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.”
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.