Chapter 21: Into the Undead Lion's Den
Very early morning of 7th of Dasad, 1331 Avard.
Rather than ride towards the east with the sun full in their eyes, the party waited at Lo-Kag's bequest for the sun to rise a bit higher before they moved on. They could clearly see the trail of broken frost the undead had made in the dark of night, though the plains seemed empty of any more. Falkrin used his warlock's powers to stun and kill several voles who made the mistake of searching about in the early morning light. Navit helped himself to a second breakfast.
Once the sun had risen high enough, the party mounted back up, and headed into the rising sun. Within a mark, they had reached the edge of a small forest. Navit said that the forest was the exclusive property of the duke, but he remembered a time when other humans had been here and tried to clear the forest. The dwarves had crushed those humans, and the land was left fallow for a long time. The forest was smaller than Navit remembered, but it had been some time since he had laid eyes on it, favoring the more eastern side of the duchy for travel.
Frost and ice coated the bare tree limbs, though the occasional evergreen was also coated in ice from a storm that occurred before the party's arrival.
Not far into the forest, they came across freshly dug graves – dug from the wrong side. The broken frost clearly indicated the eighteen formerly buried individuals moving off towards the east, though for how far or when they might turn was anyone's guess.
Johannes, ever in touch with the land and nature, took time to speak to one of the elder trees near the edge of the unmarked graveyard. The tree responded, slowly but steadily, telling him that the call of the fallen had come from the east. Meredith's air elemental spirit companion could speak with other spirits that still lay about the land, and the monosyllabic answers indicated that the undead were bound to someone or something.
Further into the forest, proceeding at a hard pace to make for Fasra, the party found the eighteen undead. Meredith's spirit companion indicated that the undead had set up an ambush for the party, but the party delayed too long in acting – and the ambushers attacked. Johannes, as he had done before daylight, rushed in to deal with the undead. Phantom bows of necromantic energies appeared in the skeleton's hands, and he was nearly cut down by dark arrows of energy.
The rest of the group moved quickly, Navit being left behind to hold the horses – though he could barely control his own. The battle was swiftly over as the eighteen skeletons rushed in to the flanking group. Lo-Kag took quite a number of dark arrow shots, simply holding his ground in anger and letting the skeletons attack him long enough for the others to move into position – and then Lo-Kag's anger let him destroy skeleton after skeleton with his executioner's axe. Crossbow bolts from Meredith, blasts of grayish energy from Falcrin, and smitings from Johannes' mace, combined with Grania's swords to fell the skeletons.
Two of the undead had been caught by Meredith's spirit companion, each attacking the other without any real harm – save the harm of being the last skeletons to go down.
Navit had been hit, and very nearly killed, by quite a number of the dark arrows that disappeared after striking – and left angry black wounds of dead flesh, sometimes dead all the way down to bone.
Meredith roused Navit from near death with a song so haunting that the Scavenger of Souls drew back. Johannes helped Navit to rouse, and the tough dwarf was grateful, though a bit peevish.
The rest of the morning transpired with far less trouble, and just before noon, they found themselves on the edge of the forest, along the wide West Cold River – on the wrong side of the bank. Navit said that the water was hardly ever over his head, and so the party rode their horses across – though some had trouble with their mounts, and wound up in the rather bone-chilling water.
Fasra was the heart of the duchy. Duke Talon Bhramord had been in charge of Kur Maeth during the War of the Four Winds, when the Inquisition attacked Rakore. Then High Prelate Talon Bhramord switched sides, rebelling against the Inquisition, and taking some 40,000 men and women with him over to the side of Rakore. Former mage-hunters had become mage-protectors. It was obvious to the party that the small town of a thousand people was dominated by the still under construction ducal keep, though the majority of the keep and one tower was up already, and the walls were still under construction.
On the far side of the river, several armed men in bright yellow tabards with the sigil of twin crossed swords met the group. Meredith charmed them at the same time Falkrin and Kag made them quite wary and fearful of trouble. The city guardsmen were quite accommodating to Johannes, thinking him Father Torak due to his symbol of Arpelos. When pressed for the location of Master Heinz's tower, none of the guard seemed to know – nor did anyone the party asked along the way to the lone inn.
They parted ways with Navit Flintspark, Meredith giving him his pay even his mount, for which he was quite grateful. This almost caused a row with Grania, but money changing hands solved the problem, as Grania had originally purchased all the mounts for the trip.
The Spinning Leaf had a fair number of merchants in it, and there the party split up. Meredith and Lo-Kag went in search of the tower, while Johannes and Falkrin hunted about for goods or information. Grania remained in the inn's bar, talking with a number of soldiers in the way of soldiers everywhere.
The party regrouped later that afternoon, and Johannes had some presents for Grania and Lo-Kag – oils of anointment that would allow their blades to strike even insubstantial undead.
No one seemed to know where the mage's tower was, and it was obviously protected somehow – though in what way was anyone's guess. Falkrin and Johannes together had a formidable knowledge of the arcane, coupled with Meredith's innate understandings of magic. That Toirin had been scried upon made them reconsider many conventional spells, but whatever was protecting people from even remembering where it was meant considerable enchantments, indeed.
Worse, Grania had heard rumors that the town was not quite protected against the undead, yet. The city guard had seen things breaking the current in the river, in the last few weeks – but nothing in town itself.
