The three of them made short work of the ogres. Afterward, it took them a little while to find where Devlin was hiding. Devlin was a couple inches taller than Teman. He had a younger face than Teman, but the same black hair and goatee. After they were certain of no more ogre threat in the area, Oren and Martell retrieved their horse and the quartet continued to Abbysta. Teman and Devlin were amenable to the terms of treasure found. They also let Oren and Martell know that there were more forts and ruins in these woods than had been previously thought. Though some predated the Drémore kingdom, others were from times after the kingdom and various forces and bandits that have sought to make the woods their home.
Teman and Devlin were treasure seekers, in their words. Others may not be so kind in their description of the work, putting them little above thieves. They were currently employed by the trade house Tristan in the acquisition of artifacts and curiosities from the old Drémore Kingdom. Devlin was Teman’s apprentice to the business and catching on quickly. They had lists of items that were highly demanded, but everything else was hit or miss. In high demand were art and jewels, this was followed by weapons and armor. Enchanted objects were anybody’s guess as they could be cursed or it could take some time to figure out what they did.
They camped in the woods that evening. It was then that Devlin began the more direct questions, “Martell, you have the crest of Velgrey on you. Are you of that house or are you employed by them? “
“I am employed by them.” She answered plainly.
“Wait, I do know you.” Devlin said looking at Oren, “You run a book shop in Aleto. I had seen you there when I was in there doing research on locations. I did not think your type would go out and actually retrieve their own merchandise. You are after something, what is it?” The growing excitement was evident in Devlin’s voice.
“That is a bit rude,” Teman interjected, correcting his cohort. “You never ask that of a fellow traveler unless he volunteers it.”
“I normally wouldn’t be out here,” smiled Oren. “You are the types who normally keep me stocked. But I got the bug to actually see where these tomes and papers lay. I often wonder if you just retrieve a book at a time and go back when you need more money or if they are truly that scarce. I am sorry for not being to open earlier about it. This is my first venture outside the big city and it is so much to take in. I have had a few rough encounters already so I did not know how much to let you know.”
“Quite alright,” Teman added. “First off, books you would want to pay for are often scarce. Most of what we find has fallen victim to time and decay. Secondly, I am fine with the deception. After all, we have to all protect ourselves out here. Ogres are not the only thing one encounters in the woods. The ogres did a good job of scaring off a fair amount of the wildlife. But I am worried as to what we find inside Abbysta.”
“What do you think would be in there?” asked Martell.
“Well, if it is not sealed, then who knows what has decided to take up residency. The ogres outside mean it is not occupied by any bandit group. If it is still sealed, which I think is a remote possibility, and then there could be any array of traps and wards. There are ways to detect them, but the hard part is disarming them. That is what takes time.”
“Do you have much experience in disarming them?” asked Oren.
“Teman does. He is teaching me the ins and outs of them. Though he will always say I am better than him. If we encounter any we can show you what we know. Hopefully he won’t need to impart too much knowledge on you,” said Devlin.
“You have a dexterity I lack and an affinity to understanding design kid,” retorted Teman
The rest of the travel over to Abbysta was uneventful. Devlin and Teman were right, that the wildlife was kind of scarce. This made catching something for dinner a challenge, and left them relying on their packed rations more than they liked.
The stronghold rose out of the ground towering three to four stories tall. It was hard to tell where the structure started and the forest ended with how overgrown the place was. The large wooden gates had been battered in. The splintered doors had lost their edges due to decay, but still clung to their hinges. The stone work looked to be of similar construction to the old parts of Avo, with holes patched in with stone and bricks as they had been damaged. The wood supports in many areas still looked strong enough to support weight, but not that they would stand a modern day siege. Looking past the doors, they could see a courtyard overgrown in thorns and weeds. It felt as if the forest was struggling to reclaim the interior in contrast to the outside which was covered in vines and plants growing from the cracks.
Teman took the lead. He grabbed a sturdy piece of wood and poked around at the ground just past the door. Slowly checking each stone, there was a sudden click noise followed by some creaking of ancient mechanics in the works. This was followed by the sound of something releasing. “Trap was already set off,” spoke Teman. He motioned to a hole in the wall where something should have shot out. “Simple trap; it occasionally has an arrow or dart left in it. Most times the poison has decayed and just stings briefly.”
They made their way past the doors, taking in the courtyard. On the far end, based on the plants growing there they could see that there had been a garden inside. Some vegetables were past their prime still on the plants. There were two stairways, one to the left and one to the right, leading to the upper levels. There were doors to several rooms off the courtyard. Some looked as if they had been forced open, others still sat closed and intact. Those were the rooms that Teman and Devlin wanted to check first. They methodically started clockwise around the first floor was as good as any direction to take on these. Meanwhile, Martell drew her shorter sword and started to focus on it starting in the same side as the two men had gone. She moved the blade at a slow rate first at the door they were going to open then to the right slowly.
