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.