Lamashan 29 Starday waxing moon
Mercifully the flight does not last as long as when Zaiobe carried Jethrik from the Teeth of Araska back to shore. As described, she lands on the balcony of the highest tower of the castle. The balcony takes up almost the entire north quarter of the tower and overlooks the cliffs beneath the castle that fall 70’ into the Steam River. There is, however, a narrow ledge 20’ below the balcony. Zaiobe pushes Jethik through an open wooden door on the west wall (actually southwest as the wall is at an angle. Inside the tower is semicircular room whose walls are lined with bookshelves, although the majority of the books lie in disorganized piles on the floor. A large, filthy nest of grass, branches, and strips of cloth is tucked in the northeastern corner of the room and a flight of stairs on the south side of the room lead down. Zaiobe pushes Jethrik into the southeast corner of the room and points down, indicating he should sit still over there – away from the stairs and the door. She settles into her nest to wait.
When Jethrik attempts a spell to sift through the wreckage of the room Zaiobe ruffles her feathers and snarls (silently) in a very threatening manner. He desists. He contents himself with looking at the books near at hand. They are moldy and falling apart and most of them are in the Tien ideograms that Jethrik has not had time to fully study. Still, he believes he can at least understand the gist of things. It is a dark room but for a gnome the light that does filter into the room through the narrow windows on the east and west and the half open door to the balcony is enough. To his amazement he finds a box that contains a series of scrolls bearing the title of a work that Jethrik remembers Toshio had been looking for back in Magnimar. The scrolls are the collected poems of The Tayagama: Improbable Saga of Jinsen Tayago and His Astonishing War with the Oni. The calligraphy is impressive and thanks to the box and its location under a stack of other books, scrolls, and papers it has been preserved in fairly good condition. Jethrik puts the scrolls back in the box and covers them again. ‘Perhaps we can come back for them later after the harpy double crosses us and we have to kill her.’
Elsewhere, Toshio and the rest of Jethrik’s companions quickly make their way back down the path leading from the lighthouse to the village. They keep to the trees and under the eaves of the ruins. They pick up their packs in the observatory and then head up the path towards the castle, but before reaching sight of it they head into the trees on the eastern slope of the bluff upon which Castle Brinewall sits. Soon enough they come to the northeast edge of the castle where only a narrow 3’ ledge (at most) wraps around the castle on its north side. Below the ledge is a 50’ drop to the Steam River at the bottom of the cliff. There does not seem to be any lookouts upon the walls so carefully they make their way along the ledge towards the highest tower of the keep. Toshio leads the way, followed by Keng, Zeyala, and then Jharad bringing up the rear.
Jharad looks up the wall of the tower and whistles. “From what the harpy said I expected some fashion of entrance better than a sheer wall of stone, how about you guys?”
”Nope. This is exactly what I expected from her,” says Toshio. “Anybody got a rope and grappling hook?”
“Climbing is not really part of my repertoire,” says Zeyala. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Keng says, “I have climbing gear. I am good at it. I will go first and then lower a rope for the rest.” He proceeds to get his climbing equipment out and make ready with his lines and harness. He throws the grappling hook up to the lip of the balcony and starts climbing. Once he is at the top and has ensured that the grappling hook will hold the others climb up after him.
After they are all safely on the ledge Jharad says, “Well done Keng.”
Keng gathers up the grappling hook, coils the rope and puts everything back into his pack.
Jharad moves over towards the open door and peeks through. A taloned hand reaches out and grabs him. He finds himself staring into the predatory yellow eyes of Zaiobe. ‘So you came,‘ she thinks to him while she has him in her clutches.
‘Yes… yes we did. Now where is Jethrik?‘ he thinks back while staring into her eyes.
‘Behind me, safe and sound,’ she thinks to him. She releases Jharad and steps back so that Jharad can see that Jethrik is in fact in the room behind her.
Jharad smiles and greets his friend warmly, “Why hello Jethrik. Nice to see you safe and sound. All right?”
From behind Zaiobe, Jethrik holds his nose, puts a hand over his stomach, rolls his eyes and staggers a bit. “Just fine, how about you?”
Keng looks over Jharad’s shoulder and sees that Jethrik is okay. He nods.
Before anyone can say or do anything else a beating of wings is heard outside the tower. Hovering before the tower, with an arrow nocked and ready in his composite longbow, is a man-like crow with glaring yellow eyes. He is wearing a blackened boiled leather corselet, with matching greaves, bracers, and helmet. In a shrill squawk he shouts, “Intruders! How dare you threaten my one true love! Die!” He looses his arrow at Jharad who is closest to the door and wounds him in the right shoulder.
“Yowch!” mutters Jharad.
Jethrik says, “What? No? We didn’t know she was taken! She led us on!”
“Pharasma’s blessing guide you,” says Zeyala.
A chaotic blast of rainbow hues once more emanates from Zaiobe as she shoves past Jharad and hops up onto the rim of the balcony. Her wings stretch and beat once twice and then just enough times to lift her up and onto the roof of the tower. From there she can no longer be seen from the enclosed balcony.
Keng crouches down below the balustrade and quickly string his shortbow. Nocking an arrow he pops up and sends it flying at Kikonu. It ricochets painfully off the avian archer’s helmet. Not a lethal blow, but enough to hurt it.
