Dragons are Gathering

"What Can Happen to Her in Eight Hours?"

The scent of bananas and dander

The party had regrouped and was waiting for a response to the keep’s alarm bell.

The illusionist freed the female slaves they had discovered chained to the Great Hall’s floor (and knocked senseless with one of her own spells). The women were dirty, battered, and bruised, but did not seem overly excited at their release. Their sullen and listless disposition as they huddled together was probably just shock from their horrific ordeal over the last few days, or the residual effects of being recently stunned silly by the illusionist. The adventures would have liked to help them more, but with reinforcements most likely arriving any second, the party had more to worry about than the surviving townsfolk.

After taking a few minutes to tend wounds, check weapons, and examine their defenses, the heroes began looking for some additional advantage, and checked a door leading out of the Great Hall. It opened to a kitchen with a fire still burning in the fireplace. A well stocked, if unkempt room, the kitchen had more closed doors opening to other rooms, and a staircase leading down to a musty and smelly cellar.

The search was interrupted by the sounds of replacement guards in the courtyard, calling out for their now deceased comrades. The barred main doors of the Great Hall rattled as the replacements tried to enter. They made a few more battering attempts, but the illusionist had barricaded the door too well.

Sadie and Sparkles (the thief and cleric) concentrated on the staircase leading down. Sparkles was concerned someone or thing was going to come up from the cellar, but the party didn’t want to investigate it just yet while an immediate threat was trying to knock down the door. Sadie tried to shut out any outside distractions and extend her senses down in the stairs to ferret out any threats, besides the musty smell of mold with a sharp undertone of vinegar, she couldn’t sense anything out of the ordinary.

Then a message burst into her mind, “There are five of them right outside your door.” It was in the familiar voice of Chiat, a mage she had worked with before, but the message was in her mind, not spoken. This was surprising as Chiat didn’t accompany them to the keep, but regardless, she heeded the message and turned her attention to the kitchen door that lead out to the courtyard.

The party hadn’t barred that door yet, so Chiat’s message saved them from a nasty surprise when the door opened and a raider stepped into the room. Chait yelled to the bandits, “Intruders in the kitchen! Rush in and kill them!” A few of the bandits did rush forward, packing themselves into a nice bunch as Chiat threw a few of them into the abyss of a magical sleep.

Although the party managed to dispatch the rest of the guards quickly with overwhelming numbers, it was surprising to see that two Sutak accompanied the human raiders. More surprising were the weapons the Sutak carried. Roughly cylinder shaped and looking somewhat organic, they spit out projectiles at an amazing rate. Sadie used the doorframe as cover as a line of the projectiles slammed into the adjacent door and walls. The heroes watched in horror as the “arrows” divided into three tentacles below the sharp barb embedded into the wall. Each tentacle began writhing and twisting on its own, revealing curved thorns down its length. Luckily the Sutak didn’t have a chance to get off another volley, and were quickly killed.

The entire battle lasted less than a minute. After getting briefly reacquainted with Chait the bodies were quickly pulled into the Great Hall to hide any signs of battle. They had barely removed the corpses when they again heard voices of more guards calling for their comrades. Chait’s subterfuge successfully allowed the party to dispatch the last group so quickly, that the guard hadn’t had time to reveal the adventurers presence.

A quick peek revealed there were only two confused looking guardsmen in the courtyard calling for their mates. With a smirk, Osiris chopped the heads of a few bodies, kicked open the doors, and tossed the heads into the courtyard. As the heads rolled to the guards’ feet, he yelled that their heads would join the pile unless they surrendered. The cowardly of the two broke and ran for the tower they had come from. The other drew his sward and traded curses with the ranger, but he didn’t advance. (The ranger is 7’ tall and wields a two-handed axe.)

With a surge of power, Chait caused one of the head to float up in the air in front of the remaining guard. This proved to be too much for him, and he ran after his companion back into the tower screaming for help.

