The storm-serpent circles the island at a distance rather than returning immediately. It makes three circuits, then flies back to the tower. As it pours itself through one of the open archways, Aya steps forward to address it, Abd beside her.
The creature gives its name as Azhipasa. It seems to assign some respect to its liberators, although it clearly thinks more like a storm-spirit and is less concerned with mortal concepts such as “justice,” to Abd’s slight disgruntlement. They tell Azhipasa that they are searching for the mage who bound him into the sphere, and the serpent seems mollified.
Lightning Zan asks if Azhipasa had seen his missing crewmates during the spirit’s flight, but the spirit tells him there were no other mortals visible. A perturbed Zan wonders where on the island they might be, and Aya suggests that perhaps there’s a secret cavern. Azhipasa roils up into a darker, more lightning-shot aspect at the word. “Maaldwa!” it hisses. “A crawling, liar-faced parasite, whisperer, and blandisher! Dark, cold, wet thing!”
From the tempestuous spirit’s ranting, the adventurers glean that Maaldwa is some other servant of the fallen mage, conjured from an earthen court. The “lowly worm” keeps a cave on the island, where their master Al-Assamai would go to indulge in leisure, and even with him gone Maaldwa is prone to playing host to visitors. But before they can gather any more specific information, the spirit fixes its gaze on Aya. It inquires about her sorcerous proficiency, and whether or not she might be able to return it to its home. With no previous experience opening elemental portals, she off-handedly agrees to do her best.
Aya and the others begin searching the tower for any remaining books that might have elemental knowledge that the Ascending Flame looters overlooked. By a stroke of chance, it’s Lightning Zan who finds an interesting sheet of notes on elemental resonances tucked into a rather more mundane and salacious volume. Aya examines it, and determines that they might be able to get what they need by repurposing the lightning rods that guard the path.
And so they gather four lightning rods, prop them up in an interlocking pattern, and mark the area with sigils of air. Aya conjures lightning of her own, and strikes the rods with bolt after bolt to charge the resonance. It’s enough to open a small portal above the makeshift structure, and the air that pours out is almost impossibly pure. With delight, Azhipasa quickly squeezes its form through the gate, just pulling the tip of its tail through before it closes. All that is left of the storm-spirit’s presence is a single feather made of nimbus and faintly electric to the touch, that drifts into Aya’s hands.
With that done, the adventurers set out to find the cavern of Maaldwa. Abd finds a trail soon enough, with vines cut wide enough in places to allow the passage of two abreast. The trail connects with an older stone path — one that seems to lead from the tower road — and they follow it to a sharp slope at the mountain’s base. A great stone rests against the wall, and a hulking earthen figure stands by it with arms folded. The elemental seems to have been only roughly shaped into humanlike form, and regards them from a blank absence where its face might have been placed. Aya says “We would like to come inside,” and the elemental rolls away the stone in response. The cavern mouth beyond is dimly lit, and strains of music and perfume mingle as if it exhales. The group steps through, though Abd is careful to place a dagger in the gateway to hopefully prevent the stone from being closed all the way after them.
The cavern is indeed worthy of a powerful mage’s pleasure. A gentle ramp winds down a spiral to a grand room lit by dim lamps. Rich cloth hangings obscure the stone of the walls, muffling sound, and fine cushions spread across the floor. A number of sailors lie among the pillows, listening to the strains of music, taking pulls on elaborate hookahs, or accepting dainties from platters carried by indistinct, smoky figures with womanlike outlines. Lightning Zan is immediately among them, kicking at the drowsy sailors and cursing them for their irresponsible indolence. He attempts to pull several to their senses, but they seem to be under the fog of intoxication or enchantment.
As Zan continues to berate his errant crewmates, a head emerges from the pile of cushions on the central dais. The pale, jowly features are almost at odds with the sweet, deep voice that cajoles them and asks them to stay in peace. He acknowledges that he is Maaldwa, and invites the adventurers to stay and enjoy the ample fruits of his hospitality. Abd is very swift to refuse, and even Aya joins in with solemn resolve.
