“Running water…rainbow wings…foolish faires…spiritually corrupted bears,” Gravefoot snarled exasperatedly.
Gravefoot had moved out to the edge of the shrine of Erastil trying to ponder what his next map would be. Try as he might, nothing would come to him, and he knew why. He was angry with the dealings of fairies, angry that the poor soul corrupted at the shrine had endured so many years or torment. He was angry that those he traveled with now planned to rest here an entire half a day, instead of riding back to Oleg’s to retrieve Jhod Kavken and bring him here. Mostly though, the marred half-orc knew, he was angry with himself. For here he was, so close to the bandits, according to the damnable fairies, and instead of going to look for her, he was here, doing nothing.
Gravefoot rose from the rock he was seated upon with a flare of his new long coat. “Damn those cowards!” he snarled. aloud “I’ll go after her myself! Let them have their rest. They can rest till they rot. I’ll not sit by and do nothing when there is still daylight and my Lady is with me.”
Storming over to his staff sunk into the marshy earth, Gravefoot was surprised to find a small bird perched atop it. The creature’s mottled feathers blended in perfectly with the surrounding brush. It was kind of squat, and round in proportion, with a large black eye that seemed almost in the middle of the side of its head. Gravefoot waved a hand at the bird as if to “shoo” it away but stopped suddenly as the bird began to let forth a trilling call that sounded like it was saying, “Whip-poor-will. Whip-poor-will.”
Gravefoot toppled over as he tried to grab his own arm, halting his swat at the bird , and at the same time trying to drop to his knees. The whippoorwill was a sacred bird to Pharasma. Gravefoot had heard the sacred birds before, but had never seen one. They mainly came out at dusk and dawn, and their natural coloration and propensity for hiding made the small birds difficult to see even in the light of day. Gravefoot felt foolish as he untangled himself from his coat and began a somber mantra to Pharasma, eyeing the bird atop his staff, trying to match the lilting cadence of the creature’s call.
Gravefoot watched as the bird alighted from the staff and begun to hop along the ground. It stopped not far off, as if waiting for him. He rose slowly and followed the bird to a thick bramble patch, bearing thorns as long as dagger blades. With a quick chirp and flutter of wings the bird was over the bladed undergrowth, and back, over and back, seeming to scold Gravefoot because he was not following.
Grimacing, Gravefoot entered the thorny barrier and slowly began to work his way through. It was painful, and nearly impossible to pick a clear path between the spiked foliage. The whippoorwill chirped and chided Gravefoot , and the faster Gravefoot tried to go, the more he was torn and skewerd by the brambles. Gravefoot’s frustration, not far gone from earlier, began to rise to anew. He let forth a whooping belt of rage, a sound he was able to make because of his orcish heritage he was certain. And yet, the lilting call of the whippoorwill somehow rose above his outcry. Gravefoot looked up at the fluttering bird and suddenly it became clear to him.
“I see now little one. If I am to follow you, it is not enough to try and go the same direction. I must give you the steerage of my course.”
With that Gravefoot rocked his head back, and aligned himself directly under the circling bird. As the bird flitted back and forth, Graveffot followed, eyes always towards the darkening sky. After a time, Gravefoot didn’t know how long or how far, he no longer felt the snag and pull of thorns, and taking his eyes from the now purpling sky, he saw he was clear of the brambles amidst a small clearing encircled by the flora.
The whippoorwill, now a colorless shape as Gravefoot’s darkvision took over, flitted atop a small mound. Gravefoot approached and instantly noted the small stack of stones, now overgrown and half sunk within the marshy earth. The small cairn was erected long before Gravefoot’s time, but here amidst this small clearing it stood unmolested, protected on all sides by the jagged barrier.
Gravefoot was thankful for this gift he had been given, for this simple and somber grave was not always so well protected. It was only amidst season after season that the thorny patch grew and thickened, until finally, this small memorial site was better protected than any kingly crypt. Realization caused Gravefoot to think his anger at his companions inaction foolish and shameful.
“I will return to them if you will show me out friend,” Gravefoot said respectfully the bird.
The whippoorwill replied with a lilting chorus of “Whip-poor-will. Whip-poor-will,” before fluttering into the night sky. Gravefoot once again threw back his head and trusted his guide. As he walked and side-stepped he looked at the countless twinkling stars and nebulae that played out in the tapestry of the clear night sky. The half-orc was over come with a serene appreciation for the cosmic majesty that was the heavens, and how little a place he took up in comparison. Eventually the whippoorwill flew off, disappearing into the starry sky, and Gravefoot saw that he was clear of the patch again, on the shrine side.
Excitedly Gravefoot hurried back to the shrine towards the cave. Digging around in what was left of the despoiled bear’s den, he found the ancient clay chalice half buried, that he had seen earlier when he and Valen found the tattered vestments and despoiled holy symbol. Digging the chalice out, he hurried off to get to work. He sketched diligently, all the while humming holy songs to Pharasma that exited the battered side of his face as slurred whistles and occasional gurgles.
Finally, just before sleep threatened to over take him, Gravefoot had finished his maps. The first looked blank as it lay on the ground, but as it was held up to the lantern light behind it, faint cartographic lines could be seen. If held overhead with the sun behind it, the lines would show bold and bright. With this, Gravefoot would always remember that sometimes a change of perspective is needed to truly get where you need to be. What is more, even the fairies that flitted overhead, whose dealings made him bite back an almost primordial rage, must have thought the company wasted time not taking the best route to where the fey tried to lead them, even though it was not possible for the company to fly.
Lastly, there was the clay chalice, the stem now broken off and stopped with a thick wad of cord and fey braided leather from his saddlebag Gravefoot had destroyed. The inside of the chalice had been sketched with landmarks and general rotes and was now filled with water. Gravefoot pulled the stopper, and slowly the water began to drain out the bottom. As it did, the clearest and safest paths began to show in iridescent ink, contrasted by the moist darkened clay. If one watched, and waited patiently, once the entire chalice was drained, but while the clay was still damp, one could see the safest and surest routes through this section of the Gnarlmarsh.