The action kicked off again with the hunt for Vanthus. Stephanie and Dacien hurried through the settlement towards the mansion houses. On the clifftop, Zhedd and Antony spotted a red robed figure flying from the west towards them and the pirate ships in the waters below. They pointed this out to Mendel, who loosed an arrow. The figure caught the arrow and paused, watching the PCs carefully. Mendel bowed, and quickly left the clifftop with Antony at the end of a/his tether. Zhedd remained on the cliffs, invisible, to see what the figure in red did next.
Back in Farshore, as the rest of the party convene around the Meravanchi and Vanderboren manor houses, they spotted Vanthus standing atop the building calling out to his sister. "This is our shared birthright! There's been a misunderstanding! You attack the pirates, but I was only using them to find a way to get back to you.". Lavinia was not interested, but clearly tormented, and looked to Stefanie for guidance. "He was dead to me the moment he killed our parents.". The battle was on.
Mendel tried to keep Vanthus pinned with arrows, whilst Antony sped around the side of the building into cover. Stefanie called upon Vanya to give her strength in battle, as Dacien readied the wand of fireballs and a Dispel Magic. Vanthus, seemingly protected by stone-like skin, was wary of Mendel's archery countering his mobility and so tried to keep hidden. He focussed first on his sister Lavinia, who surprised Stefanie by trying to stab her in the back - under her brothers mental control. Vanthus then tried to mentally control Mendel, but Mendel's mind was too alien or out of sync with reality to be affected. So instead, he switched to a direct attack, deftly attacking with sword and sickle and wounding Mendel grievously. Dacien repeatedly lobbed fireballs whenever Vanthus found himself in clear space, as Anthony tried to manoeuvre into position, and Stefanie fended off Lavinia's attacks.
Back on the clifftops, Zhedd watched as the red-robed figure withdrew a large poweder keg from his pocket and dropped it on the two ships below. Both ships became engulfed in a cloud of red-tinged dust. The figure swiftly followed this with a bolt of fire from the heavens, which ignited the cloud in a massive explosion. The unearthly screams of the pirates aboard the ship could be herd for some distance. All the pirates caught i nthe blast were writing in agony, their bodies twisted and malformed by whatever had happened. Zhedd watched further still as the figure proceeded to snap the necks and crush the skulls of the surviving pirates, with clinical efficiency.
Back in Farshore, Vathus was slowly being worn down by the others, but managed to charm Antony, increasing the confusion. Stefanie suppressed Lavinia's domination with a Protection from Evil, and Lavinia, distraught, ran to hide elsewhere in the settlement. Vanthus flew after her, and the party took up chase. Eventually, cornered and bloodied, Vanthus in desperation drew a black pearl from a pocket and held it out at the party. "One more move and you all die!". This brought back memores opf the pearl fragments the party had found in Kraken's Cove, and the after effects of teh horribly deformed and mutated creatures there. Flinging the pearl at the ground, he tried to flee into the skies. Zhedd appeared, summoning hippogriffs ahead of him. Mendel dove forward to catch the pearl, and Vanthus fell to a final blow. He was quickly stabilised and bound, and Stefanie managed to suppress the magic of the pearl long enough for it to be secured. The pirate attack had been averted.
(DM note: actually what helped the PCs here was jumping to the clifftops, and happening to intersect the enduks with Vanthus. A melee with them all involved could have been nastier...)
The party rounded up surviving pirates, bound them and stripped them of their items. All had a red tinge to their skin and carried the strange reddish metal jewellery the party had encountered before. The red robed figure appeared on the beach, and introduced himself as High Councillor Rikard. He would return later, and requested one of the pirate vessels in recognition of his 'assistance' dealing with the pirates.
The Farshore council looked to the PCs to help with the questioning of the pirates. All in all, only 30-40 of the locals had died in the attack, but the phanaton recruits had taken heavy losses. After removing the jewellery from the pirates, over the next couple of days the PCs saw them gradually mutate and become deformed misshapen agonised shells of their former selves. They claimed to be under a Red Curse that the metal could hold at bay, and begged for death. Vanthus, who had a vial of red liquid about his neck, was similarly afflicted. He admitted his role, on the promise of a swift death. He joined up with the Crimson Fleet to find a way to get to Farshore and claim his birthright alongside his sister. He had a chance to gain the power displayed by the other pirates, offered to him by 'the Inheritors'. He had little interest in the black pearls themselves, but other pirates mentioned that they had recent sailed back from several coastal ports in the Known World (Darokin, The Shires, Thyatis and Karemeikos were mentioned), and had visited a group of troglodyte 'lepers' in a cave at the north of the island to exchange slaves for more pearls. The next destinations for these pearls were listed as West Portage, Landfall, and Alpha to the north, amongst others. The pirates admitted to have been recruited initially by agents from the nation of Hule, but under the leadership of a being known as Cold Captain Wyther, had turned aside and begun working on shipping these 'shadow pearls' to major cities around the Known World. They were all apparently controlled by a 'Master Pearl' that could trigger the others to detonate in a large explosion several miles in diameter that could transform all animal and plant life in the the deranged creatures the PCs saw in Krakens Cove. Over 30 of these pearls had already left the Isle of Dread.
