In the southern seas, the Pilgrims found more and more evidence of a burgeoning trade in mysterious black pearls. John’s analysis showed that the pearls were not made by oysters, but were strange greasy secretions of a more sinister nature. Mad whispers and flickering delusions troubled those nearby. While passing through an island chain, the pilgrims rescued an insane shipwreck survivor, who muttered and coveted the pearls.
Just as the Progress came upon the coral reef where the missing ship was headed, a tall shadow fell across the horizon— the Iron Embrace, Akuma‘s ship. It was faster on the water than the spelljammer, and a hunt ensued, each captain attempting to outfox the other. When it seemed that the bounty hunter would fall upon the Pilgrims, a terrible storm rose from the depths, and a maelstrom opened to devour both ships. John rose to the _Progress’_ Defense. He detonated explosions behind the sails to give the ship bursts of speed. It became clear that the storm was the malevolent will of something terrible, deliberately rising against them. Fiendish Scyllans, demons of the sea, emerged from the water, screaming their song to lure sailors to their deaths and lashing at both vessels with barbed tentacles. John’s magic kept them at bay, driving them back into the abyssal oceans from whence they hailed. Each time he defied the storm it raised a new threat, and he countered them all in turn.
Just as it seemed they would break free, a glowing phantom ship burst from the heart of the Maelstrom. Crewed by ghostly rowers and flickering with otherworldly green light, a towering figure stood at its prow— Zorath the Tidal King. Defied so valiantly by a mortal, he came forth himself to drag the two ships down to his kingdom. With all his tricks and cleverness exhausted, John could only cling to the ship as the Tidal King’s wrath smashed them all beneath the waves.
Pilgrims and bounty hunters alike woke in a damp, dark, glistening cavern made of Coral. Zorath sat upon a massive throne made from spelljamming helms. He roared at his prisoners—ages ago, his mighty kind ruled the seas and mortals feared them. When Spelljamming magic let them leave their watery homeworld, mortals stopped paying his kind homage, and one by one they vanished. To punish them for their hubris, Zorath captured spelljammers each time they came into his realm and tore out their hearts—the enchanted ___helms_ that gave them flight. By harvesting this magic, he planned to weave a spell that would make every spelljammer in the planet’s sphere falter, trapping humans and halflings once more on this world, where the sea would have power over them forever.
As soon as he discovered that Akuma and Domnika were foes, Zorath forced them to duel in the coral pits for his entertainment, dragging them back to their cells when they could fight no more. He revealed to Lani that Owin was his pawn—years ago, Owin’s ship had fallen victim to Zorath’s power, but the halfling worshipped him and begged for mercy. Zorath bound him to a hideous bargain—Owin would send ships to his domain, or Zorath would lay waste to the Freehold of Lagos. But John soon learned that even with his mighty power, Zorath was afraid. Carmichael had defied him and his magic, so the Tidal King had use for him.
The power at the heart of Zorath’s throne was not his, and though he’d been sending the black pearls throughout the land to lure more mortals to the sea, he was not their maker. They hailed from an ancient city far below Zorath’s lair, and in the middle of that city was a column of violet flame. It haunted Zorath’s dreams, filling his godlike heart with fear. Zorath tasked John with extinguishing the fire. In exchange, Zorath would free them, but made no promise to let them have their ship. Enchanted against the pressures of the deep by Zorath’s magic, John plunged into the nightmare deep, deep below.
What followed left permanent scars on John Carmichael’s mind. The city was vast, ancient beyond the count of humans or halflings, and built by beings inimical and alien to all life. John swam through twisted spires and structures built of half-melting stone. No trace of the original builders could be found. The city itself, unnatural and uncaring, pressed on his mind, whispering to him of the intolerable thoughts of its masters. Studying its carvings and statues John learned of the Elder Evils, the powers that predated known deities, who cared nothing for the material or spiritual realms. The builders left behind an ancient and powerful form of magic—the Deep Glyphs, symbols that drew energy from the Far Realm, capable of twisting reality. Even holding the images of the glyphs in his mind threatened his sanity.
At the towering heart of the city, a madly flickering violet light waited for John. He evaded a stone juggernaut protecting it and passed into the inner sanctum. A cyclone of violet fire, burning without heat at the abyssal bottom of the sea, danced before his eyes. It hid a form that John could not see, but shuddered at its mere presence. From the column emerged a shape, a body it took on to speak with the first intruder in thousands of years, a visage that horrified Carmichael—Adyanna, the lost member of his Coriander team. [[Powers and Paragons | Y’chak, an Elder Evil, the Muse of War.
The false Adyanna was eager to speak with him, and though inhuman and alien it eagerly made a deal. Zorath above had harnessed its power to wreak his plans, and it was time to collect the debt. Beneath his throne of spelljamming helms lay a much older throne, made of the black pearl bile that oozed from this forgotten city. If John could bear a torch of the violet flame to the throne, it would bind Zorath and drag him below. All it required was a vessel that could contain its alien light. John thought carefully and then struck a counter bargain. He would bring Zorath to his unspeakable fate, and in return, Y’Chak would guard a piece of Uzhul’s sword, keeping it from everyone for a thousand years. The contract was struck and John hold forth the iron shard, igniting it with a hidden fire.
In the cavern below the sea, John returned to Zorath. The Tidal King demanded to know if the wizard was successful, and Carmichael responded that he’d triumphed. He lied his way to the throne and unleashed the violet flame. As the fire wrapped around Zorath’s flesh and poured down his throat, John unleashed the power of the Elder Glyphs, releasing his friends and wreaking pain and fear on Zorath’s amphibious minions. The cavern shook and began to flood, sinking even deeper beneath the waves. The last terrified, agonized, maddened words the Tidal King screamed were two mysterious names, pleas for salvation. Lahigara. Kromus. Then, the elder evils pulled him down to redeem his debts, and he has not been seen since.
The crews of each ship worked together to make good their escape. On the surface, John brought Akuma and Domnika to an island, and inspired by his victory over the halflings of Birnoun tried to trick them into setting aside their differences. But Akuma’s dedication to justice was unshakable, and Domnika saw through his manipulations. They parted in anger—Akuma agreed not to hunt her until she returned to the planet, but made no further promises. Domnika kept John on her crew, for he’d saved them all more than once. The damage to her trust and faith in him would not heal quickly, however.
At last the ship returned to Lagos, bereft of wealth or victory, and confronted the terrified Owin. Lani slapped him, Domnika berated him, but John took him aside and told him—now that he was free, he had a new duty to fulfill. Carmichael left a mystical symbol on Owin’s hand—the halfling word for Hero—with the expectation that Owin Geewick would live up to it. He agreed to fund their repairs and repay them out of respect and shame, and at long last Pilgrim’s Progress rose into the sky, to complete their original mission.