They ask to take the Fatted Swan’s crew with them. Maaldwa is most reluctant, pointing out that they are staying of their own free will. As he speaks, he rises further from the cushions — the pale human head supported on a thick, dark-scaled snake’s body. The adventurers courageously argue for freedom and the snake-thing argues for contentment, until Aya points out that by the laws of hospitality, guests are free to leave after three days. This gives Maaldwa some pause. Abd emphasizes the importance of the request with raw intimidating presence, while Kismet offers to play a game for it.
Maaldwa pays more attention to the paladin, and finally relents. He tells them to gather the crew and depart in peace. Zan starts herding the Swan’s crew towards the exit over their weak complaints. As they’re preparing to leave, Kismet notes the one person not yet moving — a elven man with odd beast-form pictographs tattooed across his bare chest, still lying on the dais before Maaldwa. Kismet demands his release as well, but a massive serpentine coil slides between her and the captive elf. “He is not one of this crew,” comes the response, clearly iron beneath the velvety diplomatic tone. “He stays.”
Abd immediately steps back up to confront the snake-thing. He and Maaldwa exchange terse threats, until the snake-thing rears up with a hiss. A pair of crude earthen manikins push up from the cavern floor, tumbling a few of the dazed sailors. And from the ramp to the exit, the heavy footfalls of the elemental doorkeeper echo down.
Maaldwa’s thick body and jowly face conceal a preternatural speed. The creature begins to sing, a hypnotic chant that threatens to cloud the senses. The sailors of the Fatted Swan rise up at Maaldwa’s song, clutching at Lightning Zan. Whether unwilling to strike them with his blade or with lightning, or simply taken off-guard, the genasi is pulled down to the cushioned floor and struggles to free himself.
Abd places his shield firmly in front of himself to challenge Maaldwa. The snake-thing bites at him repeatedly, and although his shield protects him from the long fangs jutting from the humanlike jaw, the poison dripping from them splashes across him and sears him even through his armor. The elemental gatekeeper closes in from behind, and Katifa moves to flank it.
Aya and Kismet engage the smaller elementals called from the cavern floor. Aya defends herself with a few quick thrusts of her spear, forcing room between herself and the muddy manikin. She follows up with lightning of her own, and steam erupts as the bolts do the work of a fiery kiln on the wet earth. Kismet relies instead on luck, skill, and steel. She comes away from the brawl victorious but wounded — and the elf on Maaldwa’s dais raises a hand toward her, whispers unfamiliar words, and her injuries fade.
Once the lesser conjurations are dispelled, they turn to the greater. Aya’s arctic winds freeze the gatekeeper, and its animating force leaves it. Katifa moves to help Zan pull free of his crewmates, but she is incautious, and a clutching hand at her ankle causes her to topple forward with a shriek.
Maaldwa’s venom has splashed Abd several times, but the paladin’s shield arm remains strong. He jams the rim of his shield in Maaldwa’s mouth, braces, and then swings his scimitar like a comet falling from the sky. Maaldwa’s pale head lands among the cushions, and the massive dark-scaled body thrashes atop the dais until it grows still.
With the spell gone, the Fatted Swan’s crew come to their senses, aided by several kicks and curses from the very flustered Lightning Zan. The venturers scout the room for potential valuables; certainly there are some very fine hookahs crafted from rare crystal, rich cloth aplenty even discounting the stuff soaked with Maaldwa’s blood, and a silver bowl filled with fine amethysts. Kismet helps the elf free and asks him his name. “Jisan,” he replies.
Among the various oddments, Abd finds a scroll with a familiar seal — the mark of the Prophetess herself. He considers for a moment, then breaks the seal and unrolls the scroll. The message inside is short and simple, addressed to nobody.
“Scorn comes for you, with the wind at its back.”
Abd shares the words, and the venturers move with increased speed. They finish their business with haste and set out for the beach with equal haste. As they march down the cut path, a single flare rises atop the treeline, one they recognize as typical of the Twist of Fate — one of Notch’s arrows, lit with alchemical incandescence.
They emerge onto the beach, and the wind is in their faces. A powerful gale bears down directly into the cove, pinning the Twist of Fate at anchor. The wind rides down with — or perhaps from — a squat ship with unmistakable orange sails: Shagadiz’s fireship, the Scorn.