Howl of the Carrion King – Chapter Forty-three

Chapter Forty-three
Forked Tongues

Bree found Santon and Kelestair standing outside of a large building that was little more than a partially collapsed shell. A half burnt sign bearing the message ‘-AVE MARKET’ hung askew over the entrance.

Bree reached for Santon and grabbed him by the shoulder, spinning him to face her. “What are you doing?”

Santon looked at her as if she were stupid. “We’re going to kill that snake like the lady asked us to. What are you doing?”

Bree’s eyes widened. Was he serious? “Lady?” Bree spat. “That lady is a foul creature known as a harpy.”

Kelestair stared at her. “And?”

“They ambush travellers and devour them! She’s as likely to eat you as thank you, never mind that she’s working with the gnolls! She’s probably warning them about you right now.”

Santon shook his head. “She wouldn’t do that.”

“She reeked of evil, Santon. She’s as foul as the others of her race! She would do that.”

Santon shook his head in disbelief. “She reeked of evil? You want us to go kill her because you think she smells?”

“What?! No, she – ” How could she explain it? “Cayden Cailean has granted me the power to detect the evil in others. Her aura is evil. She is evil.”

“Everyone has a little darkness in them, Bree.”

Bree gaped. Santon didn’t believe her? He had never questioned her judgement before…

Kelestair finally spoke again. “Enough of your bickering. I will slay the snake on my own.” He raised his arm causing Husk swoop down from the sky and land on the ground beside him. Kelestair opened the building’s door and strode in purposefully. Husk shambled in beside him glaring daggers at Bree.

“No, Kelestair! Wait!”

But it was no use. Kelestair ignored her and when she let go of Santon to go after him, Santon just followed Kelestair. Bree cursed, tightened her grip on Tempest and followed her comrades into the snake’s lair.

The interior of the building was a large mound of debris. Everything was coated with a thick layer of ash and soot. Suddenly it became clear what had destroyed this building, at least. Fire.

Kelestair strode over the debris without a second thought with Husk hopping along beside him. Santon followed him. Bree inched around the room, staying to the shadows with her back to the wall. She looked around warily. She didn’t see any gnolls lurking about. She didn’t see any traps waiting to be sprung or hear any alarm bells being rung. Perhaps this was just a snake’s lair. But, what kind of snake? Bree ducked down, looking through the debris and old, burnt timbers for any signs of movement. This place was huge! The snake could be anywhere.

Santon stood atop the pile of debris kicking wood and stone around in an effort to scare the snake out of hiding. Nothing moved. Nothing shifted. Nothing made a sound.

Husk let out a strangled cry. Kelestair let out a yell then charged down the other side of the debris.

“By the gods!” Santon muttered as he chased after him.

Bree stood erect and tried to spot the commotion, but couldn’t see to the other side of the building. “Foul Brew!” She raced along the edges of the room, skirting the debris and wreckage. She heard Santon roar. Kelestair pronounced a strange series of words that Bree had not heard him use before. Spellcasting, no doubt. She did not hear Husk.

Bree tore around the corner, Tempest in hand and charged forward.

Kelestair and Santon stood above a giant snake. It was at least fifteen feet long and had massive, venom dripping fangs. It’s body was blackened, almost as if it’s skin had been rotting away. It was clearly dead. Husk slipped out from the snake’s coils, stumbling but otherwise unharmed.

“What happened to it?” Bree asked warily as she sheathed Tempest.

“It died.” Santon raised his greatsword high and brought it down, slicing the snake’s head from its rotting body.

Kelestair nodded. “What a strange specimen.”

With the snake head in tow, Santon marched right out of the wrecked building and back to the harpy. Bree kept Tempest in her hands, ready for an ambush, but it never came. They made it to her lair and entered without difficulty. Santon strode across the room and tossed the snake at the hideous harpy’s feet.

“Oh, perfect!” She snatched the massive snake head off the floor and dropped it into the bubbling cauldron before her. “You have proved yourself worthy indeed, my pet!”

Santon puffed up his chest. The harpy reached out a clawed finger and stroked his cheek with it.

“It was nothing.”

The harpy smiled. “My name is Undrella. This has been my home longer than the gnolls and humans. They are but squatters. Newcomers. I have lived here since just after Kelmarane fell, and will live here as long as I am able. It has wonderful facilities.”

Kelestair and Santon nodded.

“You said you would tell us of the gnoll leader’s weaknesses,” Bree cut in. “I care not for your life story.”

Undrella smiled. “Oh, I think you will.” She looked to Santon. “Did you know your friend was rude?”

Santon nodded dumbly.

Undrella shrugged. “As long as you know.” She rubbed her chin. “Now, where was I? Ah, yes. There has always been a… foul presence in Kelmarane. Something dark and twisted.”

“Other than you, you mean?” Bree cut in.

