Where the heroes try to track down the Necromancer.
They went north to the road, tendrils of undead power creeping off into the woods to the north, but the majority seems to come from across the river up into the mountains. It is raw power, unformed and it looks like a dark purple mist, a low lying fog.
By the bridge, the power flows across river, but it doesn’t appear to cross the river in other places. Based on Ember’s knowledge of undead, flowing water is anathema to undead as well. They decide to cross the bridge and walk aways up the mountain.
As they approach the bridge, Spring holds out his hands, gesturing them to stop. “Seems like I see some kind of magic spell on the bridge.”
Ember asks, “Oh? What’s it do?”
“I can’t really tell yet. It is subtle.”
Meander asks, “Do you want to take some time?”
“Ok, we’ll hold.” says Ember.
The spell was being masked, so it’s surprising that he saw it. As he begins to study it, he can start to pick it apart. It is essentially an alarm spell meant to alert someone if the bridge is crossed. “Hey. Hold on there a second. This is an alarm. Let me see if I can fix it. Why don’t I see if I can disrupt it?”
Meander asks, “Will that set it off?”
After thinking about the problem, dispelling the alarm may also trigger the alarm. However, it might be able to be fooled. The spell is very small, which is why it can be concealed well, but that also means it won’t be very perceptive. Spring can create a magical aura that would essentially blind it with a magical field.
Meander says, “Well, we don’t have to cross the bridge.”
ToughBark says, “The water is fairly treacherous here.”
“Do you have any way to tell, if this went off,” Ember asks, “where it would alert back to?”
“Only if it goes off. I can create a false aura that would fool it, but I’ll have to take some time to do it.”
Spring gets out his a book from his pack and begins flipping through the pages. He picks up a small rock and sets it in front of him. After a few minutes, he begins to chant and gesture about the rock and it develops a warm glow. He puts up his book, picks up the rock, and slowly moves over towards a spot on the bridge, holding the rock in front of him. He sets the rock down, and creeps back towards the group. “I think that did it.” There was no visible changes in the spell. “I think we are probably ok. We can probably cross as long as we don’t make too much racket.”
They walk across the bridge and follow the fork that travels up the trail towards the Crucible, not the one that goes around the mountains to the south. If they stayed on this trail, there is rumored to be a pass through the mountains, but it is claimed to be perilous, riddled with falls and steep climbs. They walk for about ten minutes before Ember waves them to a halt, activating his magical sight. A concentrated flow of necromantic energy rolls down this trail. It appears to be flowing right down the mountain. “Ya’ll have been up here more than I have. What’s up there near this Crucible place.”
“Well, the trail goes up a ways up the mountain. Then it kind of levels off a bit and opens up. The Crucible is built into the side of the mountain. We haven’t done much more exploring around there. But the townsfolk said that there were all kinds of caves that peppered the hillside”
“Well, it is coming from that general area. I’m not sure we are up for a scrape tonight. There are some things I need to do before I come up here.”
Spring asks, “The other trail back there, did you see anything going down that way? Or are all the tendrils coming down here. When we got across the bridge, did you look again with your sense, or whatever you are sensing.”
“I didn’t see anything really travel down the river. It was mainly just flowing over the bridge. I’ll check it on the way back. Let’s head back, I don’t really want to head up here tonight.”
They start walking back, stopping at the fork before the bridge. It is not moving down the fork beside the river. It it free flowing towards the bridge, but it doesn’t seem directed. It seems to be flowing down the roads. The roads seem the least lifeless area, everything is stamped down to nothing.
Spring asks, “Does it look like it is flowing from the Crucible to the graveyard?”
“It is flowing down from up there,” Ember says, “and I know it goes to the graveyard. I’m not sure if it goes past it or not. It also flows north up the road as well.”
“Is this the fog from the diary?”
ToughBark says, “No, that’s not the same mists. I can’t see these mists here, but the mists around Arch you can see, and you don’t come out easily.”
“I suggest we go back and get geared up to go find what is causing this.”
Meander agrees, “It would be nice to be prepared for once.”
“I’m going to need a couple of days. It didn’t look like it was going to overwhelm the defenses of that graveyard immediately, but it will soon. Any problems with that?”
Broken shakes his head. Meander seems hesitant, obviously wanting to peruse this now.
Spring says with a sigh, “No. That might give me a chance to finish my enchanting that I wanted to do.”
As they head back, the first brushes of dawn begin to lighten the sky. They had a nap the day before, but they are all tired. They crash for a few hours and are awoken by mid-morning.
Ember studies with SandPiper over the next two days, trying work on tackling the basics of working with arcane fire. They can’t study in the inn, no fires outside the hearth are allowed in the inn. He is a quick study on the basics, having a strong background in magic, a firm working knowledge of divine fire and a tolerance for getting burned. He doesn’t flinch or have his distraction waver at bursts of flame, which trouble most apprentices.
After quite a while, Ember noted from watching SandPiper, that alcohol not only makes the hand gestures that you have to make to pattern fire wilder and therefore the fire gets bigger, but it also catches on fire itself. SandPiper has to pat some fire off his arm where he spilled some whiskey earlier, “Ahh, time to switch to ale, it doesn’t burn as nicely.”
Spring leaves quickly to go work in the wagon on his magical baton. He is enchanting some type of spell matrix which would allow spells to be stored in the rod. The matrix will allow six spells to be stored per day, with each one lasting up to a minute. Broken also goes to the wagon to study in the research lab. He is working on some sort of spirit possession spell, allowing the spirit of stone to make him stronger.
Meander goes by Laurel’s on the first day, dropping off the two new potions, magical potency and intelligence, for her to research and add to her potion cookbook. He asks if she could prepare a new set of potions for the next day. He requests two of each; Heal, Cure Disease, and Cure Poison. She has had time to figure out the strength and willpower potion, and can make those now. She also has found some natural antidotes to some of the poisons they have brought in.
