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Dark Worship in the Known World - The Thanegioth Archipelagoby Geoff Gander
This treatise contains the first-hand accounts that I, Marcus Cassius Aurestius, have obtained or otherwise experienced over the course of my many journeys around the Sea of Dread region. In truth, were it not for the utterly shocking discoveries made in the Hinterlands, not far south of Raven Scarp, I am sure that my more recent discoveries closer to home may not have been made. In this I am somewhat confused, for, in reviewing the events of the past few months, it has become clear that I have been driven to seek out such places, since making that horrific discovery in the Hinterlands. I cannot explain it, for it almost appears as though I am compelled to seek out these forgotten ruins and artifacts.
Be that as it may, I shall include here some of the more interesting discoveries made on the return trip from the Hinterlands, and our subsequent voyages to the Five Shires, Karameikos, Darokin's Malpheggi Swamp, and other locales.
The Thanegioth Archipelago:
Long considered to be a convenient - if slightly perilous - rest-stop for those traversing the Sea of Dread, the Thanegioth Archipelago has been shrouded in legend for generations. Indeed, who has not heard the numerous tales of lost treasure, forgotten pirate hideouts, ghost ships, and mysterious ruins sitting forlorn in the uninhabited uplands of many islands? It was the latter which drew me to Bararna Island, which lay not far east of the famed Isle of Dread.
Upon reaching the southern shores of that island, originally en route to Thyatis the City, I was struck with a sudden urging to explore the island. That feeling was similar to that which I felt in the Hinterlands, and I ordered my crew to sail around the island, and thereby provide a detailed survey of its coasts. The island proved itself to be larger than originally anticipated, and the weather was strangely inclement for the time of year, but we managed to accomplish the task - locating several natural harbours and coves in the process, something that I was sure would interest the Thyatian Navy. I named the largest such inlet "Discovery Cove". Facing southward towards far-off Davania, and filled with incredibly calm, turquoise waters, this cove was the perfect place to drop anchor for a few days' rest, and replenishing of supplies from Bararna Island itself. Previous sailors had noted the presence of many well-fed serpents and lizards lounging about its rocky northern and eastern shores, and I decided that such beasts would be welcome fare for my crew, and a much-enjoyed break from ship's biscuits and salted cod. With high hearts, we went ashore, and proceeded to hunt.
The first hours were incredibly successful - my crew caught no less than forty large iguanas, and twelve giant garter snakes. So well-fed these creatures were, and so indolent in the hot sun, that they scarcely reacted as we began to net and spear them. That evening, we dined well on the beach by great bonfires, singing songs and telling tall tales of the legendary heroes and villains known to pass through this region in times past. After posting our watches, we slept under the stars, certain that nothing could harm us.
In this we were wrong. As the sun rose over the eastern hills, we noticed several of our sentries had not returned from their patrols. A quick search revealed no bodies, but obvious signs of violent struggles; in many places the soil and vegetation were stained with blood - whose, we did not know. All the more odd was the fact that no one had heard anything out of the ordinary during the night - not even those sentries who had not disappeared. We also soon discovered that the indigenous wildlife, which had so easily yielded to our weapons the previous day, was nowhere to be found, though tracks we in evidence - heading westwards, towards the interior of the island.
Resolving not to leave the island until we had determined whether or not our companions were truly dead, I ordered half of my men to return to the ship, and the remainder to accompany me inland. Armed and determined, we pressed onwards. It seemed as though we trekked through those dense, sweltering jungles for hours. Scarcely a ray of sunlight penetrated to the ground level, and all the while we noticed something odd about this land. There were no birds, nor were there any mammals - at least, none that showed themselves. We found salamanders and toads aplenty, as well as tiny green snakes, but no boars, giant cats, rodents, or even monkeys - very odd, given that such animals are known to exist on nearby islands.
Still, we pressed on, growing anxious to discover the fate of our companions as the sun dipped westwards, until we heard a dull thumping noise, not unlike a drum, not far to the north. Cautiously, we approached the source of that sound. Before long, we saw what appeared to be a great bonfire in the midst of a large clearing. We were not alone, however, for in the midst of that clearing, dancing around the fire to the sonorous thrumming of those unseen drums, were unwholesome lizard-kin! Though they greatly resembled lizard men, we knew they were not of that race, for their bodies were squatter, and comb-like spines ran down their forearms, as well as the backs of their heads. In the firelight, we saw that they painted or tattooed their bodies with garish colours, in patterns reminiscent of skulls, but what unsettled us most as we stood there, were the glimpses of abnormal growths on their bodies. Suffice it to say, at an almost instinctive level, I knew them to be corrupted creatures, from whom we should expect no warm welcome!
