The Silent Harpy

Aboard the Teeth of Araska the previous evening, Ishana leads the pirates in a solemn prayer for the soul of Solemn Jack. She prays to Calistria, the Savored Sting, to watch over him and to bring him into her loving embrace in her celestial mansion in Elysium. Failing that, Pharasma, the Lady of Graves, is beseeched to give Solemn Jack her fair and impartial judgment and to send him to his just recompense. Besmara the Pirate Queen is also beseeched to put in a good word for Solemn Jack to the Lady of Graves for all his years of dutiful service to the goddess of piracy. After that, Solem Jack’s corpse, wrapped and bound in a sailcloth, is consigned to the waves.

That night as Jethrik lies in his hammock in the darkened crew commons Tubbs, lying in a cot across from him, asks, “Say Jethrik. What is the prize we are after here? What were you and your friends seeking? Raiding this castle has already cost the life of one of our crew. This is no soft merchant ship whose sailors quickly surrender their goods to save their lives. These creatures are vicious and uncanny! There seems to be many of them, and many kinds! What is in there to risk our lives for? And will your friends be after us as well, especially since you’ve turned on them by joining us and telling us about their quest?”

“I wish I knew the answers to all those questions. The only thing I can say with confidence is that my friends from the caravan won’t fight to get me back when they hear I want to stay. I mean, Captain Grudge is going to get me more gold than I’ll ever see following some mule driver. They can see that. Besides, what gold I had I sunk into that stupid caravan. They’ll probably keep that for themselves! What hope of a real payoff we had was finding something here in Brinewall. There’s this lady… isn’t there always! Her family comes from far off and supposedly there’s some family secret hidden here. That’s all I know for sure. We all supposed it would be something that would turn out to be valuable one way or another, but I really don’t know. I’m a sucker for long odds and pretty faces. I guess I’m not the only one, eh? I had no idea there would be creatures like we’ve seen! I hear you about being ready to go up against it when you need to. My old pack, we’ve been through some scraps too. But I don’t think they’re ready for this, and I’m sorry if I dragged you into it.”

Jethrik comes up on deck at dawn to see that one of the longboats has already been taken out. Captain Grudge, Selis, and that half of the crew that stayed behind the day before have already gone ashore. Ishana, however, has stayed behind and she is watching the mouth of the river with concern.

Ishana notices Jethrik and commands, “Get up into the crow’s nets. You gnomes are said to have keen senses. Relieve the lookout and watch for the captain’s return.”

“Aye! Aye!” Jethrik replies dutifully. He then sets to climbing the mast.

After a few minutes he sees that the longboat is being rowed back, but only by a couple of pirates. Other than those two rowers the longboat is empty. He also sees that something is flying towards them from the castle. As it gets nearer he sees that it seems to be some kind of humanoid with wings, too far yet to tell if it is the same winged corbie or tengu or whatever it was that they encountered in the throne room of the castle.

Jethrik sounds the alarm and points to the flying humanoid.

The pirates quickly load their crossbows and prepare to loose their bolts upon it. As it gets closer, Jethrik sees that it is not the black feathered winged man from the day before. This one is female and her wings are have the colorings of a hawk. Her legs end in wicked looking talons and instead of body hair she seems to have feathers, but otherwise she looks like a winged woman, though her countenance is sharp and cruel. She is heading right for the crow’s nest. As she gets closer he sees that she wears a quiver upon her back and carries a strung bow in her left hand, but she has not nocked an arrow. Seeing the crossbows aimed up at her she gestures and a chaotic blast of multicolored hues surrounds her. She continues for the crow’s nest. When she is 160’ away and Ishana believes they pirates might be able to hit her she commands them to fire, but the bolts either miss or are deflected by the colored lights. Then it is too late, for within seconds the creature has landed upon the crow’s nest and grabbed Jethrik. Now within the sphere of the entropic shield, he sees that she is also wearing a chain shirt and so is fairly well armored against attack. Up close she reeks of cheap perfume and beneath that the smell of carrion.

In his mind, but not aloud, he hears her voice saying, ‘I mean no harm to you or your crew. Tell them to stand down, for I have an offer to make for our mutual profit.’ It occurs to Jethrik, who is wearing the plumed hat given to him by the crew, that she has perhaps mistaken him for the captain. Below him he hears Ishana shouting more orders for the pirates to take to the rigging and capture the foul thing. ‘Did she intend that pun?’ wonders Jethrik.

Jethrik quickly grabs the feather and tiny tarts with his left hand and cast them in the air saying, “Unnecessary roughness! Ten yard foul!” The bird-woman’s expression grows stern and she thinks to him, ‘I am not amused. Now tell the pirates to stand down or I will fly you high over the rocks upon the shore and release you there.’

With dread and resignation, Jethrik calls down to his shipmates, “She says she won’t harm us if you put down your weapons!”

Ishana laughs. “As if she could harm us! But I am curious. Very well, everyone as you were! What does she want Jethrik?”

‘Very good,’ says the creature in Jethrik’s mind as she continues to clutch his right arm. ‘Tell this to your leader, the priestess: My name is Zaiobe. I see that your leader here is a priestess of Calistria, the Savored Sting, the Goddess of Revenge. Well, it is vengeance I am after against a lover who mocked me for the last time. If you help me take down the tengu named Kikonu who leads the dire corbies, then I will have my revenge and you may have your run of Castle Brinewall. Also, to sweeten the deal, know that Kikonu possesses a weapon named Dancing Wasp. It is a sickle and chain that if twirled above one’s head will summon a giant wasp to fight as the wielder desires. What better weapon for a priestess of Calistria? Help me kill Kikonu and it shall be yours! Now tell her, gnome!’

“OK, so there’s a bad relationship involved. Isn’t there always?” Jethrik attempts a laugh but it sounds rather weak in his current state of discomfort. “Hang on a sec. She’s got a lot to say. This may take a while.”

In a lower voice he says to Zaiobe, “These guys aren’t terribly trustworthy. And the tengu handed Captain Grudge a pretty good beating yesterday.” Jethrik says to the creature. “We might want to discuss this more. These pirates kidnapped me. So far I haven’t seen much that impresses me about them, but I haven’t been able to get away. I can’t swim far enough… or fly. I have some friends that might be nearby. They are much more impressive. I just don’t have anyway of getting to them myself, and finding them may be tough in the forest. They are coming up by caravan, so we might be able to find them from the air. If you follow me. Wink, wink.”

Zaiobe gives him a sly look and then thinks to him, ‘Yes, I want to know more about your friends. These pirates are weak anyway. Kikonu already drove them out of the castle once and now he’s prepared. You’re coming with me then so we can talk some more.’ She spits over the side of the crow’s nest at the gaping pirates in the rigging below and then launches herself back into the air, grabbing Jethrik by the shoulders with her taloned feet. She cackles as she and Jethrik fly at speed away from the ship. The pirates in the rigging shake their cutlasses in futility and shout for Jethrik, while the pirates on the deck hurriedly fire their crossbows at Zaiobe upon Ishana’s orders, but again the bolts either miss or are deflected by her entropic shield.

As they fly off Jethrik yells. “Ah! She’s going to eat us all one at a time!” He then looks up and says, “And if you do want to eat them, feel free. I won’t miss them and couldn’t stop you anyway.”

Zaiobe passes over the longboat being rowed back to the Teeth of Araska, and soon she is flying over the castle and village whereupon she and Jethrik see that Captain Grudge and several of his crew are in hiding around the rubble of the lighthouse. In the woods what appears to be an enormous butterfly dives back under the canopy of the trees. Zaiobe snarls at it but it is already out of sight. As she flies due east she thinks to Jethrik, ‘So tell me about these friends of yours. How many of them are there? Are there any strong fighters in your group? Anyone who can cast arcane or divine magic? Any stealthy assassins perhaps? Where do you think these friends are liable to be? By the caravan trail?’

Jethrik replies, “So many questions! Let’s see… Depends on who you count… five of us adventurer types and a caravan crew. I guess you don’t care about them. Yes, yes and yes. And I guess I am the only sneaky one. I am hardly an assassin and not very dangerous at all. At least not all by myself. And I don’t know so well. I imagine the caravan is by the caravan trail, but I saw Jahard the elf sneaking around in the ruins.

As they are nearing the eastern edge of the forest where the trail to Brinewall enters it they hear a Shoanti war cry from the south. Jethrik recognizes Keng’s voice. ‘And that would be one of your friends, yes?’

“Yes, that would be the half-orc” Jethrik says “He’s a bit impetuous.”

Perils from Sea and Sky

Lamashan 29 Starday waxing moon

 

The ruins of Brinewall are still and silent all through the night, but in the wee hours of the morning when Jharad is on watch when Spivey comes flying back into the dilapidated temple of Desna to tell him that she has seen a longboat full of pirates including their captain, but not Jethrik, rowing upriver. Jharad realizes that they might be heading up the Steam River to the trail to try to find their caravan. Though the caravan is still a couple of days away it is possible they might stumble across Ameiko and Shalelu and their horses in the woods, especially if the elf first mate is with them. The problem is that even if he or one of the others tries to get through the woods to warn them it might be too late to help Shalelu ward them off.

Jharad immediately wakes the others, starting with Keng. “A longboat of pirates including their Captain is rowing up river, most likely in the attempt to find our caravan. It is likely they will stumble on Shalelu and Amieko instead.”

Turning to Spivey he continues, “Can you fly ahead to warn them, Spivey? You are much faster than any of us. Then we should either follow to support the best we can or stay here and trust that Spivey will get there in time and Shalelu will be able to hide them.”

Toshio says, “Spivey, will you please go to warn Shalelu and Ameiko? You are the only one with a good chance to get there quickly enough.”  To the rest he says “I think Shalelu can keep them hidden if she is warned, but do you think we should rush back anyway?  We may have a good opportunity here to get Jethrik off that ship while it’s only lightly guarded. We just need to find a boat to get us there.”

Jharad says, “That would be foolish, they would see us coming and kill us on the open waters. But we may want to stay here to better observe what the corbies will be setting as ambush. And we may also be able to set our own ambush of the pirate longboat as they return down river.”

Keng, a light sleeper from his years in the Highlands where raiding tribes frequently launch sneak attacks at night springs to his feet, grabbing his axe and races back up the trail shouting back over his shoulder, “With me!”  He has no trouble seeing the path in the dark with his dark-vision.

“Keng, wait! Lets be smart about this,” Jharad shouts after him.

“Okay then,” replies Toshio. “It was just a thought.  To Ameiko’s aid. You have a plan, I take it, that is more subtle than his?” he says, nodding toward Keng.

Already prepared to move, Zeyala gathers her belongings. “As long as I have someone to follow, I will not be lost to the darkness. What’s our plan?”

Jharad shakes his head with mirth and says to Toshio and Zeyala, “Well, any sort of stealth-full approach is gone now. I still think that ambushing the longboat on their way back down river is our best bet. What do you two think?”

Toshio says, “I like it, but I don’t want to let them make trouble for Ameiko first. Let’s follow Keng there and reassess when we get there.” Toshio dons his armor as he speaks with Jharad.

Spivey zips past Keng on her way to find and warn Shalelu, “I think your friends want you to wait for them,” she says in passing.

Keng skids to a halt after hearing Spivey, chest heaving and shakes his head for he was borderline towards Rage. He takes a deep breath and heads back to the group. When he arrives he growls, “More talking?” Then seeing Toshio donning his armor he looks down at himself armorless and blushes a deep greenish brown. “Ah shite!” He then too starts to put on his armor.

Waiting for Toshio and Keng, Jharad spends time to hide his backpack as best he can somewhere in the observatory.

Finally armed and armored the four companions, led by Keng, head off into the woods to get back to Shalelu and Ameiko. Though Jharad could almost see as well at night in the light of the stars and the waxing moon as during the day, under the canopy of the trees he finds that he too is at a disadvantage, though not as much as Toshio. Keng and to a more limited extent Zeyala are able to see in the impenetrable gloom. Before they are halfway back, Keng stops them with a raised hand. He and Jharad see that ahead of them the trees have been covered by webs such as spider as big as a man might make. To their right they also see a deadfall trap composed of rotted logs and more webbing holding them up until a line, also made of webbing, is tripped. If they had tripped it all four of them may very well have been killed or seriously injured. Beyond the webs, the half-orc and the elf see two shapes creeping towards them upon the webs on either side of the large tree in front of them. The one to the left is a man-like figure but grotesquely misshapen with spindly limbs and a squat head, and the one to the right has the bulk and limbs of a man-sized spider.

“Why have we stopped?” whispers Toshio.

“The path is covered in webs,” whispers Zeyala.

Jharad replies quickly and quietly, “Shhh… trap to the right, two shapes approaching from ahead, one from the left, and another from the right. Produce some light for us.”

Keng instinctively shifts to the right and puts himself in-between the party and the largest of the two threats. He lifts his axe and whispers, “I’ll take the spider.”

“I’ll take the one on the left them”, responds Jharad as he draws his sword.

Before anyone else can act a sticky line of webbing whips out from the figure on the left and hits the trip-line in front of Keng. Keng jumps back as the second line pulls back the first and fallen logs roll past the spot where he was standing. The creature up in the webs between the trees chitters at him, presumably in rage.

Toshio tries to keep out of Keng’s way as the barbarian dodges the deadfall. He touches the hand of glory to cast daylight. Whispering Shrike is ready.

Jharad quickly enhances his bow and sends an arrow towards the figure on the left, missing wildly and getting caught in the web. “Damn,” he mutters, “Left one is an ettercap by the way. Nothing special to kill it.”

The spider on the right slings a web at Keng who easily ducks out of the way. Keng seeing the spider up in the web away from his axe’s bite snarls, “Gorum’s Hairy Ball Sack!” He looks around and then grins as he sees the logs strewn around the area as he remembers how the tribes would compete in contests of strength and might during meet ups. He seeks one of the right size and lifts it onto his shoulder then runs forward a few steps and flings it into the tree hoping to hit the spider or at least knock it out of the trees.

From behind the others Zeyala prays, “Blessings upon you my friends. May your blades strike true.”

Webs again shoot out form the ettercap’s ass-end spinnerets, this time entangling Jharad in thick sticky lines that the ettercap begins pulling on to draw Jharad to it.

Frustrated that the foes are out of reach, Toshio moves between Jharad and the thing that is drawing Jharad in. Avoiding the webs he slashes the line so Jharad can’t be pulled in.

Jharad slashes with a dagger at the entangling webs about him, doing not quite enough damage to free himself though.

The spider slings another web at Keng who is busy grappling with the log. Keng is able to swing the log into the oncoming webs however. The spider quickly cuts the line to release the log just as Keng rushes forward and hurls it end over end. The log strikes the spider right upon its head. The log rolls away and the spider reels, its head cracked and spilling bluish fluids.

“Strike true, Toshio,” says Zeyala as she brushes his arm with her fingers.

The ettercap hisses and begins shrieking at them in a barely articulate semblance of the Common tongue, “Vegeance! Vengeance I will have! Behind every tree! In every shadow I will be!” It recedes deeper into the webs covering the trees as it hurls its threats until it disappears from sight in the gloom beyond the range of the magical daylight summoned forth by Toshio from the mummified hand hanging around his neck.

Toshio sheathes Whispering Shrike and strings his short bow but the giant spider is already withdrawing deeper into its webs.

Jharad takes another few seconds to fully extricate himself from the webs then looks to make sure the others are unharmed. Smirking he says, “Enough of this foolishness, lets keep going.”

It takes time to make their way around the webbed trees, but there are no further signs of the ettercap or its spider. The daylight around them cast by the hand of glory continues to shine for almost an hour. Long enough for them to make it back to camp where they find Spivey watching over the horses and the still comatose Ameiko. There is no sign of Shalelu however.

Ameiko grows fitful as they approach and mutters in the language of Minkai.

Toshio translates for the others, “More riddles, ‘Beware the cuckolded cuckoo – it is in his shattered silent love you should seek aid.’” He checks to see that Ameiko is as comfortable as possible and puts his wrist to her forehead, checking for fever.

Jharad looks at the others and then asks Spivey, “Have the pirates come by here yet? And where is Shalelu?”

