The Wrathbreakers are traveling the Outriders looking for the retired dwarven adventurer known as the Gull. They visited a seastead called the Bones, where they learnt that she is living in a remote island chain called the Lambent Cays, but were told that it is not possible for non-dwarves to visit those islands, so they made an arrangement with a local gangster called Krotos to find a missing ship of his in exchange for illicit passage to the Lambent Cays. They soon found the ship, floating abandoned just next to a vast, dead crab. Now they prepare to board the ship.

The sole survivor

The ship, the Wages of Sin, was anchored in the small bay formed by the dead crab’s enormous foreclaws, sitting stably moored against the chitin of one gigantic pincer. They took a ship’s boat to the vessel, accompanied by the Stirge‘s first mate, Severn, and used boarding grapples to climb up the side onto the silent deck. There were hints of damage and a battle on the ship’s deck – a smashed siderail that must be new, and stains on the deck that would normally have been scrubbed away. They could see no signs of any presence on the boat until Itzel noticed someone in the shadow of the doorway to the quarter deck, at the rear of the ship. She called to the person but they disappeared into the interior of the ship.

The center of the ship had a single deck cover with steps leading down to the hold. Ella and Xu took those stairs into the silent hold while Itzel, Bao Tap and Severn moved to the quarterdeck. The hold was a small living space, with hammocks, seating areas and rest areas, that had been overturned by battle. Ornaments and basic cabin parts had been smashed and thrown over, and there was blood and mess everywhere. A single body lay decomposing on the stairs, and they had to throw the body down the stairs to enter the room, leaving smears of rotten meat and gore all down the stairs and into the room. There was no one in the room, so they searched it carefully while they waited for the others to search the stern of the ship.

In the quarter deck Itzel and Bao Tap found a small map room and a small dining room, with a small and comfortable captain’s cabin behind it. They wanted to search the map room but Severn discouraged them, instead strongly encouraging them to search downstairs. They took narrow spiral steps down to a small kitchen-galley, where they found a freshly-baked naan and still-warm naan oven – someone was here. In an alcove behind the crew wash area they found a single, small door, which opened into a tiny cell. The door had been smashed outward, but the room was deserted. As they searched it someone dashed out behind them, running into the hold, where Ella and Xu tackled him to the ground. They had found the ship’s sole survivor.

His name was Eletus, a thin slip of a dwarven man just recently matured to adulthood. He had rich brown skin, green eyes and a long, loose crop of lustrous black hair. He was thin and scared-looking but otherwise unhurt. Severn told them all that this was the “treasure” that Krotos had sent them to secure, and their mission was complete. They took him back to the Stirge, and in the presence of Krotos asked him what had happened.

Two kinds of parasite

Eletus had been locked in his cell when the Wages of Sin arrived at the strange crab/island, and did not have a clear view of any of the events that followed, but he was sure that on the first night after the ship moored at the claw of the dead crab it was attacked by a horde of beasts of some kind. He heard sounds of battle and screaming, that ended with the screams of crew members being dragged away from the ship. Some he thought had died on the ship, but he remembered cowering in his cell listening to the desperate cries of the crew becoming fainter with distance and then disappearing altogether. At first he thought that perhaps the crew had won, and the cries were the sound of them driving the monsters off, but by morning they had not returned. Realizing he was alone on the ship, Eletus began trying to break out of his cell. He pried and banged at the door all day, but at nightfall he heard strange sounds around the ship and realized the beasts were returning. He fell silent and listened as they scuttled around the ship, searching every nook and cranny for survivors. Then he heard horrid sounds of feasting as they ate the dead they had left behind. In the morning when all was quiet he began again, and after another day and night finally managed to break out of the cell. He stole water and food and returned to the cell, hiding there as the beasts again searched the ship. After that they did not return, and the ship was his to live on as he wanted. But every night he returned to the cell, just in case they returned.

Once they had heard his story, captain Leneus and first mate Severn ordered Eletus locked in their own ship’s cell, and announced that the Wrathbreakers needed to enter the crab to see if they could rescue any of the crew of the Wages of Sin. They guessed that the crew had been stolen from the ship as food, and that there might still be a few members alive in the beasts’ larder. The Wrathbreakers had contracted to protect the ship, and so this was their responsibility. The Wrathbreakers agreed, but insisted Severn come with them. They retired to their cabin to prepare, but while they were there Bao Tap cast a spell on one of the ship’s rats and attached a note to it. He sent the rat scuttling through the secret ratways of the ship to the prison cell, where it would deliver the note – and a pencil – to Eletus. The note simply asked “Why were you a prisoner on the Wages of Sin?”