A foul stench, not unlike rotting meat, was also present in the air, and we turned our attention to the source of that odour. Off to the side of the clearing, we saw a great pit dug into the earth, and set at an angle over the yawning precipice were six wooden stakes. It was with horror that I noticed, that upon those stakes were tied our missing companions! Suddenly, the drumming ceased, and the lizard-kin gathered slowly around our imperilled friends, muttering and laughing in their guttural language. From the opposite side of the clearing, presumably the source of the drumming, came what appeared to be a shaman or similar such figure, dressed in animal skins and bearing a metal staff. As though they were of one mind, the massed lizard-kin began to drone in their language, as the shaman pranced and strutted up to our captured companions, who, we saw, were frantically trying to free themselves. Chanting gutturally and shaking its staff, the shaman paced in front of its captives, sprinkling some sort of powder on them as it passed.
Though the fire was burning bright, everything appeared to be getting darker at the corners of my vision. I also noticed that the stench arising from the pit appeared to be getting stronger - if that was at all possible - and I thought I heard thudding and rumbling noises emanating from within its depths. Just then, one of the lizard-kin looked in our direction - for we had not moved, so frozen were we in shock and fear - and shouted in its crude language. Other shouts arose, and we knew we had been spotted! Abandoning all thoughts of freeing our friends, we bolted eastwards, desperate to put as much distance as possible between ourselves and those foul creatures. Nearby trees became riddled with spears, throwing axes, and arrows as we ran, and too often I heard a shriek of pain as one of my companions was hit, and fell to the ground. Never did I dare look back, though I knew the natives were gaining on us, for they surely knew the lay of the land better than ourselves. We ran for hours, goaded on as though the pits of deepest torment were opening behind us - which, in fact, they were!
After what seemed to me an eternity of running, of frenzied dodging amongst the trees, of trying to block out the frightened screams of my fallen companions, we finally made it to the beach, where we sighted our ship. Frantically signalling the men on board to open fire upon our pursuers with their crossbows, we boarded our rowboats and paddled madly, trying to drown out the roar of the natives as they jumped into the cove and swam after us. Even then, our safety was not assured, for, although my men reddened the waters with the blood of many lizard-kin, I saw in the moonlight one rowboat overwhelmed by those fierce savages, and those poor men who were not butchered in their seats were dragged screaming back into the jungle - and certain doom. With great haste, we pulled up anchor and headed out to sea, eager to put as much distance as possible between ourselves and those awful lizard-kin.
Those of us who witnessed the horrible fate of our companions saw one other thing, something we did not repeat to our ship bound companions as we resumed our trek northwards. We did indeed see that which dwelt in the pit, that which fed upon those staked by that abyssal maw, as edible treats for that thing which lay beneath. Large it was, and the reek it emanated was worse than the stench of ten thousand abattoirs on a hot summer's day. Of its description I can say little, save that it resembled a moving blackness - a crawling, slithering, mass of nothingness that destroyed all it touched. I saw it reach for, and touch, the nearest man staked over the pit, and I saw him scream, but all noise was muted, and he was absorbed into that thing! Whatever agony that man suffered in that moment, was surely nothing compared to the fate I knew he would face. Let all who read this know - he who sails for Bararna Island, does so at his own peril!
What Marcus and his crew discovered was the sad remnant of a once mighty empire - one which spanned much of Davania and southern Brun at its height, more than 7,000 years before the present. Bararna Island, indeed, the entirety of the Thanegioth Archipelago, was once inhabited by a subgroup of the Carnifex race from the city of Y'hog, and their troglodyte servants. They came to these islands, which at that time lay closer to the northern Davanian coast, in BC 7780. On the larger islands, the Y'hog Carnifex founded several plantation-style agricultural colonies, where troglodyte slaves raised livestock and performed basic agriculture for the benefit of the Carnifex populace throughout the empire. As such, these islands, which were named Va'ath-Zhemoth by the Y'hog Carnifex, were very important to the growing Carnifex empire, and as a result they were well-defended by magic and trained dinosaurs.
As the empire of the Y'hog Carnifex declined, and then collapsed, contact with the motherland of Y'hegg-T'uhath, upon which the city of Y'hog was built, ended. Concerned about the fate of their mighty city, the Carnifex living on the islands abandoned their palatial mansions circa BC 7200, leaving most of their troglodyte lackeys behind, and ordering them to continue producing foodstuffs for the empire. Shipments continued to reach Carnifex ports in Y'hegg-T'uhath and other regions sporadically until BC 7100, after which they stopped altogether. Clandestine investigations of some of the islands showed that the troglodyte labourers had vanished without a trace, with many farms already being reclaimed by the jungles. Concluding that the domesticated dinosaurs that guarded the farms has gone on a rampage and wiped out the troglodytes, the Y'hog Carnifex soon forgot about the islands.