Spivey hovers in front of Jharad and responds, “I have not seen her. But I did hear shouting coming from the direction of the river. It died down just before you got here.”

With a concerned look on his face, Jharad poises to move swiftly. “I am scouting to the river. Come with if you wish,” he says and turns to run towards the bridge. He suddenly stops, turns back to the group and with a relaxing smile says, “Nevermind.”

Keng follows Jharad trying his best to be stealthy but it only looks comical as he exaggerates his steps trying to tip toe. Keng crashes into the back of the suddenly stopped elf.

“Damn, you saw me didn’t you?” says Shalelu as she seemingly appears out of nowhere not quite 30’ away. “I am very glad to see you all though. The pirates were following the trail back to Brinewall led by their elf. I lured them away and took care of the elf.” She points back down the way they came. “We had better bury him. The rest of the pirates fled in their back downriver. Now that you are here, I think we had better move this camp.”

Jharad rests his hand on Shalelu’s back affectionately and says quietly in elvish, “Það er gott að hafa þig í mínum augum aftur , Shalelu . Ég vona að þú veist að mér þykir vænt um þig djúpt.”

Shalelu responds, “Vonandi dagur mun koma þegar við getum betur notið hvor aðra fyrirtæki. Fyrir nú, við verðum að hugsa um að fá vin okkar til öryggis.”

Jharad responds to her in the Common Tongue, “I look forward to that, and you are right.”

Toshio asks Shalelu, “Do you have a new location in mind? I don’t think the village would be very safe, and we couldn’t watch for Sandru from there.”

Shaleu says to Toshio, “It would be very difficult if not impossible to get the horses through all the underbrush, especially if one is burdened with two riders, for someone will have to take Ameiko. Perhaps, Toshio, you could take Ameiko and ride back to meet the caravan. I could ride back with you while the others remain here to deal with the pirates and try to recover Jethrik.

​”I don’t like the idea of splitting up, but I agree that we need to have someone seeing to Ameiko before we do anything else. Okay, I’ll get Onyx ready.” Toshio moves over to Onyx and readies the warhorse.  When that’s done he mounts up and says “Okay, lift her up to me, please.”

Keng gently lifts Ameiko up into Toshio’s waiting arms. When she is secured in front of him he steps back.

Jharad nods his agreement to her plan then asks, “And where did you leave the pirate elf’s body?”

Shalelu points back towards the caravan trail. I left him back there. When I heard you I put him down. We’ll ride past it. Just mount up and follow me. Once we bury him Toshio and I will head back to the caravan with the rest of the horses. We’ll return as soon as we can. This way you will not have to worry about leaving the horses alone.”

Unfortunately all their plans are undone when Ameiko begins shaking and convulsing as soon as Toshio begins to ride away from Brinewall. ​”She won’t stop shaking!” says Toshio in alarm. “Keng, take her back down before she falls.”

When she is safely on the ground again she becomes still once more. Toshio dismounts and says, “Thank you, Keng.”

Reassessing, Toshio muses, “Well, so much for that. Is there another safe place we can move the camp to?”

“Unfortunately, there is nothing more I can say about her affliction or a treatment,” says Zeyala. “If they were mere physical wounds, I could heal those.”

Spivey says, “I think that there is a little hollow not too far from here and in the direction of Brinewall. It would at least be farther from the trail if the pirates try to come back. The horses should be able to get through to it. Also, I can commune with Desna, but the spell will only last under a minute and a half and you can only ask up to six questions and receive short replies to them within that time. I can only do this once a week.”

The elf is wearing masterwork studded leather, a masterwork longsword, a masterwork shortbow, 20 arrows, a feather token (anchor), a scroll of flaming sphere (2), a scroll of summon swarm, a scroll of web, and a wand of magic missiles (1st level; 20 charges).

Jharad tucks the wantd into his belt and secures the scrolls away into his backpack. He then hands half the arrows to Shalelu and offers her the longsword as well.

​Toshio says, “That masterwork shortbow would be an improvement over mine.  I’d like to use it if nobody objects.”

Jharad hands the shortbow to Toshio with a, “Have at it.”

Once they finish plundering the corpse of the hapless elf pirate, they dump it into the river and out of nominal respect to their fallen kindred Shalelu mutters a quick prayer to Pharasma to make sure the fallen warrior’s spirit goes to… well, wherever it deserves.

Jharad adds a quick prayer to Calistria as well.

Keng in turn spits on the corpse as they are rolling it into the river snarling, “Rot in the seventh level of Hell you bastard child of whore.”

“Keng! I bear no love for him either, but let’s not be too spiteful,” says Shalelu. “It is most likely that one will serve forever aboard one of the ghost ships in Besmara’s fleet. A shame that an elf should sink so low.”

Keng is somewhat chastised but mumbles, “Yeah but he frakked with the gnome…”

Keng elbows Jharad and asks, “How about asking the fairy where the bleeding treasure is, how to get the gnome back and get outta here alive?”

Once the new camp is set up Toshio considers Spivey’s offer. For a few minutes he silently he debates the merits of various questions they could ask. Aloud he says to the others “Spivey’s offer of communing was a good one, and I have some ideas of what to ask. One – how do we rid Ameiko of whatever is possessing her? Two – Where is the best place to free Jethrik? Three – Where inside Brinewall castle is the Kaijitsu legacy? Four – ” He stops there. “Well, what about the rest of you? What do you think we should ask?”

“I think that is a good start,” adds Zeyala. “I haven’t achieved the ability to commune with my god. Well, I’m sure Pharasma hears me, only does not answer me directly.  Anyway, we need to be thoughtful about how we ask the question, and should try to be mindful that the question is something Desna would take interest in, lest her answer be too cryptic or simply that she doesn’t have one.”

“Yes, how we ask is almost as important as the what,” Responds Jharad. “But I believe we should contrive a new plan given that our previous one is no longer valid due to this morning’s events. Then we will know better what we should have Spivey ask of Desna. By now I am sure the pirates have returned to the ship to form another raiding party on Brinewall or to gather larger forces against us. All they have seen so far is me, briefly, and maybe Shalelu, again briefly. And they have lost one who seemed important to the captain. So really, how the captain responds at this point is fairly unclear. I would like to know what he intends to do, that should be one of the questions as well. So lets ask these questions, and in this order. 1) How do we rid Ameiko of whatever is possessing her? 2) Where is the best place to free Jethrik from his captors? 3) What is the captain of the Teeth of Araska intending to do today? 4) Where inside of Brinewall castle is the Kaijitsu legacy? 5) What will we need to obtain the Kaijitsu Legacy without harm?”

Keng nods as he tries to follow the number of questions on his fingers….

Smirking, Toshio nods approval. “I particularly like that last one, ‘though I’ll be pleasantly surprised if we get a useful answer.”

Jharad pauses in thought then finishes with, “What do you all think?”

Spivey says, “I think that will do. Give me some time to sit and pray. She does so and asks the questions aloud in the order given, replying to each one aloud as well.

“How do we rid Ameiko of whatever is possessing her?

“Find the warding box.

“Where is the best place to free Jethrik from his captors?

“In the Castle.

“What is the captain of the Teeth of Araska intending to do today?

“Kill you all.

“Where inside of Brinewall castle is the Kaijitsu legacy?

“Ameiko has told you.

“What will we need to obtain the Kaijitsu Legacy without harm?

“Luck, courage, and Ameiko’s advice.

“That is all the goddess has to say,” says Spivey as she comes out of the trance.”

Keng chuckles lightly, his bone ornaments in his dreadlocks softly murmuring and mumbles, “I could have told you that.”

Jharad laughs as well, “Yes well, ask anything but a very specific questions and that is what you get. At least we know that the pirates are focusing on us now. That is something.”

​​”I’m quite surprised that it proved so useful,” adds Toshio. “We need to figure out what this ‘warding box’ thing is, but at least we have a focus for a search now. Maybe somebody has a spell that can help point the way? And we know we don’t need to fuss around outside to get Jethrik back. We can take on the castle now without worrying about missing him. And what did Ameiko say? One treasure, two seals to the third vault or something like that. One, two, three. As for the advice, it’s hard to say, or maybe it’s something that will happen in the future. Anyway, I think the answers are more useful than I expected.

“I agree. I was expecting something more cryptic,” says Zeyala.

​”I think we should assault the castle,” Toshio continues. “Jharad, when you were scouting did you see any likely ways in? I suppose we could try to sneak up and see if the door is locked – it might work, but I doubt it.

“In addition, I think we should set some limits so we can make a good withdrawal before we run out of healing or spell-power. And we’ll need to consider what route we’ll use when withdrawing – we don’t want to lead them right back here. Thoughts?”

Keng counters Toshio’s plan saying, “We assault the castle we end up monkey-in-the-middle between the pirates and crow-boyz.”  He continues, “We should ambush the pirates at their most vulnerable point, when they are tying up and unloading off their boat. Snatch Jethrik and then hit the castle.

‘Of course he counters,’ thinks Toshio with an inward sigh. Aloud he says, “Actually, I am hoping to catch the pirates in the middle. I like the ‘Let’s you-and-him fight’ idea a lot. But if you aren’t feeling up to the challenge, then your plan is a good alternative.”

Shalelu says, “If it will put you at ease, I will continue to stay here to watch over Ameiko. Also, it seems to me that Captain Grudge will be wary of any ambushes or attempts to put him and his crew in between you and the dire corbies. In fact, he will almost certainly be trying to pull that very trick on you. It seems though, that with Spivey we have a considerable advantage. Don’t we?”

Jharad smirks at Toshio’s attempt to goad Keng and replies, “I only saw the main entrance into the castle but if there are others, Spivey said they may be in the woods or cliffs around the castle. I would like to ask Spivey to do some scouting for us again, as I would like to know where the pirates are before we re-enter Brinewall. They are a wildcard that I would like to deal with before scouting the castle properly.”

Spivey, hovering at Shalelu’s side nods. “Yes, I can fly over and see if I can find out where the pirates are. They may have rowed back to their ship or they may have gone ashore again back at Brinewall. I might also be able to find out where your friend Jethrik is. Shall I go now to see what may be seen?”

“Yes, Spivey, I would appreciate that. Then we will know how better to proceed with fresh information,” replies Jharad.

“Yes, thank you. That will be immensely helpful,” adds Zeyala.

After about an hour Spivey flies back in as fast as she can fly, which is actually very fast. She is looking back over her shoulder and breathing heavily from her flight. “Everyone to arms! There is a harpy out there! It was flying over the village and I think it saw me. It seemed to have come from the bay where the ship is anchored. It had a gnome in its talons. I flew back under the trees so it wouldn’t see where I flew. I came back here as fast as I could. The pirates are also in the village, by the lighthouse. They are keeping watch from there.”

Jharad responds in alarm, “A harpy has Jethrik? Is it following you or should we head to the village?”

Keng springs to his feet, makes sure his armor is right and then bellows his war cry!

Spivey is startled by Keng’s cry. “It was headed east towards this forest. I am not sure where it was going. If it is nearby it would have just heard him,” she indicated Keng.

“I suppose that’s one way to draw out the enemy,” chuckles Zeyala. She removes her pack and tucks it under a bush. With her longspear in hand she takes a defensive spot next to a tree.

“True,” replies Jharad, as he finds cover by a tree and draws his bow.

​Toshio makes sure Ameiko is under cover, then readies his bow and stays near her. “Spivey, was the gnome hurt? Or merely captive to the harpy?”

“I could not tell. I dived under the trees as soon as I saw her.”

Toshio nods understanding, then leaves what cover he had, searching the sky for the harpy. He doesn’t stray far from the camp, but moves to get the best view of the sky that he can and trying to watch as many sections of it as he can.

“I pray your aim is much much better than mine, lest that harpy use Jethrik as a shield against your arrows,” says Zeyala.

Keng is in the open, moving in a circle while bashing his chest yelling, “Here I am!  Come kill me!” The blood lust is upon him now.

An Ally in the Ruins

Back at the temporary camp at the edge of the forest overlooking the caravan trail north, Ameiko begins talking in her sleep. In the language of Minkai that only Toshio understands.

Toshio says, “She seems to be delirious. She’s saying ‘Beware the birds that wish to fly but cannot.’ Is fever often part of a magical ailment?”

Keng looks over at Ameiko and squints at her thinking, ‘Birds that wish to fly but can’t?’ What evil are we about to face he wonders…?’ He is used to the ravings of oracles and seers and never considers their words lightly. He redoubles his gear check and weapon cleaning.

“That is not her voice,” says Zeyala. “Someone…something? Those are spirits speaking through her.”

A few minutes later Ameiko speaks again in Minkaian. “One treasure beyond two seals in the third vault…” then lapses into silence once more.

“A spirit has taken her? Can it be exorcised? Why would it take her, and why speak these riddles?” Toshio looks at the others, hoping for answers he doesn’t really expect them to have. Agitated by his inability to help Ameiko, Toshio muses softly, “Maybe Jharad will bring good news. I hope he comes back soon.”

“The voices speak in a language you understand, Toshio. Do they mean anything to you?” asks Zeyala.

Before Toshio can answer a familiar voice asks, “What voices? What is wrong with Ameiko?” An elf huntress with keen blue eyes and long blonde hair tied back in a ponytail steps out from behind a tree. She is equipped with studded leather armor, a composite longbow, and a shortsword all of masterwork quality and most likely enchanted as well. Around her neck hangs a humble wooden carving of a butterfly painted blue and bearing the sun, moon, and stars, the holy symbol of Desna. It is Shalelu. She rushes to Ameiko’s side and looks to the others for an explanation.

Keng jumps to his feet and says, “Shalelu! It is good to see you!”

“It is good to see all of you as well. It seems I have not arrived a moment too soon.”

“Shalelu, it’s fortunate you’ve returned. Ameiko has been possessed…by spirits, I believe. I do not know their source or purpose. It… they… speak through her.  Otherwise, she remains unconscious,” explains Zeyala.

“Shalelu! Thank goodness you’re here. Maybe you can help.” Toshio gives a quick run-down of what has transpired and what they know – or don’t know – of Ameiko’s illness. “Jharad has gone to scout the ruins in case Jethrik is already there, and we’ve been trying to figure out how to help Ameiko. She seems possessed, and speaks strange words, like riddles. Without context they make little sense, even translated from Minkai. She just said, ’One treasure beyond two seals in the third vault.’ See? It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Then it’s all true what the elf said,” says a high-pitched voice that tinkles like the sound of bells. Up in the air over their heads they see a tiny woman with a lithe form and delicate butterfly wings. Lights sparkle around her as she hovers above them. She is wearing a suit of studded leather armor of dyed black and yellow to match her green yellow-spottted wings and tiny starknives hang off her belt. A tiny blue wooden butterfly painted with the sun, moon, and stars hangs from her neck. “I ran into a friend of yours who said his name was Jharad. He said there was a woman here who had family ties to Brinewall who lay afflicted. He also said you were seeking a gnome named Jethrik. I told Jharad I saw him with the pirates enter Brinewall Castle to battle the dire corbies there. Jharad went up to the castle to seek him and I came here to see if what he said was true. Now I see that it is. I am Spivey, priestess of Desna.” She nods to Shalelu who she sees is also wearing the butterfly emblem of Desna.

Zeyala alone recognizes Spivey for what she is, a lyrakien, a divine messenger and musician who are often employed by Desna. They are a race of celestials who primarily come from Elysium, a plane of good unhindered by law, a land of unrestrained passions and emptions where the creative spark is coaxed and adored with all the force of a benevolent storm. Zeyala has also heard of dire corbies, a race of monstrous humanoids that look like muscle-bound crow-men covered in black feathers with vicious beaks and razor sharp claws who are known to attack with suicidal fury. They come from the depths of the underworld and have been known to occasionally take over ruins on the surface. She quickly tells the others about the dire corbies.

Keng blurts out, “I am going to find Jharad. He may be in trouble.” He begins repacking his gear.

“My thoughts exactly,” says Toshio. “I should have known better than to let him go off alone.”

