The Amatatsu Seal

Back at the portcullis blocking the way to the vaults, Jethrik fits the disks into the appropriate circular depressions in the wall, matching sun to sun and moon to moon. As soon as both disks are in the iron bars of the portcullis slowly grind down into the ground. Jethrik quickly returns to the rear of the party. Beyond the portcullis the hall winds just a little further to the southwest and they come to a 115’ by 15’ room with walls of smooth stone, spattered with ancient bloodstains and deep, violent gouges. Deep drifts of dust lie on the floor, while two immense stone doors hang open to the southwest, revealing two empty vaults beyond.

Before Toshio, who is in the lead in the narrow winding corridor, can step into the room the dust on the floor swirls into the air, coalescing into an ominous shadowy form that takes on the ghostly image of an old but handsome Tian man. The spirit adopts a defensive posture. His katana held before him menacingly.

Spivey, flying near Toshio, whispers, “ ‘Grandfather waits in the dark, but he knows not who he was…’ that’s what Ameiko said.” Toshio senses the presence of evil in the direction of the spirit but at the same time he recognizes who it is. In Ameiko’s home he had seen a portrait of Rokuro Kaijitsu, Ameiko’s grandfather, and he knows that this is his spirit, warped now by despair and anguish. Is it even possible that any of the man he was might be recalled? The spirit watches, ready to defend the vaults to the death, perhaps not even knowing it has already done so long ago.

“What do you see?” whispers Zeyala.

“Gorum’s Hairy Ball Sack, more ghosts,” Keng grumbles. “This one’s all yours paladin.”

Toshio is saddened by what must have happened to Ameiko’s grandfather to turn him into… this. Nevertheless, Toshio tries to show respect for the man it once was. He kneels, as one would to a daimyo and says in Minkaian, “Lord Kaijitsu, I bring greetings from your granddaughter, Ameiko Kaijitsu. She is in need of help and we believe an item that may restore her is in these vaults. Will you let us pass?” Having spoken, Toshio rises and waits for an answer. Not expecting words to work, he is very much on edge and expecting to be attacked.

The wraith’s eyes bulge and he freezes motionless. He lowers his sword, then says in a mournful voice in Common, “I… know… this… naaaaammmeee…..” A moment later he raises his arms and cries out in anguish, then turns to face Toshio, tears of dust running down his incorporeal cheeks. He says, “Take the Seal away from here – take it to my child – it is no longer safe – and I am no longer worthy of guarding it…” The wraith points to the blank eastern wall and then, with another agonized cry, he flies apart into dust and the presence of evil disappears.

As the apparition fades, Zeyala says to Toshio, “Thank you for releasing Lord Kaijitsu.”

“I didn’t think it would work like that. I thought we were in for a tough fight. But I’m glad if his spirit can finally rest. He was an honorable man in life.”

Keng nods his head vigorously, with a slight smile, his ruddy green color returning and his face showing relief. Like the feeling of relief one gets in a drinking contest gone too far when one is about to vomit explosively and then realizes that moment has passed and you are still able to keep drinking.

Having been pointed out, Jharad is able to find the practically seamless secret door in the eastern wall that opens into a small 5’ square chamber with another secret door on its eastern wall. Past that is a room not quite 10’ square that appears to only be half-excavated – the eastern portion of the room remains a rough cavern wall. Three identical darkwood chests bound with bronze sit against the base of the rough wall.

Toshio goes in as soon as Jharad is clear of the hidden doors.

​Jharad stands inside the chamber but close to the door and watches Toshio as he approaches the chests.​

Keng stands outside guarding the entrance.

Jethrik also moves out of the vault, not wanting to get caught in any potential trap.

With nothing to distinguish the chests from each other, he opens the middle chest.

Zeyala is curious, but still cautious. She is just inside the portcullis entrance.

With nothing to distinguish the chests from each other, he reaches out to open the middle chest and it pops open as soon as he touches it. Inside is a box roughly 10” in height and about 9” or so wide and long. The box’s top lid is sealed and the top compartment acts as the seal for middle compartment that in turn seals the bottom compartment. The box is covered in red lacquer with a black stylized Tian dragon. No evil radiates from the box. Opening it he finds in the top compartment a stone statuette of a dragon. It is actually a seal with a stylized character on the bottom. As he takes up the seal he collapses and blacks out as it begins to spiritually stamp its mark upon his very soul. The seal’s power, however, radiates outward, not impeded by any barrier or reliant upon mere proximity. Jharad, Keng, Jethrik, and Zeyala all collapse as well.

Each is given the same rapid series of visions. They see an army of terrible fiends – with burning skin, glaring eyes, and sharp tusks, wearing armor and wielding weapons such as would be more familiar in the land of Minkai. They emerge in storm from a vast forest and look out upon the rice paddies, villages, temples, shrines, pagodas, towns, and cities of Minkai. This vision is swiftly followed by another: a young man dressed in royal robes standing over a simple well, a friend at his side. Suddenly they are both standing in the shadow of a giant and indistinct figure. Somehow they know that the young man in the vision is Emperor Shigure of Minkai. He looks up at the giant and his eyes widen in fear. Then he looks for help from his friend, but the friend is now sheathed in a frightening suit of jade armor. The jade warrior draws a katana and strikes down Emperor Shigure, then holds the bloody sword aloft in triumph. A third vision follows, this time a young Tian man handing a beautiful katana to a richly dressed Ulfen man in exchange for a bag of gold. It is Rokuro Kaijitsu as a young man, except that his real name is Amatatsu Tsutoku, the patriarch of one of the five royal families of Minkai – now the last surviving royal family. In the city of Kalsgard in the Land of the Linnorn Kings he sold the legendary katana Suishen to an Ulfen merchant named Fynn Snaevald in order to finance his family’s flight and exile. The katana is actually intelligent and can impart much more knowledge of the Amatatsu family’s legacy if recovered. As this last vision fades they see Ameiko waking from her deep sleep dressed in the finery of an empress. She rises to her feet to find that she is not in some hidden forest camp nor even in a Varisian caravan but had fallen asleep within the arms of a jade throne. Ameiko Kaijitsu is actually Amatatsu Ameiko, the last heir of the Jade Throne, the true empress of Minkai.

As they awaken, Toshio and the others now know what the seal is, what it has done, and what it can do. It is one of the five royal seals of Minkai and represents the Amatatsu family’s divine right to rule the empire of Minkai. Now they too have been invested with the right to rule as adopted scions of the Amatatsu family should anything happen to Ameiko, though they are honor bound to serve and protect her with their lives. Furthermore they realize that the Amatatsu Seal has a daily allotment of five charges that it can use to cast the following spells on an Amatatsu scion: cure serious wounds, remove curse, remove disease or restoration. Each casting takes up 1 daily charge. Alternatively the seal can cast heal on an Amatatsu scion, but doing so expends all 5 charges. Finally, and only at the seal’s discretion, it can cast resurrection on an Amatatsu scion, but doing so renders its spellcasting powers useless for a month.

The Amatatsu Seal itself radiates strong magic, and those with the proper resources can sense this magic across oceans and continents, allowing it to be traced across any distance. Originally meant to allow its rightful owners the ability to track it if stolen, this feature makes it dangerous to remove the seal from its warding box, for as long as the warding box is open, the oni can track it.

One final ward exists on the Amatatsu Seal, confounding attempts to whisk it away from its homeland but also making returning a stolen seal home an arduous task. The Amatatsu Seal can never be transported by teleportation magic or dimensional travel. It cannot be taken from the Material Plane save via special portals blessed by the gods, and those who carry the seal cannot cast or otherwise use teleportation effects.

When Toshio awakens he quickly shuts the seal back into the warding box. Toshio picks up the warding box, planning on delivering it to Ameiko (“Empress Amatatsu” now!). He sits a while, contemplating what they have just learned. “What an opportunity” he whispers, almost to himself.

After another pause, Toshio leaves his contemplation. Looking to Jharad, usually with such sticky fingers, he asks, “Aren’t you going to open the other chests?”

Jharad begins a slight chuckle that quickly grows to a moderate laugh then crescendos into a deep howling guffaw. With tears running down his face it ends quickly, replaced with a wide smile. Eventually he says, “And here I was wondering what I would do with myself for the next few years or decades.”

Keng stands back up a bit shakily. He tries to talk then stops and stares into the room where Toshio is sitting up by the chest. He tries to speak again but the only sound he can make is a croak. He turns to Zeyala and tries to speak a third time, again without success. His mind is spinning and he thinks, ‘Royalty? Me?’ Then he sobers and finally finds his voice, “Paladin! The Empress! We must hurry to her side!”

Jharad takes the seal from Toshio saying, “Let me take this for a moment.” He walks over to Keng and wills it to restore him to his previous power. With a friendly smile he says, “Now maybe you can stop whining so much and be the man I know you to be.”

Keng throws back his arms and bellows, “I am myself!” He then slaps the elf on his back he skips a few steps ahead. “Thank you my friend!”

Jethrik throws stones at Jharad and Keng. “Of course she’s an empress! Hasn’t it been obvious all along? Open the other ones! Maybe we’ll find out Keng is a god!”

Jharad walks back over to the chest on the left. “Quite right Toshio. Quite right. Lets see what there is to see and then return ourselves to our…” He gives another throaty chuckle then finishes, “… to our Empress.” Jharad then tries to open up the chest on the left.

“I don’t suppose there’s a bottle of wine in there…” Jethrik wonders.

“Has this become our fate? Our destiny?” asks Zeyala of no one in particular. Then, snapping back to reality, she adds, “Yes, we must return to Amieko.”

Seeing that Jharad is making no progress with any of the keys he’s collected, Jethrik tries to use his dagger to bust the locks on the other two chests but that the locks are too sturdy.

Keng, frustrated with all the dithering and wasting of time when they need to get back to the Empress who lies vulnerable in the woods, strides over to the chests and says, “By the gods you are a chatty bunch,” and hacks open the locks of the other two chests with his axe.

“Thank you, Keng. You’ll make a fine rogue some day.” Toshio hands the items out to various people so nobody is overloaded, and then says, “Okay, let’s get back to Ameiko” and starts walking out.

Keng takes a moment to swap breastplates, leaving his old one behind.  He shrugs his shoulders and flexes his chest to settle it. With a nod of satisfaction he follow the group.

“Keng, my friend, you have found a treasure worthy to be savored by kings and princes!” continuing with some surprise in his voice, “Which, I suppose, Ameiko is the former and we are now the later!! When we get back to the caravan, I will set forth a feast of good ole Gnome cookin’. This whiskey will crown it! We’ll start with my mother’s horseradish soup! Mmmm… That’ll clear your sinuses, my friend. And then, sautéed scotch bonnets. The vinegar really wakes up the spice. Curried chili for an entree, I think. I’ll have to give dessert some thought….”

Keng utters a low rumbling sound like a small avalanche of talus stones, which if you know orcs at all, understand it as a mix of laughter and excitement of things to come.  “Gnome, I look forward to your mother’s recipe! And, the fine drink!”

Grabbing his new quiver Jharad claps Toshio and Keng on their backs then says to everyone, “Toshio, lead us back to your… um, the Empress if you would. It is time we leave this castle behind.”

“Let us forth with with all due haste and aclarity!” Jethrik barks. “Off we go, like a herd of turtles in a cloud of cookie dust!”

“Now the Paladin is really going to have performance anxiety,” Keng blurts out impulsively then falls into loud guffaws.

Toshio, in particularly high spirits, refrains from whistling as they go – there may yet be trouble and there’s no reason to draw it to them.

“Wait! Wait!” shouts Spivey buzzing around them all. Kelda also looks like she’s full of questions, esp. after having been handed a new shield from the secret vault. Spivey continues, “What happened to you all! Are you okay? You all just fell to the ground at once and now you’re all fine! And who is this empress you keep talking about? Say, you don’t mean…”

“What! An empress? What empress? And I too want to know what happened to you all,” Kelda adds.

“Ooh,” Jethrik shudders. “Performance anxiety. I had a terrible case once. I had memorized the full track of Callistria’s Loves. You can imagine how that draws a tough audience. Just as my father calls me to the stage, I blanked completely. I think I even forgot how to walk. Thank the gods the musicians played long enough for me to catch a breath. Oh wait… do you mean the other kind? Eww, does that really happen to humans?”

Jethrik puffs out his chest “Secret stuff!” He’s waves off their questions. “Much too important for you!” He laughs. “We were given a vision…”

Jharad hastens to interrupt the overly loquacious gnome, “I would like to wait until we get back to camp so that all questions can be addressed at the same time.”

“And Spivey,” he continues, “Now is the time you should think about what your future holds. I would like it very much if you accompanied me on our journey ahead. My guess is that it will be long and arduous, but rewarding. It is your decision though, one which you should not make lightly.”

Spivey stops buzzing about, hovers for a moment with a thoughtful look on her face and nods. Then resumes flying about.

“You know Jharad. I admire a man who isn’t afraid of sounding like an arrogant jerk.”

Back at the camp, Ameiko is finally awake and drinking some broth. Shalelu watches over her carefully. When she sees Toshio and the rest enter the clearing she blushes and looks away for a moment. Turning back to them she asks, “So you know…”

Jethrik holds up his hand to the others to try to stifle any further response and says simply, “We do.”

Entering camp, Jharad walks over to Shalelu and caresses her back in a silent ‘Hello’ then stand with her as Ameiko speaks.

Carefully Ameiko lays down the bowl of broth and stands up. For a moment it looks as though she is going to break down into tears, but then she composes herself. Her cloak lifts up into the air and falls upon her shoulders, guided by the hands of her invisible servant. She tosses her hair back away from her eyes and in that moment there is not a member of the company who can think of anyone more striking or beautiful. Her face takes on a determination and confidence no one, not even her childhood friend Toshio, has ever seen before.

Cue music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JM9v8bSANSY

“Now I know who I am and where I come from. I used to think it didn’t matter. I would forge my own destiny. I didn’t understand the pain of my father, my grandfather, my ancestors. I didn’t know what they had lost. What they had to give up. And they did it all so that the family… our heritage… would not be destroyed. Now I am the last.” She pauses to stare at the earth, and with hands clenched look up into the heavens, and then looks again at her companions. “I only wished to manage a business of my own, but the gods have made me to be an empress. I have a people… a people that need me. They are a people oppressed and exploited, murdered, raped, and enslaved by these oni who govern with fear and terror instead of justice and righteousness! So, those of you who wish to may return to your homes and your own destinies, but I am going on… to Minkai.” She draws her enchanted mithral rapier and holds it aloft continuing in a voice that could command armies, “To save my people. To throw down the oni and whatever other fiends may be their allies. I will take back my name. I am Amatatsu Ameiko! I will take back the throne for the people of Minkai. I am the Empress of the Jade Throne!”

Toshio, nearly in tears himself, steps up to Ameiko.  Kneeling as he did with her grandfather, he says “My Empress, I am yours to command, if you will have me. I could not be more proud to serve in such a quest. And I could not be more proud to have such a leader.”

Keng also kneels before her, right fist clenched upon his breast, axe laid at his left side, “I left the Cinderlands on a quest. I knew then not what the quest was. Now I know. I am yours. Command me.”

Zeyala bows before Amieko. “If this is my destiny, I follow it willingly,” she says. “I have already begun to uncover mysteries about myself, my powers, on this journey. I believe that in helping you, those mysteries will continue to unravel. Empress Amieko, I am ready to serve.”

