His body wanted to shut down but the cold was keeping him awake. Each wave that splashed over him was full of little daggers which pricked his skin. It took all of his concentration to not swallow the briny seawater. The stormy waves swelled and carried him more than he could swim. This was a long way from the forest of his adolescence.
Ariston tried to open his eyes against the howling wind and driving rain but each time he did, saltwater splashed in them. He was suddenly hit by something. A shark? A sea monster? No, it was a board; most likely from his ship. While he hated that ship, he was happy to find a piece of it now. He grasped blindly and caught it. It was large enough for him climb half on and begin kicking his legs. If his sense of direction was correct (he was a Forestor not a Sailor), he was going to shore. If not, he was going to his death.
It was his lucky day. After what seemed an eternity, he reached a rocky shore and dragged himself from the water. His chest heaved as he coughed out water and breathed in fresh air. The wind was making it hard. He laid on the rocks for a while, the pelting rain stingy his face. He did not care; he was alive. However, he knew if he stayed here, with not shelter, the elements would kill him. He turned over, spit out the water which had collected in his mouth and looked bleary eyed at the beach around him. A sheer cliff totally surrounded him. He had only two choices: go back in the water to try to swim to another beach or climb that wall. He rubbed wet sand on his hands and started the climb.
Rocks cut his hands and snagged the rags he wore as clothes. His knees became a bloody mess, rain water mixing with his blood and running like rivers down his shins. But he did not give up. He did not make a sound and he kept his breathing steady. Finally, he dragged himself to the summit and rested for but a moment. Looking around he saw the island: it was hilly; very, very hilly. It looked as if a ridge of mountain tops had pushed its way above the waves of the ocean. Looking across the island, Ariston saw that the highest and most forbidding hills were westward, running the entire length of the island from south to north. Northward was broken terrain, passable but not easy going, while eastward the terrain seemed to flatten out a little. There was no sign of shelter or a human community in any direction. There was not much green to be seen either. The island seemed barren and abandoned; almost scoured and totally lifeless.
Between the hills were some possible trails and Ariston slipped down the hill to see what type of game had run along them. In the rain it was difficult to tell from afar but up close, it was clear that marks had been made by humanoids, some in boots and some barefoot. They went in all directions but he picked one and wandered the island. Where there were humanoids, he would find shelter.
Coming around a bend he saw the carnage of a great battle. Arrows stuck up from the sand and the stripped bodies of a dozen Goblins and a half a dozen Orcs were scattered across the sand. He noted that all useful items had been stripped; there were no weapons and little clothing. Drag marks indicated that someone had survived. He followed them, cautiously looking around to make sure no one was watching.
Several hours later, he was standing at the base of a hill in the dark. Above him lay a dark and mostly ruined structure. It may have been a temple at some point but not now. What was that in the ruined window? A light. No, a fire. Someone was inside and there were more than one of them. He decided he was too tired to fight should they prove hostile (who ever it was appeared to have beaten a dozen and a half beasts down in the ravine). He covered himself with remains of clothing he had found on the Orcs and Goblins then on top of that buried his legs in dirt and sand. His body heat warmed it slightly and he fell asleep in the shadow of the temple.
Akair awoke with a start. It was nearing daybreak. All of his companions were sleeping, undoubtedly worn out by the evening’s activities. He left them sleeping and slipped out of the Hall of the Goddess. He quietly opened the main doors and stepped outside. The overcast was keeping it dark still but a flicker of pink was beginning on the horizon. The monk stretched then began jogging down the hill.
As he reached the bottom, he stopped. Something was wrong. “Unghhhh!”
A sword dug into his side, the blade jaggedly ripping his skin and cutting into his vital organs. The monk twisted around, wrenching the sword out of his body. Attached to the weapon was an Orc, glaring at him with a pig faced grin. Another was standing beside him and was about to strike. He dodged quickly to his right, avoiding the blow while drawing his dagger. He parried a blow from the first Orc but lost his grip on the dagger. It went flying into the dirt. Another sword swipe nicked his arm and blood trickled down it.
The mystic jumped and kicked one Orc in the face, a satisfying crunch of bone and cartilage responding to the blow. The Orc went down but the monk landed on his feet. The blood from the first blow had seeped through his rags and cloak, a dark brown spot on the already brown cloak. He had no time to think about it because the other Orc was swinging at him with the sword. He side stepped and landed a blow to the back of the creature’s neck, causing the Orc to stumble.