“He will most surely be heading into trouble, and I’m sure Jethrik has already found it,” says Zeyala. ”Corbies are vicious monsters who will fight with suicidal frenzy. You can’t just shoo them out. Spivey, you said Jethrik and the pirates were going to confront the corbies. Do you know how many are in there?  And how many pirates were with Jethrik?”

Spivey responds, “There was the captain, a woman, an elf, and about eight others. I think there must be at least that many dire corbies in the castle, maybe more. But they have allies too: degenerate lizard men, ogrekin, giant spiders, and an ettercap, a kind of man-like spider. A creature named Kikonu leads them. He looks like one of the dire corbies, but he has wings and is some kind of sorcerer. He almost caught and killed me when I first came to this land many years ago, and since then I have stayed away from him and the castle. I have tended the cemetery and a shrine of Desna there and have stayed out of sight until now.”

After a very brief moment, Toshio speaks quickly. “Spivey, thank you for the information about Jethrik. Shalelu, will you stay with Ameiko, please? Zey, Keng and I need to go rescue Jharad.  And Jethrik. Spivey, can you help?”

Shalelu nods. “I will keep her safe. Go quickly!”

Spivey zips around quickly in the air, leaving rainbow trails in her wake. “I will guide you, but I am no fighter. I will do what I can to help you. This way!”

“Finally some action!  I feel like some crow for dinner!”  Keng follows Spivey crashing through the underbrush there is no question he’s coming he makes so much noise.

On his way back to the camp at the edge of the woods Jharad hears Keng and crashing towards him and then sees Toshio and Zeyala as well. They all seem to be chasing a tiny woman with a lithe form and delicate butterfly wings. Lights sparkle around her as zips ahead of them leaving rainbow colored trails in her wake. She is wearing a suit of studded leather armor of dyed black and yellow to match her green yellow-spottted wings and tiny starknives hang off her belt. A tiny blue wooden butterfly painted with the sun, moon, and stars hangs from her neck.

“Jharad,” Keng blurts as he see Jharad coming towards him through the underbrush. “There are all kinds of evil creatures ahead and magic afoot! Did you find the gnome?”

Jharad stops and says to the butterfly woman, “Hey! I know you. You were the one I talked with at the cemetery by the observatory. So you found my friends it looks like.”

“Yes, I did. I am happy to have met them… and you,” she says. “I should introduce myself properly, I am Spivey, a priestess of Desna from the realm of Elysium.” Jharad is a bit taken aback by this, as Elysium is one of celestial realms where Pharasma and her court send the spirits of elves who have died. The goddess Densa has a floating citadel there and it is also populated by beings called azatas, who are akin to angelic elves.

“Since we are doing this properly,” responds Jharad with a smile, “then I am Jharalion Aeirandi originally of the Kingdom of Kyonin. I follow the ways of both Calistria and Desna and am very happy to make your acquaintance… again. When we have more time I would very much enjoy getting to know you better and discuss Elysium and how you came to be here in Brinewell.”

Then addressing everyone he continues, “But I am guessing there is a need for brevity so I will report what I have found and ask only what seems relevant at this time.”

“Yes, Keng, I found Jethrik. He is in the company of Captain Grudge and his crew. Although armed with them, his lack of armor and normal possessions makes me suspect that he is indeed a captive. They were coming from the castle and seemed the worse for wear from their exploits this morning. Most of the pirates were distressed and injured, carrying one of their dead with them. The Captain and his Elf mate looked unharmed however. Attempting to get a better view of where they were heading I had an unfortunate run in with a fallen branch which alerted them to my presence. That is when I made my escape and headed back and instead met you all here.”

“Now, tell me what has become of Ameiko and what you all are doing crashing off in the woods towards Brinewall?”

“Ameiko is under Shalelu’s care,” says Toshio. “She remains unconscious, apparently possessed by some spirit. It may not be belligerent, as it was warning of the dire corbies,” He nods at Spivey, acknowledging her help in deciphering the riddles before continuing, “and telling of ‘One treasure beyond two seals in the third vault.’ We don’t know what that means yet. Spivey’s appearance and words made us alarmed for your safety so we were coming to assist you. Since you are well enough, I suggest we continue and rescue Jethrik. Maybe we can get his captors to fight with the regular inhabitants some more before we have to face either. My big hope besides the rescue of Jethrik is that something we find in there will help Ameiko.”

At the mention of Shalelu, Jharad unconsciously brightens. “Then Ameiko is in good hands, I am happy to hear of Shalelu being with us again. Again there is mention of this third vault. Whatever Ameiko seeks will be found there and may in turn cure her. Or at least release the spirit that has possessed her. As for Jethrik, the pirates were most assuredly retreating to lick their wounds. We may be able to use that to our advantage. My guess is that they were headed for their longboat that is moored at a pier in the lagoon that the ruined village surrounds. They have doubtless already rowed back out to their ship that is anchored in the bay. An attack on the ship, regardless of their current condition, I do not suggest. Better to ambush them when they return to the castle as I am sure they will do – either from the ruins or inside the castle itself. Spivy do you have any suggestions about that? And what do the three of you think?” Jharad finishes and looks at his companions, but mostly addresses Keng.

Toshio answers, “I’d prefer to catch them outside the castle, so we don’t get pinned between them and the inhabitants.” He then looks to Spivy for her reply.

Spivey answers, “From what Jharad says the pirates have probably returned to their ship. They will probably not give up and will most likely return tomorrow. You could easily camp in the abandoned temple of Desna and I can help keep watch from the lighthouse. The only thing I fear is that the dire corbies and their leader Kikonu may try to set up their own ambush in the village.”

As they listen to Spivy’s response, Toshio quietly wonders why Jharad and Keng seem to be deliberately trying to annoy him. He calms himself with some effort and recalls that he doesn’t need to like them – just work with them for Ameiko’s sake. It occurs to him that perhaps Iomedae put them here to give him extra practice in being patient.

Keng says, “I ain’t much for sneakin’ and ambushin’ but I do know it ain’t good to fight two enemies at once.  If the pirates are gone for the night and the crow-boyz are sneakin’ about thinkin’ ‘bout ambushin’ them, then let’s set up to hit them toads when they ain’t spectin’ it.”  Keng squints in confusion having surprised himself with his sudden grasp of tactics. ‘Who was that that said all that?

Jharad smiles at Keng and replies, “That we could do… but we could also let them accomplish their ambush then selectively hit both sides to assure victory over both. Lets see how Kikonu sets up his corbies first then make our decision.”

Turning to Spivy he continues, “Setting up at the temple sounds like a good way to start, we thank you for your hospitality Spivy. Then we can check on the longboat and keep watch for Kikonu’s gang.”

Toshio concurs. “I like that plan. We can clean up whoever the winner is after their fight, and only get involved earlier if Jethrik is in trouble.”

“Agreed,” says Zeyala.

Keng seems disappointed they will spend the night talking….

Once they arrive at Brinewall Jharad suggests, “As long as we stay out of sight from the corbies I would like to take a closer look at the ruined lighthouse, the same for the village itself. I would like to eliminate any possible unknown threats and scout out good ambush spots that the corbies may use when the pirates return. The more informed we are of the area the better our plans can be executed.”

Keng and Toshio nod in agreement.

“And any knowledge you may have, Spivey,” Jharad continues, “of the area or of other passages in or out of the castle would be most helpful. For if there are any I am sure the corbies know of them and if possible will exploit them.”

“I am sorry but I don’t know of any passages in our out of the castle other than its front gate. There probably are some in the woods around the castle or the cliffs facing the ocean but I’ve kept my distance from it. As for the lighthouse and the village, nothing has made its lair here though occasionally things will crawl up out of the lagoon or fly in like that sea drake the Ulfen raiders killed, before they disappeared into the castle.”

“Well that may be to close to the castle to search without alerting the corbies to our presence,” responds Jharad, “but we should check the lighthouse and village ruins. And we should be wary of the lagoon it sounds like.”

Keng pipes up, “This village is long deserted and overgrown, how come the graveyard is in such good shape?  I ain’t up for sleeping amongst ghosts.”

Jharad looks over at Spivey and smiles.

Toshio has put it together and now smiles, too, but he turns so Keng won’t feel antagonized.

“Elf, you know something we should know,” Keng grumbles.  “You ain’t planning no tricks on us are you?”

Spivey laughs and says, “No, he is not trying to trick you. I have appointed myself the caretaker of the cemetery and the shrine of Desna. I came here long ago. I was originally brought to this plane to act as the familiar of a kindly wizard, but she was slain by a hungry plant creature – not anywhere near here so don’t worry about that. After that I wandered aimlessly for a time until I found this place. I tried to rebuild the temple but the dire corbies came down to investigate and so I hid away in the cemetery. Since then I have been living there, doing my best to keep it clean and free of undead and other desecrations. I have been left alone to do that and I think that the dire corbies do believe that the graveyard is haunted and so they keep away. But I am the only one haunting it.” She laughs merrily.

Keng somewhat mollified is still skeptical. He tries to grin but of course that looks like a snarl.  He surreptitiously makes the Sign-of-Warding behind his back.

Jharad giggles at Keng, “It’s okay big guy, I am sure there will be plenty of substantial foes for you to exercise your axe arm with.”

“I agree that some scouting would make good use of the time,” says Zeyala.

Toshio suggests, “Shall we start from the lighthouse and work our way back to the graveyard?”

“It is a plan then, we start at the lighthouse,” agrees Jharad.

Inwardly Toshio feels relieved that he and Jharad seem to be working together again without undue conflict.

Finding the lighthouse deserted, Toshio says, “It doesn’t seem any foes are hiding here. Let’s move on.”

That is when Jharad finds a crushed strongox in the rubble. Inside they find 93 gold pieces and a single rusty key. He pockets the key and gold, with intentions of adding it to the group gathered salvage once the caravan arrives.

After searching through the rest of the deserted village and finding nothing they return to the dilapidated temple of Desna. Toshio says, “We’d be foolish not to keep up a watch. Let’s keep it similar to the caravan’s schedule.”

“That will not work, Toshio,” Jharad responds, “Lets set the watch with Keng first then me second to best take advantage of our better sight during the darkest hours. Then you take third watch into the dawn.”

“Agreed” replies Toshio, echoing Jharad’s tone.

Jethrik’s Buckos

After what seems like an hour, Jharad finally comes an algae-choked lagoon encircled by the ruins of Brinewall village and an overgrown path. Over the tops of the buildings to the northeast he sees what appears to be the broken crown of a lighthouse, whose roof has long since fallen in. To the northwest he sees Brinewall Castle, a large and intimidating structure of gray stone. Although only two stories tall (with the exception of one three-story tower), the squat castle looks all the larger for its position atop the bluff west of the village, looming over the surrounding region with a commanding presence.

Jharad carefully makes his way east and around the village towards the lighthouse, thinking that he may have a clearer view of any piers and thus the ship he expects to find there. Down the road he finds on his left is what appears to be a cross between a temple and an observatory, probably a place of worship dedicated to Desna, the goddess of dreams, luck, stars, and travellers whom the people of Ravenmoor had believed they were worshipping. On his right facing the temple from the other side of the street is a rickety wooden fence surrounding a clearing beyond. The gates of the fence are of iron and flanked on either side by statues of a beautiful woman with butterfly wings depicting the goddess Desna. The clearing itself consists of a low hill containing nearly two-dozen graves. A stone crypt sits atop the hill to the east. The entire graveyard is unusually well tended – the grass appears to be weeded and the gravestones are quite clean. So far the only sounds to be heard are the cawing of very large crows from the vicinity of the castle atop the hill.

Jharad pauses at the gate, staring at the beautiful statues of one of the deities he favors. Asking a quick request for fortune in finding Jethrik he then places his hand on the gate leaving behind a beautiful butterfly silhouette with stars, moon, and sun within each wing. Smiling gently he looks around then continues on past both the temple and graveyard toward the lighthouse.

The lighthouse is surrounded by rubble and the door has long since fallen off its hinges. The wooden stairs inside have all rotted away so there is no way to reach the top other than to climb up the walls. However, the lighthouse was itself on a cliff overlooking the harbor on the south side of the Steam River just before it empties into Bunyip Bay. Jharad sees that the Teeth of Araska is indeed anchored out in the bay. Looking down into the harbor he sees two ruined piers that are mostly collapsed, though the westernmost one has what appears to be two recent visitors tied to it. One is a Linnorn Kingdoms longship. The longship seems relatively new, but the vessel is partially destroyed and half-sunken. With his sharp elven sight, Jharad sees what appears to be claw marks and the scorch marks that would be left by bolts of lightning. Next to the longship is a longboat, such as might have carried an away team of red shirted pirates from the Teeth of Araska. Past the westernmost pier is a collapsed bridge and south of the bridge the lagoon that the village was built around. On the northwest shore of the lagoon Jharad sees the rotting carcass half submerged in the water of a sea drake – a kind of inbred aquatic dragon about 14’ long and weighing around a ton with fins and wing-like arms. Sea drakes are known for breathing ball lightning and ramming into ships to capsize them so they can eat their crews at leisure. This one looks to have been killed a few days previously. The squawking of the murder of crows from within or around Castle Brinewall rises to a ferocious crescendo and then suddenly ceases. Jharad can’t help but think of the Harrow card reading that Koya did back in Sandpoint at the Rusty Dragon. Koya had said that something hidden was about to come to light that would set in motion a chain of events indicated by six cards. The Crows has been the first. The card depicts a bipedal a man with a crow’s head and wings (perhaps one of those tengu creatures that live among the pirates in the Shackles and the Sodden lands far to the south) overseeing two rogues in crow masks sitting at a table piled high with coins, jewels, and sacks of gold.

Jharad makes his way stealthily back down the path, keeping behind the trees when he can so as to remain unseen from any pirates or denizens of Brinewall who might be lurking about. In the village he uses the ruins for cover. As he passes the cemetery, however, a voice calls out to him. It is a high-pitched voice like the sound of tinkling bells and it seems to be coming from the butterfly silhouette he left on the gate. “Elf! Elf! Yes, you! Were you the one who left me here to mark this gate?”

Stopping at the gate Jharad looks closely at his arcane mark that now seems to be speaking to him. “The name is Jharad,” he replies, “and yes I left this mark at this shrine to honor Desna. I am curious, however, how my mark is speaking back to me as that was not a part of the magic I imbued into it. What are you, that is most likely hidden within?”

“I am the spirit of this cemetery. I keep this place pure and clean and tend the shrine of Desna. Why have you come to this forsaken place. There is nothing here for good folk anymore.”

Deciding honesty would serve best Jharad replies, “I am seeking my friend who was brought here by pirates against his will. Have you seen or heard any activity of late up at the castle?”

“Would your friend be a gnome? Yes, I saw him with a band of pirates. They were looking for his friends who are traveling by caravan. Would you be one of those? I think, though, that the pirates are more interested in some treasure they believe may be in the castle. Is that why you have come too? For treasure?”

Jharad smiles, “Yes that would be him. And yes, I am one of those friends. How long have they been here and are they in the castle now?”

“Yes, they are in the castle. They were fighting their way into the courtyard when I decided to take my leave. But you have not told me why you have come here. Are you just another adventurer looking for plunder? Are you allied with the pirates?”

“No we are not aligned with the pirates. As I said, they kidnapped Jethrik, my friend the gnome, and brought him here. We are not here as ordinary adventurers to plunder; one of us has a family tie to the castle and we are here on her business. Currently my primary concern is rescuing my friend, however. Is that something you are willing to help me with?”

“Rescue? He was walking among them and armed with a sword. He did not look like their prisoner, though I did hear him say to their captain that he did fear him. The pirate captain said he was now the most dangerous of all the dangers of Brinewall. I doubt that. I cannot help you get your friend back. If he still lives he is with the pirates in the castle. Where are the rest of your friends, especially the one you say has family business here?”

“If he is walking among them, then he is playing along to keep alive.”

A thought wanders in to Jharad’s head and he decides the gamble may be worth it. “They are up the trail about an hour’s hike from here. The one I spoke of us is sick and unconscious, however. She seems to have contracted a magical malady of some sorts. I am trusting you with this information and speaking plainly. Is there nothing you can do to help? Maybe give us some information about other ways into the Castle where we may confront these pirates and rescue Jethrik?”

