“Arghhh! This is pointless!” The Dwarf stands in the middle of a shift depression on the beach. His face is raw from the bite of the blowing sand, howling wind and pouring rain. Chronos says nothing but squints at the sky where he thinks the sun should be. Despite his name, he has no idea how much time has elapsed since their companions ventured off. He shares the Dwarf’s frustration though. It is obvious that they will be unable to make an adequate shelter that will protect all of them. Hopefully, the others were having more luck . . .
Just at that moment, Sarmboc could make out the shapes of the Mage and Soldier coming back from the north. They were shuffling and hunched against the wind.
“Well?” grumbled the Dwarf.
“There is nothing of use in that direction,” said Syndylys. “Barren beach, bleached rocks, a few dead bodies from our ship and a cliff wall too sheer to climb without equipment.”
Flavius nodded his agreement with the wizard’s assessment.
“Alright then. The priest and I have not had much luck with building sand castles here. Let’s pack up our stuff and head south to find that monk and the lady.”
Quickly the group gathered the waterlogged bounty they had scavenged from the ship including the broken cot and two net hammocks. Without looking back, they began to move out to the south along the beach.
The wind howled on the beach and sand began to kick into Jonathan’s face. He could hear the sounds of the pig men around him and he held his breath. Just maybe they would think him dead and move on. Out of one barely open eyelid he had seen what happened to the Captain when he ran. It was not pretty. And though Jonathan was no stranger to violence, it was definitely not his favorite pastime. The Captain had begged in the end and Jonathan’s anger won over his humanity. He hoped the pigs would not spare him. They did not.
Now, they were moving amongst the washed up bodies, searching in vain for loot on the poor dead slaves. Those who stirred go a swift sword to the back or the head or the neck. He had to make them believe he was dead.
Jonathan could smell the salty stink of one. His boot was so close that the air from it moved Jonathan’s hair. The hair rose up to meet the cloth boots and Jonathan willed it down. One would have thought the rain that was steadily falling would have plastered it to his scalp but that one hair was being stubborn. Please, gods, let him move on. A grunt. A yell from somewhere to his left. This one yelled in return. Harsh words spoken from the back of a nasty throat. Jonathan could not tell what language that could possibly be but whatever, it was sweet to Jonathan for it caused the pig man to move on to the next body.
Jonathan tried moving his eyelids just a little again. The pig men were moving away. Unfortunately, he could not see where. Just away from the water. Away from him. Their sounds grew fainter and finally melted into the wind and rain. Jonathan still dared not move.
Brother Akair moved as stealthily as possible over the sand. Reaching the first body, he noticed it was one of the slaves he had seen aboard the ship. The body was battered and if that had not killed the poor soul, surely the deep dark slash in the back did.
One did not look quite right. Brother Akair crouched motionless and silent, letting his body adjust to the movement of the world around him. Yes, there it was. That body was moving; breathing, almost imperceptibly. Alive but how alive, thought the monk. Well alive by the breathing. Whoever he was, he was dressed like the other captives and he was controlling his breath as not to be noticed. Brother Akair called out, “I think it is safe now. I am Akair.” For a second the body did not move then quickly the head turned and looked at him, eyes blinking against the wind, rain and sand.
“There were pig men about. Orcs. They slaughtered everyone who moved. Including the Captain as he tried to run away.”
“Were you one of the captives on the ship?” Brother Akair moved closer to the blinking man.
Getting up and brushing the sand from his rags, the man spoke, “Yes. I am Jonathan.” He shivered as the wind hit his now exposed wet front.
“Well, Jonathan, we had better get off this beach. You said there were Orcs around. I do not want to be here when they return. Plus, we should go meet my companions. One is there,” he said pointing to the sand and rocks where Melisana was hiding. “Are you at all injured?”
“No, I am okay but I am cold. And hungry.”
“I am sorry. I may not be able to help with that. We were not able to salvage too much from the ship and the Immortals have seen fit to keep this wind and rain up beyond all imagination. I have never seen anything like it.”
The two quickly checked the other bodies to see if they could be helped but all were beyond saving and quite dead. There was also nothing of value amongst them. Even the Captain’s body had been stripped. They walked to Melisana and returned back up the way they had come, bending against the wind and rain.
Just then, the rest of the party came shuffling down the beach. Brother Akair quickly introduced Jonathan and the group decided to follow the Orc footprints. They led between two large dunes. Many of them ran together and finally led to several paths. Following one, they went up a bluff which looked down upon the beach where Jonathan had washed ashore. Nothing there but some bones from what may have been a chicken (Jonathan eyed them hungrily but did not pick them up).