“Six against an empire of supernatural evil?” Jethrik shakes his head “I’m in as long as the wine holds out.”

“Seven,” says Shalelu. “I have had enough of Varisia for a time. I think I would like to see the rest of the world. Empress Ameiko, I will gladly go with you.”

Jharad smiles at the others, “And I will be the eighth. Like Shalelu I have a thirst for travel and will gladly keep you all as company as I go about it.”

“Huh,” noises Kelda. “I didn’t expect to be rescued by the retainers of an empress, or empress-to-be, from a land on the other side of the world. I hope you will not take it amiss your ladyship if I decline to go with you. We haven’t really even been properly introduced and I my only wish now is to be home.”

Keng looks at Kelda for a long time, and then shakes his head thinking, “Too bad. She was good with a blade.”

Jharad looks over to Spivey, “And how about you? Had time to think it over yet? As said before I would be very happy to have you join me and this journey of ours would certainly benefit from one with your skills.”

Jethrik says to her, “Spivey, I’ve only just met you. So I am not in any position to know what you should do or what your calling should be. I’m not terribly spiritual, but I believe in the Dream as did the people who died in this castle. They believed in the Dream also, but the darkness stole over them. They are beyond our aid now. This place was once sacred to Desna and I can see why it should be protected. But the people who came here left a land that is now fighting darkness. We hope to give them a better Dream for the future. You could bring forth that Dream with us. We need your help and we greatly enjoy your friendship.”

Spivey shrugs and smiles. “After Ameiko’s speech, and all you have done and all it seems you plan on doing, how can I refuse? Besides, there is nothing more for me to do here. You’ve cleaned out the place and it is time to leave the dead for the dead and help the living.”

With a wide smile Jharad says, “I am so very happy to hear that Spivey. I look forward to our travels together.”

Toshio offers Ameiko the warding box containing the Amatatsu Seal. “You did get the part about keeping it in the warding box except in dire need, didn’t you?”

Taking it from Toshio with both hands, Ameiko raises it up for a moment to her forehead in a gesture of reverence. “Yes, we must be very careful with this and only use its powers in dire need.” She carefully puts it away in her pack.

“Now that the oaths have been taken, it’s time to toast them!” Jethrik runs around the camp gathering cups, bowls and anything else that would be useful.

Noting what Jethric is looking for, Jharad prestidigitates up several rough whiskey glasses for them to use.

Jethrik pours out shots of whiskey for all around. “To life, health and dreams!”

The Ten-Handed One

“Okay let us do this,” Jharad says. “That door, my dear comedian,” he finishes and points to the northwest door.

After looking for traps and detecting magic, Jethrik pulls open the door, hiding behind it all the while.

Taking the track left, they go eastward and see that it does indeed hook back up to the kitchen area. They then reverse and cautiously proceed eastward.​

Keng carefully counts his steps; ten steps forward then a 90-degree turn and five more. He sometimes has to use his fingers. After doing this a half dozen times or so he looks back at Jharad and says, “Okay, I think I got this.”

As they turn back to go the other way, Jharad hands the elemental gem he found to Zeyala. “Here, this was with the ogre, I doubt he had any idea what he had. This is an elemental gem. Crushing it will summon an elemental under your command. I think you should carry this.”

“This could definitely come in handy,” says Zeyala while placing the stone in a pouch at her side.

Going westward the cave ends at a 15’ by 15’ chamber. On the eastern side is an intricate iron screen with a wooden door in the middle painted with the image of a tall, beautiful blue-skinned woman sitting on a throne. This is obviously an image of Pharasma the goddess of the cycle of birth, death, and the weavings of fate. Through the patterns of the wrought iron they see another chamber 15’ wide and 35’ long, supported by stone pillars and with deep funerary alcoves to the north and south. The far end of the room seems to have partially collapsed into a large cavern in which faintly glowing motes of light swirl and dance in the air. The door radiates no magic, nor is any evil sensed. The door is also locked and the neither the skeleton key nor the ogre’s key works on it.

“Keng, think you can kick this open for us?” asks Jharad.

Jethrik readies his shield. He whispers, “Careful everyone. Whatever is beyond the gate is going to hear this”

Keng utters snarl/snorts/grunts (an aggressive chuckle sound unique to orcs) as he casually flips his dreadlocks back over his shoulders (a preening gesture of barbarians as if to say look at how strong and virile I am), “Of course. It is easy.” After two kicks the lock breaks and the door swings open.

As they enter they see that the crypt has long since been looted. The four niches to the north and the remnants of the four niches to the south contain nothing but empty, despoiled sarcophagi. The backs of the second and third niches on the south side have crumbled and now open onto a cave tunnel, while the fourth niche has collapsed completely into a large cavern that looks like a starry void thanks to mysterious glowing motes of light.

When Keng reaches the middle of the crypt a woman appears floating in the air at the far western edge of the room with the starry cavern behind her. A nimbus of faint blue light surrounds her. She wears a hooded black gown, but the hood is thrown back to reveal ashen gray skin, eyes that are completely white, and long flowing white hair. She is the living image of Pharasma. She surveys the group and then her eyes rest upon the hilt of the Skane, the ceremonial dagger of the devotees of Pharasma worn by Zeyala. She addresses Zeyala in Varisian (which Jharad and Jethrik also understand). “Sunteți toți binecuvântat, pentru că eu, Pharasma, au ales să manifet la tine. Acest lucru, însă, este un loc sfânt pentru mine. Anularea armele de intrare și apoi să se apropie de mine. Dacă faceți acest lucru, este posibil să primiți fiecare o binefacere de la mine pentru a vă ajuta în realizarea obiectivelor tale.”

“You are all blessed, for I, Pharasma, have chosen to manifest to you. This, however, is a place holy to me. Set aside your weapons by the entrance and then you may approach me. If you do so, you may each receive a boon from me to help you in accomplishing your aims.”

Keng’s bravado is quickly slipping away. He casts a few quick glances back over his shoulder to make sure he is not alone.

Zeyala lies prostrate before the manifestation, saying in Varisian, “We are honored.”  As she stands, her eyes remained cast downward, and she leaves her spear on the ground.  Since the Skane is ceremonial, she keeps that at her side.

Jethrik casts detect magic.

“Kelda, you have been here before. Did you encounter such a thing or similar when you were here?” asks Jharad.

She shakes her head in the negative and she tightens her grip on her masterwork longsword and takes a step back. The apparition of Pharasma says in Varisian, “Cel puțin unul dintre voi are respectul cuvenit. Puneți deoparte armele! Vino la mine în umilință și a primi binecuvântarea mea!”

“At least one of you has proper respect. Lay aside your weapons! Come to me in humility and receive my blessing!”

Jethrik continues to detect magic and senses one aura of only faint power but does not yet know its exact location.

Keng actually takes one step backwards as he is terrified looking at the specter of a goddess he knows is some freaky-assed ghost-thingy his axe will do naught to stop.

Toshio remains armed and continues his effort to discern the evil he detected. Aloud he says, “Be cautious. Something isn’t right. There is evil here.” Toshio becomes aware that there is one strongly evil aura before him somewhere in the direction of the apparition.

Jharad takes a step back and mutters (trying to keep it quiet from the others), “Sonitum.” From behind the apparition begins the sounds of a crowd of a dozen or more people booing.

Pharasma’s eyes widen in shock and outrage. “Te-ar indrazni! Tu mar bate joc de!” she screams in Varisian. [“You would dare! You would mock me!”]

The apparition of Pharasma disappears, replaced by something whose contours defy human understanding, esp. in the dimness of the far end of the crypt where the light cast by the earring pinned to Toshio’s chest barely reaches. Whatever is there slithers and writhes out of the cavern latching onto the farthest pillar. A voice quite unlike the apparitions but more gargling and heavy says, “Radii ardescit,” and a searing ray of flame stabs out of the darkness and hits Keng in the chest heating his breastplate and leaving him with moderate burns.

Toshio summons the power to smite this… thing. Refusing to consider the odds, he thinks of Iomedae’s tenet of ‘first into battle, last out’ and charges. “Come on, Keng! It’s no ghost! We can take this thing!” Whispered Shrike cuts into the writhing grasping tentacles of the beast, Greenish black ichor sprays all over himself and the floor around him, steaming ominously but so far not causing any harm aside from its foul putrescence.

Inspired by Toshio’s courageous charge, Kelda also charges the creature, her wild ululation echoes throughout the crypt and the caverns beyond. Unfortunately, though she strikes it a blow with her masterwork blade that would easily gravely injure or kill a man it doesn’t seem to harm the creature.

Jharad intones, “Raptum decorum!” and gains feline dexterity.

Jethrik reaches out to Keng, “This should help your appearance.” and Keng gets the benefit of blur.

Keng nervously nods his thanks saying, “Find someplace safe.”

Equally inspired by Toshio’s courage and heartened by his words that this is no ghost, he feels his fears fall away and in its place his rage rises up to grasp him. He bellows his war cry and charges after Toshio and Kelda. Wild and reckless he swings his axe so hard that it not only cuts an end off one of the tentacles wrapped around the end pillar but even creates a shower of sparks and stone chips as it strikes the pillar. The creature howls in pain and fury and the pale and milky eyes set above its fanged jaws glares with hatred at its attackers.

The creature bites at Toshio but misses. Then two hideous lobster-like claws emerge from beneath its maw and snap at Toshio backed by a malevolent power that is the very opposite of the power lent to Toshio by Iomedae. The claws latch onto Toshio and tear away bands from his armor, bruising or perhaps even breaking his ribs. Though still alive, Toshio can barely stand and knows that one more blow will kill him.

Even as it tears into Toshio the creatures tentacles lash at Keng, attempting to grab onto him. Fortunately Keng is agile enough to slip away from them – for the moment.

Toshio swiftly lays a hand upon his wounds to heal himself. It is enough to ease the pain in his ribs so he moves to flank the thing. With all the truth he can summon he calls out, “You are doomed, vile creature! We are here to end you!” His sword, however, fails to cut through the rubbery substance of its hide.

Kelda also ducks past its waving tentacles to flank it on the other side. The creature, however, uses the pillar to as cover and she is unable to get at it.

Jharad breathes magic into his bow, enhancing its performance, and looses one of the moderately magic arrows he found in the desecrated temple. Unfortunately the arrow hits the pillar and not the beast.

“Heal my friends! Send this fiend to be judged!” yells Zeyala as she unleashes a burst of healing energy.

“Holy shit, that looks like something I coughed up once,” exclaims Jethrik as he takes cover in a niche.

Keng slides towards Toshio, eyes blazing red with Rage yelling, “So Gorum e železna pračka umira faul dzverot!” His Great Axe whistles through the air as he brings it down upon the creature but is unable to cut through its hide.

Translation:  ”By Gorum’s Iron Rod Die You Foul Beast!”

“So how is his fear supposed to help us?” Jethrik calls out to everyone.

Suddenly a tiny, but fast, ball of sparkling light flies past Jharad, Zeyala, and Jethrik, leaving a rainbow trail in its wake. With astounding agility the ball of light flies through the writhing tentacles to Toshio’s side and briefly alights on his shoulder. It is Spivey. She lays a healing on the paladin’s neck and flies off taking cover behind him. Toshio still feels far from well, but now the worst pain of his wounds subsides and he is able to breathe a little easier.

The creature snaps at Toshio again but misses, then it withdraws to the edge of a 20’ drop into the cavern beyond.

Toshio follows but again is unable to slash through its rubbery hide.

Kelda, however, finally does pierce its hide and slashes it in a sensitive spot right beneath its eyes. It recoils from her and its eyes widen in fear.

Jharad’s next shot pierces one of the creature’s milky white eyes. In the language of the Abyss the creature shrieks into the air, “Father! Help! Faaaatthhhherrrrr! Pazuzu!”

Zeyala rushes towards the melee, her hand radiating with healing energy. Unfortunately, her limited sight causes her to stumble.  She makes it Toshio’s side, but some of her power is lost before she makes contact.

 Keng finds that he can’t get past Toshio and Kelda to get at the creature on the edge of the cavern.

Spivey summons forth a floating starknife of silvery light that appears in mid-air between her and the creature. It hurtles into the creature ripping a gash in its bulk.

Huge wings unfurl from the beast and it lifts up off the edge of the precipice over the cliff. As it moves away a cold, cloying miasma of greasy darkness radiates out from the creature catching Toshio, Kelda, Keng, and Zeyala, though not Spivey who is behind the cover of the rock wall.

Toshio can feel himself being sickened but with a quick prayer to Iomedae he is able to throw off the worst of it. Still, he feels woozy once more and the pain in his ribs is once more hampering his ability to fight.

Kelda snarls, hurt but not too badly by the unholy blight unleashed by the creature.

Keng and Zeyala, however, feel as though they are choking to death and cannot help gagging and heaving.

Toshio takes cover for the moment. He reaches out to Keng and lets Iomedae’s power heal his friend and cleanse him of the sickness.

“No!” screams Kelda. “You will not get away! My men will be avenged!” She transfers her sword into her shield hand, whips out a javelin and hurls it with the strength of all her rage. The javelin hits the creature in its mouth and its wings begin to falter.

Jharad concentrates, using his arcane powers to pull the ability to focus his shots from memories imprinted in his bow by past users. With this temporary knowledge he lets loose the last arrow of the four arrows found in the despoiled shrine above, which unknown to him was forged for the very purpose of being a bane to creatures such as this. The arrow sinks into the remaining eye of the foul creature before them and its agonized wailing stops as it plummets to the cavern below and where it is pierced through by a stalagmite and dies instantly.

Jethrik cannot contain his joy, “Woo Hoo!”

Keng’s rage slips away, his shoulders slump as he turns and walks dejectedly out of the room with his axe dragging on the ground.

Jethrik follows Keng “We need to find some wine to celebrate this victory. I can’t believe how you chop the tentacle off that thing.” jumping in the air he adds “Boom!”

Keng reaches down and lifts the gnome onto his shoulder and says, “Good idea. I need a drink. You recall where in this dump we find that?”

“Nope, we’ll have to poke around. Didn’t we see a room down here that looked like a kitchen? One can hope!”

Keng’s excellent hearing hears them talking about getting everyone healed. He says to Jethrik, “Let’s get healed and then go play.” He walks them both back into the room.

“Is anyone hurt? Please gather near and let me heal you,” instructs Zeyala. Once Keng, Toshio, and Kelda are gathered she radiates her healing light for them all.

“Spivey,” says Zeyala. “Thanks for the aid, but surely you’ve found us for something more.”

“Yes, it seems I found you just in time. Not that there was too much I could do against, whatever it was… but yes. I flew all through the castle and didn’t find you or anything else, except a giant waterbug and a lizard. I figured you must have come down here and then I heard all the shouting. I was looking for you because your friend Ameiko spoke again. She said, ‘Grandfather waits in the dark, but he knows not who he was.’ That’s all.” Spivey looks around and shivers. “I really don’t like being enclosed like this. Those lights are pretty though,” she points to the tiny motes of light bobbing and drifting in the dank air of the cavern beyond the crypt.

Jharad says, “Spivey, your presence will always be appreciated no matter how little you believe you may lend to the situation.” With this he gives a short but gracious bow. “And now, lets find that disk.” Jharad walks over to the ledge at the end of the crypt and is a little surprised to see that it falls away 20’ to the cavern floor below.

“Keng, we need your rope over here. Tie it off on one of the pillars so we can climb down,” asks Jharad.