“I will have to see for myself this friend of yours who has business here but has fallen ill. If what you say is true we will speak again. You should go to the castle yourself now if you want to find your friend. I know better than to go there again. Goodbye.”

“Then maybe I shall bring her here, to meet you. Goodbye to you as well.” Jharad continues on his way towards the castle.

Jharad does not get far before he hears cursing and mighty oaths of vengeance from up ahead. The pirates are apparently returning from the castle. Jharad moves into the woods to keep watch but unfortunately manages to step on a fallen tree limb that breaks with a resounding crack. As one all the pirates (and Jethrik!) look to the tree line.

“It’s an elf!” shouts the lone elf among the pirates. He nocks an arrow and looks to Captain Grudge.

Jethrik sees that it is indeed an elf, and though he can’t see him fully it certainly would appear to be Jharad.

“Who are you! Declare yourself!” shouts Captain Grudge.

The rest of the pirates lift their crossbows and aim them at Jharad. He sees that all of them are covered in blood and their clothes and even their studded leather armor have been fiercely torn up, as though they had all tied cats to themselves and walked under a waterfall. Jethrik, the Captain’s woman, and the elf don’t seem to be hurt, but Captain Grudge’s frock coat bears scorch marks on the back that look like a torch was set to it. Two of the seven pirates are carrying the corpse of another pirate whose skull was apparently staved in. It would appear that the pirate’s got more than they bargained for at the castle, like a boy who takes a stick to a hornet’s nest and is forced to run for cover.

“Hold!” Jethrik pleads “it might be one of my friends!”

Jharad softly speaks the word, “Dispareo,” and vanishes from sight. He then silently moves deeper into the woods to return to Ameiko and the others.

“Or maybe we are all getting jumpy…” Jethrik speculates, “Could it have been some sparrows in the weeds?”

Selis laughs. “I don’t think so, and neither do you. I saw an elf out there. I don’t think it might be one of your friends, I am sure it is one of your friends. I saw him before back in Roderic’s Cove. We had best get back to the ship my captain.”

Captain Grudge is looking out into the woods. He reaches out and pulls Jethrik closer to him, in fact between him and the last location of Jharad. “Yes, I think we had better get back t’ t’ ship. We have much to discuss.”

The pirates head back to the longboat and row back to the Teeth of Araska for the night. When they are in the longboat and away from shore, Jethrik unbuckles his rapier. He offers it, sheathed and hilt first to Captain Grudge. “If you don’t trust me, you best not let me have this. You’d best take my spell materials for that matter.” Jethrik growls. “The elf’s name was Jaharad. I didn’t see anyone else nearby, so he was vulnerable. I didn’t want to see you kidnapping him too. And I didn’t want to see what he would do to you guys if you tried. Oh, you’d beat him, but he’d make it dear for you. Not all of you would be in this boat right now if you hadn’t let him go. I didn’t want to see that either. I’m not saying we’re all a big happy family in this boat, but damn it you promised me excitement and gold. I want that!”

Captain Grudge looks down at Jethrik in surprise. He takes the rapier and then after a moment hands it back. “You’re a good lad you are. Loyal t’ your buckos and t’ me. You stay loyal and you’ll come out alive, well, and wealthy. And maybe your buckos will too.”

Ameiko Afflicted

Lamashan 28 Fireday waxing moon

The journey to Brinewall takes Ameiko and her companions longer than they had planned, as Keng and Zeyala’s horse was overburdened and they needed to take time to rest or to allow Keng to walk while Zeyala rode or vice versa. During their previous seven days of travel they see no other people on their journey after their meeting with the Horse Lords. The Velashu Uplands are beyond the boundaries of any city-state such as Riddleport. The farther north they go the more disused the road becomes until it is little more than a track alongside the western bank of the Velashu River as it winds through the hills. The day before the track parted ways with the river that turned away east into the Red Mountains, so called because of the dark red of the soil due the presence of rich iron deposits. The track continued on through a pass in the mountains on the other side of which lay the stony plains of the Nolands. Here they had to be wary, for the Nolands had become a dumping ground over the centuries for exiles and outcastes from both the Lands of the Linnorn Kings and the Shoanti tribes. Bands of the descendants of these exiles were known to mount raids against both the Linnorn Kings to the north, and the miners and herdsmen living in the Red Mountains to the south. Despite the threat of the Nolanders, several Varisian caravans still make the journey to the Lands of the Linnorn Kings and back every year and with sufficient guards they have been able to ward off the raiders.

By mid-morning on the eighth day they are within sight of the Steam River. The track continues north down to a weathered wood and stone bridge that crosses the river. An old signpost about a hundred yards south of this bridge reads “To Brinewall,” and points down an overgrown trail that winds through a forest.

Shaking his head vigorously and waking as if from an unremembered dream Jharad looks about him, enjoying the change of scenery while riding his horse alongside the others. Odd that he nodded off in such a way and for what seems like such a long time. Maybe only a mere moment to him, but feeling easily like a couple of years to a human. He dismisses the thought as they approach the Steam River and pause to read the sign to Brinewall.

Keng and Zeyala, who are riding closest to Ameiko notice that she is pale and shaky. In fact, Ameiko has been growing more and more listless and sickly all during the morning ride.

Keng elbows Zeyala gently and nods towards Ameiko.  Then considering her poor eyesight adds, “Does she look ok to you?”

“No, she doesn’t. Not from here at any rate.” Zeyala asks Keng to guide their horse closer to Ameiko. “Ameiko, are you not feeling well?” asks Zeyala.

Ameiko shakes her head in the negative. “No, I’m really not. I think I’m coming down with a flu or something. Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine. After we rescue Jethrik I’ll be able to rest while we wait for Sandru and the others.”

Jharad rides over to Ameiko as well. Nodding down the road leading to Brinewell he says to her, “Once you are feeling well enough to continue is that the road we take?”

“Your guess is as good as mine. I have never been here before, but that is where the sign points. We should go now. Jethrik can’t wait for me to get better. It may be couple of days before a flu runs its course.”

They continue on into the forest but there the track quickly fades away entirely into the undergrowth. So dense is the undergrowth that it becomes clear that that further progress toward the ruined village will have to be made on foot. As Ameiko dismounts, however, she collapses with a heavy thump. She is breathing, but unconscious.

“Ameiko!” calls out Zeyala as she rushes over to her side. Kneeling next to Amieko, Zeyala attempts to identify the illness.

Keng looks at Ameiko slumped on the ground with a frown and says, to no one in particular, “This is bad, she will be a burden.”

“This is no simple fever,” says Zeyala. “Some sort of foul sorcery is at work, but I know not the source. My healing magic will not break this magic.”

Scouting the fading trail ahead, Toshio didn’t see Ameiko’s collapse. At Zeyala’s call Toshio rushes back at full speed. Seeing her on the ground Toshio exclaims in alarm “Ameiko!” Then to the others he asks, “What happened?”

“There is foul magic at work here. It took her suddenly and she fell from her horse. It will take more than simple herbs to wake her,” says Zeyala.

Toshio is visibly upset. With an effort he decides to get out of the way and steps back. “Zeyala, please let me know as soon as you learn anything. Also if there is anything I can do…” He tapers off a bit awkwardly, then finishes “Well, I’ll be on guard. Please let me know.”

Thinking about the situation Jharad then suggests, “At least one of us should stay here with Ameiko and wait for Sandru and the others. The rest of us should continue on to Brinewall and see if we can find Jethrik.”

Keng nods his agreement.

Toshio says, “Too bad Shalelu isn’t here. She could scout Brinewall. I’d like to see if Ameiko gets better by tomorrow morning, but if it’s magic then we can’t wait. But what can we do about it?”

Jharad responds, “I can scout Brinewall while you all wait here. At least to find out if Jethrik has indeed been brought there.”

Toshio wants to scout Brinewall, too, but decides his place is guarding the group. “Good idea. Ameiko wouldn’t want us to neglect Jethrik because of her illness. Meanwhile, we can get off the road and set up camp where we can watch for Sandru without being watched ourselves.” As an afterthought he adds “But Jharad, if he’s there, please don’t try a rescue on your own unless it’s the only chance for getting him back.”

“Of course,” Jharad responds with a smile then heads off down the overgrown trail leading to Brinewall. He takes caution to be silent and stop frequently enough to both look around him for dangers and to make sure he can find his own way back.

The Invasion of Brinewall

Lamashan 28 Fireday waxing moon

Teeth of Araska/Brinewall 

On Fireday the storm clouds finally break allowing the sun to shine down upon Bunyip Bay and the Teeth of Araska. It is mid-morning when the ship comes in sight of the mouth of the Steam River. Jagged cliffs face the bay and dense woodlands can be seen atop them. Brinewall Castle itself is a large and intimidating structure of gray stone. Although only two stories tall (with the exception of one three-story tower), the squat castle looks all the larger for its position atop the bluff south of the river mouth. It looms over the surrounding regioin with a commanding presence.

Captain Grudge decides it would be best to anchor in the bay and take one of the longboats ashore. Of course Captain Grudge, Ishana, Selis, and Jethrik are picked to explore the ruins and find Jethrik’s friends. Eight other crewman including Solemn Jack and Tubbs are also picked to go ashore.

Take us up t’ river, Solemn Jack,” Captain Grudge calls out to the boatswain who is piloting the small craft. “We’ll see if we can spy a good place t’ land. There is supposed t’ be a village hereabouts.”

As they row upriver they see that on the left bank there lies the empty shell of a stone lighthouse. It’s roof has long since caved in. As they round the bluff they find that just before the lighthouse, also to starboard, a naturally deep harbor has formed. Two ruined piers extend into the only relatively shallow portion of the harbor. Both piers are now mostly collapsed, the westernmost one has what appears to be a relatively recent visitor: a Linnorn Kingdoms longship is tied to the pier. The longship seems relatively new, but the vessel is partially destroyed and half-sunken. To the south of the pier and the sunken longship there is a collapsed bridge that once passed over the entrance to a small algae-choked lagoon. All around the lagoon and the two piers to the east of it are the ruins of Brinewall Village.

Captain Grudge has the longboat drawn up alongside the longship. Looking it over reveals significant damage to the ship in the form of tremendous claw marks and what appear to be scorch marks, perhaps from a bolt of lightning. Captain Grudge has one of the pirates, Slimney, climb up into the longboat and look around, but he finds nothing.

Satisfied that there is nothing else that can be learned from the longship, Captain Grudge has their longboat made fast to the pier. They disembark and look over the small village. Just past the collapsed bridge, lying half on the northwestern shore of the lagoon and half submerged in the water is a rotting carcass of some winged bright green reptile. It is larger than a horse and has finned wing-like arms and a draconic visage. Neither Jethrik nor any of the others had ever seen or heard of anything like it before. From where they are standing it cannot be seen what may have killed it.

As for the buildings, they all seemed empty and overgrown with weeds. The two largest ruins were just to their south. One seemed like it may have been the town hall, and the other seemed to be a cross between a temple and an observatory, probably a place of worship dedicated to Desna, the goddess of dreams, luck, stars, and travellers whom the people of Ravenmoor had believed they were worshipping. Past that was the dense overgrown forest.

“Well now,” says Captain Grudge to Jethrik, “where do you think we’ll find your buckos?” To all he says, “And we best keep a lookout for t’ Ulfen raiders who came in that ship. They may still be about.”

“Where are my friends? I have no idea. We’ll have to look for them. Hopefully they are keeping a good watch and have already seen us come up the river.” Jethrik replies. “For now, let’s investigate this village. Besides my friends, there is a mystery and a treasure here… because there is always mystery and treasure in dangerous abandoned places!”

“Sure t’ is, me bucko,” replies Captain Grudge. “Lead t’ way.”

The town hall and temple of Desna, for that is indeed what it is, are empty of anything of interest, at least upon a cursory initial inspection. Across the road from the temple a rickety wooden fence surrounds a clearing beyond. The gates of the fence are of iron and flanked on either side by statues of a beautiful woman with butterfly wings depicting the goddess Desna. The clearing itself consists of a low hill containing nearly two-dozen graves. A stone crypt sits atop the hill to the east. The entire graveyard is unusually well tended – the grass appears to be weeded and the gravestones are quite clean.

“Anyone else creeped out by the beautifully manicured graveyard in the ruin of a village?” Jethrik worries. “I’m thinking we need to check out the graveyard or at least the crypt before we turn our backs on it.”

Oh man,’ think Jethrik, ‘I am in a ruin hundreds of miles from civilization with highly uncertain allies and no way to get back on my own!

Ishana spits into the street. “Or else we should leave it alone and not provoke whoever the caretaker may be.” She eyes the cemetery warily. The other pirates look to their captain.

Captain Grudge nods slowly, “Arr! I’m with t’ gnome on this one. We can’t leave an enemy t’ our stern. And perhaps t’ caretaker has seen the wee one’s buckos… or knows where the treasure is. Lead on,” He nudges Jethrik across the way towards the gates.

The gates are not locked, and so Jethrik and the others pass through without any hindrance. Walking among the gravestones they see nothing out of the ordinary aside from how well kept it all is. The crypt contains only one body in a stone sarcophagus, that of Admiral Mercatio Kiameleu, Brinewall’s founder according to an inscription. Captain Grudge has Solemn Jack and another pirate open the sarcophagus but inside they find no treasure but only a skeleton. Past the crypt at the northern edge of the cemetery apart from the graves is a small well-tended shrine to Desna that consists of a marble statue of the deity holding aloft a small copper bowl. Three flasks full of rainwater have filled the bowl. Neither Jethrik or the others discern any magic in either the statue, the bowl, or the water.

Ishana empties her flask and fills it with water from the bowl. “It is possible that the goddess has blessed this water.” She passes the bowl to Solemn Jack who does likewise. He then passes it to Tubbs who fills his own flask with the last of the rainwater. He passes it back to Ishana, who carefully restores it to the arms of the statue.

“There’s nothin’ more t’ see here,” says Captain Grudge. He leads the way back out of the cemetery. “I say we head up t’ t’ castle and look around. If there’s any treasure hereabouts it will thar.” Then to Jethrik he says, “Oh, and o’ course that’s where your buckos may be.”

“Wait!” Jethrik shouts in a commanding manner. “I’m doing this all wrong! First of all my friends aren’t here yet. They were traveling by caravan. I don’t see a caravan! A caravan would be a very difficult thing to hide! Second we can’t stay here. I don’t know what that draconic thing is. But look what it did to the long boat. Something here killed it. I don’t see any bodies around it. So there’s something really scary here.”

Captain Grudge turns on Jethrik and says, “Now look here you little pipsqueak. I give t’ orders around here. We don’t need t’ wait for your buckos t’ look around for whatever lost treasures may still be in that castle. If we find it first, then its ours. Their fault for comin’ too late. And as for that,” he gestures to the dead thing in the lagoon, “I’m tellin’ you now thar be nothin’ here more dangerous than me and my crew. Now be you with us,” his hand drifts down to the hilt of his rapier, “or against us?”

“You seemed to want my opinions before.” Jethrik grumbles, a little hurt. “I agree that you are very dangerous. I just hope that whatever else is here is as afraid of you as I am.”

Captain Grudge laughs, “If they are not, they soon will be.” He then leads the away team up the overgrown path towards the castle. The pirates in their red bandanas and shirts troop after him. Jethrik sticks his tongue out at Captain Grudge after his back is turned. (And no one else is around to see) And then quickly catches up to the pirates.

As they reach the rusted iron portcullis of the gatehouse they heard the cawing of very large crows, though none are in site. The portcullis is down and locked. The levers that unlock and open them are inside the gatehouse. The gates have not been maintained in years and are in very poor condition, so the pirates easily force the portcullis up and raise it by hand between the eight of them. The gatehouse itself has a floor of packed dirt and numerous wooden beams for the stone ceiling above. Wooden ladders on either side of the far gate climb up to the roof above. The cawing continues for awhile and then dies down as Captain Grudge has his men raise the portcullises on both sides of the gatehouse with the winch.

Past the gatehouse is a barren courtyard of hard-packed earth containing clumps of tough-looking weeds, furrows in the ground as if made by taloned feet, and chalky white mounds of dung the size of human heads.