Jharad follows up with two arrows of his own, but the first misses as Kikonu weaves through the air and the second bounces off his corselet.
Toshio also uses his shortbow from the cover of the balustrade. His arrow penetrates Kikonu’s corselet in the side, again not a mortal blow but evidently painful from his reaction.
Kikonu thinks to Zaiobe, ‘So, do you forgive me now that I have rescued you?’ He then flies down to and lands on the catapult station and calls out to the dire corbies at the gatehouse in a language that almost sounds like a horrific corruption of the Elven tongue. He soon receives answering squawks.
Jethrik leaves the safety of the tower chamber to see if he can catch sight of either Kikonu or Zaiobe, but neither are in view from the balcony.
Jharad looks at his shoulder, blood dripping down his mail shirt. “Uh… I could use some help here, or should I use a potion?”
“Focus on the fight,” shouts Zeyala as she brushes Jharad’s shoulder and heals the wound.
Jharad says, “I could kiss you right now,”
“Don’t let Keng catch you!” Jethrik mutters.
Jharad moves off into the southern part of the tower, looking for windows to see out into the courtyard. There are narrow windows on the east and west sides of the tower. Looking from the west window he can see the curtain walls and guard towers and a stable below but he is unable to see Kikonu or anyone or anything else from that angle.
Zaiobe continues to perch on the roof. She thinks to Kikonu, ‘I’ll consider forgiving you if you clear my nest of these intruders.’
Keng’s goes back into the room and starts grabbing books piling them into a heap in the middle of the tower. He then takes out his fire-starter. “It’s roast chicken time!”
Jharad looks at Keng in horror. “Don’t you dare,” he says with dangerous sincerity.
Keng looks a little sheepish at this admonition from the elf. “Lets burn them off the roof and force them into a fight in the courtyard below… no?”
Jharad smiles at Keng’s reaction, not intending to respond so harshly. “Keng, all that would do is smoke us out. And books are precious to me. The idea of seeing even one of them burned would cause me anguish. Please do not do that.”
Toshio stays on the balcony with Jethrik and Zeyala. Zeyala casts guidance on Toshio, asking him, “Where should we go?”
“Kikonu has a throne room. He and Zaiobe may have gone there,” Jethrik offers.
“Where is this throne room? We should pursue.”
Jethrik answers Toshio, “I am not certain. When I was with the pirates we came in through the gatehouse. The throne room was the first room we came to when we entered the keep. There are dire corbies and foul smelling lizard people that I didn’t recognize. There may be other things. Captain Grudge didn’t stay long.”
Keng punts his flint away and grunts in frustration, “What then do you suggest? I weary of this lovers’ game we play with the birds.”
Jharad responds to Keng, “Well, first I would like to know more about the layout of this tower and its defenses.”
“We will be overextended soon,” says Toshio, reconsidering. “I’d like to chase him, but we should leave to reload our spells before coming back.”
“Pharasma still graces me. We can push on,” says Zeyala. “I will warn you when I sense her spirit waning.”
Jethrik responds to Toshio, “I’m not sure which way to go, and I’m not sure which way we ought to go. If we try to climb down we might be attacked on the wall by our flying foul friends. If we head down the stairs and explore we’ll have no line of escape. In which case, Toshio’s concerns about our remaining spells is well founded.”
“If necessary, is there anywhere we could barricade ourselves in and rest?” asks Zeyala. “I think we need to see to Jharad and Keng. My remaining powers are more beneficial if we stay together as a group,” adds Zeyala.
Jharad steps to the door and says, “Step in here so we can discuss what to do next, I fear our enemies are moving against us as we stand here.”
Keng turns and looks out the door to the balcony and shouts, “Pretty-boy, get in here!”
“Okay, gorgeous. I’m coming in,” quips Toshio as he ducks inside.
Jethrik poses in an attempt to look serious, “It’s a bad situation. If we climb, we’ll be attacked on the wall. Still that’s our only route that gives us a line to retreat. Otherwise we will be surrounded by an unknown number of enemies with our resources dwindling. That’s insane.”
Keng says, “Down to the throne room now!” He starts down the stairs.
Zeyala follows after the others.
Jharad smirks at Jethrik, “Guess we are going in.”
“See?” jokes Toshio to Jharad, indicating Keng’s back. “He’s not as dumb as you thought.”
With his bow out and an arrow nocked Jharad motions for Toshio to follow Keng saying, “Keng we work together or we die, no heroics. Stick together with Toshio, we three will support you both.”
Toshio nods, acknowledging Jharad’s words, and heads downstairs after Keng.
As Keng approaches the end of the stairs that descend to the south side of the chamber on the second story of the tower he sees what seems to be a study of some sort. Though lightless, Keng’s orc heritage enables him to see into the darkness. Couches, drawing tables, and empty bookshelves lie in disarray, with the exception of one writing desk and chair in the center of the room, its surface heaped with pages of parchment and paper. Just ahead and to the right is a door and on the north side of the chamber he sees another stairwell descending to the first floor. Before he reaches the end of the stairs Kikonu pops up from behind the writing desk. He is already spinning the steel weight at one end of his chain weapon. Kikonu hurls it at Keng and as soon as it wraps around the half-orc’s legs he pulls back sharply so that the half-orc tumbles down the last few steps. As Keng rolls to a stop a door slams open and the light of the noon sun pours into the chamber from the east side of the room. Four dire corbies pour into the room armed with heavy crossbows. The first two fire their bolts at Keng. Fortunately for Keng the dire corbies have terrible aim and both bolts strike the floor, one near his head and the other near his left foot.