Following the main tracks, the group ventured deeper into the island’s interior at some point, it became clear that those who were making them were dragging something. Flavius guessed that it was a person but Melisana thought it might be a chest. Jonathan hoped it was food. Sarmboc didn’t care as long as the tracks led out of the wind and the rain. He longed for a dry cave in Rockhome with a nice fire.
As the party walked along in the depression between two large hills, they became aware of a noise – a very faint noise, like grunting voices and steel clanging on steel, barely audible over the noise of the rain and the wind. It seems to be coming from the left, beyond the hill to their left. The characters scrambled up and noticed that below them, there was a ravine separating the line of hills from the next ridge. And there’s a battle going on down there.
It looks like a dozen squat yellow skinned humanoids (Sarmboc identifies them as Goblins) and half a dozen Orcs going at it pretty fiercely. The goblins are fighting with bows and spears; the Orcs have axes and pole arms, and one of them appeared to have armor, too. Most of the fighters don’t have any sort of armor, but all of them have cloaks.
About 50 feet behind the line of Orcs there appeared to be someone lying in the ravine; a human man, a white-bearded old man wearing tattered robes. He’s lying down, twisted over to watch the fight; his arms are behind his back and look as though they’ve been tied.
Flavius turned to the others. “We cannot leave that old man to those beasts. We must rescue him.”
Jonathan looked down at the fight and the man. “I think I can sneak around and release him without them seeing me.”
“Do any of you remember him from the ship?” asks Melisana. They all nod no. “Just wondering,” she says. “I agree that we cannot leave him alone but we cannot fight all of those creatures.”
“Let us let nature takes its course and have them fight each other,” says the cleric. “Meanwhile Jonathan here can sneak around and free the man. Then when the rest are worn down and down with fighting, we will swoop down and finish them off.”
“Does not sound too honorable . . . but I like it,” smiles Flavius.
So Jonathan began sneaking around to get the man while Brother Akair covered with the crossbow and the party watched the fight. Swords swung and pole arms lunged. The Orc on the right flank was pierced with arrows while one goblin archer on left flank was killed by daggers and one goblin on the line took a deadly axe blow. Jonathan made it to the man and began to untie him.
Next, an Orc on the left flank went down under a hail of arrows while the second goblin archer on left flank fell to Orcish daggers. Jonathan started to move with the old man, motioning him to keep quiet.
The battle kept raging but a Goblin had a feeling something was happening outside his range of vision. He fired his bow then turned to look around. Meanwhile an Orc in the center of the line was run through with a Goblin spear and the Orc commander was brought down by arrows). The Orcs were not through though and two goblins on the line succumbed to axe blows. Jonathan and the old man were on the move back to the group.
The goblin archer turned towards Jonathan and fired an arrow at him right as he and the old man got back to the group. Just then the one of the last Orcs was speared by a Goblin as the Orc chopped off his arm with his halberd. The other Goblin archer was too intent on the last Orc to notice the other archer turning to confront the Humans.
Akair let loose a crossbow bolt at the archer as the Cleric, Dwarf, Melisana and Soldier began a dash down the hill to the remaining Goblins. It stuck the Goblin in the neck and his companion looked on in fear as he realized the battle was not over. He let loose his arrow at the Orc anyway (striking him through the heart) but the Orc was able to swing one last time and fell a Goblin.
The Cleric’s charge carried him to a surprise Goblin and his club pashed deep into the shoulder of the small creature. A sickening crunch and a small whimper came from him. The Dwarf and Melisana were just as deadly in their efforts, overwhelming their opponents and creating pools in the sand. The last Goblin archer weighed his odds. He was alone but surrounded by his dead comrades. He could run but was not sure if he could win. He decided to go down fighting and let loose an arrow at the Dwarf. I flew over his head and stuck into the sand dune. By then the Cleric was upon him and knocked his head from his shoulders like a golf ball.
The party scanned the wreckage of humanoids. None were left standing. Flavius and the Dwarf, without speaking, began the process of stripping the bodies and collecting the useful salvage. They were used to the carnage of a battlefield. All in all, they found many weapons but all of dubious quality. Given their dire straits though, they were happy to have some weapons, armor and clothing.
Once the clean up was done, they turned towards the old man. He was a scarecrow of a man: bald, with a matted dirty beard that would be white if washed, a sallow complexion and wide eyes. Since he had been rescued, he had been mumbling to himself; always chattering. Finally, the old man spoke, "Thank you for saving me. My name – haven’t needed it in a long time – is Keestake, and you’re the first human faces I’ve seen in more years than I can remember. It’s true.
