“That boat is
definitely on fire,” said Esteban, squeezing away sweat from his brow with
a paisley cloth. “A worthy end for Theodric. Put to rest like an Ulfen
Mitch just glared and
pulled at the oars. Everyone could still feel the heat coming from the burning
ship, and the rowboat moved sluggishly in the water, laden as it was with more
bodies than it should hold and loot from the Ulfen pyre.
Nisha was silent, thinking
about the man who had saved her life not minutes before, now jostling in line
with thousands of souls preparing to face Pharasma’s judgement
The morose Tien was
also silent, but for different reasons. He had no idea who these people were…
but that had helped him, else he’d be a charred hulk sinking to the bottom of
the bay. That was worth something. His hand strayed to the hilt of his katana,
gently tapping the sharkskin. He found it reassuring.
The oarlocks groaned as Mitch stuggled to use them to direct the overburdened craft to land. Esteban opened his mouth as if to say something, but thought better of it. Munpo, wanting to speed things up conjured a water elemental to push the boat towards shore.
Large gray ashes, some
as large as the palm of Nisha’s hand, floated silently down from the sky to
land on the water. The churn from Mitch’s oars broke them apart and folded them
into the sea.
that?” said Munpo.
Nisha whirled to look.
Munpo pointed, in the direction they were rowing. Nisha narrowed her eyes, and
squinted into the smoke that lay atop the blue-gray water of the bay.
Now on heightened
alert, they saw the large crab right before it hit the boat. The quick reflexed
Tien took a quick shot with his bow, but a cresting wave consumed the shot
before it found its mark.
A moment later, the
creature slammed into the rowboat from below, knocking it sideways. Esteban let
out a yawp and went over the gunwale. The boat, now unbalanced and rocking
hard, pendulum’d over the other way, and the Tien joined Esteban in the water.
Mitch struggled with
oars, and the elemental kept pushing, but the boat was greatly slowed by the
new giant six legged passenger. The Tien, Koji, was struggling to get back in
the boat, while Kainyn narrowed his eyes and began to mumble words of power,
claws forming at the end of his fingers. Esteban’s eyes were wide and wary as
he began swimming back to the boat, and he cast glances here and there across
the surface of the water as he picked his way methodically back.
It was then that the creature grabbed Munpo and tried to wrestle him out of the boat. Munpo was loosing the fight until he used his affinity with animals to somehow convince it he wasn’t food. It worked, but before he or the others could breath a sigh of relief, it turned its sights on Nisha. With a blinding pierce from one of the giant claws, Nisha found herself in the beasts clutches and started to disappear below the surface. Her disappearance was swift and surreal, and it was three heartbeats before the enormity of it registered upon the people still remaining in the boat.
called Kainyn and, as if he had summoned her, Nisha reappeared. She was tossed
upward, her face white and bloodless with fear, and a pair of immense claws
curled around her abdomen and left arm, dragging her down again and away from
the boat. She hadn’t the breath to scream, but her head was thrown back and
mouth wide open in a rictus of pain.
Esteban and Koji were
still in the water, so no one was in a position to loose an arrow at the
enormous crustacean that had Nisha in its grip. Mitch and Kainyn saw they were
almost to shore so bent to the oars with a furious effort, grunting with the
exertion and with the help of the elemental got the boat to shallow waters.
Kainyn and Munpo
looked at each other with something akin to helplessness, then stared out at
try,” said Munpo. He held out is left hand towards the beast. His eyes
narrowed to mere slits, and he murmured soft calming words that seemed to bury
themselves into the very soul of the creature.
hungry,” Munpo said after a moment. Everyone in the boat heard him, but he
seemed to almost be talking to himself. “It wishes only to eat. Let me see
if I can’t change his mind…”
Munpo murmured more words, as if in response, Nisha flew upward out of the water, released from the claws but still breathless and bleeding freely into the water.
quickly!” said Kainyn, pointing Mitch toward where Nisha had lain back and
now floated in the bay. Mitch jumped in the water and drew his sword while
Kainyn reached out and brought Nisha back aboard the boat. The crab’s claws had
left grievous wounds, and everyone worked to stanch the bleeding. Nisha had
left a fair amount of sea-water in the bilge, and was shivering, but she had
caught her breath and began to burst waves of healing energy to all around her.
The beast, still
hungry, came around to the shallow side and attacked Mitch. With feet on solid
ground, Mitch found his confidence again and, with a few well-placed strikes
with the sword, convinced the beast it would be better if it looked for food
From behind them, they heard a voice call out. It was Esteban, he pulled himself up into the boat and with a smile asked: ”Did I miss anything good?”
Back on shore,
everyone sought out the comfort of dry clothes and mulled wine. Once again
regaining a semblance of propriety, the group enjoyed a few hours of
conviviality while the sorted for themselves the dead Ulfen’s bounty, rescued
from an ignoble demise. As they divided the loot up, Koji picked up a
particularly ornate helm with angelic wings and asked if he could use it since
his was lost when he was kidnapped. Without any deliberation, everyone agreed
then quickly went back to rifling through the remainder of the loot. Once
divided, Kainyn stood and recommended it was time to deliver the bad news to
Ooksaka had left word:
“Safe house | Come to me.” Everyone was still concerned that they
hadn’t been able to locate Ooksaka’s companion, which meant that they didn’t
yet have a guide over the top of the world yet. Frankly, thought Esteban, this
companion was starting to take on some decidedly ethereal characteristics.