“Be ready!” Jethrik whispers harshly drawing his rapier “I have heard stories of creatures that leave signs like these. Dire Corbies! They are a form of man-like crows or some sort. They normally live underground, maybe they could be up on these walls ready to leap down and attack. They are incredibly fierce and will not break off. If they attack, they will kill us or we must kill all of them. Gods give us the strength! They have darkvision, and so, might attack after dark.”

Captain Grudge nods and draws his own sword, holding up his other hand to keep the other pirates back as he stands at the exit of the gatehouse. “Aye, I’ve heard of such thin’s. They could also be Tengu. Some o’ them live in t’ Shackles and the Sodden Lands. Uncanny thin’s. They be said t’ have come from t’ other side o’ t’ world.”

Selis adds, “I too have heard of these Dire Corbies, but I’ve never seen them. I wonder if they are related to the Tengu.” He shrugs and whips out his wand.

Jethrik indicates that he is going to go up the ladder. Captain Grudge allows it with a nod. Jethrik nimbly climbs up and stops to listen before opening the trapdoor onto the roof. He hears nothing. He looks back down at the pirates waiting at the foot of the ladder and the entrance to the courtyard then pushes the trap door open just a bit with the tip of his rapier.

Atop the roof of the gatehouse he sees two muscular creatures, the size and shape of men but covered in oily black feathers, glittering eyes, and sharp beaks. They are wearing no clothes or armor and bearing no weapons. At the moment they seem to be watching the courtyard from behind the battlements. One of the things catches site of Jethrik peering at them and lunges for him with a loud squawk.

“We mean no harm!” Jethrik cries as he lets the door drop back. He immediately starts down the ladder. He will keep the rapier raised above him.

“Speak for yourself me bucko! I do mean harm. I mean t’ harm anyone who gets in the way of finding whatever treasure thar be in this pile o’ rocks!” He turns to his men and says, “Get up there and clear out this roost!”

At Captain Grudge’s command, six of the pirates clamber up the ladders, two on each side, daggers in their teeth.

“What if they can help you find the treasure?” Jethrik asks.

Before Captain Grudge can reply, Ishana screams in fear, something few if any of the crew had ever heard before. Creeping towards her from the courtyard is a spider the size of a man, though its long legs make it appear even bigger. She turns and runs towards the outside gate and Captain Grudge, to his credit, lunges at the spider to keep it away from her. He pierces its side and it recoils but turns it attention towards him. Solemn Jack also springs into action, drawing his cutlass and swinging wildly, disorienting himself in the process.

Jethrik calls out in a light-hearted tone “Everyone hack off a leg! We’ll make short work of this won’t we?”

A phosphorescent bolt slams into the spider from Selis’ wand. Jethrik turns and sees that Selis has retreated to Ishana’s side by the outer gate.

Above the battling pirates both trapdoors are flung open. The dire corbies, croaking unintelligible battle cries that sound like cries of doom, hurl themselves down upon the pirates on the ladder causing the ladders to tumble down taking all the pirates on them down as well. They all fall in a heap to the floor of the gatehouse and begin scrabbling to regain their feet.

The spider backs away from the gatehouse and then flings a web from its spinnerets at Captain Grudge, who is caught fast in it. He tries to pull it off but is unable.

Ishana can be heard calling upon Calistria to send aid.

The pirates and dire corbies all regain their feet while Solemn Jack and Tubbs try to keep the spider at bay with their cutlasses, though neither dare advance on it.

“Looks like the birds are here to take care of the spider for us!” says Jethrik as he moves to Captain Grudge’s side to see if he can help pull the web off of him.

Selis sends another bolt that hits the spider right between its mandibles. The creature seems greatly agitated but it is a lethal blow. Suddenly a mist coalesces behind it into a frog large enough to swallow a human child (or a gnome) whole. The frog’s eyes burn with the fires of the Abyss and its razor sharp teeth bite into the bulbous abdomen of the giant spider. The spider curls up in death and the fiendish frog summoned by Ishana proceeds to devour it at leisure.

Captain Grudge, however, even with Jethrik’s reluctant assistance is still unable to get the sticky strands of the web off of him. Captain Grudge’s curses are of such ferocity that is almost seems that he could open another gate to the Abyss just by the strengths of his blasphemous oaths.

Meanwhile, the pirate crew surround and begin hacking at the dire corbies with their cutlasses, blood and feather are everywhere but the dire corbies are far from finished as they lash out with their own wickedly sharp claws.

“Good work guys, I guess at dinner we’ll find out if they taste like chicken!” Jethrik quips.

Captain Grudge, with the help of Jethrik and Ishana finally manages to throw off the spider’s webs.

Both dire corbies finally fall to the ruthless pirates, though three of them were lightly wounded by the crow-men’s claws and a fourth moderately wounded. Blood from their lacerations runs down their arms and chests.

Outside a new foe has appeared even more grotesque than the giant spider. A hideous purple creature races across the courtyard at the enormous frog chittering in rage. It latches its mandibles into the frog but the frog shrugs it off and clamps down on one of its sickle-shaped claws. The blotchy purple thing sinks its mandibles into the frog again and tears into it with its other claw. The frog releases its grip and disintegrates back into a mist that fades away in seconds. The purple thing with the head of a spider and claws for hands turns its multi-faceted eyes upon Captain Grudge, Ishana, Jethrik, and Solemn Jack who are still just within the inner gate. It chitters and then speaks in the Common tongue, “I will kill you all for what you have done!”

“I’ve heard that before.” Jethrik shrugs

The spider-man leaps up onto the wall of the gatehouse just to the left of the courtyard gate and scuttles up the wall out of reach of their rapiers and cutlasses. In order to kill it, the pirates will have to go into the courtyard and shoot it down with their crossbows.

The pirates all look to their leader. Captain Grudge points out to the courtyard saying, “There’s only one o’ whatever it is. Bring it down me buckos.”

The pirates pour out into the courtyard and sheathe their cutlasses and take up their crossbows. While they are loading their bolts, Selis fires another magic missile from his wand at the creature hitting it in the back. The creature responds by spewing down a web from its spinnerets. Just as Captain Grudge was before, the elf is entangled in the creature’s web.

“Did that thing just shoot this gunk at me from its ass! Damn it, get this off of me!” yells the outraged elf.

The other pirates, having loaded their crossbows fire upon the creature. Three bolts strike the creature, two in its back and one in its spindly legs. It chittered again in pain and scuttles over the battlements out of sight.

At the same time there is a sound of ropes snapping and wood cracking and splintering from the roof of a flat-topped building on the north side of the courtyard. Dire corbies squawk in pain and surprise as the catapult they just launched a boulder from tears itself apart. The boulder arcs over the courtyard, hits the ground, and rolls into Ishana hard enough to bruise her leg. As the pirates turn their attention to this new threat the dire corbies leap down from the roof and begin racing across the courtyard croaking imprecations of death and destruction upon the invaders of Brinewall.

“Kill those damn fowls! We’ll pluck and roast them and have ourselves a feast tonight we will!” commands Captain Grudge.

The pirates quickly load and fire their crossbows at the charging dire corbies. Ishana quickly moves out of their way and back into the guardhouse, where she can also keep an eye on Jethrik. All three of the corbies are hit, one of them twice. Two of them are have obviously received mortal wounds but they continue to stagger towards the pirates. The third continues its charge, ignoring the bolt in its leg. Selis hits it with a magic missile from his wand, but even this does not stop the creature. The pirates reload and fire again as Captain Grudge continues exhorting them to slaugher their foes. Each dire corby is hit once more by the second barrage of crossbow bolts, but even this fails to stop them, though all three are now staggering and screeching in agony. They leap into the pirates and tear into Solemn Jack and Tubbs with their claws. Selis fires another missile from his wand, but the creatures have entered a berserk rage wherein they do not seem to feel any pain. Selis shoots and again into the melee as the pirates surround the creatures and finally chop them down. Ishana and Captain Grudge leave the fighting to the pirates, though at the end Ishana moves in quickly to offer prayers to Calistria to keep Tubbs from dying. Tubbs was the only pirate to fall, but Solemn Jack and couple of others have nasty wounds from the fight.

“Great job!” Jethrik cheers as he helps Tubbs by casting cure light wounds upon him, which revives him. Tubb’s ribs however, are very sore from where the crow creature’s claws tore into him.

“Thanks Jethik, you’re a good lad,” says Tubbs.

“All right lads, enough playin’ around,” says Captain Grudge. “We’ve treasure to look for. In we go!” He leads the way to the double doors leading into the main hall of the castle and flings them open. With a crack of her whip Ishana brings up the lead, ensuring that all the other pirates fall into line and follow the captain, including Jethrik.

Beyond the doors is a long hall 20’ wide and almost 100’ long. Rotting, faded banners hang from the walls depicting a stylized castle sitting on a seaside cliff. Thick stone pillars support the ceiling and a rotted threadbare carpet runs between the pillars from the door to an old wooden throne at the far end of the hall, its back carved to resemble the towers of a castle wrapped in the coils of a serpentine dragon. Sitting on the throne is a wild-eyed man with a bristly goatee, deep red skin, and a prodigious nose. He idly toys with a strange weapon – a combination sickle and weighted chain as four dire corbies caper before him. The dire corbies are running in a circle squawking and flapping their arms up and down as though they were wings. When Captain Grudge strides in the man on the throne cackles in delight and says,

“Welcome, be seated,” he gestures to some benches along the walls. “You are just in time for the conclusion of my latest masterpiece. It is a short play about a flock of ravens who woke up one day to discover they were trapped in flightless human bodies.”

“Stuff and nonsense!” Captain Grudge retorts. “Clear t’ way or we’ll cut you down!”

“Ah, now we come to the part of the play where the ravens vent their rage upon those who cursed them.” He stands and points at the pirates. “And there they are!” Instantly the dire corbies stop, turn as one and glare at the pirates. With a shriek they charge down the hall with their talons raking the air before them. In the Common tongue they yell things like, “You took my wings, you flying things!” and Bring me their eyes, and sorrowful sighs!” Jethrik, at least, can tell that these are not actually being said by the dire corbies, rather the strange man at the end of the hall is throwing his voice.

Captain Grudge calls out, “Have at them me buckos. We’ll do for these as we did for t’ others!”

The man by the throne begins to leap and dance about, cackling in glee as the battle begins. Selis strings his shortbow and nocks an arrow while five of the pirates push past Captain Grudge into the hall and fire their crossbows. The bolts nick two of the four dire corbies but all four of them veer away and take cover in what is apparently an alcove or hall to the left of the throne. They disappear from sight.

Grudge laughs and says, “You’re men have deserted you! What now you prancin’ fool. Tell us where t’ treasure be and we’ll let you live.

The strange man shrieks, “That’s not in the play! You’re ruining it all you hideous apes!” As he screams at them his form wavers. His red skin turns to black feathers and his long nose becomes a black beak, but unlike the dire corbies or tengu black wings burst forth from his back. He runs off to the right out of the hall.

Jethrik is reminded of a card from Koya’s deck called The Crows. On the card a creature like a tengu but with wings watches over to two men in crow masks seated at a table laden with jewels, piles of gold coins, and sacks full of more gold and jewels. Jethrik remembers that Koya did a reading back in Sandpoint at which this card appeared. ‘If there are crow-men here there may be gold too!’ Jethrik keeps this to himself of course.

Captain Grudge laughter echoes down the hall. “Well that was easy enough. Let’s go find him. But be careful. Check behind those doors. I don’t want enemies getting’ in behind us.” Captain Grudge indicates a door 40’ in on the left side and a side hall on the left side about 35’ down the main hall. The side hall ends after 25’ in double doors and there is also a door 15’ in on the right side of that smaller hall.

“Careful of the winged one. He can cast magics. That was his voice making the corbies appear to talk.” Jethrik warns.

“Ho, ho! I caught on t’ that little trick already me bucko. But we have magics of our own don’t we,” he flashes a smile at Ishana and Selis. The other pirates grin as well. “As do you, you little trickster.”

“Nothin’ over here,” Tubbs calls out as he peers into the door on the left side of the smaller hall on the right. “There’s another short hall here with a door on either side.”

Solemn Jack is not so lucky. Despite his caution opening the door two scaly gray humanoids with long tails and crests on their heads leap out of the shadows and club him to death in the blink of an eye. A horrible stench roils out from the room and all but Ishana and Selis have to cover their mouths and start gagging. Jethrik remembers that he had heard of such creatures before. They are the feral, savage remnants of reptilian race that once may have ruled empires on the surface world but who now dwell in the upper reaches of the endless caverns of the underworld.

Selis looses an arrow and wounds one, and it is wounded again when the pirates fire their crossbows into the doorway, but they are mere scratches. The troglodytes retreat into the room but their menacing hissing can still be heard.

“After them!” roars Captain Grudge. “Don’t leave a one breathing!”

The troglodytes slam the door shut on the pirates. Slimney says, “Captain, please… give us a moment. I feel like I’m going to heave. I don’t think I’m the only one here who needs a moment.”

Captain Grudge, who is also puffing his cheeks and trying not to vomit nods, and so the skirmish is over for the moment.

As the pirates recover from the troglodyte’s stench, Tubbs listens at the double doors down the short side hall. “I think I hear someone yelling! It might be that winged tengu.”

“You three, cover that door,” Captain Grudge commands three of the pirates. “And pull Solemn Jack body away from there. We’ll give him a proper burial when we’ve cleared this pile of stones. The rest o’ you follow me.” He leads the way to the double doors at the end of the side hall and flings them open. Inside is a circular room about 30’ across with a ring of pillars supporting a balcony 15’ above. A flight of stairs winds up to the balcony just to the right of the double doors along the southern wall. Faded paintings of dancing elves decorate the walls, spattered here and there with ancient bloodstains. Up on the balcony across from the doors is the winged tengu, still ranting and raving in Minkaian, the land that Ameiko and Toshio’s families came from that Jethrik has also learned to speak. He is furious about the interlopers who ruined his play. As soon as he sees Captain Grudge enter the room he points and evokes a searing beam of fire from his finger that hits Captain Grudge across the back as he swiftly ducks away and takes cover behind a pillar. Captain Grudge then runs into the center of the room and hurls his whip up at the creature shouting, “Tie and knot!” The creature is too fast, however, and easily slips away as the whip lashes out to grab him. Selis and the pirates follow this up with their own attacks with bow and crossbows but the creature has already ducked behind the balcony railing. It pops up again and with another short incantation it fires a coruscating light that hits Captain Grudge before he can take cover. The Captain pales and slumps but is able to make it back to safety under the balcony directly beneath the creature. Selis and the other pirates fire again. Only Slimney hits. His bolt pierces the creature’s leather armor in the chest. The creature squawks and falls behind the railings and is silent. However, when Selis and Slimney go up to loot the body they find no sign of it. The creature has completely disappeared as if it had never been there at all. Captain Grudge recovers his whip and returns with Selis and Slimney to the floor of what may have once been a ballroom.

Ishana runs to Captain Grudge’s side. “Are you all right? What did that thing do to you?”

“I’m fine. Its spell weakened me. I just need to rest bit. Let’s get out o’ here. I’m in no more mood for games and we’ve already lost one of our company. We better see that he has the proper rites. Maybe we’ll bury him in that graveyard down t’ road.” Then Captain Grudge looks up to the balcony and yells, “But we’ll be back! Rest assured we’ll put an end to your games!” That said, Captain Grudge leads everyone out of Castle Brinewall, with the body of Solemn Jack carried back by Tubbs and Slimney. As the pirates exit the gatehouse and head down the path back to the village they hear the cawing of the dire corbies. At least four of them are up on the roof of the gatehouse firing crossbows at the retreating pirates. Fortunately none of the bolts come anywhere close to hitting them and they soon come to a turn in the path and the trees screen them from the gatehouse.

Dire corbies can use crossbows?’ Jethrik wonders. ‘Doesn’t fit with the psychotic, bloodthirsty, mindlessly violent berserker schtick they got goin’ on.