During one of his breaks, Ember suggests to Meander to go back out to talk to ShadesCough, to see if he knows what might be creating the necromantic energy that is flowing down the hill from the mountains. While he wants for someone to show up to go with him, he decides to go play for a bit at the wagon, testing the spell he stole from the Bug Master, the one with animal noises. Calling upon the voice of the cow make him stronger, the cat more agile. The bear makes him tougher. The horse makes him run faster, and the frog makes him swim faster.
Meander comes back and meets with ToughBark. They both head out to talk to ShadeCough, strength in numbers and all. Arriving at the shack, they knock and Vale answers, barely opening the door just wide enough for his head.
“Hello Vale, we need to talk to your father for a bit. Is he around.”
“Ok. He is busy, but I’ll tell him.” Vale closes the door, distinctly not letting them in.
After a short pause, ShadesCough opens the door, and does not invite them in, as usual. He stands there with a scowl on his face.
Meander starts, “We had an interesting night at the graveyard. The priest that was with us, Ember, was able to see the energies clashing with the sides of the graveyard. We followed it down the road to the bridge, and it goes into the mountains. And uh… We are going to go up there and try to find out what’s causing this, but uh.. we wanted to know if you knew of anything up there that could be the source of this, before we walk into something.”
They stare at each other for a long pause before he speaks. “I’ve never heard of any necromancers up in the mountains. It’s always Giants and Orcs and Dwarves.”
“That was what I was afraid of. I just don’t know what we are going into. Any information is better than none. Do you know how long this has been going on?”
“Not very long. I noticed it starting getting bad about a week ago.”
“Oh, so it has gotten bad pretty quickly?”
“Well, it could’ve been creeping up before then and I just didn’t notice.”
“Ember is taking a few days to prepare. Do you think these,” Meander gestures at the stone columns in the cemetery fence. There is a ward above each of the columns. “…will hold for a few more days.”
He scowls and says, “Maybe.”
“Alright. What happens if it doesn’t hold?”
“Things will start getting up.”
Meander runs his hands through his hair nervously. “Ohhh.”
“I’ll tell Vermin to be careful. He doesn’t have the same protections that I do.”
“Who is Vermin?”
“He is my grave digger. I don’t dig em myself.”
“I guess I’ve never met him.”
“Yeah, the towns people don’t like him. They usually don’t let him come around.” There is a long pause as Meander seems to struggle with more questions. “On second though, I don’t think I want him around either. Perhaps I’ll just put some wards on his shack.”
“Well, if you think of anything, we are going to be heading up. Not tomorrow, but the next day. Please let us know.”
“Well, I will tell you one thing. Those damn cultist came around here talking about necromancers too. I don’t think they were interested in administering justice though. They all but accused me. I kicked them out though.”
“Well, they accused one of our group too.”
“Yeah, I don’t think they are up to any good.”
“I may have to go have a talk with them too.” Meander says reluctantly.
“Well I have work to get back to.”
“Well thank you for talking with me.”
As ShadesCough closes the door and Meander and ToughBark begin to walk away, Meander lightly cuffs ToughBark on the shoulder, “Thanks for the moral support, ToughBark. Let’s get back to town.”
Meander walks around town with ToughBark in tow, checking on everyone, who are all tied up with their arcane studies. He then stops at the Sitting Duck for a quick beer, before heading out to talk to the Cultists. Meander drags ToughBark to go find Ember and SandPiper before heading out to the cultists. Ember is holding up a fire in his hand, like it somehow a dangerous thing, even though he’s seen Ember do much wilder feats with fire. SandPiper is just smoking on his pipe and watching Ember quietly.
Meander says to Ember, who is still wrangling fire, “Well, you don’t look really busy. I went to go talk to ShadesCough, and he said the cultists have been accusing him of being necromancers.”
“Well… THE… oh ok. But anyway. I’m going to go talk to them. Is there anything that you think we should ask them?”
“Well those two that had come in recently. We really can’t say this to the guys, because we don’t want to implicate Broken, but they called Broken a necromancer also. On top of that, I think this StarLight person, they were the enemies of whoever she used to be with. Well, she was after a necromancer. They are after a necromancers apparently as well, for some reason. I don’t know why though. You might just got talk with them and see what their feelings about necromancy are. Just feel them out.”
“Alrighty… Go feel up the priests.”
“OUT! Feel out the priests.”
“Alright, I’ll go. Anybody going to go with me?” They stare at Meander blankly. “You guys suck.”
Ember nudges ToughBark, “Come on ToughBark.”
ToughBark says hesitantly, “Ok, I’ll go be moral support.”
The acolyte says to Meander, “Alright, I’ll get Father Basalt.”
Meander and ToughBark wait while the acolyte slips behind a curtain in the tent. It had been a short walk from town to reach the tents of the elemental priests.
A few minutes, the same stoic figure comes out. “Hello Father. We’ve got a few questions for you.”
“I’ll do what I can.”
“We have… uh… been trying to track down… ah… something that we… We’ve run into undead in this area recently. We think there is a necromancer that we are trying to track down. We heard that some of your members are accusing people of being necromancers. Is there anything that you know about the necro.. necromantic energy that is in this area. It could help us.”
“Well, I know about the Undead Kobolds that you were fighting.”
“You know about them? How they were made or that they were there.”
“Just the stories that you killed a bunch of them.”
“Oh yeah. We had to kill them twice. Once as Kobolds and once as Undead.”
“So something raised them.”
“Yes. Absolutely. Of the Deputies, Broken, he definitely recognized several of them.”
“Several of the Kobolds?”
“Yes. Plus the Kobold King, which was raised. It was stitched together.”
“If there is a necromancer in this area, he should be dealt with harshly and quickly.”
