The first building they entered proved to be a chapel, only a handful of the simple pews still intact between the others that lay scattered and broken on the floor. A golden symbol hung from the ceiling, a winged eye in a ring, the symbol of Aroden. Once the patron deity of Cheliax and a number of other major countries, Aroden had disappeared nearly a century ago when all of Golarion was wracked by terrible storms, ending in the formation of the Eye of Abendego. Aroden's former worshippers had mostly abandoned him, converting to other faiths or, in the case of Cheliax, to the worship of devils. This chapel could have lain abandoned for decades or centuries, there was no way to tell.
"Is that real gold?" Feruzi asked, eyeing the symbol. Leila studied it for a moment.
"I believe it is, Feruzi," she said at last.
"That much gold undefended for this long? It must be cursed," Feruzi continued as Leila looked around for some way to reach the symbol. Four large, spider-like creatures with eerie humanoid faces suddenly flashed into view, snapping their mandibles. Chopper knocked one away before it could poison him and it tore a long gash in his wrist. Leila shouted as another one clamped down on her leg. Then the spiders vanished as suddenly as they appeared.
Ezikial waved his pistols furiously, seeking a target, while Feruzi pressed her back to the wall and cast a protective spell. The spiders burst into existence again, clawing and biting at everyone. Ezikial shot one in the abdomen before they could vanish a second time.
"They are passing in and out of the Ethereal Plane," Feruzi explained.
"And how do I shoot them while they're doing it?" Ezikial demanded.
"You can't, unless you have force magic," she told him.
"What the hell," Chopper complained, waving his blades through the air. "When did you go all Witchy Woman on us,
"That's what you get for ignoring your crew," Feruzi said.
"Ignoring? Ignoring?! I was at yer bleedin' weddin', wasn't I? What more do you want?!"
Reiko shook her head. "Of all the people he ignores in this crew, Feruzi, you are most definitely not one of them."
"So he thought all those books were for TP then?"
"You can read?" Ezikial asked.
"A novelty for a savage, aye," Chopper said.
Reiko's eyes rolled. "Feruzi has done lots of writing. It has even been legible."
"Hardly activities befitting a pirate," Chopper said breezily.
"Yes, but none of us started out as pirates, did we?" Reiko said.
"Um . . . are we fighting here or not?" Leila asked. The spiders reappeared. Ezikial blasted the one he'd already wounded, getting the aim right this time, and it exploded all over Leila. Feruzi shot the one that jumped on Ezikial in retaliation. The others slashed and spat, then all three vanished again. Ezikial started to grin. Another spider became a cloud of gore at the end of his pistols. One began to squeal and shriek in an unknown language, throwing itself on Reiko. The other one scurried away and disappeared as Reiko's blade cleaved through the squeaker's body.
"I suspect the one left to get reinforcements," Feruzi said. Everyone had bite and slash marks. Chopper broke out the bandages, hoping no one was seriously poisoned. He could do little about it short of going back to the ship. Even Leila submitted to his ministrations.
The forge, kitchen and mess hall showed signs of recent use, or at least, more recent than the chapel. The kitchen was ransacked, the debris scattered across the floor of the mess hall. Feruzi kicked her way through, headed for the stairs, when Chopper suddenly called out, "Ware." A pair of indistinct figures faded out of the air, shifting like smoke, and took on nightmarish forms, not quite human, animal, or fiend. One of them raised an appendage that could not really be described as an arm and Reiko felt weariness settle on her like a great weight of cotton. She shook it off and attacked, but her blade found little purchase on the vague monstrosity. Ezikial fired, blasting holes in the shape that did not instantly seal and the other threw a spell at him, making him cringe and yell in startled horror.
Feruzi filled the air with arrows and one of the monstrosities keened. The spells flew thick and fast while Reiko and Chopper attacked, driving the creatures across the room. Chopper screamed and hacked at his own arm with his axe. Behind them, Leila fled in panic. Ezikial finished reloading and fired both pistols; one of the shapes dissolved into smoke. The other reached out almost casually and grasped Ezikial's arm. He recoiled in agony even as Reiko's sword cut it down.
"Besmara," Ezikial grunted. "It was like being sober." He was sweating furiously, his skin turning an ugly, mottled purple. Chopper continued to babble, swinging his axes around at random.
