Chapter 3 - The Central Plateau

When everyone had finished their shopping, Duxsil returned them all to Farshore. There they planned out how to begin their expedition to the central plateau. Since Duxsil had never been there before, he could not teleport there. Instead he devised a very complicated plan that involved a conjured gryphon, and leaving a full length, silver mirror in Tanaroa. (If any players actually remember the Rube Goldberg-esque details and want to fill them in, go for it!) Within a day, they arrived at the southeastern edge of the plateau.

The central plateau of the Isle of Dread was in many ways entirely different from the surrounding lands. Its ghostly, often fog-shrouded heights stood separated from the: surrounding landscape by 3,000-foot-high cliffs. Apart from a few forested areas, most of the plateau was covered by rolling grasslands. The ancient city of Thanalclan was no more, although evidence of it could be seen in several places where the remains of ruined stone buildings protruded from under the vines, grass and leaves. The ruins were concentrated in 5-mile-radius around the center of the plateau, extending out along a surviving stretch of the old road that once connected Thanaclan to a great stone causeway that afforded easy access from the plateau to the lowlands

The climate was cooler and dryer here, and the isolation afforded by the cliffs had allowed many of the island's indigenous, pre-savage tide megafauna to survive. However, even Urol wasn’t there for the sights, and the party began searching for the camp of the followers of Notlus Innersol. They knew it was near one of the rivers of the plateau, just outside the ruins of Thanaclan. On the shore of a shallow bog that fed into the nearby river, the party began their search. Suddenly, a conch shell horn blasted from one of two lizardmen almost completely submerged in the mire, and in response nine other spear-brandishing lizardmen emerged from mounds that proved to be concealed huts.

Things would have quickly come to blows, had Viselys not noticed and recognized the symbol of Ator worn by each of the lizardmen. He held up his hands and shouted, “WAIT! We come in peace! By the Light of Ator, we mean you no harm!”

This stopped the lizardmen quickly enough. The presumed leader stepped forward and spoke in a deep, hissing voice, “In the name of Ator, I greet you. I am Rissashtak. You are welcome in our company, but we must get out of the open. It is too dangerous. Come.” He lead the party to one of the huts, hissing orders in his native tongue. As a result, when the party had made themselves comfortable inside the hut, a meal of roasted fish and fresh fruit was brought to them.

“Tell me,” Rissashtak said as the food was passed around, “What news of our lowland neighbors? The Olman, other lizardfolk, the people of Farshore?”

The party members looked around at each other in confusion

“News?” Viselys asked.

“Yes. I was wondering how they have been fairing against the Skinwalker raids.”

Viselys knodded, “Well, the Skinwalkers haven’t made it as far as The Great Wall at Tanaroa, and Farshore is a good distance beyond that. However, a friend of ours, Ken-Ji, was a Rakasta from a village not too far from here, and he was the only survivor of a Skinwalker raid. We lost him, too, fighting demons far below the Isle of Dread.” He intentionally did not mention other lizardfolk, considering the only other ones they’d encountered had been barbaric and hostile (and they’d wiped out their entire village). He quickly redirected the conversation, "We were hoping to find your leader, Noltus Innersol."

Rissashtak grew solemn "We have not heard from Noltus for several days. Our leader left with six of our brothers and his loyal dog, Bulgan, on a mission to scout out the ruins of Mantru, but as far as I know, they never arrived. They’ve been missing now for nearly five days and I have grown very anxious."

"We will go looking for him," Viselys assured Rissashtak. He looked out through the thatching of the door of the hut at the long, evening shadows, "Um, perhaps in the morning?"

"Yes, of course," Rissashtak replied. "You are welcome to stay here as long as you wish.

They passed the night peacefully.

* * * * *

In the morning, the heroes were awakened when one of the lizardmen guards rushed into the hut with news - Noltus had returned! The missing missionary and his six scouts - and even his dog - were on their way up the path to the camp. Although they looked wounded and ragged, they seemed to be intact.

The news brought a round of cheers from the Atorians, and they rushed to greet their triumphant leader as he staggered into he camp form the northern trial. off the remnanls of Noltus' band. Notlus greeted Rissashtak
warmly as he arrived in the camp, but demanded to know who the strangers were.

"These are visitors from Farshore. They are friends of your associate, Vesserin Catherly," Rissashtak explained.

"Oh, really?" Notlus inquired with enthusiasm. "You must tell me all about your adventures." He then began barraging them with questions about their past exploits and adventures, encouraging them with flattery and apparent awe.

This, alone, gave the party some misgivings. Something really seemed off. Duxsil noticed a few key details. None of Noltus' six companions wore symbols of Ator, as the rest of the camp did. Indeed, neither did Notlus, himself, which was very odd. Also, Noltus' dog did not behave like any dog Duxsil had ever before seen; he was unnaturally focused on the conversation, always focused on the speaker, and never being distracted by extraneous stimuli that would attract a dog.

Thankfully, Duxsil was not the only one who noticed that something was amiss. If Viselys hadn't suspected something was wrong earlier, he did when the dog suddenly stopped focusing on the conversation and moved to him, seeking attention and licking his hand. It was then that he noticed that Noltus had moved to distance himself, while his six companions had taken up strategic positions. He tensed and drew his hand from the dog to the hilt of his sword. Then things began to deteriorate quickly.

Noltus "dog" began to grow, big and fast!! This sent Rissashtak and the other Atorians fleeing in fear. It's new form was as far from a cute little dog as possible; more like a huge reptilian baboon. It changed so quickly that Viselys didn't even have an opportunity to react as it clobbered him with a double claw and a fierce bite. Luckily, Viselys was not caught flat-footed, and was able to reciprocate at least as good as he got. A wave of dread flowed though him, but he fought it off and didn't back down. In response to Viselys' counterattack, the beast let out an ear-splitting roar that could be heard for miles. In fact, it was a kind of sonic attack that threatened to stun all of those within range. Viselys knew that he couldn't let this thing get another howl like that out and focused everything on bring it down as quickly as possible. In the end, Viselys was able to demonstrate the old adage, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall."

Meanwhile, Noltus disappeared - literally. He became invisible to all but Duxsil, who could see him moving off to the the relative safety of the edge of the encampment.

The other six companions of Noltus proved to be skinwalkers; humanoid figures armed with jagged ridges of obsidian and a shield that bore an image of a two-headed tentacled beast. They wore what appeared to be the hide of a demonic lion. The underside of the skin was raw muscle which fused to the man's skin and became one with him. The beast's head reared up around the man's head, while its arms, hanging down from the man's shoulders, writhed like snakes ready to strike. And strike they did, allowing the skinwalker to attack with it's obsidian milcuilhuitl, both claws AND a bite. Making their attacks even worse, their weapons and claws were coated with poison, that weakened those effected by it.

Ultimately, the heroes vanquished the shapeshifters, but the Noltus impostor escaped. They spent some time recuperating from the battle before setting of for Mantru.

Continue to Chapter 4...

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