Monthly Archives: December 2011

Must Have Been One of the Rats

“My beard!” Feldard exclaimed in shock then took a wild swing at the fleeing human, missing Stephan as another rat jumped for the distracted dwarf.

As the party pulled into the open space, Maruc found it easier to swing his mace. It was marvelously light and seemed to have a life of its own. Again and again he swept the weapon into the mass of swarming rodents and more often than not it found its mark. A good thing too as the supply of rats seemed to be endless.

“Miklos! One of your spells might be useful right now, unless you fancy another couple of days recuperation in this delightful place!” Maruc’s fierce grin bellying his concerns.

Miklos could see Maruc was quite correct as he glance around Stephan’s shoulder, and yet more seemed to be coming out of the darkness. He needed more space lest he enchant his friends. “Back away from the cave mouth everyone, I shall cast a sleep enchantment upon them, it should make our way clear!”

Stephan ducked, trusting Miklos would ply his skill and get them out of this rat nest. But unfortunately, he had two of the vile beasts somehow attached to him at the moment. Yet he ducked. And rolled–trying to squash one of them with his back. It squeaked but seemed undeterred.

Kicking, he was able to send one skidding over the cave floor into the effect of Miklos’ enchantment. He was able to “sheath” his knife in the other.

Ludo too scrambled out of the cave pulling clear his sword, he hacked at any rats that came within reach.

Feldard was less than pleased with the advice of the others to give ground, but did back his way out of the tunnel, bashing rats against the walls as he did so.

As they retreated into a defensive ring about the cave mouth, Miklos was impressed how they corralled the beasts into a neat mass. He waited a few seconds to see if more were about to arrive. “Perfect gentlemen! Stephan duck!” he swiftly gathered his enchantment and almost gently laid it upon the centre of the pack. The effect was almost instantaneous. The ravening pile slowed and stopped.

As soon as sleep blanketed the rats, he started to stick them with his sword clear of any strands. As soon as the last rats were killed, he carefully reentered the cave to retrive his flint.

Hasan watched the companions finish the rats off. “I say,” the elf remarked, “let’s not forget the scream that came from the left. Shall we thither?” The elf tossed his apple nonchalantly…to the right.

Afterwards, he felt for the damage to his beard and glared at Stephan muttering curses in dwarven. By the time the rest of the party was ready to continue, Feldard seemed at least approachable.

“Well, do we continue into the tunnel, or try to the left or right?”

Stephan kept well clear of Feldard; avoiding eye contact. He thought it best to lay low for a bit.

He was guardedly relieved that the dwarf did not seem to be dwelling on the matter and was instead focused on the groups’ next move. Stephan resolved to never mention the beard. As far as he was concerned, it never happened. Or at least if it did, it must have been one of the rats.

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Feldard Rat-Beard

In the confined space of the low ceiling’d tunnel, Feldard had opted to have his crossbow loaded and at the ready. Seeing the rats scurrying forward, the dwarf let loose a bolt towards the forward most rodent. There was a squeal of pain that issued then the creature fell. The bloodthirsty rats scurried over the body, paying it no heed. The dwarf quickly reloaded and then fired off a second at nearly point blank before the first rat was upon him.

There was no room to pull out his axe much less use it properly, the best the dwarf could do was poke and strike at the the giant rat with the heavy wooden crossbow he held between him and it. “Someone light a torch! Try burning them!” he called out as he near wrestled with the rat trying to keep those slavering teeth well away from limbs and torso.

There were definite disadvantages to using mage-lit stones as opposed to torches, now was such a time.
“Retreat into the open Feldard, we can all help then!” cried Maruc as he backed away from the tight cave mouth. He readied his mace and shield just in time as swift evil looking rodent squirmed between the dwarfs legs. It was big for a rat, but Maruc wasn’t about to be daunted by its unnatural size. He pulled back quickly to give himself room the swing, thankful that they had not ventured too far in.

His first swing went wide but the backstroke caught it as it tried to gnaw through the plate of his left greave. Stunned it skittered a few feet away but Maruc swiftly stood on it and ended its life with a final blow. He looked around for more, and more there were. The hairy things were everywhere. One of them bit into the cleric’s wrist.