At the door, Devlin pulled out a crystal and started mumbling something as he held it out. The door started to shake and then let out a hiss. Teman reached out to the handle, and then drew back as if he thought better. He went back and grabbed the branch he had been using earlier and pushed the handle down to open the door. Nothing out of the ordinary happened as he pushed the door open. They looked in the room, and saw it filled with miscellaneous equipment. There were some old spears and a couple suits of armor. Devlin pointed over to the wall; there were some old banners from the Drémore Kingdom. Below that was a statue of one of the knights decked out in full armor, on the top of his pike was a serpent’s head. Oren looked through the couple chests in the room, there were a few old coins and a hand held telescope. Devlin and Teman, took what they thought had value leaving the arms and armor behind. Martell prodded at the armaments and was disappointed. A part of her had hoped to find something to add to her collection of blades.
Devlin and Teman continued checking rooms on the first floor. Martell had meanwhile moved up to the second floor, still slowly checking for something. She had not said a word since entering the trancelike state she was in. Oren poked around in the rooms that were already open, looking for anything that may pique his own curiosity. In what must have been a room or office for the commander there was a map of the Drémore Empire. Far better detail than he ever saw, but too large for him to take. It had numerous scrawls of text across it. The notes seemed to reference troop movements or camps. His eyes lit up when he saw the name Erridda on the map in the direction they planned to travel. Underneath was written a word he did not recognize. He called for the three to come meet up with him; maybe one of them would know this language.
Martel and Devlin looked at it and shook their heads no. Teman looked at it and thought for a bit. “That is a term the Drémore Kingdom used to refer to frost sprites. If that is where you are headed, you had best watch out for them. Sure, we are talking hundreds of years since the empire, but once they settle in to one of these places it takes an Exterminator to get them all out. I do not know any myself. But the stronghold Ferneray fell to sprites and is still infested with them to date. I would love to see inside that keep, but I am not insane enough to try and go past the sprites there.”
“That is the word, but it might not mean an infestation. It could also refer to a troop regiment with that banner,” commented Martell. “This place has had several visitors over the years. It may be a warning about here, I have sensed something mischievous here but I am still trying to divine a location. It has to be on the third or fourth floor, the first two are clear. This may be why the place has not been fully looted.”
Teman thought on Martell’s words before speaking, “I agree. The traps and wards we are deactivating would have easily been easily bypassed by simple skills or triggered by someone bent on forcing their way in. Not that there has been any wealth really to be found so far.”
“Teman do you or Devlin have anything to protect you from the influence of sprites?” Martell inquired.
“Yes, though as I am sure you are aware, it is just as often what they already have controlled when they meet you as them controlling one of us.”
“Good, that means we can proceed with finding the sprites here before any more hunting. Oren, stay with the horse and our goods. The three of us will continue searching the last two floors for it.”
Oren milled about where they had cleaned up in the courtyard. He was fine not getting into another melee. The one ogre was more than enough bloodshed to last him the year. He waited down in the courtyard, the horse tide firmly to a tree that had grown in the middle of it. He followed the progress of the three as they rounded each tier. The third floor yielded nothing and they made their way up another level. It was when they entered a room on the top floor that Oren noticed a hawk that had been circling in the sky above the whole time the three had progressed up the keep. It was now that the bird came, diving down at Oren and the horse, bearing its claws. Oren lifter his staff over his shoulder and wielded it like a bat. He took aim, trying to judge when to swing as the hawk drew in on him.
Oren’s first swing was at air as he missed the bird by a bit. The upside was succeeding in having it miss the horse. It was afterward he realized it was the intended target. Oren could detect a faint aura radiating from the bird as if the spirits were driven to hide from it. That was something he had not noticed before, and would watch in the future. Unfortunately, he did not think this would be the last sprite he would have to deal with.
Hearing the commotion in the courtyard the three were racing down the stairs. They saw Oren fighting a hawk. Martell noticed the tactics of the hawk were more thought out than one would expect. Watching his stance, she also picked up it was not him the hawk was after. After a few parry’s by Oren, Martell realized Oren had caught on to this as well. He was clearly using the spirits to shield the two of them as the Hawk’s offenses at times would be halted a distance form Oren or his staff.
Oren finally had a strike hit the hawk to the ground. Martell bounded over as fast as she could to plunge her sword into the bird. The hawk died quickly, while the sprite writhed trying to free itself from controlling the bird before succumbing to the wound. Devlin and Teman mentioned nothing of Oren’s combat style or how he managed to keep the sprite at bay. They were however quite thankful to be rid of the threat.
Martell retrieved her sword and went back to concentrating. After some more time passed of slowly circling she announced, “There was no further presence she was aware of. Oren and I will make a round outside the hold and make sure there is nothing lurking outside. You can continue with opening up the remaining sealed rooms.”
“I agree, best to play our strengths.” Teman replied. “Come along Devlin we will go up to the second floor, There should be more interesting collections up there.”