Jethrik calls out, “Watch out, butterfingers!” from the stairwell as Kikonu’s sickle and chain slips out of the tengu’s grasp.
Keng having been caught by Kikonu’s cheap trick becomes enraged. His eyes blaze red and he utters his battle cry. Kicking off the chain he springs up and charges Kikonu, but the wily tengu is very quick and slips aside so that Keng’s axe slides off his corselet instead of cutting into it.
Jharad moves down the stairs. With rapid precision he lets two arrows fly at Kikonu both of which penetrate his corselet eliciting an anguished squawk.
Toshio rushes around Keng and attacks Kikonu on his left side, slashing his face with Whispering Shrike. “For victory, for the heart!” he calls out to Iomedae as he smites the fiendish tengu.
Zeyala moves down the stairs to the space vacated by Toshio. With a hand upon his back she confers the guidance of Pharasma upon Jharad.
“Damn you all to the Abyss!” shouts Kikonu as he backs away from Keng and Toshio. In one fluid movement he stands up straight, puts his palms together in front of his chest as if in prayer, enfolds his wings about him and vanishes from sight.
Jethrik invokes a magical light to see if he can spot footprints in the dirt of an invisible tengu, but even if the tengu was still present invisibly he couldn’t find anything amidst the melee between Toshio and Kengu and the dire corbies.
The dire corbies in the rear fire their crossbows at Jharad. One bolt hits the wall while the other is deflected by the greave on his right shin. In return, Jharad sinks two arrows into the chest of one of the corbies, wounds that in most creatures would be mortal, and yet it is in such a killing frenzy that it lunges at Keng even as it bleeds out. The two dire corbies in the front drop their crossbows and attack Keng and Toshio with their talons. Keng is scratched by one claw, but their armor prevents any further wounds. Zeyala steps behind Keng and raises her spear crosswise in front of her, ready to ward off any dire corbies that might get past the raging half-orc.
Keng, still filled with rage even after Kikonu’s departure, hacks into the dire corby that scratched him and lays him open with his axe from stem to stern. However, so fierce is the dire corby’s desire to rend the intruders that it fights on despite the horrible gash spilling blood from its face, chest, and abdomen. Though clearly staggered by their wounds, the one hit by Jharad’s arrows joins the one injured by Keng and together they claw at the raging half-orc, but neither are able to land a blow. One of them even manages to blunt its talons on Keng’s breastplate. Keng hacks off its left claw and it falls away, spraying blood from its stump all over Keng and the wall behind him. Jharad’s looses two more arrows at the dire corby he had hit before but both miss and hit the opposite wall, though the second arrow comes close enough to take off a couple feathers. The dire corby ignores the arrows and rake its claws across Keng’s upper right thigh above his greaves. Keng roars and brings his axe down on its head splitting it like a melon, thus putting it down for good.
As Keng and Jharad focus on the first two, Toshio slices into the beak of the third, but though painful the wound is not mortal. The dire corby in turn manages to leave a nasty laceration on Toshio’s right arm. Toshio slashes it in the right leg. The dire corby then hooks its claw up under one of the overlapping strips of metal guarding the paladin’s belly then tears through the leather underneath and draws blood. Toshio slashes it again, but even that is not enough to stop it. Though staggered, the dire corby relentlessly claws at Toshio but is unable to get through his armor. When Keng’s foes are finally down, Jharad lets fly an arrow at the one fighting Toshio, which misses. A second arrow hits it in the chest. Zeyala stabs it in the side with her longspear. “Yes, I do carry this thing for more than just show,” mutters Zeyala.
Meanwhile, the fourth dire corby ducks back under the staircase to reload its crossbow. Jethrik hops down from the stairs and pricks it in the left leg with his rapier. The dire corby backs away from the gnome out the door and onto the sunlit stone roof of the building west of the tower. It fires a bolt at Jethrik and he is struck in the meaty part of his right leg, a painful wound but not mortal. Having backed it out the door at the tip of his rapier, Jethrik slams the door shut, jumps up and pulls down the wooden bar before the dire corby can reload its crossbow or charge back into the room. The dire corby outside attempts to break down the door to get back in but the door holds. Seeing that the door will hold, Jethrik turns and lunges at the remaining dire corby. He stabs it in the kidneys and it falls dead at last.
Keng runs over to the outside door, throws off the bar, opens it and says to the dire corby trying to break in, “You knocked!” The dire corby screeches and claws at Keng, but the latter’s breastplate is proof against it. Keng spits in the corby’s face and says, “I have had enough of you vile birds!” He kicks the corby in the balls and when it doubles over in pain he slams his axe into its face with an upwards swing from the low guard. Zeyala puts herself behind Keng and reaches out to confer guidance upon him. The dying corby rakes Keng in the face but leaves only a shallow scratch. Keng twirls the axe above his head down upon the corbie’s neck severing its head.
Jharad quickly reaches into his pack to replace the arrows he has spent from his quiver.
Jethrik the two animal bane arrows from his quiver to Jharad saying, “Worth a shot!” He shrugs.
Jharad takes them and responds, “Literally!”
Jharad intones “Raptum decorum” and gains feline reflexes.