“Do you have much experience with necromancers?”
“Not personally no.”
“Do you have … ah… harshly and quickly?”
“The longer they are around, the more trouble they cause.”
“Yes, it does seem that way.”
“Do you know if any of your… I know that some of your members were accosting the graveskeeper.”
“Well, he seems a logical choice. He has access to materials that one would need to be a necromancer.”
“He is trying to keep the dead in their graves.”
“Likely story. I don’t see him running a temple.”
“But I also heard they were accusing the townsfolk as well.”
“I don’t believe that was accurate. We wouldn’t accuse someone of being a necromancer unless there was some reason to.”
“Alright, maybe it is just hearsay. We do know that the source of the necromantic energy is in the mountains, and it is flowing down towards Boar’s End.”
“So it is not local?”
“Well, the mountains are nearby.”
“Did the Kobolds come from those same mountains?”
“Yes they did.”
“Well, then it seems we don’t have an enemy in our midst after all.”
“It is getting worse, and we are going to go up there and deal with it.”
“Would you like some help?”
“I thought you didn’t have experience with necromancers.”
“No. But the elements are powerful. They can crush dead bodies as well as live ones.”
“Well, who would you recommend?”
“I have a water priest that could heal. There is one fire acolyte, but he is not powerful. I am clearly the most powerful person here, but I am needed in a ruling capacity, and my acolytes are not strong enough.”
“I would never say no to healing, but we’ve got… Let me go talk to the other Deputies and stop back by tomorrow. We are going to be heading out the next day.”
“Thank you for your offer.”
“Just trying to do our duty.”
“As are we.”
Later that evening, as they all gather back at the Sitting Duck, Meander begins to tell them about his various dealings that day. “So, we went out there and talk to the head guy again. He said it was logical to assume that the graveskeeper was the necromancers. He was not surprised… Well, I don’t know if he was surprised or if he knew about the guys going and talking to him. He said that if people were accosted in town, that was just rumor and hearsay.”
“The two that did the accosting are dead.” Ember says.
“Yeah, I know. So it is likely that he didn’t know beforehand or…”
“He had to know beforehand because they hired someone beforehand.”
“THEY hired someone to help them. That doesn’t mean that he knew about it. I don’t know.”
“Did they seem interested in necromancy?”
“When we said there was a necromancer, he said that they should be dealt with… what was it?” Meander looks at ToughBark, “quickly and harshly? swiftly? something like that.”
Ember thinks back to his travels with the elementalists. They didn’t seem to hold to any sacredness of life that one would expect for those that hate Undead. They exulted in the power that the elements had. For instance, one didn’t call himself a air priest. He called himself a storm priest. The water people, who are scoffed at the most, loved to talk about floods and monsoons.
“They did offer to send some of the priests as assistants.”
“Yeah… Last time someone came with us, they tried to kill us.”
Meander scratches his head, “I don’t see a pattern here. Just because we took a little girl and well… she tried to kill us. You know, and then the other guys from GavelGreed tried to kill us. Take ToughBark here. He hasn’t tried to kill us yet. Yet.”
“And I don’t plan on it.” ToughBark says in a low voice.
“Ah. That’s good. I’d hate to have to kill you.” Meander turns back to Ember but address the group, “He said they had a water priest that could heal and could go with us. There was also a fire priest that wasn’t really powerful, but…. That’s all he was offering.”
“Wasn’t that chick that Ember killed a water priest?” ToughBark asks.
“She worships a goddess,” Ember says, “that may have something to do with water. I don’t really know.”
“I told them that I would go back tomorrow.”
Broken says, over his glass of wine, “I’m all up for letting them come help, and if they want to try to stab us in the back, then you take the knife from them and stab them in the belly. That’s just how the world works.”
Ember looks down where he had gotten stabbed by the Regulator and winces, “Yeah. That works well.”
“Well, you also have to learn how to dodge.”
Meander says, “You got better.”
Broken starts speaking louder, “You guys should take note! If you are important enough to get knocked at the beginning on the fight, then clearly you are bad ass.”
They shake their heads at Broken.
Ember says, “I’m not sure I want to accept their help, but I’ll leave it up to you.”
The next day, Ember goes back to practicing with SandPiper. Spring goes back to the wagon, still working on his enchantment on his baton. Broken works on his spider golem for a short time, and then begins to research some natural defense spell dealing with some sort of plant spirit. Meander spends the day working with the Dwarven Glint Axe, trying to uncover more secrets behind its light magic. ToughBark works inside the wagon, trying to add to the magical research lab so he can work on his shadow magic. They all work throughout the day, focused on their varied tasks, then head back to the Sitting Duck that evening to make final plans and turn in early.
So, over dinner and drinks, they all compare abilities. They rearrange their available spells, trying to anticipate what they might encounter on the way to get the necromancer. They talk about what they can do, and try to make sure they have certain things covered, like curses, dispels, detects and spell attacks. Spring breaks away shortly into this discussion, excusing himself to go study the magic stone, while the plans are made.
A curious thing happens while studying the stone, he begins to experience these strange leaps of thought and connections. They don’t feel right, they feel weird. But he is making connections he has never made before, and realizes that this is the primary passive ability of the artifact. It makes the holder of the stone more mentally agile, allowing them to see connections between information that they normally would not be able to connect. With the insight, he figures out the rest of the stone’s power. It is a key, designed to allow the holder safe passages through Stargazer wards. Wards that have the specific sea and storm signature of the Stargazers. That explains how the Kobold King was able to gain access without all the deamons jumping him, because he had it in his eye socket. All that is required is physical contact with the stone, just keeping it in one’s pocket is not good enough.
In trying to turn his thoughts to the Necromancer situation, he realizes that the stone does not give him any additional information, just helps connect and sort all the information that you already have. It is like it is doing thinking for him, which is why it feels alien. One thing that does crop up, the Kobold King would have received this key after being killed the first time, and before entering the crypt. So where did it get the key?
