Chapter 5: Treasure
After resting in the bowman's tower the exiles decided to find the gear the undead took from them when Algarod awoke. Once they were armed again they would slay the beast in the laboratory in the hopes of finding a baby to give to the harpies. That part of the plan seemed somewhat suspect considering that no human babe was likely to survive a prolonged stay with the beast belladonna had described. Nobel voiced concern that the harpies would try to betray them at the first opportunity. The bird creatures had not exactly proven to be trustworthy so far. Erden was determined to do whatever would take to get his hands on the spire and could accept no other alternative than all of them going in to get it. So, once more they entered Castle Weatherstone.
Since the castle was almost completely empty they soon found the gear and gathered outside the laboratory on the square with the tree. Burzob had no patience for squabbling and felt eager for battle after the sound rest in the bowman's tower. His leg had healed up well and his face was no longer hurting so badly. He draw his sword and shield and bellowed down into the dark of the stairwell below. He beckoned the creature to come out to meet them. The creature responded hesitatingly. It had a voice thick with anguish and as it spoke it sounded slurred, as a drunkard with a broken jaw.
“Who are you that dare summon me with such insolence. Come down here instead so i may greet you in my home as guests! But first I must ask you, are you the ones that stole my legs?”
Burzob answer was simple and was delivered without hesitation. He roared out a bold lie that they, in fact, had the creatures legs but if the ugly fiend wanted them he had to come up and show his face. Unless of course, the beast was a coward? The thing could not stand being insulted on the threshold its own home and came roaring out from the darkness. Goaded straight into a trap. The beast was a fierce fighter but was no match for the combined strength of five brave adventurers. They surrounded the creature and beat it to a pulp. Everyone pitched in with spears, flails and poisoned daggers. As the man-thing turned to flee it used its long venomous tail stinger to defend itself as it ran down the stairs, but Burzob was faster. He ran after the thing, deflecting the stinger with his shield and cut the entire tail off at the root, severing sinew and bone. The thing died in a torrent of blood that ran in rivers down the staircase like a bundle of black snakes.
After having disposed of the monster and catching their breaths for a bit Erden, Nobel and Droll lit their torches and went down to find the supposed baby as Burzob staved of the Harpies who, when seeing that the beast was dead, immediately tried to swoop down towards the laboratory windows to get the baby themselves. After a show of force by the orc the harpies settled with waiting for the adventurers and were convinced to hold their part of the agreement. Down in the lab the dungeoneers found strange powders and rotten books. They found two bodies nailed to the walls with their legs cut off, in the pockets of one of them Nobel found a heavy silver statue in the shape of the Serpent God. He pocketed it without telling anyone. Erden went through the rotten library the monstrous creature had used as a nest. All the books were molded and unreadable but among the rubble he found a collection of glass jars with human parts in yellow fluid. One of them was a whole human fetus.
Knowing that the harpies would trick them if given the chance Burzob got them to reveal the location of the treasure before handing over the glass jar with the human baby. The ugly creatures had stuffed it all into a small crevice on the cliff side, just below the terrace with the catapults. Belladonna rushed there ahead of everyone else as soon as the harpies had revealed their secret. Then the harpies descended on the bottled baby as they screeched with glee. Soon they started to squabble amongst themselves regarding who was the better mother. They fought so hard with each other over who was to carry the baby that the jar was dropped and shattered against the stone floor. This did not deter their affection as they lifted the unborn corpse into the tower and placed it there, cooing with raspy voices. They had to make some room by discarding a few child sized skeletons from their nest, but then a stillness settled them all as they watched their newborn and left the adventurers to their own devices.
Belladonna was already down in the crevasse as the others gathered on the terrace. Burzob climbed down and together they excavated a large treasure, a plenty of gold, silver and copper coins. Furthest in the crevice they found a bundle of linen and as belladonna grabbed it she could feel the hairs on her neck stand on end. She knew that what she was holding was no simple thing of value, but a thing of greater importance. As she unveiled the linen a golden spire set with a grand ruby revealed itself. To the head of the spire three chains were set and on the chains three rods of alder wood hung, singing in the wind like a wood chime. As she touched the gold, here eyes were drawn to the deep red of the ruby and she felt a great burden fall upon her. She knew that whoever held this rod had power and with that power came responsibility and a duty to make hard choices. She quickly handed the spire away to Burzob, giving him the part still covered with cloth. For Belladonna had no ambition to rule anything. Responsibility scared her for she tended to hurt the things she loved. As they climbed back to their friends, Erden was handed the spire with grand ceremony as Burzob felt the the occasion deserved it. As Erden held the spire the others began to see him in a different light. The lying peddler was a now a man of authority. A ruler of men and land. Nobel inspected the spire with his sight and could confirm that the spire held great power. Indeed, it would be hard to deny a request from a man wielding such a symbol. As he probed further he realized that even the land itself might be forced to yield to the magic of the spire. He also realized that such power would burden the mind of anyone wielding it. Burzob yelled for Dalb to show herself and congratulate her husband for he suspected that she was watching them from the shadows but as his voice bellowed over the valley the only thing vaguely like a response was the screech of a falcon. It made a few circles above their heads before heading to the west.
