Apsu gives you leave of the prismatic anvil, so you make your exit. Outside, two large chests have been delivered to the Maelstrom. One is from Apsu himself. It contains 25,000 gp worth of treasure. For your hoards, it reads. The other chest is attended by a familiar half-copper dragon follower of Master Araris. The firm of Septimus, Sevardomos and Rasvimharroc opened their doors months ago to manage the wealth of chaotic petitioners of Apsu’s Immortal Ambulatory. This is the first chance they’ve had to deliver a payment, which totals another 19,500 gp.
Precious little time is afforded to plan before Apsu hurls the ship through a planar rift. You will enter the astral realm in hot pursuit of the Brightscale, better known as Slate. Atz Crane asks permission to use every dingy stored on the Maelstrom to triangulate expectedly vast distances with a ship-location spell. The captain grants it. Papa conveys information about indigenous lifeforms and theorizes what astral travel will be like.
You expect the ship will immediately fall, hopefully in a controlled manner bound by astrally subjective gravity. Fortunately, the Maelstrom’s elemental spirit hales from the Plane of Air where conditions are similar. This close to an outer plane known as the Boneyard, a convergence of soul-streams flow directly out of the astral realm to form the River Styx. Psychopomps are expected to be a common sight.
Without ceremony, Apsu arrives and assumes a much larger size. He hoists and lobs the Maelstrom into the air. Instead of careening through the sky, you find yourself surrounded by cosmic twilight. The astral soul-stream now quietly rages below the dwarfed hull like a mighty rain-forest river spilling into the delta. Far up the channel, the first vast tributaries are spotted.
Scandrannon’s uncanny speed proves miraculous in the plane’s gravity supported motion, so a smaller party is formed to scout well ahead of the ship. At most, Scandrannon can manage four: two on griffon-back and two in a dingy towed along for Crane’s spell navigation. Boniva commands a spot lashed to Araris’ military saddle. Papa helms supernatural control of the dingy’s cleverly-smithed chain tether. Akane wins a draw for the final seat.
Left or right? An Ember Weaver Psychopomp near the first tributary points the way after Araris describes Slate’s new platinum form. The being also warns of migrating astral leviathans and dangerous shulsaga poachers. Hours later, when the soul-stream diverges yet again, you find out why.
The group matches course with the drifting corpse of an astral leviathan and approaches for a closer look at the alien beast’s impossible crown of jaws and eyes. Amidst a cloud of scavengers, you see the body of a dead shulsaga and astral shark. Boniva and Papa determine that ten evenly-spaced wounds along the whale’s side are the extraction marks of large harpoons, likely from some vessel’s row of gun-ports. Finally, Araris notes that the flesh around the wounds has been harmed by negative energy.
As Papa and Akane’s dingy passes by the corpse’s head, several gigantic eyes abruptly snap open and all hell breaks loose. A ballad of horrible whale-song reverberates off its rotten baleen. Then, the undead hulk impulsively surges forward, smashing the boat and its occupants. It has become a Bakekujira! Stink and vicious parasites engulf the scouting party as the dead ranger and his former companion reanimate. Arrows fly and the captain is bitten by a shark in the astral plane. (There’s a first time for everything!)
Undeterred, Papa tightens his chains, but loses his breakfast. Nearby, Akane can’t help but scream in terror as she wills herself to fall away from the monster. Araris surgically dispatches the ranger while Scandrannon swoops in to snatch the smashed dingy. Last-but-not-least, the captain successfully retrieves Samdi by his chains as they fall-fly towards Ikeda. (This really displeases Papa since he really wanted to retrieve the thing’s tackle for his buddy Weyland. Opportunities like these are few.)
Outclassed in terms of speed, the leviathan closes as much ground as possible before opening its vortex-like maw. Unbelievable supernatural currents threaten to draw everyone in. Let’s switch to slow-motion…
…Akane grabs hold of the tether and it immediately goes taught. Her failing grip descends inch by inch.
…Fastened to the saddle, Boniva strains to hold onto Papa’s chains. His hands begin to burn.
…Scandrannon’s wings beat furiously against the added weight. With legendary effort, Araris pushes the griffon further than ever before.
…Papa falls free. He is crushed in the maw and swallowed. Moments later, terrible chains begin dislodging cadaverous chunks of blubber!
…Akane lets go of the tether, but she reflexively catches the creature’s teeth and hangs on.
…The griffon riders break free. Araris re-kills the astral shark.
… Why not? she thinks. Akane stabs the leviathan, and just like that it the malevolent animating spirit departs.
While everyone is healing, Papa shakes, shimmies and takes on more demure posture. He caresses his cheek with the back of his hand across blood, gastric juices and fetid whale oils. It triggers a wave of shivers, smiles and deep sighs. The awkwardness is unparalleled. Then, from somewhere on “her” person, Papa brandishes a large flaying knife and departs for the leviathan’s nether regions… (The rest is censored for younger readers.)
Araris, Boniva and Akane make it their life’s mission to repair the dingy and NOT acknowledge what Papa is doing. They make respectable progress before he returns with several yards of the most luxurious hide leather known in all the world. No! … in all the planes.
Patched up and ready to go, you proceed down the tributary leading away from further signs of astral poachers. Perhaps this was Slate’s decision as well. Hours pass before another figure is spotted in the distance – a humanoid this time.
He seemed closer at first glance, but that was due to his gargantuan size. Now, the blue-skinned monk flies fists-first toward the scouting party! Neither he nor Araris slow down their collision course. As the game of chicken plays out, Papa tries to recall how Kaledith’s mercane friend usually greeted him.
In the very last moment, Scandrannon and his riders maneuver through the monk’s titanic grasp with an unbelievably sharp upward bank. However, the ramshackle dingy swings too close. The monk catches Papa with a complex body-lock. Immediately, Araris frees the first mate by magically summoning him beside his soaring griffon.
While gesturing ceremonious salutations throughout his neck-breaking trajectory, Papa discovers a half-dozen oversize throwing stars deeply embedded along his back. Looking behind, the monk has vanished. Looking ahead, Scandrannon and the crew have banked again. Why?
A hand fully his own height, encases Papa’s head, arms and torso as he slams into the hold. This monk apparently takes abundant steps. “Hrmmmph, HRMMMMPH!” screams Papa through the muffled grasp. Curious, the giant mercane relaxes.
“Greetings most noble merchant, um… pray thee!” Papa improvises. “Dust thou know-est our really good buddy Zylith? May your abacus, uh… sound like, eh… a woodpecker! You know, ’cuz you use it so much making money all the time…”