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.”

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