Flown Away

“Please don’t kill us,” says Pavo, the pirate who is sitting inside the lighthouse with his back to the south wall. “We have no reason to fight anymore. Please, Jethrik, give us quarter?” Rutilus, staring at Jharad’s arrow pointed at his heart, nods his agreement with Pavo.

Zaiobe lands in front of Jharad and points to the mouth of the river. The longboat rowed by two pirates and carrying Ishana, the priestess of Calistria and Captain Grudge’s “woman” has now come into view.

Jharad looks out over the harbor for where would be a good place to ambush the incoming long boat. “We had best be going, we need to setup our welcome for the priestess’ long boat. What shall we do with these two in the mean time?”

Turning to Pavo and Rutilus, “If you don’t cause any problems while we take care of the bitch, I’ll talk to my friends about letting the rest of you sail off. We’ll leave you here to think about who you might want to make officers. Sit tight, and this might work out fairly well for you after all. Agreed?”

“We could make you Cap’n!” Rutilus says with real enthusiasm.

Jharad barks a laugh and says to Keng and Toshio, “I bet they would!”

Keng laughs.

Jethrik face-palms and turns away.

Toshio doesn’t see the humor. He says to the pirates, “You must be bound until the others are dealt with. Then we can talk.”

Looking out towards the bay Jharad says, “It looks as though she is heading towards the riverbank upstream from us where the other longboat is moored. Let’s set up to ambush her from the forest when she comes ashore. At least then the less stealthy of us will have a chance to get into place before they can hear us stumbling about,” he adds with a wry grin. “Jethrik, why don’t you tell us about this Calistria priestess while we are on our way.” Jharad quickly retrieves what arrows he can salvage and leads them back into the forest towards Grudge’s longboat.

“The whole crew hates her guts!” Jethrik spits. “She’s a vicious bitch. Kill her and the pirates she’s with will likely be too busy thanking you to keep up the fight. I’ve not seen her heal anyone, so I’d keep out of range of her. She’s likely one of those clerics that can kill not heal. I don’t know the full extent of her power. I only ever saw her cast one spell at a time. She used command on me once to force me to climb to the crow’s nest. So perhaps she is not terribly powerful or perhaps she is just smart enough to play her cards close to her vest.”

“Well this should be interesting then,” says Jharad. “I do not lightly take up arms against a priestess of Calistria, but this one sounds like she may deserve it. And what is her relationship to our late Captain Grudge?”

Jethrik shudders. “Intimate. Which shows you that Captain Grudge could exhibit courage when desperate.”

Jharad smiles at Jethrik’s quip and glances at Toshio, wondering not for the first time why he has been so willing to follow Jharad’s lead since they arrived at Brinewall. “Lets setup similar to how we did before, that seemed to work well. I will provide cover fire from directly in front of them then after I start shooting you all flank them. And lets focus on the priestess as best we can, from what Jethrik says once she is down the others will just give up. Hell, they may just leave the fight to her in total.”

Toshio cleans Whispering Shrike before sheathing it and readying his bow. He listens carefully about the priestess of Callistra.

“I fear my usefulness in this skirmish,” says Zeyala. “I will remain on the sidelines and tend to injuries.”

Toshio says to Zeyala, “Okay, but stay close, and stay ready to counter what spells you can. That bless spell may be a good one for this fight.”

“I won’t be much help either, with this stupid bow.” Jethrik growls. “Look at this! Someone packed it wrong and there is a bend in the wood. No wonder I was missing everything!”

Jethrik grabs a whip from Captain Grudge’s belt and hands it to Keng. “The command words are Catch and Hold. You can guess what it does.”

Toshio smirks as he wonders if Keng really can guess that – but he’s careful to keep his joke to himself.

Keng looks at it and laughs, “What’s the command for catch and kill?”

Jharad laughs loudly, “I do not believe Keng would be caught dead using a puny weapon like that. I believe you may have just insulted our rather large friend here. That device is more suited to Zeyala I think. Besides it will look good in her hands,” he adds with a lusty look.

“Well, I was just thinking that he’d have the best chance of controlling whatever he lasso’ed.” Jethrik shrugs. “I know if I tried to use it, I’d get thrown across the room.” he adds with a chuckle.

“You’re okay gnome. Debt paid!” He hands the whip to Zeyala and says, “For you my friend, to restrain your enemies until I come.”

“Enemies only?” she asks with a devilish grin on her face. She wraps one of her scarves into a belt of sorts with a slipknot, and fastens the coiled whip to it.

Keng gives her a perplexed look, “Who else would you want to restrain?”

“You know nothing, Keng,” laughs Zeyala.

Jharad smirks and shakes his head. Clapping Keng on the back he says, “You.”

“You guys are making me blush… and nauseous.” Jethrik complains.

Toshio slips on Captain Grudge’s ring, ready to talk later about its final disposition.

Jharad watches Toshio put the ring on and he smiles, “Good choice, I think that will serve you best.” He then picks up the spyglass and pockets it.

Keng nods and says, “Let’s get going!”

Toshio sets up 20′ from shore, with his short now ready. When a good shot at the priestess presents itself he takes it. No warnings to this opponent who stands between him and getting Ameiko healed.

“You have wonder about a guy who wears studded leather and carries a whip.” Jethrik muses as they watch Ishana’s boat approach.

When the boat is only 75’ away, however, Ishana notices Keng hiding behind a tree that is not wide enough to conceal him fully. She quickly tells the rowers to take the boat back. She mutters a prayer and suddenly there are two of her in the boat, both cowering beneath the gunwales as the two pirates row for their lives.

Toshio’s arrow falls short into the water.

Jethrik says, “They look better than they look,” to inspire morale.

Keng’s arrow hits Ishana’s double and it vanished upon impact.

Jharad sends out two shots both of which hit Ishana in the back.

The rowers seeing that it is hopeless both drop their oars and dive beneath the waves. Ishana likewise dives beneath the waves, but though the two pirates surface within half a minute, both swimming for shore, Ishana does not appear again.

Jharad calls out to them after he shoots, “Come back and we will not kill you!”

“We hear you!” calls out one pirate. “We surrender,” says the other. Jethrik recognizes them as Mario and Tevis.

Jharad keeps a sharp lookout for the priestess, utilizing the spyglass he took from Grudge.

Toshio says, “She probably has a water-breathing spell. Widen your search. She’ll surface farther away when the spell ends, I bet.”

“Mario, Tevis!” Jethrik calls out. “We won’t harm you. We just need you to leave these ruins and we knew Grudge and Ishana wouldn’t let us. Come here and we’ll talk.”

From a bit of a way off, Toshio hears this and smiles in appreciation of the diplomacy Jethrik is showing.

The two waterlogged pirates wade ashore. Mario says, “Jethrik, these are your friends from Roderic’s Cove I take it? What happened to Captain Grudge and the rest of the crew?”

“Nothing good, I’m afraid. I don’t feel so bad about Captain Grudge, but we lost some good men. Pavo and Rutilus are waiting for you up at the lighthouse. Maybe you could take ‘em back to the ship.”

Tevis and Mario both shout in alarm when Zaiobe lands upon the beach just a few feet away. Zaiobe just glares at the pirates.

“Well that is that,” says Jharad. “I suggest we let these men return to their ship so that they can elect a new captain. We have work to be about here.”

“Don’t you think we should spend at least a short time looking for Ishana?” Jethrik squeeks.

“I agree,” says Toshio.

“No,” says Jharad, “I believe he has been mquormikt. A term I learned at college which means to magically hide something away until it can be presented again at a most inopportune time for your opponents.”

Toshio responds, “Forgive me, but I don’t trust the priestess to let these sailors,” he avoids calling them pirates, “go in peace. Until we’re sure of her, she’s a threat. Meanwhile, we should secure those two longboats so they can’t be used against us.” Shrugging inwardly, Toshio wishes he were less pragmatic but accepts that he can’t help it in this sort of situation.

“You two,” says Toshio to the two pirates. “Swim back out and retrieve your boat. Bring it back here. No harm will befall you from us if you obey.”

Mario and Tevis quickly swim out to the longboat, clamber back into it and begin rowing it back to shore. Neither seems willing to risk Jharad’s arrows if they should try to row back downstream and attempt to return to the ship.

To the group Toshio says, “Once the boats are secure, those two can go release the two bound in the lighthouse. We should move to where we can watch their ship. Ishana has nowhere else to go unless she chooses to join Kikonu in the castle – which she might.”

“Zaiobe, will you do an aerial search for that priestess?”

The harpy scowls and beckons to Jethrik. Jethrik takes a deep breath and holds it for as long as possible as he walks reluctantly toward Zaiobe.

Through Jethrik Zaiobe says, “I will look but then I am returning to the castle. There is a ledge that leads around the castle. Go around to the north side and avoid the dire corby lookouts. There is three-story tower on the northwest side of the castle, not one of the guard towers. This tower has a balcony and it is where I make my home. You may enter through that tower. I will do what I can to make sure the dire corbies keep their lookouts away from that side of the castle.” She releases Jethrik and flies off.

“Good to see you playing nice with the harpy, Toshio,” says Zeyala.

“Ha ha.” says Toshio drolly.

Once the second longboat has been dragged onto the riverbank and secured to a tree, everyone troops back up to the lighthouse where the other two pirates are still tied up. Once they are released Jethrik says to them, “Okay, return to the boat but we have talk about releasing that Chelaxian captain. I don’t know what to do with him, but I don’t want him tortured to death.”

Before the pirates can reply Zaiobe returns from her search for Ishana. She grabs Jethrik and has him say for her, “The captain’s woman is nowhere I can see her. Perhaps she drowned or perhaps she is hiding in the woods. Who cares? She is no foe of mine. Now meet me at the castle. The tallest tower with the balcony on the north side. We’ll be waiting for you.”

“Wait! We?!” Jethrik cries on his own behalf as, clutching the gnome painfully, Zaiobe takes to the air and heads straight back to the castle.

Instinctively reaching out to grab the gnome, with no hope of doing so, Jharad says, “Wait… stop!” Watching the gnome recede towards Zaiobe’s tower in the clutches of the Harpy he adds a few seconds later, “Well there goes our gnome again.”

“Easy come, easy goes the gnome.” Keng shakes his head.

“Well, this does not bode well,” says Zeyala. There’s no guarantee she’ll stick to her bargain, though it seems we have choice but to trust.”

Toshio actually growls, Keng-like, in his frustration. As Zaiobe flies off with Jethrik he shouts at her, “You will regret this day if he is harmed!”

Chuckling at Toshio’s anger, more in bemusement of the situation than anything else, Jharad adds quietly, “You tell him, Toshio.” Then sobering he turns to the four pirates and says, “Okay you four. Return to your ship but do not set sail. No harm is to befall this captain that Jethrik spoke of. You will return in the morning and discuss with Jethrik how to proceed. If you fail in any of this, by the gods I will hunt you down myself and kill every last one of you. Am I making myself quite clear?”

The four pirates nod in unison and scurry back to their two boats but before they can push off Toshio runs and stops them from taking both boats. “You will leave this boat! And don’t forget the elf’s promise. You’d be well-advised to send the captain ashore before you even consider sailing away.” He lets them take one boat, hoping they have bought into Jharad’s threats.

Once the pirates have rowed away, Toshio returns to the group. “I think we’ve done all we can to help whoever that other captain may be. Let’s go get our friends taken care of.” He heads in the direction of the castle, not looking to see if the others are following.

“Agreed,” says Jharad and claps Toshio on the back.

 

The Lighthouse Battle

Once they arrive at the outskirts of the deserted village, Zaiobe flies off to scout out the current position of the pirates.

“I’ve considered this carefully,” opens Toshio while Zaiobe is away, “and you should know my decision. I cannot ally with Zaiobe. If this Kikonu stands between us and our goal, we will destroy him. Because she rescued Jethrik and made a show of good faith by bringing him to us I will not take arms against her if she doesn’t force it. But I cannot be part of an alliance with a being of evil.” He finishes matter-of-factly with “I will tell her when she returns” and continues to his vigilance.

“Don’t we have to defeat the tengu if we are going to explore the Brinewall ruins and save Ameiko?” Jethrik asks. “You can’t sit that out! Can you?”

​To Jethrik Toshio responds, “I didn’t say I’d sit that out. Only that I won’t be allied with evil creatures.

Jharad adds, “I agree with you Toshio, but tipping our hand early and eliminating any tactical advantage we may gain by waiting until we have at least met this tengu is foolish. Besides, did Ameiko herself not say that ‘in his shattered silent love we should seek aid?’ Do you at least not trust the advice of your… of Ameiko?”

“That wasn’t Ameiko,” Toshio says, overlooking Jharad’s slip. ”At least I don’t believe so. I think it was whatever is possessing her or using her to communicate. It is my hope that this won’t make any practical difference to us. I’ll still be going into the castle with you.”

Right after Toshio’s reply, Zaiobe returns. She tells them that the pirates are still in hiding amidst the rubble surrounding the lighthouse. The now overgrown village path has a branch that leads right up the cliff to the lighthouse. The forest encroaches on either side of the path and on the landward side of the lighthouse. It should be easy enough to get to it without being seen. Zaiobe also mentions that the pirate’s longboat is returning from the ship back to Brinewall. There only seem to be two pirates and the priestess of Calistria aboard it.

Jharad motions for the others to get ready to move and then asks, “How many pirates are hiding among the rubble then, and how long do you expect before the longboat reaches the peer?”

Zaiobe answers through Jethrik, “There are probably a dozen. And it will be some time before the longboat can make it across the bay and into the harbor.”

Toshio waits for Zaiobe to answer Jharad, then delivers his message. “Thank you, Zaiobe.  We will be going into the castle eventually, but I can’t do so as an ally of evil. Because you rescued Jethrik and showed good faith in bringing him to us, I will not fight you unless you provoke it. If Kikonu stands between us and our goal we will destroy him.” He watches her carefully as she digests this. you unless you provoke it. If Kikonu stands between us and our goal we will destroy him.” He watches her carefully as she digests this.

Jharad slowly shakes his head and breaths out in Orcish to his friend, “Be ready Keng, our paladin has screwed us over again.”

Keng’s chest rumbles with a low growl, he tosses his head backwards his dreadlocks flipping over his shoulder, and says quietly in Orcish, “nothing is ever easy with him.”

“Killing for hire is not something I’m comfortable with either,” says Zeyala. “However, if we encounter roadblocks to find Ameiko’s cure, then we break them down for our needs. It should be that simple.

Turning towards Toshio, she asks, “Why not remain silent?  Why create possible new road blocks?”

Zaiobe eyes widen in shock, her grip tightens on Jethrik and she tenses, as if to leap up into the air and take flight with him, but then she relaxes and smiles. She has Jethrik tell the rest, “That is fine. Then I will help you enter the castle and when Kikonu attacks you, as he is sure to do, I will be there to help you defeat him. After that, we leave each other alone. Will that ease your qualms?”

Jharad looks at Toshio, waiting to see if Zaiobe’s rewording of practically the exact same plan clears the muster of the paladin’s semantics filter.

“Yes. That will do nicely. Thank you for your understanding,” Toshio replies.

Zeyala starts to speak, but then says nothing. She bows to the harpy, visibly relieved.

“I’m glad the creature of evil has a cool head and a pragmatic outlook. Maybe you goodie two-shoes could learn something from her. Sheesh!” Jethrik shakes his head.