Almost ghostly, in fact.
The safe house she
mentioned was, in fact, the Temple of Sheyln, a bit of a walk but now that
they’d had some hot food, a drink or three, and were a few nobles richer? A
bracing walk through the city would be refreshing.
It was Koji who spotted it at first. Along a roofline right near the Street of Temples, a bird that had no business in Kalsgard: a jet black raven (in itself not uncommon) but with one strange, distinguishing feature: a single scarlet feather, large and vulgar. Koji pointed it out with an unknowing smile.
Kainyn, walking next
to him, looked up to see what Koji was pointing at. The smile immediately left
his face. The bird lifted off from the roof with a single, insouciant cackle,
and flew down towards Godsvoice Square.
wrong, I can feel it,” said Mitch. Kainyn nodded, looking down the street.
Shelyn’s temple was that direction, and they redoubled their pace to see what
that raven might portend.
They didn’t need to
wait long to find out. As they neared the Square, several groups of worshipers
were exiting the quadrangle at a brisk pace, with fearful looks over their
shoulders and children held tight. In the distance, a loud crrrrrump met
their ears, followed by the unmistakable sound of falling stones. As the party
turned the corner, they final saw that from which the others were fleeing: a
large anthropomorphic creature, seeming made of interconnected stones,
battering down Sheyln’s Temple.
And atop a nearby
roofline, trilling encouragement was the raven with the scarlet feather.
yelled Mitch, and the party flew into battle, attacking the stone-man from all
sides. The raven flew from rooftop to chimney to awning, squawking
encouragement to the stone-man to the point that Koji, drawing a stout bamboo
bow and overlong arrows made of the same wood and fletched with goose feathers,
let slip an arrow at it. It struck the raven and it flew off, sullen in its
The stone-man faded to dust once dispatched. Hearing the continual cracking coming from the battered structure, Munpo knew he only had seconds to react if he were to save the structure. He drew out his bundle of twigs and leaves. “Fenthyg cryfder y garreg i’r pridd hwn, y gall ei ddal a pheidio â chwympo,” he murmured, then reached down into the street to claw up a double handful of soil. It writhed in his hands as he approached the temple wall where the stone-man had battered the supports, and he placed the soil carefully in place. It hardened immediately into a sort of rocky truss. Munpo called for help as he repeated the procedure several times until he’d shored up the facade. The danger that it would fall inward and collapse the remaining walls was averted.
Inside the temple,
however, was a different sort of danger. Underneath some fallen roof-stones and
thatch, the body of the priest lay. He was old and at first looked dead, but
Kainyn kneeled, put a pair of fingers to the old man’s throat, and shook his
breathes, Shelyn be praised,” he said. Munpo joined him and together the
stripped off the debris and got the elderly priest upright. Nisha put her hand
on the man’s forehead, uttered an incantation, and his eyes fluttered open.
“Thank you, thank
you, my children,” the priest said, followed by a bout of coughing that
went on for so long that Nisha feared their efforts might be for naught and the
might lose him again. If anything, though, the effort seemed to invigorate him,
and he was soon back on his feet, sweeping dust from the altar cloth and
retrieving his holy implements.
“I thank you, in
Shelyn’s name,” the priest said. “I am Havar Norrdred, and I have been in
Sheyln’s service here for three decades. You lot have saved her temple here,
and I am much indebted to you.”
Ooksaka,” Mitch said. “She was here awaiting us, have you seen her? “
He dug in his pockets and produced the token he received from her.
“Oh yes, she is
here,” Havar said. “There is a place underneath the temple that is
reserved for guests, or those of Sheyln’s servants who need a place to rest.
I’ve known Miss Ooksaka for many years…”
Mitch began to move
toward the back. “Wait, warrior,” the priest said, holding up a hand
and stepping front of him. “You and your friends, you are injured. ”
he pointed at Nisha, who was still pale from the blood she’d lost recently, and
who still moved gingerly and winced a bit. “… but also you.”
The little priest
looked up into the fighter’s eyes.
“You, my good
man, are what we call ‘shriven’,” he said, gently wagging his index
finger. “I can tell. Let Sheyln’s power aid you…”
Havar ordered Mitch to
sit down on a nearby brocade chair, and drew out a series of small implements.
Some were of metal, some of ivory, and at least one was a tightly rolled piece
of parchment, no thicker than a quill. He spoke a few words, and touched Mitch
in the forehead with the implements, one after another. In a rush, the malaise
that had put lead in Mitch’s bones by the undead creature was released. He felt
reinvigorated, a new man.
The Shelynesh priest
went to each of the remaining party members in turn, assessing their wounds and
channeling his deity’s power to render aid where needed. Even Nisha, who’d been
much the worse for wear, was her old self after Havar’s ministrations.