“Let me heal your wounds to continue our pursuit of Kikonu,” says Zeyala as she moves near the center of the room. A burst of white energy washes over her allies.
Toshio tries to picks up Kikonu’s kusarigama and secures it before any foes can take it up again but he finds it is too slippery to hold onto. Jethrik dismisses the spell upon the kusarigama, so that Toshio is able to pick it up and put it away.
Jharad comes down off the stairs and opens the door to find an interior corridor 5’ wide and running east to west. Ten feet to the west the corridor ends at a door. Ten feet to the east the corridor opens up into a larger room wherein he can see the end of a dining room table. On the south side of the hall just before the room there is another hall running to the south.
Zeyala casts virtue on Keng. “To stop the bleeding,” whispers Zeyala with a light touch to Keng’s back.
As Jharad is looking out into the corridor a flash of searing flame lights up the middle of the corridor and he hears a squawk of surprise from the side corridor and sees Kikonu pull his head back. Apparently the tengu had tried to cast some spell at Jharad and it backfired on him.
Quickly Jharad says, “Kikonu is this way.”
Jethrik, right behind Jharad, gets a flask of alchemist’s fire from his pack.
Toshio rushes to the hall door and in Tien calls out to Kikonu, “Come out, bird-brain!”
Keng looks over his shoulder and seeing everyone clustered around the other doorway he runs over as well.
“I have a better idea, why don’t you come out you hairless ape!” shouts back Kikonu.
“How about we send you a gift instead?” Jethrik tosses his flask of alchemist’s fire down the hall. The flask explodes against the far corner of the side hall and its burning oil splashes Kikonu eliciting yet another squawk of surprise and pain.
Toshio pulls up next to Jharad and says quietly “The usual plan – I run in and draw his shot, you kill him. Ready?”
“Ready,” responds Jharad quickly.
Zeyala casts guidance on Toshio. He rushes down the hall, turns the corner and smites Kikonu with Whispering Shrike. Slashed across the ribs, the tengu recoils but the wound was not a mortal one. Behind the tengu, Toshio sees another dire corby, but this one is dressed in red velvet robes, studded leather armor, and bears a longsword. Around its neck hangs a silver pendant on which is depicted a hawk with four wings and a scorpion’s tale, its right hand upraised and in its left a scepter.
This corby in red robes raises its left hand and points at him, speaking words in some foul language that sounds like a corruption of Elvish. A sudden tingling of fear washes over Toshio but it is unable to take hold of him thanks to the aura of courage bestowed by the goddess Iomedae that surrounds him. The red robed corby backs away and disappears around a bend in the hallway.
Keng races down the hall after Toshio. He too cuts into Kikonu with his axe.
Kikonu steps back to once more vanish into thin air.
Zeyala reaches out and confers guidance on Jharad.
Jethrik stays behind the cover of the doorframe. ‘My mammas didn’t raise no dumb babies!’ “Hey Birdbrain!” Jethrik calls out. “Is that the best you can do? No allies? No harpy? Are you all out of tricks?”
Toshio advances cautiously down the hall but sees no sigh of either the tengu or the red-robed corby. In fact, it is getting too dark to see any further with human eyes.
Keng turns and looks at Jharad and shrugs, “Now what do we do?”
Jharad responds quietly to Keng and Toshio, “Follow him in. I will bet he is invisible, but still in that hall.”
Keng elbows his way past Toshio, “Let me handle this,” he snarls.
Jethrik casts a light spell upon a pebble and then comes up behind Jharad. Seeing the doors in the southern corridor he says, “I don’t know where we are, or where they came from, but there were foul smelling lizard people that flattened Solemn Jack behind a door like these.”
Cautiously by the light of Jethrik’s pebble they make their way down the corridor and past the doors, with Keng leading the way, Toshio behind him, followed by Jharad, Jethrik, and Zeyala in the rear. Jharad makes sure to look behind them on occasion to make sure nothing is coming up on them or coming out of any of the doors.
“At this point,” Jethrik whispers, “I’m voting for leaving until we are rested. Let’s look for a way out.”
The red light in Keng’s eyes is now a dim glow. He looks back at the rest of the party and nods towards the Gnome, “He’s right. This is no good feeling around in the dark. Let’s hold up in the big ugly’s lair on the top floor and wait for them to come to us or morning when we are all rested.”
Toshio replies, “We won’t be given a chance to rest or pray in there. We need to make our way out and back to camp.”
Jharad seems just about to reply to Keng when Toshio says what is on his own mind. “Agreed, we will not be able to stay and rest here. Further I doubt we will easily slip away, I am sure there are many access points to this castle of which we know not. They clearly have the advantage here.”
“Perhaps not, but at least we will draw them to us. We may not find it so easy to get inside again,” replies Keng. “Better make a stand here than outside under the walls. And Ameiko suffers as long as we delay.”
“Keep moving!” Jethrik pleads quietly.
“Yes, lets keep moving,” Jharad agrees.
Keng losses patience and shouts, “Move where?!”
“I can’t be hearing suggestions that we are giving up the chase,” says Zeyala. “I say we push on, lest the harpy think we backed out on the ‘agreement.’”
Jharad says, “Through the doors right there,” and points to the double doors next to Keng. “Careful though, use the door for cover when you open it.”
Jethrik moves over to the doors indicated and grabs the handle. He waits for everyone to get in place and listens for movement within before opening it.