Kent gives him a dark look. “Do it yourself,” he snarls, “You’re pretty good at finishing things off.” He takes his rope out and tosses it to the elf.

Jethrik gasps and puts a hand in front of his mouth.

Jharad gives Keng an odd look of surprised disappointment then begins to tie off the rope.

Keng is oblivious lost as he is in his sullenness.

Jharad says over his shoulder as he ties off the rope, “Your head is up your ass again Keng, just thought you may want to know. How about you remove it so we can lower ourselves down this cliff and find that disk. There may even be more things to kill.”

Keng grabs his head quickly a brief look of anxiety flickers across his face. Then says, “My head is on my shoulders. I do not think it would be possible to get it up my ass.” He pauses then adds, “I will lower you down.”

After the rope is tied off they carefully climb down into the large eerie grotto. The walls drip with moisture and bear strange and disturbing cave paintings of towering four-winged humanoid shapes. Most likely the same image as the demon depicted in the despoiled chapel on the second floor of the castle.

Spivey flies around the cavern examining them and then flies back to Jharad and the others with a worried look on her face. “That is the Pazuzu, the King of the Winged Demons.” She shivers. “

“So I think I’ve heard of something that’s like that thing we killed.” Jethrik offers. “They are called decapi. They live in forests and are intelligent but evil. They even kill each other. Much like humans! They don’t have magic powers, wings or claws though.”

“Agreed,” Jharad replies, “this one looks like it was warped in some chaotic fashion probably due to its affiliation with a very evil deity.”

“I’m not sure if this is the case, but it seems like it to me, but I’ve heard that sometimes fiends, devil, demons…well vile creatures from the lower planes mate humans and beasts and aberrations to produce half-fiends, and that might explain some of the anomalies of this creature,” adds Zeyala.

“Ugh!” Jethrik shudders. “Demon lords got some weeeeiiirrrrddd kinks if one of them got funky with his momma.”

“If it bleeds. I can kill it,” says Keng.

Looking around Jharad finds the glimmer of magic coming from the dropped wand of scorching rays (29 charges left you find out later) on the cavern floor. He also finds a silver circlet that had dropped from one of the creature’s tentacles. Upon examination he discerns that it is a circlet of persuasion, a silver headband that will make the wearer more likeable and believable and of course persuasive.

Jharad picks up the wand and tucks in into his belt. He then tosses the silver circlet to Jethrik saying, “Hey, this should help you con even more people into liking your performances. Do not let it go to your head though,” he finishes, laughing at his own joke.

“Groan.” Jethrik deadpans.

Right past the impaled decapus is another 20’ drop into a deeper part of the grotto. Down there caves wind away to the north and south. Going clockwise they come to a dead end at a smaller cave to the south. On the floor or weird leathery scraps still moist and pulsing. They may have be the remnants of some monstrous egg but it is impossible to tell how long ago it may have hatched. It might even be the egg the fiendish decapus came out of. A hoard of treasure lies at the back of the cave. A light steel shield bearing the image of Castle Brinewall and clearly radiating magic, a starknife also radiating magic, a pearl of power (1st level), a ring that radiates the remnants of magic (it may have once been charged with magic but no more), a magic radiating silver compass with gold accents that looks to be a wayfinder, a badge of office of a secret society of tomb robbers called the Pathfinders that will not only act as a compass but at a command word will radiate light and has a slot for an ioun stone. There are also 1,320 gold pieces and probably around 800 gold pieces worth of jewelry and gems.

As Jharad and the other sort through the treasure hoard, Jethrik, still looking for magic himself, finds the other disk. It is made of darkwood-and-silver like the other but this one is decorated with an intricate carving of Brinewall under the midnight moon. The disc also radiates faint transmutation magic. The other item is s stone statuette of Pazuzu depicting the demon lord as a bird-headed, four winged humanoid with his right arm raised. It also radiates magic but Jethrik cannot discern what kind.

“No one touch that statue.” Jethrik warns. “It just can’t be good.”

As she’s scanning the treasure, Zeyala says, “Some very nice things here, but nothing I can use.” “Take what we can use and sell the rest.  I’m sure the gods will reward my deeds at some point, but I’ll always take gold.” She looks up at the others and adds with a grin, “What?  I never took a vow of poverty.”

After the treasure is sorted through and divvied up for carrying back to the caravan the rest of the caverns are searched. To the north they find a cave that turns out to be a secret escape route to the eastern side of the now barren bluff that the castle sits upon. Returning to the castle dungeon they check out the last door they did not open, the one on the western side of the kitchen. The door is swollen shut but Keng easily kicks it open. Inside is a 15’ by 15’ chamber, foul smelling and dripping with moisture that runs down in rivulets amid thick tangles of nasty-looking fungus. Three washing bins in the walls are completely clogged with heaps of even more repulsive molds and mushrooms, some of which have grown to prodigious size, like the large mound of green mold sprouting dozens of purple-capped mushrooms in the center of the room. Zeyala quickly pulls Keng out of the doorway. She recognizes the mold in the center of the room as a phycomid, a dangerous fungoid creature that shoots pellets of acid. She poins to the purple-capped mushrooms growing out of nasty green sludge that are now shuddering and writhing. Tendrils of rank-smelling smoke began wafting up from them as well, smoke that is actually an acidic vapor. The whole mass begins creeping, in slow yet very disturbing fashion, towards the door. Keng quickly shuts the door on it, though it is likely it will be able to slither beneath the door and continue after them. They decide to move away quickly, as there is nothing to be gained from remaining it its vicinity. It is hoped that once they leave it will lose interest and stay where it is.

“Jethrik, you want a piggy back ride?” Keng asks.

Jethrik laughs, “I’d hate to bounce my head off the ceiling!”

Keng laughs in return, then he playfully retorts with a chuckle, “Then you best had keep up. You owe me a pint.” “If we ever find anything worth drinking in this cesspit,” he mumbles. Keng has clearly moved on and forgotten his lack of battle prowess with the octothingypus.

Jethrik holds up his fist. “To victory! and pillaged wine!”

Kelda Oxgutter

Jethrik walks over to the big stupid paladin “Hey Toshio. You like those old stories, eh? I found an old scroll in the harpy’s tower. I forget what it was called, but it was one you were looking for back in town. It appeared to be in good condition.”

“Really?” replies Toshio, brightening. “That’s great! But we’ll have to wait until we clear the place to go get it. Thank you, Jethrik,” he says with a smile, “that’s really good news.”

“Yeah, sorta” Jethrik shrugs. “But I’m not sure you can get them. I mean we have this understanding between the harpy and ourselves. We helped her kill her boyfriend, and she’s supposed to leave us alone. So far she’s abided by her side of the agreement. Unless she breaks her word, I don’t see how you can get those scrolls without breaking yours.”

“She might be willing to bargain.”

“You can bargain with a creature like that? Well, we’d best join the others.”

“Well, I think our prior deal with her is over, so there’s no obligation on either side… But you’re right – we should join the others.”

Zeyala shows no further interest in the room. As she exits, she takes one last look at Toro’s remains and says, “Your soul has been released from this realm to stand in judgment before the Reaper. Hopefully your actions in life will overshadow what you’ve done in undeath, for your sake.”

​As they leave Toshio muses, “Did you notice the helmet the guardsman in the artwork was wearing?” Indicating the helmet he now wears he continues, “I bet that was this helmet I wonder what happened to turn him from defender of the castle into that undead thing.”

Jethrik replies, “I guess we will know more as we go further into the ruins, but perhaps that priest in the red robes is powerful enough to animate a corpse. That’s not something I like to consider, since we have yet to find him. We may have another terrible battle on our hands.”

The search of the rest of the second floor of the keep goes by without any further incident. The next door over to the right of the storeroom opens into a narrow passageway that twists around until it ends at another door opening back into the feasting hall. Two doors on the north of that passageway open onto room that were probably once servant’s quarters. The first is a cramped chamber containing several bunk beds leaning precariously against the walls. Jharad spots a loose brick in the eastern wall behind which is a cleverly hidden niche containing several pieces of silverware that might be of some value.

“So one of the servants were stealing silverware!” Jethrik gasps. “Ameiko will be furious when she finds out! Probably have them put out on the streets!”

The door to the next room is stuck, just like the door to the storeroom. “What is wrong with this place, does nothing work properly,” snarls Keng? He plants his back foot firmly on the ground and kicks at the door with the flat of his foot just next to the handle (because everyone who knows anything about kicking in doors knows not to use your shoulder) beginning a series of ever increasingly fierce blows until on the third kick the door flies off its hinges broken into kindling. “Whatever is in here, surrender now or prepare to die.” He turns to Toshio and says, “All yours Mr. Dragon-Helm.”

Once Jethrik throws in the pebble, Toshio and the others can see in its light that it is another room for servants. In this one filaments of white, fibrous mold grow all along the walls and across the bunk beds, giving the room a foul, musty stink. Here and there, thicker mounds of fungus grow in nauseating colors. No magic or evil is detected in the room.

“I’m not fond of this mold or stench,” says Zeyala. “I think we should leave it alone.”

Keng nods vigorously.

Jethrik waves the stink from his nose “I vote for leaving it alone.”

Toshio says, “I think this one is best left alone, or at least until we clear out the more active denizens. This wreaks of illness.”

“Jethrik,” asks Jharad, “Can you use that sift spell to sort out from a distance what may be in this room?”

“Oh, right” Jethrik makes a box of his fingers and peers with one eye through the hole. He pans swiftly from side of the room to the other. He does not find anything of value or interest other than the fact that beneath the mounds of fungus on the beds are the bones of the previous inhabitants.

Moving along they check out the door in the feasting hall between the two doors leading to the servant’s quarters. This door opens into a small chamber that was a washroom and lavatory for the castle’s upper floor. It is unusually clean, indicating that the dire corbies that lived in the castle for decades didn’t bother to use it.

After that they enter the donjon through the unlocked double doors on the north side of the feasting hall. The layout is similar to that of the floor below, though the two side rooms on this floor were armories (now empty) and not offices. Judging from the bloodstains and gouges marring the walls, a terrific battle once took place in this guardroom. Nothing else of interest is found other than a secret door leading into an alcove by a stairwell. In that alcove is another secret door opening onto the battlements.

Jharad says, “The only thing left above ground should be Zaiobe’s roost and the library below it on this floor. Lets just see if she is there. My guess is that she has taken over as the queen bird of this castle and has retreated below with her new minions.”

“Good idea,” says Toshio. “And if the Tayagama is not actually part of her nest, well, that would be convenient.”

Back in the tower they find that the corpses of the dire corbies are still where they fell from the fight the day before. Seeing nothing else but furniture and scattered papers Jethrik sneaks up the staircase to the top floor of the tower after casting detect magic. He hears nothing and as he comes to the top of the stairwell and peeks in finds that Zaiobe’s nest is indeed deserted. Otherwise, all is as it was the day before. Jethrik casts sift and checks out the nest. After that he scarfs up the box of scrolls of the Tayagama and sneaks out again.

Jethrik offers Toshio the scrolls “Stolen scrolls, get ‘em while they’re hot! And I want to read them after you!”

Toshio accepts the box eagerly. Smiling, he says, “Thank you, Jethrik! I can hardly wait ’til there is a chance to read these.”

“Lets descend the stairs back in the donjon. I suspect they expect us to come down from the other, but we should nonetheless proceed with caution. If they abandoned the upper levels like this they surely are planning a welcome party for us below,” says Jharad.

Jharad decides that they should take the stairs in the donjon down into the dungeon below the castle. Keng leads, with Toshio behind him to light the way with the earring Jethrik pinned to his chest. Next is Jharad, Zeyala, and then Jethrik. The stairs end at a narrow tunnel that winds around to the southwest and ends in an iron portcullis. Unlike the gatehouse, this portcullis is not at all rusty. Looking around for traps, Jharad notices two 5-inch circular depressions in the walls to the left and right of the portcullis, faintly inscribed with an image of the sun to the left and the moon to the right. They both radiate a faint transmutation magic, just like the seal found in Kikonu’s leather pouch. Jethrik, with the trained memory of a bard, recalls the things Ameiko had been saying in her possessed state:

Beware the birds that wish to fly but cannot.

Beware the cuckolded cuckoo – it is in his shattered silent love you should seek aid.

One treasure beyond two seals in the third vault…

One key you now have. The other lies in the grip of the ten-handed one – his fear is your greatest ally.

Jethrik takes out the disk Spivey brought them. “This looks like it would fit one of those depressions. I guess the other is with the ten-handed-one of the prophecy. We’ve got to find that guy and get the other disk. Ameiko’s prophecy about the treasure says it is behind two seals. That must be this place.”

Jharad ponders the puzzle before them and what Jethrik says. “Yes, this certainly does seem to be the gate to the vault we seek.”

“We need another disk,” says Toshio, even though he knows it’s stating the obvious. “The ‘ten-handed-one’ must be in the lower levels. Let’s go back and descend by the other route. We’ll come back here when we get the other disk.”

“Good plan. Let’s go,” says Keng.

The stairs from what was probably a briefing room next to the throne room takes them down what may have been a mess hall for the troops. Long benches in various states of disrepair and several battered and filthy wooden tables stand between the stone pillars of this large 50’ by 20’ room. The air stinks of troglodytes. Toshio is unable to see all of the room, but Keng and Jharad are both able to see that even in the darkest corners there are no hidden foes. Neither is any evil or magic detected, and there is nothing of any value or interest in the room. A single door is in the southeast wall across from them, and on the northeast wall is a set of double doors.

“By the clock,” asks Keng?

Jharad points to the double doors and says quietly, “Lets spread out then open that door. Keng and Toshio on either side, Zeya and I will stay back a ways. Jethrik, do your door thing but check them for traps first if you can. I will help with that then get back into position.”

Keng nods and takes the right side of the door.

The next room is irregularly shaped but runs roughly east to west with stone pillars supporting the ceiling over a large kitchen – although the fire pits, tables, and pantries look like they haven’t been used in decades. Thick layers of dust cover everything in the room. It does appear that there has been some traffic between the double doors to a door on the north wall and to a set of double doors on the south wall. There are also single doors on the west wall, the east wall, and another on the south wall.

After a cursory look in the irregularly shaped room to the north Jharad quietly says, “I know we didn’t wanted to do this in an anti-clockwise manner, but I do not like leaving something unknown at our backs. Let’s check the other door in that first room.”

Behind that door they find a short and narrow hallway that runs 6’ or so to the southeast and opens into another narrow hallway running east to west for only 25’. At the western end on the south wall is a door and at the eastern end the hallway turns south and after another 5’ ends at another door. Behind the western door they find room 10’ wide by 15’ deep that was probably an armory though now all the armor stands, weapon racks, and shelves are empty. The door on the eastern side opens into a hexagonal room with a 15’ high ceiling supported by four stone pillars. The middle of the room sags in a bowl-like depression, leaving a five-foot-wide ring of level ground around the room’s perimeter. Remnants of a low wooden railing mark the edge of the depression, but most of the fence has collapsed. A large chair sits in the corner of the room next to a table heaped with doubtful-looking cuts of rancid meat. The meat may only be a few days old. All throughout this area is the stink of the troglodytes.

“Didn’t you guys already kill the troglodytes in the forest fire… I mean, big battle?” Jethrik hides a mischievous grin.

Keng snarls a grin and snorts.