“Talk, talk, talk. Always the talking. Now that Mr Fancy Pants has his panties adjusted Let’s get about it,” says Keng.

Toshio lets the verbal barbs pass without reacting. He is still suspicious of Zaiobe (though still relieved by her response) and feels there are more important things to do than argue with the gnome or the half-orc.

“Can you guys do me a big favor?” Jethrik begs. “Go after Captain Grudge and the priestess. If you do, maybe we don’t have to fight the rest. The crew are decent guys. I mean, for lawless criminals who make a living on murder, plunder and rape. So you know, maybe we can let them go.”

Jharad says with a look of regret, “I am not sure how we can do that, Jethrik. They may be decent guys, but they will be trying to kill us in defense of their captain. We can hold back if any of them give themselves up, but beyond that it will make our job much more difficult. Now, I suggest we try and draw them out from their cover into the clearing east of the lighthouse. I will engage them from a distance down the pathway into the forest, and that should get their attention from there and draw them out. The rest of you should be hiding in the forest to the north. As soon as they are drawn out you flank them from there. Sound good?”

Keng nods and moves off into the woods along the north side of the forest.

Toshio, for once agreeing with Keng that there has been enough talk, nods agreement with Jharad’s plan and moves along behind Keng.

Jethrik and Zeyala fall in line with the others.

As Keng and the others move off into the forest Jharad says, “Wait until I start firing at the crewmen at the trailhead then move in to flank. I will provide cover fire as best I can. You have 10 minutes until I begin firing.”

After the others move off the trail into the forest Jharad moves off the path to gain cover and concealment from the trees. Keeping the same distance into the forest he moves west along the trail until he has a good position from which to snipe the crewmen some 30 or so feet away.

Once in place he, begins firing after 10 minutes.

“Hmm… ” Jethrik muses “This might be a good time to use ghost sounds to throw folks off balance.”

The pirates are too wary, however. They hear the trees rustling as Jharad moves through the underbrush towards them. The others are even noisier, for Toshio and Keng are both unskilled at woodcraft and wearing noisy metal armor, while Zeyala also manages to step on every leaf and strike every hanging branch. Jethrik’s noise is negligible, however, and easily covered over by the din made by the others. “Who’s there?” Calls out one of the pirates by the path, “Captain, intruders!” calls out the other. They both lower their crossbows, one aims it down the path and the other towards the trees to the north. The first, however, falls with a cry as Jharad’s first arrow strikes him in the chest.

A rustling and clanking of armor issues from behind the trees just to the right of the remaining pirate. He wheels to confront it and fires an arrow into the underbrush out of sheer panic.

From within the lighthouse Captain Grudge calls out, “Get them me buckos! Whoever they be we’ll given them a hidin’ they’ll never forget!”

A white shimmer bursts from Zeyala as she whispers a prayer of blessing for her comrades.

Keng races from the woods towards the opening along the northeast side of ruins of the lighthouse and with his back to the wall just to the south of the opening and axe held in high ready position he waits for the pirates inside to come out. Soon enough one does appear, aiming his crossbow into the woods. Keng’s axe slams into the pirate’s left side, tearing his studded leather armor and drawing blood. The pirate screams and withdraws back into the lighthouse.

The other pirates within all draw their cutlasses. Three of them form a cordon around Captain Grudge, while a fourth lunges out the door and swings at Keng, who steps away and takes the blow on his steel-toed Doc Martens, which is more than adequate to ward the blow. From the north side of the lighthouse a pirate shouts, “Its Jethrik! Jethrik’s with ‘em! The traitor!” He fires a bolt at the gnome but it hits the tree he is taking cover behind instead. Two other pirates taking cover behind a tree on the south side of the lighthouse also loose bolts into the woods but come no closer to hitting anyone.

“I’m famous!” Jethrik cheers. “That’s right Captain Grudge, you can catch a gnome, but you can’t expect to hold on to one. No even with two hands. Why don’t you come over here and get me?”

Captain Grudge is too well-versed in such verbal games to allow himself to get riled by Jethrik’s mocking.

Toshio moves swiftly to try to flank the pirate attacking Keng. but finds that his armor is slowing him down and the pirate is smartly staying just within the hole in the lighthouse so that there is no way to get behind him. He slashes at the pirate with Whispering Shrike, but his blow is parried.

Meanwhile, Jharad’s second arrow buries itself in the forehead of the remaining pirate who was watching the path. He falls without so much as a whimper.

Zeyala moves out of the cover of the trees and reaches out to Keng granting him guidance of the life-force. With all the power he can bear Keng swings his axe into the chest of the pirate confronting him, tearing through armor, flesh, and bone. The pirate falls and dies in a widening pool of his own blood.

The three pirates outside the lighthouse fire their crossbows again at Toshio and Zeyala, but only one bolt hits, merely nicking Zeyala’s left leg.

Two more pirates emerge from the lighthouse to engage Toshio and Keng. The first knocks Toshio’s blade aside and strikes his banded mail so hard he feels his ribs must be bruised. For a moment Toshio’s s wide open to an attack by the other pirate but he is able to spring back in time to avoid another blow. The second pirate slashes again at Keng but his cutlass is turned aside by the haft of Keng’s axe. Toshio’s counter-attack is also parried.

Jharad moves along the tree-line until he is able to get within 10 yards of the two pirates firing upon his friends from the south side of the lighthouse. He releases an arrow that lodges itself in the meaty part of the upper right arm of one of them. The pirate cries out but manages to keep his grip on his bow.

Jethrik calls out, “Keep at it, guys, Captain Grudge is going to run out of pirates pretty quick!”

Grinning broadly Jharad says to himself, “You just gotta love the little guy.”

Jethrik moves along the tree-line until he can see through the hole into the lighthouse. And there he see’s Captain Grudge as he shouts and gesticulates wildly to encourage his men.

Zeyala reaches out and brushes her fingers where the blade struck Toshio.  ”Pharasma’s not calling you yet,” she says with wink as she retreats takes cover behind the trees again.

Keng yells out, “Someone cover the south west opening! Don’t let them escape!” The flat of his axe slams into the head of the pirate before him. The pirate reels back, staggered by the blow, and withdraws into the lighthouse.

Another pirate rushes out to take his place. He swings his cutlass at Keng who easily knocks it aside with his axe head. He is then slashed in the arm by the cutlass of the pirate fighting Toshio, whose swing goes wild.

The pirate to the north of the lighthouse fires a bolt at Jethrik but it flies past him into the woods. The two pirates to the south have no better luck in their efforts to hit Jharad.

Toshio finally penetrates the guard of his opponent and wounds him with a slash to the ribs that cuts armor and flesh.

Becoming as one with his bow, Jharad smoothly looses arrow after arrow at the two pirates, killing one and wounding the other.

Jethrik, keeping within the cover of the trees and underbrush, looses an arrow from his shortbow at the pirate aiming at him with his crossbow. The arrow hits the pirate and punctures his armor, but it seems to have been no more than a flesh wound as the pirate reloads to fire upon Jethrik again.

Captain Grudge, continues to shout at his men and waving his own blade in the air. “Carve them up me hearties! Rip out their hearts!”

Zeyala looks down where she was nicked by the arrow. “This will have to do,” she says as she reaches down to wipe away the blood.

Keng chops into the pirate before him, felling him. Stepping into the lighthouse he finds himself face to face with Captain Grudge.

Out of sheer desperation, the pirate that Keng struck first in the battle spring at him from the shadows to his left, but Keng easily evades his blow as the half-orc can see as well in the dark as in the light.

Outside the two remaining crossbowmen continue to fire from the cover of trees around the lighthouse at Jharad and Jethrik, but they still are unable to hit. One bolt does strike into a tree very close to Jharad’s face however.

Toshio’s next blow slashes into his foes left arm, causing the pirate to collapse in an artful spray of blood.

Jharad looses another arrow and drops the last pirate on the south side of the lighthouse. The way cleared before him, Jharad leaves the cover of the trees and races up to the tree where lie the corpses of the two pirates he has killed.

Jethrik looses another arrow at the pirate behind the tree on the north side but misses.

Captain Grudge, still cursing Jethrik and his friends, lunges at Keng with his rapier, but the tip of the blade is turned by Keng’s bracers.

Zeyala casts guidance on Jethrik. “May your arrow find it’s target.”

With a great bellow Keng charges into Captain Grudge to push him back and clear the doorway for the others to come through. Though  the pirate captain manages to prick Keng in the side as he rushes him he is still forced back into the lighthouse.

The remaining pirate within the lighthouse comes up on Keng’s blind side and strikes with his cutlass, but Keng’s armor is proof against it. Toshio cuts that pirate down as he follows Keng into the gap.

Outside the pirate on the north side of the lighthouse fires another bolt at Jethrik but again it is lost in the trees.

Jharad positions himself outside gap on the southwest side of the lighthouse and gets a clear shot at Captain Grudge, which he takes. The arrow sinks into the pirate captain’s back. Captain Grudge screeches in pain and rage, but the blow was not a mortal one and he is able to fight on. Jharad notes out of the corner of his eye that by the wall to his right one of the wounded pirates has collapsed but is still conscious.

“Damn, yesterday they chickened out much faster than this!” Jethrik calls out. His next arrow goes wide and it is then that Jethrik begins to suspect that his bow must be warped and needs to be realigned. ‘Who packed up my stuff? Jharad? Where are you you stupid elf?’

Captain Grudge retreats from Keng and Toshio, backing away until he is within striking distance of Jharad. With an anguish he can’t keep stifled, Captain Grudge cries out, “Where is Ishana, Jethrik! Did your friends touch her when they rescued you?”

Zeyala tries to rush the pirate behind the tree and stabs at him with her longspear, but the pirate simply ducks around the tree. “Oops. Perhaps I should stick to healing,” says Zeyala. The pirate decides that now is the time to flee. He drops his crossbow and runs off, around the west side of the lighthouse.

Keng relentlessly pursued Grudge and strikes again with his axe, “time to pay your debts pirate scum!” He swings with his axe and misses taking the top of Grudge’s head off by a hair, but a quick follow-up thrust cracks the pirate captain in the head with the head of the axe. Though greatly discomfited, the captain wards Keng off with his rapier.

Toshio also presses the attack and gets past Captain Grudge’s guard, but his blow is not hard enough to slash through his studded leather armor.

Jharad backs away from the melee. In quick succession he looses two more arrows at the captain. The first misses, but the second hits him in the right arm. Captain Grudge instantly drops his rapier and then falls to ground unconscious and dying.

Jharad turns and points his drawn bow at the pirate who had run from Zeyala and is now standing gaping at him and the fallen captain. “I strongly suggest that you return to the lighthouse here as we would like to have a quick word with you. You are welcome to keep your cutlass as long as it remains un-drawn. I am quite sure you realize that attempting to do so would mean your instant demise.” The pirate nods and slowly, with his arms, raised and hands up, walks over to Jharad. Toshio has his eyes the no-longer fleeing pirate (the only one that might present a threat) and Jharad. They present the only probably combat, so he is attentive to how that develops. He isn’t paying attention to Keng.

“Hello Rutilus,” Jethrik mumbles to the surrendering pirate. “I’m sorry about all this. It’s good to see you pulled through.”

Seeing that Keng is readying his axe to finish off Captain Grudge, Jethrik rushes over to him. “Guys, let’s tie him up and then I can heal him.” Jethrik implores. “There’s no need to kill him, and maybe we’ll need him to save the other captain.”

“No we shall not heal the filth. We owe Sleyg his head otherwise we would not have found you Jethrik. His sins have finally caught up to him.” Keng picks Jethrik up by his collar with his left hand and with the axe in his right he beheads Captain Grudge.

Keng gently sets the Gnome down.  He quickly cuts Grudge’s cloak off using to tightly wrap the head and ties it to his belt for safe keeping until they get back to their packs.  He stands up saying, “Pirates ain’t so tough.”

All Together Now

From overhead they hear the beating of mighty wings. Then a sphere of chaotic multi-hued lights appears and within the center of it is a woman with wings like a hawk. Her features are sharp and cruel. Upon her back is a quiver and in her left hand she carries a strung composite longbow. Hanging around her torso is a shirt of chainmail. Her legs end in cruel looking talons in which she clutches Jethrik by the shoulders. He is garbed like a pirate, complete with a plumed hat that he is desperately holding onto to keep it from flying away. At his side is a gnome-sized rapier. She lands in front of the horses that begin rearing and screaming in her presence. They tug and pool at the ropes binding them and then quiet down, trembling and cowering away as far as they are able. A smell of cheap cloying perfume fills the camp, but it does not wholly hide the reek of carrion that the harpy has presumably tried to cover up.

Jethrik turns to the harpy, “You may want to move off, I will present your deal to them.” turning to the party he bows “Hello chums, I thought I’d better get back to you before you got into any trouble.”

Keng can’t quite believe what he hears, his rage making it hard to think clearly on anything other than bashing the harpy’s ugly face in. After a few seconds he just seems to deflate like an air filled bladder with a whole in it.

Jharad steps out from behind the tree and closer to the pair and replies, “Hello Jethrik, it is good to see you in one piece. I must say I am very curious what sort of deal you may have brokered with your new ally here.”

Stepping out of cover, Toshio puts his bow away.  He stands quietly, close enough to hear but far enough to (hopefully) not alarm the harpy. Smiling to see him okay, Toshio waits to hear Jethrik’s tale and the deal he seems to have struck.

“Nothing that I don’t think you would want to do anyway.” Jethrik shrugs. “So it sounds like a pretty good deal to me. There is an evil tengu in the ruins here. She wants it dead for reasons of her own. If we do that for her, she’ll step aside as we explore the ruins. Besides which, she told me about the tengu’s weapon and how to activate it. That could be helpful. She wanted the pirates to help her and flew out to the ship. Lucky for her, she grabbed me and I talked her into flying me off in search of a much more deadly group of adventurers.”

“Well, this is a pleasant turn of events,” says Zeyala. “You are well? Uninjured? Is there anything you require?”

Keng seems thoroughly demoralized. He looks at the elf pleadingly, “When can we start smashing and killing and looting?”

Jethrik takes of his hat and bows to Zeyala. “As has been said before, the race does not always go to the swift” Rising with a broad smile. “Thank you so much for your concern. Whatever troubles clung to me during my exile are banished by the blessings of your presence.”

Jharad smiles broadly and addresses the harpy. “Well that certainly is an interesting offer. This castle seems more a roost than anything else. Corbies, tengu and a harpy. And you want to be queen of your roost it sounds like. So tell us, what will you do as queen of the castle should we help to clear your opposition?”

The harpy steps forward and puts her clawed right hand upon Jethrik’s shoulder. She stands there silently as if thinking over something. After a moment he relays her message. ‘She says to tell you her name is Zaiobe. She is mute and can only speak to the mind of someone she is touching. She has chosen me to be her voice. She says that the tengu who rules Brinewall is more than a simple tengu. He is something more than that and very powerful, but with her help you can defeat him. He was once her lover but he mocked her muteness and that is a slight she cannot forgive. For that he must die. She has maintained a link to him and so can speak to his mind and convince him that she wishes to make up and would like to meet with him. Likely he will only agree to a meeting within the castle grounds so if you agree to help me I will also help you get inside.”

Keng snorts, “Silent wife a problem? I know most chiefs would consider that a blessing!”