Rich beyond their wildest dreams they left the castle. Heading north over the mountains, on the path to the village Grindbone. Using the map they had taken from brother Ferebald they could calculate that they would be able to make the journey in two days time if they were lucky and marched hard. This was deemed a fortunate thing for their supplies were running low and they were eager to see civilization again. After walking over the mountains and down into the western parts of the Groveland woods they stopped to rest, fish and forage. They were planning to leave the camp during the day but as the sun was just about to rise and the birds had started singing something happened in the woods. Belladonna and Droll who were awake by the fire felt shivers run down their spines as everything suddenly became quiet. The birds stopped singing and the wind stopped blowing and the woods suddenly felt very dark and very deep. Around them they could see a dark crimson mist flowing around the trees, rising tall and surrounding them. With haste they woke the others for they had all heard the tales of the Blood Mist. They ran, leaving the camp and taking only their backpacks and weapons with them. In the haste Nobel got separated from the group for he was the first to run. He knew all too well what happened to the poor creatures who got lost in the mist. He himself had been born during that dreadful time when every night it would envelop the land. Only after running for a long time he realized that the mist had crept around him and trapped him in a small glade. He screamed as it swallowed him.
As Burzob, Erden, Belladonna and Droll gathered their wits again they felt happy for having escaped the mist. Just as they realized that Nobel was missing they heard him scream from the forest. Burzob did not hesitate and Erden and Droll joined him in rushing back to save their friend. Belladonna dared not risk her life and stayed behind. Breathing the red mist made them feel sad and hopeless. It was not moist but dry like a fine dust and it seemed to move against the wind. They started to suspect that they would be too late, and that the the death in the mist would come for them all. It was foolish to rush back into the mist. Why should they all die? The thoughts were interrupted by another scream. Before them in a glade stood Nobel, terrified out of his mind cowering away from a wispy creature. It was shaped like a man but its proportions were all wrong. Its arms were too long and its face had no features other than a slavering mouth oozing with red ichors. It seemed to blend with the mist like sirup in water. It struck suddenly and without warning, flowing like smoke with an otherworldly grace and ferocity. The fight was hard and the band of adventurers realized that the creature had no sense of self preservation. Attacking like a crazed predator with its razor sharp sword-like arms. Nobel ran away and so did Droll. When Erden was struck down only Burzob was left. He screamed and fought with a berserk fury. It came down to one blow in the end. He abandoned his defensive stance and struck with all his power, knowing that it might be his last chance. The gambit paid off and as his broadsword impaled the creature it let out a dry rasping hissing sound and dissolved into blood red motes of dust, mingling with the mist. Burzob thought he was wounded and alone before he realized that Erdens donkey was still standing watch over his fallen master and together they managed to get the injured Erden back out of the mist. Forced to breath heavy in the red dust Burzobs mind was addled with despair and he was just about ready to sit down and give up as the first light of the morning came over the mountaintops and filtered down through the leafy canopy of the forest. Where the light touched the ground the mist was burned away. Forcing it back into the ground as suddenly as it had risen. He could hear the call of his friends and staggered out to meet them.
They pressed on immediately, eager to leave the forest and enter the plains. Before them the Green hills of the northern Harga stretched out for as long as the eye could see. The good weather and the fact that they had survived the attack of the blood mist made them lift their spirits. They kept moving to the north, marching hard towards Grindbone with its promise of hot food, warm beds and a chance to spend some of their newfound coin. Their hopes were disrupted by a wild boar that came rushing across the hills straight towards them. The boar acted completely rabid and all five adventurers braced with lowered spears and raised swords. A few boar steaks would be nice to cook up in a tavern towards the night. Suddenly the sun was blocked out by a large shadow and with an ear piercing screech droll the goblin was plucked from the ground like a ripe berry by a huge griffin. When the pair was high into the air and moving with great speed the griffon opened its claws and flung droll towards the ground. He bounced along the grassy gnolls but managed to protect his head and got away with a few scratches. The griffon was not satisfied and dove again, but this time the adventurers were prepared. Burzob slashed with his sword, Nobel thrust his spear and Belladonna stabbed with her knife and the griffon was soon no more than a wounded animal panting for air on the ground. Its wings torn to shreds and its guts spilling across the grass.
On the wind they could smell smoke and to the north they could see pillars of soot from the hearths of Grindbone rising towards the air. Five light riders were approaching them from the small town. The flew a banner depicting a white millstone with a single drop of red blood on blue cloth. As they came closer their leader raised his hand in salute showing them that they came in peace.
“Travellers hear me for I am Captain Kratullos of Grindbone, I hail you welcome to our village. I have heard of you and your deeds and was hoping you would head this way. I have an offer for you. Please let us sit down and speak over a mug of ale. Let’s make a fire."
End of chapter 5.