Keng stands next to Jethrik and places his hand on his shoulder and says, “Open it.”
Zeyala grins. “This is more like it,” she whispers.
Jethrik turns the handle and backs up using the door as cover. He tosses the pebble into the room to light it.
Keng springs inside, although fatigued he is ready!
In the light cast by Jethrik’s pebble Keng and the others peering in from the door see a chamber about 30’ wide and perhaps 25’ deep with dozens of painting of a towering humanoid figure with four wings, a bird’s head, and a scorpion’s tail decorating the walls, seemingly painted in blood. Old pews sit in a line facing the eastern wall, where a hideously defaced statue of a winged woman stands. The winged woman was most likely Desna, but the wings have been hacked down the middle to give the impression of having four wings instead of two, her head has been removed and replaced with a crude carving of a leering bird’s head, and a long, barbed tail made of braided dried nettles hangs from her posterior. On the south side of the chamber is another set of double doors, while on the north wall just to the left of the double doors is a single door.
Neither Zeyala nor Jethrik are able to identify the figure depicted by the paintings or the desecrated statues, though both seem to remember that it is probably some kind of demon. At any rate, it is not Ghlaunder this time.
Ignoring the statue in disgust, Jharad points to the double doors to the south. “That way Keng, same thing as before.”
Jethrik picks up his pebble before leaving.
Keng stalks towards the south doors, shoulders hunched and head forward, like a battering ram before the gates of hell. “When I find that feathered piece of filth I am going to pluck him clean.”
The sturdy iron-bound double doors on the south have sunlight shining through the space between the bottom of the doors and the floor. They are shut with an iron crossbar.
“Sunlight, that door leads outdoors. Probably another roof or rampart. Careful of the skies,” remarks Jharad.
Toshio is prepared to back Keng up if any fighting should ensue.
Keng easily pulls back the crossbar. Cautiously Jethrik pushes the door open to find that it opens out onto a 20’ long bridge over the courtyard from the keep to the parapet walkways of the south side of the castle. To the left is a guard tower and to the right the roof of the gatehouse. No dire corbies or anything else are in sight, though from where they are by the doors they cannot see the roofs of the keep or its towers.
“Now which way?” asks Keng.
Jharad replies, “Outside. Look to the roofs and see if we can see the courtyard.”
Keng walks out to the parapet and looks back over the keep to see that Zaiobe is still perched atop the roof of the tallest tower, the one they all just came from, and is scowling down at him. She does not move, however, only glares. Jharad and Toshio also walk out to look around.
“No time for this!” Jethrik warns. “Climb down or keep going in here! Perfect place for a corby ambush… Where are they?”
Keng turns and looks at the party and says, “We should keep looking inside until we find the bird. Leaving is not a good option.”
“I’d love to leave, but with the harpy watching that could be difficult.” Jethrik agrees. “Either way, let’s keep moving!”
“I agree with Jethrik,” says Zeyala. “I’d hate for him to be taken again.”
“Then we should head down to ground level,” responds Jharad. “Inside and back to the bird tower, then take the stairs down.”
Keng nods adding, “There were a few doors we left closed. Should we check them as we pass to make sure we leave nothing behind us?”
Toshio finally speaks up, “We can continue the attack – on our way out. By the time we find an exit we’ll want to withdraw to refresh our spells. Time is on our side if we don’t run out of healing and spells.”
“I should be able to handle any injuries while we make our way out,” says Zeyala.
Jharad sighs, “Okay, then lets move out of here, strategically.”
Keng walks up to Toshio and nose-to-nose says, “I ain’t leavin’ until I have killed Bird-boy.”
Toshio steps back and says, “Then let’s hope we find him on the way out.”
Jharad points west to the gatehouse, “Keng, gatehouse. We will have cover and an egress should we need it. Lets move.”
Keng glares at the elf and says, “This better not be a trick to get me to leave.” He lopes off leading the way along the parapets towards the gatehouse.
Keeping an eye on Zaiobe, Jharad runs after Keng and Toshio.
“I’m sure Jaharad hasn’t turned tricks since his college days.” Jethrik mumbles as he follows along.
Keng and the others reach the top of the gatehouse roof, a large open area of flat stone surrounded by low stone battlements. He flings open the door of the nearest guard tower on the north side.
Wasting no time Keng heads inside the tower and finds a trapdoor on the floor, he flings that open as well to find a ladder down to the ground level of the gatehouse. As they duck inside the double doors of the despoiled shrine are thrown open and a horde of dire corbies and savage reptilian warriors armed with clubs and spears pour out onto the parapet.
“Zeyala! Jaharad! Ladies first! Down the ladder!” shouts Jethrik when he catches sight of the mob.
Keng slaps Toshio on the back and says, “The line must be drawn here! We stand side by side where the parapet meets the gatehouse roof and make them come through one at a time. Elf you stand back and fire into them as they come through while we hack at them.” Keng bolts off to block off the parapet.
Toshio is so very relived that the bickering is over! He abandons himself to the joy of righteous battle and moves with Keng to block their foes. “Victory and the heart!” he bellows. He is not ready, however, for the sickening stench of the troglodyte horde and finds his eyes tearing up and his stomach lurching.