“How curious,” says Shalelu to Jharad in Elvish. “Didn’t Ameiko say, ‘Beware the cuckolded cuckoo – it is in his shattered silent love you should seek aid.’ This must be the silent love.”

Remembering as well Jharad responds in Elvish, “Yes I drew that same conclusion as soon as she mentioned she is mute. I do not like it, but it looks like we will be taking her deal.”

Switching to the Common tongue he says to the harpy, “Very well you have yourself a deal. First we need to make a final visit to our not so friendly pirate gang. Then we can enter the castle and deal with the tengu.”

Keng shifts back and forth on his feet stirring up the dust, clearly agitated. He is mumbling, “Beware… what is a cock-hold? His shattered love…. wouldn’t that make him the ally? Silent love?” That makes it the the big ugly fat fuck bird thingy over there.”  He screws his face up trying to count on his fingers the points of the riddle, then throws up his hands and says, “By Gorum’s Hairy Ball Sack! Elf just tell me who needs killing!”

Jharad laughs and claps Keng on the back. “Do not hurt yourself, Keng. It is a different bird than what stands before us. He is in the castle and yes, we will be hunting him down.”

Switching to Orcish he continues with a harder face, “In the end my friend, I am sure we will clear this place of all its evil things. Have a little more patience, there is plenty of blood to be shed yet today.”

Keng gets an evil grin on his face.

Spivey has remained out of sight during this conversation. Zaiobe believing herself to be the only one capable of flying among them says, “I will find the pirates for you. Then you may take care of them. Come let us return to Brinewall. You can remain within the woods while I fly over and see where they are and what they are up to.”

At that moment you all hear a rustling in the underbrush. Zaiobe looks to the north and her lips curl. Swiftly she takes to the air and flies between the trees out of sight. “Traitor! Fiend!” calls out the voice of the ettercap that Toshio, Jharad, Keng, and Zeyala encountered before. Then his voice is abruptly cut short.

Spivey, remains hiding among the branches of a tree and quietly says, “I guess it is unnecessary to point out that she is evil. I can feel it. Please do not tell her about me. I will remain out of sight.”

When Zaiobe returns she carries the corpse of the ettercap. She drops it unceremoniously in the middle of the clearing and then lands. “That one will tell no tales to Kikonu. Shall we be off?”

Jharad replies, “Yes lets go. And yes do find the pirates. We will clean that up first.”

He then looks at Keng and says in Orcish, “Silent and patient my friend, soon we will have pirates to kill.”

Keng nods and replies back in Ocrish, “May their bones warm your fires.”

Toshio is conflicted. He knows Zaiobe is evil and he shouldn’t work with her. But he also recognizes that she rescued Jethrik and is helping against a greater evil. He wonders if he is really taking on evil at its source or if this is just convenient. Spivey has refused to work with the harpy. Maybe Zey has some insight that could help.

Toshio lets most of the others go ahead until he is next to Zeyala.

Speaking very quietly “Zey, I am uneasy with in this alliance with an evil being. Spivey has declined to work with the harpy, and she is even more directly of Desna than you. What do you think of this? How can we of Good work willingly with Evil?”

“Yes, this creature is inherently evil, at least as I understand them to be,” says Zeyala. “For me, the end does justify the means. Ameiko suffers from an affliction. The cure is attainable through alliance with this creature. Though the thought of contract killing is not appealing to me, and I have no idea if Pharasma has called this creature to her realm. However, if this tengu attempts to prevent us from what we seek, then it will suffer. Those terms are ones I can live with.”

“Thank you for your counsel. I think I now know the path to take.” With this he moves forward, taking station next to Jharad and keeping an eye on Zaiobe.

As the make their way through the woods back to Brinewall, Jethrik tells his story: “It was his brilliance that was his undoing! For it was shortly after his stunning performance of the Lovesick Squire that Jethrik, was abducted by a group of his admirers. That is right! My performance and composition were so riveting, that the pirates kidnapped me. Once aboard, I was begged to finish the epic tale, which was received with effusive appreciation. I tried to shrug off in the esteem of my colleagues, which proved difficult. In time, I realized that if I tried to take on some of the chores of a crewman I might be treated with less devotion and fit in a bit better. Of course, I wanted to do menial tasks but I was made Omnibudsman. This is a sort of officer on board a pirate vessel who is a go between representing the crew to the captain. I didn’t ask for this honor, but it was apparent I was well suited to it.

“All proceeded fairly well. I had a chance to explore the ship and found a few things of note. In particular, two fearsome beasts that were being held in the cargo hold. Two great lizards that served as guard dogs of a sort. I would hope they don’t bring those out against us!

“Another task at which I excelled was taking watch in the crow’s nest. It was on one such watch that I alerted the crew to our greatest peril.

“A Chelaxian naval vessel was bearing down on us under full sail! It was a sight to make a lesser creature quail. I sounded the alert. To his credit, Captain Grudge managed to keep the enemy out of range until a great storm blew up. It was then, with both vessels floundering, that we struck! Turning to the Chelaxians, we made ready to board their ship. My boys were straining like the dogs of war, while the opposing sailors looked pale and quaked at the sight of us. I cast Grease under their feet and down they went like so many bowling pins! Their ranks broken, they had no choice but to surrender without a fight. Their captain, Captain Venjam, was betrayed by his own first mate and crew. He was handed over to Captain Grudge in exchange for their lives!

“The fate of Captain Venjam was, or shall I say is, a sorry one. As soon as the two ships disengaged he was strung up by his thumbs and left to hang. Captain Grudge laid into him verbally and might have continued with the whip had cooler heads not prevailed. The two had a history, evidently, and there was no love on either side. One incident of particular interest was the location of a sunken vessel laden with treasure. I proposed that simply torturing the Chelaxian would not work. He is a military man, I argued, and his pride would keep him from revealing anything at all. What is needed is an offer he will accept out of desperation. If a neutral party could be found to take control of Captain Venjam, he might give up the information in exchange for his life. I was thinking of my old friends of course! I was trusting that you would want to save a man’s life, even if that life was that of a man dedicated to an empire with a dark reputation. Life is sacred after all. And I was of course, plotting my return to my old pals even then. Alas that later events may have put the captain’s life in peril.

“Before that, however, my leadership and abilities were called upon to assist with Captain Grudge’s first foray into the Brinewall ruins. We had the opportunity to scout out several areas of the ruins. We landed at the docks of course, and looked over the longship that was wrecked in its mooring. We saw the carcass of a great draconic beast. And we explored a cemetery that is still being beautifully groomed despite the horrid condition of the rest of Brinewall. Finally, we pushed into the castle. This did not go at all well for the hapless Captain Grudge or his unfortunate crew. We were lucky to escape with only one fatality, that of Solemn Jack. He was good fellow all in all. He deserved better. He was done in by a monstrous troglodyte. Besides two of these horrors, we encountered a flock of dire corbies, a giant spider and its keeper; a hideous fusion of man and spider! And perhaps worst of all, we fought a tengu who appeared to be insane. I believe that he is one and the same tengu that so badly wronged our friend Zaiobe.

“Speaking of whom, she was my ultimate liberator as you have seen. I was once again taking watch in the crow’s nest following Captain Grudge’s departure for a second foray into Brinewall. I saw our longboat returning and then, Zaiobe flying above it. She made straight for me, avoiding the crossbows of the crew below. I tried to fight her off, but she proved more than a match! I spoke with her through her thoughts, and proposed that she take me to you. My old pals are far more likely than the pirates to prevail against this tengu, after all. And they are much more likely to hold to their promises. Look how hard you worked to find me again! Truly admirable companions!”

Toshio shudders a bit when Jethrik calls Zaiobe a “friend.”

“Gnome,” blurts Keng!  “You little shit-bird, you had the time of your life, and prospered, all the while we were risking our necks to save your ass thinking you were in trouble.”  Then Keng descends into a fit of laughter that in an Orc is quite a disturbing sight.

“I’m sorry you’re so annoyed I survived the abduction your Blue Whinnis made possible.” Jethrik demurs, with a smile he offers up his plumed hat “If it would make you feel better you can wear my pirate hat!”

Laughing, Jharad takes the hat and dons it proudly while he in turn recounts the rest of the group’s exploits after Jethrik was separated from them. “It was some time after lunch the day after you were abducted that we noticed you had not been seen that morning. I think it was Toshio who believed you had just been sleeping off your… previous night’s performance. The rest of that day we searched for you, in the end it was Sherman who lead us to the docks just in time to watch the Teeth of Araska sail away. On the way back we discovered a dart coated with blue whinnis residue which immediately lead our paladin here,” indicating Toshio with a flourishing hand gesture, “to assume that it was I who was fully responsible for our beloved gnome being absconded with. Now, this of course was exactly the case; the poison I had sold was indeed purchased and used by Grudge’s pirates. But the lively discussion which followed caused a fairly large rift between Toshio and myself.”

Jharad pauses to look at Toshio with a curt smile but continues speaking to Jethrik, “I for one wish that discussion had gone differently, but am content to let it remain in our past.”

With a long sigh he continues in a lighter tone, “We then took council with a Lord Sleyg, one of Riddleport’s not so legitimate bosses who runs his business out of a tavern by the dock’s. We made a deal with him for Grudge’s head in return for magically foretelling where the Teeth was headed. That is how we discovered you were heading to Brinewall. Oh yah, you fracking bastard of a gnome we should have left you on that damn ship with your new pirate friends.”

Taking a long drink from his water-skin he continues, “So after leaving cryptic word for the caravan the four of us and Ameiko rode hard for here. Ameiko fell sick quickly once we reached the vicinity of Brinewall so we made a quick camp off the road while I did an initial scout of Brinewall. It was while I was heading back to camp that you and the pirates saw me briefly. And shortly afterwards you fly in to greet us in the clutches of an evil harpy with a speech disability.” So here we are,” Jharad finishes with a quick bow and hands Jethrik’s hat back to him.

“Well!” Jethrik sighs taking back his extravagantly plumed headgear, “you had quite the adventure. There might even be a story in that. I have some tips on delivery and timing if you are interested. Oh, and the structure of the narrative… er well… another time, perhaps!”

Toshio reviews his memories of the events as Jharad tells their tale. The “rift” to which Jharad refers is wide enough that Toshio sees no productive reason to engage in conversation about how Jharad may wish that past conversation had gone – especially since Toshio’s own take on it hasn’t changed and he feels that his point was well made at the time, both verbally and by the events that have taken place as a result of Jharad’s choices.

Keng elbows the elf saying, “You left out the best parts! Our paladin friend here mooning over Ameiko the whole trip and my epic battle with the Horse Lords.” He smugly continues, “I let him win thinking it would gain us an ally but they were already on an important quest.”

Zeyala says to Jharad and Keng, “That about sums it up then.”

“Leave our paladin alone,” Jharad replies with a grin. “Besides you should not say ‘moon’ in his presence. It may bring back memories. And I believe I will leave the narratives and story telling to our comedian. My efforts, I am sure, will be better spent on scholarly efforts.”

Zeyala adds, “I too cannot wait to hear Jethrik’s retelling.”

“What’s this about Ameiko falling ill?” Jethrik asks. “What is the cause and will she recover?”

Zeyala responds, “Ameiko has fallen under some sort of possession. She speaks in riddles, but we know that we must enter the ruins for the cure.”

His mood darkening only slightly Jharad adds, “She will recover quite well I am sure just as soon as we solve this Brinewall puzzle.”

“Then let’s be about it!” Jethrik replies with surprising determination.

The Silent Harpy

Aboard the Teeth of Araska the previous evening, Ishana leads the pirates in a solemn prayer for the soul of Solemn Jack. She prays to Calistria, the Savored Sting, to watch over him and to bring him into her loving embrace in her celestial mansion in Elysium. Failing that, Pharasma, the Lady of Graves, is beseeched to give Solemn Jack her fair and impartial judgment and to send him to his just recompense. Besmara the Pirate Queen is also beseeched to put in a good word for Solemn Jack to the Lady of Graves for all his years of dutiful service to the goddess of piracy. After that, Solem Jack’s corpse, wrapped and bound in a sailcloth, is consigned to the waves.

That night as Jethrik lies in his hammock in the darkened crew commons Tubbs, lying in a cot across from him, asks, “Say Jethrik. What is the prize we are after here? What were you and your friends seeking? Raiding this castle has already cost the life of one of our crew. This is no soft merchant ship whose sailors quickly surrender their goods to save their lives. These creatures are vicious and uncanny! There seems to be many of them, and many kinds! What is in there to risk our lives for? And will your friends be after us as well, especially since you’ve turned on them by joining us and telling us about their quest?”

“I wish I knew the answers to all those questions. The only thing I can say with confidence is that my friends from the caravan won’t fight to get me back when they hear I want to stay. I mean, Captain Grudge is going to get me more gold than I’ll ever see following some mule driver. They can see that. Besides, what gold I had I sunk into that stupid caravan. They’ll probably keep that for themselves! What hope of a real payoff we had was finding something here in Brinewall. There’s this lady… isn’t there always! Her family comes from far off and supposedly there’s some family secret hidden here. That’s all I know for sure. We all supposed it would be something that would turn out to be valuable one way or another, but I really don’t know. I’m a sucker for long odds and pretty faces. I guess I’m not the only one, eh? I had no idea there would be creatures like we’ve seen! I hear you about being ready to go up against it when you need to. My old pack, we’ve been through some scraps too. But I don’t think they’re ready for this, and I’m sorry if I dragged you into it.”

Jethrik comes up on deck at dawn to see that one of the longboats has already been taken out. Captain Grudge, Selis, and that half of the crew that stayed behind the day before have already gone ashore. Ishana, however, has stayed behind and she is watching the mouth of the river with concern.

Ishana notices Jethrik and commands, “Get up into the crow’s nets. You gnomes are said to have keen senses. Relieve the lookout and watch for the captain’s return.”

“Aye! Aye!” Jethrik replies dutifully. He then sets to climbing the mast.

After a few minutes he sees that the longboat is being rowed back, but only by a couple of pirates. Other than those two rowers the longboat is empty. He also sees that something is flying towards them from the castle. As it gets nearer he sees that it seems to be some kind of humanoid with wings, too far yet to tell if it is the same winged corbie or tengu or whatever it was that they encountered in the throne room of the castle.

Jethrik sounds the alarm and points to the flying humanoid.

The pirates quickly load their crossbows and prepare to loose their bolts upon it. As it gets closer, Jethrik sees that it is not the black feathered winged man from the day before. This one is female and her wings are have the colorings of a hawk. Her legs end in wicked looking talons and instead of body hair she seems to have feathers, but otherwise she looks like a winged woman, though her countenance is sharp and cruel. She is heading right for the crow’s nest. As she gets closer he sees that she wears a quiver upon her back and carries a strung bow in her left hand, but she has not nocked an arrow. Seeing the crossbows aimed up at her she gestures and a chaotic blast of multicolored hues surrounds her. She continues for the crow’s nest. When she is 160’ away and Ishana believes they pirates might be able to hit her she commands them to fire, but the bolts either miss or are deflected by the colored lights. Then it is too late, for within seconds the creature has landed upon the crow’s nest and grabbed Jethrik. Now within the sphere of the entropic shield, he sees that she is also wearing a chain shirt and so is fairly well armored against attack. Up close she reeks of cheap perfume and beneath that the smell of carrion.

