OUR HEROES: Tira Wolfsdaughter Hank Woodman Haiku Odsdottir Gilead Persia


21. Coralia

he Columbia reaches the island of Harrock without incident. Gilead arranges training and sparring sessions for the crew. Some resistance is given by Slick and Persia, but for the most part, all participate willingly. Persia continues to avoid Kamlak.

Upon arriving at Coralia, the adventurers discover that the city's harbor is protected by an ingenious series of spirit shutters. These great doors can open or shut upon command. There is a vast network of them that can form any number of mazes. By hailing the watch, the Columbia is recognized and allowed to enter.

Crockett tells the crew that he has come to Coralia to seek the knowledge of Tevlin the Old, a sailor who has travelled much of the coastline of the Lantic Ocean. This was his last known abode and he might be found in the taverns along the waterfront. Several parties are formed. There is some initial distrust in allowing Kamlak ashore, since the party is convinced he is a trouble magnet. In the end, he is given leave, though. Tira wishes to see the Standing Stones of Coralia while she is here. Gilead agrees and decides to accompany her, along with Farallon. Gilead has posted a bodyguard for each adept. Tira is guarded by Haiku, as always. Farallon is watched by Exxon.

Hank and Persia take one party (including Exxon) along the eastern shore of the center island. They inquire into many taverns, bars, and inns before finally receiving word that Tevlin frequently stays at a very nice establishment on the north end, the Marlinspike. They reach this area by noontime. Indeed they find Tevlin and convince him to help them. About this time, Kamlak and his party (the otter Tip and the squirrel Preston) burst into the inn. Kamlak loudly offers a bottle of the house's finest wine to whoever will lead him to Tevlin. Hank immediately speaks up, pointing across the table, saying, "He's over here." True to his word Kamlak purchases him a bottle of wine. (Actually, he overpays for three, since he doesn't bother to change a gem from his belt pouch.)

Meanwhile, Tira, Gilead and Farallon, (along with Haiku) go to see the Standing Stones of Coralia. They are collectively called the Coral Crown. When Tira goes to touch them, something unexpected happens. She has the same kind of reaction that she had under the guidance of Ningan with the Dancers of Dawn. Her companions look about concerned, and a little self-conscious as she loses awareness and is drawn into communion with the stones. Her cries and moans bring about the attention of one of the Masters standing nearby. He introduces himself as Torus, High Sage of the Library, a title which means little to them. Nevertheless, he explains Tira's reaction. She must be a Sympath, one of those very rare individuals who can truly commune with the Stones of the Prometheans. He clears the area of other folk, so that Tira can finish. This indicates that he is a person of fairly high station, probably a Grandmaster.

Several people have been approached by a merchant who claims to be interested in the doings of Kamlak. He is also interested in any news of a master named Sarko. No one of the party is very helpful to him, even though he promises substantial remuneration. Kamlak is convinced not to approach the merchant, since it may wind up in a fight, but he watches from a nearby rooftop. When asked about it, he does not recall ever having met the man. However, when he is told about inquiries to Sarko, he becomes quiet and anxious to go back to the ship.

Once back, Tevlin is taken to the Rivermaster, where he informs them that there is no seaway that will take them all the way to Tronto. He tells them that there was once a canal that went from the Hudson River to the lake. Hank declares that a canal that long is an eerie idea. (boom-chuk). They decide to go with the original Sanlorenz Seaway idea, however. They also decide to purchase some trade goods, since high-quality steel work is rare in the Kabekki lands.

Later, Kamlak is consulted about his strange reticence and desire to leave port. After much prompting, he reveals to them that in the far city of Mingatok the Wicked, he was hired by Master Sarko to retrieve (steal) a mystic Gem from their Archon. He delivered the gem, but was caught afterward and left to hang while Sarko fled. Kamlak was imprisoned for three years, enduring something so terrible he will not speak of it. He eventually escaped and tracked down Sarko, slaying him and pitching the gem into the depths of the sea. He had thought Sarko dead until now, but the Master seems to have incredible regenerative abilities. The party is shocked to hear that Sarko's description matches that of the strange master who stole Annihilator and is now a prisoner of the Archon Ningan.
Apparently Grinnda, the Archon of Mingatok, uses vampires as agents; this is why they terrify the otherwise fearless warrior. He claims he will die before returning to her clutches.

They are again shocked later that evening to learn that Preston is missing. He had gone on shore leave with several other beasts. While answering a call of nature, he disappeared and has not been heard of since. Several crew members go out to search: Gilead, Hank, and Farallon (and thus Exon as well). They search in vain for hours. Much of Coralia is made up of deserted buildings. The economic slump has hit them hard, presumably.