“Come now, let us
go to Ooksaka and see how she fares,” Havar said at last. He led them
through the temple which, despite the damage, was filled with beautiful (or,
once-beautiful) things – statuary, fine paintings, mosaic bowls and flagons,
exquisitely carved wooden items but, strangely nothing of gold or silver – and
out to the rear, where a delightful garden lay, festooned with wild grasses,
cold white flowers, small pines and junipers, all cleverly laid out and tended
with obvious care. A path of smooth stone pieces, white but shot through with
lines of quartz, lead away from them into a small stand of trim spruces.
Havar led them beside
the garden and past the spruces where, cunningly hidden, was a staircase that
led down to what looked to be a cellar.
right,” said Havar, and he quickly made for the cellar door. The door was
standing open, its small metal hinges bent and knocked loose. Inside was
evidence of a struggle – a chair overturned, a broken pottery dish – but no
said Kainyn, pointing to the floor. Esteban stepped near and examined the item
with a critical eye. It was a small dart, barely the length of a woman’s thumb,
lay on the floor.
Kainyn reached down.
“No,” Esteban said firmly. “Don’t touch it, my friend.”
Kainyn drew back his hand and Esteban reached into his pack, retrieving a set
of old, well used leather gloves and a small enlarging-glass. He put on the
gloves, and then gingerly picked up the dart, using the glass to examine it
with a critical eye. He nodded and showed it to Kainyn.
“See that sheen?
Poison, probably one that passes easily through the skin. See these grooves?
This was probably launched from some sort of tube, there are no torsion marks
or notches by which it could be held and launched by a mechanism. And see here?
A few small flecks of blood. This dart hit its mark.” Esteban paused and
turned to the group. “I fear for our benefactor may have been
“How do you know
these things?” asked Mitch.
“I wasn’t always a caravan guard.”
“Tóng zhì men, kàn nà lǐ,” said Koji, pointing over at a nearby table. There, almost like a calling card, lay a large, black feather.
The priest Havar bade
them stay as long as they liked, but excused himself to go back to the temple
and begin the process of cleaning up and repairing the damage done by the
stone-man. After he’d left, the group began to consider their next options.
“The raven has
her,” said Nisha definitively.
“Do you think it
could be Jorgar the Axe?” asked Kainyn. “He was who the assassin said
hired her, and we saw a raven or crow just before that attack.”
“It’s as good a
bet as any,” said Mitch, running a hand through his beard. “I’m
getting a bit weary of being harassed constantly by this blackguard. And now
he’s gone and taken our only lead on a guide. If we tarry too long and miss the
open weather, we’ll certainly die on the ice.”
pardon,” said Esteban, who had righted the chair and was sitting in it,
idly twirling the poisoned dart in his still-gloved hands. “But why is our
new friend’s helmet…. glowing?”
All turned to look at
Koji and, indeed, his helmet as glowing, emitting a pleasant golden light that
chased shadows from the corners of the room.
Koji’ss eyes widen in
alarm and his arms rose to remove the helm, but before he could reach it, the
helmet lifted off his head on it’s own accord. Angelic wings sprouted from each
side and it lifted off of Koji’s head. He ducked, spun away and had his katana
out in a trice.
But it turned out to
be unnecessary. “I apologize,” came a small voice from the helmet.
“I did not mean to alarm you…”
Koji’s katana tip
lowered perhaps a centimeter.
“… my name is
Helgarvaal, and I am an angelic servant of Desna.” Mitch’s eyebrows edged
up his head – his new wife was a follower of Desna, and so by proxy he was too.
“I used to have a
master, here in this plane, but he was killed and now I am stranded here, and
cannot go back to my home. I am stranded, so I stay here, doing good deeds as I
can and helping, in hopes that I gain the attention of one of the celestiali who
takes pity on me and sends me home.”
“As part of that,
I have been investigating the evil that exists here in Kalsgard,”
Helgarvaal continued. “You came to my attention because the evil creatures
that I’d been investigating took an interest in you. You seem to be a capable
group and well intentioned, so I’ve decided to help you!”
Kainyn looked around
behind him as if looking for someone. He then leaned over to Nisha, “Apparently
he hasn’t been watching us long.”
Nisha smiled and gave
him a playful elbow in the side.
“Who have you
been watching? Who is interested in us?” asked Mitch.
“I know much that
seems hidden.” The helm turned as if to address or measure each person in the
cellar. It then spun back around to face Mitch. “The Rimerunners Guild, who are
a front for the Frozen Shadow – now, they are trouble,” said Helgarvaal.
“Although the Frozen Shadow are considered boogeymen of sorts, I can
assure you that they are very real, and active. You may have seen a bird – a
raven?” Several people shook their head at this question. “It is not …what it
say,” said Esteban with a smile.
The helmet turned to face
Esteban. “I know your family, Keredes,” it said. “They have done
good work in the north, according to my old friends!”
Esteban looked aghast,
his eyes flickering to the others, searching their faces for reactions. He said
The helm turned again
back to face Mitch.
“… the bird, he is … associated with the leader of the Rimerunners,” said Helgarvaal. “He is your enemy, although I know not why.”