In his mind, but not aloud, he hears her voice saying, ‘I mean no harm to you or your crew. Tell them to stand down, for I have an offer to make for our mutual profit.’ It occurs to Jethrik, who is wearing the plumed hat given to him by the crew, that she has perhaps mistaken him for the captain. Below him he hears Ishana shouting more orders for the pirates to take to the rigging and capture the foul thing. ‘Did she intend that pun?’ wonders Jethrik.

Jethrik quickly grabs the feather and tiny tarts with his left hand and cast them in the air saying, “Unnecessary roughness! Ten yard foul!” The bird-woman’s expression grows stern and she thinks to him, ‘I am not amused. Now tell the pirates to stand down or I will fly you high over the rocks upon the shore and release you there.’

With dread and resignation, Jethrik calls down to his shipmates, “She says she won’t harm us if you put down your weapons!”

Ishana laughs. “As if she could harm us! But I am curious. Very well, everyone as you were! What does she want Jethrik?”

‘Very good,’ says the creature in Jethrik’s mind as she continues to clutch his right arm. ‘Tell this to your leader, the priestess: My name is Zaiobe. I see that your leader here is a priestess of Calistria, the Savored Sting, the Goddess of Revenge. Well, it is vengeance I am after against a lover who mocked me for the last time. If you help me take down the tengu named Kikonu who leads the dire corbies, then I will have my revenge and you may have your run of Castle Brinewall. Also, to sweeten the deal, know that Kikonu possesses a weapon named Dancing Wasp. It is a sickle and chain that if twirled above one’s head will summon a giant wasp to fight as the wielder desires. What better weapon for a priestess of Calistria? Help me kill Kikonu and it shall be yours! Now tell her, gnome!’

“OK, so there’s a bad relationship involved. Isn’t there always?” Jethrik attempts a laugh but it sounds rather weak in his current state of discomfort. “Hang on a sec. She’s got a lot to say. This may take a while.”

In a lower voice he says to Zaiobe, “These guys aren’t terribly trustworthy. And the tengu handed Captain Grudge a pretty good beating yesterday.” Jethrik says to the creature. “We might want to discuss this more. These pirates kidnapped me. So far I haven’t seen much that impresses me about them, but I haven’t been able to get away. I can’t swim far enough… or fly. I have some friends that might be nearby. They are much more impressive. I just don’t have anyway of getting to them myself, and finding them may be tough in the forest. They are coming up by caravan, so we might be able to find them from the air. If you follow me. Wink, wink.”

Zaiobe gives him a sly look and then thinks to him, ‘Yes, I want to know more about your friends. These pirates are weak anyway. Kikonu already drove them out of the castle once and now he’s prepared. You’re coming with me then so we can talk some more.’ She spits over the side of the crow’s nest at the gaping pirates in the rigging below and then launches herself back into the air, grabbing Jethrik by the shoulders with her taloned feet. She cackles as she and Jethrik fly at speed away from the ship. The pirates in the rigging shake their cutlasses in futility and shout for Jethrik, while the pirates on the deck hurriedly fire their crossbows at Zaiobe upon Ishana’s orders, but again the bolts either miss or are deflected by her entropic shield.

As they fly off Jethrik yells. “Ah! She’s going to eat us all one at a time!” He then looks up and says, “And if you do want to eat them, feel free. I won’t miss them and couldn’t stop you anyway.”

Zaiobe passes over the longboat being rowed back to the Teeth of Araska, and soon she is flying over the castle and village whereupon she and Jethrik see that Captain Grudge and several of his crew are in hiding around the rubble of the lighthouse. In the woods what appears to be an enormous butterfly dives back under the canopy of the trees. Zaiobe snarls at it but it is already out of sight. As she flies due east she thinks to Jethrik, ‘So tell me about these friends of yours. How many of them are there? Are there any strong fighters in your group? Anyone who can cast arcane or divine magic? Any stealthy assassins perhaps? Where do you think these friends are liable to be? By the caravan trail?’

Jethrik replies, “So many questions! Let’s see… Depends on who you count… five of us adventurer types and a caravan crew. I guess you don’t care about them. Yes, yes and yes. And I guess I am the only sneaky one. I am hardly an assassin and not very dangerous at all. At least not all by myself. And I don’t know so well. I imagine the caravan is by the caravan trail, but I saw Jahard the elf sneaking around in the ruins.

As they are nearing the eastern edge of the forest where the trail to Brinewall enters it they hear a Shoanti war cry from the south. Jethrik recognizes Keng’s voice. ‘And that would be one of your friends, yes?’

“Yes, that would be the half-orc” Jethrik says “He’s a bit impetuous.”

Perils from Sea and Sky

Lamashan 29 Starday waxing moon

 

The ruins of Brinewall are still and silent all through the night, but in the wee hours of the morning when Jharad is on watch when Spivey comes flying back into the dilapidated temple of Desna to tell him that she has seen a longboat full of pirates including their captain, but not Jethrik, rowing upriver. Jharad realizes that they might be heading up the Steam River to the trail to try to find their caravan. Though the caravan is still a couple of days away it is possible they might stumble across Ameiko and Shalelu and their horses in the woods, especially if the elf first mate is with them. The problem is that even if he or one of the others tries to get through the woods to warn them it might be too late to help Shalelu ward them off.

Jharad immediately wakes the others, starting with Keng. “A longboat of pirates including their Captain is rowing up river, most likely in the attempt to find our caravan. It is likely they will stumble on Shalelu and Amieko instead.”

Turning to Spivey he continues, “Can you fly ahead to warn them, Spivey? You are much faster than any of us. Then we should either follow to support the best we can or stay here and trust that Spivey will get there in time and Shalelu will be able to hide them.”

Toshio says, “Spivey, will you please go to warn Shalelu and Ameiko? You are the only one with a good chance to get there quickly enough.”  To the rest he says “I think Shalelu can keep them hidden if she is warned, but do you think we should rush back anyway?  We may have a good opportunity here to get Jethrik off that ship while it’s only lightly guarded. We just need to find a boat to get us there.”

Jharad says, “That would be foolish, they would see us coming and kill us on the open waters. But we may want to stay here to better observe what the corbies will be setting as ambush. And we may also be able to set our own ambush of the pirate longboat as they return down river.”

Keng, a light sleeper from his years in the Highlands where raiding tribes frequently launch sneak attacks at night springs to his feet, grabbing his axe and races back up the trail shouting back over his shoulder, “With me!”  He has no trouble seeing the path in the dark with his dark-vision.

“Keng, wait! Lets be smart about this,” Jharad shouts after him.

“Okay then,” replies Toshio. “It was just a thought.  To Ameiko’s aid. You have a plan, I take it, that is more subtle than his?” he says, nodding toward Keng.

Already prepared to move, Zeyala gathers her belongings. “As long as I have someone to follow, I will not be lost to the darkness. What’s our plan?”

Jharad shakes his head with mirth and says to Toshio and Zeyala, “Well, any sort of stealth-full approach is gone now. I still think that ambushing the longboat on their way back down river is our best bet. What do you two think?”

Toshio says, “I like it, but I don’t want to let them make trouble for Ameiko first. Let’s follow Keng there and reassess when we get there.” Toshio dons his armor as he speaks with Jharad.

Spivey zips past Keng on her way to find and warn Shalelu, “I think your friends want you to wait for them,” she says in passing.

Keng skids to a halt after hearing Spivey, chest heaving and shakes his head for he was borderline towards Rage. He takes a deep breath and heads back to the group. When he arrives he growls, “More talking?” Then seeing Toshio donning his armor he looks down at himself armorless and blushes a deep greenish brown. “Ah shite!” He then too starts to put on his armor.

Waiting for Toshio and Keng, Jharad spends time to hide his backpack as best he can somewhere in the observatory.

Finally armed and armored the four companions, led by Keng, head off into the woods to get back to Shalelu and Ameiko. Though Jharad could almost see as well at night in the light of the stars and the waxing moon as during the day, under the canopy of the trees he finds that he too is at a disadvantage, though not as much as Toshio. Keng and to a more limited extent Zeyala are able to see in the impenetrable gloom. Before they are halfway back, Keng stops them with a raised hand. He and Jharad see that ahead of them the trees have been covered by webs such as spider as big as a man might make. To their right they also see a deadfall trap composed of rotted logs and more webbing holding them up until a line, also made of webbing, is tripped. If they had tripped it all four of them may very well have been killed or seriously injured. Beyond the webs, the half-orc and the elf see two shapes creeping towards them upon the webs on either side of the large tree in front of them. The one to the left is a man-like figure but grotesquely misshapen with spindly limbs and a squat head, and the one to the right has the bulk and limbs of a man-sized spider.

“Why have we stopped?” whispers Toshio.

“The path is covered in webs,” whispers Zeyala.

Jharad replies quickly and quietly, “Shhh… trap to the right, two shapes approaching from ahead, one from the left, and another from the right. Produce some light for us.”

Keng instinctively shifts to the right and puts himself in-between the party and the largest of the two threats. He lifts his axe and whispers, “I’ll take the spider.”

“I’ll take the one on the left them”, responds Jharad as he draws his sword.

Before anyone else can act a sticky line of webbing whips out from the figure on the left and hits the trip-line in front of Keng. Keng jumps back as the second line pulls back the first and fallen logs roll past the spot where he was standing. The creature up in the webs between the trees chitters at him, presumably in rage.

Toshio tries to keep out of Keng’s way as the barbarian dodges the deadfall. He touches the hand of glory to cast daylight. Whispering Shrike is ready.

Jharad quickly enhances his bow and sends an arrow towards the figure on the left, missing wildly and getting caught in the web. “Damn,” he mutters, “Left one is an ettercap by the way. Nothing special to kill it.”

The spider on the right slings a web at Keng who easily ducks out of the way. Keng seeing the spider up in the web away from his axe’s bite snarls, “Gorum’s Hairy Ball Sack!” He looks around and then grins as he sees the logs strewn around the area as he remembers how the tribes would compete in contests of strength and might during meet ups. He seeks one of the right size and lifts it onto his shoulder then runs forward a few steps and flings it into the tree hoping to hit the spider or at least knock it out of the trees.

From behind the others Zeyala prays, “Blessings upon you my friends. May your blades strike true.”

Webs again shoot out form the ettercap’s ass-end spinnerets, this time entangling Jharad in thick sticky lines that the ettercap begins pulling on to draw Jharad to it.

Frustrated that the foes are out of reach, Toshio moves between Jharad and the thing that is drawing Jharad in. Avoiding the webs he slashes the line so Jharad can’t be pulled in.

Jharad slashes with a dagger at the entangling webs about him, doing not quite enough damage to free himself though.

The spider slings another web at Keng who is busy grappling with the log. Keng is able to swing the log into the oncoming webs however. The spider quickly cuts the line to release the log just as Keng rushes forward and hurls it end over end. The log strikes the spider right upon its head. The log rolls away and the spider reels, its head cracked and spilling bluish fluids.

“Strike true, Toshio,” says Zeyala as she brushes his arm with her fingers.

The ettercap hisses and begins shrieking at them in a barely articulate semblance of the Common tongue, “Vegeance! Vengeance I will have! Behind every tree! In every shadow I will be!” It recedes deeper into the webs covering the trees as it hurls its threats until it disappears from sight in the gloom beyond the range of the magical daylight summoned forth by Toshio from the mummified hand hanging around his neck.

Toshio sheathes Whispering Shrike and strings his short bow but the giant spider is already withdrawing deeper into its webs.

Jharad takes another few seconds to fully extricate himself from the webs then looks to make sure the others are unharmed. Smirking he says, “Enough of this foolishness, lets keep going.”

It takes time to make their way around the webbed trees, but there are no further signs of the ettercap or its spider. The daylight around them cast by the hand of glory continues to shine for almost an hour. Long enough for them to make it back to camp where they find Spivey watching over the horses and the still comatose Ameiko. There is no sign of Shalelu however.

Ameiko grows fitful as they approach and mutters in the language of Minkai.

Toshio translates for the others, “More riddles, ‘Beware the cuckolded cuckoo – it is in his shattered silent love you should seek aid.’” He checks to see that Ameiko is as comfortable as possible and puts his wrist to her forehead, checking for fever.

Jharad looks at the others and then asks Spivey, “Have the pirates come by here yet? And where is Shalelu?”

Spivey hovers in front of Jharad and responds, “I have not seen her. But I did hear shouting coming from the direction of the river. It died down just before you got here.”

With a concerned look on his face, Jharad poises to move swiftly. “I am scouting to the river. Come with if you wish,” he says and turns to run towards the bridge. He suddenly stops, turns back to the group and with a relaxing smile says, “Nevermind.”

Keng follows Jharad trying his best to be stealthy but it only looks comical as he exaggerates his steps trying to tip toe. Keng crashes into the back of the suddenly stopped elf.

“Damn, you saw me didn’t you?” says Shalelu as she seemingly appears out of nowhere not quite 30’ away. “I am very glad to see you all though. The pirates were following the trail back to Brinewall led by their elf. I lured them away and took care of the elf.” She points back down the way they came. “We had better bury him. The rest of the pirates fled in their back downriver. Now that you are here, I think we had better move this camp.”

Jharad rests his hand on Shalelu’s back affectionately and says quietly in elvish, “Það er gott að hafa þig í mínum augum aftur , Shalelu . Ég vona að þú veist að mér þykir vænt um þig djúpt.”

Shalelu responds, “Vonandi dagur mun koma þegar við getum betur notið hvor aðra fyrirtæki. Fyrir nú, við verðum að hugsa um að fá vin okkar til öryggis.”

Jharad responds to her in the Common Tongue, “I look forward to that, and you are right.”

Toshio asks Shalelu, “Do you have a new location in mind? I don’t think the village would be very safe, and we couldn’t watch for Sandru from there.”

Shaleu says to Toshio, “It would be very difficult if not impossible to get the horses through all the underbrush, especially if one is burdened with two riders, for someone will have to take Ameiko. Perhaps, Toshio, you could take Ameiko and ride back to meet the caravan. I could ride back with you while the others remain here to deal with the pirates and try to recover Jethrik.

​”I don’t like the idea of splitting up, but I agree that we need to have someone seeing to Ameiko before we do anything else. Okay, I’ll get Onyx ready.” Toshio moves over to Onyx and readies the warhorse.  When that’s done he mounts up and says “Okay, lift her up to me, please.”

Keng gently lifts Ameiko up into Toshio’s waiting arms. When she is secured in front of him he steps back.

Jharad nods his agreement to her plan then asks, “And where did you leave the pirate elf’s body?”

Shalelu points back towards the caravan trail. I left him back there. When I heard you I put him down. We’ll ride past it. Just mount up and follow me. Once we bury him Toshio and I will head back to the caravan with the rest of the horses. We’ll return as soon as we can. This way you will not have to worry about leaving the horses alone.”

Unfortunately all their plans are undone when Ameiko begins shaking and convulsing as soon as Toshio begins to ride away from Brinewall. ​”She won’t stop shaking!” says Toshio in alarm. “Keng, take her back down before she falls.”

When she is safely on the ground again she becomes still once more. Toshio dismounts and says, “Thank you, Keng.”

Reassessing, Toshio muses, “Well, so much for that. Is there another safe place we can move the camp to?”