Glad to have the elf beside him, Miklos said, “Area of effect magic I have, but this is poor planning, I cannot use any here lest I confound friend and foe alike! Still there may be others about attracted by this noise. I shall not be caught out a second time.”

Dropping his sword and shield, Stephan leaped to Feldard’s aid, thunking his helmet against a thick root. Drawing his hunting knife, he jabbed it at the stinking rat that clung to the dwarf’s beard.

The hide of the rat was thick and Stephan had to push especially hard to puncture through. Blood spurted from the wound onto Stephan and Feldard. The rat continued to twist and bite while Stephan plied the knife in a gouging motion, trying to finally kill it. In doing so, part of the blade sliced through a small part of the dwarf’s beard and despite the immediacy of the situation, Stephan nearly gasped at what he’d done. He only hoped Feldard would understand.

The rat did not stop twitching but finally loosed its grip and thudded to the dirt. Stephan started to make a retreat; partly because he hated fighting in these confines but mostly to put space between him and Feldard.

Ludo scrambled through his back pack and grabbed his flint and a tourch, in the confused melee happening in front of him he cursed as he accidently dropped his flint. “Miklos he yelled get me a flint”!

Miklos, in utter defiance of his natural bad luck when it comes to things dexterous, kicked a splintered flint from the ground onto his foot. he reached out and flicked the splinter into his hand which negligently flicked in Ludo’s direction. He didn’t break his concentration once. It was a shame no one was watching.

Hasan backed out of the tunnel he had just entered. There was nothing he could do to help the friends who had gone before him. The elf found an apple in his pocket, and crunched into it. Sweet juice dribbled onto his tattered travel clothes. “What would my Rahasia think of me now?” the elf mused.

Inside the tunnel, there were now nearly a dozen of the hungry rats crawling about.

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Something Else Is Out There

Ludo made his way over to Miklos, and checked his life signs, “He is ok. I suspect the paralysis will wear off shortly, the creatures bite was not too deep.” He placed Miklos’s backpack under his head and waited for him to regain consciousness. Sipping some water he pointed out to the rest, “I don’t think the ghouls left the heads. In my experience, they would just eat them. Something else is out there.”

Feldard was glad to hear that the mage was just temporarily paralyzed. It bothered him that they had be so easily surprised and wondered what other tricks lay ahead if even a ghoul could sneak upon them. Ludo’s suggestion that there was something else out there, was met with his usual scowl. The dwarf took a protective stance near to the mage and kept watch.

While Hasan and the others considered the source of the wailing, Stephan lit a brand and approached first the right tunnel and then the left…both with great caution. He watched to see if the flame was drawn in or not. Then, after seeing what he could, he threw the flaming brand into the opening of the right tunnel.

The rotating stick gave its own sort of scream through the air before landing with a thud in moist dirt. He thought he could hear something else besides the light crackle of his brand. A scurrying of some kind; not uncommon in a cave like this but he had just seen undead escape to this hole.

The dying fire briefly illuminated thick roots and moss covered rock. He took out his own lightstone and directed the illumination in to the void. Aside from some glistening, greenish gore gooped on a root, he saw no sign of the undead.

“Can’t see much,” Stephan said turning to the others. “It is a short tunnel, only 3-feet high. Looks like it goes way back. I can see some signs of their flight.”

“Now then, I tell you, the wails came from the left,” Hasan insisted. “Look that way, but let us go straight on. Whatever we face, it will come to us, but better we know it is coming than that we meet it in the place of it’s choosing. Go know, Feldard, lead us, these tunnels are your place, not mine. But into the tunnels we must go. Let us take the fight to them. Pick up Miklos, we dare not let them move ahead too far, for they will wait. Come, come!” The elf moved forward, beckoning frantically, his shield bobbing left and right, his sword a toy soldier’s frantic swipe.

Maruc leant over the mage. “Cold, clammy. No he is not dead, I agree he will recover shortly. My advice would be to wait until he recovers before venturing in,” he said disagreeing with the elf. “I personally would prefer having is incantations on hand. Have you forgotten the experience in the tunnels of the Gnomes? I would not want to blunder into another of those spiders whilst cleansing the world of the ghouls.” Maruc wiped his friends forehead with a cloth, a pink hue started to replace the while palour. “Good another minute or two and we’ll be ready to go.”