“And you wouldn’t know it to look at me now, but in my day, in my day, I was personal groom to himself – to Viledel, the Sea King. Yes, this is the Island of Viledel – you didn’t know that?
“But himself died when the pirates crushed the island, years and years ago, when my hair was still black and my face unlined. I didn’t fight on the day the pirates came, just hid in an overturned, ruined boat no one looked under, while the murdering and the burning went on day after day. And finally the pirates were all gone, and I’ve been here alone since then. Living in the house of the Sea King, protecting the treasure left behind – for the pirates never found the real goods of Viledel, just some of the trinkets and baubles kept in the manor-and becoming tired and gray. How long has it been?
“The Orcs came a few days ago. They captured me, and said the stories said that the treasure of the Sea King had never been found, which was true enough, I guess. And they said I knew where it was, which was true, too, but I never told them so.
“The goblins came two days ago. The Orc chief and the goblin chief talked, and the goblin chief said they were there to claim the island as their new stronghold, but the Orc said they were there for the treasure too, and as soon as he said it the goblins wanted the goods, and there’s been war ever since.
“The Orcs are all set up in the old soldiers’ barracks, and the goblins are all in the old stables, and the manor in the middle is where they hunt around for treasure and fight one another most of the time. But there’s another place, where they went once but leave alone now – the temple of the goddess. It’s on the far side of the hill overlooking the manor, and if you and your friends want to take shelter there, no one will bother with you.”
The group agrees to follow the old man. Keestake leads the characters down back trails and across rough terrain; he explains that he doesn’t want to be recaptured by the Orcs or the goblins. Eventually the group arrives at the hillside below the temple and sees it silhouetted against the dimming sky-the first indication that it was almost night time.
When they got within a hundred yards of the temple, the characters see the unimpressive sight of the building. The building was obviously once a beautiful temple – two stories in height, crafted from well-fitted planks of dark hardwoods brought from the mainland. The windows were spacious and cheerful, closed against the wind with brightly-painted shutters; a gate of well crafted wrought iron once stood before the large front door, and a trellis for well tended ivy once leaned against the right half of the front face of the temple.
Today, after 60 years of neglect, the temple is a wreck. The expensive wood is old and pitted, cracked and decayed. The windows are still spacious, but most of the shutters are gone; the few that remain bang open and closed in the wind, or hang crookedly from a single hinge. The wrought iron gate is as intricate as ever, but rusted over, rusted clear through in places. The ivy once planted as decoration now covers the entire right side of the front wall, and continues around the whole right side of the temple. It’s a spectacle of gloom and disrepair. There are, however, no lights within, no sign of habitation, and the walls may be sound enough to keep out the worst of the weather.
The old man leads the characters clear up to the gate at the entrance, pulls it open a little-it makes a squeak, alarming but really not too loud-and steps through the still working doors of heavy oak into the temple itself. Once the characters entered, they found that the main hall where they stood was thoroughly shielded against the wind, for it has no windows, and the front doors are sound. After being in the temple for a few minutes, their shakes subsided and their fingers and toes became less numb. This first room once had plastered walls painted with frescoes of the goddess, her symbols and her deeds. The paint and plaster have badly flaked over the years. There is no furniture in the room, only wind-blown rubbish. There are two sets of double doors in the room, one leading outside and the other, further into the temple.
Beyond these doors, was a very large chamber, two stories in height. There is broken furniture all over the tiled floors; the remains of chairs, tables, and perhaps low couches. Most of the wood looks aged, but the breaks are all fresh. On the east wall, in the middle, is a set of double doors, closed. On the south wall is the set of double doors by which the party entered the chamber. On the north wall, at the east corner, is a very small and inconspicuous door. All the doors in the chamber are still hanging on their hinges.
The west wall was actually a flight of three shallow steps leading up to a line of pillars. Between the pillars, cloths or tapestries, now ratty and sagging, have been hung, blocking off the view of the chamber beyond. The walls of the hall were once plastered smooth and painted with frescoes of the goddess in all her aspects. Now the paint is curling, the plaster is broken and peeling, and there are large cracks in the plaster, probably from the foundation of the temple settling over the years. Additionally, someone has taken a club to the walls here and there, evidenced by deep gouges and tears in the plaster, and places on the wall have been smeared with filth.