“Unfortunately, there is nothing more I can say about her affliction or a treatment,” says Zeyala. “If they were mere physical wounds, I could heal those.”

Spivey says, “I think that there is a little hollow not too far from here and in the direction of Brinewall. It would at least be farther from the trail if the pirates try to come back. The horses should be able to get through to it. Also, I can commune with Desna, but the spell will only last under a minute and a half and you can only ask up to six questions and receive short replies to them within that time. I can only do this once a week.”

The elf is wearing masterwork studded leather, a masterwork longsword, a masterwork shortbow, 20 arrows, a feather token (anchor), a scroll of flaming sphere (2), a scroll of summon swarm, a scroll of web, and a wand of magic missiles (1st level; 20 charges).

Jharad tucks the wantd into his belt and secures the scrolls away into his backpack. He then hands half the arrows to Shalelu and offers her the longsword as well.

​Toshio says, “That masterwork shortbow would be an improvement over mine.  I’d like to use it if nobody objects.”

Jharad hands the shortbow to Toshio with a, “Have at it.”

Once they finish plundering the corpse of the hapless elf pirate, they dump it into the river and out of nominal respect to their fallen kindred Shalelu mutters a quick prayer to Pharasma to make sure the fallen warrior’s spirit goes to… well, wherever it deserves.

Jharad adds a quick prayer to Calistria as well.

Keng in turn spits on the corpse as they are rolling it into the river snarling, “Rot in the seventh level of Hell you bastard child of whore.”

“Keng! I bear no love for him either, but let’s not be too spiteful,” says Shalelu. “It is most likely that one will serve forever aboard one of the ghost ships in Besmara’s fleet. A shame that an elf should sink so low.”

Keng is somewhat chastised but mumbles, “Yeah but he frakked with the gnome…”

Keng elbows Jharad and asks, “How about asking the fairy where the bleeding treasure is, how to get the gnome back and get outta here alive?”

Once the new camp is set up Toshio considers Spivey’s offer. For a few minutes he silently he debates the merits of various questions they could ask. Aloud he says to the others “Spivey’s offer of communing was a good one, and I have some ideas of what to ask. One – how do we rid Ameiko of whatever is possessing her? Two – Where is the best place to free Jethrik? Three – Where inside Brinewall castle is the Kaijitsu legacy? Four – ” He stops there. “Well, what about the rest of you? What do you think we should ask?”

“I think that is a good start,” adds Zeyala. “I haven’t achieved the ability to commune with my god. Well, I’m sure Pharasma hears me, only does not answer me directly.  Anyway, we need to be thoughtful about how we ask the question, and should try to be mindful that the question is something Desna would take interest in, lest her answer be too cryptic or simply that she doesn’t have one.”

“Yes, how we ask is almost as important as the what,” Responds Jharad. “But I believe we should contrive a new plan given that our previous one is no longer valid due to this morning’s events. Then we will know better what we should have Spivey ask of Desna. By now I am sure the pirates have returned to the ship to form another raiding party on Brinewall or to gather larger forces against us. All they have seen so far is me, briefly, and maybe Shalelu, again briefly. And they have lost one who seemed important to the captain. So really, how the captain responds at this point is fairly unclear. I would like to know what he intends to do, that should be one of the questions as well. So lets ask these questions, and in this order. 1) How do we rid Ameiko of whatever is possessing her? 2) Where is the best place to free Jethrik from his captors? 3) What is the captain of the Teeth of Araska intending to do today? 4) Where inside of Brinewall castle is the Kaijitsu legacy? 5) What will we need to obtain the Kaijitsu Legacy without harm?”

Keng nods as he tries to follow the number of questions on his fingers….

Smirking, Toshio nods approval. “I particularly like that last one, ‘though I’ll be pleasantly surprised if we get a useful answer.”

Jharad pauses in thought then finishes with, “What do you all think?”

Spivey says, “I think that will do. Give me some time to sit and pray. She does so and asks the questions aloud in the order given, replying to each one aloud as well.

“How do we rid Ameiko of whatever is possessing her?

“Find the warding box.

“Where is the best place to free Jethrik from his captors?

“In the Castle.

“What is the captain of the Teeth of Araska intending to do today?

“Kill you all.

“Where inside of Brinewall castle is the Kaijitsu legacy?

“Ameiko has told you.

“What will we need to obtain the Kaijitsu Legacy without harm?

“Luck, courage, and Ameiko’s advice.

“That is all the goddess has to say,” says Spivey as she comes out of the trance.”

Keng chuckles lightly, his bone ornaments in his dreadlocks softly murmuring and mumbles, “I could have told you that.”

Jharad laughs as well, “Yes well, ask anything but a very specific questions and that is what you get. At least we know that the pirates are focusing on us now. That is something.”

​​”I’m quite surprised that it proved so useful,” adds Toshio. “We need to figure out what this ‘warding box’ thing is, but at least we have a focus for a search now. Maybe somebody has a spell that can help point the way? And we know we don’t need to fuss around outside to get Jethrik back. We can take on the castle now without worrying about missing him. And what did Ameiko say? One treasure, two seals to the third vault or something like that. One, two, three. As for the advice, it’s hard to say, or maybe it’s something that will happen in the future. Anyway, I think the answers are more useful than I expected.

“I agree. I was expecting something more cryptic,” says Zeyala.

​”I think we should assault the castle,” Toshio continues. “Jharad, when you were scouting did you see any likely ways in? I suppose we could try to sneak up and see if the door is locked – it might work, but I doubt it.

“In addition, I think we should set some limits so we can make a good withdrawal before we run out of healing or spell-power. And we’ll need to consider what route we’ll use when withdrawing – we don’t want to lead them right back here. Thoughts?”

Keng counters Toshio’s plan saying, “We assault the castle we end up monkey-in-the-middle between the pirates and crow-boyz.”  He continues, “We should ambush the pirates at their most vulnerable point, when they are tying up and unloading off their boat. Snatch Jethrik and then hit the castle.

‘Of course he counters,’ thinks Toshio with an inward sigh. Aloud he says, “Actually, I am hoping to catch the pirates in the middle. I like the ‘Let’s you-and-him fight’ idea a lot. But if you aren’t feeling up to the challenge, then your plan is a good alternative.”

Shalelu says, “If it will put you at ease, I will continue to stay here to watch over Ameiko. Also, it seems to me that Captain Grudge will be wary of any ambushes or attempts to put him and his crew in between you and the dire corbies. In fact, he will almost certainly be trying to pull that very trick on you. It seems though, that with Spivey we have a considerable advantage. Don’t we?”

Jharad smirks at Toshio’s attempt to goad Keng and replies, “I only saw the main entrance into the castle but if there are others, Spivey said they may be in the woods or cliffs around the castle. I would like to ask Spivey to do some scouting for us again, as I would like to know where the pirates are before we re-enter Brinewall. They are a wildcard that I would like to deal with before scouting the castle properly.”

Spivey, hovering at Shalelu’s side nods. “Yes, I can fly over and see if I can find out where the pirates are. They may have rowed back to their ship or they may have gone ashore again back at Brinewall. I might also be able to find out where your friend Jethrik is. Shall I go now to see what may be seen?”

“Yes, Spivey, I would appreciate that. Then we will know how better to proceed with fresh information,” replies Jharad.

“Yes, thank you. That will be immensely helpful,” adds Zeyala.

After about an hour Spivey flies back in as fast as she can fly, which is actually very fast. She is looking back over her shoulder and breathing heavily from her flight. “Everyone to arms! There is a harpy out there! It was flying over the village and I think it saw me. It seemed to have come from the bay where the ship is anchored. It had a gnome in its talons. I flew back under the trees so it wouldn’t see where I flew. I came back here as fast as I could. The pirates are also in the village, by the lighthouse. They are keeping watch from there.”

Jharad responds in alarm, “A harpy has Jethrik? Is it following you or should we head to the village?”

Keng springs to his feet, makes sure his armor is right and then bellows his war cry!

Spivey is startled by Keng’s cry. “It was headed east towards this forest. I am not sure where it was going. If it is nearby it would have just heard him,” she indicated Keng.

“I suppose that’s one way to draw out the enemy,” chuckles Zeyala. She removes her pack and tucks it under a bush. With her longspear in hand she takes a defensive spot next to a tree.

“True,” replies Jharad, as he finds cover by a tree and draws his bow.

​Toshio makes sure Ameiko is under cover, then readies his bow and stays near her. “Spivey, was the gnome hurt? Or merely captive to the harpy?”

“I could not tell. I dived under the trees as soon as I saw her.”

Toshio nods understanding, then leaves what cover he had, searching the sky for the harpy. He doesn’t stray far from the camp, but moves to get the best view of the sky that he can and trying to watch as many sections of it as he can.

“I pray your aim is much much better than mine, lest that harpy use Jethrik as a shield against your arrows,” says Zeyala.

Keng is in the open, moving in a circle while bashing his chest yelling, “Here I am!  Come kill me!” The blood lust is upon him now.

An Ally in the Ruins

Back at the temporary camp at the edge of the forest overlooking the caravan trail north, Ameiko begins talking in her sleep. In the language of Minkai that only Toshio understands.

Toshio says, “She seems to be delirious. She’s saying ‘Beware the birds that wish to fly but cannot.’ Is fever often part of a magical ailment?”

Keng looks over at Ameiko and squints at her thinking, ‘Birds that wish to fly but can’t?’ What evil are we about to face he wonders…?’ He is used to the ravings of oracles and seers and never considers their words lightly. He redoubles his gear check and weapon cleaning.

“That is not her voice,” says Zeyala. “Someone…something? Those are spirits speaking through her.”

A few minutes later Ameiko speaks again in Minkaian. “One treasure beyond two seals in the third vault…” then lapses into silence once more.

“A spirit has taken her? Can it be exorcised? Why would it take her, and why speak these riddles?” Toshio looks at the others, hoping for answers he doesn’t really expect them to have. Agitated by his inability to help Ameiko, Toshio muses softly, “Maybe Jharad will bring good news. I hope he comes back soon.”

“The voices speak in a language you understand, Toshio. Do they mean anything to you?” asks Zeyala.

Before Toshio can answer a familiar voice asks, “What voices? What is wrong with Ameiko?” An elf huntress with keen blue eyes and long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail steps out from behind a tree. She is equipped with studded leather armor, a composite longbow, and a shortsword all of masterwork quality and most likely enchanted as well. Around her neck hangs a humble wooden carving of a butterfly painted blue and bearing the sun, moon, and stars, the holy symbol of Desna. It is Shalelu. She rushes to Ameiko’s side and looks to the others for an explanation.

Keng jumps to his feet and says, “Shalelu! It is good to see you!”

“It is good to see all of you as well. It seems I have not arrived a moment too soon.”

“Shalelu, it’s fortunate you’ve returned. Ameiko has been possessed…by spirits, I believe. I do not know their source or purpose. It… they… speak through her.  Otherwise, she remains unconscious,” explains Zeyala.

“Shalelu! Thank goodness you’re here. Maybe you can help.” Toshio gives a quick run-down of what has transpired and what they know – or don’t know – of Ameiko’s illness. “Jharad has gone to scout the ruins in case Jethrik is already there, and we’ve been trying to figure out how to help Ameiko. She seems possessed, and speaks strange words, like riddles. Without context they make little sense, even translated from Minkai. She just said, ’One treasure beyond two seals in the third vault.’ See? It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Then it’s all true what the elf said,” says a high-pitched voice that tinkles like the sound of bells. Up in the air over their heads they see a tiny woman with a lithe form and delicate butterfly wings. Lights sparkle around her as she hovers above them. She is wearing a suit of studded leather armor of dyed black and yellow to match her green yellow-spottted wings and tiny starknives hang off her belt. A tiny blue wooden butterfly painted with the sun, moon, and stars hangs from her neck. “I ran into a friend of yours who said his name was Jharad. He said there was a woman here who had family ties to Brinewall who lay afflicted. He also said you were seeking a gnome named Jethrik. I told Jharad I saw him with the pirates enter Brinewall Castle to battle the dire corbies there. Jharad went up to the castle to seek him and I came here to see if what he said was true. Now I see that it is. I am Spivey, priestess of Desna.” She nods to Shalelu who she sees is also wearing the butterfly emblem of Desna.

Zeyala alone recognizes Spivey for what she is, a lyrakien, a divine messenger and musician who are often employed by Desna. They are a race of celestials who primarily come from Elysium, a plane of good unhindered by law, a land of unrestrained passions and emptions where the creative spark is coaxed and adored with all the force of a benevolent storm. Zeyala has also heard of dire corbies, a race of monstrous humanoids that look like muscle-bound crow-men covered in black feathers with vicious beaks and razor sharp claws who are known to attack with suicidal fury. They come from the depths of the underworld and have been known to occasionally take over ruins on the surface. She quickly tells the others about the dire corbies.

Keng blurts out, “I am going to find Jharad. He may be in trouble.” He begins repacking his gear.

“My thoughts exactly,” says Toshio. “I should have known better than to let him go off alone.”

“He will most surely be heading into trouble, and I’m sure Jethrik has already found it,” says Zeyala. ”Corbies are vicious monsters who will fight with suicidal frenzy. You can’t just shoo them out. Spivey, you said Jethrik and the pirates were going to confront the corbies. Do you know how many are in there?  And how many pirates were with Jethrik?”

Spivey responds, “There was the captain, a woman, an elf, and about eight others. I think there must be at least that many dire corbies in the castle, maybe more. But they have allies too: degenerate lizard men, ogrekin, giant spiders, and an ettercap, a kind of man-like spider. A creature named Kikonu leads them. He looks like one of the dire corbies, but he has wings and is some kind of sorcerer. He almost caught and killed me when I first came to this land many years ago, and since then I have stayed away from him and the castle. I have tended the cemetery and a shrine of Desna there and have stayed out of sight until now.”

After a very brief moment, Toshio speaks quickly. “Spivey, thank you for the information about Jethrik. Shalelu, will you stay with Ameiko, please? Zey, Keng and I need to go rescue Jharad.  And Jethrik. Spivey, can you help?”

Shalelu nods. “I will keep her safe. Go quickly!”

Spivey zips around quickly in the air, leaving rainbow trails in her wake. “I will guide you, but I am no fighter. I will do what I can to help you. This way!”

“Finally some action!  I feel like some crow for dinner!”  Keng follows Spivey crashing through the underbrush there is no question he’s coming he makes so much noise.

On his way back to the camp at the edge of the woods Jharad hears Keng and crashing towards him and then sees Toshio and Zeyala as well. They all seem to be chasing a tiny woman with a lithe form and delicate butterfly wings. Lights sparkle around her as zips ahead of them leaving rainbow colored trails in her wake. She is wearing a suit of studded leather armor of dyed black and yellow to match her green yellow-spottted wings and tiny starknives hang off her belt. A tiny blue wooden butterfly painted with the sun, moon, and stars hangs from her neck.

“Jharad,” Keng blurts as he see Jharad coming towards him through the underbrush. “There are all kinds of evil creatures ahead and magic afoot! Did you find the gnome?”

Jharad stops and says to the butterfly woman, “Hey! I know you. You were the one I talked with at the cemetery by the observatory. So you found my friends it looks like.”