Jharad almost looks disappointed. “Well,” he says quietly, “smells like troglodytes, but none to be seen. Very curious. Let us return to the northern room and its north door.” Jharad expects a trap so he abandons the clockwise search procedure for a more logical assessment of the situation. As the north door that looks to be more heavily traffic, he decides to check that first.

Beyond the north door is a narrow and very short corridor that immediately turns to the left (west) and ends at another door. Beyond that door they see a tangle of stalactites and stalagmites filling a low-ceilinged cavern, with only a five-foot-wide path running along the southern wall being clear of obstruction. With his darkvision, Keng can see that the cavern is only about 20’ wide at its widest point and only 35’ deep. Jharad sees that at the west end is another secret door concealed as part of the rock face. This secret door is turns out to be locked tight and nothing will budge it. The skeleton key that unlocked the door upstairs also will not fit into it. With their keen senses Jharad and Jethrik both smell the tang of sea salt in addition to the stench of the troglodytes, which isn’t as thick in this cavern as back in the other rooms. This leads them to suspect that this is probably the entrance to an escape tunnel down to a beach below the cliff on which the castle perches, but for now it is inaccessible to them.

Keng also sniffs around the door jam and says, “I smell the ocean.  This must lead to the sea.”

“It may very well, but we can’t open it.” Jethrik observes. “Let’s check out the ones we can open and come back if we need to.”

Jharad responds, “Agreed, as much as I would like to have this as another escape route there is nothing we can do about it. Let us return to the pillared room we came from, then proceed to the double doors on the south wall. Same as we have done so far if you will.”

The double doors open into a 30’ diameter domed room wherein lies a pond of dark water in the center surrounded by four stone pillars. Another set of double doors is on the east side of the room. Other than that the room is empty. It was most likely the water supply for the troglodytes.

The single door just west of the cistern opens onto a stairwell leading up to the throne room.

Jharad goes back and points silently to the eastern set of doors in the cistern. Toshio and Keng get ready at the sides as Jharad and Zeyala take cover behind one of the pillars closest to the doors. Jethrik opens the door, ready to jump aside if anything threatening should appear.

As Jethrik opens the double doors the first thing he notices is the ogre noticing him. The ogre is sitting cross-legged on a filthy nest-like bed in the middle of the room, heaped around a central stone pillar. He seems to be gnawing on the remnants of what must have been a horse sized giant centipede. The ogre starts to get up saying to Jethrik, “You’re not allowed in here, ‘cept if you’re here for to be going in a cage. You want in a cage?” He reaches for an uprooted sapling whose roots are still caked with numerous layers of gravel and tar.

Ignoring the ogre’s inane question, Toshio charges, hoping to get inside the sapling’s arc and then slip around it to flank it with Keng.

As Toshio charges Jharad quickly enhances his bow with magical power and lets fly an arrow into the ogre, hitting it in the chest and drawing first blood, though the injury doesn’t appear to have been mortal.

The ogre swings at Toshio but the latter ducks and only a few roots clang off his helm. Inside the ogre’s guard Toshio slashes it belly with Whispering Shrike leaving an ugly wound.

Since ogres are large creatures, Jethrik casts grease under the ogre’s feet not worried that it will affect his friends.

Keng gives Jethrik a sidelong glance and says, “If I start slipping again you little shite, I am going to crack your nut sack! Ease up with that spell.”

The ogre slips and falls as soon as Jethrik finishes casting.

Jethrik turns to Keng and sticks out his tongue.

Zeyala reaches over and casts guidance on Keng.

Keng moves forward carefully to attack the fallen ogre, unfortunately he still slips on the edge of Jethrik’s grease spell and it throws off his swing causing him to miss the fallen ogre. He bellows, “You little shite bag!”

“I swear. Are we trying to hurt or help these fiends?” sighs Zeyala.

The ogre manages to get back to its feet while successfully using its sapling to ward off Toshio and Keng. He smashes Toshio with the sapling, sending the paladin reeling back.

Jharad looses another arrow at it that hits but the ogre doesn’t seem to have been hurt. Doubtless between the hides it is wearing and its own thick skin the arrow was barely felt.

Toshio slips around the ogre to get it between Keng and himself but he is unable to cut through the ogre’s hides but he keeps at it.

Jethrik casts grease on the ogre’s club. “Hang on tight!” The ogre immediately loses his grip on his club and it flies away into the darkness behind him. This, of course, enrages the ogre to no end.

Zeyala, retreating back to the pillar, calls upon Pharasma and warm healing light embraces her and her comrades healing them of their injuries, though Toshio still feels a little soreness from the ogre’s blow and Keng still feels somewhat drained from his earlier battle with the wight.

Keng, now flanking the ogre with Toshio, roars and hacks through the hides and thick ogre flesh to spill a copious amount of its blood onto the paving. The ogre looks shocked. It says, “What you do that for? Why!? Why?!” It reaches out to grab Keng with hands big enough to crush his skull. Toshio tries to cut it, but again his blow the hides thwart his blow. Keng swings as well but the ogre sidesteps the blow and grabs Keng’s wrist and jerks him close enough to almost be overwhelmed by its foul breath as it screams in his face. Then its eyes roll up into its head, its lets go of Keng and falls down hard – with one of Jharad’s arrows in its neck.

Keng screams down at the fallen ogre, “Your breath don’t smell so sweet now!” Then he turns to the elf, “Again?! You get the kill shot again?!

Jharad smiles brightly at the half-orc, “Your welcome. Oh and mind the grease there.”

“Not funny,” snarls Keng. Turning to the gnome, “Do not use that fracking spell in close combat again!”

Jethrik looks back at Keng and mutters a long string of words in Gnomish as the air around him turns blue and sulfurous.

Toshio puts the ogre out of its misery. “Keng may be over-reacting” he says, looking at Jharad. “However, I appreciate the help. Only… could you bring that kinda help a little earlier next time?”

Laughing, Jharad responds, “Sure thing Toshio.”

Keng and Toshio, and soon enough the others, now see that past the 10’ by 10’ foyer the room is 20’ long running north to south, and 20’ wide from east to west. There are three cells of iron bars in the room – one to the north and two to the south. A very sullen blond woman occupies the north cell. She is very tall and muscular and even in her ragged shift it is apparent from the pride in her eyes and the dignity in her bearing that she is probably an Ulfen shield-maiden from the Lands of the Linnorn Kings. When the ogre fell she stood up and took hold of the bars. She says nothing but only glowers defiantly at the party, as if daring them to say something spiteful about her circumstances. In the cage in the southwest corner of the room is a suite of scale mail, a heavy steel shield, four javelins, a longsword, clothes, and a belt pouch. There is also a door on the north wall to the west of the cage.

Jharad makes his smile fade as he notices the woman in the cage. “Why hello there. Would you care to be released now?”

“That would be decent of you,” she replies.

“Let’s find the key to these cages,” continues Jharad. He walks back over to the ogre and picks up its pouch, which looks to have been made out of a cow’s stomach. Inside is a collection of shiny river rocks, a few dead turtles that look like they have been munched on, the key to the cells, 77 gold pieces, a filthy masterwork dagger (for pimple care), and a rock that radiates an aura of moderate power of the conjuration variety. After a few moments he discerns that this rock is actually an elemental gem that if crushed, smashed, or broken will summon forth a large earth elemental that will do the bidding of the person who broke it.

Keng goes over to the cage in the southeast corner to look over the armor and other equipment there, but it is out of reach and the cage is locked. It is clear that they were made to fit the woman in the north cage.

Zeyala’s first instinct is to heal her companions. “Is anyone still injured?” she asks.

Toshio replies “I am injured. That sapling gave me a heavy blow. Any healing would be appreciated.”

Zeyala places her hand on Toshio and a rush of healing energy clears up all but the light bruises.

Together Zeyala and Toshio walk over to the woman in the cage. Zeyala asks her if she is injured Even as she asks Zeyala can see that the woman does indeed have numerous deep bruises, gashes, bite marks and even burns on her body.

The woman answers, “I am well-enough.”

Zeyala follow up with another question, “And how did you end up in there?”

“That is something I would rather forget than recount.”

Jharad mutters, “Parvo Dolis,” and with a whisk of his hand cleans the ogre snot and other sundry muck from the pouch and its contents. Then, save the key, he returns the items to the pouch and drops it into his pack. He then walks over to the woman’s cage to unlock it.

Keng walks over with Jharad and openly appraises the Ulfen Warrior.

Jethrik notices Jharad and Keng ogling the unfortunate prisoner. “Freakishly tall isn’t she?” which is his opinion of almost all humans, elves, half elves.

Toshio asks, “So, to whom do you owe allegiance? Not the creatures of this castle, eh?”

“Certainly not,” says the taciturn young woman.

“I am Toshio Izawa, servant of Iomedae and protector of the Kaijitsu family. What is your name?”

“I am Kelda Oxgutter. Perhaps you saw my longship out in the harbor. Unfortunately I am all that is left of the crew that came here from the Thanelands.” The Thanelands, as Toshio and the others know, are the heartland of the Lands of the Linnorn Kings.

Zeyala also introduces herself and adds, “I can tend to your injuries once we get you out of there, if you like.”

“How about we open this up while our paladin interrogates you,” Jharad says with a look of ‘you are being rude’ towards Toshio.

“Cautious. Just cautious. Remember that shape changer in the swamp?” Toshio tries to detect any evil in the strange woman.

Keng takes a step back from the woman and says, “Jharad, we know nothing about her nor if she is as she claims.”

As Toshio scrutinizes her Kelda looks him over and then notices the icon of Iomedae that he wears. She sneers, “Oh, you are a paladin of one of those soft southern deities. Are you looking into my soul paladin?” She steps away from the bars and then tears off her shift in disgust, revealing a body that is muscular but well-toned and proportioned though so injured by bites, bruises, and burns that it is a wonder she can stand at all. She casts her gaze upon the humans, half-orc, elf, and gnome who are all standing outside the cage staring at her. “There! You might as well see all of me. Do you like what you see? Do I meet with your approval – paladin?” This last she spits out.

Toshio, does not, however, discern any evil in her. This only means that she is not a cleric of an evil deity, nor an anti-paladin, nor undead or a fiend. If she is evil, it is that of a mortal not so steeped in it that Toshio can pick it up, or there might be some magic hiding it from him, but neither Jethrik nor Jharad pick up any magical auras on or near her person.

Jharad pauses briefly to look over her nakedness and smiles with a blatant nod of appreciation. ​”You have an impressive form Kelda,” he says with a smile as he opens her cage. “I have to say that I enjoy your lack of modesty. Are you as you claim?”

“I can only be who I am, and I have told you who I am.” She picks up her shift and puts it back on before walking out of the cage.

Keng says, “Nice to look at but has a sharp tongue.”  Looking at Jharad he adds, “Maybe you can tame her,” he snorts.

“Contempt for your liberators, accidental though we may be? Though, I’m sure you don’t share similar sentiments towards Pharasma,” says Zeyala.

“I have no contempt except towards the contemptuous,” she says with a pointed look at Keng. “I will not be ogled like a slave in a market place nor do I recall being asked if anyone could look into the state of my soul. As for Pharasma, she is the goddess of birth and death for all that live and die. She is not soft. She does what needs to be done.”

“Why don’t you give her back her armor, but hold back the weapons until she swears not to turn them against us.” Jethrik suggests. Turning to the young lady he says, “I hope you find that honorable and sensible, Kelda.”

“Yes, that would be ‘honorable and sensible’ little one,” Kelda responds

Toshio takes the key from Jharad, retrieves her gear, hands it to her, and asks, “What will you do now?

“I will return to my homeland. I am through with this place.” Gingerly she begins putting her armor back on. Clearly she is still in pain and her scale mail weighs heavily on her wounds.

Jharad ​removes a potion of cure light wounds from his pouch and hands it to Kelda. “This should ease some of those cuts and bruises.”

She looks Jharad in the eye, as though trying to ferret out his ulterior motives, but finally she takes the potion and consumes it. “You have my thanks.” She hands him back the empty vial as she no longer has any use for it. Unfortunately the potion only lightened her wounds slightly.

Keng loses interest in the warrior maiden, she had after all been conquered so in his mind is not of much use outside of the bed and clearly she is too sharp for that. He says, “Let us continue and leave her to her journey home.”

Toshio asks Kelda, “Would you accept healing from a ‘soft’ goddess? If so I can help you a bit more.”

Kelda considers this for a moment, but finally pragmatism apparently winning out over reticence. “Yes, I will accept your healing.”

Toshio puts his hands upon her shoulders and sends healing power into the shield-maiden. This seems to heal the worst of her burns and bruises. She still looks worn out but is no longer in as much pain.

“Would you consider accompanying us?” Toshio asks. “We could use a good warrior and you might get the chance to punish some of those that captured you.”

“Uh, that’s kinda sudden.” Jethrik comments to Toshio. “We only just decided to give her armor back. I’m not sure we are all ready to let her know why we are here. I mean, there’s more at stake than our welfare alone. I’m not sayin’ I’m opposed but give us all a chance to accept this.”

“You’re right, Jethrik. What do the rest of you think?”

Jethrik says to Kelda, “Forgive us for discussing this in front of you, I mean no disrespect. Freeing you is the right thing to do and I am glad to have done it.” Jethrik bows “However, we need to discuss how much to tell you of what we hope to do here and what we can let you see. We may ask you to wait for us here.”

“I understand,” Kelda says to Jethrik. “You all have freed me, probably saved my life, healed me, and returned to me my gear, even after I insulted you and your goddess.” She bows her head and then looks up again. “I apologize to you Toshio – and to the rest of you. You have my gratitude and I cannot blame you for your suspicions. I only wish to return to my homeland, but I will accompany you and lend the strength of my arm in whatever cause you are pursuing if you will have me. If in time you can accompany me back to Kalsgard I will also see that you are properly rewarded for your kindness. Alas, my longship was destroyed in a fight with a sea drake, so it will be a long walk. I will wait here while you decide what you wish to do.”

They all step back into the room with the pool.

Keng says, “If she can fight and be trusted she is always welcome.”

“It wouldn’t hurt to have another sword,” says Zeyala. “At least until we’re finished here.”

“I agree. Anyone can see she would be of help. That is not an issue. I am worried about who sent us here and how many people should know or who should know. If the majority feels this is not an issue, I will assent.” Jethrik bows his head.

Toshio says, “I’m not used to keeping secrets, but you make a good point. Does she really need to know of our mission? She may be better off leaving on her own than coming with us, ‘though I suspect she’ll take offense at the suggestion. I don’t feel strongly either way. Should we suggest she wait for us at camp? We could tell her what to say so Shalelu doesn’t shoot her, and we could send her with a note of introduction.”

“Sending her off on her own is dangerous to her. She could wait here while we explore further.”

While the others are discussing what to do, Jharad looks around the room with the cells as the conversation continues, making sure nothing is coming up from behind them from any of the various doors. ”So Kelda, do you know anything more about the inhabitants down here? Have any gone through that door?” he says as he points to the door.

She shakes her head in the negative. I was captured three days ago I think. It’s hard to tell time down here. The only creatures I have seen other than… anyway the ogre and a tengu named Kikonu are the only creatures I have seen since being imprisoned. Many of my crew were killed by the sea drake, but those of us who survived decided to search the castle for salvage. We knew of a secret tunnel and went in that way. There was something in the caverns beneath this castle… something hideous. I am not sure what it was, I only remember a darkness that even our torches couldn’t penetrate and then being burned, grabbed by many arms or perhaps tentacles, bitten… I heard my men screaming until only my own screams were left. Then I blacked out and awoke here.”