What had in fact happened was a simple matter of the troglodytes taking matters into their own hands. Abused by their masters for centuries, and considered by them as little more than simple-minded, expendable slaves, the troglodytes resented greatly their treatment at the hands of the Carnifex. This grated all the more when it became clear that the much-vaunted empire centred on Y'hog was collapsing, with the Carnifex more concerned about saving their own lives, and abandoning their slaves when it suited them. Once the Carnifex left, most troglodytes realised that it was only a matter of time before the Lhomarrians and their allies discovered them, and this time, they did not have the magical prowess of their Carnifex masters to protect them. Added to that was the growing evidence that many of the dinosaurs were controlled by the will of the Carnifex wizards, and in their absence they were growing increasingly difficult to control. Thus, most of the troglodytes migrated to other lands, seeking true freedom. Many sailed north to Brun, and their descendants became the troglodytes known to most denizens of the Known World. Others sailed south to Davania, and offered their services as freemen to the Lhomarrians, who, desperate for more allies, accepted. This was much easier for the humans to accept, once it became known that these troglodytes had not served in the armies of Y'hog. Others turned to piracy, while a fourth group migrated to the eastern islands in the archipelago, and tried to build their own civilisation, free from outside intervention. As a result, by BC 7100, the Carnifex came to believe that the troglodytes did indeed "vanish".
It was the descendants of those troglodytes who migrated to the eastern islands, of which Bararna Island was one, that Marcus and his crew encountered. Not long after their migration, the troglodytes were struck by a grim succession of calamities. Earthquakes destroyed their colonies, eruptions burned their crops and poisoned whole villages with their fumes, and plagues of insects whittled away at the population. All of these things reduced the troglodyte colonists to barbaric stone age existence, reduced to one tribe living on Bararna Island, as their shamans sought an Immortal voice that could guide them. It was not long afterwards, circa BC 6700, that one such voice spoke to them. It promised them the bounty of the seas, good hunting, and freedom from calamities. All it asked in return was total, unswerving obedience. Rejoicing at the prospect of being delivered from their personal hell, the troglodytes eagerly started worshipping this being, who was known by their former Carnifex masters as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Seen, though he was named Gleesshka by his new worshippers.
As time passed, Gleesshka did deliver to his faithful. The rains came, the seas were full of fish, and no natural disasters struck. Over the next centuries, the troglodyte population grew from a few hundred to several thousand. No one complained when Gleesshka started demanding the sacrifice of the weaker members of the tribe, over a special pit dug just for that purpose; nor did they question the appearance of disfiguring mutations among the tribespeople. Over time, the troglodytes lost much of their old culture, save for an odd reverence for reptiles - distant kin of themselves: No troglodyte ever killed the snakes or iguanas who inhabited Bararna Island and lived to tell the tale. As time passed, the troglodytes grew mighty, and set out to explore their world once more. It was at this time that they encountered humans - the ancestors of the modern human tribes who now inhabit much of the Thanegioth Archipelago. Gleesshka told his shamans that the humans were descended from those who committed great ills against the troglodytes in ages past, and that they should be sacrificed to him as punishment. Though this was untrue, this command fuelled bloody wars between the two races, as troglodytes invaded smaller islands and systematically massacred everyone they could find, dragging the survivors back to their own island to be sacrificed. The humans replied in kind, beginning seemingly endless cycles of war.
All the while, the sacrifices nourished He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Seen, building up his strength over the centuries and allowing him to send one of his own avatars to Bararna Island, to serve as his own eyes, ears and hands on the Prime Plane. This creature, a Vault Fiend , took up residence in the pit, feasting on the sacrifices presented to it. In so doing, it provided its master with great amounts of power, derived from the energies it absorbed in consuming the sacrifices. Driven by their obscene, demanding god, the troglodytes now hunt aggressively for sacrifices, becoming a greater threat to the surrounding human tribes as time passes.
In game terms, the troglodytes of Bararna Island are identical to those describes in the Rules Cyclopaedia, save for the fact that, due to hideous deformities (ranging from abscesses to half-formed extra appendages, third eyes, and the like), anyone seeing them must make a Horror Check against a Horror Rating of 2. There are approximately 5,500 troglodytes on the island, most of whom spend their time fishing, and gathering nuts and berries. Three times per year, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Seen, through his Vault Fiend, orders the troglodytes to assemble a war party and acquire sacrifices to satiate his thirst for blood. During this time, the troglodyte warriors board their outrigger canoes (capable of holding 25 rowers each) and paddle for the island indicated by their patron. Once they land at the desired target, the troglodytes stealthily creep through the jungles and mount raids on isolated villages, killing any who oppose them and trying to capture suitable sacrifices, often young adults. Once a suitable number of prisoners have been taken, they are tied up, and stuffed under the seats of the canoes - up to ten prisoners may be loaded onto a canoe in this fashion.
Technologically, the troglodytes of Bararna Island are primitive, using weapons made from stone and protecting themselves with simple bucklers made from hardened wood or leather - the latter derived from the livestock they poach from other islands, or their fallen opponents.
The above narrative can be included in a treasure, or otherwise found by the PCs while adventuring - to pique their interest in what might lie on this strange island. Alternatively, the PCs could encounter Marcus, who might in turn tell them of what happened, and ask them to take action to ensure that the troglodyte threat is ended. What happens afterwards is up to the DM, and the players.