“Yes, I did. I am happy to have met them… and you,” she says. “I should introduce myself properly, I am Spivey, a priestess of Desna from the realm of Elysium.” Jharad is a bit taken aback by this, as Elysium is one of celestial realms where Pharasma and her court send the spirits of elves who have died. The goddess Densa has a floating citadel there and it is also populated by beings called azatas, who are akin to angelic elves.

“Since we are doing this properly,” responds Jharad with a smile, “then I am Jharalion Aeirandi originally of the Kingdom of Kyonin. I follow the ways of both Calistria and Desna and am very happy to make your acquaintance… again. When we have more time I would very much enjoy getting to know you better and discuss Elysium and how you came to be here in Brinewell.”

Then addressing everyone he continues, “But I am guessing there is a need for brevity so I will report what I have found and ask only what seems relevant at this time.”

“Yes, Keng, I found Jethrik. He is in the company of Captain Grudge and his crew. Although armed with them, his lack of armor and normal possessions makes me suspect that he is indeed a captive. They were coming from the castle and seemed the worse for wear from their exploits this morning. Most of the pirates were distressed and injured, carrying one of their dead with them. The Captain and his Elf mate looked unharmed however. Attempting to get a better view of where they were heading I had an unfortunate run in with a fallen branch which alerted them to my presence. That is when I made my escape and headed back and instead met you all here.”

“Now, tell me what has become of Ameiko and what you all are doing crashing off in the woods towards Brinewall?”

“Ameiko is under Shalelu’s care,” says Toshio. “She remains unconscious, apparently possessed by some spirit. It may not be belligerent, as it was warning of the dire corbies,” He nods at Spivey, acknowledging her help in deciphering the riddles before continuing, “and telling of ‘One treasure beyond two seals in the third vault.’ We don’t know what that means yet. Spivey’s appearance and words made us alarmed for your safety so we were coming to assist you. Since you are well enough, I suggest we continue and rescue Jethrik. Maybe we can get his captors to fight with the regular inhabitants some more before we have to face either. My big hope besides the rescue of Jethrik is that something we find in there will help Ameiko.”

At the mention of Shalelu, Jharad unconsciously brightens. “Then Ameiko is in good hands, I am happy to hear of Shalelu being with us again. Again there is mention of this third vault. Whatever Ameiko seeks will be found there and may in turn cure her. Or at least release the spirit that has possessed her. As for Jethrik, the pirates were most assuredly retreating to lick their wounds. We may be able to use that to our advantage. My guess is that they were headed for their longboat that is moored at a pier in the lagoon that the ruined village surrounds. They have doubtless already rowed back out to their ship that is anchored in the bay. An attack on the ship, regardless of their current condition, I do not suggest. Better to ambush them when they return to the castle as I am sure they will do – either from the ruins or inside the castle itself. Spivy do you have any suggestions about that? And what do the three of you think?” Jharad finishes and looks at his companions, but mostly addresses Keng.

Toshio answers, “I’d prefer to catch them outside the castle, so we don’t get pinned between them and the inhabitants.” He then looks to Spivy for her reply.

Spivey answers, “From what Jharad says the pirates have probably returned to their ship. They will probably not give up and will most likely return tomorrow. You could easily camp in the abandoned temple of Desna and I can help keep watch from the lighthouse. The only thing I fear is that the dire corbies and their leader Kikonu may try to set up their own ambush in the village.”

As they listen to Spivy’s response, Toshio quietly wonders why Jharad and Keng seem to be deliberately trying to annoy him. He calms himself with some effort and recalls that he doesn’t need to like them – just work with them for Ameiko’s sake. It occurs to him that perhaps Iomedae put them here to give him extra practice in being patient.

Keng says, “I ain’t much for sneakin’ and ambushin’ but I do know it ain’t good to fight two enemies at once.  If the pirates are gone for the night and the crow-boyz are sneakin’ about thinkin’ ‘bout ambushin’ them, then let’s set up to hit them toads when they ain’t spectin’ it.”  Keng squints in confusion having surprised himself with his sudden grasp of tactics. ‘Who was that that said all that?

Jharad smiles at Keng and replies, “That we could do… but we could also let them accomplish their ambush then selectively hit both sides to assure victory over both. Lets see how Kikonu sets up his corbies first then make our decision.”

Turning to Spivy he continues, “Setting up at the temple sounds like a good way to start, we thank you for your hospitality Spivy. Then we can check on the longboat and keep watch for Kikonu’s gang.”

Toshio concurs. “I like that plan. We can clean up whoever the winner is after their fight, and only get involved earlier if Jethrik is in trouble.”

“Agreed,” says Zeyala.

Keng seems disappointed they will spend the night talking….

Once they arrive at Brinewall Jharad suggests, “As long as we stay out of sight from the corbies I would like to take a closer look at the ruined lighthouse, the same for the village itself. I would like to eliminate any possible unknown threats and scout out good ambush spots that the corbies may use when the pirates return. The more informed we are of the area the better our plans can be executed.”

Keng and Toshio nod in agreement.

“And any knowledge you may have, Spivey,” Jharad continues, “of the area or of other passages in or out of the castle would be most helpful. For if there are any I am sure the corbies know of them and if possible will exploit them.”

“I am sorry but I don’t know of any passages in our out of the castle other than its front gate. There probably are some in the woods around the castle or the cliffs facing the ocean but I’ve kept my distance from it. As for the lighthouse and the village, nothing has made its lair here though occasionally things will crawl up out of the lagoon or fly in like that sea drake the Ulfen raiders killed, before they disappeared into the castle.”

“Well that may be to close to the castle to search without alerting the corbies to our presence,” responds Jharad, “but we should check the lighthouse and village ruins. And we should be wary of the lagoon it sounds like.”

Keng pipes up, “This village is long deserted and overgrown, how come the graveyard is in such good shape?  I ain’t up for sleeping amongst ghosts.”

Jharad looks over at Spivey and smiles.

Toshio has put it together and now smiles, too, but he turns so Keng won’t feel antagonized.

“Elf, you know something we should know,” Keng grumbles.  “You ain’t planning no tricks on us are you?”

Spivey laughs and says, “No, he is not trying to trick you. I have appointed myself the caretaker of the cemetery and the shrine of Desna. I came here long ago. I was originally brought to this plane to act as the familiar of a kindly wizard, but she was slain by a hungry plant creature – not anywhere near here so don’t worry about that. After that I wandered aimlessly for a time until I found this place. I tried to rebuild the temple but the dire corbies came down to investigate and so I hid away in the cemetery. Since then I have been living there, doing my best to keep it clean and free of undead and other desecrations. I have been left alone to do that and I think that the dire corbies do believe that the graveyard is haunted and so they keep away. But I am the only one haunting it.” She laughs merrily.

Keng somewhat mollified is still skeptical. He tries to grin but of course that looks like a snarl.  He surreptitiously makes the Sign-of-Warding behind his back.

Jharad giggles at Keng, “It’s okay big guy, I am sure there will be plenty of substantial foes for you to exercise your axe arm with.”

“I agree that some scouting would make good use of the time,” says Zeyala.

Toshio suggests, “Shall we start from the lighthouse and work our way back to the graveyard?”

“It is a plan then, we start at the lighthouse,” agrees Jharad.

Inwardly Toshio feels relieved that he and Jharad seem to be working together again without undue conflict.

Finding the lighthouse deserted, Toshio says, “It doesn’t seem any foes are hiding here. Let’s move on.”

That is when Jharad finds a crushed strongox in the rubble. Inside they find 93 gold pieces and a single rusty key. He pockets the key and gold, with intentions of adding it to the group gathered salvage once the caravan arrives.

After searching through the rest of the deserted village and finding nothing they return to the dilapidated temple of Desna. Toshio says, “We’d be foolish not to keep up a watch. Let’s keep it similar to the caravan’s schedule.”

“That will not work, Toshio,” Jharad responds, “Lets set the watch with Keng first then me second to best take advantage of our better sight during the darkest hours. Then you take third watch into the dawn.”

“Agreed” replies Toshio, echoing Jharad’s tone.

Jethrik’s Buckos

After what seems like an hour, Jharad finally comes an algae-choked lagoon encircled by the ruins of Brinewall village and an overgrown path. Over the tops of the buildings to the northeast he sees what appears to be the broken crown of a lighthouse, whose roof has long since fallen in. To the northwest he sees Brinewall Castle, a large and intimidating structure of gray stone. Although only two stories tall (with the exception of one three-story tower), the squat castle looks all the larger for its position atop the bluff west of the village, looming over the surrounding region with a commanding presence.

Jharad carefully makes his way east and around the village towards the lighthouse, thinking that he may have a clearer view of any piers and thus the ship he expects to find there. Down the road he finds on his left is what appears to be a cross between a temple and an observatory, probably a place of worship dedicated to Desna, the goddess of dreams, luck, stars, and travellers whom the people of Ravenmoor had believed they were worshipping. On his right facing the temple from the other side of the street is a rickety wooden fence surrounding a clearing beyond. The gates of the fence are of iron and flanked on either side by statues of a beautiful woman with butterfly wings depicting the goddess Desna. The clearing itself consists of a low hill containing nearly two-dozen graves. A stone crypt sits atop the hill to the east. The entire graveyard is unusually well tended – the grass appears to be weeded and the gravestones are quite clean. So far the only sounds to be heard are the cawing of very large crows from the vicinity of the castle atop the hill.

Jharad pauses at the gate, staring at the beautiful statues of one of the deities he favors. Asking a quick request for fortune in finding Jethrik he then places his hand on the gate leaving behind a beautiful butterfly silhouette with stars, moon, and sun within each wing. Smiling gently he looks around then continues on past both the temple and graveyard toward the lighthouse.

The lighthouse is surrounded by rubble and the door has long since fallen off its hinges. The wooden stairs inside have all rotted away so there is no way to reach the top other than to climb up the walls. However, the lighthouse was itself on a cliff overlooking the harbor on the south side of the Steam River just before it empties into Bunyip Bay. Jharad sees that the Teeth of Araska is indeed anchored out in the bay. Looking down into the harbor he sees two ruined piers that are mostly collapsed, though the westernmost one has what appears to be two recent visitors tied to it. One is a Linnorn Kingdoms longship. The longship seems relatively new, but the vessel is partially destroyed and half-sunken. With his sharp elven sight, Jharad sees what appears to be claw marks and the scorch marks that would be left by bolts of lightning. Next to the longship is a longboat, such as might have carried an away team of red shirted pirates from the Teeth of Araska. Past the westernmost pier is a collapsed bridge and south of the bridge the lagoon that the village was built around. On the northwest shore of the lagoon Jharad sees the rotting carcass half submerged in the water of a sea drake – a kind of inbred aquatic dragon about 14’ long and weighing around a ton with fins and wing-like arms. Sea drakes are known for breathing ball lightning and ramming into ships to capsize them so they can eat their crews at leisure. This one looks to have been killed a few days previously. The squawking of the murder of crows from within or around Castle Brinewall rises to a ferocious crescendo and then suddenly ceases. Jharad can’t help but think of the Harrow card reading that Koya did back in Sandpoint at the Rusty Dragon. Koya had said that something hidden was about to come to light that would set in motion a chain of events indicated by six cards. The Crows has been the first. The card depicts a bipedal a man with a crow’s head and wings (perhaps one of those tengu creatures that live among the pirates in the Shackles and the Sodden lands far to the south) overseeing two rogues in crow masks sitting at a table piled high with coins, jewels, and sacks of gold.

Jharad makes his way stealthily back down the path, keeping behind the trees when he can so as to remain unseen from any pirates or denizens of Brinewall who might be lurking about. In the village he uses the ruins for cover. As he passes the cemetery, however, a voice calls out to him. It is a high-pitched voice like the sound of tinkling bells and it seems to be coming from the butterfly silhouette he left on the gate. “Elf! Elf! Yes, you! Were you the one who left me here to mark this gate?”

Stopping at the gate Jharad looks closely at his arcane mark that now seems to be speaking to him. “The name is Jharad,” he replies, “and yes I left this mark at this shrine to honor Desna. I am curious, however, how my mark is speaking back to me as that was not a part of the magic I imbued into it. What are you, that is most likely hidden within?”

“I am the spirit of this cemetery. I keep this place pure and clean and tend the shrine of Desna. Why have you come to this forsaken place. There is nothing here for good folk anymore.”

Deciding honesty would serve best Jharad replies, “I am seeking my friend who was brought here by pirates against his will. Have you seen or heard any activity of late up at the castle?”

“Would your friend be a gnome? Yes, I saw him with a band of pirates. They were looking for his friends who are traveling by caravan. Would you be one of those? I think, though, that the pirates are more interested in some treasure they believe may be in the castle. Is that why you have come too? For treasure?”

Jharad smiles, “Yes that would be him. And yes, I am one of those friends. How long have they been here and are they in the castle now?”

“Yes, they are in the castle. They were fighting their way into the courtyard when I decided to take my leave. But you have not told me why you have come here. Are you just another adventurer looking for plunder? Are you allied with the pirates?”

“No we are not aligned with the pirates. As I said, they kidnapped Jethrik, my friend the gnome, and brought him here. We are not here as ordinary adventurers to plunder; one of us has a family tie to the castle and we are here on her business. Currently my primary concern is rescuing my friend, however. Is that something you are willing to help me with?”

“Rescue? He was walking among them and armed with a sword. He did not look like their prisoner, though I did hear him say to their captain that he did fear him. The pirate captain said he was now the most dangerous of all the dangers of Brinewall. I doubt that. I cannot help you get your friend back. If he still lives he is with the pirates in the castle. Where are the rest of your friends, especially the one you say has family business here?”

“If he is walking among them, then he is playing along to keep alive.”

A thought wanders in to Jharad’s head and he decides the gamble may be worth it. “They are up the trail about an hour’s hike from here. The one I spoke of us is sick and unconscious, however. She seems to have contracted a magical malady of some sorts. I am trusting you with this information and speaking plainly. Is there nothing you can do to help? Maybe give us some information about other ways into the Castle where we may confront these pirates and rescue Jethrik?”

“I will have to see for myself this friend of yours who has business here but has fallen ill. If what you say is true we will speak again. You should go to the castle yourself now if you want to find your friend. I know better than to go there again. Goodbye.”

“Then maybe I shall bring her here, to meet you. Goodbye to you as well.” Jharad continues on his way towards the castle.

Jharad does not get far before he hears cursing and mighty oaths of vengeance from up ahead. The pirates are apparently returning from the castle. Jharad moves into the woods to keep watch but unfortunately manages to step on a fallen tree limb that breaks with a resounding crack. As one all the pirates (and Jethrik!) look to the tree line.

“It’s an elf!” shouts the lone elf among the pirates. He nocks an arrow and looks to Captain Grudge.

Jethrik sees that it is indeed an elf, and though he can’t see him fully it certainly would appear to be Jharad.

“Who are you! Declare yourself!” shouts Captain Grudge.

The rest of the pirates lift their crossbows and aim them at Jharad. He sees that all of them are covered in blood and their clothes and even their studded leather armor have been fiercely torn up, as though they had all tied cats to themselves and walked under a waterfall. Jethrik, the Captain’s woman, and the elf don’t seem to be hurt, but Captain Grudge’s frock coat bears scorch marks on the back that look like a torch was set to it. Two of the seven pirates are carrying the corpse of another pirate whose skull was apparently staved in. It would appear that the pirate’s got more than they bargained for at the castle, like a boy who takes a stick to a hornet’s nest and is forced to run for cover.

