The days have grown together, sense of time is fuzzy at best. The group had not seen the suns of Taelgar for several days now…or longer. The forboding wood once again closes in on our path we begin to move out for the day. They were fairly well-rested, despite the sounds of tortured screams that echoed through Cragenmoor’s halls all night. Talynx sent them on their way with his ward at first light…which was really just more darkness. The Spiritwode hadn’t seen the light of day in ages.
They’d had a chance to rest and sift through the thousands of tomes in Talynx’ library…however the findings were few and far between. They did learn that Blackmoor was once a grand melting pot that sat on the edge of Deadmere, the largest inland lake in the empire. They also learned that it was beset upon by demonic forces and became a battleground between those of the Abyss and those of the Nine Hells…literally tearing the city apart brick by brick. The city has sat in ruin for over a thousand years…there’s no telling what they’ll face when we arrive.
Talynx told them that from Cragenmoor, their path lay east toward. It would be an easy path once they reached the edge of the Deadmere, the large inland lake just south of their position. The ruins lie upon the shore of the lake to the southeast. Talynx also assured them this was the safest passage to Blackmoor, but then warned them to keep to the southern edge of the city. The central portion had been invaded by demonic forces and have yet to clear out.
“Blackmoor is near Korthul lands. A dark place,” Kor, the human barbarian, warned.
“Do we need to go to Korthul too?” Kithri the halfling asked.
The dwarf warrior, Fogaban, mumbled his thanks again for the abundance of ale available in the library as Kor shouldered the remains of the keg and followed the group toward the river.
“Mialee, this is your neighborhood,” Declan Vandross, the human cleric, said, “Is there a safe way to cross the river ahead of us?”
Kithri wondered with amusement if dwarves can float.
Mialee, the elf cleric, gathered all the belongings that were hers, what was left and put them in her pack. A spear was gathered and she followed, cloaked beneath the black cloak. “There is a place to cross, but you may not like it.”
“If the dwarf doesn’t have to swim, we’ll like it fine,” Kor, the human barbarian, grumbled.
not like water," Fogaban agreed emphatically.
Declan asked, “Out of curiosity, what’s the problem with this crossing place?”
Mialee remained silent as they marched on. It took the greater portion of a day, but they managed to reach a path…an ancient cobblestone road that leds toward the river. The cobblestone gave way once it arrived at the giant chasm where the river flowed. Above the chasm hung an ancient rope bridge…just wide enough for a single horse cart to be pulled across it. The road contined on the other side.
Fogaban looked down into the chasm, “Looks pretty rickety.”
“We should send the heaviest over first,” Kor advised.
“Damn, that would be me,” the stocky dwarf grumped.
“Yes,” Kor agreed with Fogaban, “If you have ale, leave it here.”
“I’ll hold the ale,” Fogaban insisted, eying the barbarian suspiciously.
“I will go first,” Mialee insisted.
Fogaban glanced at the prim elf with surprise. “Lady, can you …….. hover?”
“Hovering elves is not natural,” Kor muttered uncomfortably.
Kithri headed toward the bridge but didn’t cross yet. She looked out across the chasm thoughtfully, looking to see if there are any traps around it.
Mialee cast a withering glance at the dwarf and began walking across the bridge, as casually as if it were a paved road.
“Just thought I’d ask,” Fogaban muttered sheepishly, then, as he saw the elf march off, shouted, “Come back!!”
“That doesn’t look good,” Kor said.
The bridge swayed slightly as the elf started across. The party watched with interest until she reached about halfway across and a loud snap came from under Mialee’s foot. The elf slipped through the collapsed floorboards with a cry of shock and just managed to catch the rope supports.
Kithri ran toward the edge. Fogaban threw himself at the edge of the chasm and began feeding rope out of his pack. Declan charged past Kithri, causing the bridge to sway dangerously. He grabbed the rop rail for support and continued to Mialee.
The swaying slowed and Mialee managed to keep a hold of the rope. Declan avoided the gap, lay himself flat to disperse his weight as much as possible, and reached for the elf girl.
“Grab my hand!” he commanded.
Kithris pulled out her own rope and threw one end over Declan’s shoulder, hoping to get it down to Mialee.
Mialee took a deep breath and tried to reach up to his hand, praying her other hand wouldn’t give out. Declan strained to reach for her as well.
Fogaban tied one end of his rope around his waist and rushed to tie the other end to Declan’s foot. However, before he could get there, Declan let out a roar and hauled the elf back up to the bridge. The two lay on the bridge, trying to catch their breath.
“Do we run our ropes to strengthen this weak spot then go across?” Kithri wondered.
Mialee looked at the human cleric after a moment. “Thank you.”