Back in the common room, shortly after Spring’s departure, the High Priest Basalt enters the Sitting Duck, looking for the Deputies. He has three fellow priests with him, all dressed in red robes, but one is trimmed with fire, one with water and the last with air. “Hello Deputies. I was wondering if you were going to take me up on my offer to help.”
“I’ve actually studied for awhile with your fellows north of here.” Ember says, “I don’t remember them having any particular issue with Undead.”
“Well, they are evil.”
“I agree. They should be destroyed. I just didn’t think there was anything with the tenants of your faith that dealt with that.”
“Well, I think it is something that we can all agree on.”
“Is there some particular point of dogma that you subscribe to that deals with this.”
“Not really. Undeath is not natural and therefore opposite of the elements.”
Ember and Basalt spend the next few minutes fencing over the finer points of their religions dealings with the Undead, Undeath and Necromancy. It is a fairly heated debate. They both know their religions in this regard, and both can twist their words with skill. Ember finally catches him into the place where he has no moral or ethical reason to hate undead. It just isn’t in Basalt’s dogma at all. All his arguments from that point are generalizations of, that’s what anyone would do. All three of the priest seem to be trying to follow the arguments, but air priest gives Ember a smirk as he corners Basalt at the end of the argument.
Ember turns back to the Deputies, “Do you mind if I ask a few questions?”
Meander, thinking they had been asking questions, says intelligently, “Uhh…”
“I take that as a no.”
Broken says, between sips of wine, “Wait. Do you mind asking questions of?”
Ember turns back to the three priests. “So, the three of you, have you faced Undead before?”
They look at each other and say no.
“What experience do you have?”
Flint, the fire priest, says, “Well, I command fire. If they have a body, I’ll burn it to ash. What are they going to do then?”
Broken says pointedly, “Punch you in the face with a charred first. And then eat you.”
“What he said.” Ember says, holding in a chuckle. Flint looks a bit taken aback. He must not be used to have the power of fire rebuked.
Meander says, “It’s more a problem with the ones that don’t have bodies.”
Shock, the air priests, pipes in, “I think I can help you with that.”
“The power of air is also the power of the mind.”
Meander says, “Yeah, I wouldn’t know about that.”
Ember chuckles, “That could be useful. But you said you have never faced these before. How do you know it will work?”
“Honest answer.” Ember turns to the last priest, “And you?”
Wave, the water priest, rubs his hands together. “Well, I have a talent of the healing arts. The idea is if you guys can keep going, then you will be able to deal with the problem.” Both Flint and Shock show undisguised contempt at Wave, as he nervously explains his role.
Broken says into his wineglass, “You know, we could see if you blast a healing spell on an Undead if it will actually hurt them.” After a moment he looks up to Wave and says, “Well great! We could always use more healing with this group.”
“YOU could always use more healing in this group,” Meander adds.
“What do you mean? You are the one always charging to the front.”
“Yeah… but look at me, and look at you.”
“Hey, you better watch it. All this studying is for a reason.”
“Are you trying to be big and tough?”
“I’m just trying to say… I’m badass.”
Ember waves Meander and Broken down as Basalt says, “Well, do you want our help?”
Ember looks pointedly at each of the three as he speaks, “If you think you can manage. The last group that went with us did not come back.” Shock keeps his cool demeanor. Wave and Flint look intimidated. They look over at Basalt, who gives them a small nod. Then they look resigned.
Broken, in a rare episode of warmth, says to the three, “You guys will be fine. Makes yourself at home.” He calls over for a few more drinks.
Meander whispers to Broken, “I’m not sure they drink.”
“Well then more for me!”
While the others are talking, Ember watches for any odd reactions from the priests towards Broken. He catches Shock eyeing Broken more than any of the others. He a has nonchalant attitude, and when anyone mentions anything about death or harm, he just smirks. Based on looking at the markings on their robes, it appears Flint is the newest, followed by Wave, with Shock being ready to move into the high priests rankings.
Ember says, “It’s a very generous offer, but I didn’t remember you mentioning an air priest.”
“He was available.” Basalt answered as stonily as ever, “I didn’t realize that he had combat experience. After discussing it with him, we decided that he could be of use.”
“Oh? But not against Undead.”
“I assume it can work against Undead.”
Ember turns to Shock, “Combat experience?”
“Air is not just gentle breezes.”
“I understand that. Combat experience?”
“I can hold my own.”
“Let me rephrase my question. What combat experience do you have?”
“I’ve had to defend myself against ruffians.”
Looking them over, none of them appear to have any weapons. Not even a lowly club. Ember says, “I assume you need to go back to get your gear?”
“Yes, we have some things we can bring.”
Basalt turns back to the three, and then back to Ember, “I can make sure they have suitable arms. We have a few in the tent, but not many.”
Ember turns to Broken, Meander and ToughBark. “What do you think?”
“I think these boys will do fine.”
Meander clears his throat before saying, “Yeah… sure.”
ToughBark leans over to Ember and whispers, “I agree but I’ll keep an eye on them.”
Ember nods back and turns back to the priests, “We appreciate the help. We will be leaving at two candles before dawn.”
Broken cracks, “Before???”
Ember and Meander both say sternly, “YES.”
“Oh right. Right. I remember the plan.”
“They will be ready.” says Basalt.
Ember says, “Meet in front of the Duck.”
“We will be just outside the gates. You should be able to see us from the front door.”
“That should be fine.”
After the priests leave, Ember turns back and says, “Watch our asses. There is something not right about this.” Watching them leave, they pause before they reach the gates. It appears that Baleson has stopped them and is talking to them. They talk for about five minutes before parting ways. Baleson turns and heads for the Duck. Baleson strolls in and comes over to sit at the Deputies’ table.
