A few days’ sail from troubled Cometia Island, the plume of smoke from this island’s volcano can be seen for leagues around. Despite its use as a landmark in the region’s badly charted waters, few ships call here, as the island’s supplies of fresh water are uncertain and the reefs and shoals near the island seem to shift unpredictably. More alarming than these hazards, the island is the subject of many wild rumors and legends, and no wise sea captain ignores the fears of his superstitious crew.
The island itself is bleak and forbidding, with vast fields of razor-sharp rocks and hardened lava flows from the island’s active volcano. A few plants eke out a perilous existence on the desolate stone of the island, but other than that, the only living things seen on the island are birds.
Legends of the Island
The island’s ominous volcanic activity and infrequent visitors have made it a popular subject of folklore and rumor. A few of these legends are pure fantasies, while others have their basis in true events.
When the fiery caldera of Mount Mastabah, the island’s namesake volcano, shines redly against the cloudy night sky, it is repeated among the local sailors that the Fire Giants are repairing their armor there. The volcano’s occasional distant booming and cracking noises tend to reinforce this tale.
Strange mists often drift near the island, reeking of brimstone; most captains steer well clear of these, as sailors’ superstition claims that entire ships’ crews have been lost in the foul mists. While the mists are not (normally) haunted by demons, as the sailors fear, the volcano sometimes belches forth clouds of lethal poison gas.
The strangest legend about the island happens to be true. Some rumors report that Mendax the Corrupt, wicked Satrap of Cometia Island, left a hidden cache of treasure here when he fled from the revolt that his greed had inspired. His ships were seen on a bearing for this desolate place, and some suppose that they intended to pause here before traveling to their final destination.
What none realize is that Mendax had prepared a sumptuous bolt-hole here, a secret villa built within one of the caverns left by the island’s volcanic upheavals. The avaricious tyrant suspected that his oppressed subjects were ripe for revolt, but rather than moderate his devastating taxation, the cowardly man planned a safe haven where he could take shelter until troops arrived from the Empire to succor him. Arrogant and depraved, it never occurred to him that the Emperor might be displeased at his failure to properly govern “his” island.
Unfortunately for the Satrap and his minions, no sooner had he moved his precious treasures into his hidden villa, than the island’s volcano erupted. The eruption was minor, no more than a minor earthquake and cloud of burning-hot toxic gas, but it slew many of the Satrap’s partisans in minutes. The gas cloud raced down the side of the mountain, sweeping out across the water and annihilating the crews aboard Mendax’s four ships. The few survivors remaining below decks were helpless to save themselves as the ships above them burst into flame and burned to the waterline.
Within the sheltered cavern, Mendax and his minions were spared for a crueler death. A mudslide of the island’s ash and cinder, along with collapses triggered by the earthquake, sealed the cavern’s entrance under tons of stone and ash. The handful of servants and concubines within had no tools or means of escape, and while the villa had been laid out with a large cistern of fresh water, the flow of ash and mud poured into the channels that the builders had intended would catch rainwater. The cistern filled with mud, leaving them trapped with very little water. The despairing Satrap ordered his servants and concubines to dig a passage out of the oppressive darkness, but madness and death claimed them before they could reach the surface.
Selfish to the end, Mendax denied his suffering servants and concubines any of the bottles of rare wine that the greedy man had stored in the villa, ordering that they share the meager supply of the vinegar-based drink “switchel” instead. As he finished one of the precious bottles of wine that he had refused his people, one of his concubines was driven to seize a final, futile revenge against her cruel master. Adding a terrible necromantic poison to his jeweled cup, she watched as the drunken tyrant drank down his own death. She had no idea that the poison’s effects wouldn’t end there.
Soon after Mendax fell, his concubine watched in horror as the evil man rose to his feet again! His eyes glittering blackly in the flickering light of the oil lamp, he transformed into an undead abomination, a vengeful creature still driven by greed and avarice. Mendax quickly slew the remainder of his followers, who rose up as undead similar to their master.
No longer hindered by fatigue, weakness, or despair, the tyrannical Satrap’s undead minions were soon able to complete a tunnel to the surface, which they keep clear to this day. Their dark master spends his time obsessively counting and reviewing the treasures that called to him even from beyond death, while his servants and concubines are forced to endlessly repeat the petty intrigues and jealousies that filled their days when they were his sycophants.