Chapter 11 - “Some people drink deeply from the fountain of knowledge. Others just gargoyle.”

As the party came around the next bend, Skald and Ornrik couldn’t shake that feeling of being watched. They exchanged glances with each other and, without speaking a word, knew that the other had the same sense of foreboding. This mutual reassurance inspired them to share their concerns with the others.

Instinctively, everyone began looking around for a source of the malevolence. Likely candidates were the four shapes crouched on ledges above them. They looked so much like the surrounding stone, they were almost camouflaged. When they moved to attack, though, their presence was a foregone conclusion. They were, indeed, the gargoyles that Urol had warned them about, and likely the “winged ones” their grim benefactor had written about in blood.

Although they looked like stone, they moved like snakes. Their wings were like those of a bat or a dragon. Gargoyle skin was not dissimilar from lizard skin, though hewn like granite. More importantly, however, they were fast. So fast that, although Urol noticed them, he could not warn his companions in time.

The gargoyles dive-bombed, four of them slamming into Ornrik, Skald, Avner and Barnaby. All would have been knocked over for an 80’ fall to the rocky waters below except that, miraculously, all of them (even Barnaby) set themselves to receive the charge, and resisted it.

Meanwhile, two more gargoyles flew up from a ledge lower than the trail, while two more came up behind the group – one of these looking slightly larger and much more savage than the others.

“There’s eight of them!” Urol warned.

“Thanks for the heads-up,” Avner said, sarcastically, drawing his sword, “Half these guys can’t count anyway!” With that he turned and scored a solid blow on the gargoyle who was attacking him. However, he was surprised that he did so little damage. “More importantly, they’re tough,” he shouted. “They have a thick hide. I really nailed this one, and I barely did any damage.”

“I’m not having that problem,” Viselys noted. Then he recalled that most of them had magical weapons, but that Avner did not, “They are resistant to damage, but vulnerable to magic.”

Then the battle was joined. All eight of the beasts drew in and attacked with gusto. Barnaby was literally torn apart by the beast that was on him. Quenge panicked when he saw this, and ran off down the path, leaving Thunderstrike to begin rearing in panic. Urol, who had not prepared any combative spells, cast a spell of calming on Thunderstrike, and using his expert skill with handling animals, led the animal to the relative safety back around the bend.

One gargoyle came up behind Skald and grabbed him, holding him fast, which gave two others the opportunity to double-team him unmolested. Avner took numerous hits from claws and teeth, but he stood his ground. Saris was his usual heroic self, but he left himself open to some serious damage from the leader. Diamondback avoided being targeted by deftly tumbling around and behind the gargoyles to let loose with dance-like martial arts blows that were like magic.

Ornrik was flanked, and took serious damage. One of the wounds was so serious that it bled in spurts. Ornrik knew it wasn’t immediately life threatening, but the bleeding would not stop on its own. Luckily, Viselys and Saris dispatched one of the beasts so Ornrik could back away from the other.

This gave the dwarf a second to evaluate the battlefield to determine his next course of action. Barnaby was dead with pieces literally strewn about. Quenge was nowhere to be seen, possibly having fallen over the edge, but Ornrik presumed he was dead, too.

“Ornrik!” Skald cried out. Ornrik turned his attention to his Fey-touched companion just as two gargoyles flayed him alive. The third, who was holding him, was attempting to fly up with the body.

“I can’t get to you, Skald!” Ornrik shouted, “Just hold on!” But it was clearly too late. Ornrik knew the boy would be dead before he could even cross the distance to him.

“I told you,” Skald was saying, in the sort of calm that only someone who knows he is dead can embody in a situation like this, “I told you; bad things follow me. I’m cursed.”

“Don’t talk like that, lad,” Ornrik argued, “We’ll get though this!”

“You will,” Skald said, weakly. The blood wasn’t flowing in spurts anymore from the boy’s gaping wounds, which meant there was almost no blood left. “You’ll get through this, but I won’t. I’m cursed…” With that, his head slumped. The gargoyle that was holding him saw that he was lashed to his companions by a rope, so he could not fly off with him. Instead, he began tearing through the rope.

Ornrik moved towards Skald just as Viselys dispatched one of the two that had been flanking the boy, and Diamondback scored several good hits on the one that was trying to remove the body, causing it to drop Skald and change its focus. Ornrik left himself open to attack, but he had to try to save Skald, if there was any life left in the boy. The dwarf knelt in a pool of blood – some was Skalds, but some was his own, as his own serious wound continued to spurt. Although he knew his efforts were futile, he tried to pull Skalds wounds closed. He tried to cast a healing spell, but the dead are beyond healing.