“Hold!” Jethrik pleads “it might be one of my friends!”

Jharad softly speaks the word, “Dispareo,” and vanishes from sight. He then silently moves deeper into the woods to return to Ameiko and the others.

“Or maybe we are all getting jumpy…” Jethrik speculates, “Could it have been some sparrows in the weeds?”

Selis laughs. “I don’t think so, and neither do you. I saw an elf out there. I don’t think it might be one of your friends, I am sure it is one of your friends. I saw him before back in Roderic’s Cove. We had best get back to the ship my captain.”

Captain Grudge is looking out into the woods. He reaches out and pulls Jethrik closer to him, in fact between him and the last location of Jharad. “Yes, I think we had better get back t’ t’ ship. We have much to discuss.”

The pirates head back to the longboat and row back to the Teeth of Araska for the night. When they are in the longboat and away from shore, Jethrik unbuckles his rapier. He offers it, sheathed and hilt first to Captain Grudge. “If you don’t trust me, you best not let me have this. You’d best take my spell materials for that matter.” Jethrik growls. “The elf’s name was Jaharad. I didn’t see anyone else nearby, so he was vulnerable. I didn’t want to see you kidnapping him too. And I didn’t want to see what he would do to you guys if you tried. Oh, you’d beat him, but he’d make it dear for you. Not all of you would be in this boat right now if you hadn’t let him go. I didn’t want to see that either. I’m not saying we’re all a big happy family in this boat, but damn it you promised me excitement and gold. I want that!”

Captain Grudge looks down at Jethrik in surprise. He takes the rapier and then after a moment hands it back. “You’re a good lad you are. Loyal t’ your buckos and t’ me. You stay loyal and you’ll come out alive, well, and wealthy. And maybe your buckos will too.”

Ameiko Afflicted

Lamashan 28 Fireday waxing moon

The journey to Brinewall takes Ameiko and her companions longer than they had planned, as Keng and Zeyala’s horse was overburdened and they needed to take time to rest or to allow Keng to walk while Zeyala rode or vice versa. During their previous seven days of travel they see no other people on their journey after their meeting with the Horse Lords. The Velashu Uplands are beyond the boundaries of any city-state such as Riddleport. The farther north they go the more disused the road becomes until it is little more than a track alongside the western bank of the Velashu River as it winds through the hills. The day before the track parted ways with the river that turned away east into the Red Mountains, so called because of the dark red of the soil due the presence of rich iron deposits. The track continued on through a pass in the mountains on the other side of which lay the stony plains of the Nolands. Here they had to be wary, for the Nolands had become a dumping ground over the centuries for exiles and outcastes from both the Lands of the Linnorn Kings and the Shoanti tribes. Bands of the descendants of these exiles were known to mount raids against both the Linnorn Kings to the north, and the miners and herdsmen living in the Red Mountains to the south. Despite the threat of the Nolanders, several Varisian caravans still make the journey to the Lands of the Linnorn Kings and back every year and with sufficient guards they have been able to ward off the raiders.

By mid-morning on the eighth day they are within sight of the Steam River. The track continues north down to a weathered wood and stone bridge that crosses the river. An old signpost about a hundred yards south of this bridge reads “To Brinewall,” and points down an overgrown trail that winds through a forest.

Shaking his head vigorously and waking as if from an unremembered dream Jharad looks about him, enjoying the change of scenery while riding his horse alongside the others. Odd that he nodded off in such a way and for what seems like such a long time. Maybe only a mere moment to him, but feeling easily like a couple of years to a human. He dismisses the thought as they approach the Steam River and pause to read the sign to Brinewall.

Keng and Zeyala, who are riding closest to Ameiko notice that she is pale and shaky. In fact, Ameiko has been growing more and more listless and sickly all during the morning ride.

Keng elbows Zeyala gently and nods towards Ameiko.  Then considering her poor eyesight adds, “Does she look ok to you?”

“No, she doesn’t. Not from here at any rate.” Zeyala asks Keng to guide their horse closer to Ameiko. “Ameiko, are you not feeling well?” asks Zeyala.

Ameiko shakes her head in the negative. “No, I’m really not. I think I’m coming down with a flu or something. Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine. After we rescue Jethrik I’ll be able to rest while we wait for Sandru and the others.”

Jharad rides over to Ameiko as well. Nodding down the road leading to Brinewell he says to her, “Once you are feeling well enough to continue is that the road we take?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. I have never been here before, but that is where the sign points. We should go now. Jethrik can’t wait for me to get better. It may be couple of days before a flu runs its course.”

They continue on into the forest but there the track quickly fades away entirely into the undergrowth. So dense is the undergrowth that it becomes clear that that further progress toward the ruined village will have to be made on foot. As Ameiko dismounts, however, she collapses with a heavy thump. She is breathing, but unconscious.

“Ameiko!” calls out Zeyala as she rushes over to her side. Kneeling next to Amieko, Zeyala attempts to identify the illness.

Keng looks at Ameiko slumped on the ground with a frown and says, to no one in particular, “This is bad, she will be a burden.”

“This is no simple fever,” says Zeyala. “Some sort of foul sorcery is at work, but I know not the source. My healing magic will not break this magic.”

Scouting the fading trail ahead, Toshio didn’t see Ameiko’s collapse. At Zeyala’s call Toshio rushes back at full speed. Seeing her on the ground Toshio exclaims in alarm “Ameiko!” Then to the others he asks, “What happened?”

“There is foul magic at work here. It took her suddenly and she fell from her horse. It will take more than simple herbs to wake her,” says Zeyala.

Toshio is visibly upset. With an effort he decides to get out of the way and steps back. “Zeyala, please let me know as soon as you learn anything. Also if there is anything I can do…” He tapers off a bit awkwardly, then finishes “Well, I’ll be on guard. Please let me know.”

Thinking about the situation Jharad then suggests, “At least one of us should stay here with Ameiko and wait for Sandru and the others. The rest of us should continue on to Brinewall and see if we can find Jethrik.”

Keng nods his agreement.

Toshio says, “Too bad Shalelu isn’t here. She could scout Brinewall. I’d like to see if Ameiko gets better by tomorrow morning, but if it’s magic then we can’t wait. But what can we do about it?”

Jharad responds, “I can scout Brinewall while you all wait here. At least to find out if Jethrik has indeed been brought there.”

Toshio wants to scout Brinewall, too, but decides his place is guarding the group. “Good idea. Ameiko wouldn’t want us to neglect Jethrik because of her illness. Meanwhile, we can get off the road and set up camp where we can watch for Sandru without being watched ourselves.” As an afterthought he adds “But Jharad, if he’s there, please don’t try a rescue on your own unless it’s the only chance for getting him back.”

“Of course,” Jharad responds with a smile then heads off down the overgrown trail leading to Brinewall. He takes caution to be silent and stop frequently enough to both look around him for dangers and to make sure he can find his own way back.

The Invasion of Brinewall

Lamashan 28 Fireday waxing moon

Teeth of Araska/Brinewall 

On Fireday the storm clouds finally break allowing the sun to shine down upon Bunyip Bay and the Teeth of Araska. It is mid-morning when the ship comes in sight of the mouth of the Steam River. Jagged cliffs face the bay and dense woodlands can be seen atop them. Brinewall Castle itself is a large and intimidating structure of gray stone. Although only two stories tall (with the exception of one three-story tower), the squat castle looks all the larger for its position atop the bluff south of the river mouth. It looms over the surrounding regioin with a commanding presence.

Captain Grudge decides it would be best to anchor in the bay and take one of the longboats ashore. Of course Captain Grudge, Ishana, Selis, and Jethrik are picked to explore the ruins and find Jethrik’s friends. Eight other crewman including Solemn Jack and Tubbs are also picked to go ashore.

Take us up t’ river, Solemn Jack,” Captain Grudge calls out to the boatswain who is piloting the small craft. “We’ll see if we can spy a good place t’ land. There is supposed t’ be a village hereabouts.”

As they row upriver they see that on the left bank there lies the empty shell of a stone lighthouse. It’s roof has long since caved in. As they round the bluff they find that just before the lighthouse, also to starboard, a naturally deep harbor has formed. Two ruined piers extend into the only relatively shallow portion of the harbor. Both piers are now mostly collapsed, the westernmost one has what appears to be a relatively recent visitor: a Linnorn Kingdoms longship is tied to the pier. The longship seems relatively new, but the vessel is partially destroyed and half-sunken. To the south of the pier and the sunken longship there is a collapsed bridge that once passed over the entrance to a small algae-choked lagoon. All around the lagoon and the two piers to the east of it are the ruins of Brinewall Village.

Captain Grudge has the longboat drawn up alongside the longship. Looking it over reveals significant damage to the ship in the form of tremendous claw marks and what appear to be scorch marks, perhaps from a bolt of lightning. Captain Grudge has one of the pirates, Slimney, climb up into the longboat and look around, but he finds nothing.

Satisfied that there is nothing else that can be learned from the longship, Captain Grudge has their longboat made fast to the pier. They disembark and look over the small village. Just past the collapsed bridge, lying half on the northwestern shore of the lagoon and half submerged in the water is a rotting carcass of some winged bright green reptile. It is larger than a horse and has finned wing-like arms and a draconic visage. Neither Jethrik nor any of the others had ever seen or heard of anything like it before. From where they are standing it cannot be seen what may have killed it.

As for the buildings, they all seemed empty and overgrown with weeds. The two largest ruins were just to their south. One seemed like it may have been the town hall, and the other seemed to be a cross between a temple and an observatory, probably a place of worship dedicated to Desna, the goddess of dreams, luck, stars, and travellers whom the people of Ravenmoor had believed they were worshipping. Past that was the dense overgrown forest.

“Well now,” says Captain Grudge to Jethrik, “where do you think we’ll find your buckos?” To all he says, “And we best keep a lookout for t’ Ulfen raiders who came in that ship. They may still be about.”

“Where are my friends? I have no idea. We’ll have to look for them. Hopefully they are keeping a good watch and have already seen us come up the river.” Jethrik replies. “For now, let’s investigate this village. Besides my friends, there is a mystery and a treasure here… because there is always mystery and treasure in dangerous abandoned places!”

“Sure t’ is, me bucko,” replies Captain Grudge. “Lead t’ way.”

The town hall and temple of Desna, for that is indeed what it is, are empty of anything of interest, at least upon a cursory initial inspection. Across the road from the temple a rickety wooden fence surrounds a clearing beyond. The gates of the fence are of iron and flanked on either side by statues of a beautiful woman with butterfly wings depicting the goddess Desna. The clearing itself consists of a low hill containing nearly two-dozen graves. A stone crypt sits atop the hill to the east. The entire graveyard is unusually well tended – the grass appears to be weeded and the gravestones are quite clean.

“Anyone else creeped out by the beautifully manicured graveyard in the ruin of a village?” Jethrik worries. “I’m thinking we need to check out the graveyard or at least the crypt before we turn our backs on it.”

Oh man,’ think Jethrik, ‘I am in a ruin hundreds of miles from civilization with highly uncertain allies and no way to get back on my own!

Ishana spits into the street. “Or else we should leave it alone and not provoke whoever the caretaker may be.” She eyes the cemetery warily. The other pirates look to their captain.

Captain Grudge nods slowly, “Arr! I’m with t’ gnome on this one. We can’t leave an enemy t’ our stern. And perhaps t’ caretaker has seen the wee one’s buckos… or knows where the treasure is. Lead on,” He nudges Jethrik across the way towards the gates.

The gates are not locked, and so Jethrik and the others pass through without any hindrance. Walking among the gravestones they see nothing out of the ordinary aside from how well kept it all is. The crypt contains only one body in a stone sarcophagus, that of Admiral Mercatio Kiameleu, Brinewall’s founder according to an inscription. Captain Grudge has Solemn Jack and another pirate open the sarcophagus but inside they find no treasure but only a skeleton. Past the crypt at the northern edge of the cemetery apart from the graves is a small well-tended shrine to Desna that consists of a marble statue of the deity holding aloft a small copper bowl. Three flasks full of rainwater have filled the bowl. Neither Jethrik or the others discern any magic in either the statue, the bowl, or the water.

Ishana empties her flask and fills it with water from the bowl. “It is possible that the goddess has blessed this water.” She passes the bowl to Solemn Jack who does likewise. He then passes it to Tubbs who fills his own flask with the last of the rainwater. He passes it back to Ishana, who carefully restores it to the arms of the statue.

“There’s nothin’ more t’ see here,” says Captain Grudge. He leads the way back out of the cemetery. “I say we head up t’ t’ castle and look around. If there’s any treasure hereabouts it will thar.” Then to Jethrik he says, “Oh, and o’ course that’s where your buckos may be.”

“Wait!” Jethrik shouts in a commanding manner. “I’m doing this all wrong! First of all my friends aren’t here yet. They were traveling by caravan. I don’t see a caravan! A caravan would be a very difficult thing to hide! Second we can’t stay here. I don’t know what that draconic thing is. But look what it did to the long boat. Something here killed it. I don’t see any bodies around it. So there’s something really scary here.”

Captain Grudge turns on Jethrik and says, “Now look here you little pipsqueak. I give t’ orders around here. We don’t need t’ wait for your buckos t’ look around for whatever lost treasures may still be in that castle. If we find it first, then its ours. Their fault for comin’ too late. And as for that,” he gestures to the dead thing in the lagoon, “I’m tellin’ you now thar be nothin’ here more dangerous than me and my crew. Now be you with us,” his hand drifts down to the hilt of his rapier, “or against us?”

“You seemed to want my opinions before.” Jethrik grumbles, a little hurt. “I agree that you are very dangerous. I just hope that whatever else is here is as afraid of you as I am.”

Captain Grudge laughs, “If they are not, they soon will be.” He then leads the away team up the overgrown path towards the castle. The pirates in their red bandanas and shirts troop after him. Jethrik sticks his tongue out at Captain Grudge after his back is turned. (And no one else is around to see) And then quickly catches up to the pirates.

As they reach the rusted iron portcullis of the gatehouse they heard the cawing of very large crows, though none are in site. The portcullis is down and locked. The levers that unlock and open them are inside the gatehouse. The gates have not been maintained in years and are in very poor condition, so the pirates easily force the portcullis up and raise it by hand between the eight of them. The gatehouse itself has a floor of packed dirt and numerous wooden beams for the stone ceiling above. Wooden ladders on either side of the far gate climb up to the roof above. The cawing continues for awhile and then dies down as Captain Grudge has his men raise the portcullises on both sides of the gatehouse with the winch.

Past the gatehouse is a barren courtyard of hard-packed earth containing clumps of tough-looking weeds, furrows in the ground as if made by taloned feet, and chalky white mounds of dung the size of human heads.

“Be ready!” Jethrik whispers harshly drawing his rapier “I have heard stories of creatures that leave signs like these. Dire Corbies! They are a form of man-like crows or some sort. They normally live underground, maybe they could be up on these walls ready to leap down and attack. They are incredibly fierce and will not break off. If they attack, they will kill us or we must kill all of them. Gods give us the strength! They have darkvision, and so, might attack after dark.”

Captain Grudge nods and draws his own sword, holding up his other hand to keep the other pirates back as he stands at the exit of the gatehouse. “Aye, I’ve heard of such thin’s. They could also be Tengu. Some o’ them live in t’ Shackles and the Sodden Lands. Uncanny thin’s. They be said t’ have come from t’ other side o’ t’ world.”