“When walking on unstable surfaces, you should always maintain three points of contact,” Declan instructed, nodding to her, then slowly getting to his feet and continuing across the bridge.
Kor grabbed the rope siderail and began to cross….slloooowly….
“If it can handle the three… four? … of us, the others can make it right?” Kithri continued to worry.
Mialee stood, adjusting her things and moving across the bridge. “I have crossed this before, the boards were strong.”
“The gods have a peculiar sense of humor sometimes,” Declan said from the other side of the bridge.
“Or Talynx,” Mialee growled as she passed him.
Kor finally reached the other side and looked back. He watched Fogaban reach the middle and carefully step over the broken boards, holding firmly to the ropes.
“Maybe he was testing to see if we would take care of you,” Declan postulated.
“He sent her with us, do you think he really cares?” Kor growled. “We’re not going on a nature walk…”
“He could care less if I perish or not.” Mialee spat.
“It could just be an old board,” Kithri continued, “but since we were all together, we got across.”
“She’s the one who knows the cleansing ritual we need to perform to get the sword,” Declan reminded Kor.
Kor nodded to Fogaban as he reached the party. “At least you aren’t wet.”
“When we get there, you must remain only on the objective. Talynx was there, the reason for the destruction,” Mialee interrupted.
“Do you think it was an attempt on her life?” Kithri asked fearfully.
Declan smiled at the halfling, “No, I honestly believe it was just an old board.”
Kithri smiled light in return, feeling relieved.
Kor looked at Kithri, then said to the group, “Its as dark now as it is during the night…and again during the day, it never changes…just this dim…gloomy…place. It’s unnatural.”
Fogaban listened to Kor, then addressed the party, “How do you all feel? …. Do you want to rest … or keep moving ……..”
“I can go all night,” Kor insisted.
“Hmmm… we know here is kinda safe?” Kithri glanced around.
Fogaban regarded her affectionately, “No, little thing, I don’t think here is safe … anymore than anywhere else.”
“Okay, I am ready then,” Kithri said confidently.
“As you said, Kor. It’s as dark during day as it is at night, so we may as well keep moving until we tire,” Declan suggested.
“Then let’s keep going .. for now, at least,” Fogaban ordered.
“Very well,” grumbled the barbarian.
Kithri took a deep breath and began to follow along, looking to the sides for movement as she walked. Mialee also followed while keeping very alert to the sounds and shadows around them.
Ahead, they heard a shuffling sound, then all went quiet. As they peered through the dimly lit wood, they saw a large procession of shambling humanoids, robed men and women, and skeletal warriors headed straight for them. It was apparent the creatures had also seen them.
Fogaban readied his battleaxe, eyes squinting with resolve as he growled, “What the hell is coming down the road?!?”
“I’m not sure but I’m going to find out!” Kor charged in and one of the robed figures pulled out a sling, whirled it around its head, then let a rock loose toward the barbarian. The shot went wide, and Kor pulled his two-handed sword and prepared for battle. The rest of the party readied their weapons and also charged into the fray!
A skeleton rushed in and nicked Kor’s arm with its sword while a zombie swung its fist at him, catching him in the temple. Kor let out a wild scream and turned to the zombie, slashing at it. His blade cut deep into the zombie, but not enough to stop it.
A zombie punched at Fogaban, who brought his shield up in time to ward it off as another sling stone went whizzing by.
Tiny Kithri slashed a skeleton with her sword in the back of the knee. As the creature crumbled, she jabbed it repeatedly with her dagger until it broke apart.
Declan brought his mace down squarely onto the skull of the zombie that struck Kor as the robed figure reached them. One smacked its mace into Kor’s ribs with a sickening crunch of breaking bones. The other’s mace glanced off Declan’s shield.
Fogaban swung his mighty battleaxe just past the zombie near him.
The skeleton that cut Kor’s arm gave Kor another powerful shot to the ribs. Kor staggered, but did not fall. With a roar of pain and rage, he cleaved the robed figure that struck him first in half!
Miralee muttered a foreign word as she moved forward, hefting her spear.
Fogaban rallied the group, “We’re holding our own folks! … Just keep fighting and don’t give up!!”
Kithri groaned as the robed figure before Declan easily pushed aside her attack with its shield.
Declan raised his shield protectively before the robed figure and prayed fervently to the gods as he focussed his attention on Kor. He felt the familiar divine glow of the gods pass through him and saw the barbarian straighten up as his wounds healed before his eyes.
“Unnatural… but thanks!” Kor said as he rose to meet his next challenger.
The challenger, the robed figure who had blocked Kithri’s attack, quickly undid Declan’s work by re-breaking Kor’s ribs with a heavy mace blow!