As the troglodytes approach their awful stench precedes them. Keng, unaffected, bellows, “Your smell is perfume in the air!” He delivers a vicious blow to the troglodyte chieftain with his axe and then kicks his corpse backwards into the following monsters, screaming, “That all you got?”
Jethrik casts a grease spell and causes a couple of the troglodytes to slip, though the dire corbies are able to maintain their balance.
Jharad seems ready to cast a spell when nausea from the troglodyte’s stench overpowers him. Quickly reaching into a pouch he retrieves a potion marked with a small black skull and red line running through it, he opens the stopper and swallows its entire contents and within moments his stomach settles and he is able to focus on what needs to be done. Zeyala, though disgusted by the stench of the troglodytes is able to resist its sickening effects. She reaches out and confers guidance on Jharad.
Jethrik reaches down and dusts off his feet while saying, “23 skidoo!”
The first two dire corbies lob flasks at Keng and Toshio that turn out to be alchemist’s fire. They explode in a flash of heat and light, one hitting Keng in the chest and the other hitting behind Keng’s to the southwest. Keng’s garments catch on fire while fire splashes onto Toshio. Keng quickly grabs the edge of his cloak and uses it to smother the fire on his tunic. He swipes at the troglodyte in front of his with a one-handed grip on his axe to ward it off.
While Keng is putting out the fire on himself, Toshio steps in to take a swipe at the troglodyte behind the dead chieftain who has just regained his feet. Whispering Shrike, however, slides off its scales.
“Pharasma, grant us your blessings!” shouts Zeyala.
Jharad imbues his bow with arcane power once again and sends two arrows flying past Toshio into the chest of the troglodyte who falls dead at the paladin’s feet. He says low enough so only those immediately around him can hear, “Zeyala and Jethrik, our fall back point is the Desna Observatory…”
Two of the dire corbies lob flasks of alchemist fire again and both hit Toshio who is set ablaze, while fiery liquid splashes onto Keng.
At the same time the troglodytes hurl a volley of javelins at Toshio and Keng. The javelins clatter all around them but none hit, and the troglodyte standing on the parapet walkway that is still slick from Jethrik’s spell falls back down again.
The red robed dire corby and the two ogrekin duck back into the keep and out of view as Kikonu casts a spell and his form begins shifting and wavering. He flaps his wings and launches himself out the door and over the courtyard to direct his warriors from the air. That is when Zaiobe finally acts. She stands up from where she was perched atop the tower roof and with swift precision sends one magical flaming arrow after another at Kikonu. Both miss and Zaiobe roars in rage, though no sound issues from her open mouth.
“Wherzzat?” Jethrik whispers back to Jharad as he hands his quiver to him. Summoning up reserves within himself that he did not even know he had he then casts grease again on the flask still remaining in the hand of the nearest dire corby. The corby drops the vial at its feet and it explodes and splashes burning liquid on it and the corby behind it.
Toshio, fortunately, was already backing away when the corby dropped its flask. “Keng, trade!” Toshio calls as starts to put himself out. As he does so he calls to everyone in general, “Watch out behind…” Despite his efforts he is painfully burned on the chest and arms before the fires go out.
Keng charges onto the walkway slashing at the corbies in the hopes of cutting them down or at least keeping them from throwing anymore flasks but finds himself slipping on the greasy surface of the walkway.
Zeyala again bestows the guidance of Pharasma upon Jharad who then wounds the two leading dire corbies with thistle arrows, causing painful wounds that won’t stop bleeding. In reply to Jethrik he whispers back, “Southeast side of town, across from the cemetery. Tell Spivey I sent you.”
Kikonu, enraged by Zaiobe’s betrayal, wheels in the air to face her. “You feather-brained harridan! I’ll kill you for this!” Flying towards Zaiobe he looses an arrow of his own in her direction. The arrow grazes her scalp and from the look in her eyes she now realizes that what started as a spiteful attempt at assassinating her disrespectful former lover has now turned into a fight for her life.
The dire corby in the lead starts kicking and clawing at the prone Keng with its taloned feet who is forced to roll from side to side to avoid the blows, while the dire corby behind the first hurls its last flask at Toshio. The flask sails past him and hits the tower, splashing the hapless paladin with even more liquid fire. The cawing of the dire corbies sounds as though they are crying “Doom! Doom!”
The troglodytes continue hissing but for the moment they do not hurl any javelins for fear of hitting and thus aggravating their allies.
Zaiobe fires another flaming arrow at Kikonu. This one hits him square in the chest. Kikonu, trailing flames all the way, hits the peaked roof of the southern side of the keep, tumbles down the roof amid an avalanche of broken tiles and stonework and falls with a bone crunching smack onto the hard packed earth of the courtyard where he lies still and silent. Zaiobe squats back down again upon the tower roof to resume watching the battle. Her countenance filled with a sadistic and very self-satisfied glee.
Jethrik shrugs off his pack and with the speed granted to him by his spell zips across the gatehouse to the ramparts and towers on the west side of the castle to make sure no enemies are coming behind them.
Toshio puts his left hand upon his wounds and says a quick prayer to Iomedae for healing. The burns cool a bit, but are still very painful.
Keng rises up from the slippery ground, ducking another swipe of the dire corbies talons. He strikes it with his axe and the corby is staggered by the blow.
Zeyala calls upon Pharasma to grant healing to her allies and once more light shines forth from every pore in all directions embracing and revivifying Toshio and Keng. Keng’s wounds are almost entirely erased, whereas Toshio’s burns now only sting.