Selis adds, “I too have heard of these Dire Corbies, but I’ve never seen them. I wonder if they are related to the Tengu.” He shrugs and whips out his wand.

Jethrik indicates that he is going to go up the ladder. Captain Grudge allows it with a nod. Jethrik nimbly climbs up and stops to listen before opening the trapdoor onto the roof. He hears nothing. He looks back down at the pirates waiting at the foot of the ladder and the entrance to the courtyard then pushes the trap door open just a bit with the tip of his rapier.

Atop the roof of the gatehouse he sees two muscular creatures, the size and shape of men but covered in oily black feathers, glittering eyes, and sharp beaks. They are wearing no clothes or armor and bearing no weapons. At the moment they seem to be watching the courtyard from behind the battlements. One of the things catches site of Jethrik peering at them and lunges for him with a loud squawk.

“We mean no harm!” Jethrik cries as he lets the door drop back. He immediately starts down the ladder. He will keep the rapier raised above him.

“Speak for yourself me bucko! I do mean harm. I mean t’ harm anyone who gets in the way of finding whatever treasure thar be in this pile o’ rocks!” He turns to his men and says, “Get up there and clear out this roost!”

At Captain Grudge’s command, six of the pirates clamber up the ladders, two on each side, daggers in their teeth.

“What if they can help you find the treasure?” Jethrik asks.

Before Captain Grudge can reply, Ishana screams in fear, something few if any of the crew had ever heard before. Creeping towards her from the courtyard is a spider the size of a man, though its long legs make it appear even bigger. She turns and runs towards the outside gate and Captain Grudge, to his credit, lunges at the spider to keep it away from her. He pierces its side and it recoils but turns it attention towards him. Solemn Jack also springs into action, drawing his cutlass and swinging wildly, disorienting himself in the process.

Jethrik calls out in a light-hearted tone “Everyone hack off a leg! We’ll make short work of this won’t we?”

A phosphorescent bolt slams into the spider from Selis’ wand. Jethrik turns and sees that Selis has retreated to Ishana’s side by the outer gate.

Above the battling pirates both trapdoors are flung open. The dire corbies, croaking unintelligible battle cries that sound like cries of doom, hurl themselves down upon the pirates on the ladder causing the ladders to tumble down taking all the pirates on them down as well. They all fall in a heap to the floor of the gatehouse and begin scrabbling to regain their feet.

The spider backs away from the gatehouse and then flings a web from its spinnerets at Captain Grudge, who is caught fast in it. He tries to pull it off but is unable.

Ishana can be heard calling upon Calistria to send aid.

The pirates and dire corbies all regain their feet while Solemn Jack and Tubbs try to keep the spider at bay with their cutlasses, though neither dare advance on it.

“Looks like the birds are here to take care of the spider for us!” says Jethrik as he moves to Captain Grudge’s side to see if he can help pull the web off of him.

Selis sends another bolt that hits the spider right between its mandibles. The creature seems greatly agitated but it is a lethal blow. Suddenly a mist coalesces behind it into a frog large enough to swallow a human child (or a gnome) whole. The frog’s eyes burn with the fires of the Abyss and its razor sharp teeth bite into the bulbous abdomen of the giant spider. The spider curls up in death and the fiendish frog summoned by Ishana proceeds to devour it at leisure.

Captain Grudge, however, even with Jethrik’s reluctant assistance is still unable to get the sticky strands of the web off of him. Captain Grudge’s curses are of such ferocity that is almost seems that he could open another gate to the Abyss just by the strengths of his blasphemous oaths.

Meanwhile, the pirate crew surround and begin hacking at the dire corbies with their cutlasses, blood and feather are everywhere but the dire corbies are far from finished as they lash out with their own wickedly sharp claws.

“Good work guys, I guess at dinner we’ll find out if they taste like chicken!” Jethrik quips.

Captain Grudge, with the help of Jethrik and Ishana finally manages to throw off the spider’s webs.

Both dire corbies finally fall to the ruthless pirates, though three of them were lightly wounded by the crow-men’s claws and a fourth moderately wounded. Blood from their lacerations runs down their arms and chests.

Outside a new foe has appeared even more grotesque than the giant spider. A hideous purple creature races across the courtyard at the enormous frog chittering in rage. It latches its mandibles into the frog but the frog shrugs it off and clamps down on one of its sickle-shaped claws. The blotchy purple thing sinks its mandibles into the frog again and tears into it with its other claw. The frog releases its grip and disintegrates back into a mist that fades away in seconds. The purple thing with the head of a spider and claws for hands turns its multi-faceted eyes upon Captain Grudge, Ishana, Jethrik, and Solemn Jack who are still just within the inner gate. It chitters and then speaks in the Common tongue, “I will kill you all for what you have done!”

“I’ve heard that before.” Jethrik shrugs

The spider-man leaps up onto the wall of the gatehouse just to the left of the courtyard gate and scuttles up the wall out of reach of their rapiers and cutlasses. In order to kill it, the pirates will have to go into the courtyard and shoot it down with their crossbows.

The pirates all look to their leader. Captain Grudge points out to the courtyard saying, “There’s only one o’ whatever it is. Bring it down me buckos.”

The pirates pour out into the courtyard and sheathe their cutlasses and take up their crossbows. While they are loading their bolts, Selis fires another magic missile from his wand at the creature hitting it in the back. The creature responds by spewing down a web from its spinnerets. Just as Captain Grudge was before, the elf is entangled in the creature’s web.

“Did that thing just shoot this gunk at me from its ass! Damn it, get this off of me!” yells the outraged elf.

The other pirates, having loaded their crossbows fire upon the creature. Three bolts strike the creature, two in its back and one in its spindly legs. It chittered again in pain and scuttles over the battlements out of sight.

At the same time there is a sound of ropes snapping and wood cracking and splintering from the roof of a flat-topped building on the north side of the courtyard. Dire corbies squawk in pain and surprise as the catapult they just launched a boulder from tears itself apart. The boulder arcs over the courtyard, hits the ground, and rolls into Ishana hard enough to bruise her leg. As the pirates turn their attention to this new threat the dire corbies leap down from the roof and begin racing across the courtyard croaking imprecations of death and destruction upon the invaders of Brinewall.

“Kill those damn fowls! We’ll pluck and roast them and have ourselves a feast tonight we will!” commands Captain Grudge.

The pirates quickly load and fire their crossbows at the charging dire corbies. Ishana quickly moves out of their way and back into the guardhouse, where she can also keep an eye on Jethrik. All three of the corbies are hit, one of them twice. Two of them are have obviously received mortal wounds but they continue to stagger towards the pirates. The third continues its charge, ignoring the bolt in its leg. Selis hits it with a magic missile from his wand, but even this does not stop the creature. The pirates reload and fire again as Captain Grudge continues exhorting them to slaugher their foes. Each dire corby is hit once more by the second barrage of crossbow bolts, but even this fails to stop them, though all three are now staggering and screeching in agony. They leap into the pirates and tear into Solemn Jack and Tubbs with their claws. Selis fires another missile from his wand, but the creatures have entered a berserk rage wherein they do not seem to feel any pain. Selis shoots and again into the melee as the pirates surround the creatures and finally chop them down. Ishana and Captain Grudge leave the fighting to the pirates, though at the end Ishana moves in quickly to offer prayers to Calistria to keep Tubbs from dying. Tubbs was the only pirate to fall, but Solemn Jack and couple of others have nasty wounds from the fight.

“Great job!” Jethrik cheers as he helps Tubbs by casting cure light wounds upon him, which revives him. Tubb’s ribs however, are very sore from where the crow creature’s claws tore into him.

“Thanks Jethik, you’re a good lad,” says Tubbs.

“All right lads, enough playin’ around,” says Captain Grudge. “We’ve treasure to look for. In we go!” He leads the way to the double doors leading into the main hall of the castle and flings them open. With a crack of her whip Ishana brings up the lead, ensuring that all the other pirates fall into line and follow the captain, including Jethrik.

Beyond the doors is a long hall 20’ wide and almost 100’ long. Rotting, faded banners hang from the walls depicting a stylized castle sitting on a seaside cliff. Thick stone pillars support the ceiling and a rotted threadbare carpet runs between the pillars from the door to an old wooden throne at the far end of the hall, its back carved to resemble the towers of a castle wrapped in the coils of a serpentine dragon. Sitting on the throne is a wild-eyed man with a bristly goatee, deep red skin, and a prodigious nose. He idly toys with a strange weapon – a combination sickle and weighted chain as four dire corbies caper before him. The dire corbies are running in a circle squawking and flapping their arms up and down as though they were wings. When Captain Grudge strides in the man on the throne cackles in delight and says,

“Welcome, be seated,” he gestures to some benches along the walls. “You are just in time for the conclusion of my latest masterpiece. It is a short play about a flock of ravens who woke up one day to discover they were trapped in flightless human bodies.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” Captain Grudge retorts. “Clear t’ way or we’ll cut you down!”

“Ah, now we come to the part of the play where the ravens vent their rage upon those who cursed them.” He stands and points at the pirates. “And there they are!” Instantly the dire corbies stop, turn as one and glare at the pirates. With a shriek they charge down the hall with their talons raking the air before them. In the Common tongue they yell things like, “You took my wings, you flying things!” and Bring me their eyes, and sorrowful sighs!” Jethrik, at least, can tell that these are not actually being said by the dire corbies, rather the strange man at the end of the hall is throwing his voice.

Captain Grudge calls out, “Have at them me buckos. We’ll do for these as we did for t’ others!”

The man by the throne begins to leap and dance about, cackling in glee as the battle begins. Selis strings his shortbow and nocks an arrow while five of the pirates push past Captain Grudge into the hall and fire their crossbows. The bolts nick two of the four dire corbies but all four of them veer away and take cover in what is apparently an alcove or hall to the left of the throne. They disappear from sight.

Grudge laughs and says, “You’re men have deserted you! What now you prancin’ fool. Tell us where t’ treasure be and we’ll let you live.

The strange man shrieks, “That’s not in the play! You’re ruining it all you hideous apes!” As he screams at them his form wavers. His red skin turns to black feathers and his long nose becomes a black beak, but unlike the dire corbies or tengu black wings burst forth from his back. He runs off to the right out of the hall.

Jethrik is reminded of a card from Koya’s deck called The Crows. On the card a creature like a tengu but with wings watches over to two men in crow masks seated at a table laden with jewels, piles of gold coins, and sacks full of more gold and jewels. Jethrik remembers that Koya did a reading back in Sandpoint at which this card appeared. ‘If there are crow-men here there may be gold too!’ Jethrik keeps this to himself of course.

Captain Grudge laughter echoes down the hall. “Well that was easy enough. Let’s go find him. But be careful. Check behind those doors. I don’t want enemies getting’ in behind us.” Captain Grudge indicates a door 40’ in on the left side and a side hall on the left side about 35’ down the main hall. The side hall ends after 25’ in double doors and there is also a door 15’ in on the right side of that smaller hall.

“Careful of the winged one. He can cast magics. That was his voice making the corbies appear to talk.” Jethrik warns.

“Ho, ho! I caught on t’ that little trick already me bucko. But we have magics of our own don’t we,” he flashes a smile at Ishana and Selis. The other pirates grin as well. “As do you, you little trickster.”

“Nothin’ over here,” Tubbs calls out as he peers into the door on the left side of the smaller hall on the right. “There’s another short hall here with a door on either side.”

Solemn Jack is not so lucky. Despite his caution opening the door two scaly gray humanoids with long tails and crests on their heads leap out of the shadows and club him to death in the blink of an eye. A horrible stench roils out from the room and all but Ishana and Selis have to cover their mouths and start gagging. Jethrik remembers that he had heard of such creatures before. They are the feral, savage remnants of reptilian race that once may have ruled empires on the surface world but who now dwell in the upper reaches of the endless caverns of the underworld.

Selis looses an arrow and wounds one, and it is wounded again when the pirates fire their crossbows into the doorway, but they are mere scratches. The troglodytes retreat into the room but their menacing hissing can still be heard.

“After them!” roars Captain Grudge. “Don’t leave a one breathing!”

The troglodytes slam the door shut on the pirates. Slimney says, “Captain, please… give us a moment. I feel like I’m going to heave. I don’t think I’m the only one here who needs a moment.”

Captain Grudge, who is also puffing his cheeks and trying not to vomit nods, and so the skirmish is over for the moment.

As the pirates recover from the troglodyte’s stench, Tubbs listens at the double doors down the short side hall. “I think I hear someone yelling! It might be that winged tengu.”

“You three, cover that door,” Captain Grudge commands three of the pirates. “And pull Solemn Jack body away from there. We’ll give him a proper burial when we’ve cleared this pile of stones. The rest o’ you follow me.” He leads the way to the double doors at the end of the side hall and flings them open. Inside is a circular room about 30’ across with a ring of pillars supporting a balcony 15’ above. A flight of stairs winds up to the balcony just to the right of the double doors along the southern wall. Faded paintings of dancing elves decorate the walls, spattered here and there with ancient bloodstains. Up on the balcony across from the doors is the winged tengu, still ranting and raving in Minkaian, the land that Ameiko and Toshio’s families came from that Jethrik has also learned to speak. He is furious about the interlopers who ruined his play. As soon as he sees Captain Grudge enter the room he points and evokes a searing beam of fire from his finger that hits Captain Grudge across the back as he swiftly ducks away and takes cover behind a pillar. Captain Grudge then runs into the center of the room and hurls his whip up at the creature shouting, “Tie and knot!” The creature is too fast, however, and easily slips away as the whip lashes out to grab him. Selis and the pirates follow this up with their own attacks with bow and crossbows but the creature has already ducked behind the balcony railing. It pops up again and with another short incantation it fires a coruscating light that hits Captain Grudge before he can take cover. The Captain pales and slumps but is able to make it back to safety under the balcony directly beneath the creature. Selis and the other pirates fire again. Only Slimney hits. His bolt pierces the creature’s leather armor in the chest. The creature squawks and falls behind the railings and is silent. However, when Selis and Slimney go up to loot the body they find no sign of it. The creature has completely disappeared as if it had never been there at all. Captain Grudge recovers his whip and returns with Selis and Slimney to the floor of what may have once been a ballroom.

Ishana runs to Captain Grudge’s side. “Are you all right? What did that thing do to you?”

“I’m fine. Its spell weakened me. I just need to rest bit. Let’s get out o’ here. I’m in no more mood for games and we’ve already lost one of our company. We better see that he has the proper rites. Maybe we’ll bury him in that graveyard down t’ road.” Then Captain Grudge looks up to the balcony and yells, “But we’ll be back! Rest assured we’ll put an end to your games!” That said, Captain Grudge leads everyone out of Castle Brinewall, with the body of Solemn Jack carried back by Tubbs and Slimney. As the pirates exit the gatehouse and head down the path back to the village they hear the cawing of the dire corbies. At least four of them are up on the roof of the gatehouse firing crossbows at the retreating pirates. Fortunately none of the bolts come anywhere close to hitting them and they soon come to a turn in the path and the trees screen them from the gatehouse.

Dire corbies can use crossbows?’ Jethrik wonders. ‘Doesn’t fit with the psychotic, bloodthirsty, mindlessly violent berserker schtick they got goin’ on.