Ember says, “Evening. What was that all about?”
“Well, they are not usually in town and I like to make it my business to know why.”
“Yeah. They have volunteered to help with something.”
“That is what he said. So you think you have found the source of the trouble, huh? It’s not over?”
“No it is not over.”
“Well, thankfully nobody is missing, as far as I know.”
Broken says, “Well, except for that girl.”
“Yeah, Urdeat, the mysterious beauty is missing. You know, as the last person to have seen her, I don’t think that is something that you should bring up.”
Ember mutters, “I’m not sure she exists except in his imagination.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure she exists.”
“Well, maybe not as pretty as he makes her out to be. Anyway.”
“Only a person of my magnitude,” Broken boasts, “would have a girl as fine as she probably is.”
“I know she was one of BloodsEyes girls. I just can’t prove it.”
“ME? I have never pay and never will.”
Meander says with a raised voice, “You pay all the time!”
Baleson says, “You don’t have to be the only one paying.”
Ember asks, “What does that mean?”
“They are for sale. It just depends on who plops down the coin.”
“Did you feel anything weird talking to them?”
“No. Not particularly.”
“Have you heard them having… whats the right word… a particular grudge against necromancers?”
“Hmm. They’ve been keeping to themselves unless they have to get supplies. They used to do their missionary stuff pretty heavily, but once the town let them know they weren’t really interested, they’ve been staying away.”
“It seems odd. I’ve dealt with this particular sect further north, and they didn’t really have anything to say about it. But this group does.”
“Well, we can use their help if they are offering. I don’t have any men that I can spare.”
“Yeah, but there is something just not right.”
Broken slurs, “Probably cuz their bored. They gotta do something. Might as well find and steak-ah good ol’ fashion necromancer.”
Ember says with reservation, “Sherrif, we are about to go stir up a hornets nest I’m afraid. I don’t know if I wouldn’t keep an eye out on that camp.”
“I will do. I always keep an eye.”
“Did they say anything interesting to you?”
“No. They aren’t really an interesting lot. I just wanted to make sure they weren’t up to no good. But they have business with you, and they are going back to their camp. Everything seems like it is on the up and up.”
Broken mumbles into his glass, “On the up and up.”
Meander straightens a bit, “Yeah, we are heading out early in the morning to track this trouble down.”
“I’m glad you told me. I’ll get some of the guys together and start posting extra guards around the town. People are getting a little wild when you guys are out of town.”
“Tell me if you would something Sherrif,” Ember says. “Is the anything north of the graveyard, across the bridge, up towards the Crucible, that has been associated with evil?”
“Uh. You mean like Undead?”
“They said a ghost haunted the Crucible. A knight with a glowing axe floated through the halls and killed people.”
Meander perks up, “Oh yeah! I took care of him.”
“Is that where you got your glowing axe from?”
“And my armor.”
Ember looks at Meander, puzzled.
“There are Dwarven ruins all around here. That’s why all these fools come up here looking for glory and treasure. If there is any it is buried so deep under so much rock you’ll never find it. But they come up here anyway, and the Crucible is a bad spot because it is one of the few places that has always been open to the sky. So even though it is caved in a bit, they will still get in there and get into trouble.”
Meander asks, “Is there anyone in town that knows the mountains well? I know Temper led the crusade against the Kobolds.”
“Yeah, that was over by the Crag though. Part of the mountain just split open. If you climb down in there with ropes and ladders and what not, you can get into some of the lower Dwarven areas. But he said it looked like the stone had turned into a river and then just set where it stood. So they didn’t have to dig deep to find the Kobold caves. The caves that the Kobolds were using were accessible from the surface. That’s how they were getting out and causing problems. But he told me that the Kobolds come from so far down in the earth that nobody knows where they really come from. There have got to be more down there.”
Meander says, “Yeah, we think something is chasing them up to the surface.”
“Well. Kobolds are bad enough. I hated to see what is chasing them. You can go over and look at the Crag, but I wouldn’t suggest it unless you are pro-mountain climbers. But it is on the other side of the mountain. You have to go around the south side. Up north, the only thing I know about past the Crucible is the pass over the mountains.”
“This definitely looked like it was coming from the Crucible area, wouldn’t you say Ember?”
“Well, from that general direction, yes. We didn’t go clear close enough to find out, because we didn’t want to stumble into something.”
“Hmm, so you are preparing an assault?” Baleson asks.
“Well, do you need anything? Any gear or anything? I’ve got some good spears. Axes. A few blades. Shields. Armor.”
Ember reaches down and pulls out Skybreaker. He pats it, “I think this’ll do.”
Baleson scrunches up his face as he peers at the sword. “That’s the funniest looking blade I ever seen.” The blade is definitely odd. Instead of a straight shape with an edge, the blade is more leaf shaped. It tapers at both the hilt and the point, and bows out in the middle.
“It works well. I think we are geared enough for weapons. Maybe some extra bandages?”
“Yeah, I can get you set up with first aid supplies.”
Ember heads out with Baleson to get the supplies. He returns after a short time, just before Spring comes back into the common room. They fill Spring in on the plans and make some final adjustments and turn in early, preparing their spells and trying to rest.
They wake up early, hours before dawn, to follow the flows in the dark. They hoped to trace it to its source before dawns first light. They met Shock, Flint and Wave at the gate outside town, and gather up in the wagon to ride to the graveyard. Once outside the graveyard, they stop the wagon to have a quick chat before tracking the mists. Ember says, “Ok. You obviously know how to cast magic. You are going to see us do that too. So don’t freak out when we too stuff. Their may be some weird looking stuff too.”
“We are all from different religions and schools,” offers Broken. “Just keep an open mind.”
Flint says, “I’m sure we can handle it.”