“Appreciate the gods’ work in your favor, Kor,” Declan advised.
that you …. zombie!” Fogaban shouted as he chopped into the shuffling creature. It groaned, though whether from the blow or just because groaning is what zombies do no one could tell. Fogaban stuck his tongue out at the creature.
The skeleton with the sword slashed again at Kor, only to have its blade pushed aside by Kor’s larger blade.
A zombie turned on Declan and punched him in the back. The cleric grunted and turned to return the favor. The zombie groaned as the mace crunched against its shoulder, but stayed on its feet.
Mialee muttered some more elvish and Kor once again felt the effects of healing magic. He nodded quickly to Mialee and turned back to the fight.
Kithri managed to get her sword and dagger past the robed figure’s shield and armor. The creature screamed in pain, but stayed up. It swung its mace heavily for her head, but Kithri gasped and ducked the swing.
The zombie on Declan managed to punch him again, and the zombie near Fogaban continued to elude his blows.
“This Zombie over here is pissing me off,” the dwarf snarled.
Mialee held her spear in both hands and rushed to smack the zombie on Declan. As the spear penetrated the zombie, a loud crack of thunder struck overhead and the zombie exploded!
“WhooHoooo!” Fogaban cheered as zombie bits rained on everyone.
Kithri grimaced and continued her attack on the robed figure. Declan turned back to the same figure and smacked it in the back with his mace.
The robed figure let out a hiss…and it sounds almost like a snake may be under the hood. “<mother…save>”
Declan felt divine power nearby, and his mouth dropped as the robed figure’s wounds all healed up before him!
“Damned Zombie,” Fogaban shouted as his axe cut clean through the beast, sending flesh and bone flying.
Kor ignored another strike from the skeleton as he saw his prey healthy once more. He screamed out and drove his sword at the robed figure.
The robed acolyte continued hissing its prayer to its gods, its wounds knitting even as the party created them.
“Someone shut that thing up!” Fogaban commanded.
Mialee began to speak in a language only known to her. A wave of hand given toward Declan, and the human cleric’s wounds closed up.
Kithri leapt in front of Fogaban and struck at the skeleton before him, stabbing it with his dagger. Fogaban chuckled at her ferocity, and stepped around her to finish it off with his axe.
Kor spun around, slashing toward the figure. Its head flew free from its body as it fell backward, dead.
The hood fell away, revealing a reptilian, possibly even draconian face: green chitinous skin and a forked tongue.
The group looked around, and seeing all their enemies gone, relaxed.
Kithri stepped cautiously toward the reptilian headed one, whispering softly, “Will you look at that!”
“That was just …….. strange,” Fogaban panted.
Kor dropped down on one knee and scowled. “Torgan.”
“You know these … creatures?” Kithri asked him.
“They are the invaders…the lessers of the race.”
“Thank you, Mialee, for the assistance,” Declan offered.
“I can heal once more then just minor healing…” she responded.
“Save it. I can bandage up the others, and with some rest we should be good to go,” Declan advised.
“I’m just hurt a little,” Fogaban said.
“I will be fine… just need a short rest,” Kor agreed.
“Those creatures came from the direction we are going,” Mialee said, sitting with the rest.
Kor glanced further up the road, “Bad sign…”
“Well, at least that’s … what… 9 less of them?” Declan offered as he broke out his medical kit and began bandaging exposed wounds.
“There were only three torgan by my count,” Kor countered.
“And the zombies and skeletons,” Declan reminded him as he flicked zombie guts off his armor.
“Yes, those were Korthul,” Kor commented.
“The zombies and skeletons were Korthul?” Kithri asked, recognizing the name as Kor’s tribe.
“At least one of the zombies was, I’m going to assume the rest were,” Kor answered.
After a moment, Kithri asked, “Should we keep going on the path or just make our own way?”
Mialee remained silent as she turned to look in the direction of Cragenmoor, her home. A shiver danced down her spine before looking toward the others.
“If not the path, then we need to find the Deadmere,” Kor continued his conversation with Kithri.
“Right …” she answered.
The party continued up the path. It wasn’t too long before it begins to drift south toward the lake. Every once in a while they could catch the sound of a cricket…or a bird of prey crying out in the darkness…which is a lot more noise than they’d heard in this place so far.
“Good sign, finally,” Declan muttered. Kithri and Mialee continued to listen for any other strange sounds, and looked around cautiously."
“These sounds are even more weird now,” Fogaban argued.
Kithri continued glancing around, ""could be calls since this place is so … dark."
Her head then snapped to one side, and her body quickly followed, facing south. “I hear a woman … that way …. she’s singing.”
