With an interest in finding a silt skimmer captain brave enough to take them, Pik, Karas and Raina went to enquire at the harbourfront tavern, The Furled Sail. Karas' clearly patrician manners set him at odds with a group of surly muls, with Pik's lightning-quick intervention sent them on their way, and attracted the attention of someone who would be willing to help.
The dwarf captain Kotnalishmaelantok and the crew of the Dusty Breeze - tiefling Furtive, gnoll Muttley and thri-kreen Kr'k't'a - would be willing to sail off to Asterius, so that the party could wait in ambush for the Veyne team. They would leave at first light, and would not linger too long at the island for fear of the giants that patrolled it. They would return at midnight the next day, and if the party wasn't immediately ready to be picked up they would be left behind.
The party regrouped at the house of Karas' relatives, and Pik took the opportunity to show Melanthius' daughter his bear. He also took her to bed. The experience may have been less enjoyable than he was expecting thanks to the voice of the crystal skull hissing complaints about their mammalian behaviours throughout. Now he had a legitimate gripe with the evil artifact.
Come the morning, the bear was fitted with its new hat, which drilled painfully into its brain but did work at intended, changing its form to a more feline, less immediately recognisable and incriminatory.
The party were pleased to find that the Dusty Breeze was powered by an obsidian orb rather than slave labour - "navy surplus" as Kotnalishmaelantok put it - and went through the safety training calmly. They were to keep themselves tied to the deck at all times to prevent falling, but as it turned out the powerful winds kept them below deck in any case.
Shallahai had taken the chance to read Kotnalishmaelantok's fortune before casting off, and had forseen inconvnience. Sure enough, the captain came below deck asking if anyone could assist him, as his navigation had gone astray. Shallahai performed a minor ritual above deck, leaving a divining pebble for Kr'k't'a to steer by.
The direct route favoured by the primal spirits did lead the skimmer afoul of giants, however. Kotnalishmaelantok's second visit below deck was to get the party up and off quickly, so that he could evade the attackers. In the heavy winds, made almost solid by the high volume of silt, the team prepared to jump from the ship's side to the island's cliffs while a pair of bronze-armoured giants waded nearer.
Ungarth carried Shallahai with him as he jumped, and while Karas almost faltered his dogged human perseverence pulled him through. After the 'bear' missed the jump, drowning in the silt below, Pik and Raina opted for a safer method.
Using their psionic powers (a wild talent in Pik's case) the pair jumped straight down, dancing across the surface of the silt long enough to reach a rope held by Ungarth and reaching the top of the cliff that way.
The Dusty Breeze took to the horizon locked in combat with giants.
Recovering, and with a day to go before the Veynes were due to show, the party decided to explore the island. It was fairly fertile, with a forest near its centre, a village to one side of that and a pyramidal structure to the other. There being no hostile wildlife, they took a walk through the forest to come upon the village unannounced.
Initially mistaken for Viscera Veyne's party upon revealing themselves, the group decided to tell the truth to the mixed group of minotaurs and humans that called the village home. The folk took this in their stride, simply deciding that the party would have to go to the pyramid the next day, along with the visitors due the next day. Until that time, the party were welcome to stay, and partake in some of their food.
It was quickly discovered that the villagers were pretty naive. They had no weapons, and lived in harmony on the island, eating no meat. They took people given to them by the Veynes and led them to the pyramid, asking no questions, simply because this was the way things had always been done. Sometimes people would come back from the pyramid to join them, but none of them would speak of what was within.
When the druids in the group detected the mind-numbing lotus narcotic slathered over the food presented to them, the party decided to stick to their own rations, and furthermore snuck out of the village as night fell to investigate the pyramid.
It was constructed from four mighty trees that had been pulled down to join their tops at the apex, branches growing and intermingling to form the walls. It was covered in carvings, initially elven with a few cruder minotaur efforts overlaying the earlier work.
The minotaur tale told of how Andropinis, King of Balic, had sent his loyal minotaur legions to seize the island. The cattle-men rebelled after their conquest, keeping the island for themselves and demanding tribute from Balic, which of course the sorcerer-king had to obey, for the minotaurs were mighty. The minotaur chieftain, Asterius, went within the pyramid to safeguard his people for eternity.
The elven carvings explained how the island and pyramid were a fulcrum of magic - and a planar gate - that was used by the anicent eladrin to ensure that the lands around their city - the one that Andropinis razed when he built Balic - were fertile enough to feed them.
The carving also showed two giants opening the pyramid door, which was helpful considering how the party could find no opening. Digging around in the dirt, they found two immense chains which - when pulled in unison, one by Ungarth, the other by the recently re-summoned bear, each helped by other party members - allowed a previously invisible gateway to raise ahead of them. Of course, once the chains were released, the door closed again.
The night was spent chopping down a tree and manoeuvering it into position so that Raina could slide it under the gate when everyone else had raised it. While it blocked the door from closing, the team crawled inside to find an empty chamber, covered with more elven carvings. These explained that a cage could be used to lower subjects into the planar portal, and also that it would not manifest unless the door was shut.
So, slightly worried, the party pulled the log inside, and the pyramid lit up. Within was a second pyramid, more properly constructed of stone, and littered with bones. a light lit the scene from above, near which hung a cage, whose chain was tied down to a large minotaur that languished near the base of the pyramid, cradling his chewed-to-the-bone arm and leg.
Atop the pyramid, gulping down the last pieces of meat behind a green devil face-mask, was a demented human who seemed delighted to have more sport to entertain him. When questioned, he seemed to have difficulty remembering that his name was Venticles Veyne, and altogether seemed much more interested in killing the party than talking things over quietly with them.
Laurence J Sinclair