Guessing that company was on its way soon, the adventurers quickly set up an ambush targeting a choke point where guards would be coming from the main tower. Caltrops covered the narrow opening where they expected troops; the thief found a perch on the roof top, giving access to both sides of the caltrop-mined area, and the rest found covered hiding placed with good fields of fire.

The party had about 10 minutes of preparation before a half-dozen warriors in sickly glowing armor charged out of the tower and into the courtyard. The first two went down in a howl of pain as they ran across the caltrops. As the remaining guards stopped short, Sparkles blasted the group with a brain-melting thunderclap, weakening the entire group and stunning most of them.

The adventurers launched various missile and melee attacks, many of which passed through the ghostly glowing armor without touching the defenders. Despite the advantage the armor gave the bandits, superior numbers won out against them. Carefully crossing the caltrop zone, the party advanced on the blasted and stunned raiders, eventually cutting them all down.

As the part of the group beat down the raiders, Sparkles, the illusionist, and Osiris, were dragged into a different battle.


(This is a short cut scene describing what the adventurers did not see.)

The Transformation

While the adventurers prepared for the next wave of reinforcements, the five rescued women sat together on supply barrels, listlessly rubbing their chain-chafed skin. Frequently each would scratch or pick exposed skin and scabs. They seemed almost oblivious to the excitement, movement, and hurried planning of the party around them.

Each was whispering, almost inaudibly, to no one in particular, “I don’t know why, but I think I should be scared of something.”

“I keep thinking that I should throw myself into a fire…to burn the darkness way.” A brief smile flickered across her lips, and then vanished. “Something won’t let me walk to the fire.

“Don’t think about it, it only hurts more.”

“I should be happy we are free, but I want to tell them to leave.”

One suddenly shook uncontrollably, cold sweat dripping down her face. “Something hurts; I hear it whisper to me.” The others watched as her once blue irises quickly flowed black, and then leaked into the whites, covering them completely. The convulsions racked her again, this time gums bled and fingertips split open as black fangs and talons sprouted.

Initially the remaining women traded listlessness for terror as their companion transformed, but this was short lived as they each starting convulsing on their own. As a group, flesh torn and putrefied, blood and eyes turned black, skin split and bones cracked until they were no longer recognizable as human.

A thunderclap struck outside, startling the group. They looked up and saw an armored man duck into the Great Hall with them. As a group they screamed and leaped at him intending to pacify their pain by rending flesh from his bones.
-—————————————
(Now back to the summary)

After blasting the guards with a thunderclap from his position by the Great Hall, Sparkles took cover in the Hall. He glanced at the five survivors they had freed to ensure they were still safe and was horrified with what he saw. They were no longer a group of sullen slaves, huddled together in the corner. Instead he saw black-taloned undead putrefying before his eyes. They seeming to be recovering from some sort of group seizure, the convulsing had caused an eye to pop out on one woman, while all suffered from dead chunks of flesh falling loose, leaving oozing strings of pus and mucus.

Sparkles tried to send the undead beasts back to hell, but whatever force it was that turned them so fast into these creatures, was too strong to overcome. He barely had time to raise his shield before they launched a screaming mob attack at him. Osiris heard the commotion and rushed to Sparkle’s side.

As the two battled, they saw the illusionist preparing to cast a spell from the kitchen door, a black column of smoke wrapped around her form and yanked her out of sight.

They finished wiping out the she-beasts about the same time the rest of their party finished with the guards outside. Gathering together back in the Great Hall, they took a quick inventory of their situation.

All those who tapped into magic were out of spells, and Chiat was ready to lock the doors and settle down for a long night to recharge. Osiris objected, arguing that he was going to follow the kidnapped illusionist into the (unexplored) cellar to find her. After seeing what happened to the other survivors, he didn’t want the same fate befalling his comrade. Sadie agreed and prepared to go looking for her with the ranger.