Jharad responds with a frown, “That sounds horrible. I am sorry for your men. You may find comfort though that Kikonu is dead. In fact the castle is almost all cleared above us, except for a pool in an internal courtyard.”

“I am glad to hear it,” Kelda says.

“So what would you like to do?” Jharad continues. “Wait for us either above or down here, or come with us? My guess is that our path takes us back into that darkness you speak of. But I feel quite certain that we will defeat whatever we find there.”

“You are certainly confident. You did take out the ogre, but this is so much worse than any ogre, maybe even worse than a troll. I will help you though, even if it means my doom.”

At that point, Jethrik and the others walk back in. Jethrik says, “So what have you been discussing? May I jump in to ask what our new friend knows of the ruins and their history? It might make our decisions much easier.”

Kelda repeats to them what she just told Jethrik. After her recounting of her tale he says, “How can I argue with such honor. Lady, I am sure secrets are safer with you than with me.” Jethrik bows.

“Then she joins us,” says Jharad cheerfully.

Adopting a slight tone of command he continues, “Okay, I want Keng on point. Toshio and Kelda will be next as our front line shield wall. Myself then Zeya as support with Jethrik floating as rear guard support and door opener. Let’s try and be more careful with our area affect spells, calling them out as we cast them. Keng, do what you do but try not to get yourself separated. Although you are certainly the most powerful of us all, we are stronger as a team.

“Now when we engage I want Keng to move around to either side or behind the enemy then Toshio and Kelda to flank from the front. Try and leave enough space between you for me to fire arrows and not hit you. Should anybody need assistance cry ‘Zeya’ and it will come. Obviously this will not always work but it is our goal. Adjust as you need to. Any questions?”

Keng gives Jharad a blank look thinking, ’Of course, what else would I do?’ Then he adds in Orcish, “Potoa se zadrži.” [“Then keep up”]

The Freeing of Toro

Something picks at Jharad’s memory as he and Toshio rejoin the others after feeding the thing in the pond. “Oh right,” he says mostly to himself as he remembers, “There is a room off of the shrine on the second floor we did not check. We had best be thorough.”

Jharad leads the others back upstairs to the despoiled shrine. He and Toshio lead with Jethrik behind them and Zeyala and Keng bringing up the rear. Back in the shrine, Jethrik carefully opens the door on the north side of the room and throws his pebble in. The room turns out to be small cell probably once the living quarters of the castle’s chaplain. Under the cramped room’s bed is a footlocker. It does not seem to be trapped or locked and inside Jethrik finds four arrows, three scrolls, and a phylactery. The scrolls contain spells of divine magic: cure moderate wounds, remove disease, and restoration. The phylactery is a tiny box containing passages from the Eight Scrolls, the scriptures sacred to Desna. It is affixed to a leather cord so that it can be tied around the forehead and rest upon the wearer’s brow. After examining it Jharad discerns that it is a phylactery of faithfulness that, if worn, allows the wearer to know if they are in good standing with Desna and whether a contemplated act would please her or not. The four arrows are of moderate power but he is unable to figure out what spells have been placed on them.

”Any of those scroll things be able to restore me?” asks Keng.

“Toshio, can you do anything with them?” asks Zeyala pointing towards the scrolls? “My power is innate. I have not the ability to read or study those.”

“No, I can barely make little bits of them – maybe I could use the scrolls, but it’s just as like that bad things would happen if I tried.”

“Keng, although I can’t help with scroll, I will use all my abilities to help you overcome sickness that ails you,” reassure Zeyala.

Keng smiles at Zeyala, “Thank you Zeya, I know you will.”

The rooms off the hallways to the south of the feasting hall are all bedrooms. They seem to have been used by the dire corbies and Kikonu judging by the feathers, and they seem to have kept them in relatively good condition. Nothing of value was left in them however.

On the north side, starting at the farthest western end, is the study in the second floor of the tower where they fought the dire corbies and Kikonu. Next to that going east is a door at the southwest corner of the feasting hall. Unlike the others, this door is unlocked but stuck closed.

Stepping back from the door Jharad says, “Keng, think you can get this open?”

“Probably.”

Jethrik cast light on one of the earrings and pins it to Toshio’s chest. He gives a salute and kisses him on both cheeks. ​

Toshio chuckles and accepts the salute and kisses with good humor.  He takes a moment to ensure the lighted earring is secure on his shirt (the collar, above the armor) and shining effectively, then turns his attention to the door they are about to smash open with Whispering Shrike ready.

Jethrik readies his shield, scratches his head, shuffles his feet, and readies himself for Keng to smash open the door.

Jharad gives a silent chuckle at the exchange then readies himself as well. Bow in hand and normal arrow nocked.

Keng’s first kick doesn’t budge the door at all. However, Jharad and Jethrik with their keen senses and even Keng all hear the sounds of a young child sobbing from within the room. Keng’s second kick causes the door to fly back revealing a darkened room roughly 10’ deep and 25’ long with the northernmost part angling into the northwest. Everywhere there are fallen crates and broken barrels filling the room with a tangle of debris. Keng, at the door, sees no child, but the sobbing is coming from the northwest corner.

“Ghost!” Jethrik whispers with a visible shiver.

“After you,” Keng nods to Jharad and Toshio.

Toshio steps in, detecting for evil and weapon ready.

Jharad steps in after Toshio but waits by the door. Looking back he says, “Keng, don’t let anything get past this door.”

Keng nods and says, “Nothing gets by me.”

“Keng, let me by please,” says Zeyala.

Once in the room, Zeyala searches the shadows for the source of the cry.

Jethrik follows in behind Toshio and Zeyala.

In the back corner of the room Toshio and those behind him see a pile of old braziers and firewood. Sticking out from the pile is the skeletal hand of a child in a rotting kimono. Just out of reach is a small wooden figurine of a warrior, but one of the child’s fingerbones has been put in its hands as a sword. On the walls near this area are crude charcoal drawings of men in black hurling throwing stars, tengu similarly dressed, and lumbering ogres with axes dressed in the armor of Minkai, some of them flying, fighting samurai as well as the local men-at-arms led by one wearing a helmet like the one Toshio is now wearing.

As they approach the woodpile, the sound of the sobs increases until it is plainly heard even by Keng and Jethrik outside the room.

 In a soothing voice Zeyala says, “We can help. We mean no harm.”

In response a susurration of whispers starts up in addition to the sobbing. It is like a room full of children all speaking at once. In the language of Minkai the voices say, “Where were you? Where is mama and da? Help I’m trapped! They’re coming for me! Go away! Please go away! Ah! It hurts! it hurts! Help! Help! Leave us alone! Leave me alone!” This chorus of pleas, question, and screams is extremely unnerving.

“Nothing here to ambush us later.” Jethrik observes quickly. “Let’s leave them in peace.”

Zeyala concentrates momentarily to see if she detects any magical auras but she does not.

“Where are you? What’s your name?” calls out Zeyala.

The sobs and whispering suddenly cease, to the great relief of Zeyala, Toshio, and Jethrik. It feels as though an oppressive weight has been lifted from them. A child’s voice is heard from behind the woodpile now speaking in Common in response to Zeyala.

Scuffling and shifting pieces of wood and metal are heard from behind the woodpile. Then the skull of a wolf’s head comes into view. It is connected to a body the size of a child’s but composed of scraps of wood and metal. It is almost like a stick figure come to life. “I am Toro. Who are you?”

Keeping an eye on Toro, Toshio says to the others “There is evil here…” but tapers off as he continues trying to learn more. He doesn’t want to take on unnecessary fights, but he is extremely reluctant to leave an evil thing behind to attack them later. The huge insect in the pool and large lizard seemed more mundane and unlikely to come after them.

Jharad is content to stand just inside the door and let Zeya, Jethrik and the paladin converse with the creature. It is something that Jharad neither understands nor wishes to have anything to do with.

Jhrad leans in towards Keng and whispers, “This may go badly.”

Keng whispers back in Orcish, of course Keng can’t whisper so everyone hears him say something, “Zdravo, Jas sum Keng na Shoanti . Jas sum tuka za da ubie i da gi vašite koski kako trofei.“ (“Hi, I am Keng of the Shoanti. I am here to kill you and take your bones as trophies.”)

Keng switching back to Common adds, “Of course it will. This entire Castle is infested with evil vermin.”

Jharad stifles a snort of laughter.

“I’m Jethrik a bard of no account what so ever, at your service master Toro!” He doffs his pirate hat and gives a low bow “I have not recently finished a tour of the great kingdoms nor do people chant my name as I walk the streets of Absolom. I do know some silly jokes and exciting stories though, but you may be a bit young to hear them!”

​”And I am Toshio, servant of Iomedae.” Gesturing to the charcoal drawings, Toshio asks, “Did you draw those? It looks like a battle. Is that what happened here?” ​Even as he spoke to it the creature’s aura came into clearer focus for Toshio. This was the evil in the room, and it was of moderate power.

The creature shakes its wolf-skull head in the negative. “Don’t want to talk about that!” It says, petulantly. “Tell me your jokes little man. I have been here for so long I stopped counting. I am certainly old enough now. And who is she?” It points to Zeyala.

While Toshio and Jethrik were speaking to the “boy”, Zeyala had been standing behind them surreptitiously murmuring the spell to detect undead. In less than half a minute she was able to discern that it was indeed undead with a strong  aura. This child-like thing was an abomination in the views of the Pharasmins, a creature that through its own will or some curse not of its own doing had cheated the proper cycle of birth and death.

“Who am I? A servant of Pharasma, and you should not be!” shouts Zeyala. Without looking at him, Zeyala asks, “Toshio, is it evil?”

​”It is” replies Toshio simply.

“I should not be a servant of Pharasma?” questions the creature, but Zeyala is speaking over his misunderstanding of her ambiguous grammer.

“You cannot cheat judgment! Begone!” she commands. A blinding flash of white energy bursts from her body and washes over the creature. “And about wishing you no harm, I changed my mind.”

“Yeargh!” screams the creature.

Jharad starts in surprise then nocks one of the unknown magic arrows they just found and lets fly. The creature with great agility ducks and the arrow hits the back wall.

Suddenly the sounds of sobs and whispers rises up again all around Toshio, Zeyala, and Jethrik. The creature leaps down the woodpile and bites Zeyala in the left leg while reaching out to claw at Toshio.

Toshio slashes at it with Whispering Shrike but it effortlessly ducks under the blow. To his horror, Toshio finds himself unable to speak.

Jethrik backs away from the creature giving more capable combatants room to move in.

Keng hearing Zeyala’s scream starts to move forward then stops as his orders were to block the doorway, and he hates ghosts. Keng maintains his position ready to attack if necessary.

“Your time on this realm has passed,” cries Zeyala.  The words crackle and hiss as her entire body erupts into flames of gold and red lighting up the small room.  As she glides past Toshio, he feels warmth, but is not burned.  Toro bites her left thigh as she moves past but rebounds quickly shaking his head and wailing. It appears that while his jaws were able to leave a slight bruise the touch has become even more inurious to him. She comes to a stop on the other side of the creature and with a thought all her bruises and marks from his bites fade away. She does find, however, she is having trouble keeping her eyes open. Toro’s bites seem to be stealing her very breath away, making her feel as exhausted as someone suffering from a severe flu.

Jharad’s second arrow hits Toro’s skull and causes it to spin around. Toro finally has to reach up with both hands and make it stop. He backs away from Zeyala and slides around Toshio, biting him painfully in the leg and actually drawing blood just above his right greave. Toshio now finds that he too is out of breath and fatigued. At the same time Toro reaches out and brushes Jethrik, stealing his voice away.

The whispering and sobs continue and now Toro is speaking in Toshio’s voice asking, “Why? I have done you no harm? Why do you seek to kill me?”

‘Someone has finally found a way to shut me up!’ Jethrik thinks. ‘Oh it’s on now, little bone-sucker!’

Toshio strikes Toro with Whispering Shrike, but the wakizashi merely strikes sparks off one of the iron strips forming the creatures ribs.

Jethrik draws his rapier and with real vehemence in his sparkling eyes he lunges toward his foe, but Toro easily sidesteps his hasty strike.

Still looking like a golden-white fire elemental, Zeyala tries to grab Toro, but he easily slips away from her. She does, however, succeed at throwing off her exhaustion and is now only fatigued.

Jharad’s lets fly a third arrow but Toro ducks beneath it and rushes the elven archer, biting him in the arm. Now Jharad feels out of breath and fatigued, as though he had run several miles. He also falls under the unnerving effects of the sobs and whispers that surround Toro.

Toshio inwardly calls upon Iomedae to give him the power to smite the undead creature. He does feel the rush of divine assistance but his blow fails to connect.

Jethrik stabs again with his rapier. This time he manages to take out a tooth from the wolf-skull.

Keng stride through the doorway and attacks Toro, “Gorum’s Balls lets stop playing around with this freak.” Unfortunately he misses.

The creature continues to elude Zeyala’s attempts to grapple it. It refrains from trying to bite or touch her.

Jharad drops his bow and draws his longsword, but in his fatigued and unnerved condition, is unable to hit Toro.

Toro focuses on Jharad, nipping him and swiping at him with a wooden hand. Jharad resists the attempt to steal his breath but finds that like Toshio and Jethrik his voice has been stolen.

Toro is now using Jharad’s voice to see, “Look at me! Look at me! The high and mighty elf who can’t hit anything!” In Jethrik’s voice he says, “My jokes aren’t all that funny anyway.”

Even with Jharad flanking Toro, Toshio still has trouble hitting the quick little creature.

Jethrik has no luck either. Jethrik mutely swears a long and extremely vulgar curse in Gnomish.

Keng seeing his friends mute and ineffective against the creature becomes enraged bellowing his war cry his eyes blazing red. He goes berserk trying to attack the creature but fails to hit it.

Zeyala finally succeeds in getting a hold of Toro and her touch burns the creature, causing it to scream in a multitude of voices, including those of Toshio, Jethrik, and Jharad.

Jharad tries again to strike it with his sword, but even held by Zeyala it is able to jerk out of the way.

Even as Zeyala’s golden fires begin to subside, Toro begins gnawing upon her hand and arm, causing her to become even more breathless and exhausted.

Finally Toshio connects, shearing through Toro, shattering the skull and tearing apart the cobbled together torso of wood and iron. The pieces fall to the floor and the sound of sobbing and weeping fade away, with perhaps the faint sound of a relieved sigh at the very end.

Strangely, as the flames subside, all of Zeyala’s clothes mysteriously return.

Jharad mutters, “Damn,” then turns away and winks at Jethrik.

“That was awful” whispers Toshio, and smiles in relief when his voice works again.

Seeing the evil undead creature finally gone, Keng rushes over to Zeyala. Tenderly taking her hand he asks, “Lady Zeyala are you Okay?” His concern switches to something between admiration and desire adds, “Your flaming was… incredible!”

“I’m a little bit confused, but otherwise not too worse for the wear,” says Zeyala. “When I realized that it was undead, and evil, this surge of energy overcame me. I don’t think I will be able to call on that power again. But after I rest, I think it’s something I will be able to control.”

Jethrik sees the two of them and takes out his pen and paper, jots down a few notes. Afterward he scans for magic and searches the room as quickly as possible paying particular attention to the “corpse” and it’s toys. Nothing of any value or significance other than the child’s corpse and the chalk drawings he left are found in the storeroom.

