(Illustration by Stephen Fabian, from N4 Treasure Hunt)
The four castaways followed Osric through the cold and rain, in search of the shelter the old man had promised them.
Osric told them about his former master, Viledel, and that the Sea-King died when pirates raided the island sixty years ago. But the pirates never found the real treasure.
“Treasure?” Zeke asked – yelled, really, over the deafening wind – “That why them orcs ‘n’ goblins are about?”
Osric replied “Aye!” without looking back. “The orcs came to plunder the temple three days ago, ‘n that’s when the storm started. They got the message – they won’t go back there.”
“That’s where you plan to hole up?” Theronna gathered twigs and branches as she walked.
“S’best. Orcs’re in the ol’ soldier’s barracks, ‘n’ th’ goblins’ve taken o’er th’ stables.”
“Won’t we anger the goddess too?” asked Eilir, wringing rainwater out of her hair.
“Nah. Th’orcs came to plunder, and they made a terrible mess o’things. If ya just come to spend the night ye’ll be safe.”
Seeing Theronna’s actions, Alistina began to do the same, not wanting to go without a fire for lack of fuel.
They followed back trails and crossed rough terrain until they came to a hill, topped by a two-story structure that had seen better days, surrounded by a wrought iron fence. No lights, smoke, or other sign of habitation could be seen. Osric opened the fence’s rusty gate with an alarming squeal and led the way to the front door.
“All right, comrades,” said Theronna, “Let’s get a look at these digs. How can we show you our gratitude, Osric?”
“Ye kin take me with ye when ye leave this island, and cut me in fer a share o’the swag.” With a wink, Osric pulled the heavy doors open and headed into the dark hall beyond.
The castaways followed him into a vast, dark chamber, the tiled floor cool beneath their feet. “All these years on this island,” began Theronna, aiming suspicious eyes at Osric, “and you never tried to find this treasure for yourself?”
“There’s no need to search for any treasure,” said Eilir, binding her hair into a ponytail. “I keep telling you, Daddy will rescue us, and soon.”
“Uh-huh,” Zeke said to Eilir, absently.
Osric began to gather debris, piling it in the middle of the room. “No need to search is right. I know where ‘tis.”
“Ain’t we gonna try to figger a way off the island?” Confusion laced Zeke’s words.
“I got one o’those, too.”
Alistina dumped her firewood in with Osric’s. “But you never used it?”
“Never had a need,” the old man replied. “Someone had t’watch over himself’s house ‘n’ treasures. But these orcs ‘n’ goblins have got me thinkin’ o’greener pastures agin.”
“Fire first,” announced Theronna. “Plans later.”
A few moments of frustration ended with the beginnings of a fire, which soon grew to reveal the dimensions of the room. Recently smashed furniture littered the room. Aging frescoes showed signs of vandalism. Shallow steps led west to a line of pillars, and a set of ratty tapestries obscuring the room beyond.
With the front doors closed, and no windows in the hall, the fire soon brought precious heat to the room, while smoke rose to the high ceiling. The castaways collapsed around the fire, relieved to find sensation returning to their fingers and toes.
Osric grabbed some palm leaves and a bit of charcoal, rendering maps of the island, the temple, the manor, and the catacombs beneath it. “Grave goods,” he muttered as he worked. “Where Viledel was from, they like ta bury their noble dead with presents. You know, so they can have their favorite play-pretties with ‘em when they wake up in th’ time th’ gods decree.”“
“I see,” said Zeke, feigning comprehension. Eilir studied the maps as Osric completed them.
“Well, Viledel had him a son who died, and they buried ‘im with weapons ‘n’ armor ‘n’ sacks o’ gold ‘n’ a few servants ‘n’ a li’l boat to sail ‘em all over th’ seas. We can drag that boat through th’ catacombs to this place you can get out, but not in.”
“We’re goin’ inta the manor?” asked Zeke, alarmed.
Eilir showed him Osric’s maps and said “That’s the way into the catacombs. Don’t worry, farmboy. Daddy will save us before we have to go in there.”
“And the treasures are in the manor?” asked Alistina, pointedly ignoring Eilir.
“Nah, th’ orcs ‘n’ goblins woulda got most o’those. But himself gave his queen this stick o’ wood that glows when it’s near th’ funny treasures. Never bothered with it, but since it’s life or death ‘n’ all… I kin lead ya to it ‘pon the morrow. But fer now, I need m’sleep…”
He rolled to one side and was lightly snoring in moments. The castaways regarded him for a moment with something like envy; they were so weary from the horrific sea voyage, and everything that came after, that sleep would not come so easily to them.
They explored the temple, finding a well in the garden, and enough scraps of cloth in the storeroom to fashion crude clothes. Rats scurried away from them in a few rooms. Theronna managed to kill one; the fire made it no less palatable, so she left it on the floor, insisting that it seemed like the thing to do.
Every room showed damage caused by the plundering orcs. They found the worst desecration beyond the tapestries in the great hall, where a white marble statue stood behind a small altar. A depiction of a small, boyish woman, the statue bore a large crack across the torse. Her nose and left arm were broken off, and the statue was smeared with filth.
Zeke muttered “Ain’t no wonder she got ticked off and sent the storm.”
“I think it’s Tymora,” said Eilir. “The goddess of luck. I hope Daddy punishes those orc pirates for doing this. Poor statue.”
Thinking of the stables back home, Zeke busied himself wiping the filth away from the statue. When he was done, the talent of the sculptor shone through; the statue’s pose seemed natural and lifelike. “Cain’t do nothin’ ‘bout those broken-off pieces. Sorry, Lady.”
Alistina saw Eilir gently smile at Zeke’s words – just for a moment, before the wizard’s growling stomach drew her attention down.