 

 

The Malificar

Lamashan 21 Fireday waning moon

Teeth of Araska

On Lamashan the 21st, Jethrik is assigned to rigging repair. Once again the Jethrik is able to prove his worth as he nimbly makes his way through the up and down the ratlines, the small ladder-like rungs that are tied between the shrouds so the crew can climb up and down the rigging. He checks the shrouds and sheets are all in good repair, and that all the lines are made fast. During the day, he finds a chance to sneak into the wardroom and check out the sea charts. He looks over the chart on the wall and sees that it depicts the coast of Avistan and northern Garund, from the Varisian Gulf to the Eye of Abendego. It looks to be over a years worth of the Teeth of Araska’s travels that have been marked, mostly centered around Ilizmagorti, a pirate haven on Mediogalti Island just northwest of the Eye of Abendego. An island also rumored to be lair of the infamous Red Mantis assassins. Jethrik also notes tiny skull marks near Botosani, Magnimar, and Herma. Jethrik muses that these could perhaps indicate marooned enemies, secret hideouts, or even buried treasure.

That night, once everyone but the night watch are asleep, Jethrik sneaks out again and this time attempts to go beyond the wardroom door to see if he can poke around the captain’s cabin. What he finds instead is that the door leads to Ishana’s quarters and that she and the captain are noisily occupied in more amorous pursuits. Thick, seductive scents fill the air, ribbons of colored smoke winding their way up from an incense holder sitting on a simple writing desk. There is also a journal on the writing desk. Red and black curtains cover the walls, embroidered in stylized roses. An inviting bed fills much of the room’s remaining space, piled high with spotted and striped pelts of exotic animals. At the port end of the room there appears to be a part in the curtains and a cabin beyond that one.

Jethrik is tempted. Oh so very tempted to lift the journal. So very, very tempted… But then he’d have to put it back too, and he realizes that would just be tempting fate. He decides to quit while he’s ahead and backs away, though also tempted to cast grease on the rutting pirates. ‘Oh, being a pirate is no end of laughs!’ thinks Jethrik. Since the captain and his woman are so noisily preoccupied, Jethrik does take the time in the wardroom to find a scrap of paper and make notes on the wall chart and its markings before he retires for the night. He figures it may come in handy in case those markings indicate buried treasure he can dig up someday.

Lamashan 22 Starday waning moon

Teeth of Araska

On Starday, Lamashan the 22nd, Jethrik and some others are sent out on the longboats to hunt leatherback turtles so they can have turtle soup that night. Their hunt is successful and so that night they are able to enjoy a better meal than usual.

That night the captain truly does seem to be warming up to Jethrik but is not more forthcoming about his actual intentions in heading for Brinewall. “Ah bucko, I’m glad you’re takin’ t’ life aboard ship. T’ sweet trade we be engaged in be a wondrous thin’. I be aye that when we meet your old buckos at Brinewall they’ll see that you’ve found your true callin’. And o’ course if they need any assistance we’ll be happy t’ give it. ” A sincere desire to make things right with Jethrik’s former companions seems all that Captain Grudge is concerned with. He doesn’t even ask about any potential loot or buried treasure that may be there.

Lamashan 23 Sunday waning moon

 Teeth of Araska

On the 23rd, Selis points out that Jethrik, being a gnome, would make a good lookout as he has keener sight and hearing than humans. Captain Grudge agrees to give Jethrik a try but to the gnome’s dismay the 60’ climb to the crow’s nest is more than he is able to handle. Halfway up he finds himself unable to move any further and vertigo causes him to seize hold of the rope with a death grip, unable even to climb down. Disgusted, Ishana shouts, “Climb, you bugger!” The force of divine magic in her command forces Jethrik, his mind in a blind panic, to finish the climb up to the crow’s nest. He has no idea how he will bring himself to even attempt to climb down, and is now greatly afraid that when the time comes Ishana will force him to do it against his will with another spell. From time to time he sees her looking up at him with a malicious grin, her fingers idly tap the lash hanging from her belt.

Once in the crow’s nest however, and in spite of his fears of what will happen when his turn at watch ends, Jethrik does prove to be a good lookout. The sky is clear and bright blue, and the seas are relatively calm though there is a brisk breeze to fill the sails. Not long after passing out of the Varisian Gulf and into the Steaming Sea, Jethrik spies a ship on the horizon to their stern and upwind. The ship is probably a good 20 miles out. Once Jethrik has called out the ship and its position, Captain Grudge slackens the sails enough so that it can get close enough for them to identify it. The Teeth of Araska, at the moment, is flying the flag of Riddleport, marked by the rune engraved arch of stone called the Cyphergate. In addition, though the draconic masthead of the ship looks ominous enough, the ship doesn’t have any siege weapons displayed – no ballista or catapults on deck at any rate.

The ship continues to catch up with them throughout the next couple of hours and in the meantime Selis has come up to take a look himself. He takes the spyglass from Jethrik and curses. “Damn! Captain Grudge! It’s the Maleficar! Captain Venjam is still after us!” He hands the spyglass back to Jethrik and quickly climbs back down to the deck to consult with the captain and Ishana. Jethrik looks again and sees that it is a Chelish naval vessel, flying the red and black Chelaxian flag. Its mast is carved in the image of a devil out of the Nine Hells and its deck does display siege engines.

Captain Grudge soon has the Teeth of Araska at full sail and heading north along the Varisian coast past the Calphiak Mountains. The Maleficar follows, and so the chase runs on throughout the day and past sunset. When the Bloody Hour comes along, Jethrik is helped down from the crow’s nest by Selis but only to be battered with rope bashes, tied to the mainmast and given three stinging lashes by Ishana who declares, “Don’t think you’re too cute to be spared the lash little gnome. All on the Teeth of Araska must feel the lash if they can’t do the work assigned to them. Still, I will spare you a worse beating since you did eventually do your duty, even if I did have to waste a spell on you to do it.” She makes it very plain that she will not be approached by the likes of Jethrik, at least not that night. In any case, Selis remains aloft for the rest of the night, and half the crew is kept awake to maintain watch and keep the ship heading due north and sailing as close to the wind as they can in order to lose the Maleficar.

Lamashan 24 Moonday waning moon

Teeth of Araska

 The chase continues into the next day, even as ominous black clouds gather off the port beam. As a heavy rain drums down upon the ship, Jethrik is employed down in the galley, helping the cook prepare a cold porridge for breakfast and more turtle soup for the evening meal. Even as the ship flies from its pursuer and attempts to skirt the edge of the storm it continues heading north towards Brinewall.

Lamashan 25 Toilday waning moon

Teeth of Araska

The storm continues to build all through the night and into the next day. Winds howl, waves grow larger and larger, lightning flashes off in the west and thunder rolls across the sky. Despite this the chase continues. The Maleficar never strays more than a mile or two astern. During all this, Jethrik’s seasickness returns with a vengeance. The cook, a Varisian named Andrezi who has taken a liking to Jethrik as has most of the crew, provides Jethrik with hardtack biscuits but even this fails to settle Jethrik’s stomach. Fortunately, there is no bloody hour. However, neither is there a dinner as such or any idle time after. The pirates grab what food they can in between shifts attending to the rigging and battening all hatches and loose items on board.

Lamashan 26 Wealday new moon storm

Teeth of Araska

On Lamashan the 26th, the storm hits them in earnest. Waves slam into the hull and wind howls through the rigging. All sails have been furled and Captain Grudge has himself tied to the wheel so he will not be swept overboard. It is impossible to see anything through the sheets of rain more than a few yards away. Lighting continues to light the sky and the booming of the thunder is deafening. Fortunately for Jethrik his seasickness begins to recede in all this. He is still quite sick, but no longer as nauseous as he was when the storm was building. He stays below during most of the day cramped up in the tiny areas below decks with the other pirates who are not aloft working on the sails and rigging repairing sails, splicing ropes, and other odd jobs assigned to them by the boatswain, Solemn Jack. The dim lanterns rock and the timbers creak as the ship is thrown wildly about. Shadows dance crazily up and down the walls as the men fight the storm, nausea and fear! All the while, the two ships continue playing cat and mouse.

That night, Jethrik, now almost fully recovered from the storm-induced nausea, finds himself unable to sleep as his hammock sways back and forth as the ship is tossed about in the wild seas. He hops out of his hammock and sees that while there are a few pirates who are aloft, the others are either sick or sleeping and none are paying any attention to him. Jethrik takes the opportunity to creep over to the squat rickety door leading into the main hold and to quietly slip through into the middle hold. Jethrik recites a brief incantation and rubs powdered firefly ichor onto a silver piece to produce enough light to explore by. The dim light illuminates a sizable chamber cluttered with a collection of cargos and ship’s supplies. A heavy wooden grate in the floor leads below, as does a trap door at the fore end on the starboard side. Just to the left of the trap door is another door leading forward. Jethrik had been too busy really look around during his time as a runner a few days before and when they were hauling out extra sails and ropes for the rigging earlier in the evening so this time he pokes around and even casts another cantrip allowing him to magically sift through room to find things of interest without having to actually move things around or get up close. The only items he finds, however, are the ship’s weapons – twenty dismantled ballista and ammunition for them wrapped up in canvas in preparation for raids and attacks on hapless merchants but otherwise secured and hidden away. Other useful items include hooded lanterns, a few grappling hooks, several empty sacks, and of course lots of rope.

Jethrik walks over to the trap door and opens it to find a ladder leading into the darkness of the main hold. Stepping onto the ladder he finds that the hold is stacked with crates and barrels, most of them labeled with the names of prominent merchants or military navies like the Aspis Consortium, West Sea Brokerage and Sargava Shipping. The crates and barrels turn the hold into a small maze. Captured flags hang along the walls. Just as he is about to step off the ladder, Jethrik hears the hissing of a large creature, actually two large creatures, from the darkness beyond the corner of a stack of crates. ‘What is that?! Lizard men?! Naga?! Really big snakes?!’ wonders Jethrik as he scampers back up the ladder and closes the trap door behind him as quickly and quietly as he can.

Lamashan 27 Oathday waxing moon weakening storm

Teeth of Araska

On Lamashan the 27th the storm starts to weaken. It is still too dangerous to unfurl the sails and Captain Grudge continues to man the wheel, attempting to steer the ship so that it take the larger waves at a 45 degree angle from the bow so that it will not be swamped. That afternoon they catch sight of the Malificar once more, also with sails furled and attempting to keep itself from foundering. That is when Captain Grudge calls over Ishana and Selis. Selis then sends one of the other pirates down below. He comes back bearing Jethrik’s sword and returns it to the gnome who has been running messages.

Captain Grudge says to Jethrik, “I said before that I would make you t’ quartermaster and I mean t’ keep me word. Now one o’ t’ duties o’ a quartermaster be t’ lead t’ attack against enemy vessels. So here be your rapier. Now we be goin’ t’ steer for t’ Malificar and even unfurl some sail if we have to. It’s risky, but we’ll be able t’ catch them by surprise and like ourselves they won’t have their ballista on deck. So prepare t’ lead t’ boardin’ party.”

“Captain,” Jethrik shouts above the rain and wind, “I have no illusions regarding this command, but I will take it willingly none the less. Take us in, I’ll get the men ready.”

Captain Grudge smiles back at the gnome fiercely and then pulls on the large bell by the wheel. “Set t’ storm-jib! Haul up the jolly roger! Man your battle stations! Jethrik be now t’ quartermaster and will lead t’ attack when it be time t’ board!”

Within moments the pirates have take up their places. With the storm-jib set the Teeth of Araska flies towards the Chelaxian warship, but now the flag of Riddleport has been replaced with a ragged black flag bearing the image of a scarred red skull. As they approach Jethrik, still on the stern-castle, sees more clearly the red on black of the Chelaxian fylfot cross. He can see that the Malificar has also unfurled its storm-jib and is attempting to maneuver away from the Teeth of Araska. It all for nothing, however, as they drift into the irons – meaning that they are pointing straight into the wind and stuck, at the mercy of the pounding breakers. Captain Grudge howls and laughs like a madman as he steers the Teeth of Araska straight in towards the Malificar, laughing as the breakers threaten to capsize the latter.

Jethrik heads below to the main deck. Eager to board, the pirates gather around in their motley garments armed with cutlasses and crossbows.  Jethrik shouts over the storm, “Our captain has found our one chance to escape the Chelaxians. We are going to turn on them and attack while they are floundering. They won’t have their ballistae on deck, and they will be as helpless in this storm as we are – if the gods are good, maybe a bit more. Now is the time to show your salt and your iron!” The pirates all cheer heartily and several of them prepare grappling hooks as their ship closes with the enemy.

On the other ship, Jethrik sees that the crew is similarly armed but unlike the many colors and gaudy jewelry of the pirates, the Chelaxian marines are garbed in loose fitting uniforms of red trimmed black. There numbers are roughly equal to those of the pirates but they do not seem as eager for battle. Because of the storm their decks are indeed clear of siege engines, though a few dare to fire crossbows at the Teeth of Araska to no real effect.

As the ships close, Jethrik sees Captain Venjam on the sterncastle of the Malificar gesticulating with his cutlass and shouting frantic orders to the crew. Then he looks down and takes in the fearsome three bladed prow of the Teeth of Araska. His face turns ghostly white for he sees that the Malificar is doomed. The flying keels of the Teeth of Araska keep it steady, or as steady as can be expected in the storm. Everyone on both ships brace for impact just before the bladed prow of the Teeth of Araska staves in the hull of the Malificar below the waterline. Half a dozen grappling hooks are quickly thrown onto the Chelaxian warship. The Chelaxians prepare to repel the borders with pike, cutlass, and axe, but they find themselves unable to even keep their footing as Jethrik’s spell-work takes effect, making the deck as slippery as grease. As the deck rolls beneath them, the Chelaxians fall away, taking down even those not standing on the now frictionless portion of the deck.

“Woo hoo!” Jethrik shouts. ‘So far, so good’ he thinks to himself as he leaps onto the enemy warship, casting a new grease spell under the feet of Captain Venjam and his first mate. The two slide away and fetch up against the gunwales. The Chelaxians sailors scramble to their feet but it is too late. The pirates, with Jethrik in the lead, pour over the gunwales onto their deck. The two sides face off under the stern-castle shout curses and wave weapons menacingly at one another, each side daring the other to make the first move and begin the general melee.

Then Captain Grudge is standing at the bowsprit of the Teeth of Araska, one boot up on its draconic figurehead. He cracks his whip over his head with his left hand and points the tip of the rapier in his right hand at Captain Venjam, who is scrabbling to his feet. “You thar! You’re t’ one I want! Captain Mase Venjam, don’t think I don’t remember you. You were first mate o’ t’ Malificar five years ago when you Chelaxian devils ambushed us off Corentyn. We got away then but now I see you’ve taken up t’ chase. Well it ends here. Surrender yourself t’ me and I’ll let your men live. If not…”

“You are an addle brained fool if you think I’d surrender to you. The Chelaxian Empire does not negotiate with pirates! It is you who – Agh!” Captain Venjam abruptly stops and falls unconscious to the deck after receiving a blow to the head from the hilt of his first mate’s cutlass.

“I am Bafra, the first mate. We surrender. Take Captain Venjam and leave us to repair our ship. I swear to you in the name of the Prince of Darkness that this chase is over.”

Captain Grudge laughter cuts though even the howling winds. “Took t’ lash t’ you all too many times did he? Well it’s all t’ same t’ me. Fetch him t’ me lads.”

Several of the pirates quickly race up grab the enemy captain and bring him back aboard their own ship. Captain Grudge waves Jethrik and the others back aboard as well, tips his hat to the treacherous First Mate Bafra, and then begins shouting orders to disengage the two ships. Aboard the Malificar the Chelaxian sailors head below deck to man the pumps and repair the breach in their hull before they take on too much water.

That evening Captain Venjam is the “guest of honor” at the Bloody Hour. The pirates string him up by his thumbs from the yardarm of the mainsail with his toes barely touching the deck. As the ship rocks in to and from in the waning storm the Chelaxian captain swings back and forth over the deck. He groans in agony as his full weight pulls on his thumbs.

Ishana, in the meantime, prepares her lash. “I’ll strip the flesh from his bones for you my captain,” she purrs to Captain Grudge.