Undrella ignored her. “I imagine it was the cause of the town’s downfall, but that is simple speculation. I have always stayed on the town’s outskirts for that very reason. To avoid it. Four months ago someone strode into town, searched around a bit, and headed straight for the desecrated temple. He entered its earthen crypts by drifting right through it’s walls, and emerged a few days later, swelling with power and purpose. Whatever he found down there had tainted him. Suffused him with its power. Perhaps even its intent.”

“Who was this person?”

“His name was Kardswann. He looked like a man, but did not, at the same time. He was something… more than a man. And when he emerged he was, well, you’ll see for yourselves soon. He emerged from the crypts and challenged the nearby Kulldis tribe’s leader in one on one combat. He won and became it’s new chieftain.”

Bree’s jaw dropped. Kardswann? The Templar? But why would…? No. It was impossible! He would have to be ancient. Not even a genie could live that long, could they?

Kelestair nodded. “Gnolls are often ruled by whomever is the strongest among them. It is conceivable this Kardswann fellow could earn a whole tribe by simply killing the tribe’s leader.”

“And he did, at first. He gathered a tribe of gnolls around him and then allied with the Carrion King. He took Kelmarane for his own and, as I have many useful talents, he offered me a place in his tribe as his consort. I did not wish to leave my lab, so I accepted. But, he is cruel to me. Kind and loving one moment, and violent and rash the next. I’ve received more bite marks and bruises these past months than I have my whole life.” Undrella paused and caressed Santon’s face. “But now you’ve come, my pet. You’ll save me, won’t you? You’ll defeat Kardswann.”

Santon nodded. “Of course I will, Undrella.”

“Mmm. How delightful.” Undrella dug into one of her stained pockets and pulled out two keys. She handed them to Santon. “Take these. The first is for the Battle Market in Upper Kelmarane. It opens all the doors within. The second is for the cells which are used for both prisons and personal chambers.”

“You promised us information, not a key,” Bree cut in suspiciously. “What is Kardswann’s weakness?”

“Can’t you just be grateful, child? I’ve already told you his weakness. He is proud and newly in charge. He will have to accept any challenges you put to him or his gnolls would view him as weak. This he will not abide. He will not take the chance.”

“That’s it? He’s proud? That’s really the best you can come up with?”

Undrella rolled her eyes. “You humans. So greedy.” She took a deep breath and exhaled. “Very well. He has twenty-nine gnolls left under his command as well as four trained hyenas. Many of the gnolls are no stronger than those you have doubtless faced already. Kardswann’s lieutenant is stronger. He is a flind gnoll named Ugruk. You will known him by his weapon. It is a flindbar.”

“A flindbar?” What on Golarion was that?

“Imagine two light morningstars joined together by a short chain connecting their handles. He wields them capably. There are also many merchants and outcasts within the Battle Market. Some of the would aid Kardwsann, others would not, and still others would fight against him. The smugglers will most certainly stay out of the battle, as will a few of the pit fighters, but the bugbears will fight against you.”

“Are there any prisoners left in the Battle Market?” Kelestair asked.

“The last were killed shortly after you left. But, one of your comrades escaped into Lower Kelmarane. As far as I know he lurks there still.”

“Felliped lives, then,” Kelestair muttered under his breath.

“Is there a woman among the pit fighters?” Santon asked. He shook his head as if to clear it. “A human woman?”

Undrella raised an eyebrow. “There is one.”

Santon nodded, opened his mouth to speak and then closed it. He had either forgotten what he was about to say, or thought better of asking.

Bree cocked her head to the side. Did he know someone who was here, or just hope for some attractive women to save? Knowing Santon it was probably the latter. He had grown bored with both Brotis and Almah, after all. He was smart to let the matter drop before the harpy. She seemed the jealous type.

“One more thing,” Undrella added after a moment. “There are two other beasts under the Kulldis tribe’s control. The first is a dire boar named Old Bonegrinder who can be found in one of the buildings down the street, at the base of the cliff directly south of the Battle Market. He is a foul tempered thing that the gnolls feed daily.”

Bree nodded. So that was one of the creatures they had noticed the other day.

“The second is an antlered, bird-like creature known as a peryton. It devours beating hearts, and has a human-shaped shadow which it steals from its victims. Beware of it. If it darkens the skies above you, run for cover.”

“Is that all?”

Undrella nodded. “Now get out of my lab and go kill Kardswann.”

Santon smiled. “You are my kind of woman.”

Undrella smiled and stroked his cheek with her clawed fingers. “You come see me when you’re done, my pet.” She winked of her crusty eyelashes.

Santon smiled and puffed out his chest.

Bree gagged. Cayden’s codpiece, this was gross! “Come on.” She left the harpy’s lair. Kelestair followed, but Santon stayed behind for a few more moments, posturing before the harpy. Eventually he joined them in the streets.

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