Bree and her comrades left the chapel and returned to the ruined nave. Fudin crept at the front of the line with Nes directly behind him, wand readied. Santon and Bree walked behind them, though this time with their swords drawn. They would not be taken be surprise again.
Fudin led them through the nearest archway into a five foot wide corridor lined on one side with broken and marred bas-relief sculptures and on the other with archways leading into a mess of overgrown branches and weeds. The hallway led both east and south, seeming to circle around the courtyard. The sculptures were marred and worn, some even purposefully broken, while the courtyard was overgrown with huge branches and weeds. It was barely possible to see a few feet into the tangled mess. Bree eyed it cautiously for a moment, before nodding.
It was a cloister walk. In happier times the dedicated of this temple would have paced along the hallways, contemplating the religious iconography along the walls, with the open air courtyard in between. Now it was little more than a reminder of how far the monastery had fallen.
Fudin peered into the courtyards leafy boughs. “I see nothing moving within.”
Bree turned her attention to the walls. The first mural depicted five bearded men before an ominous looking mountain. They all bore triumphant smiles upon their faces and seemed to be somehow larger than life. They each rode upon wind and clouds. Some of their arms and hands were missing, though those that remained carried distinctive weapons. One of the warriors held a large axe, while another held a fragment of what must have once been a regal staff. Beneath their feet the stone carving bore a name for each of the men: Kardswann, Pazhvann, Vardishal, Zayafid and Davashuum.
“The Templars of the Five Winds.” Nes mused over her shoulder. “And the Pale Mountain before them.”
Bree nodded. “What else do you know of them?”
Nes sighed. “Not much, I’m afraid. They are not well known where I am from. In fact, if I myself were not a devotee of Sarenrae, I would not have recognized them.”
Bree arched an eyebrow and eyed Nes. She had not seen him as a religious man, though they were often well educated. In her experience, nobles paid little more than lip service to deities, and often only when they wanted something. It made sense, though, she supposed, that a man who used fire as a weapon would worship Sarenrae. She was a good goddess, also known as the Dawnflower, bringer of the sun. She was passionate and determined and had powers over the sun, fire, heat, and the deserts, as well as of healing, and redemption. She often battled the forces of evil, and offered hope and protection to the downtrodden. Bree smiled. Though not her own patron, it was an admirable faith.
Nes continued without noticing her regard. “Each was said to be associated with a specific aspect of the wind, and each wielded a distinct, highly potent magic weapon. It seems that Davashuum wielded a staff,” he said, pointing out one of the figures upon the wall, “and Kardswann a great axe, but I know no more.”
“Come.” Fudin said from further along the wall they were examining. “There are two rooms ahead.”
Bree and Nes continued on, after Fudin and Santon.
The first room appeared to be a small chapel, probably meant for personal prayer and contemplation. It had brightly painted walls which, in comparison to the muted colours and reserved architecture of the rest of the monastery, seemed almost garish. Numerous rectangular wooden plates traced in gold filigree jutted out from the walls. They depicted a strapping warrior battling creatures of fire, riding a chariot on the wind, and engaging in other acts of heroism. It was the same figure depicted elsewhere in the monastery, but the sheer number of images of him here was staggering. Opposite the door, dominating a section of the north wall, stood a man-sized statue of the warrior. He held his arms out in front of him, as if he were waiting to be handed an offering. Several deep rents ran across the face and arms of the statue. Someone had tried to break it in the past. With an axe.
“This shrine must have been especially important to the clerics who honoured Vardishal as a saint of Sarenrae.” Nes said aloud. “Though someone obviously bore great displeasure for him before the end.”
“No danger.” Fudin cut in. He turned and left the room the way they had come. Santon followed, although Bree and Nes lingered for a moment, glancing at the history etched upon the walls.
The second room off of the cloister walk was a small antechamber, which was carved with winged women, the sun, fire and sun bursts, as well as images of people prostrate in prayer, or healing the wounded with brilliant light. They were iconography common among the Dawnflower’s faithful. At the back of the antechamber was an archway leading to an austere, octagonal chamber with a tall roof. A ring of leering gargoyles circled the room’s circumference. A layer of gore, animal carcasses, matted leaves and droppings covered the floor and the entire room stunk of rotting meat, dried blood and animal excrement.
Bree gagged. Cayden’s curse, what a smell!
Santon and Fudin stood in the center of the room on edge. They peered warily at the stone carvings of gargoyles on the walls. Bree held her scimitar out before her, while Nes aimed his wand at the roof. They waited there, for a few tense moments, but the gargoyles never moved.
A screech sounded from the roof, followed by the sickly flap of fleshy wings. From the highest corners of the roof, where the shadows were darkest, a trio of stirges, giant mosquito like flying mammals, dove down towards them.