Ornrik stood, a visage of gore nearly covered in blood. He roared as he hurled a spell at Viselys, causing the kensei warrior to enlarge. This gave him the reach he needed to quickly dispatch the two remaining gargoyles responsible for Skald’s demise.

Avner had fought hard, but he was no match for the gargoyle. He soon fell unconscious.

Ornrik, having been gratified to see Skald avenged, turned his healing magic towards Saris, who was locked in battle with the Leader. Saris elegantly tumbled around the creature to attack from behind, but this enraged the beast. It turned to swing its claw, smiting Saris with a blow charged with elemental energy from the very cliff rocks upon which they stood. Saris fell unconscious.

Still, apparently thinking nothing of himself, Ornrik continued to broadcast healing magic to his companions through his wand. As such, he was taken by surprise when a gargoyle swooped down on him from behind, attempting to push him off the cliff. But his rage made him strong, and he pushed back. Viselys was on hand to dispatch the new foe, and move towards the one that had dropped Avner. Diamondback was already there, however, tumbling deftly through the battlefield to spring up behind the beast, and together they dispatched it.

Meanwhile, Saris had awakened, thanks to Ornrik’s healing. “Aren’t you dead yet!?” he shouted at the beast. Indeed, his magical sword was not doing the damage he had expected. The gargoyle leader did another flurry of blows on Saris, and in spite of having been healed, he knew that he would not survive another attack.

Viselys now turned his attention to the last gargoyle – the leader. He attempted to intimidate the creature, but it seemed unfazed. Indeed, it flew into a rage. But Viselys expended all his energy in a furious assault that eventually cut it in two.

They paused to assess their situation. With the sound of battle abated, Urol and Quenge returned with Thurnderstrike. Urol moved to the first unconscious body he came to, which was Avner. “Wow, it’s a good thing we rested and healed up, or NONE of us would have survived,” the Gnome said, trying to find a positive slant on the situation. Viselys shot him a nasty look. Urol realized he had committed a faux pas, so he grew silent.

While Urol healed Avner enough to awaken the noble, Ornirk did the same for Saris. Then Urol noticed how bad Ornrik looked, “Hey, you need some healing there, too, my friend. You won’t do anyone else any good if you drop.” With that, he cast his last remaining healing spell that seemed to do Ornrik a considerable amount of good.

“That was a pretty potent spell,” Saris noted.

Urol shrugged, “Magic is kind of random that way. Sometimes the same spell can do just a bit of healing, and sometimes it does a lot. Just got lucky this time.”

After he’d been healed, Ornrik moved to examine the ornate granite crown the lead gargoyle had been wearing. He lifted his monocle to his eye and said, “This is a Gargoyle Crown, obviously. There is a rumor that the King of Kundrakar wore one. It grants the wearer resistance to all damage except that from adamantium for ten minutes per day – long enough for one battle – and imparts the ability to smite an opponent once per day with an elemental forces if the opponent is standing on a rock surface.”

“Yeah, I know about that first hand,” Saris offered.

“You appear uninjured,” Avner noted to the Gnome.

“The horse panicked,” Urol replied. “I used magic and my expertise to calm the beast, and lead it to safety. If I hadn’t, it likely would have bolted over the cliff taking all of our food and water with it to the bottom of the bay.”

“Good thinking,” Ornrik noted before Saris could make a snide comment about Urol’s conservationist tendencies, “I don’t think I can magically provide enough food and water for all of us if I were the only source.”

“Yeah, besides, we don’t need BOTH of our healers out of action again, do we?” Avner commented backhandedly. Then he turned to Urol, “And, you know, thanks.”

Everyone knew Urol wanted to say something cocky, like “I didn’t do it for you,” but to the Gnome’s credit, he took the high road and responded, “Sure, you bet.”

Avner looked over at Quenge, who was also unhurt (Ornrik was gratified to see that his assumption about Quenge’s demise was mistaken), and looked around for Barnaby. “Hey, where’s the other one?”

“Oh, he’s over there,” Saris pointed, “And there, and there, and…”

A look, first of horror, then of outrage, flashed over Avner’s face. He looked at Viselys, “How could you let this happen?”