Jharad comments to Jethrik, “So can I read the draft when it is done?”

Toshio nudges Jethrik with his elbow and says quietly to him “Can you be thinking anything but ‘Beauty and the Beast?’”

Toshio says to the others, “I think that took a lot out of us. Should we rest back at camp and make another foray tomorrow?”

Jharad responds, “That was certainly draining while we were fighting… whatever that was, but I feel fine now. I am good to continue.”

“I’m certain I have enough power to keep everyone patched up for a bit longer. I’m ready to go on as well,” adds Zeyala.

Keng, confident that Zeyala is okay, says, “I am still diminished, but can continue.” Turning to the Toshio he says’ “Why are you always so eager to disengage?”

“I like engaging…” Toshio says with emphasis on ‘engaging’, “…so I like to make sure we can keep engaging, instead of dying.” He finishes with only partial success at keeping his patience with Keng.

Keng snorts, clearly pleased with himself for almost getting the paladin to snap.

Looking at the chalk drawings, Jharad comments, “Looks like what may have happened here. Though I know little of the history itself.”

Toshio also looks closely at the drawings. “These look like ninja – cleverly trained murderers with many wicked tricks to pull. And here are tengu, the bird-things like those we’ve met here. In the old stories tengu were untrustworthy and usually were portrayed mostly as thieves.” Pointing to the ogre-like images he says, “If this is indeed what happened here, then these figures worry me. These look like oni, evil spirits that have taken on the forms of ogres. Powerful physically, able to cast spells and with supernatural abilities, if I am remembering the stories correctly. Difficult opponents.” He contemplates the pictures a bit longer, then, with a slight sigh of resignation suggests, “Well, we’ll see I suppose. Shall we continue?”

“As long as they are living, those I’m prepared to face,” says Zeyala. “No more undead please.”

Like A Flash

With Toshio now in the lead they return to the throne room, cross before the throne to the southeastern side of the hall where they find stairs leading to the upper floors and a door opening into a small alcove and another door. The second door opens on the inner courtyard. This courtyard may have once been a delightful garden, but now it’s a tangle of weeds surrounding a pool of water choked with thick, slimy green algae. There are two doors that can be seen on the other side of the courtyard. One is the entrance to a guard tower and another is the entrance to an outlying building that is part of the east wall of the castle. The southern part of the courtyard is walled in by what is probably a hallway connecting that building to the main keep. As it looks like the outlying building is the next ‘counter clockwise’ location they enter the courtyard cautiously and head over to it.

Keng says quietly to Jharad, “Are you sure this is a good idea to keep going?”

Jharad looks quizzically at the half-orc, “Is there a reason we should not?”

“There are bad things here and I wonder if it’s worth the trouble,” mumbles Keng.

Jharad smiles at his friend’s unexpected turn towards caution and answers with patience but in a non-condescending manner, “We are clearing this place methodically so that as we can eventually make our way beneath this castle knowing we have not left behind anything which may either come up behind us or block our retreat should its immediacy be required. Toshio’s plan is sound. Do you believe otherwise?”

Keng grunts and shrugs, as if saying, ‘of course.’  He adds,’ “just saying you never know.”

Jharad frowns and looks at his friend in concern, “Keng, are all right?”

Toshio cautions the others as he enters the courtyard. ​”Keep clear of the mucky pool. Anything could be hiding in that water.”

Jharad, behind Toshio, looks over the paladin’s shoulder and spots a movement in the water. Looking more closely he discerns the form of an enormous 12 foot long version of the usually 5-inch-long waterbug called a “toe-biter” hiding amidst the debris in the pool. Quietly he says to Toshio, “Back away from the pond, be on your guard!”

Jharad quickly grabs Toshio and hauls him back into the alcove. Toshio is startled but does not resist Jharad who shuts the door behind them both. Back in the throne room Jharad asks, “That was close. Now that we have a bit of time, how would you like to handle that toe-biter?”

With a quiet sigh of relief for avoiding the bug Toshio replies, “I don’t think we need to. Let’s just leave it there and go another way.”

Jharad responds, “Agreed, lets head back to those double doors off the southeast side of this throne room.”

Past the double doors is a large circular room featuring a ring of pillars that support a balcony just over fifteen feet above. A flight of stairs winds up the balcony along the southern wall. Faded paintings of dancing elves decorate the walls, spattered here and there with ancient bloodstains. A door on the west side opens onto a stairwell going down. The double doors on the east side of the room open into a vestibule, a short hallway connecting the keep to the outbuilding on the east side. Jharad immediately spots secret doors on the north and south sides of the vestibule, secret doors allowing quick access to the inner courtyard and main courtyard respectively. At the end of the vestibule is another set of double doors and regular doors to the left and right just before the double doors.

Jharad runs his hand along the northern wall of the vestibule and says, “There is a door here which looks to open into the inner courtyard. We can use this to our advantage and setup an ambush for that creature from here. Or just move on through those doors,” he says as he points to the double doors at the eastern end of the room.

“I vote that we just move on,” suggests Zeyala. “I for one, have no interest in being paralyzed or digested from the inside out.”

They open the doors to the north and south and find two identical storerooms. The northern room is empty but the southern one has a case of 20 masterwork cold iron arrows and single arrow wrapped in red silk radiating a strong magical aura. Though examining it carefully Jharad is unable to discern what spells have been put into it. Jharad smiles broadly and picks up the arrows. After swapping out two blunt arrows in his quiver for a cold iron arrow and the magical one, he places the rest in his backpack.

The chamber behind the double doors is much larger, taking up the eastern half of the building and being 15’ wide in the middle and 35’ long. It’s impossible to tell what this room may have originally been used for, as the walls and floors are decorated with countless preserved animals and creatures, ranging from small birds and forest creatures to fearsome predators. Several of the displays in the shadowy corners of the room look uncomfortably humanoid in shape.

Jethrik casts his cantrip allowing him to sift for anything of importance at a distance and looks down into the ends of the room. He is horrified to see that the ominous displays are actually the preserved corpses of elves and humans bedecked with costly rings, necklaces, anklets, and bracelets.

“Good news, bad news” Jethrik reports “Good news is, there’s stuff here that could fund a very exciting forgotten weekend. Bad news is, it’s undoubtedly a trap.”

Just as Jethrik finishes speaking, something red and blue and at least a foot shorter than the gnome flashes towards him from behind one of the bejeweled corpses. There is a ringing of steel as it strikes Jethrik with a sword in passing, but his chainmail shirt absorbs the blow. A tittering is heard as the creature comes to a halt in front of the double doors at the far end of the vestibule. It appears to be a dainty looking elven girl but with antenna sprouting from her forehead. She is dressed in butterfly wings and wildflowers and wields a wickedly sharp and serrated shortsword off of which poison glistens and drips off the blade. With another malicious laugh she opens the door and zips away, so fast that she leaves a gust of wind that causes the door to slam behind her.

“That was irritating.” Jethrik observes. “Now we have to worry about when she will show up again. And how do we find her?”

Jharad smiles viciously, “That, my friends, was a quickling: small fey known for their extremely cruel and vicious natures. They are also very susceptible to the metal, cold iron, which our recently found arrows are forged from.”

Toshio says. “I bet magic missile also works on them. Have you got that spell readied?”

Patting the wand tucked into his belt Jharad replies, “Why yes. Yes I do. And a tripping arrow for the next time we see her as well. Now lets get back to exploring, but keep a lookout for that quickling.”

“Yes,” Jethrik agrees. “The jewelry and finery is probably all fake anyway.”

Jharad takes a cursory look at the jewelry and sees that it might be worth 160 gold pieces or more altogether.

Keng looks around nervously for the Quickling. He moves as close as he can to Jharad.

Jethrik greedily gathers and places it all inside of his shirt before they continue onward. He clips an earring with green stone to his nose “Ugh, my nobe is runnig so bahd.”

Jharad laughs, “Okay Jethrik stop fooling around. Lets go find your new girlfriend.”

As they reenter the large circular room the blur of the quickling emerges from out of the center of the seemingly empty room. She stabs at Jharad, but his chain shirt is proof against the blade, the blur speeds away from him and up the winding staircase out of sight. Her contemptuous laughter, however, echoes throughout the tower. “Catch me if you can slowpokes! If not, I’ll just whittle you away till you’re nothing but mincemeat filling for my evening pie!”

Keng spins in circles looking for the quickling. He says, “Can we trap it?”

Drawing his bow quickly, Jharad sees that their foe was once again faster than them. “Damn,” he says casually, “This is going to be annoying.” He then retrieves and nocks a tripping arrow, readying himself for the creatures next attack.

“It’s obvious she wants to play,” says Zeyala. ”Maybe we can set up an ambush and find a way to lure her to us.”

Jharad whispers, “Agreed Zeyala, I have been thinking the same thing.”

Jharad continues in a whisper, “Keng, take some of your rope out and give one end to Toshio. Keep a few feet between you and pull the rope taut if she tries coming through us again. You all head up the stairs, but do not go too far. I will stay behind you a ways and try to catch her if she comes by you again.”

Keng says, “You want me to go first? Ah… I don’t know if that’s a good idea. Maybe I should stay in the back and guard our retreat?”

Jharad stares at his friend for a few seconds then slaps him hard across the face. Keng opens his mouth in surprise then Jharad slaps him again, harder this time. In a calm but stern voice Jharad says, “Think you can pull your head out of your ass now? Because I need the real Keng, not a shell of a Shoanti warrior you have been acting like. What say you, care to join us again and help kick some quickling ass?”

Keng’s is momentarily stunned almost tearing up but quickly becomes angry, snarling, “Touch me again Elf and it may well be your last.” He continues, “I will grab her and squeeze her to death.” Keng takes the smallest of his silken ropes out of his back pack and hands one end to Toshio, “Come on Pretty Boy, maybe we can use your looks to lure her.”

Jharad says with a smile, “Nice to you back big guy,” and claps him on the shoulder. “Okay, Toshio and Keng up front with the rope. I will follow well behind. Lets do this.”

At the top of the stairs they come to the ten-foot wide balcony that winds around the ancient ballroom below. A rickety looking railing runs along the balcony’s edge. There is no sign of the quickling. There are two sets of double doors, one to the west and one to the east.

Keng says, “Close the doors behind us to trap her. Jharad and Jethrik, you two should stay back so she can’t open the doors and escape. Once she is in the room – shoot her.”

Jharad nods to the better plan, happy that Keng is fully involved again. He takes up the extreme rear guard with Jethrik.

After waiting for several minutes it becomes clear that the quickling is not in the ballroom tower anymore. Or, if it is, it is not going to attack for the time being.

Jharad says, “Doors to the east, they probably head out onto the battlements. Let us check them first. Same order as we have now,” says Jharad. Toshio and Keng go first, with Zeyala in the middle, and Jethrik and Jharad in the rear to close the doors behind them.

The eastern doors are locked but the skeleton keys opens them, and outside is a solarium that is also locked up, but also opens to the skeleton key. The solarium may have once had a beautiful roof of glass, but little remains today save for a few precariously leaning wooden timbers hanging above a swath of crumbled stone and ruined furniture. The roof covering the southern half of the room has been crudely repaired with thick sheets of canvas and furs that have been stretched and fastened over the frames, creating a dark, almost cave-like, nesting area. The floor is covered in guano, but of a size that would indicate a bat the size of a horse.

Zeyala asks, “Is there any magic that can keep it from disappearing?”

“Lets move back inside and through the west doors of the tower,” says Jharad.

As they move back inside and open the western double doors, Jharad will close the doors to the solarium. He and Jethrik will linger back a ways.

As Toshio and Keng pass through the double doors on the west side of the ballroom tower into the hallway on the second floor of the keep the quickling zips around the corner to their left and lunges at Toshio with her short stabbing sword that is impossible to follow let alone dodge or block. The blow manages to hit an uncovered part of his right leg, but it is little more than a pinprick (though itchy thanks to whatever venom she put on the blade). As she darts away he swipes at her with Whispering Shrike and manages to strike her in the back of the head. It was a blow that would have had a commoner’s head rolling in the dust, the quickling, however, just yells “Owch!” and like a gust of wind she is off and disappears around the corner to the north.

As Jharad and Jethrik move up towards the western doors Jharad says, “All right Toshio?”

​”Just a scratch, but that poison stings. I’ll be okay. I don’t think this rope is going to trip anything that fast. Let’s try something else.”

“Such as?”

Keng says, “How about we advance in same order, but back to back circling? And, still trying to trap her?”

​”Close and lock or jam all the doors we can,” suggests Toshio. “Move to a bigger room where we’ll have a bit of time before she gets to us. Jam all doors but one she may come through and one – which we’ll keep closed – and when she comes through the one door we hit her with magic missile and cold iron arrows. Or we might be better off continuing our search, but closing and locking all the doors behind us so she can’t get at us.”

“Well Toshio was able to get a piece of her, so that may work better.” Jharad replies. “I would like to keep Zeyala in the middle though to best protect her.”

They now hear the quickling singing from around the corner to the north, though the song has a odd hollow quality. It is sung to the tune of Mary Had A Little Lamb:

No, you can’t, you can’t catch me!
Can’t catch me!
Can’t catch me!
No, you can’t, you can’t catch me,
I’ll have your skins, you see!

Jharad shakes his head in frustration and whispers, “Screw this, stay here and be ready.” He then runs around the corner to the north with his longsword drawn.

“Wait Jharad.” Jethrik calls “The fey are creatures of illusion. She is just trying to lure us there.”

Jharad skids to a stop and returns to the group. “Keng, doors,” and points to the double doors to the south of them.

Keng races to the double doors and secures them, using a piece of wood he finds on the floor to jam them. “Come on bitch! Time to die!”

After Keng secures that door Jharad points to the zig-zag hallway to the west. Again whispering he says, “That way, let us check and secure all the doors we passed when we came this way last. Keng and Toshio on point, I will take the rear.”

​Toshio, suspecting the thing is using some kind of invisibility, starts kicking up dust around the room so they might see its outline. Immediately the dust in front of him takes on the outline of their stalker. With a malicious grin she appears out of thin air and lunges at the paladin with her sword but it fails to penetrate his cuirass.

In his enthusiasm at finally being able to target the quickling, Jharad points at the quickling intoning, “Scintillula!” and fills the area she is standing in and the corridor beyond with glittering sparkly dust. The quickling, Toshio, Keng, and Zeyala are all covered in the dust and all but Keng are blinded by it.

“Shot off your glitterdust a little early didn’t you,” comment Jethrik.

“God damn prestijaculating elf!” grumbles Keng.

Realizing that it was the glitterdust that blinded her Zeyala hisses, “What was all that, ‘We need to work on our tactics,’ discussion about if our tactical leader is hitting the rest of us with his magic!?”

Drawing upon his extensive dating experience, Jethrik reach out and grabs the quickling by the left arm before she can get away from him. Jethrik crows, “Ha! She’s not gonna get away this time!”

Zeyala reaches out to Keng and casts guidance on him. She sprints back and bumps right into Jharad.

Hissing and spitting at Jethrik the quickling desperately tries to twist her arm out of his grip but fails.

Keng pushes past Toshio and grapples with the quickling. He grabs her by the throat and begins squeezing.

​Toshio tries to use detect evil to find the vile creature (even as he tries to clear his eyes). He hesitates to strike, fearing that his elf-induced blindness may cause him to strike down a friend rather than the foe.