"Um, Captain?" Reiko said, approaching him cautiously.
"Should we . . . restrain him?" Leila asked.
"Probably a good idea," Reiko said. Feruzi edged around behind Chopper and all three women grabbed him. He struggled and shouted nonsense and attempted to kiss Leila for several long, bizarre minutes, then the spell, whatever it was, seemed to wear off.
"Are you well, Captain?" Leila asked hesitantly.
"Little . . . groggy," Chopper muttered. "So we got blinkin' spiders and ruddy mind-ghosts? What other 'treasures' await us in this paradise we've been blessed with?"
"No one said this would be easy," Reiko said.
Upstairs from the mess hall they found several women's bedrooms. Judging from the clothing, now scattered around in disarray, they were practicing the only profession to predate piracy in the Shackles. Leila poked a brassiere that was more lace than support with the point of her dagger, her expression a mix of curiosity and disgust.
"Who needs all this stuff?" Feruzi asked. "Overkill."
"It does seem superfluous," Leila said.
"Black is better and black leather is even better than that," Ezikial muttered.
"What's that, Mister Hands?" Chopper asked him.
"Speaking to myself, Captain."
They explored the guardhouse, finding a set of stairs leading downward. A sense of presence began to grow around them. Where is it? Where is the immortal dreamstone?
"No, what is the immortal dreamstone," Feruzi corrected absently. Chopper's eyes widened.
"You mean I didn't just imagine that??" he said, sounding shaken.
"Your head must be a very strange place if you can't tell," Feruzi said.
"Well, a guy can hope, aye?"
"I heard it too," Reiko said.
"I did just try to hack off my own arm because I thought it was a sentient salami planning to betray me," Chopper complained. "Cut me some slack."
The immortal dreamstone. Where is it?
"Bloody flaming hells!" Chopper shouted. Another nightmare creature materialized in front of him. Feruzi promptly shot it. Repeatedly. Chopper screamed and stabbed violently with his cutlass. It slid away from him and reached out for Feruzi, touching her with its terrible hands. She winced and struggled to shake off a vision of Merrill dead at her feet. Reiko charged, her blade catching something solid in the mass of dreamy substance and ending its sketchy existence. Feruzi wiped sweat off her face.
"I am beginning to think that burning this place to the ground might be a better option," she said.
"I don't think scorched earth was what the council had in mind when they sent us," Chopper said.
"They didn't specify."
Reiko nodded. "Not the whole island, but this fort, perhaps."
"Would fire kill a living dream?" Leila asked.
"I'd lay odds that Ezikial could create a big enough explosion to kill anything, given enough time and materials," Feruzi said.
"I ain't burnin' down the closest thing to a house this place seems ta have," Chopper growled.
The basement housed a prison of sorts, with three cells and iron bars. The keys hung on the eastern wall. There was a door of sorts on the south wall, concealed but not well enough. Leila frowned and examined it. "I think it is safe. The catch to open it is here, but you may wish to step back anyway." Everyone backed cautiously to the other side of the room.
"Hit it," Feruzi said. Leila did. The door opened into a short passage that turned west, ending in a door that opened on a small room. A variety of small chests, crates, and sacks filled it, surrounding a corpse that lay on the floor. Chopper squatted to examine it. The man had been dead for months, maybe as long as a year. Chopper didn't see any gaping wounds or obvious cause of death.
"Bafflin'. He's just dead."
"Suffocation?" Feruzi asked.
"Witchcraft, more like, considerin' our recent experiences."
Another presence manifested out of the air, but this one took on the spectral image of a Mwangi man.
"Greetings," Feruzi said.
"Greetings to you. I am Bikendi Otongu," said the ghost. "Why have you come to this accursed place?"
Feruzi smiled slightly. "Seeking to end the curse, of course."
"Then you have brought the immortal dreamstone?"
"This is the second time we've heard of it," Reiko said, "but we don't know what it is."
"If you can give us information we may be able to help," Feruzi said.
"I will share its story, though it is a long one. The cyclopes have taken it back to the ruins of Sumitha. If you bring it to me and willingly allow me to possess one of you I can complete my ritual and end the curse."