The group waited for five minutes, but the mage had still not waken. Finally, after a couple minutes more, he started to stir.

“Welcome back Miklos, Lying around whilst we fight for our lives is very poor show. Next time be more vigilant.” Maruc grinned.

The world swam into focus. Miklos blinked and the throbbing in his head subsided. He reached up and touched his shoulder, it was still numb. He felt that was a blessing. He nodded at the priest. “Eh? Well you seem to want all the fun.” he took a deep breath. “What kind of friend would I be if I kept it all to myself?” He smiled weakly.

He pulled himself up on his elbows. He fumbled for his waterskin and took a long draught. “I can see we have restrained Hasan and Stephan too long. I am well enough to continue. But these creatures came from behind. I suggest Feldard remains with us a rearguard. We mustn’t get blocked in. We may wish to retreat in a hurry.”

Feldard smiled briefly at the mage’s comment but shook his head. “Hasan is correct. The elf will guard you well in my stead as I lead us on. There may dangers ahead in the tunnels that he and the others would not recognize. I will guide us forward.” With that said the dwarf moved towards the front of the party and made his way towards the tunnel directly ahead. His pace was cautious, studying the structural soundness of the entrance way and wary of pitfalls.

The tunnel was short, only 3-feet high, even small for a dwarf. Combat would be a challenge, virtually impossible for those wielding long swords.

It wasn’t long before they found out what Stephan thought he had seen scurrying about. Four giant rats scampered out of the dark, their mouths dripping with drool at the prospect of a fresh meal.


 

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Return From Whence You Came!

Miklos felt the cold touch of death creep down his shoulder and toward his heart. The chill spread and his useless knees buckled, he was grateful that he would not be awake when they feasted on him.

Feldard gave out a bellow of alarm to warn the others ahead “We are attacked!” and charged at the undead creature standing up from the unconscious mage.

The dwarf swung his axe blade up and over his head to come down hard on the ghoulish creature just as its claws landed a glancing scrape on the stout warrior. The magical blade bit deep. The creature’s scream rang in the party’s ears as it fought back fiercely.

Ludo sprang into action holding the lightstone before him as a deterrent. Another of the undead creatures appeared out of nowhere. He thrust his sword into its chest and felt it cut through rotten flesh. Withdrawing his sword he saw a gallop of sickly green liquid erupt from the creature and land on the ground next to Miklos. The creature paused for a moment, then screeched at the young rogue.

Stephan was late getting his hack in but soon joined Feldard and Ludo in the attack. Rolling to his feet, he found himself facing a ghastly visage. The large eyes though vacant burned with pure hate. The gaping maw screeched an ear-splitting wail. A sickly old, dry smell emanated from the mouth in a cold stream.

The scrabbling creature attacked with unnatural vigor. Pushing with his shield, he was able to keep the thing off him for a second. But the grasping dead fingers held tight to the shield weighing it down with a sudden twisting motion. This sent the Traladaran sprawling into the dark mud with the thing still flinging itself about trying to get at his neck. He felt hard dry fingers scraping at his flesh but somehow managed to free enough space to strike with his blade.

Thwack!

The sword cut into the animated flesh sending a strange reverberation up the woodsman’s arm. The blow successfully removed the fell being’s left arm but had no effect on it’s seeming bloodlust. With an erupting wail, it again leaped Stephan.

Maruc grabbed at his holy symbol and was about to call again on Halav Re-Incarnate when still another ghoul rushed out from the mist.

“Return from whence you came!” Cried the priest. The beast recoiled and fled back to its tunnel. Then striding fearlessly toward the twisted animated remains locked in combat with Stephan. He thrust his holy symbol into the face of the first feeling the protective power of Halav encompass him and leap forth. “Allow the spirit of Halav to give rest to your souls. Pass into the ether!”

With this repeated intonation, the remaining three ghouls made haste away from the cleric.

Hasan recoiled at the sound of Miklos’s gasp. The elf’s sword glinted menacingly, but there was no room to swing it in the tight scrum in front of him. “Maruc, go now, and look to these creatures. I will watch for others,” the elf insisted.