Jethrik taps on Captain Grudge’s elbow. “So what has he done that makes whipping him more valuable than playing a Chelaxian ship?”

“He’s more valuable than a founderin’ ship. This man has been a barnacle on me belly for years. For that alone he will die a slow death. But he also knows where Besmara’s Executioner was sunk. Don’t you Captain Venjam?” Venjam only groans in response.

“T’ Malificar sunk Besmara’s Executioner in t’ Shackles about a year ago. And she was laden with treasure wasn’t she? You know where it lies, and you be goin’ t’ tell us.” Captain Grudge nods to Ishana who begins lashing Captain Venjam, who had already been stripped to the waist by Solemn Jack before being strung up.

Captain Venjam croaks, “I will tell you nothing. To the Abyss with you all!”

“Oh you’ll talk. Aye, you will. We’ll have fun with you for quite some time I think. Plenty o’ time, for we still have t’ find poor Mr. Jethrik’s buckos. Then we can turn south aft t’ the Shackles. For now, I’ll cut you down and t’ t’ brig with you.”

Ishana draws her dagger and in quick motion slashes through both Captain Venjam’s thumb’s causing him to drop to the deck. Venjam, who has passed out, is picked up by Solemn Jack and Tubbs to be carried down to the brig. Before he is carried away, Jethrik casts a healing spell on Captain Venjam’s hands.

“You need to keep him alive for him to tell you about that ship don’t you?” Jethrik asks Captain Grudge. “If he bleeds out his life, or gets gangrene, you’ll lose that ship again. Not that I think he’ll tell you. He’s a military man. I’m sure his pride will keep him from telling you anything before he dies, if all he can expect is death by torture. I think you need to offer some means of escape. Maybe a third party could be found. Maybe a town that won’t trade him back to Cheliax, but isn’t a pirate haven. He could trade the location of that wreck for freedom with them. Not that you’d let that happen, but maybe it’s a plausible enough lie to get him to talk.”

“Very good, always thinkin’ you are. Well, we should arrive at Bunyip Bay tomorrow. If we find your bukcos thar we can leave him with them.”

Captain Grudge follows the crewmen and their prisoner below decks. “Have t’ get Ferris and Orband out of t’ way,” he grumbles.

That is when Jethrik sees at last what beasts have been guarding the main hold. Two Lirgen dragons, not true dragons but lizards the size of men from the lost kingdom of Lirgen in what is now the Sodden Lands. They crawl up onto the main deck with a slow but relentless pace. Their talons are like daggers and ropes of drool drip from their toothy maws. Captain Grudge holds them by leashes and allows them to settle by the mainmast. They hiss at Jethrik but Captain Grudge jerks on their leashes and keeps them from going after the unfamiliar gnome.

Jethrik is a little disappointed to see that they are not actual dragons or demons, though still dangerous enough to keep the like of him out of the main hold. Jethrik grits his teeth. “Fine!” he thinks “but when I tell people wild exaggerations of my exploits here, those things are going to be 6 armed demons!”

The Horse Lords

Lamashan 21 Fireday waning moon

Leaving Riddleport

For a mere 3 silver pieces, Ameiko is able to find a peddler heading to Roderic’s Cove willing to deliver a letter to Sandru. She simply writes: “Going to meet Jethrik at original destination. See you there.” As a courtesy, when they pass the River Runner Inn on the way to the north gate Amiko stops by to let Lord Slyeg know that they are leaving to find their friend and to thank him for his assistance. Lord Slyeg is not available, however, so word is left with one of his men.

The lands north of Riddleport are sparsely populated, with a few struggling farms near the city and the occasional hunter’s lodge further afield. A winding dirt road that quickly becomes a Varisian caravan path leads north from Riddleport, a route only infrequently used by travelers making their way between Varisia and the Lands of the Linnorn Kings. This road follows the Velashu River for much of its length, rarely veering away from its winding course to reduce travel time. (Pathfinder #15, p. 9) It will take at least a couple of days before they are following their original planned route to Brinewall.

At about noon Jharad is the first to spot a cloud of dust heading south towards them. All except Zeyala see it as well. “Those are horsemen, a host of them, and they’ll be passing us in ten minutes if we don’t get off the road. They may not have noticed us.” She looks to the thickets of trees and bushes on either side of the path. “We could try to hide, but if they’ve already seen us or if they notice our tracks when they pass they will surely be suspicious.”

Keng scoffs, “Why should we hide?”

“Our fight is with Jethrik’s captors,” says Zeyala. “An encounter here only serves to delay that goal.”

“Best to observe what comes before it is upon us, Keng. And Zeyala is correct, we should avoid any delays.” Jharad smiles, “Even as short a delay as I I am sure you would make it, my friend.”

“Agreed,” says Toshio. Let’s get off the road. Besides, I doubt these are holding Jethrik.”

“I grow weary sneaking around and skulking in the bushes. I seek combat and the taste of blood. Any delay getting to the gnome is irritating.”

Toshio keeps his exasperated sigh to himself.

Jharad chuckles, “As is the gnome himself.”

After moving into a nearby copse Jharad and others watch as the cloud of dust dissipates as the riders slow to a canter. They are barbarians by their dress, bearing distinctive patterns of war paint on their faces and shoulders, marks repeated in the same dark color on the necks of their equine mounts. They are twelve in number, although they are followed by a train of two dozen additional horses. They pull to a stop just outside of shortbow range, a little more than twenty yards away, and hold up their right hands, showing that they brandish no weapons.

The leader of the group, a tall, sun-tanned man with dusty black hair, urges his mount forward a few steps before speaking. “There is no use hiding. If you are honest folk you have nothing to fear from us. There is no need to leave the path to skulk in the trees. I am Windbraid of the Horse Lords. Come out and let us greet one another in peace. Otherwise, know that you are surrounded.”

Jharad hears the stretching of at least two bowstrings from somewhere behind them. A quick glance reveals to his keen elvish senses that there are two Horse Lords crouched on branches above and about nine yards behind them.

Jharad chuckles and steps out of the copse of trees they are hiding in. “Well met, Windbraid of the Horse Lords. I am Jharalion Aeirandi and these are my traveling companions. We certainly mean you no harm as our only intentions were to avoid any unpleasantries on an unknown road. Please have your archers withdraw from behind us so we may continue to talk without threatened hostilities.”

“Well met, Windbraid,” says Zeyala.

Toshio follows ‘Jharalion’ out of the brambles. Bowing formally he says, “I am Izawa Toshio. Well met, Horse Lord.”

Ameiko walks out as well, leading her horse by the reins. “I am Ameiko Kaijitsu of Sandpoint. We apologize for causing you concern.” She bows, Toshio notes as an equal, to Windbraid, and continues, “As my companion Jharalion said, we just wished to avoid any unpleasant encounters and we intend no harm.”

Windbraid bows in the saddle. “Your apology is accepted.”

Just then, Keng steps out leading his horse, inflates his chest and stands as tall as he can saying, “I am Keng of the Shoanti Spire Clan from the Storval Plateau.”

Keng’s self-introduction is greeted with murmurs, sidelong glances, scoffing, and even snorts of derision. One of the riders, says, “We Horse Lords are sometimes called the Eighth Quah, but never in the hearing of true Shoanti. Even we would never admit an orc, or any with orc taint. How dare you call yourself a member of the Spire Clan?” The rider turns to Windbraid and says, “How convenient that there are no true Shoanti here to gainsay this tshamek.” The last word being the Shoanti term for an outsider, stranger, or even “foreign devil.”

Keng snorts and shakes his head making the bones woven into his dreadlocks rattle allowing his war trophies to speak for his acts of conquest and prowess.  He is used to being treated as an outcast, it means nothing to him other than the speaker is fearful.

Addressing Windbraid, Keng speaks in Shoanti, “Storval ekbitel nalharest” (We walk the land as brothers!) He continues in Common, “One is not known by their blood but by their deeds.  I am on my three-year journey through the World.  It does your tribe no honor allowing such a small one,” he gestures towards the rider who insulted him, “to speak ignorantly of strangers.”

Turning now to the rider he says in Shoanti, “My blood boils at your insult! I challenge you to sredna!” With that he raises his head to the sky, throws out his arms and lets loose a mighty battle cry!

The rider who insulted Keng snarls back, but looks to Windbraid and does not speak.

Still smiling and addressing Windbraid, Jharad says, “You were saying something about greeting one another in peace? Apparently your leadership skills need some work.”

Zeyala simply let’s out a sigh of exasperation.

Toshio hopes Jharad and Keng don’t make beds that are too uncomfortable, but he doesn’t interfere. He keeps an eye on the riders and stays close to Ameiko.

As Keng steps up for the contest, Zeyala gives him a kiss on the cheek. “Rip his fucking head off, Keng,” she purrs while glaring at his opponent.

Windbraid grimaces, not pleased with Jharad’s criticism. He turns to the rider and says, “Well, Quick Wolf, will you take up this challenge from a mere orc pretender?

Quick Wolf looks affronted but under the stern gaze of his leader he relents. The other riders grin and chuckle. One of them tosses a long cord of leather tied in a loop to Quick Wolf who catches it in his left hand and then climbs down from his horse. “I will meet this challenge.”

Windbraid gets down from his horse as well and takes the loop from Quick Wolf. The two Horse Lords walk over until they are in the middle of the space between the riders and Keng and his companions. Windbraid beckons Keng forward. “Take your positions and I will do the binding.”

Keng walks forward and faces his opponent. Together they crouch down upon the ground on their hands and knees glaring at each only a foot apart. Windbraid places the cord so that each opponent has one end of the loop behind his ears. Windbraid check the cord and then steps away. After a moment he shouts, “Begin!” and raises his fist ins the air. It is known to the opponents that they must spend three “breaths” testing each others spirits before they can begin to pull away.

Keng and Quick Wolf glare, growl, gnash their teeth and spit out insults at one another and at first Keng seems a bit taken aback by the ferocity of his opponent and the way in which he causes his muscles to jump and bulge. It is clear as well that Quick Wolf has already entered a blood mad rage. Keng, however, keeps his cool and his steely glare begins to unnerve the young Horse Lord. Then they begin tugging back and forth for almost a minute. Those around them can hear the straining of the cord as the two engage in a painful game of tug-of-war. At first Keng digs in and Quick Wolf is unable to move him, then Keng jerks back and pulls the Horse Lord towards him. Then Keng digs in again and Quick Wolf fails to pull him back. That is when Keng begins to call upon his own rage and tugs back, but the two of them, even raging, are of equal strength and Quick Wolf is able to dig in and keep from getting pulled. Then Quick Wolf slowly but surely begins to pull Keng back until at last Keng is forced to bow his head and allow the cord to slip off. He is still in the heat of his rage however, while Quick Wolf fall back with the release of the cord. The Horse Lord is panting and out-of-breath as exhaustion overtakes him with the end of his exertions.

Zeyala fights back the urge to check Keng for injury, fearing that such an action would cause him to lose face.

Toshio nods acceptance of the results, appreciating it as an alternative to a duel of wills before blades are drawn.

Quick Wolf looks to Keng with newfound respect in his eyes. “You are, if nothing else, a worthy opponent. Few could last so long against me. I guess you do have Shoanti blood after all.”

Keng growls at Quick Wolf’s grudging acknowledgement. Then realizes he has lost and this now calls for him to be gracious. “You are strong and a great warrior. But I need not your acknowledgement of my blood. I know who I am; my mother was human and my father an orc pig, I was adopted into the Spire Clan at the request of Shalelu an elf ranger of great repute. I offer you my oath as battle brothers that we may seek valor and glory in battle in each others need.” Keng offers his right arm and open hand.

Quick Wolf arches his eyebrow at the mention of Shalelu. He does not take Keng’s offered hand but says, “Is this true?!” He looks past Keng to Jharad and asks, “You, elf, do you too know Shalelu? Is this true?”

Windbraid and the others all turn their attention to Jharad. Windbraid says, “Shalelu is known to us and considered a trustworthy friend and ally. Is what this half-orc says true? Does he really know her? Do you?”

Jharad responds to Windbraid, “Yes it is quite true. Shalelu is an old friend of mine and a member of our group. She would be with us now if she were not running a separate errand of her own.”  Smiling at Windbraid as if sharing a private joke, he continues, “If you know Shalelu then you know how she can be.”

Windbraid eyebrows raise in surprise to hear of Keng and Jharad’s familiarity with Shalelu. He nods saying, “Yes, we do know.” He turns to look at Quick Wolf who nods in turn and then at last clasps Keng’s offered hand.

Quick Wolf says, “Friends of Shalelu are friends of ours.”

Windbraid laughs. “That is true. Well, we have no intention of delaying you any further. We are on our way to Riddleport to sell or trade some of these horses. I assume you are coming from there. How are things in that den of evil? I’d rather turn back now if its undergoing another uprising or there is another street war between the crime lords.”

Ameiko answers, “When we left things seemed peaceful. Your horses are beautiful and I’d offer to buy some of them myself, but we couldn’t possibly afford them. Still, Desna’s blessing be upon your journey.”

Windbraid responds, “And upon yours.”

Toshio sizes up the horses Windbraid’s people have. Fine though they may be, he’s more than happy to keep riding Onyx. “Farewell, riders” he says as they part.

Jharad holds up his hand with a single wave as they depart from the Horse Lords and continue on their way.

“Fortune has smiled upon us,” says Zeyala. “This delay was brief. We can ill afford another…for Jethrik’s sake.”

Kengs coughs into his hand. “Windbraid Horse Leader. Please wait. We have great need of assistance. One of our party, a gnome bard of great skill and repute, has been kidnapped by the scum pirate Grudge of the Teeth of Araska. We are on a quest to rescue him. Might we interest you and your men in an adventure?”

Windbraid laughs. “I know nothing of pirates. If they tried to raid the uplands we’d show them a thing or two, but we stay away from the coasts except to trade horses in Riddleport. I am sorry but we must be about our business. But tell me, why do you head north by land to seek this pirate?”

Ameiko sighs, not wanting to have to explain their business to the Horse Lords but seeing it is now unavoidable. “We believe they are heading to Brinewall, so we are riding there as swiftly as we can to get there before them.”

“Brinewall! That place is cursed! Is there some treasure they seek there? Is that why they took your gnome? Was he leading you to some treasure?”

Ameiko replies, “They may believe so, but that was not the case. My family lived in Brinewall and my grandfather died there. We were heading there to find out what really happened to them and so that I could see if there were any family records left. We know nothing of any treasures but the pirates may believe otherwise.”

Toshio hides a smile. He appreciates how smoothly Ameiko deflected the inquiry, neither giving away too much information nor lying about the quest.

Windbraid shakes his head. “Treasure or not, we will not go to Brinewall. I’d caution you against it but I see you are determined and now you must rescue your friend. Still, I must warn that there are things haunting the lands around the castle. No one has seen them but awful screeching has been heard echoing through the forests like cries of doom. Those bands who dared investigate further never came back. We Horse Lords have avoided the place for many years now. I hope you are able to rescue your friend, but you will have to do it on your own. We have more profitable business to attend to. The blessings of the gods go with you.” Windbraid spurs his horse and moves on with a final bow in the saddle. Before long he and his riders have passed beyond the bend in the road, leaving only a cloud of dust from their horses.

Business with Lord Sleyg

Riddleport

The trip through to the northern end of town to find the River Runner Inn is indeed uneventful. North of the wharf district the condition of the buildings improve somewhat, through the streets are still dark and winding except for those areas lit by functioning oil lamps. It would be easy enough to get lost but some helpful drunkards point out the way and they soon enough find themselves at the River Runner Inn. It is a large establishment that is perched on a bluff overlooking the Velashu River. It must have once been quite grandiose, but now its paint is peeling and in the light of the moon they can see several patches on the roof where its shingles have fallen away. The common room is full but there are a couple of places open at the bar. A middle-aged man with mutton-chop sideburns and a hook on his left hand bustles over to them and asks if they’re looking for drinks, dinner, or perhaps a room.

Toshio responds, “Drinks, please.”

The man grunts affirmatively and says, “Take a seat at the bar then if you will. Either that, or for a couple of coins we have a room for private parties available.”