Eletus’s answer was as they suspected: “My family owe Krotos a lot of money, and he likes young men.”

So, they had contracted to work with human traffickers, and were now expected to help in the trafficking, in exchange for passage to the Lambent Cays. They decided that this was not going to happen. Leneus and Severn would need to die, and the crew of the Stirge be pressed into service of the Wrathbreakers. When they raided the parasite lair, Severn would die. Then, once the Stirge reached Lambent Cays, Leneus would follow. They would then commandeer the Stirge, return to the Bones, and destroy Krotos and his entire organization. With this decision made, they set off to attack the parasites.

They walked along the claw to the point where it joined the body of the crab, and from there climbed along layers of shell and cartilage until they reached the opening of the crab’s body. Here its mouth, eyes and other soft parts had collapsed and been consumed by birds and seabeasts until nothing was left except a huge hole opening into the innards of the beast, which had also been mostly consumed. Fragments of shell and huge thick filaments of cartilage held the sea back in many areas, though sometimes waves washed over the top of this barrier and then sloshed out again through gaps in the shell, carrying remnants of the crab’s inner body with them. Sunlight streamed through the huge hole into the cavernous interior, revealing a huge and now mostly-empty space, the soft and spongey floor pock-marked with rock pools and areas of drier ground, and great hanging filaments of tendon and cartilage separating the space into dimly-lit chambers.

They picked their way into this stinking, rotting space, doing their best to cover their mouths against the stench of sea water and rotten crabmeat, and looked for the place they thought the beasts most likely to be hidden. It seemed obvious: in the middle of this great, vaulted cathedral of rot they could see a series of huge interlinked chambers, their walls made of the same semi-translucent tendon-like structures that hung from the ceiling and kept the sea out of the hall. They guessed the beasts were hiding in there.

They were not wrong: as they approached, a horde of huge, scuttling, slimy, insecto-cephalopod things came swarming out, sliding and crawling over the rotten spongey ground towards them. Each was the size of a huge dog, with 10 many-segmented legs like a sea-louse, and a central slimy, semi-solid body like a kind of squid. Their wide, toothed mouths were surrounded by bristle-like feelers, and they seemed almost eyeless. They swarmed over the party, four or five of them latching onto a single person, and battle was joined.

These beasts were numerous, but easily killed. However, once they swarmed over one of the Wrathbreakers they could not be beaten off with swords, but needed only magic or brutal hand-to-hand combat to dislodge. The party made short work of the first wave, only to be attacked by another; and as this wave attacked they also saw two much larger, terrifying beasts, each the size of a horse or larger, detach themselves from hiding places in the chambers and join the battle. They were similar to their smaller fellows, but lashed about with huge spiked tentacles, and spat acid. Behind them came the Queen, a many-legged, tentacled monstrosity the size of an elephant.

The battle was vicious but ended quickly with the destruction of the Queen. In the last moments of the battle Itzel struck Severn with an acid bolt, which made his sudden death appear as if one of the beasts had struck him with its spit. They left him to dissolve amongst the remains of parasites and rotten crab-meat and entered the chambers. Here they found the bodies of most of the crew, bound to the ground with some kind of gelid substance and riddled with holes. They had obviously been impregnated with eggs, which had hatched and eaten their way out. The Wrathbreakers could see the larval progeny sleeping in nets of the same substance slung above the chambers, slowly metamorphosing into the parasitic hordes they had killed outside. They found two crew members still living, dehydrated and starved and bound up to a wall, waiting their turn to be impregnated. Once they had confirmed that these two had not been impregnated, they freed them and returned to the ship. On the way they extracted a promise from these two to do exactly what they were ordered to do. Of course these two sailors’ gratitude was so great that they immediately agreed to be bound to the Wrathbreakers’ service.

They returned to the Stirge, and began making plans for exactly how and when they would kill the captain and hijack the ship. They would have to kill all the parasites, those that nested within dwarven society as well as within the rotten shells of crabs…