Keestake says that the damage to the room (the smashed furniture, the damaged and befouled walls) all took place when the Orcs investigated the temple, looking for treasure. Enraged because they found no gold, they destroyed all the furnishings and much of the painting, defiling the decoration; they would have done more, but the sudden arrival of the violent storm made them break off their vandalism and flee.
Pushing past the hanging tapestries and the columns, the characters see that the far end of this chamber is raised about a foot and a half above the floor of the rest of the hall. The ratty cloths were once fine velvet, purple embroidered upon in gold, but they had aged now into a uniform, revolting brown and it was impossible to tell now what the embroidery represented. “The hall of the goddess,” says Keestake, “it was once the glory of the island.”
Sitting here is a statue of the goddess: Diulanna. Akair and Chronos tell the group that she is the goddess of will power, heroes and luck. They all nod solemnly except Syndylys who smiles. Alphatians believe in the Immortals but hold that they have little sway over mortal man. Especially those who become masterful of magic.
As a statue, Diulanna is sitting on a throne, looking down into the hall of the goddess; her expression is thoughtful, with the faintest trace of a smile on her lips. The sculptor must have been a tremendous talent, for the statue is posed in a very natural manner, head slightly bowed, left hand extended in a gesture of blessing, right hand gripping the arm of the throne. But it, too, is a ruin now. The nose has been broken off, the left hand likewise, a great crack runs across the torso and the face and torso are smeared with filth.
The other object in this area is a low table, obviously an altar, set down before the statue of the goddess. Since it bears no trace of bloodstains, new or old, it must have been an altar for offerings instead of sacrifices. Both statue and altar are sculpted out of fine marble. The walls of this chamber are white and unadorned.
Akair, Melisana and Chronos, try to clean the statue some but the dirt is ingrained. The others want to explore before it gets too dark so they enter a few rooms and find nothing useful. However, they decide that the hall of the goddess is too open and decide to rest in a smaller room where they can block the door. After starting a small fire, they find it is fully dark outside, they are exhausted and hungry but warm and dry, and eventually they drop off to sleep.
The monk heard his name, clear as day. He looked around but everyone was still asleep. Sarmboc was snoring.
“Who was that,” thought the mystic. “And where is that voice coming from.” It was a woman’s voice, soft yet forceful. Perhaps the most beautiful voice he had ever heard. It was alluring in a non-sexual way.
“Akair, come to me.” He was certain it was coming from the other room; beyond the hallway. He moved over and tried to wake Jonathan but he did not budge. He decided he would not go without someone but no one would awaken. He sat back down.
“Do not be afraid, come to me Akair.”
Flavius was awake and staring at Akair. “Who and what is that?”
“I don’t know,” said the monk.
“Let’s go find out.” Everyone was awake. They all went into the hall of the goddess. A glow appeared around the statute. The statue changes subtly; slowly: the filth disappears, the broken nose and arm float up and affix themselves, the crack in the torso repairs itself, and the statue even moves and stands, inhabited by the essence of the goddess.
The goddess spoke,
“You see about you the results of the raid of the Hak-kubra, the pirate Orcs. They have defiled my sanctuary. When men came hither three generations ago, they slew the men of this island, but let my temple be – as is proper. Since then, my sanctuary has been subject to wind and storm, age and rot, but I was not offended, for that is nature’s right – to beat down what men have raised.
"But the acts of debasement you see about you have offended me I choose to destroy this island, and all living upon it: a proper cleansing of the stain made by the Hak-kubra. I see no reason for you to die for another’s offense, however. So I will not cleanse this island this night, as I had planned, but will stay my hand another day, and lay waste to this place at nightfall tomorrow. If you are fled by then, I will adjudge you fit to survive, and the storm which destroys this place will do no harm to your craft.
“It is a difficult test. I see you have not chosen your adventuresome paths willingly. So this aid will I give you: there are items of power to be found on this island. For the time you remain here, I will allow you to use any as if you were trained in their use. Should you find an object of magical power, use it wisely; perhaps it will help you toward your goal.”
The goddess answers a few questions then the glow begins to fade. Again she reminds the group that they must be off the island by night fall tomorrow and bids them farewell. They decide to build a fire here and sleep in the shadow of the goddess’ statue which is now repaired.
After speaking with the goddess, the adventurers settled down to sleep in her hall. With the goddess watching over them, they were certain that no harm would come in the night but the goddess had other plans; testing their mettle would begin tonight.
Quietly, slipping down from the chimney in the kitchen came a dark figure. His skin was gray green and rotting; his clothes were rags in place of his once proud vestments. It had been many years since Curate Kantinomeiros had heard the sounds of humans. For the past many years, he had been undead and no one had come. He had been undead since he had starved to death after the raid, his soul tormented by his lack of courage to help his king or even to warn his people when the raiders came ashore. Cursed by the goddess he was.
