents subtly slip into view, slowly growing to pockmark the deeps around you. The waters of the Expanse slowly, noticeably start to bubble beneath the surface. Steam begins to fill the air as the ocean simmers, cooking the Ship and the atmosphere around you. You have to shield yourself, lest the boiling mist burn your eyes or skin. And it’s hot, so godawful HOT...
Meanwhile, the cloud cover overhead churns endlessly over onto itself, until from the middle of the overhead roil, a dry thunderstorm is produced…
”…nothing to be done for it,” The Captain grunts, annoyed as another bolt *DARTS* between the sky and the bubbling seas.. “By the time we noticed what we were in, we were well in it. Turn around now, and we might be out of food before we reach sight off Chaff, and then god’s know how long the Crew keeps it together after that!”
“I appreciate your position. I do.” Says Hugo sadly, trying his best to keep this between him and the Captain as ears eavesdrop nearby. “But what I’m telling you is that it doesn’t even matter if we turn around now. It’s already too late.”
“What do’ya mean?” Captain Ari says nervously, drawing closer to the Doctor and speaking in hushed tones.
“…I mean, I’ve already seen symptoms start to appear among the Crew. Excessive dryness. Irritation. Pink-red hue. Infection occurs through transmission by water, and, well…”
“The Ocean has been cooking us like people-soup for miles. Fuck. Fuck.” The Captain *BASHES* the side of the wall with a balled fist, sending Bluurg nearby scurrying for cover. Taking a deep breath and a moment to gather herself, Arabella finally asks: “How bad is it?”
Hugo pulls out his medical notebook, flipping it to the most recent page. Without making eye contact with the Captain, he clinically replies: “…about as bad as it can get, Madame Captain. We are looking at a near-pandemic here…”
The excitement of the day continues, as little Carlee Burrowes, the Halfling Cook, is discovered dangling off a rope from the end of the Main Deck. Striker Killian sends up an immediate *holler*, and the Riggers and Deckhands quickly move to help pluck the little one up from the boiling waters, fearing the very worst. The Halfling is pulled (kicking and screaming) into view wearing a strange, fleshy suit, sealing her from head to toe like a seal (the rubber-like-material seems to have mostly protected the Halfling from the harsh effects of the heat). The suit is topped off with a nautical diving helmet, which the little lady twists off with a *T-SHISSSH*. The usually docile Halfling begins to absolutely berate Killian for bringing her back up, much to the Striker’s confusion.
Carlee shouts,“Like’en I don’t know what the HELLS I’m doing, Killian Grant! This en’t my first field o’ thermal vents, ya know!”
“But…Carlee,” The Old Salt tries to explain gently. “We thought you’d be cooked…or the lightning would get ya! Or, at the very least, you’d be catching the bleeding-eyes *CRAP* down there…”
“I wasn’t in the water, stoopid!” Carlee chastises as Killian attempts to mansplain the danger to her. “And the only thing I was catching were these!” She produces a bucket from behind herself, one of the several attached to her rubber suit. Each bucket is full to overflowing with strange-shaped fruit, the flesh thick and neon-colored. “Flambraes!” she declares proudly. “A whole bushel of em’! Only grow in hot waters, near swamps. Cut one of these suckers open, give it ten or so minutes to cool off (so you don’t burn your damned' tongue out), and you’ve got a whole, hot-meal, right there! Tastes a bit like cinnamon and brown sugar, but much spicier! Great fer snacks, seasoning meats, flavoring coffees…”
Killian observes the fruit curiously, quietly impressed with the daring little cook. “Alright, alright…it’sa good find, I’ll give ya that…even if I’m not sure they’d be worth risking your life over!”
“Ye haven’t tried it yet…have a taste, then let me know if it was worth risking lives!” the Halfling says proudly, putting her helmet down and quickly working to take off the clinging rubber suit. “One more thing; that reminds me…” Carlee says, panting as she adjusts to the heat rolling through the Main Deck. “Y’mentioned...bleeding eyes…the Crew, they got the Sight Rot?”
“Bout a third of em’ showing signs now, give er take,” The Striker says wryly. “Why…yer “Flambraes” do anything for the Red-Eye?”
“Not a single, blessed thing I'm afraid…but “Eyebright” does…an it grows in swamps, just like, the one the Flambraes vines were growing towards. Mr. Oak…?” The Halfling says, waving over to get the Shifter’s attention.Oak steps over and takes a look towards the Horizon where the Little Cook points. Sure enough….less than a mile in the distance off the port side, the Shifter sees a tall cluster of tropical trees, growing out of squalid, shallow waters. The whole "island" is less than a square quarter mile wide, and coated in dense, choking jungle, and a shallow, ocean locked swamp. Roughly carved planks and sticks make up a primitive looking village near the treetops. The residents of the village can be identified by their shadows, running around in the firelight of bonfires hung between the trees…
The Wild Bunch takes down their favored Longboat, headed out to meet with the Boom-Top Apes and seek the “Eyebright” flower. Arno stays behind in the Clinic, helping to smear a poultice over the eyes of Refi and Ril while Slevin watches studiously…“STINK-PIT”
The Boom-Top’s “tiny” village is a tightly grown mass of giant-sized palm trees, the fronds reaching easily over 150 feet tall. The trees are tied together with massive plank bridges and rope ziplines (each the thickness of a mast). The shallows here run up against the bottom of the palm trunks, which create a natural “dam” around the island’s center. Behind the giant trunks, the middle of Stink-Pit makes the Ape’s choice of name apparent: the island is dominated by a weed-tangled, overgrown, bubbling and stinking swamp. Reeds and cattails emerge in bunches every few feet.
The steam around these waters lessens the closer the Wild Bunch’s Longboat draws to the island. However, the thunderstorms continue unabated. Near the tallest trees of the island, your group can make out copper lighting rods of a massive size, jutting up towards the sky and grounding into some of the trees. The Great Apes are nowhere to be seen: the giant creatures must be hiding inside their leaf huts near the apex of the trunks, well out of the dry-storm.
As the Longboat approaches, your group can make out a flat wooden platform, connected to a great-large pulley system which runs up to meet the village overhead. This must be the Ape’s “front door”, built specifically for guests far, far smaller than they are. Surely enough, as the Wild Bunch rows up to the pulley-platform, two faces poke out from the trees above, taking in the new visitors. The Apes look gruff and unpleasant. Each carries a spear roughly the size of your Longboat (something you could, personally, be spitted and cooked on, were there a large enough fire). Neither primate makes a move towards the rope pulley.
The Giant Apes take a long time appraising your group. They give Urixes a simple once over and seem to dismiss him out of hand, bored, or possibly annoyed. But Jack and Oak they glare at for some time. The two Apes exchange grunted queries between themselves, refusing to look away from the pair.
Finally, the larger of the two Apes, a great tall-fellow with a shock of brilliant white sticking out of his head, *GRUNTS* down to Urixes. “WHO YOU? WHAT YOU WANT?”