Jharad sends two more arrows into the first dire corby, dropping it, while saying quietly to Zeyala, “If things go badly I will say ‘Go’. You run out the portcullis to safety. Understand?”
The two dire corbies remaining both decide they have had enough of the slippery walkway. Both leap up onto the parapets and leap from merlon to merlon over the crenellations until they are both close enough to Keng to lean down and swipe at him with their talons. One does succeed in leaving a bloody gash down Keng’s left cheek.
The troglodyte in the greased area falls once more, and the rest of the troglodytes begin backing away from it, once more holding their remaining two javelins in reserve.
On the north side of the keep the red robed dire corby, having now drawn a longsword from the sheathe at its side, exits from the keep onto the parapet walkway on the north side and leads the two ogrekin across, obviously meaning to come around and attack the gatehouse roof from the west side.
Jethrik uses a cantrip to send word to Jaharad. Jharad hears Jethrik whisper, “Red Robes and the two big guys are coming. Very soon!” The gnome runs back to the others.
Keng quickly looks back and seeing he is getting too far in front of the others slashes at the corbies in front of him but they are too agile and hop over his blows only to land with perfect balance back upon the merlons. Keng begins falling back to the edge of the gatehouse roof where Toshio can assist him.
Toshio holds his position, ready to cut down anything that gets past Keng. He again calls upon Iomedae to heal himself.
With guidance granted to him by Pharasma through Zeyala, Jharad lets fly two more arrows that join the others in the torso of one of the dire corbies attacking Keng. Jharad yells, “We are threatened on both sides. Everyone climb down now!”
Zeyala wastes no time, pushing open the half-open door of the tower entering and throwing open the trap door.
The red robed corby and two ogrekin continue their race across the ramparts, their heads can be seen passing by the crenels.
The troglodyte who slipped finally gets to his feet and carefully makes his way out of the greased area and rejoins the other troglodytes who await the outcome of the battle with the dire corbies and the arrival of their allies on the far side of the gatehouse.
The two corbies press their attack on Keng, raking him with their claws. The one on the right with Jharad’s arrows still in its side, even manages to hook Keng’s left bracer with its right claw and retain a grip on the half-orc’s arm.
Jethrik calls out to Keng, “Hey tough guy, that bird can’t jerk you around,” He then grabs his pack and leaps over the side of the castle wall. A thump is heard followed by, “Ow! Frack! Eh, could be worse.”
“Let’s get down, fast!” Toshio yells to the others. He reaches out and lays one a hand upon Keng’s back to heal him of some of his injuries as the latter struggles to free himself from the dire corby’s grip.
Keng, still fatigued and now held fast, and yet blessed by Zeyala, healed by Toshio, and inspired by Jethrik, drops the axe from his right hand, draws his dagger, and begins stabbing the corby in the arm. It loses its grip and jerks away from Keng, slipping right off the wall. It lands with a hard smack down in the courtyard is still at last in a growing pool of blood.
Jharad says, “Toshio, get Zeyala to safety. Keng, jump!” and starts moving towards the half-orc.
“What do you mean, jumping!?” questions Zeyala. She sprints back to the wall, and drops down from the edge while shouting, “The temple never trained me for this!” She lands hard but manages to not twist an ankle.
Noticing that the remaining corby still has a small pouch of flasks, Jharad quickly intones “Verum Percuti!” and sends a magically aimed arrow into it. It pierces the pouch and burrows deep into the abdomen of the corby causing the three vials of alchemist’s fire in the pouch to all explode simultaneously. The vicious creature goes up like a torch, showering sparks and fire on Keng. Pinwheeling its arms it leaps off the merlon and crashes through the limbs of an oak tree that had grown up next to the wall, setting branches and leaves on fire as it plummets. It hits a pile of dried fallen leaves and those too burst into flames as it thrashes around among them until its struggles cease.
The red robed corby and the ogrekin arrive at the southwest corner of the keep, running as fast as they can to cut off the intruder’s escape.
The troglodytes hurl a second volley of javelins that land all around Keng and Toshio but none hit them.
Keng says, “Time to leave!” he sheathes his knife, grabs his axe, and climbs up onto the crenellation.
Together, Keng, Jharad, and Toshio vault over the edge of battlements and down into the forest below, crying, “Shiiiiit!”
As his three companions land hard besides him, Jethrik looks at the closed portcullis and muses, “We really need to come back to see if that portcullis is stuck after all!” muses Jethrik.
Zeyala once more calls upon Pharasma to heal herself and her friends so that they will be whole enough to make it through the forest back to camp. After that, only Keng and Toshio still feel burned and battered but they are well enough to keep going and even fight again if necessary. After a moment, Keng’s fatigue even wears off as he gets a second wind.
A last volley of javelins is hurtled over the castle walls at them by the troglodytes but none come close to hitting. The companions take cover under the trees and race down the bluff ahead of the spreading fire below the walls of the castle.
Jethrik is walking quickly circling the party. His voice higher and quicker than normal. “Dudes, that fight was crazy!” He chirps. “Not smoked too much flayleaf and wake up on the beach with a woman who’s name you can’t remember crazy. No, that’s good crazy! This was more like living alone with 47 cats and saving your feces in a box crazy. No one likes that kind of crazy.”
