The group meets with Klaus, who thanks them for their efforts to save the warehouse. He instructs them to find Nkechi, a wizened cleric of Gozreh a few hours’ boat ride north. The group hires a boat for a copper. Their guide refers to the cleric as “the Tempest,” and tells them to find a conch shell to sound, as this will alert the prophet to their presence. Max leaves a silver piece under his seat, recognizing the harsh existence of the Zenj fisherman ferrying them northward.
Carefully traversing the slippery rocks, the group arrives at the base of a sheer, imposing 300-foot cliff face. A small foot path leads upwards, but soon disappears. Arendel sounds the horn, and shortly a small figure appears from the mouth of a cave. After some banter, the cleric scurries down to greet them.
He is skeptical of their abilities and claims. Nkechi is an older man, with brown, leathery skin and chalk-stained feet and hands; his hair is clumped in wild dreadlocks and he wears only a loincloth. He tells them Gozreh offers 2 tests, one of water and one of wind. He will not divulge details, saying only they are simple and necessary.
The test of wind was chosen first. A short journey leads to a promontory known locally as Gozreh’s Crest. There is the nest of what the local Ijo tribe call Chirok the Stormbird. The ercinee is revered as a sacred totem. The party must retrieve one intact feather from its nest. Max is levitated up the cliff face by Arendel, and finds an intact feather in two minutes. He is able to levitate back down just as the spell expires and the stormbird comes in to roost, thus avoiding conflict with the intelligent, territorial animal.
The test is incomplete, though; a group of 4 Ijo warriors stop the group on their way back to Nkechi’s. They have seen what transpired, and demand that physical tribute is paid. Their largest warrior challenges Max to a wrestling match; the challenger proves wily but is pinned by the Shoanti champion. The warriors then thank Gozreh, and offer the party ceremonial necklaces of abalone and rare seashells. They promise the group safety within the Ijo’s lands.
The test of water proves more tedious. They must retrieve a black pearl and bring it to Nkechi. Traveling to a local pearl bed, the group is welcomed by the locals; several pointers are given freely and Max, the default diver, trades a few javelins for a diving belt. He and Kay’Es dive while the others root them on.
Though the dives are successful, no black pearl is found. Max encounters a beautiful elven maiden; unfortunately, it’s while he’s underwater and she’s made of seaweed. As he becomes obsessed with her, his mates realize he’s in danger and dive in to save him, splitting a water breathing potion beforehand.
Sadly, it becomes obvious why Max and Kay’Es were the nominated divers, as the strong tide pulls Ace, Taraz, and Arendel farther out to sea. Taraz casts spiritual weapon, summoning a ghostly scimitar to aid in Max’s latest charmed dilemma. The kelpie is defeated, and the handful of oysters collected by the now-buoyant Shiv Saviors yields a black pearl. This, along with the ercinee’s feather, is enough to convince Nkechi to serve as the group’s guide. His familiarity with the territory and customs of the local tribes will surely save them some time as they race to the ruins of Old Azlant.
They are able to travel five and a half days without incident, but a young woman and her dionychus surprise them. After convincing her they are not dinosaur hunters, she tells them to be wary of the approaching salt mine. “It is a gate to the Underworld, my father and mother went there and never came back. You find them, I help you.” She tells them she will meet them on the other side of the mine, hops on her dino, and takes off into the hills. A perplexed Arendel suggests they simply follow her, but Nkechi reminds them that they are trailblazing and must account their route for the mules, handlers, porters, and such who cannot, or will not, be able to follow such unorthodox routes.
Following the old trade route, they do indeed come across an abandoned mining facility. Search of the buildings reveals only and old log book, carefully opened, revealing that a strange blue orb was found while trying to connect this mine (the Fzumi salt mine) with an older, abandoned-and-supposedly-cursed mine. The last entry is in a different handwriting- “They’ve come up from below! They’re all dead, and their touch withers the flesh! May the gods have mercy on us!”
The trailblazers enter the mine, and are set upon by a crystal ooze. It is dispatched and they explore the flooded drift, crossing several old but stable wooden bridges. Max spots a few overturned mine carts, mule skeletons, and a rusted iron box. The wights spot Max and Arendel, and attack. One wight hits Arendel and it feels as if the moisture is drawn from his body; after the undead abominations are defeated, Nkechi casts lesser restoration on the mage, and he is cured. Max bashes the chest open, spilling gold pieces and a scroll tube containing the deed to the mine, naming one Athyra Crinhouse its rightful owner if and when its current owner, Feran Crinhouse, dies. The party decides to rest for the evening.