Kantinomeiros crept silently across the hallway, the scent of living beings thick in his dry nostrils. Not much of his mind was still there. Just enough to make him hate all that was living and those who reminded him of his former glory and final fall from grace. “Oh,” he thought, “they are peacefully sleeping and will not notice him break their necks.”
Akair was used to sleeping while still monitoring what was happening around him. The slight change in air pressure from the opening of the door aroused him but he lay still in the darkness. His eyes groped for some sign of what was there but the flickering of the fire made it impossible to sort through the shadows. His ears strained to hear above Sarmboc’s snoring. There. No. Maybe. A shuffle. Someone was moving around; stepping between them and coming closer. He quickly reached out his hand and grabbed a leg.
“Who are you?” he commanded. In fear, he then realized that maggots were covering his hand and the face looking down on him was not alive.
“We are under attack!” yelled the monk.
The ghoul backhanded him across the face and slipped from his grasp. The adventurers were surprised but quickly stirring to action.
Keestake awoke and ran for the doors leaving the place. Syndylys looked at the old man then at the creature. Turning again, he yelled, “Come back here!” and followed the man to the doors.
By now, everyone was up but Kantinomeiros was in their midst. He lunged for the soldier and raked his skin with bony claws. A chill went down the Thyatian’s spine and for a second he seemed stunned. He shook off the feeling and swung his sword, narrowly missing the ghoul. Chronos by now had his makeshift holy symbol in hand.
“By the power of the gods, I banish you foul beast and pray that your spirit seeks peace not on this earth.” The cleric stood tall and the light of the fire shone a little brighter. The ghoul paid it no mind and went back after the fighter. This time as his hand grasped around the soldier’s neck, a feeling of utter peace swept through Flavius. He went limp and fell to the floor. The ghoul laughed dryly, the giggle echoing in his hollow chest.
Akair had retreated and grabbed the crossbow. He took careful aim and sent a quarrel into the undead creature. It turned to him but was confronted by the Dwarf who swung at him with a sword. Bits of rotted flesh and maggots flew fro the place where the blade bit.
During this, Jonathan was sneaking around trying to get behind the beast but it saw him and snarled. It leapt away from the Sarmboc and clambered towards Jonathan. The cleric let his holy symbol fall on its leather thong against his chest and brandished his club against the ghoul. Both he and Melisana struck at the same time knocking it off balance. It turned and swiped at her but missed.
Another quarrel came whizzing into the melee but struck nothing but the wall. The ghoul leapt at Jonathan, colliding into him and rending his arms. Foul, gray teeth came inches from the man’s neck as he rolled the creature off of him just before his body went limp. Sarmboc stabbed at the beast and struck home. A feral light shined in the creature’s eyes as he leveled them on the Dwarf. But he was distracted by the double club attack from Chronos and Melisana.
Somewhere in the recesses of his failed mind, the ghoul knew he was in trouble. Having been a coward in life, he was just slightly less a coward now. He glanced towards the doors in the room and calculated which exit would be best. Just then a quarrel found his neck and knocked him off his feet. He scrambled away but the Dwarf was there. “Thwack!” The sword bit again into his undead flesh.
He grabbed at the Dwarf’s legs and knocked him off balance, scratching him but not paralyzing him. An opening appeared and he ran. Unfortunately, the Cleric and Melisana were there on either side of the gap and rained blows down on him. He slipped and spilled across the floor. Another quarrel found its mark and the sword came down upon his neck.
Finally, after many years of undeath, he was done. In his last moments upon this planet, he felt the warm embrace of the goddess as he pled for forgiveness. Forgiveness of his cowardice; forgiveness for his lack of faith and forgiveness for his bitterness and evil which led him to ghouldom. In that instance, his face relaxed and he smiled. The light was gone from his eyes and Curate Kantinomeiros was finally and truly dead.
The standing adventurers sighed and smiled. Relief fleeing as they noticed their fallen comrades.
Syndylys came dragging the old man back into the main room. “He tried to escape rather than help us.”
“And you thought it so important to chase him that you left us here?”
“I am not a trained soldier. I did what I thought was best.”
And so, the night was quiet. Akair, Melisana and Chronos tended to Jonathan and Flavius who were paralyzed but not dead. Syndylys kept and eye on Keestake and Sarmboc ruffled the rags on the floor and went back to snoring as loudly as he could.