Jharad sheaths his sword and takes his bow in hand, nocking the arrow that was wrapped in red silk for when he gets a shot at the quickling.

Jethrik leans close to the quickling and says, “Hey, you wanna kill things, we wanna kill things. Let’s kill things together!”

“Screw you! You’re the one’s I want to kill most of all!” She finally twists her arm free of Jethrik and bites Keng’s finger hard enough to make him release her.

Before she can spring away Jharad says a command word and sends the arrow flying towards her, sheathed in magical flames. It strikes her in the back of her right leg causing her to stumble, but only for a millisecond. In a phosphorescent golden blur, she takes off down the twisting corridors of the keep – lightly brushing the fingers of her left hand against the wall as she goes.

Jharad spits, “Damn,” and runs up the hallway to the North to try and intercept her.

Keng’s, his finger dripping blood from the little fey-bitch’s bite, is furious! He tilts his head back, roars and takes off to the west at a sprint after her yelling, “When I catch you I will cleave you in two!”

With eyes closed and watering, and hearing everyone cursing and running off, Toshio queries, “You let her get away?! Is that what I’m hearing? Jharad, can you unblind me, please?”

Jhard sees the now glittering quickling emerging out of the T-intersection of hallways with an equally glittery Keng hot on her heels. He looses a cold iron arrow at her that grazes her right shoulder.

She screeches in pain and rage but doesn’t stop moving. “It burns! It burns! I will kill you slowly elf!”

Keng, right behind her, swing his axe with reckless abandon and hits her square in the back. The axe does not draw blood, not being iron, but she stumbles and is clearly hurt by the blow.

The quickling speeds away from Keng down the hall towards Jharad, eyes still shut tight against the glitterdust coating her face. Her is sword outstretched before her. Jharad easily sidesteps her and she hurtles into the wall enclosing the stairwell. Swiftly she throws herself around the corner and down the stairs.

Keng relentlessly pursues the fey-bitch trying to hack at her at every opportunity he gets.

Toshio clears his eyes, hoping the creature can’t get him while he’s blind. “Hey, Speedy” he calls. “Why do you want to kill us so much?”

Jharad chases right after the quickling when she zips past him lets loose another of his cold iron arrows from the top of the stairs just as she and Keng reach the bottom. The arrow pierces the back of her head spraying blood over the northeast entrance to the throne room. She falls dead at Keng’s feet just as the glittering dust covering both of them fades out.

Looking over the corpse of the fey creature Jethrik find three vials in her pouch marked with the skull and crossbones that indicate poison. He gives the elf a hard look as he puts it into his pack.

Jharad smirks, “What?” then turns away snickering.

Jethrik looks over the serrated and poisoned shortsword as well. Jethrik passes the shortsword over to Jharad. ”I don’t know much about these things but handling a poisoned weapon is tricky.” Jethrik warns.

Jharad spreads his hands wide and away from the weapon. “I want nothing to do with that, comedian. As much as I jest, I am going to stay well away from poison for the time being.”

Jethrik ditches the sword in a dark corner.

“So maybe we take pause and plot a different strategy. We’ve enough challenges from the denizens of this keep. No need to make it easier for them,” sighs Zeyala as she comes down the stairs. Looking at Keng and Toshio, she adds, “Welcome to my world.”

Toshio gives her a ‘Who, me?’ look, before realizing she may be referring to her blindness.

“Strategy,” snorts Keng, “you mean other than run in and start swinging?”

“As in, ‘Don’t attack your own team,’” she says.

“By the way, did anyone suffer any injuries from that nasty little bug?” she asks.

Toshio picks up the diminutive corpse, opens the door to the pool courtyard just a bit, and tosses the corpse into the water.

Jharad goes with Toshio because he wants to watch.

“Wait!” Jethrik blurts. He takes two of the vials of poison and puts them back on the Quickling. “As you were.”

The hideous horse-sized bug immediately surges out of the water and latches onto the small fey with its two front hooked claws. It thrusts its rostrum deep into her corpse and begins pumping its digestive enzymes into it, dissolving the pretty but sadistic little faerie creature from the inside out.

The Dragon Helmed

Lamashan 30 Sunday waxing moon

In the morning, Toshio does up his topknot and makes himself as presentable as possible (it wouldn’t do to die scruffy). In his morning devotions he adds specific thanks for their success yesterday.

He looks for Spivey but does not see her. No one, in fact, has seen her since the left in a huff the night before.

In the morning hours, Zeyala checks though her pack and takes inventory of the potions and healing supplies. She finds a quiet corner and spends a few moments in prayer to Pharasma.

Keng wakes up feeling invigorated and powerful.  He struts around the camp site.  He jumps up grabbing ahold of a tree branch, swings forward and out landing nimbly into a somersault stands up and nods to himself with satisfaction.  He then sees a squirrel in the tree watching him and stares at him in an intimidating manner, snarling and flexing his muscles.  The resolute rodent, however, is unimpressed. It turns its back on Keng and saunters up to a higher branch. Keng laughs and toss his head. He walks back into camp and says, “Let’s finish this.”

Jethrik, on the other hand, is impressed… by the squirrel. will try to strike up a friendship with him. Using a gnomish knack for speaking with animals he says to it, “You’re an impressively brave young animal. Have you ever dreamed of seeing new horizons?” He offers him something from his rations, but the squirrel does not come down from its branch.

Eying Jethrik warily the squirrel says, “Are you nuts? I have all I need right here. Lots of nuts to eat, don’t need to go traveling with any.” Off in the distance the call of a moose is heard. “Sounds like my friend needs me. Have a good day.” The squirrel leaps off the branch and flies off to the south. Turns out it was a flying squirrel.

Toshio asks, “Everybody rested, healed and loaded? If so, I’d like to go back in to get what we came for. Who’s with me?” They already know we’re nearby, and I think Keng will like this idea. I’d like to set up a battering ram – maybe we can use the spars from that wrecked ship – then walk right up and smash their gate in. If they come to protest, well, we expected to fight them, so we can invite them out for some fun. Who’s with me?”

Keng arises and slaps his chest with his axe handle and say, “A good plan paladin!”

Uh… no.” Jethrik deadpans. “The portcullis may not be locked for one thing. It wasn’t when the pirates and I went through it yesterday. I didn’t jump because I was worried that it was locked, I was worried it would take too long for us to get through; and, well, maybe that they had locked it since yesterday. So maybe we can just walk through the front door. Now if you want to bellow “HERE I AM!” as you walk in, that’s up to you. Show me the way to the caravan first because if you guys get slaughtered I don’t want to watch it. Or be caught in it. And of course you may not! I have to admit you psychos did a lot of damage to the castle dwellers. You even killed the tengu. If I were the dude in the red robes, I’d gather up the rest of the mobs and carry off anything of value. I’d use the cover of the smoke from Jharad’s forest fire and head for safer lodgings. Maybe I would come back in a week or two. Maybe I wouldn’t. So the whole place could be empty and we might be able to go in and look for clues to Ameiko’s mystery. I think we go in without causing too much of a fuss and if there is anything left behind, we catch it unaware.”

Toshio says, “If the portcullis isn’t locked, then certainly we’ll walk in and take them by surprise. I’d still like to be ready with a battering ram though.”

“But didn’t you guy climb the walls before?” asks Jethrik. “Why not do that again?”

Before anyone can answer Jethrik, Spivey flies back in through one of the broken stained glass windows of the temple/observatory. She is carrying a pouch. It is in fact the small leather pouch that had been hanging from the tengu Kikonu’s belt. She lands with it on a pew in front of Jharad. “Half-ogres from the castle followed your tracks from earlier yesterday back to the camp. It was a close thing but Shalelu and I killed them before they could harm Ameiko. They had this on them.” She indicates the pouch. “There are five pearls and vials of ink inside and a wooden disk.” She opens the pouch and reveals the disk. It is made of darkwood with intricate silver etchings depicting Brinewall Castle and the village under a noonday sun. “After we found this disk Ameiko spoke again. She said, ‘One key you now have. The other lies in the grip of the ten-handed one – his fear is your greatest ally.’ Shalelu believes that the creatures from the castle will not hunt us in daylight, so as soon as it was dawn she sent me here to tell you what happened and bring you this pouch and the disk.”

Jethrik steps over to Spivey and takes off his hat. “Thank you for all you have done and all you are doing. I truly appreciate your friendship and I hope there is some way we can show our appreciation before we leave.”

Turning to the others, Jethrik says, “Looks like I gave Red Robes to much credit. That move was kinda stupid really. Well, I don’t see the sense in it.”

Jethrik looks at the pouch, casting a cantrip to detect any magic among the items within it. He discovers that the disk radiates a faint transmutation magic.

While Jethrik is checking the contents of the pouch, Jharad lightly touches Spivey’s back with a finger. Quietly he says, “Yes thank you Spivey. You have been nothing but helpful. I hope my banter last night did not truly upset you, I quite enjoy your companionship.”

“Don’t pay any attention to Bernie McBurnem.” Jethrik advises “We don’t.”

She smiles, flies into the air and bows. “I took no offense. You just startled me. But I am not even sure I wish to leave this place. I would not even dream of leaving until this place is free of evil and I can be sure that Desna’s shrine would not be desecrated.”

Jharad responds, “We hope to be of some help there as we intend to go back into the castle today. And I will do everything I can to protect the shrine you keep to Desna here.”

“With luck, we’ll leave you an empty castle next to the shrine,” adds Toshio to Spivey.

Turning to the paladin Jharad says, “What do you think Toshio? Our approach through the woods seems to have burned away. I am of the mind to come up directly through the gatehouse. We are not built for stealth, and need to start playing to our strengths.”

Responding to Jharad Toshio says, “We have no chance of being quiet, but we should use the southern woods for cover where we can. And I’m still in favor of breaking down the gate. That way they can’t keep us out – or keep us in when it’s time to go. We should review and define our goals before we go, though, and set some guidelines on how we progress or withdraw. Our first goal needs to be finding whatever treasure will help Ameiko. In doing this, I want all of us to come out alive. The next goal may be the same, but we need to find whatever family legacy drew Ameiko here. After that, we can eliminate evil and claim loot to our hearts’ content. We can put together a detailed attack plan soon, but first, does anyone want to discuss or change our goals?”

“Storming keeps is outside my area of expertise, so I leave that to you tacticians,” says Zeyala. “My task is to help you do what you do better and to keep you in the fight,” she continues. “I’ll do my best keep up, but please remember my cursed eyes. If you rush to far from me, then my powers will be of little use.”

Keng nods his agreement.

“Those sound great.” Jethrik replies. “I’d like to add something. It’s not really a goal per se. When I was on the Teeth of Araska, some of the guys talked about how other ships worked. Seems there’s a lot of democracy on most pirate ships. Lots of things are voted on or just kind of hashed out, but not in combat. In combat that’s when the captain is in charge. I don’t like the idea of someone having control when it isn’t needed or having more control than needed. Still that last combat and our run through the castle showed that more direction is needed. I think we need to pick one person who can call the plays when we have a need for urgent action. I have a person in mind, and I really like you all so it’s no slight or anything. I think Jharad would be a great choice. As the archer, he should have a view of everything going on and won’t be pinned down by combat. He also has access to the message cantrip to whisper direction to each of us at a distance if need be. I think that should work pretty well.”

Toshio says, ​”That’s an excellent idea, Jethrik. And I agree that Jharad would be a good choice.  He’s usually not in direct combat so he has the perspective and time to assess the whole situation. He can add his spell-power and archery as needed, and as you noted he has more ways to communicate with the rest of us. Jharad, what do you think? Are you willing to take on battlefield direction for us? Just as importantly, are the rest of you willing to follow his direction? For my part, I am.”

Jharad smiles and says, “I accept. Although I do not have the ability of the message cantrip as Jethrik believes I do. That would be available to a full wizard, which I am not. But on the subject of following my direction I would need help from Keng. Keng, I understand that you sometimes go into a rage and I will have no control over you when that happens, but at other times I need you to work better with the group. Is that possible for you to do?”

“I have no issues following your direction as long as you do not act in cowardly ways,” replies Keng.

Zeyala does her best to muffle a giggle.  She fails.

Ignoring the giggles Jharad responds, “Have I ever?”

Keng replies with a perfectly straight face, “Not yet. But you are a sorcerer.”

Now Toshio struggles to contain his laughter.

“Keng,” Jharad says with a straight face, “Do not make me turn you into a toad,” and turns away with a wide grin that only Toshio and the others can see.

Keng, for once, actually looks terrified.

Jharad says to Toshio specifically but also the others in general, “So we have a plan now. Anything else to discuss before we head in?”

Jethrik says, “I’m a little nervous without the aid of that squirrel, but I’m not ready to give up yet. Let’s go!”

Toshio says, “Thank you, Jharad. Now let’s talk about general practices for how we’re going to take this place on. I don’t want to get caught in there at night. I also want us to have some reserves left when we get back to camp to carry us through the night in case of counter-attacks or additional encounters.  That means we need to pull out before we’re out of spell power and before Keng or I get all cut up. So, I guess we’re all going to need to keep Jharad informed of out status. Since he’s coordinating our fights, I think he should be the one to call the withdrawal. Thoughts?”

When no one speaks up, Toshio continues, “Okay, here’s what I’d like to do” Toshio says. “We get a spar or beam from that wrecked ship and attach some handholds to it. We can probably find some kind of spikes on the ship that will do the job well enough. We take that and cross the open as quickly as possible, then start battering down the gate.  We make sure it can’t be closed behind us, so we can still get out when needed.

“Once in, we circle the wall clockwise, clearing opponents as we go. Keep your eyes open for ways up or down.

“When the ground floor is clear, we’ll go up,, again working clockwise, level by level, clearing each out so nothing comes in behind us.

“Then we’ll make our say down below the ground floor. I suspect that’s where we’ll find what we’re after–people don’t hide things up high; they tend to bury their treasure. That’s also where we’ll likely find most of those stinky lizards and any of their friends.

“If it’s not clear which way we should go, Jharad should make the decision. If at any time Jharad says we leave, we leave–right then, without debate or bickering.

Finally pausing, Toshio finishes saying “I know it’s a fairly general plan but it’s flexible and we don’t know much about the interior of the castle. What do you think? Oh, and we’ll need light sources.”

Keng says, “Good plan. Let’s go.”

Jharad gets up, grabs his backpack and readies himself.

“Okay then. Let’s go make a battering ram,” says Toshio.

Looking over the longship, however, it becomes clear that it would take more crafting skill and manpower than they have to make a proper battering ram, let alone wield it properly against the gate. Jethrik remembers that it took almost a dozen pirates just to lift it up.

Jharad thinks for a while on Toshio’s battering ram idea then comments, “I am not sure this battering ram idea of yours is sound. Even if we could form a suitable ram, would it not let everything in the castle know we were coming? We are not exactly trained in stealth, as is evident by our previous attempts, but we do not exactly want to just announce ourselves either. I suggest we knot Keng’s rope and climb up to the wall after Spivey performs an aerial scout to find the best location for this. Or we look around for another entrance into the castle should one exist.”

Jethrik notices Keng gazing at all the really cool bones of the sea drake on the other side of the lagoon, past the ruined bridge. “We should go over there and check that out, but let’s take care of Ameiko first. Poor thing!”

Keng nods enthusiastically, “I hear dragon bones can fetch a good price in town. Some folks need a little… stiffening,” he snorts while pantomiming a thrusting motion with his forearm and fist.