One of the pirate slaves, a dwarf named Faldak, confirmed much of the tale - that he had been picked up in a small vessel off the coastline like many of the other slaves, and was due to be traded for these shadow pearls. but the pirates had not been delivered the number of pearls promised by the 'Lords of Dread', and so he remained in the hold of the ship. He recalled a bubbling tune that was blown from a alpine horn-like skirl built into the figurehead of the pirate ship Brine Harlot, that seemed to act as a signal before the pirates docked to meet the troglodyte 'lepers' in Gallivant Cove on the north of the Isle of Dread. Others confirmed Faldak's tale, and that the cove was home to a massive Dragon Turtle nicknamed "The Glutton" that called those waters home. it appeared the pirates had paid The Glutton to allow their ships to pass unmolested into the sea cave lair of the troglodytes in order to make the exchange for the shadow pearls. Concerned about the danger of the pearls, and looking for the master pearl itself, the party decided to head to Gallivant Cove in a few weeks to investigate further. Stefanie sent a warning to her mercenary captain, to see how best to tackle the problem. Faldak offered to join the PCs and help them in their quest.
The next day, Vesserin the village priest, asked if the the PCs would mind meeting with his superior from the Church of the Whirling Fury in Sasserine - Lady Silvermane. She had met the party previously shortly after their exploits in Kraken's Cove. She decided to be open about the goals of the Chruch, and described that it was the representative arm of two councils of immortals - the Council of Mystara, which had oversight on Immortal interference on the Prime (which is forbidden; the council monitors and enacts punishments) and the Council of Intrusion, which monitored for signs of activities from other dimensions that might threaten the Prime.Lady Silvermane's patron immortals were Khronos and Djaea, who sat on both councils. The church acted as their eyes, ears and agents when needed. They had become concerned about Demogorgon, and his potential for 'bending' the rules. She also confided that the Isle of Dread was the site of concern for the councils - where intrusion from the Dimension of Nightmares had happened aeons past, and where the Council had to permit immortal interference to safeguard the planet. She had little further details herself about the nature of the threat, but cautioned that the Island was a 'prison', and that creatures from the Dimension of nightmares were to be treated with caution. She offered the PCs aid when needed, but wanted to hear how their investigations progressed. Mendel asked about the 'Eye of Arik' they had found - Lady Silvermane explained that Arik was a servitor created by the Council of Intrusion, that had become corrupted and betrayed the councils. He was now imprisoned in the Pits of Banishment. His eye was an artifact Arik had created to assist in his role as the immortals' watchful guardian, but she had little further information. EDIT: Lady Silvermane and Vesserin also reiterated their concern for a missing missionary from the Church, Noltus Innersol, who had gone into the island to find some of the lost tribes and spread the word about his patron, Ixion.
Later, on the red robed priests returned looking to claim one of the pirate vessels. They took The Hag, but not before Stefanie questioned them for some time about what their motives might be. They were all priests of the immortal Bozdogan (also known as Loki) from the distant nation of Hule, which had recently waged a large war across the lands to the west. They had a strange way of behaving, quite bureaucratic, and were a little troubled by how much information the party had uncovered. it seemed that they had sponsored the pirates as party of a strategy by Hule to gain a foothold in the lands to the east, but that another force had swayed the Crimson Fleet, leading to their betrayal. They knew little of the Isle of Dread, but confirmed the effect of the Red Curse and the strange metal cinnabryl that could hold it at bay. As they left, the party felt that the alliance was a shaky one at best, and perhaps they knew too much about the Hulean plans...
The PCs then returned to Sasserine to buy provisions, and set about planning the next leg of their adventure - finding the Lords of Dread, and the Master Pearl somewhere on the north of the island, past the lair of The Glutton....