He knew he should run but he thought he could win this fight first. He turned to the Orc he had just punched and swung for his face. The Orc was not as winded as he thought and ducked the blow then landed a clumsy blow with his sword, the flat of the blade slapping the monk’s thigh. It sounded like a bolt of lightning.
The other Orc was stumbling to his feet and trying to rejoin the fight. Akair hesitated for an instant while he decided which one he should attack first. However, his danger sense told him it was time for reinforcements. He turned towards the temple and began to run. The Orc he had kicked lunged at him and caught his cloak, knocking Akair off balance. He spun and punched the Orc but the other was with them and ran him through with his sword.
The monk’s eyes grew wide and he tried to speak. No words came out as he crumpled to the ground, sliding off the Orc’s blade.
Ariston awoke to the sound of combat. He leapt to his feet and ran towards the sound. He saw two Orcs staggering and stumbling over the body of a human. Running, he smashed into one, swinging his fists as he came. The Orc fell over backwards and twisted into the sand. His head hit a rock and he was out. The other was surprised and jumped away from the Forestor.
Ariston had the battle fever upon him and gave no quarter. He ducked under the Orc’s sword thrusts and lit into the beast’s chest with his fists. The Orc stumbled back, winded. A roundhouse kick from the ranger sent the Orc into the sand, his sword flying. Ariston leaped onto the Orc’s chest and put both hands around the beastman’s neck. With all of his might he squeezed until the Orc stopped breathing.
Slowly the Forestor got to his feet. He gathered the two Orcish swords and went to go check on the Human. He could see from where he stood that there was little hope. The man’s body was twisted in the pose of one who had died a violent death.
Just at that moment, the doors to the temple opened and the party began down the hill. They saw a human male with long dark hair, matted by the wind and rain, holding two bloody swords and standing over what could only be the body of monk.
“Drop those swords and move away from the body!” shouted Chronos. He came running down the hill, Flavius close at hand.
Ariston looked up at the rag wearing group. “You have it wrong. You should drop your weapons.”
The party was surrounding the young ranger now but he was defiant. The battle fever was still on him and now he had a real weapon. He was very skilled in handling a sword and felt confident versus any normal man. He eyed the one who had spoken. He spoke Thyatian with a slight foreign accent but he looked Thyatian. Probably a Karameikan.
Another man spoke. He had the look of a Thyatian soldier and an accent to match. “On three we will all put down our weapons and talk. You appear to have been a victim of the same boat voyage as us. And you look vaguely familiar.” He did not smile but he did not appear to be threatening either. Given his size and the sword in his hand, it appeared that he could be if he wanted to be.
“Alright,” said Ariston.
All of them carefully laid down their weapons and Syndylys spoke. He explained who they were and the predicament they were in. While he was talking, Melisana and Chronos bent down and ministered to Akair. He was beyond aid.
After the mage finished explaining the situation, Ariston introduced himself. He acknowledged being a captive on the slave ship and then briefly gave his story of how he found the dead monk. There were solemn nods then the cleric moved to bury him.
They stripped his body of useful items, wrapped him in his cloak and buried him in the shadow of the temple. Chronos said a few final words and the group moved back down the hill.
Syndylys, who was not one for ceremonies of the sort, spent the burial going through the items the group had collected. He decided they would need to travel quickly and only kept the items they needed. He wrapped the extras in the hammocks and left the bundles inside the temple.
Keestake found a large leaf and drew a map of the island for the adventurers. He noted the location of the manor house, the barracks (which was taken by the Orcs) and the stables (taken by the Goblins. He described the once proud little town on the edge of the shore which now was in ruins, having been utterly destroyed by the raiders many years ago and rifled through again by the Orcs and Goblins more recently.
Keestake also described the manor house as a low but sturdy H shaped building. He also looked away, starry eyed and quietly stated, "Aye, I know about some odd bits and pieces hereabouts. The Sea King had many treasures from his years of adventuring before settlin’ down here. The pirates ran off with most of ‘em, but they didn’t recognize all of ’em. Nor would I.
“But one of ‘em that he gave the queen was this little stick o’ wood that would throb in your hand when it was near the Sea King’s funny treasures. I never bothered with it, these 60 years. "
He mumbled, under his breath, “Not my place to be meddlin’ with the treasures of the family. Nor yours either . . . if it weren’t life or death.” His voice grew louder again, “I’ll show you where it is, if you want.”