Jethrik picks up a flat stone and skips it across the surface of the lagoon “So what do you think guys think? We’ve looked into this battering ram idea and it doesn’t look like we can make it work. Should we just go up there and try to slip in all unnoticed like?”

Jharad looks at the gnome and says, “I have given my suggestions.”

Keng says, “Enough wool gathering you crazy gnome – time for fun later. Jharad, I can get us up the walls if you can find a safe place to do it from.”

Smirking at Jethrik, Jharad answers Keng, “Safe is ambiguous adjective to be sure, but lets see if we can get a better read on the situation than just guessing.”

Keng’s face screws up as he tries to understand the elf, “Huh, what is a ‘big you and us objective’?’”

All the while, Zeyala is lost in her own thoughts. It seems as if she day dreaming of exploring the wilderness rather than being bound up in endless discussion.

Toshio says, “I guess we’re back to the rope. Let’s find the best place then. “I figured we’re in for a fight, so the idea of calling their attention to the gate didn’t bother me much. Fighting on a rope? That bothers me more.”

Turning to Spivey Jharad asks, “Spivey, are you willing to perform an aerial scout on the castle for the purposes of discovering what lookouts they have positioned on the wall? We would like to affix a rope to the wall and enter the castle from the battlements, preferably without initial molestation.”

Spivey says, “Certainly. I don’t mind at all. I’ll be back in a moment.” Spivey flies off and after about twenty minutes she returns to report, “There doesn’t seem to be anyone or anything on the walls or on the grounds. It is very quiet up there. I flew up near the gatehouse as well, no one seems to be inside. You could easily have Keng climb up to the roof and go in and open up the gates.”

“I can do that,” says Keng.

Jharad says with a smile, “Excellent, thanks Spivey. Lets be about it then.”

Keng leads the way to the walls below the gatehouse. He takes his climbing gear out and begins swinging the grappling hook around his head then let’s it fly up not the parapet edge where it securely lands with a thunk. He tests the bite to ensure it is set and then nimbly, for such a big man, climbs up the rope and over the edge onto the roof. Once on the roof he looks around but doesn’t see anyone or anything, either on the gatehouse or on any of the other battlemounts. The courtyard is also empty. All is still and quiet just as Spivey said. He collects his gear, coiling his rope and stowing it in his pack, and then heads into the tower and down the ladder to the ground floor. Nothing and no one there. He uses the winch to open the portcullis and says to the others, “It’s too quiet. Something ain’t right.”

Jharad says, “Okay everyone, keep your eyes open. We begin clearing methodically clockwise like Toshio said. Keng, watch the entrance to the courtyard there,” Jharad points to the gateway leading from the gatehouse to the courtyard, “while the rest of us quickly look this area over. Then we move out into the courtyard cautiously and move left along the wall.”

Once out in the courtyard they are very wary. Toshio and Keng lead the way concentrating on what is before them. Jharad and Jethrik act as lookouts, turning around often and looking around up and down. All the while keeping Zeya tucked in the middle of the group.

The first door they come to is an entrance to the tower just west of the gatehouse. Inside is a cramped room containing several old crates and barrels covered with thick layers of dust. They are not empty, but may have once been used to store arrows, torches, and other supplies. A ladders goes up to a trap door in the ceiling to provide access to the second and top floor of the tower and from there to the walkways on the battlements.

Nothing is found in the gatehouse. Moving out of the gatehouse along the south walls to the west they come upon the stables. The double doors are hanging open and the walls are gray with age and sag ominously, yet the building seems relatively sound. With light from Jethrik’s pebble they can see that inside is an old forge to the south, while five empty horse stalls stand to the north. After a quick search nothing is found within of any interest, other than a lot of disturbingly large spider webs.

“Those webs are probably from the spiders that attacked the pirates and me.” Jethrik offers. “I don’t think we should spend too much time here, but maybe we should open that door.” The door, however, is just an entrance into another guard tower, it is almost identical to the last.

Past the stables and to the north is another door into a yet another guard tower. It is no different than the first two.

Moving along they find a side door on the northwest side of the keep but do not open it. Moving along the south side of the keep they pass the double doors into the throne room. Just past that in a shaded area past pillars underneath a second story overhand Jharad’s elven familiarity with such things allows him to spot an area of the wall that looks as though it might have a seam around it indicating a secret door. Passing under the walkway bridge they come into the eastern end of the courtyard. The only doors there are on the south and east side into guard towers and another side door on the west side into the keep.

After surveying the possible entries into the first level of the castle itself Jharad says quietly to the others, “There is an area of the wall near the middle pillars which may be a less used entrance. Let us investigate and possible use that to enter and clear the first floor.”

At that point, Spivey bids them goodbye for the time being. “I do not wish to enter the keep. I am not a fighter or explorer, after all. I will go back and help Shalelu keep Ameiko safe. I will come find you again at sundown at the observatory to let you know how she is and to make sure that you are all well. My prayers are with you.” Without waiting for a response she flies back over the wall and south to the camp.

As he’s done before Jethrik opens the door while using it as cover. When it is open, he tosses the light pebble in. The secret door that looks just like the wall and fits almost seamlessly into it opens inwardly. Inside is a 5’ wide by 15’ long hall. To the immediate right is a door, in the middle of the hall on the left is another door, and at the end of the hall to the north is a 3rd door.

Keng turns to the door on the right and opens it. He peers inside. Four stone pillars support the roof of this irregularly shaped hall that is roughly 30’ by 40.’ What appears to have once been wooden cages lie in shambles throughout the room. A heap of rags and furs in the middle of the room seems to be some sort of makeshift bed, while a large heap of partially eaten birds, squirrels, and wild turnips mounded nearby reeks with the stink of compost. Next to that is a spit on which is the partially eaten corpse of a naked and plucked Kikonu. His black feathers and leather armor have been thrown upon the midden pile.

Toshio whispers, “It seems they really need to vary their diet and practice their cooking skills.”

“Eat the rich.” Jethrik muses over the corpse of the former king of the Brinewall ruins.

They another door on the opposite side, probably opening up into the eastern courtyard. From the curve of the wall to the northeast this chamber is probably abutting the tower on the northeast side of the western courtyard. From the door, Keng doesn’t see anyone nor does there seem to be anything of value or interest.

Jethrik picks up his pebble as Keng looks into the chamber on the right. Jharad remains at the secret door peering back outside while both Keng and Toshio check each of the inner doors.

Toshio opens the door on the left and sees that it opens up into a 15’ by 15’ chamber that looks like it must have been the keep’s latrine and washroom. There are no other doors.

Keng opens the door at the end of the hall and finds that it opens into a short 10’ by 15’ side hall of the east side of the throne room. At the eastern end of this sidehall are two double doors. Jethrik remembers that these lead to a large circular room with a balcony where Captain Grudge was weakened by Kikonu’s magic, the deciding factor in the pirate’s retreat from Castle Brinewall. The main hall of the throne room itself is 20’ wide and seems to run the entire length of the keep’s interior. Rotting, faded banners hang from the walls of this long hall, depicting a stylized castle sitting on a seaside cliff. Thick stone pillars support the ceiling, while at the far end of the hall sits an old wooden throne, its back carved to resemble the towers of a castle wrapped in the coils of a serpentine dragon. From where Keng is looking he can see a door on the far wall of the hall. He can see the dark stains on the floor left by the blood and brains of the pirate Solemn Jack who was killed there by a troglodyte.

Keng, needing no light from Jethrik’s pebble and unafraid of the troglodytes, walks across the hall to the far doors and opens them. Behind the door is an empty room about 30’ by 35.’ A large table lies in shambles in the middle of the room, while crumbled suits of armor bearing decorations of dragons twisting around castle towers lies in heaps along the walls. A flight of stairs winds up along a curved wall to the north, probably to the second floor of the tower they first entered the day before. The air in this room feels stuffy and carries the eye-watering reptilian stink of troglodytes. On the west side of the room is a door, and there is another on northeast wall, and another to the left of the door Keng opened.

Jethrik hands his pebble off to Toshio so that the paladin can catch up to the impetuous Keng.

Keng turns around and waits for the rest to catch up.  He asks, “Which way? Up or down?”

Jharad points to the door Keng just opened. “Through there,” he says quietly, “we continue to clear the way of a clock.”

Going clockwise, Keng opens the door to the immediate left of the door he enters the room by and finds stairs going down. The next door, the one on the west wall, opens into an irregularly sized room about 15’ wide by 30’ deep with a door on the opposite side, most likely the door to the eastern side of the courtyard. The only thing in the room is a large number of ruined bunks that have been heaped into a nest-shaped mound in the center of the room. As Toshio sheds light into the room from the doorway with Jethrik’s light pebble the snout of an enormous cave lizard, easily 8’ long, pokes out of the nest and hisses at them. Half of its face is peeling off which is quite disconcerting, though of course this just means that it is shedding its skin.

Keng steps back outside and closes the door, “Don’t kick sleeping dogs, or lizards.” He moves on to the next door.

Zeyala nervously nods in agreement.

Jethrik gives a thumbs-up and moves along without even casting detect magic.

The room past the door on the northeast side only contains several ruined beds in various states of disrepair, their moldy mattresses piled into a filthy heap against the northern wall. Jharad sees that there is a secret door on the southeast wall leading back into the throne room. A cursory inspection finds nothing of interest in this room either.

Back in the throne room, the next door they come to is just behind and to the left of the throne as one faces it. Unlike the other doors that are of sturdy wood and unlocked, this door is made of iron and locked tight. No one present is able to pick locks and the door is far beyond what even Keng could break down. That is when Jharad remembers the skeleton key he found in the box that he unearthed by the lighthouse. He brings it out and notes that it is very rusty and delicate. It might snap in the lock. Zeyala fixes this with an orison of mending. Fortunately, the key fits the lock and they are able to pass through into the donjon, the innermost keep of the castle.

Past the door the hall turns off to the northeast and ends in a semi-circular room with old tapestries depicting a seaside castle hanging askew on the walls. A thick layer of dust cakes the floor – this was not a place where the dire corbies or troglodytes seem to have come into. In the light cast by the enchanted pebble they can see that old bloodstains splatter the walls, along with numerous brutal gashes and slashes to the stone itself. Two doors hang askew on hinges in a passageway to the south, while to the north, a third door lies in fragments on the floor, opening onto a flight of stairs leading down into darkness. A second staircase on the east side of the north wall leads into the upper reaches of the donjon.

There doesn’t seem to be anything of immediate interest in the main area so Keng goes down the hall to the south to check out the two rooms there, with the others lining up behind him in the regular marching order, Toshio bearing the lighted pebble behind Keng, then Jharad, then Zeyala, and then Jethrik at the end, watching behind them for any creature that might come at them from the stairs or the door back into the throne room. The attack is swift and even catches Keng off-guard. As he reaches the end of the hall a warrior in the bloodstained remnants of a destroyed suit of half-plate armor lurches out of the door to the east. A longsword hangs from the warrior’s belt but it remains in its scabbard as the warrior lashes out at Keng with terrible, blackened claws. The claws gouge into Keng’s neck though the injury is only superficial. What is more worrisome is that Keng can feel his life force being leached away by the touch of the thing attacking him. The warrior glares at Keng from behind the visor of its helm with eyes that visibly glowing red like burning coals.

Jharad steps back to stand beside Zeyala and readies an arrow as he says, “Everyone back here, pull them into this room.”

Toshio takes position on Zeyala’s other side. He tosses the pebble back to Jethrik standing behind her and draws Whispering Shrike.

Keng groans in pain but manages to slash viciously at the creature before staggering back down the hall.

The undead warrior follows Keng down the hall, continuing to claw at him. It scratches Keng on the right arm, a small scratch and yet again Keng feels his life being drawn out of him causing the creatures eyes to flare even brighter in the dark passageway.

Jethrik calls out “It’s a wight stay out of range of his touch!” as he rushes around the others and looks for a way to get at the creature.

Zeyala calls out, “Let Phrasama’s energy cleanse those that should be at rest.” A burst of light radiates out from the oracle causing the unnatural creature to screech in pain as it is briefly limned in holy light. It is not enough however, to destroy it.

Jharad follows up with an arrow that flies past Keng and strikes it in the head. It’s eyes dim and darken and it collapses into an unmoving heap.

Zeyala goes to Keng’s side and looks him over. From her training with the Pharasmin clergy she recognizes the signs of Keng’s life force having been drained from him, something only the more powerful undead such as wights and vampires are able to do. “Keng, I’m sorry, but I my powers are not strong enough to undo this,” says Zeyala.  ”All I can is pray that your strength is enough to overcome this.”

While Zeyala attends to Keng, Jethrik casts his cantrip to detect magic and finds that the longsword belonging to the now destroyed wight is radiating faint magic but he cannot tell of what school. When Jharad looks at the aura with his own cantrip he recognizes it as belonging to the evocation school, typical for magical enhancements placed on weapons.

After identifying the blade Jharad looks at Jethrik and comments, “This is a tad more my size I believe,” and slips the blade into his own scabbard. His old common sword he leaves with the pile of dead wight.

“Another short joke?” Jethrik sounds hurt.

With a straight face Jharad responds, “What you lack in vertical prominence I am sure you make up in horizontal enthusiasm.”

Jethrik makes a gesture “Yeah… go give yourself some horizontal enthusiasm.”

Jharad laughs then asks, “So Zeyala, will he live?”

Zeyala looks away from Keng and forces a smile.  ”He is strong,” she says. “He’ll survive. He’ll be back to his old self in no time.”

Pondering the seriousness of Keng’s injuries Jharad says, “Keng, you should fall back from point. Toshio, take his place and I will back you up. Keng will replace me as mid guard.”

“Yes,” replies Keng in a strangely subdued voice, “I am not myself. I feel like a 12 year old boy.”

She walks over to others and out of Keng’s earshot and whispers, “I pray his spirit is strong enough to recover. We must not give up hope, for his sake.”

Jharad frowns with concern and responds just a bit too loudly, “Wait, his injuries are so dire he may not recover?”

“For having such large ears, you don’t seem to hear very well,” says Zeyala. She looks at Keng and smiles. “My powers are strong enough, but his spirit is. He will recover.” She glares at Jharad momentarily and then begins fidgeting with her pack.

“See Keng, you will be fine,” says Jharad with a wide smile. “You ready to get back to work?”

The room that the wight came out of is a small one, no more than 10’ wide and not even that deep. Trophy displays for armor and weapons, along with a large bed, an ornate writing desk, and a leather chair, lie in shambles in this chamber, smashed to ruins. A thick layer of dust clings to everything in the room. There is nothing of magic in the room, nor anything else of interest upon a cursory inspection.

The room across the hall is roughly the same size, perhaps a little smaller. The desk and chairs that once decorated this room lie in shambles on the floor. A flight of stairs leads up to the southeast. Again, nothing of magic in this room either, but there do seem to be several papers more or less intact and perhaps readable scattered around the remains of the desk.

Toshio takes the dragon helm from the wight and examines it, discovering that it is covered in whithered and crumbling bits of its former owner.

Jharad incants, “Parvo dolis,” as he waves his hand over the object leaving it shiny and clean. “There you go, less chance of catching some disease.”

Toshio tucks the cleansed helm under his arm, takes off his own helmet and sets it on the ground, then tries on the dragon helm for size. Finding it to his liking, he adjusts the strap and moves into point position. “Ready” he says, and tucks the glowing pebble in his belt to free his hands for Whispering Shrike.

The Lover’s Quarrel

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.