Spring says, “And some of us have no religion at all.”
“I’m not really a religious man myself either,” Broken says.
Meander looks at Spring, “I thought you worshipped magic.”
“I was really talking about Broken and his twisted up view of things.”
“I can still believe in things,” Broken says defensively. “I can still believe and I choose not too. See, that’s how messed up I am.”
Ember begins a chant and his eyes begin to burn. Life sparks begin to appear in his vision. He turns towards the three. They all stare back at Ember’s eyes. Flint makes a soft noise, obviously drawn by the power of fire. The three priests have brighter than average life sparks, with the fire priest being even brighter. But they all appear human and relatively normal. He lets the spark fade.
Spring turns his spectacled vision on them to detect and magical auras. They don’t have noticeable magical auras. Shock is the only one with a magic item. It is a ring that is imbued with divine magic. The aura on the ring is storm magic of some type, but it isn’t patterns that he is familiar with. It doesn’t look like the Stargazer storm magic. It does remind him of some creepy crypts down south, but they didn’t have anything to do with storms.
All the priests robes look a bit bulkier than the night before. As they move around, it becomes obvious they are wearing leather armor underneath their robes.
Ember begins a different chant and his eyes light up with fire. The mists don’t appear any thicker. If it has grown in power, it isn’t noticeable here by the graveyard. Ember lets the spell fade and plans to recast it every few minutes along the way.
Meander says, “Hey, I’m going to turn out the light on my axe and walk in front, scouting.” He concentrates on the axe, turning the light off. He casts his dark sight spell. He creeps quietly along the side of the road, watching for any trouble. They travel to the bridge without incident.
As they near the bridge, Spring spots the rock with the magical aura still on the bridge. It appears to still be in place, undisturbed. Ember casts his spell to detect unlife, and scans around. The mists are moving as before, but as he scanned to the north, he spots an undead creature. Around two hundred feet north, on this side of the river, is a spark of unlife hidden up in a tree. It seems like some kind of walking dead. But the aura is strange and really small. Perhaps it is a zombie squirrel. Ember starts laughing. “Guys, there is a zombie squirrel up there.” He points to the tree in question.
Meander, ahead of the group, and already at the bridge, hiding in the brush just off the road, can see the rock still sitting on the bridge undisturbed. Listening, there is nothing moving. In fact, it almost seems too quiet, and there are none of the normal night noises. He decides to wait for them to catch up. He seems Spring looking at the bridge and then sees Ember pointing and laughing. He looks in the direction that Ember is pointing and curiosity takes hold. He must know what Ember is laughing at. He begins to creep towards the tree.
Ember says, “What the hell is Meander doing?”
“It looks like he is going north.” Broken says unhelpfully.
“I’m not a mind reader.”
“Spring, if you want to check on the bridge, I’ll go check on Meander.”
“I think we are all good on the bridge.” said Spring confidently. “It looks like it is still shielded.”
Ember said cautiously, “Ok.”
Spring continues, “We should be able to pass. I don’t know what the hell Meander is doing.”
Ember walks away from the group and towards Meander. Meander was approaching the source of power in the tree. “Meander, What the hell are you doing?”
Meander stops and turns to Ember. "You pointed over here, " he said defensively. “I figured you wanted me to look over here.”
“Yeah, there is something undead up there.” Ember points up into a nearby tree.
Back near the bridge, Spring says, “So, ToughBark, why don’t you peer up there with those dark eyes of yours and pick it out of the tree?”
“Ok. I’ll try.”
Broken exclaims, “Wait! You have dark eyes?”
“They look like hazelnut to me.”
ToughBark ignores Broken’s comment and takes some time to carefully draw upon magical energies. As he makes arcane gestures, the whites of his eyes turn black and shadows begin to drift from his eyes like smoke. He looks away from the torchlight into the darkness of the trees.
Meander and Ember are standing about fifty feet from the tree, which is the source of the undeath. Ember points out to Meander the spot where he sees the energies. Meander peers into the bright recesses in the trees, and begins to make out what is hiding there.
“What the hell?” Meander exclaims. “That’s a face. That’s a head! That’s just a head! AND IT IS STARING AT US!” Meander looks at Ember and back at the head. “Could the necromancer be watching us through that head?”
“That is possible, I suppose.”
“We need Spring to see if there is a spell on this.” Meander begins to wave to the group by the bridge. Ember begins to back away as the others begin to approach. While Meander waits for them to come over, he moves back and forth, watching the head. Its eyes lurch back and forth, tracking his movement.
Once they approach, Meander points up out the spot to Spring. “Can you see any magic there?”
Spring shakes his head.
“Well, if there is no magic there, " Meander says, “I can just pull it down and dispatch it.”
Spring asks, “Pull down what?”
“You really don’t want to know. Alright?”
ToughBark asks, “Would you rather me just shoot it?”
“Well, it is too high for my whip. I could climb up there.”
“I could just shoot it.”
“Can you really? It is stuck up there in a fork in the tree. Well, try it.”
Spring has been peering around through his spectacles. “I didn’t see magic where you were pointing initially, but now the tree… It is flickering. It has got something going on. Hold on.”
“The tree is flickering?”
“It just appeared. Hold on.” Spring examines the magic. It is definitely scrying magic. Someone is looking through the eyes of the head. Most likely, if someone noticed that someone had subverted their magical alarm, then instead of taking that one out, they probably just installed another alarm.
Spring says, “They have gotten a look at us. I don’t want them see any more of us. I think we need to take this out. What do you guys think?”
Ember says, “Kill it.”
“Wait, " Meander says, “Don’t we want to seem completely inept? Here, let me climb up there.”
“Really?” Spring says incredulously.
“Don’t do it,” Broken says quietly.
Ember says, “Go ahead.”