Torn between a night’s rest to regain his power and going into the darkness wounded and weakened, Sparkles asked, “What can happen to her in eight hours?”

Chiat had already began meditating, intending to spend the night in the Great Hall, when his ring, a gift from his tutor during his apprentice ship, flared with power, waking Chiat. Somehow the ring had restored a portion of his power without a long rest. He was surprised, as this had never happened before. Grateful for the power, he decided to help look for the illusionist.

More than a little ashamed at his moment of weakness, Sparkles realized that looking for the simian was the only course of action that they could take. Strapping on his shield and hefting his morningstar, he followed the rest of the party down the kitchen stairs into the cellar.

The cellar was filled with barrels, boxes, bags, crates, and stacks of goods, most likely the ill-gotten gains from their raiding. Across the room another staircase lead up, but it was clogged with garbage and debris, and would be impassable until cleared.

The only other exit to the room was a darkened hallway. A shuffling noise in the corner of the room turned out to be three kidnapped women from the town. Contrary to the earlier sullen and unresponsive women that turned into vile creatures, these were happy to see the adventurers and were worried about their families back in town. The party ushered them back upstairs to the relative safety of the Great Hall with the two men-at-arms guarding them.

A quick peek at the hallway revealed dozens of niches in the walls filled with ancient bones: the party had entered the keep’s ancient crypt. A crossing corridor gave them three options: To the left, the passage was choked with a jumble of stone sarcophagi piled to the ceiling. Ahead and to the right, doors blocked their way.

Deciding to approach the door straight ahead, they moved forward. A few feet from the door, the tarnished decorations became alive. A lion’s head of brass roared to life with eyes glowing red, “Who are you and what do you want?”

Startled, they quietly walked backwards and listened at the other door. No one detected anything on the other side of the door, until Chiat sniffed at the air. The Northerner’s keen sense of smell picked up the sharp odor of overripe bananas and dander that always seemed to linger around the simian illusionist. (Looks like infrequent bathing does have its advantages.)

Picking the lock had no effect, so the ranger hacked it down with his axe. The room inside was empty, the back wall covered by a curtain. A pulse of magic from the mage and the curtains flew aside, revealing a bed, a desk, some sort of rune circle on the floor, and two large snarling wolves.

Another flow of magic and Chiat waved the wolves to sleep. Taking a breath of relief, Osiris took a step into the room to finish off the wolves, only to be slammed back into the doorway by a barely visible disturbance of swirling air.

In the next few seconds, a flurry of actions filled the room: A cloaked figure suddenly became visible as she violently shook and slapped a wolf, trying to wake it up. In response, Chiat pummeled the woman’s head with magic missiles. Sneaking past the ranger and the barely visible force, Sadie edged over to the other sleeping wolf, stabbing it several times in the neck.

The woman’s efforts awoke the wolf, who immediately leaped across the room onto the thief that had just killed his mate. Chait worked around the swirling melee trying to attack the cloaked necromancer. Watching him close on her, she quaffed a potion and disappeared, as Chiat’s arms closed on empty air where she had just been.

After trading several blows with the strange force, the ranger succeeding is dispersing it and the room calmed once more. Sniffing the air around him, Chait zeroed in on the source of the familiar smell of his colleague, the empty bed. Looking around and under the bed, they felt the simian’s invisible form lying on top of it. (Ever feel up a sleeping monkey?)

Closer inspection reveal some sort of light-bending metallic powder covering the illusionist’s form, rendering it undetectable until the powder was scrubbed off. Leaning more towards quick action, the mage quickly grabbed ink from his pack and smeared it all over the sleeping form’s face.

The illusionist eventually woke up, but without a mirror, she didn’t notice her new ink make over. Ransacking the room revealed the necromancer’s spell books and a magical dagger among other mundane items.

Now that their group was together again, the beat up, tired, and drained adventurers gathered up the female survivors and men-at-arms, barred the doors, and hunkered down for a little rest before exploring further.

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