Finally, with Char's help, they track him to a deserted warehouse, many blocks away. Farallon can clearly see him in a cellar with his spirit sight. They believe that he has been kidnaped so that a vampire of him can enter the ship's crew. They decide to leave him there under surveillance, and wait for the vampire to show up at the ship. Farallon and Exon stay behind.

The next morning, Tira and Gilead decide to take up the High Sage's offer to visit the library. Here Gilead is allowed to peruse the map room in depth, where there are preserved fragments of ancient maps. Tira has an interview with the sage, wherein she learns much about Sympaths. She is also offered a free education if she would agree to write a Book from the Coral Crown. She politely declines. The High Sage warns her that other cities might force her to do so and that she should be cautious.

Later, while Hank is loading trade goods, he is approached by a raven he believes to be Hugin. A good deal of confusion ensues and the bird is briefly suspected of being the vampire until he is revealed to be Munin, Hugin's brother, who has a message for Haiku. When the carriage with Tira and Gilead returns, Munin delivers a message to Haiku from her cousin Kenku. She does not speak of the message for some time.

Abut this time, a second Preston appears. He claims to have been kidnaped, taken to the warehouse they are watching and examined by the merchant they suspect of being a vampire. He says he escaped last night and has been trying to avoid his captors for some time. Although nothing in his story is impossible, it does seem less plausible than the other Preston's, after his subsequent rescue. Exon and Hank burst open the cellar door while Farallon shines his lumina. The captor is nearly slain, while Preston receives a slight cut to the throat.

This Preston's story is the same, save that he did not escape and was held there all night. The crew is at a loss. They need to get underway, but they are not quite sure how to prove which Preston is genuine and which is a spy.

After much debate, they decide to inflict a small wound upon the unwounded squirrel, the one who was not rescued from the warehouse. Although Preston is nervous, he submits. Even though there is no lumina, the wound remains without any miraculous closure. They decide to wait a while. If it takes effort for the vampire to keep the wounded open, then perhaps after ten minutes or so...

Before the ten minutes are up, Preston's guards call the heros back. "Preston" is changing shape before their very eyes. His hair is falling out and his eyes are beginning to bulge in a freakish manner. After fighting down initial revulsion, they attack. Unfortunately, even in mid-transformation, the vampire still has a formidable skill in avoiding a hit. They chase him throughout the cabin area and down into the hold. All this time the vampire is growing smaller. He even sprouts a set of insect wings. Down in the hold, Tira is shining her lumina on him, while Haiku guards her. Gilead lands a telling blow, stunning the creature. Finally, Kamlak, either overcoming his fear of vampires or perhaps ignorant of what he is fighting, emerges from the engine room and strikes the finishing blow. The vampire turns to dust before their eyes. Hank collects what he can of the remains, though even they seem to be decomposing.

The real Preston is relieved to be cleared and immediately released. Crockett gives the order to leave port and the Columbia begins the trip to Ungava.

After sunset, Tira notices Haiku bidding farewell to Munin. There are tears in her eyes. When questioned, Haiku admits that Hugin brought her news from her cousin Kenku. Kenku has returned to Yzlon and has requested her help in restoring the Hraapsklani to prominence. She has refused, citing her loyalty and devotion to Tira. Haiku has been deeply impressed by the Paladins of Merikia and hopes to become one when Tira achieves Grandmastery. Tira implores her to reconsider and even goes so far as to take Haiku to Crockett and ask his advice on how she might be returned home. Crockett mentions several options, most of which depend on a lot of luck. Haiku has several days to decide, basically until the Columbia passes Baffin Island, the last landfall the Yzlonder raiders are likely to frequent..

The next day passes uneventfully until just before nightfall. Hank is startled to see a huge bird pass overhead. At the same time he hears a cry from the crow's nest. Persia has been grabbed by one of the gigantic avians and is being carried away in its talons. A fierce fight ensues. Tira and Haiku figure out how to use the ballista. The birds are big and slow moving. Though arrows have little effect, they are easy targets for the ballista and for the water cannon, which has been manned by Hank. Tip is grabbed, too, but Hank knocks his captor from the sky. In the end, Persia's bird is out of range. They dispatch Hugin and direct the Columbia to give chase. Hugin follows until he is in danger of being too exhausted to return. He reports that the bird has followed an erratic course inland, effortlessly gliding on its huge wings. They spend that night and the next day in searching with the Columbia and the Raven, but it is hopeless. Persia is lost.