…About the Reaper’s Masque
After her collapse in the library, Cain dreamed: She was still in the manor house of some ancient necromancer, she knew it. But she did not recognize the room. In the ceiling she saw her Reaper’s Masque. She could not reach it. Not without standing on Andrea’s shoulders. Relvain and Nox lifted her there. She reached up and grasped the masque.
And put it on her face. It began to speak to her.
“Hello, Shade,” said the whispery voice in her head when she awoke. Somehow she knew it was the voice of the masque the Raven Queen had given her. “Put me on.”
She put on the masque, and immediately knew that she was beginning to come into concordance with it.
She found herself lying on a bunk in a gently swaying vessel. It didn’t seem to be a vessel floating on water: Although Shade did not remember ever being on a boat, she knew this somehow.
“Perhaps I was on a boat sometime in my previous lifetime.”
The masque told her to investigate, and she did. Telling herself she would have done it without the prompting.
Emerging from her cabin, she found herself on the deck of Tokk’it’s flying ship, heading north. When she asked Andrea where they were going, the Dragonborn explained they were headed toward Thiradith.
Andrea explained this was a Nerathi ruin which had been rebuilt as a watchtower by the Alliance. From the Letter from Amyria, she knew this meant it was near one of the destinations of the portals which Cachlain told them that the Githyanki were using.
Just before sunset, they saw the watchtower in the distance. An upthrust embankment of sheer stone wall atop a white bluff, she could tell the site commanded a sweeping view of the rocky scrubland that spread to all sides.
A gate and drawbridge allowed access across a steep-sided ravine that protected the site on all sides. Sun-faded flags flew high above the ramparts, and the bridge was already down as they approached, landing far enough away to avoid alarming the outpost.
Birkeni, a veteran half-elf fighter, appeared to be the captain here. He met them at the gate, making no effort to hide his relief at seeing them. He told them there were no
stores or services here.
“I offer you free use of the outpost’s amenities and semiprivate accommodation in the barracks hall.” When Nox asked about the amenities he explained that he only meant the weaponsmith, armorer and such.
Once they arrived in the hall, they discovered they weren’t the first to respond to the watchtower’s summons. Megan Freerider greeted Andrea warmly and told her the Freeriders arrived that morning. “Good thing we were on another mission west of here,” she said. “We don’t have a flying ship to get us around so fast.”
Megan goes on to explain the flying ship is how her friend Garen Bladerun got away from Sarshan’s tower when it collapsed in the Elemental Chaos.
“And Andrea is his cousin … or something.”
The Order of the Black Feather and the Freeriders were honored guests at that night’s mess, but the mood was more somber than celebratory.
Over a meal of military rations, heavy bread, and ale, Birkeni spoke.
“I told your compatriots this morning all that I can report beyond what was sent in our missive. A week ago, one of our patrols found three dead Githyanki within a hundred strides of each other on one of the foothill tracks."
Then the Half-Elf betrayed one of his own bigotries by using a racial epithet.
“The Mudskins had been in some sort of fight by the look of them, but as the scouts came back to report, they were shadowed by a half-dozen more Githyanki, very much alive. Followed them to within sight of the watchtower, then fell back into the hills again.”
The patrol trail from the watchtower to the foothills was easy to follow, winding through thin stands of jack pine and patches of scrub grass that slowly disappeared as the rocky ground begins to climb.
The day was overcast as they reached a marker Birkeni spoke of — a great arch of rust-colored stone, beyond which the wall of the mountain began to rise.
It didn’t take long to locate the site where the Githyanki were found — three patches of blood-stained rock on the trail.
Of the bodies, there was no sign.
As soon as Andrea Ravn saw Shadowfox go down — for the first of many times — she knew her plan was unraveling. The two of them had climbed up to the entrance of the cave the Githyanki were guarding. The plan was to lower ropes for Nox and Relvain. But Andrea sent Shadowfox on ahead and she got spotted. Nox was climbing up on his own and had already reached the lower ledge. Relvain was using the ropes Andrea had lowered. Her progress was slow. And Shadowfox was already down, even if she was only faking.
Relvain Blackaxe thought about the missing bodies as she climbed up the cliff.
They found another trail near the bodies and followed to the bluff of black stone which Relvain was climbing. The Assassin scouted it out and found two cave entrances, each guarded by over 10 Githyanki.
Shadowfox told them the Githyanki scouts showed very little aptitude for guarding the cave.
“Although right now they do seem to be doing a good job of beating the pulp out of her,” the Dragonpinner told herself.
With no patrols in sight, the Revenant had clear run of the trails that wrapped around the black stone bluff on both sides, easily spotting two caverns that might be entrances into some sort of complex within. The Freeriders took one and they took the other.
Nox had alreadry reached the top and was clearing out the weaker guards when she got to the top. Andrea was surrounded, guarding the unconscious form of Shadowfox.
“I hope she’s faking it,” she told herself as she waded in. "This looks like a job for a fighter.
The mist around him was virtually impenetrable, but after burying the murder weapon, Roland The Betrayer found it was beginning to clear. Suddenly it parted, and he found himself standing atop a hill. Similar fog-capped hills surrounded a jungle valley that stretched before him. To his left, a massive waterfall fed a river winding a serpentine path across the valley floor.
Nox Rhasgar found some of the weaker guards were pretty easy to kill, so he cleared them out using both his Ignition blasts and his firebreath. Two of them proved to be a little tougher.
One had Shadowfox trapped in an alcove. Shadowfox was garroting him, but let him go without doing much damage.
Nox told her to retreat to the shadows. After finishing off the weaker guards, Relvain did something with her shield that convinced both of the tough ones to rush her. She kept them busy.
“Two with one shot!” he said, as he was able to power two Elemental Bolts to kill both of them at once.
Searching the bodies, they found:
- 3,500 gold pieces, which Andrea put in her Platinum Pouch;
- a crystal globe set with adamantine filigree;
- a Jeweled mithral-mesh dagger scabbard; and
- three Potions of Vitality.
At the top of some stairs, they found a door. No traps, no lock. Beyond, they found a small landing with a lot of rotting corpses.
Shadowfox was scouting ahead by crawling along the ceiling. Down some more stairs, they came to a turn-off to the right.
Shadowfox heard some voices coming from the turn-off, so the Assassin headed toward them.
Andrea insisted they following her closely. “Remember what happened when she got ahead of us before,” she told them.
When Nox got to the bottom of the stairs, however, he could not help being repulsed by the smell which emanated from the corridor Shadowfox had taken:
“More rotting corpses.”