The group learned from the innkeeper that Master Heinz took his meals in the evening tower, and his servant Ghed routinely came for the meal. If they wanted to talk with Ghed about making an appointment, then that would be the time. The group sat in for a good rest, and waited, while Meredith earned a fair amount of coin from the merchants and guardsmen whom had not had a good entertainer in a long time; the last time a minstrel had even been through was a week before.
Ghed made his arrival at close to sundown, and Johannes immediately began talking it up with the twelve year old cynic who brushed the prior off with ease. Relentless, Johannes fell into his best farm-hick-preacher role, to keep the boy off-guard, while all the rest of the party followed at discreet distances – or not-so-discreet in some cases.
The boy went north along the West Cold River, between the marked off sheep pasture that was the 'graveyard', the temple, and the still-under-construction keep. And then he walked into a shimmering of nothing and disappeared with the covered dish on hand.
Lo-Kag, frustrated by the total lack of action, and invigorated by knowing the enemy was near, rushed in after the boy – and promptly rushed right out, confused as to what happened. Meredith explained what had happened, and Kag turned right back and around and rushed into an empty pasture – only to walk right back out, his mind blanked so hard he thought he had just been at the Spinning Leaf. Again Meredith patiently explained things while the rest looked on, and again Kag rushed into the empty pasture – and walked right out, wondering how they had gotten across the river.
Falkrin and Johannes refused to rush into an arcane situation they could not see, and yet they blatantly began surveying the graveyard next to the 'empty pasture' where the tower was. Sheep got out of the group's way as they paced out the graveyard, searching for indications of undead.
Several guardsmen in bright yellow tabards called out to the group in the twilight, asking what they were doing. Again Johannes was mistaken for Father Torak at first, but the situation was soon explained. The guardsmen wanted the group to talk with the chamberlain, since the duke was visiting Mount Basilisk, and Johannes assured him they would, though later. The guard revisited the keep, under construction by torchlight even into the night.
At the doorstep to the temple, an older man in white robes with a blue shawl over his shoulders watched the party search the graveyard.
After the first pass, Johannes and the rest finally approached the older man cautiously. He identified himself as Father John Culpepper, a Vicar of Yatindar. He graciously asked them into his temple, though the group felt that any Inquisition priest so close to an evil mage's tower had to be aligned with the mage to tolerate him. Some of the group were distinctly uncomfortable, though others were more tolerant. Johannes asked questions, and received honest answers – that the undead were, indeed, stirring. Johannes avoided asking about Master Heinz at first, asking leading questions and assessing the older man.
The hilts of the longswords the group had taken off of the undead in their very early morning battle, were well-received by the priest. The front of the nave held a small library all its own along it, save where the steps were, and from that library a large tome was pulled and set on the nave. Father John turned for a moment, and found the description of the hilts: they had belonged to a Defender Paladin of Yatindar known as Rebecca Fand. She had been lost some time during the War of the Four Winds, presumed killed by the ograns, over two years before.
Still somewhat unsettled, Johannes left the temple, taking on the form of a great hawk and taking to the cold night's air. Grania and Falkrin remained outside the temple, watching the fog rise up off the river. Meredith asked the former Inquisitor cutting questions – and yet the old man responded well. The priest was atoning for the mages he had killed as an Inquisitor, by protecting the mages in Rakore.
High above in the dark of night, Johannes could see the town lit by the red light of Maroth, and the small patches of golden light from some buildings, and the many torches where the keep was being worked on. He saw nothing where the tower should supposedly be, though he tried with his powerful eyes to see anything that might be there.
And then he realized, he was not alone in the heights. He was being hunted.
Very late on the evening of the 8th of Dasad, 1331 Avard.
Each player received 1500 experience points for playing.
Johannes Whermak: 20305 XP (9th level)
Grania: 20255 XP (9th level)
Meredith: 15750 XP (8th level)
Lo-Kag: 14750 XP (8th level).
Falkrin: 13750 XP (8th level). *Level Up!*
The following notes represent the 'behind the scenes' and 'post op' actions of the players and the Dungeon Master.
We had planned on just meeting at my place and just playing some Settlers of Cataan while Jalinda worked, when we got word Jalinda would be available that night! She wanted to play! We quickly got ahold of everyone, and after some Benny Hill style scrambling and running around, met up at John and Jalinda's again.
It's funny how, as a DM, things never go quite according to plan. From my side, the party's actions were nearly inexplicable, and just as unpredictable. Yet everyone at the table's looking at me as though there cannot be any way I wouldn't think they would do as they did, or things wouldn't pan out exactly as the DM predicts. Perhaps I'm just an agent of chaos lightly chained by the game rules of Law. Nah. I'm the Diet Coke of evil. Mwuah, ha, ha!
'Tis easier to see what MUST be done when you know the whole of it. We're doing what seems reasonable(in character at least.. or maybe not). Maybe we need to reassess exactly what it is we're doing there in a strange place with strange people.
OR we can just charge in and have a helluva battle before we re-roll characters… YEAH!
I like my creepy little halfling.
Ross must be prescient.
I do think we need to think about what we are doing here instead of going along with our “diet-coke of evil” DM just to attempt and advance the story. We may end up with our own purpose.