There were two tunnels, about 50 feet apart, one straight ahead and another to the right, concealed by overgrown vegetation through which the undead had retreated. With the quick battle ended, the group noticed that the mysterious wailing had stopped. Hasan had the impression that it had originated from a different angle, somewhere ahead and slightly to the left of their position.

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Be On Your Guard

“There is still evil afoot, be on your guard.” Maruc did not put away his symbol, he thrust it beyond him like a shield and edged forward into the mist beyond searching for the ‘wailer’.

Miklos stared at the ghoulish posts in disgust. “What manner of folk would do this? It must be a warning designed to ward people off. But from what?”

Ludo kept his sword in hand and advanced towards the gruesome heads, He pulled a light stone from his pocket and used the light to peel away the gloom surrounding him and the ghostly visage. Well one mystery is solved at least, he swiped his sword and knocked the poles to the ground, knocking the heads loose from their perch. “Maruc I mean no disrespect to the departed, but I do not think it is right that they remain on the poles”. He felt a need to dispose of the heads but was extremly nervous – he felt like the party was being watched. I have a bad feeling about this place something is not right.

A groaning laugh escaped Hasan’s thin lips. The elf shook his head, “Spirits up now, boys, we’ll find the end of this mystery soon enough, I think.” And the elf fell into rank behind the tall broad cleric.

The dwarf wasn’t bothered in the least by the displayed heads and merely raised an eyebrow as Ludo knocked the poles down. He waited a moment, half expecting some manner alarm to be raised when that failed to erupt Feldard gave a grunt in response to the elf’s comment and returned to his rear guard position.

Ludo rubbed his forhead, the wailing was getting on his nerves, it sounded mournful and within the mist and fog it was difficult to guess its direction and how far away it was. Ludo was certain that it was not the wind making the noise, which led him to believe that whoever decapiated the bodies was close by and hunting the party.

Stephan was relieved to see the poled-heads instead of some un-worldly creatures. But his relief was by no means complete and he moved on with his party on high alert.

“Be on your guard, Ludo we can care for the dead when this place is free of evil.” Maruc warned.

The group moved forward through the mist, and saw the outline of another set of impaled heads. Then another, and then more still. The entire place was filled with impaled heads. The wailing continued.

Hasan’s keen vision focused in on one of the decapitated heads. He narrowed his eyes. Were those…bite marks?

Before any more exploration could be done, two hideous creatures burst out from a hidden tunnel entrance near where Stephan and Miklos were standing. They were on top of them immediately. Stephan’s armor protected him from the ghoul’s bite, but Miklos had no such protection to offer. The ghoul sunk his teeth into the mage’s shoulder. Miklos cried out, but his voice faded as consciousness left him. The undead beast dropped the paralyzed spellcaster and his eyes darted about in search of new prey.

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Rest or Flee Creatures From Beyond the Grave!

Miklos sniffed the decay on the air. He wasn’t comfortable at all. “Stefan, do you mind if I stay by you? this place is chilling me to the bone!” Undead, from his experience didn’t succumb to sleep spells, lucky he had memorized the web spells. Assuming they were corporeal…He tried to pierce the gloom with his gaze and listen for noises that were not his companions.

“No, I don’t mind if you stay near me,” Stephan said to Miklos as he hefted his sword and shield but made no advance. “But I may just be keeping back or fleeing. This is not my sort of foe!”

Stephan shook his head to rid the stench of death from his nostrils. Yet the ungodly scent remained; permeating the fog and clinging to their clothing.

Hasan watched Maruc approach the foreboding trio, dumbfounded. He feared no dead man, but these apparitions made him shake with nerves. “They have seen more winters than I,” he breathed to Ludo, as he drew the light, straight blade Saeth Taegu gave him when she left the company. He watched the cleric ministrations, and prepared to charge, with the honor of all who had fallen propelling him into this fight.

The stilty beings that confronted them had no sense of fear like the humanoids Stephan normally met. These were the undead–beyond human concept. Immune to the usual psychology of battle. Stephan bided his time, shield and sword ready, and waited–hoping–that Maruc would turn the unnatural creatures away.