Viselys was taken by surprise. He was about to fire back at Avner, but he hesitated, partially because his leadership abilities had been a source of much doubt recently. Before he could resolve himself on how to respond, however, Saris stepped in.

“Okay, settle down everyone. That was a rough battle, and we could have all died. We really are lucky we were ready for something, even if we didn’t know what, exactly.” Then Saris seemed to be mulling something over, “Hey, deja vu here, Ornrik. Didn’t you recount a dream that was like this?”

“Yes, I did,” Ornrik said simply, but did not elaborate.

"Hey, Viselys, you did good," Saris praised. "You got a little shaky there towards the end, but I guess that's more like the real you. HA"

It may have seemed crude and mercenary, but Skald’s equipment might still help the team, even in his absence, so Ornrik took on the grim task of inventorying the items. Scald had carried:

A chain shirt
A scimitar
2 vials of acid
One composite longbow (+1)
20 arrows
2 unused Tickets to the Lachrymal Theater (in the Styes) production of "Feasting Corpulence of Devils"

The theater tickets were unlikely to be of any use, but Ornrik kept them out of sentimentality. With nobody else wishing to claim the Gargoyle’s crown, Ornrik took that as well.

After disposing of Skald and Barnaby’s remains, with honor and dignity, they continued on for a few hours. At about dusk, the path came to an abrupt end, looking out over the bay. Nearly sixty feet above, they could see it continued along the southern route. A bamboo platform hung near the upper path’s edge, suspended by several vines draped over a log driven into the cliff face above. The other ends of the vines hung down the cliff face, and were attached to a second log at waist height on the lower ledge. Down below, a dozen or so abandoned huts line a wide but rocky beach.

Urol examined the situation, “Those huts aren’t thousands of years old. Only a few years. Between the crude repair work we’ve seen along the path, this apparatus, and those huts, it’s the first evidence I’ve seen to convince me that there are still Olman tribes alive on this island.” He examined the lift apparatus more closely, “Ingenious as it is primitive. It uses crude pulleys to allow one to pull on the vines to raise and lower the lift between the two ledges and the beach below.”

The beach below ended just to the south of the lift at a stretch of cliffs. Clearly the easiest route onward would be the upper ledge, sixty feet above them and 120 feet above the beach.

“It’s going to require strength to operate, and the horse will be difficult,” Viselys pointed out.

There was a considerable time discussing how to proceed, whether to stay put for the night, go down to the abandoned village or find a way up to the higher ledge.

“I’m out of healing magic until morning,” Ornrik noted, “And while there are arcane spells I could do to help us with this matter, I don’t have them prepared, so that will have to wait, too.”

“And magic is probably the only way Thunderstrike is going to be able to continue, either up or down,” Urol added.

“Well, we could get him down without magic,” Saris murmured.

“Her,” Diamondback corrected.

“Well, that’s it, then,” Avner said, eventually, “Barnaby and I will stay the night here with Thunderstrike. The rest of you please yourselves.”

“I’ll stay with the horse, too,” Urol declared.

“If you must,” Avner rolled his eyes.

“Well, as long as you are staying here anyway,” Viselys considered, “perhaps we could rig the lift so Thunderstrike could lower us down.”

Saris pulled out his 50’ length of rope, “Easily done. I got a rope.”

“Yeah, fine,” Avner acquiesced, realizing that he’d be able to get some peace after the others were down below.

They took some time to harness Thunderstrike to the vines supporting the lift as the sun crept lower in the sky. “That should work,” Urol finally stated.

“I’ll go first,” Saris brushed passed everyone onto the bamboo platform.

Viselys gallantly stood aside to allow Diamondback to go before him. No sooner did she put her weight down on the platform, the vines above snapped. Saris’ reflexes were keen, and he was able to leap to safety, though he was not skillful enough to catch Diamondback.

Taken by surprise as she was, she was unable to stop herself from falling. She was, however, able to contort her body into an optimum position to hit the ground with a roll. Nonetheless, when the dust cleared, she lay motionless on the rocky beach 60’ below.

Viselys did not even pause. He reached out and swiped the granite crown from Ornrik’s head and, in a very fluid motion, ran off the edge of the cliff. Calls of “No! Wait!” and “What are you doing?!” came too late.

Saris stood holding one end of the rope that had been attached to the vines, the other end still tied to the horse.

Continue to Chapter 12...

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