Bree squealed and slashed frantically at them but missed in her haste. Fudin singled out out and breathed lightning up at it. His target ducked under the line of crackling electricity, and jabbed its long proboscis deeply into Nes’ chest, piercing flesh and bone. Nes screamed, as the creature latched onto him. It drank his blood in deep gulps.
Santon swung his sword at one of the stirges and sliced off part of its wings. It screeched and went careening to the ground in a bloody, twitching spiral. Santon was upon it in a moment, and impaled it upon his sword.
Bree slashed frantically at a stirge, holding it at bay, but never striking it.
Nes howled in pain and dropped to the floor. Fudin threw himself upon the stirge who drank off of his brother and tried to pull it off, but it did not loosen its hold. Nes screamed, and then lost consciousness.
“No!” roared Fudin. He punched and kicked at the creature as it continued to feed of of his brother.
Santon stepped forward and sliced the stirge’s proboscis off midway. It severed in a spray of blood while Santon sliced the rest of the creature in half. Fudin crouched overtop of Nes and pulled the remainder of the creatures proboscis out of his chest. Nes appeared deathly pale. He didn’t move.
Finally, Bree struck the frantic stirge which flew around her, slicing its belly open, and then its throat. It fell to the ground with a slick thud. She looked across the room to where Fudin poured both of his healing potions down his brother’s throat. Nes’ wounds closed and slowly the colour returned to his cheeks.
They had already used up half of their potion stores provided to them by Father Zastoran. Bree shook her head. This was like a celebration with dry kegs.
Nes groaned upon the floor.
Fudin helped him carefully to his feet. “Never do that again, my brother.”
Nes frowned. “Never speak of that again.”
Santon, covered in the blood of both the stirges and Nes, paced around the room. He placed his hands against the wall and pushed. It shifted slightly. “There’s a hidden door here,” he said.
Bree moved forward to help try to open it, but Santon pushed her away. He stepped back, roared and kicked the stone door in with a great heave.
Bree stared at him with wide eyes. “Sweet barleybrew!” Santon was not himself.
He peeked his head into the next room, looked both ways and then entered. “Garden,” he muttered. He began to dig through the debris and goods upon the ground.
Bree shook her head. He was looting! She left the room, but was soon drawn back by the clatter of coins. She was still poor after all…
Santon had scrounged up just over forty gold worth of loose coins, a fine looking silver bowl, and a small chime, which Nes requested to examine further.
“It a chime of opening,” he explained excitedly, as his brother stuffed the silver bowl and some coins into a small sack at his side. “It will open any door or portal, but will get weaker each time it is used, until it breaks.” He smiled and placed it in one of his robes many pockets. Santon handed Bree a handful of coins and stalked out of the room. The others followed.
The second wall of the cloister walk bore a marred sculpture of the Templars of the Five Winds in battle against hordes of foul creatures. Some appeared to be composed at least partly of fire while others were warriors with weapons bonded onto their flesh. Most were beings Bree couldn’t even begin to describe. In the background was the Pale Mountain and over it two titanic figures fought. One had the demonic visage of an efreeti – a genie tied to the elemental plane of fire, while the other was a gorgeous female djinn – a genie tied to the elemental plane of air.
The third wall abutted what must have been the outer wall of the monastery itself and featured three separate panels of sculpture. In the first scene, Vardishal took leave of his Templar companions who rose off into the heavens. In the second scene Vardishal was skewered by a flaming half man, half snake creature wielding a spear. In the final scene Vardishal appeared twice, once on the ground with a wound in his back, and once standing over this form, looking down upon it sadly.
“The death of Vardishal?” Bree asked aloud. Nes limped over to her side, slowly.
“Looks like it, though I had not heard that any of them had died at all before now.” He shrugged, clearly tired.
Bree walked with Nes along the final wall. Here, Vardishal was depicted preaching to a variety of human clerics from throughout the long history of the monastery. The first image showed him manifesting in a spiritual manner to a small group of pilgrims of Sarenrae, another showed him conversing to a man clad in religious finery while the monastery itself was constructed in the background. Thereafter followed a procession of similar poses, each depicting a visit by Vardishal to the leader of each era of the temple. Each bore a worn identifying inscription, complete with dates that spanned the last several hundred years. The most recent carving was from thirty years ago, and while ample room remained for additional carvings, the last thirty feet or so were completely blank.
Bree frowned. “That’s it. This is when everyone here died.”
Nes nodded. “All things end.”
“Come, brother!” Fudin interrupted. He pointed to an archway further ahead. He sounded worried. Santon was nowhere to be seen.
“Let us follow, Bree.” Nes said regally, using her name for the first time. “We are wanted.”
Bree smiled, stepping in front of him and led the way. He seemed tired and could use her protection. “Ladie’s first.”