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?”
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.”