Evergreen Vale

16 On Death's Black Wings

After nearly a week of travel, the caravan from Evergreen Vale arrived at Enigma Keep. The city was filled with revellers celebrating the Week of the Quiet Dead, an event celebrating the defeat of an undead horde decades ago. The streets were festooned with bones and skulls made from river clay, and brightly colored paper lanterns were hung from all the buildings. The Baron’s guards and teamsters staked out a camp site with other caravans on the edge of the Grain Seller’s Market while the heroes of Evergreen Vale went about their business in the city.

Sir Delba collected the reward offered by the Grain Merchants’ Guild for the death of the gnoll bandit, Festerpaws- 1000 gold pieces. Kiri, Delba, and Pieter passed over their officer’s shares to the grateful guardsmen of the caravan. Pele, haughtily ignoring the stares of pedestrians, spent the afternoon accessorizing her kobald’s clothing, while Helo browsed the shops of various alchemists, toying with the idea of studying the craft. Pieter visited the city court to post a bounty of 100 gold pieces for information on an individual named Artimes, with an additional 400 gold pieces for information leading to the man himself. Finally, Kiri led the wererat, Ort, to the officials of her order, the Order of the Golden Scale, for examination to determine if he could be redeemed and his curse broken.

That evening, the party were guests at the stronghold of Kiri’s dragonborn clan, the Storm Serpents. They were greeted hospitably by the formal, elegent clan of artisans and weapon masters, and enjoyed a fine meal, along with tea, potent spirits, and the music of expert harpers. After the meal, most of the lights were damped, as they were all over the city, as the Night of Whispers began, and family and friends shared ghost stories. Kiri regaled the gathering with a hair raising account of the brutal struggle with the bandit lord, Festerpaws, while Pieter, much to everyone’s surprise, told a tale from his bounty-hunting days in which he and his companions had entered an undead infested swamp to wrest a necromantic artifact from a novice spellcaster who had terrorized and destroyed an isolated village.

Later, one of the dragonborn present told the gathering about the ‘Black Wing Killer,’ who had murdered three people in the previous three nights of the Week of the Quiet Dead, cutting their throats in their beds. The killer had left a single black raven feather on the chest of each victim. The city council had offered a 500 gold piece reward for the killer’s apprehension. Afterwards, Nala, one of the clan elders, Nala, asked Kiri if she would take a meal to Balasar, the ‘Grandfather’ of the clan. Kiri shared a quiet moment with the wise, kindly old master in his spartan chamber, brightened only by the fine woven blanket in which he was bundled up. Saddened by the knowledge that he would soon be passing, but warmed by his serenity and thoughtfulness, Kiri left him and joined the others as they prepared to rest.

The next morning, Delba, after conferring with the dragonborn, made arrangements to hire a broker trusted by their clan to handle the arrangements of the food supplies needed by the baron’s army. Kiri went to the headquarters of her order and made her report on the events of the last few months in Evergreen Vale. Her superiors assured her that they would consider the Baron’s request for aid, though they were an order that focused on the protection of the weak rather than on wars and crusades. There was a commotion as Kiri prepared to leave, as it turned out that a fourth person had been murdered the night before by the Black Wing Killer. The party resolved to participate in the investigation, and began visiting the homes of the victims.

They soon discerned a pattern in the crimes. All the victims were elderly, married, and suffering from chronic ailments that would have eventually killed them. The window seemed to have been the chosen method of entry. All had been killed by a single stroke from a very sharp weapon- probably a razor. Kiri’s suspicions were aroused when she learned that most of them had purchased or been given a blanket made by the same weaver- an elf named Melana, who was the wife of the first vicitim, a barber. A visit to Melana revealed a very distraught woman, torn apart by the slow painful decline of her aged husband, even as she remained young and vital to human eyes. Helo and Kiri, in trying to reach out to her, discerned a touch of divine madness within her, but could learn nothing conclusive.

Kiri became convinced that Grandfather Balasar was the next intended victim, and took a warning back to the clan stronghold. Though he refused to be moved, Balasar would be guarded that night by four swordmasters of the clan, and Helo, with the help of several dragonborn, arranged a pit trap underneath Balasar’s window. With these safeguards in place, the party went to keep watch on Melana’s shop and home.

That night was the Night of the Great Chase. Black clad riders galloped through the streets, pursued by revelers armed with pouches of flour. Those who struck true recieved skull medallions, with the one who collected the most named Grand Wizard for the festivities on the following nights. It was past midnight when the streets quited. Many of the party had chosen to adopt costume to better blend in. They concealed themselves all around the home. Pieter and Helo were closest, choosing the alley at the back door. Helo hid behind some discarded crates, and Pieter posed as a passed out drunk.

Eventually Melana crept out the back door. Her highly tuned elvish senses discerned Helo’s hiding place, and she quietly approached him, but she was startled by Pieter, who stumbled into the alley, trying to fool her with his disguise. However, she quickly recognized him, and their was a sudden explosion of fluttering wings overhead as shadowing ravens swooped down on the pair, raking viciously with their talons.

Helo leapt from the crates to grab hold of Melana, pleading with her to stop what she had planned, but she struggled free, crying out “You don’t understand, I have to do this!” There was a clicking sound and a glint of shining steel in her hand. The rest of the party struck back. Pieter launched arrow after arrow, while Pele slowed down Melana with a sleep spell and Delba cut at a raven from one of the rooftops before leaping down into the street. Kiri, however, opened the shutters on her lantern, causing the ravens to recoil from the light. Calming striding down the alley, she joined Helo in trying to reason with the angry, weeping elf.

Seeing her distracted and conflicted, Helo struck without hesitation. “I understand what you are feeling, but if you’re going to threaten me with a razor blade, I WILL take you down!” Tripping her up, Helo stabbed her with his magical short sword and setting her aflame. Screaming in pain, Melana called on her supernatural powers and became invisible, slipping away from Helo’s grasp. Pele, Delba, and Pieter continued to battle the ravens, destroying one of them and injuring others.

Kiri continued to plead with Melana, not fighting back as she used her shield to ward off the ravens’ talons. Knowing Melana’s grief, feeling the same grief at Balasar’s approaching death, Kiri spoke to her. “We know what you have gone through Melana! Stop this! I need you!”

Melana, unseen, but still trapped in the narrow alley bitterly yelled back “No! I can only bring release, on Death’s Black Wings!” Helo, listening and watching carefully, moved like a snake, catching Melana on the temple with the flat of his blade. The razor clattered to the street as Melana dropped unconcious. The remaing ravens exploded into black feathers that dissolved like smoke. Quiet settled in the alley as the heroes gathered about the fallen elf, wounded in body and soul, lit by the wavering yellow light of Kiri’s lantern.

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