Meander begins to climb up the tree. “Here, I’ll throw it down.” Surprisingly, the big man moves rather easily through the tree and gets up to the head. It is just the upper part of a skull, the lower jaw missing. Meander breaks a piece of limb off and jabs it into the head, knocking it from its perch."
From down below, Ember groans and staggers about, almost knocked off his feet. He saw an incredibly powerful pulse wave of necromantic energy that came rolling off the mountain. It just blew right through him. It was focused, controlled and most probably a spell of some sort. It wasn’t targeted at him, but at the entire countryside. “Damn! Spring! Did you see that?”
Spring was peering up the mountain. He saw a huge area effect necromantic spell activated. By looking at how fast the ring was increasing, he could get an estimate of the source of the spell, which was definitely centered up in the mountains. “Oh yeah. I saw it.”
Ember says, “Do you know what the hell that was?”
“I think we set off the alarm.”
“I don’t think it was an alarm.”
“Well right. Someone cast that spell, but it was in reaction to what it saw.” Spring gets his stone out and moves it between his hands as he thinks about the magics. There were heavy elements of animation and transformative magic. It was almost entirely necromantic energies. Put those together and it is most certainly an animate dead spell. “So sounds like it was an Animate Dead spell.”
Meander says, “Sounds like we need to check out the graveyard.”
“Yeah, I guess we do need to check on SchwarzCough,” Spring agreed.
“It’s ShadesCough.” Meander chuckled.
Ember says, “You think that is what it was actually trying to do?”
“It came from up the mountain and it emanated out.” Spring said, “I’m just thinking that from what the energy looks like that it was an Animate Dead spell. Where is it going to get dead stuff? This may be an attack on the cemetery, which would then be an attack on Boar’s End.”
“Well, you looked at the wards.” Ember asked, “Do you think it could overwhelm them?”
“That was a LOT of energy. It wasn’t just ambient energy. It was directed.”
“Well, it was omni-directional.”
Meander asked, “Wait… Did we just create a thousand Zombies?”
Ember answered, “I think you did.”
ToughBark put his hand to his head. “We are so screwed.”
After a short pause, Spring says, “I think we are dealing with two separate issues here. Do we try to go to the source and try to deal with it and stop it there? Or there may be something happening behind us, and aren’t you guys like the Deputies or something?”
Meander quirks and eyebrow at Spring. “You say that with such… I don’t know. Your voice holds such a high level of respect when you say that I’m astounded,” his voice dripped with sarcasm. “Some day you are going to have to tell me that story.”
“Much as I hate to say it,” Ember says, “I think we need to go back and check. You are right. I don’t think we can afford to leave it alone. It may be a delaying tactic on their part, I don’t know. But that is just something we can’t have bubble up behind us.”
Meander says, “We need somebody to warn people.”
Shock speaks up from the back of the group, “I think I can help out with that. What kind of warning do you need?”
They all look at Meander, who seems to be struggling with something.
“Yes Meander?” Ember asks after a short pause.
“Who would be up at this time besides us?” Meander asks.
“I can contact my brothers.” Shock replies. “Since I am very familiar with them, I know that I can get the message to them. Is there anyone else you think would be up?”
Spring motions to the elemental priests to hold for a moment, and pulls the rest of the group aside. He whispers, “What are we talking about here? Them going back and taking care of the town and us going on? Do we trust them for that?”
Ember answer softly, “He mentioned that he had mental powers. I assume he would contact one of his brothers mentally and then have them pass word to the town. Baleson said he would put extra watch on the walls.”
Broken says, “If there is going to be an invasion, it doesn’t matter how big or small, the deputies need to be the ones that go take care of it. Also because, we just kindof caused it.”
“We didn’t cause it.” Meander says, “ I don’t think I had anything to do with it. Um I…”
Broken interrupted, “I will save that argument for another time, when I have more wine. You caused it. But that’s why I said we. THE party OF saviors tripped the alarm that is going to make a zombie invasion BEHIND us IN the innocent town. It’s not like we have soldiers there… We have”
Ember waves Broken to a halt. “We are burning time here.” He turns to the priest. “Alert your brothers. Have them tell the people that should be patrolling that something may be happening. Get Ready.”
Spring turns to the priests, then back to the group, “What that priest’s name?”
“If you can talk with your brothers mentally, which I’m assuming you can do, does that mean that you can get information back from them?”
“They can reply immediately,” Shock said, “but not long afterwards. I could try contacting them again later?”
“I don’t understand what you mean.”
“The wind is mine to play with. It will carry a message for me. If they respond immediately, it will carry the message back.”
“So they won’t be able to alert us if the town is under attack?”
“No. But I could ask them again later.”
Spring turns to the group, “So what do you guys think?”
Ember offers, “I think the best thing for us to do at this point is to move our asses back to the cemetery.
“I’ve got conflicting feelings here.” Meander waffles, “ We’ve got the cemetery, which is definitely a problem. Then we have the source of this crap, which…”
Spring finishes, “we could go take out.”
Meander starts back, “Which could be getting away.”
Ember says, “I don’t think it will be going anywhere. At best, it will fortify itself against us. I don’t think we can ignore the fact that…” Ember turns to Spring, “From what you saw, will that energy overwhelm the wards.”
Spring says quietly, “Absolutely.”
“Then we don’t have a choice.”
Meander says, “Ok.” He stands up straighter with purpose. “Alright!”
ToughBark says, “We are… Oh god!”
Meander says, “Well then let’s hurry!”
Shock, the air priest, begins waving his hands in the air. After several moments he whispers something in a deep harsh tone, but the sounds are only barely audible and unable to be understood. They sound like they are stripped from his lips by the wind and carried away fast.
Once he finishes, they turn back quickly towards the cemetary, moving swiftly down the road beside the river in the pre-dawn hours, the night still dark. The cemetery is not too far away, but before it get in sight, they spot a weird shuffling figure carrying a big plank of wood with nails in it. He staggers towards the group.