The cleric said, “Yes, you should show us.” And the group decided they would make it to the manor house, avoiding what creatures they could. Two hours after burying Akair’s body they settled on a slight rise above the manor house.
The mansion, just as the old man described, was an H-shaped building, very long and low. It seemed to be built of granite. The exterior looked like it had stood up to the elements better than the temple. Unlike the temple, all the exterior windows had solid-looking, if rusty, iron bars across them. It looked as though it was made to be defended, though it was no castle.
From their vantage point, they could see the Orcs and Goblins at opposite ends of the manor. There was a cluster of Orcs in front of the entrance to the northwest wing, and a trickle of Orc traffic between there and the barracks, a little north-west of the manor. There was a somewhat larger cluster of goblin-guards in front of the entrance to the southeast wing, and a corresponding trickle of Goblin traffic between there and the stables, a little to the south-east.
The terrain around the manor was rolling, with great patches of grasses and weeds and scrub growing all over. Keestake pointed out another topographical feature: a depression, some sort of little ditch or break in the ground which starts a few hundred feet southwest of the manor and runs almost to the southwest wing.
“That’s how I’d creep up on the thing,” Keestake asserted. “Along that ridge. We couldn’t go in the door there, we’d be spotted in a second, but there’s a window on the west wall near the south side where the bars are loose. I ’magine we can get in there.”
Everyone agreed that that seemed to be the best approach. However, Jonathan and Ariston believed they should go first, stealthily make it to the window and ensure that the bars could be removed. As they set out into the ditch, they noticed it was filled with junk. Unsure of his footing, Ariston slid on the mud, tumbled through a broken chair and knocked Jonathan off of his feet. A loud crash echoed against the stone of the manor house.
Syndylys and Sarmboc shook their heads while Melisana held her breath. From their vantage point, Chronos could see that several Orcs were looking in their direction. He quietly motioned for the Jonathan and Ariston to be still but they were picking their way through the rubble in the ditch, crouching and walking. Chronos dared not make more noise or motion.
Two Orcs split from the group of six and started heading towards the ditch. They were perhaps 250 feet away but looking towards the sneaking Jonathan and Ariston. They stopped and looked at the ditch.
Looking back towards the group, Ariston saw the motioning cleric. He tapped Jonathan on the shoulder and they came to a halt. They were about half way, 50 feet, away from the end of the ditch. The ditch ended perhaps five feet from their destination window.
The Orcs closest to the ditch were not moving. The far Orcs were involved in a dispute which had them pre-occupied. Occasionally one would look at the outlying Orcs and shake their pig like head.
The two adventurers in the ditch began moving again. Unfortunately, the mud was slippery and being totally quiet was out of the question. They moved ahead twenty-five feet. The Orcs were on the move again, as if they had heard them but did not know who they were.
Chronos and Syndylys had a plan. Syndylys would try to take out the far Orcs with a spell then they could charge the other two and pepper them with arrows. Flavius and Sarmboc got their bows ready. Chronos motioned to Ariston to stop and wait for a barrage of arrows. Unfortunately, the Forestor did not completely understand the signal. He came to a halt.
Tapping Jonathan on the shoulder stopped him as well. He decided to sneak a peak at whatever was distracting the cleric so much. He stood up and exposed more than he wanted. He thought the ditch was deeper and it was not.
The Orcs saw the head of a human pop up out of the ditch and they yelled something in Orcish. Swords out, they began to run towards the ditch.
Seeing their plan kick off before he was quite ready, Syndylys cast the spell he had been able to decipher from the old spell book. He guessed it was the will of the goddess to reveal it to him without the standard Read Magic spell. He hoped that it was also the will of the goddess that this worked. He said the last word and closed his eyes. He felt a slight tremble in his hands and looked at the far group of Orcs. One by one, they fell to the ground, asleep.
Sarmboc and Flavius let loose with their bows, catching one of the Orcs with their arrows. The sudden onslaught caught the Orcs short and one turned tail and ran back to the group of four sleeping on the ground. Ariston fired an arrow his way but it missed. Jonathan ran the rest of the way out of the ditch and began tugging on the barred windows.
Chronos urged Melisana and Keestake into the pit and told them to run for the building. Syndylys followed them.
More arrows were unleashed from the archers in the group. One caught the lone Orc nearest the ditch in the thigh and he slumped to one knee. The others fell short of the fleeing Orc who was just arriving at the group of sleeping Orcs. He woke two and moved on to the next.