“All right, soldiers, let’s turn in.” Theronna headed east for the fire and tried to make herself comfortable.
“Maybe he can tell us where some food is,” said Eilir, pointing at the sleeping Osric. Earlier she had wanted to ask him about the charts she’d found aboard the Scourge, to see which island they were on, but that concern seemed far away now.
“Leave him be,” Zeke said, not looking at Eilir as he bedded down.
“But I’m hungry,” she whined, causing Alistina to wince.
Zeke turned to Eilir, an oddly serious look on his face. “Leave him be.”
Eilir blushed and looked down at the floor, shocked enough to be the last of them to fall asleep.
Zeke found himself gently awakened a few hours later by a woman’s voice calling his name, somewhere to the west. Shaking off his confusion and weariness, he saw a faint flow radiating from beyond the tapestries.
Walking past them he found the statue of the goddess made whole and glowing, the hint of a smile on her face.
“What brings you to my temple?” asked Tymora.
Zeke’s eyes went wide. “We… we was shipwrecked, ma’am. I mean, Lady. I mean… anyway, the old timer brought us here to escape the orcs an’ goblins. How… jist how is that you’re…?”
“I’m a goddess, Ezekiel, and you’re in my house. I can do whatever I need here.”
“Reckon so.” Zeke was sure that the statue’s smile had spread, becoming beautiful, sad, and crafty all at once. He blushed, feeling stupid. “Sorry they busted up yer temple, Lady. I tried ta clean up, only…”
“I saw. Thank you for your efforts. You’re welcome here. You all are.”
Zeke became vaguely aware that his fellow castaways had appeared behind him. But he could not tear his attention from the divine manifestation before him. Eilir was close behind him, but he did not notice her presence, or her apprehension.
“You see what the Hak-kubra have done to my sanctuary,” said Tymora. “When the pirates came sixty years ago, they killed everybody but they left my temple alone. That’s proper. And I wasn’t offended by the wind, storm, age, and rot that followed. Nature’s got a right to beat down what men’ve raised up. But these orcs have made me mad.” A rumble of thunder punctuated this announcement.
“Have they,” Zeke’s words were more statement than question.
“They have indeed. I’m so made that I’m going to destroy this island every every living thing on it. That’s how you clean a… a stain like this.”
“But… but you said we was welcome here!” cried Zeke.
“Right,” said Theronna, half-concealed by a tapestry.
“Please,” Eilir said, “can’t you wait until Daddy comes to save us? He’ll be here soon; I know he misses me.”
The statue took in their faces. “I tell you what,” said Tymora. “It isn’t your offense, and you shouldn’t have to die for it. I was going to cleanse this island tonight, but instead I’ll stay my hand and do it at nightfall tomorrow.”
“You’re most generous, Lady Luck.” Alistina bowed grandly. Eilir followed suit, her apprehension deepening to worry.
“If you’ve fled by then,” continued Tymora with a nod, “then you’re fit to survive. The storm that takes the island won’t take your boat with it.”
“Hope we’re lucky,” Zeke said with a knowing smirk.
The statue blew a kiss in his direction. “You have my blessing, Ezekiel. That’ll help.” The farmer’s fingertips went to his cheek as if he felt its touch, and his blush deepened.
“Prove yourselves worthy,” said Tymora. “Fortune smiles upon you.” With that, the glow faded, the statue resumed its original pose, and the arm and nose fell back into the dust.
“Won’t see anything like that on a battlefield,” muttered Theronna as she turned back to the fire, brushing past the wide-eyed Osric. “Better keep sleeping, soldiers. Looks like we’ve got no choice but to make for the boat now.” Reassured by the sight of her skewered rat, she was the first to fall asleep.
Eilir was the last to succumb, spending several minutes arranging her cloak so that she wouldn’t have to sleep directly on the floor. With her feet dangling off the cloak’s edge, she admitted to herself that Ronan Stormweather might not rescue her in time before she drifted off.
The ghoul climbed down the chimney, emerging into the temple’s kitchen. Its first attempt to come down had ended when it sensed a divine presence. The creature was clever enough to recognize the danger, and had remained in the chimney until its Hunger could no longer be denied.
It made its way through the temple to the hall of the goddess, drawn by the smell of the living. Rats had sustained the ghoul since it finished off the last of the merchant ship’s crew; that was months ago, but the creature had little sense of time. There was only the Hunger, and now, there was more fitting prey.
They numbered five in all, sleeping around the fire. It recognized the wary and paranoid old man, whom it had tried to catch before. But the fair-skinned blond was closest to the ghoul’s position.
The creature crept across the hall, pausing only to devour the dead rat it found. Paralyze that woman first, then the man. You can kill them, hang them on the meat hooks in the pantry, then eat them at your leisure. The Hunger will be appeased.
But Eilir’s eyes snapped open as the ghoul leaned over her. With a shriek she scuttled out from under it, waking the others at once. A small orb of acid flew from her fingers onto its face, and it growled like an animal as its rotting flesh burned.
Theronna charged toward the undead creature, carving the creature’s putrid flesh with her longsword. The monster turned upon her, and her world became a blur of flashing claws and teeth. Its talons raked her arm, freezing her in place.
Alistina invoked the Light of Lunia, flooding the room with celestial energy, and she sent some of it the ghoul’s way, missing her mark. Zeke scrambled to his feet, readying his makeshift club. The ghoul ducked his first swing, but Zeke felt a strange sensation come over him, and he tried again, snapping the creature’s leg. It collapsed in a fetid heap, returned to death.
“Tymora’s blessin’,” Zeke whispered, knowing that he had used it up.
Osric emerged from behind the remains of a pew about the time that Theronna’s paralysis wore off. After a few minutes, they went back to sleep, Eilir moving her cloak-bed closer to Zeke’s position.