Meander calls out, “Vermin?”
The figure says between huffs, “Ize come to get ewe.” His voice rises to a peak as he says, “Sumpt’n goin’ on at the cemetery! It’s awful.”
Meander lets out a sigh of relief. “Oh good god.”
Ember mumbles, “So he isn’t undead?”
Vermin slowly approaches, out of breath, and appears to be a dirty, unkempt man in ratty clothes. He looks at the group with a slack jawed stare, even though he is terrified. Then he stops suddenly, looking at Meander and coos, “Ooooh. Your axe glows.”
Meander looks at him coolly, “Yes. And that’s what I’m going to use to take care of what’s going on in the cemetery.”
Vermin looks up, “Uh. Uh. No! The master says you gots to get to town.”
“Yes, they are goin’ after the town.”
“They already left the cemetery?”
“Some of them came up this way and I had to outrun em. And then some went to town.”
“Let’s GO!” Broken says.
Ember asks, “Did we tell ShadesCough that we were coming out here tonight?”
Meander answers, “Yes.”
ToughBark says, “That’s probably why Vermin came this way for us.”
Meander says, “Yeah, he said he would take care of Vermin, one way or another.”
Ember says, “I guess we are going back to town then.” He turns to Shock, “Did you get any response back?”
“Just ‘Ok. We will tell them.’ ”
Spring says, “Elaborate communication system you got there.”
Broken nudges Spring, “He’s a journeyman. He’s still gotta work on that spell. Come on. You guys are so cynical.”
Ember says, “So we are going to town. Is ShadesCough holed up in his house or what?”
Vermin says, “I guess. He told me not to worry about him. That I was supposes to get ewe guys to town.”
“Alright. Alright!” says Meander. “Let’s get to town then. You don’t need to be out here either.”
The Deputies start running back to town with Spring, the three elemental priests and Vermin in tow. To get to town, they must first pass the cemetery. The area around the river is not on flat ground, and neither is the cemetery. As they round a bend in the round, the trees open up to the clearing around the cemetery. On the far side, atop a small hill, should be ShadeCough’s shack.
The road bends around the cemetery and passes by the shack on the way to town. They come to a halt as they near the shack, for it is surrounded by a crowd of stationary men. It is difficult to even see the shack for the crowd around it. After a few moments, the men slowly begin to turn as one and stare at the group, their eyes glowing blue in the darkness.
Meander says softly, “Oh my god!”
Ember looks at their eyes, “What the hell does that mean?”
“They are under some kind of domination spell,” Spring says.
Meander asks Spring, “Do you have some sort of group dispel? Some sort of big area…”
Spring says, “No. Let me think about this for a second.”
“Can you see the spell?”
“They are each under a domination spell. It was individually cast and would need to be removed individually. It seems rather powerful, to be able to hit that many individual targets.”
The light from the party barely carries to the crowd, leaving them shrouded in darkness, except for their glowing blue eyes. They surround the shack, but are just standing still, staring at the group.
“What if ShadeCough did that? To protect his little hut.” ToughBark says.
Spring says, “Hmm… I didn’t think about that.”
Vermin shakes with terror, letting out a quivering moan and chewing his fingers, which are dirtier than his boots.
Meander says, “Ok. Do we deal with these here or go to town?”
“ShadeCough told us to go to town,” says Spring. “He appears to have some information about this even though he hasn’t been very forthcoming.”
The blue lights shift to the sides and wink out as the men apparently turn back to face the shack.
“I hate to bring this up at this point.” Ember says. “Do you think ShadesCough is on the up and up?”
“Didn’t you guys save his son or something?” asks Spring.
“I’m just asking. We are being told to go to town. We know there are undead here.”
“Yeah, but are they doing anything?”
“Yes. They are being controlled, potentially by him.”
Meander asks, “Can you tell…”
Spring says, “What would he do with them?”
Ember responds “That is my question. Are we being played for fools?
“Is he the villain?” ToughBark asks.
“What would be the fool?” Spring asks incredulously. “That he would sick them on the town? Then if we went to town then we could fight them off if he came.”
“I donno.” Ember says with a sigh. “Something just doesn’t feel right, but let’s get to the town.”
Broken says, “I agree.”
“Is he at home?” Meander asks Ember. “Can you see if he is there?” Ember begins to chant. Meander says, “I don’t want to go up against that many.” Ember’s eyes light up. There doesn’t appear to be any life at the shack at all. But Spring had mentioned there were anti-scrying wards on the shack, that would prevent peering in magically. But he is certain that none of the people surrounding the shack are alive. Ember answers, “Don’t know. Can’t see him. They are not alive though.” Ember gestures to the bodies standing in front of the shack. His eyes stop burning.
“I think we should head back to town.” Spring says, “We can come back to clean this up. It doesn’t look like they are doing anything.”
Vermin says, his voice trembling in terror, "I shouldn’t of put all that blood on the shack. I just knew it.
“Do what?” asks Ember.
“Master told me to spray that goat’s blood all over the shack.”
“When he started seeing them crawling all out of the ground.”
“Honestly, it sounds like he is trying to draw them to him,” says Broken. " It’s like he set a trap. Sit here and lick the walls instead of eating people."
“You say some went to town.” Meander looks at Vermin.
“Yeah, let’s kill those first.” continues Broken. “We gotta save the town. It’s the town. If we don’t save the town, we don’t get paid.”
Ember relents, “Ok, let’s go.”
As they near the town, they start hearing the ringing of the church bells. Coming out from the last group of trees, they spy fires burning at the north and northeast gates, with guards posted at each gate. Shambling towards the north gate is a wall of zombies, maybe a dozen or so. Looking around the clearing, other shambling groups are barely visible, perhaps moving to one of the other gates.