Ludo took a step back in shock, the sight before him was frightening, he drew his sword and prepared for combat. As Maruc advanced, Ludo prayed as well that these creatures would be banished.

From the rear of the party, Feldard had difficulty making out what manner of foe they approached, but he frowned at how nervous the rest of his companions seemed. It was the smell of death and decomposition that he eventually he recognized. The priests words, spoken so forcibly and with such conviction that one would think the sound would carry for miles by sheer force of will, seemed to almost be swallowed up by the mist

Feldard took a few steps forward, ready to take over should the priests prayer have no affect.

Maruc swiftly pulled the holy symbol from under his sodden cloak. Shaking the dew from his hair, he stayed his friends and advanced on the creatures showing no fear. “Rest or flee creatures from beyond the grave! One who has the favour of Halav Incarnate stands before you and your dark souls are in peril!”

With his other hand he drew his mage-wrought mace ready for combat.

The creatures did not move. In fact, they had not moved at all since coming into sight. Maruc squinted his eyes and got a little closer to reveal the reason why. These were not undead, but rather the three missing heads from the campsite, impaled upon 6-foot poles.

The unsettling wail continued, emanating from somewhere in the distance ahead.

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The Stench of Long Dead Creatures

Ludo advanced into the clearing. He used his the field craft taught to him by his father’s gamekeeper to explain to Maruc what happened. Pointing to the various spoors “looks like the attackers came in from two directions at once and took these poor sods by surprise. there were it least eight attackers, most likely more, its hard to tell. A classic and well coordinated surprise attack. The attackers quickly overcame resistance, and killed them gesturing to the bodies within the dying fire within seconds. I expect they attacked at dawn going by the state of the fire, which means the attackers could be miles away by now. Equally they could still be close by. They decapitated the bodies which is disturbing. They could have taken the heads for a ritual or just to warn off anyone who came looking for the source of the fire, by that statement I mean us. Ludo shuddered, there is nothing we can do for them I suggest we move on as quickly as we can and get clear of this area before they come back”.

Maruc cast around the scene. “Its a warning. To my mind its to ward off would be adventurers. These larger foot prints how tall were the attackers? Six or seven foot tall? You say this was a surprise attack? So we are looking for cunning creatures larger than the largest man? Weapon users, look the at the spear there. The tracks goes back up into the mountains? Hmm I’d rather not leave these poor souls unburied but we cannot burn them, we don’t have the time or resources and we cannot give them warning that we are coming.”

He knelt in the centre of the camp. “Blessed Halav on your carven throne in the south, receive the souls of your children who have fallen here.” He stood up and faced the north. “As Halav is our guide. Let us revenge this travesty.”

Miklos rubbed his hand over the blackened soil. “Normal. No magical blast here. At least that’s something. “Yes Ludo, although ghoulish you are correct, we cannot tarry.” He looked at the tracks, the mage was no expert but by the gait he would be surprised that these creatures were capable of stealth.

Stephan touched some blood splattered on a tree. “A bit tacky still. Maybe 2 or 3 hours old.” It was easy to see more blood balled up in clots of the loamy river soils. “A lot of blood here. Maybe it’s where they bagged the heads,” he said looking down at a spot near the edge of the camp. “Sloppy work,” he muttered shaking his head.

“Da,” Stephan said as if he’d come to some conclusion. “We are lucky to have this warning. The trail heads in the direction we go but we now go with great caution. We are the hunters now. Let’s find our prey.”

Feldard’s palms itched. Whatever attacked these poor blokes would find that he and his companion more than a match for them. He nodded at Stephen’s comment that they hunt these creatures down. He let the elf and Ludo lead they would be better able to see an signs along the trail. For his part, he kept an alert watch as they continued on along the trail.

Ten minutes after they left the camp, a thick mist began to roll down the valley. The land grew quiet, and only the rhythmic sound of the group’s pace broke the silence.

The dense mist clung to clothing and moisture dripped from the sparse bushes. From all around came a sound reminiscent of the dull clack of dried bones, and the stench of long dead creatures assailed the adventurers’ nostrils. Up ahead, an unsettling wail began, and three tall spindly creatures with gory heads loomed up from out of the mist.

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