The archers formed a line and awaited the Orcs getting into range. Chronos formed behind them, ready to heal any damage. Jonathan made it through the window, disappearing into the darkness. The others were still running to the window. The lone Orc on his knees slumped down to the ground, in a pose suggestive of death.
The last two sleeping Orcs were awake and the running Orc kept running, rounding the corner and disappearing from view. The others saw what was going on and drew their weapons. They began their advance at double time and spread out to avoid the archers.
Another adventurer disappeared in the window. And the archers moved forward and took aim. Arrows flew, dropping one of the Orcs but they came running into the group.
They clashed into the adventurers but the archers had their arrows notched. At close range, they stuck another one, dropping him. The others began swinging their swords but found no purchase.
Syndylys was inside the room by now and he could hear footfalls and grunts on the other side of the door. He quickly aligned those inside the room to strike anything that battered the door. Jonathan had his sword out but did not look to comfortable holding it.
The Orcs outside again swung their swords. This time, one found Flavius. A slash opened on his arm and he dropped his bow. Ariston dropped his bow voluntarily and moved to his sword. Sarmboc, on the end, let loose an arrow which stuck in an Orcs shoulder. It screamed in pain. Chronos moved in beside the other Orc and bashed its shoulder with his club.
Inside the room, something heavy struck the wooden door. A loud grunt came from the other side.
The last two Orcs on the outside again swung for the adventurers but Chronos hit his again with his club. Ariston stepped into the other Orc’s body space and grinned. The swing of his sword was smooth but firm. With one stroke, the Orc’s head was separated from his shoulders and his body stood for a second, as if stunned, blood spurting high in the air. Sarmboc turned in shock at the Forestor, “Nice lad.”
The door inside the room burst into a thousand splinters just at that instant. A rolling ball of Orc flesh burst into the room but Jonathan and Syndylys were ready. They brought their weapons down on its neck and laid him flat on the ground. Orc blood spread in a pool on the floor. Behind were two more Orcs, the first slipped slightly on the blood of the now dead one and missed with the swing of his battle axe.
Outside, the last Orc had had enough but saw that it had no way to escape. He pressed his attack against the cleric but was met with the dual swords of the Thyatians, Flavius and Ariston, as well as the club of Chronos and the battle axe of Sarmboc. He succumbed with little fanfare.
Meanwhile Jonathan, Melisana and Syndylys dispatched one Orc and stepped aside for the last to enter the room and meet his maker.
The group outside ran to the window to see if they could help. However, the group on the inside easily dispatched the last Orc. The group on the outside began climbing into the window.
Flavius was the last one in but as he was climbing, a sword struck out at him. It was the Orc who had pretended to die out side. His blade opened a cut on the soldier’s side.
Flavius screamed and turned, swinging his sword. The Orc deftly snuck under it. The group inside the room was surprised and Chronos went to the window and tried to pull the warrior inside.
“What are you doing?!” yelled Flavius, his sword stroke ruined by the cleric.
“Hold him for me,” chuckled the Orc in his native tongue. Unfortunately, no one spoke his language. He attempted to skewer the soldier but he moved just in the nick of time.
Flavius struggled free of the cleric and sliced the Orc across the chest. It looked surprised as life fled his body and he fell backwards into the dirt.
Finally, the battle was over. Flavius gave Chronos a quizzical look then climbed inside the window. Ariston gave him a hand.
Huddled in the darkness of the room, all of the party took a moment to catch their breath. Melisana looked at Keestake and thought for a moment. “Sir?” she said. “Wasn’t it customary for sea people like King Viledel to bury their family with boats for the afterlife?”
The other adventurers began to take notice. Sarmboc moved closer so he could hear and everyone stared at the old man.
Keestake turned to her, “Why of course. Don’t all civilized people do that?”
She was undaunted. “Did the king ever bury any of his family on the island?”
“Aye, of course. Twas very sad, very sad indeed. He lost his only son, Prince Horedel, to seaweed fever. The child was barely a man and had just begun to sail with his own crew. It tore the king’s heart as it did the queen’s and everyone on the island. They buried a good boat with him, they did, I watched it be crafted myself.” Keestake seemed a little misty eyed but the party could not tell if it was the memory, his age or the misty rain blowing into the room through the open window.
“Keestake,” Melisana said, “Can you draw us a map of how to get to that boat?”
“Certainly,” said Keestake, “but it is the Prince’s boat . . .”