Ameiko says, “We’ll take that room then.” She hands him a few coppers and they are ushered into a small room as their host heads out to get mugs and a pitcher of ale for them.

While he is gone Toshio says, “We should have planned a bit more on the way over.”

Jharad looks at Ameiko, for she is clearly more adept at dealing with these types of people.

Ameiko says, “I suspect that Lord Slyeg is a business man, as am I. I think what we need to do is approach him with a business proposition. We will ask for whatever assistance he can give us to recover Jethrik, in terms of information or even a ship, and in return we will bring him back Captain Grudge, dead or alive. Does this sit well with all of you?”

Keng, Jharad, and Zeyala nod in agreement.

“That sounds like a fine plan,” says Toshio. “I look forward to ‘settling’ our grudge with Grudge.”

When the host returns with the mugs and ale, Ameiko asks him if an audience could be arranged with Lord Slyeg. She tells him that they have news of someone that Lord Slyeg would like to find. The host nods, surveys Ameiko and her companions with an appraising eye and then leaves telling them that he will see if Lord Slyeg is available.

“At least we weren’t turned away at the door, so to speak,” says Zeyala. “That should be a good sign, right?”

Toshio checks the locations of the ex its before agreeing. “Yeah. That’s a start.”

The host returns after what seems like an hour. “Lord Slyeg has agreed to see you. If you would please come this way…” He leads them out of the room and down a dingy hall to an iron bound door. He nocks and the door is opened to reveal a large and luxuriously appointed chamber. A large mahogany desk takes up one corner with a high backed chair. Gold threaded tapestries depicting nobles riding and hunting adorn the walls. There is a square tower display case whose shelves are filled with miniature ships that seemed to have been carved out of driftwood and other pieces of flotsam, but exquisitely done and delicately painted. Near this is a table with a large bowl of water. The surface of the bowl has been painted to show the entire Inner Sea region of Golarion. Before a hearth sporting a cheerful fire is are two long couches set at angles to form an L. A low table of mahogany like that of the desk in the other corner is before them upon which is a silver tea service. Close to this is what looks to be a small bar with shelves lined with silver goblets and even various kinds of glassware. By the door is a stern looking bruiser in a chainmail shirt and dark cloak. His sharp eyes look over Ameiko and the others as they enter but he says nothing. In the center of the room a tall man dressed in a scarlet lined black cloak, pearl gray military uniform with shiny brass buttons in two columns, and shiny black riding boots stands drinking from a silver bejeweled goblet while gazing into the fire. He turns to greet his guests and it can be seen that he is at least partially of elven blood. His ears taper slightly and his features are refined and aristocratic. He is fair skinned with golden hair and bright green eyes. He sports a moustache and beard in the style known as the “anchor.”

The host closes the door behind them and announces, “Lord Slyeg, I present to you Ameiko of Sandpoint, and her companions Toshio, Jharad, Zeyala, and Keng.”

“Ah, what a lovely surprise,” purrs Lord Slyeg. “Please, come and join me.” He indicates the couches. “Perhaps you would like some brandy to fight off the chill?”

Ameiko bows slightly and replies, “I thank you Lord Slyeg, especially for agreeing to see us on such short notice. And yes, brandy would be nice.” She walks over to the couch followed by the others. Lord Slyeg smiles and they all take seat with Lord Slyeg sitting on one end and apart from the others, but directly facing Ameiko.

Lord Slyeg turns to the host and with a nod dismisses him. Then he says to the bruiser by the door, “Beval, please bring brandy for my guests. We recently received a shipment from Corentyn.”

After the brandy is served in small glasses with short stems, wide bottoms, and narrow tops called “snifters” and pleasantries are exchanged between Ameiko and Lord Slyeg, who soon insists that she and the others call him Avery, they are able to get down to business. “I am told that you have news of someone I have been looking for. Pray tell, who would that be?” Avery asks with a bemused expression. He finishes off whatever he was drinking in his goblet.

Ameiko smiles and says, “We understand that you have been looking for Captain Grudge, captain of the Teeth of Araska. We are also seeking him as he left Roderic’s Cove only a few days ago. We were hoping to find him in Riddleport but have been told he is no longer welcome here.”

“Indeed, he owes me. I am surprised he even dared come as close as Roderic’s Cove. Still, he is not there now, so how does your news help me? For that matter, why are you seeking him?”

“He took one of my friends with him when he left Riddleport, a gnome named Jethrik. We cannot rest until he is returned to us safe and sound. It seems that we have a common interest, so perhaps we can assist one another?”

Avery smiles at Ameiko. Then he stands and walks over to his bar and refills his goblet from a bottle of red wine. He sips from the goblet as he eyes Ameiko and her friends. “You are quite a remarkable group. It is not often that one sese an elf and a half-orc traveling together with three humans, and two of those of Tien ancestry. And of all things you are seeking a gnome! You all seem to be warriors as well, but I think you will need magic to intercept the Teeth of Araska. Fortunately, I can work some minor spells that may help. First, however, I want your word that if I help you, in turn you will bring me what Captain Grudge owes me. Do I have your word of honor?”

“For my part, I would give it if you can help us find the Teeth of Araska. I cannot speak for my friends though.” Ameiko turns to Toshio, Jharad, Zeyala, and Keng.

With little hesitation Jharad smiles and responds, “You have mine as well.”

“I give my word” responds Toshio.

Keng has been sitting quietly, the brandy snifter almost disappearing in his large hands, and doing his best not to fidget. He is definitely very uncomfortable in these ‘fancy’ surroundings. He musters up his courage to ask a questions, “Pardon me your lordship, but what do you mean bring you what this pig captain owes you? I will do my best to bring him to you but I can’t swear an oath to you without knowing what this something might be.”

“You are obviously a man of means, but what aid do you offer?” asks Zeyala. “I’m not so concerned with what you are owed, but know that I can not violate the laws of my order or willingly break the laws of the land. Jethrik’s return is paramount, but like Keng, I need information before I strike this bargain.”

Avery chuckles good naturedly to hear Keng and Zeyala’s questions. “Well, you came to me asking for aid. I didn’t come to you. But if you promise to bring me what I feel I am owed I will tell you where the Teeth of Araska is going and I will provide a ship and crew to set out after him. As for what he owes me…” Avery looks to Ameiko and Toshio who have already given their word, “I simply want his head.”

Ameiko is startled and seems about to say something but then thinks better of it. She nods in acquiescene and looks pleadingly to the others, beseeching them with her eyes to go along with this.

Keng shrugs his shoulders, “His head is all you want? That was the plan anyways. I would be pleased to bring it to you milord in exchange for your help,” replies Keng. “You have my word,” Keng bows slightly with his right fist on his forehead. “Uh, might it be okay with you if I keep one of his finger bones for myself though… as a trophy?”

Avery chuckles again. “You may keep any other part of him you wish. I just want the head as proof that he has indeed been dispatched to face the judgment of Pharasma.”

Keng nods as he considers the matter settled.

Hmm…’ thinks Toshio. ‘Maybe we can bring his head, but still attached to the rest of him. It ‘ll be hard to sell that to Keng and Jharad, but I think I know how…’

“Very well,” says Avery. “As I have your agreement to bring me what I want, I will help you get what you want.” He walks over to the display case and plucks up one of the small ships there. He then opens a shelf hidden in the base of the display and retrieves a scroll in a silver cae. The miniature ship is then placed into the bowl of water. The ship has three masts with triangular sails, a draconic masthead, and a little flag bearing a scarred red skull. It is a miniature of the Teeth of Araska. “This was carved from a broken spar the ship discarded when last in port. We make sure to collect such things so that I may keep track of my friends and enemies. It’s just good business. Gather around now.” Avery beckons them to come and gaze into the water filled bowl as he unrolls the scroll and reads off the incantation. When he finishes, the little ship starts to drift from the center of the bowl until it floats above that part of the map depicting the Gulf of Varisia. “Odd, they are heading north out of the Gulf. Why would they be heading north at this time of year? Surely they are not heading to the Lands of the Linnorn Kings?”

Ameiko looks intently at the bowl chart and the floating miniature. Her eyes gaze up the coastline to Bunyip Bay, over which looms the ruins of Brinewall Castle. She mutters, “I think I know where they are going.”

“Will you require a ship? It will be hard to find one on such short notice heading north at this time of year but I am sure I can arrange something.”

“Thank you Avery, but I think I had better consult with my friends first. May we come back and talk with you again tomorrow.”

“Certainly. My door is always open,” replies Avery graciously.

With her eyes Ameiko bids the others to please be silent. They take their leave and make their way back to the Captain’s Chamber. There the crowd has thinned and the innkeeper has laid out blankets by the hearth for those who will be staying the night there.

Quietly Ameiko says, “It is clear that Captain Grudge has tortured or otherwise coerced the goal of our quest from Jethrik. I can only pray that he is still alive. I believe the Teeth of Araska is heading for Brinewall Castle. They probably believe that we are seeking a treasure trove there and want to loot it before we can get there. Today is the 20th, and it will take them about a week or more to sail to Brinewall as they have to sail out of the Gulf before they can follow the coastline up to Bunyip Bay. That gives us some time. We are only a four days ride from Brinewall. The problem is that Sandru and the caravan won’t get here for a week. If we wait for Sandru we might arrive too late. We need to leave a message here for him and then continue on. The problem is there is no one here we can trust. I certainly don’t trust Avery. Also, how are just the five of us going to take on Captain Grudge and his whole crew? Dare we ask Avery for men-at-arms to go with us? Also, what if the Teeth of Araska really isn’t headed to Brinewall? What if they are going further north or if they turn south? We might want to take a ship afterall, but it will have to be a very fast one to catch-up. We might even need a weather-wizard for that. What do you all think?”

Keng says, “Safe enough to leave a message for Sandru with Avery now while our interests align,” replies Keng. He continues, “We should leave at first light and set an ambush at Bunyip Bay.”

Toshio, thinking aloud so the others will know what’s on his mind and can contribute, says, “Finding a fast enough ship and getting the correct winds seems too much to ask. We should ride there. Riding will be faster and more reliable this time. But we still need our other people to have a hope of taking on a whole crew.”

He ponders a bit, and then suggests, “If Ameiko agrees, we could send our fastest rider back to get Koya and Shalelu while the rest ride ahead to scout out a likely place to ambush Grudge. We’ll send the rider with extra horses – we’ll have to buy some – so he and the others can swap them out and keep riding hard without killing any mounts. With that kind of speed they should be able to regroup on time. But that leaves the caravan unguarded. I don’t like that idea, but our first mission is to rescue Jethrik. Sandru wouldn’t like to hear it, and I don’t like to say it, but the caravan and its good are our last priority.” He leaves Ameiko’s mission to Brinewall – their second priority as Toshio sees it – unspoken in case there are extra ears listening. And besides, everyone present already knows that mission. “Still, we will need the others if we’re to take on Grudge and his crew. Maybe we can borrow some guards from Avery to keep the caravan safe? He has no reason to betray us, and at least one good reason not to do so. What do you all think?”

“I don’t like any of this,” says Zeyala.  ”We are undermanned and ill equipped, but do we have even the luxury to wait for the others to join us?”

Ameiko ponders and finally replies, “I don’t think we do have time. I agree with Keng. We should ride together at first light and leave a message here for Sandru. I think we had better not leave it to Slyeg though. I do not trust that he won’t manipulate things to his advantage. He now knows that that we were originally seeking something in Brinewall and that now Captain Grudge seeks it as well. Slyeg would no doubt love to lend us men so that he can find out what is being looked for, believing it to be a treasure hoard or artifact. We should go to the city gates and pay someone who seems trustworthy among the merchants heading south to deliver a letter to Sandru. The letter of course will only give enough information to inform Sandru of where we have gone but not enough to give away our exact destination. Once we have done that we ride full speed for Brinewall. Do you agree?”

“Under the circumstances,” says Zeyala, “that seems the most sound.”

Toshio nods in acceptance of Ameiko’s plan.

Learning the Ropes

Teeth of Araska

Over the next couple of days, Jethrik literally “learns the ropes” of sailing aboard a pirate ship. He learns that the Teeth of Araska is an Abendego tricorne, a broader variant of the caravel designed to handle the rough seas near the Eye of Abendego. It is a small, fast, and very maneuverable ship. He learns to say port and starboard instead of left and right, fore and aft instead of forward and behind, bow and stern instead of front and back, and aloft and alow instead of above and below. If he forgets, he gets a rope bash, a strike from a nearby pirate with the hefty, sealed end of a ship’s rope. He also learns that the three masts are called (from fore to aft) the foresail, the mainmast, and the mizzenmast attached to which are the foresail, main-sail, and mizzen-sail by the yard-arm aloft and the boom alow. As for the ropes, he learns about the halyards, hawsers, backstays, lanyards, sheets, and shrouds, and of course the ratlines. Even for a bard who thrives on information, it is a lot to take in.

In order to better learn the ship, Jethrik is first employed as a runner. The runner passes messages between the officers and the crew in all parts of the ship except the officer’s cabins. This keeps Jethrik quite busy and out of breath, but it does help him get familiarized with the ship, its crew, and its terminology. Unfortunately, Jethrik succumbs to seasickness on the first day as the seas get a little rougher that afternoon. He finds himself unable to do anything but cling to the rails and retch or sweat and groan down in the crew commons on his hammock. This earns him some buffet and rope bashes from Ishana and the crew but they otherwise leave the ‘land lubber’ alone to his misery. Fortunately he recovers by the next day and as the seas are fairly calm has no more trouble for a time after that. He finds himself delivering messages and orders from one end of the ship to the other but as Jethrik is quite nimble he is able to get around without tripping over any of the lines and being in fair shape doesn’t get too winded by the end of the day.

Sunset is when the crew assembles on the main deck for the “bloody hour” when punishments are meted out just before the evening meal. There were no punishments the first day, though Captain Grudge did deliver a tongue-lashing at the crew in general for laziness and shirking. The second day one unfortunate named Tubbs was tied to the mainmast and given three lashes of the whip by Ishana, who truly seems to enjoy her work. The Captain, however, talks her out of throwing a bucket of salt water on Tubbs before releasing him. After that they “enjoy” a meal of pickled vegetables, salted pork, and rice, washed down with grog, staggeringly strong rum that has been watered down a bit. After this the crew has some leisure time before hitting their hammocks. The pirates arm wrestle on barrels topped with broken rum bottles, or “hog lob” whereby they throw a lead ingot wrapped in a greased piglet skin across the deck, or they play “heave” which involves throwing down half pints of grog until they either heave or pass out and the last pirate standing is the winner.

For his part, Jethrik cheers on the contestants in the various games, though he really is too small to take part in the wrestling, hog lobbing or excessive drinking. During the course of this one of the pirates comes up out of the hold with a gnome sized plumed hat and sticks it on Jethrik’s head. “Arr, he’s a real pirate he is now!” announces Solemn Jack, the boatswain.

When the pirates begin their drinking songs he enthusiastically leads them in those songs he sang back at the Rusty Dragon. He happily learns some new ones as well.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

We pillage, plunder, we rifle and loot.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We kidnap and ravage and don’t give a hoot.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

We extort and pilfer, we filch and sack.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Maraud and embezzle and even highjack.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

We kindle and char and inflame and ignite.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We burn up the city, we’re really a fright.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We’re rascals and scoundrels, we’re villians and knaves.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We’re devils and black sheep, we’re really bad eggs.

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

We’re beggars and blighters and ne’er do-well cads,

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Aye, but we’re loved by our mommies and dads,

Drink up me ‘earties, yo ho.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.

That night, Captain Grudge gives Jethrik a small chest with a poor quality lock on it. “This here’s your footlocker. Keep your personal gear in here. I’ll give you back your rapier in time, but your dagger’s in there. You’ll need it for splicing ropes and other tasks. I don’t think I need to tell you that anyone who harms another member of the crew will be keelhauled.”

Jethrik is able to find space along the bulkhead among the other footlockers for his own. Inside he finds that everything he was carrying with him that night he was Riddleported has indeed been returned to him, even the gold and silver in his belt pouch. Only his rapier has been held back. The other members of the crew have seemed to take a liking to him as well, seeing him as a kind of ship’s mascot.