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.

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