Keng snorts a laugh and claps the gnome on his head. He says, “I need a vacation!”
Jharad smiles at the banter then sobers and says, “Let’s go.” Then he and Toshio lead the way back to the observatory.
“The party is back together and our dealings with the harpy concluded,” muses Zeyala. “Once rested, we can focus on Ameiko.”
When they reach the relative safety of the observatory in the ruins of the village Zeyala asks, “Is anyone still injured? Pharasma still grants me her power to heal.” This time Toshio is fully healed, and Keng’s wounds are all but gone.
“Where is the caravan and Ameiko?” Jethrik asks. “They may need to be warned about Jharad’s screw up.”
Jharad slaps the back of the bard’s head at his comment then responds, “Ameiko is safe with Shalelu. If they need to move she will take care of her. As for us, I suggest we move to the lighthouse. It has a good vantage point and is well enough away from the fires should they move into the village.”
Spivey flies in and heaves a sigh of relief to see that they are all okay. “What happened?” She asks. “I flew over when I saw the smoke.”
Jharad responds, “That last corby fighting Keng still had a pouch of those fire bomb flasks on him. I buried an arrow though it and deep into his chest. It exploded as I intended but then he fell off the battlements and into the tree line below, an unexpected side effect. Spivey, would you mind doing a quick scout to see if they are massing an assault against us? It would be nice to know if we can relax for a bit. And please be wary of that harpy, she is still around.”
After about half an hour Spivey returns and says, “All is quiet at the castle. They all seem to have gone inside. I’m not going to risk going in there. The grounds are full of smoke because the wind is blowing the smoke over the castle and out to sea. That’s good though, perhaps the fire will go out before it reaches the village or the rest of the forest.”
Spivey gives Jharad a sharp look, “I thought elves were more considerate of the forest. Did you really not care that you might take out 100s of thousands of acres of habitat just to kill one of your enemies. Y’know…” she flies right in front of Jharad’s nose and pokes the tip of it with her tiny index finger, “…only you can prevent forest fires.”
“What happened?” Jethrik exclaims. “I was like.. eck!” pantomimes being hoisted into the air “and then, oof” and collapses as if he was dropped from a height. “The guys were like… urg, urg, urg” as Jethrik climbs up an invisible rope “then we got ambushed by a Tengu and Keng went down like… huff!” as he falls again. “I went” Jethrik waves his hands “and the Tengu goes WHOOP! And Keng pop up! Huzzah! And he and Toshio beat the Tengu and his minions! BAM, BAM”
Jharad pushes Jethrik’s pirate hat down over his face.
Jharad looks at her flatly, “It was not my intention to do so. What was my intention, however, was to save my friends and escape the strategically imbalanced situation presented to us. That I succeeded at with aplomb. The events which followed are nothing more than mere misfortune brought on by denizens of the castle who seem to enjoy playing with fire.”
“And since we are on the subject,” he continues with a non sequitur, “you mentioned earlier that your previous master perished. Would you by chance be interested in becoming my familiar?”
Spivey backs up her mouth drops in amazement. “You… you… We just met! And you want me to be your familiar?!”
Jharad smiles wide at his own joke and says, “Got you.”
“Hmf!” she snorts and flies away out of the observatory. Jharad momentarily feels a compulsion enchantment coming over him but easily wills it away.
“Oh come on,” he calls after her through his own laughter. “I am just playing with you Spivey. Honestly I would like it very much if you came with us when we leave here. You have been so very helpful.” He lets the last part trail off as he is sure she is out of earshot by then. Still chuckling, Jharad sits himself down to rest for a while.
“What was that about?” Jethrik asks. “I guess I missed some stuff.”
“I don’t think you should be mean to Spivey.” Jethrik whines. “I don’t think you’re very nice.”
Keng is hard at work repairing his gear and sharpening his axe which has a few notches in its blade. He grumbles something about having to leave so abruptly they couldn’t plunder any spoils.
Zeyala approaches Keng. Taking a seat near him, she pulls out her clay pipe, lights it, and takes a few puffs. “Keng,” she says after a few moments. “Those scratches on your face. I can all but make them go away…if you like.” She reaches out to touch his cheek.
Keng squirms awkwardly and blushes a deep green. “My scars tell a story of battle m’lady. Do they bother you?”
“M’lady?” she giggles. “I’m no lady…well, of course I’m a lady, but not deserving of that title. Just Zeyala, or even Zeya is fine.
And no,” she continues. “Your scars do not bother me. I thought they might be painful, that’s all.”
Zeyala traces her finger along one of the scars. “They give you character.” She grins at Keng and takes a few more puffs on her pipe.
“Zeya,” Keng rumbles, “I find your company… pleasing.” Keng turns back to honing his axe.
As they sit in the dark observatory Jethrik passes around his bottle of Galdurian wine.
After a while Jharad suggests, “Or we could just stay here in the observatory instead.”
Fortunately the fire burns itself out fairly soon as the surrounding forest is damp from the recent storms and the winds are blowing out into the bay. Still, a significant portion of the trees on the bluff is consumed before the day is out and dense clouds of smoke fill the air.
Once it is clear that the fight really is over and assured by Spivey that Shalelu wouldn’t let harm come to Ameiko, Toshio doffs his armor and does what he can to clean and repair his gear. Before bedding down he does his devotions, grateful for the outcome of the day.