Kithri stoods still motioning south and waiting to see what the others would do …. “No… there are more than one voice.”
Declan’s face clouded, “Last time we followed a voice in the forest, it didn’t end so well.”
Fogaban said thoughtfully, “No idea what this may lead to …. but we should go see what’s going on.”
“What woman in her right mind is going to be singing out here?” Kor wondered aloud.
“I agree. If we’re going to investigate, we should approach carefully,” Declan nodded.
“she’s not alone either,” Kithri said again.
Mialee remained silent while trying to listen and recall what all dwelled in these woods.
“We could stay to the path if no one feels it could be of value,” Kithri offered.
“I’ll go wherever you want,” Kor stated.
Declan pondered the situation, “I think we should probably at least know what it is, since it may wind up being between us and a safe retreat.”
Kithri took a few steps toward the sound then paused to make sure all were on board. Declan moved to follow her, trying to be as silent as his heavy armor would allow. Fogaban walked past him and walked next to Kithri.
Kithri headed toward the song and after a while tried to listen more intently. Kor followed along, with Mialee falling into step behind them.
The trees seem to close in on them once again as they traveled southward. They could make out a trail through them though. As the path turned slightly west, they all begin to hear sounds of a song…
“The tune is quite melancholy,” Kithri noted.
As the song grew louder, Kor pushed ahead of the rest, as if determined now. Mialee frowned while listening to the singing.The trail ended in a clearing. In the center of the clearing was a decayed statue…
Declan recognized the voices at the last minute, and whispered harshly, “Kor! Stay with us. Harpies!”
The barbarian paid no heed, mesmerized by the haunting music as the fluttering of wings also filled the air.
Everyone charged forward, weapons ready, except Kor. Kor continued his zombie-like march toward the singing harpy.
Mialee rushed forward while lifting the spear and speaking a word. The harpy in front of her screamed as a blinding light burst on its breast.
Kithri charged at a harpt only to get slashed by its claws, then clobbered the halfling with its wooden club.
As Kor passed by the harpy that had been singed by Mialee, it slashed out at him, cutting deep, but the barbarian continued on his path to the singing harpy.
Fogaban chopped at the harpy that struck Kithri, but his strike was pushed aside by the harpy’s wing, and with its club, knocked aside Declan’s mace.
The harpy lets Kor continue on and slashes it claw deep into Mialee. She follows up with a slam of the mace toward Mialee’s head.
Fogaban thrust his shield between the harpy and Kithri, protecting her from further damage. The harpy instead turns on Declan and clubs him!
Kor shook his head slowly as the sounds of combat and the cries of his comrades drown out the singing. He snaps out of his, then looks around. He sees the harpy attacking Mialee and brings his sword down heavily, cutting it out of the sky.
The singing harpy sees its hold on Kor fall and dives at him, slicing into his back.
Fogaban drives his axe into the harpy before him and drags it down to the ground, where Kithri’s blades pin it to the dirt and end its miserable life.
Given the breathing space, Declan offered a quick prayer and focused his powers on Mialee. Mialee muttered a quick thank you to Declan and uses her healing powers on Kor.
Kor again nods his thanks. The harpy noticed Mialee’s power and turned her attention on the elf, but failed to hit.
Fogaban again used his shield to protect Kithri as the halfling chugged down a small vial of healing potion. The dwarf then chopped the harpy with his axe, and Declan bashed it to the ground.
Kor, in the meantime, slashed at the harpy before Mialee, only to have it then turn and club him in return. Then Mialee raced up and impaled the harpy on her spear. As the spear stuck the harpy, a jolt ran up the shaft and into the creature.
A last harpy turned and winged away, deeper into the forest.
Kor dragged himself and collapsed near a chest at the other end of the clearing. “That’s it… I’m sleeping. I’m done.”
Declan nodded, “I agree, this was enough for one day.”
Kithri looked around nervously for more movement, then looked to the others to make sure they were okay.
“The new elf can have my watch,” Kor said, exhausted.
“Okay, just don’t forget that ale barrel in the corner,” Fogaban winked.
Mialee spoke softly while placing her fingers on Kor, and Declan unpacked his medical kit again and made his rounds to the others. Kithri watched the healing and pushed her unneeded healer’s kit back in her bags.
She turned to join Fogaban at the chest, where they both began inspecting it for traps.
Mialee settled down on the ground, hands folding before her. Soon her eyes closed as she slipped into reverie.
Fogaban poked and prodded, and Kithri noted that the chest itself was the trap. She pointed to a poison needle inside the lock. She carefully moved around and tried to disable it. “Hmmmm…”
She heard a loud CLICK!…
And that’s where this chapter ends…