Ayc paced back and forth for a moment as he analyzed his predicament. It was the middle of the night, and he was outside the walls of Stockseth as a cat. He made his way along the wall for a while, then quickly and quietly scaled the wooden wall.
Once atop the wall, he made his way via the rooftops to the manor where he was supposed to return. The balcony where he had exited the manor was guarded, and very well lit with torches.
Unable to return the way he’d came, he climbed down into the streets and found the least lit alleyway he could find. Once in the alley, he transformed into his human self, creating quite the disturbing commotion.
“What was that?” he heard a voice say from the main road. Footsteps began approaching Ayc’s location. He stepped forward, and tripped over a crate on the ground.
Two guards appeared in the flickering light with swords drawn. “Who are you? What’s going on here?” one of the guards said seriously and nervously.
“I tripped over that crate,” Ayc said as he motioned toward the downed box.
The guards looked skeptically over Ayc’s shoulder down the dark alleyway. “And what were you doing in that alleyway?” the guard asked, a bit more courageously. Both still held their swords toward Ayc.
“I was looking for the demon. I’m one of the travelers that helped with the zombies earlier. I heard there was a demon, and I couldn’t sleep, so I figured I would help look.” Ayc watched the guards faces to see if they believed his words.
“If that’s true, then you should probably be back at the manor. Come with us so we can verify what you are saying,” said the guard who had done the talking up to this point.
Ayc happily complied, and followed the guards to the manor where his friends were staying. Once it was verified that he was indeed with the party, Ayc was escorted to his room. “No more nightly outings for now, if you would,” the guard escorting him said.
“Of course. I shall stay in my room until summoned,” Ayc replied.
A few hours passed, and the sun rose with the beginning of a new day. The aroma of baked breads and cooked meat overtook the stench of death that lingered from the night before as the town slowly came to life.
Ayc, Celene, Suzanna, and Loch were each summoned to a grand dining room, where fresh foods were spread aplenty across a large oak table. Lady Gililia sat at the table with Captain Hona, and they ended their quiet discussion as the group entered the room.
“Welcome. We honor your presence with what food and hospitality we have to offer. Please come and join us.” She waved her hand to the empty chairs as she spoke, and the group sat down to enjoy their meal.
“I do hope you slept well,” Gililia said sweetly as the group ate their food.
“Your hospitality has been most gracious,” Loch replied.
“I am glad to hear this. Now for more somber news, which I do hate to bring up over a morning meal, but necessary nonetheless.” She paused for a moment. “It seems there has been some treachery and demonic sightings within the last few hours, and it is cause for much concern.” She let her words settle as she watched the party, her eyes resting on each for a moment as she spoke.
“We are unable to find your companion which you were travelling with, and we need to know everything in order to prove his guilt or innocence,” she said.
“Guilt or innocence for what?” Ayc asked.
“From what we have gathered, the demon we are searching for stole from the general goods store near the entrance of Stockseth,” she replied.
“And you think this could be our companion?” Loch asked.
“How well do you know your companion? What was his name?” Captain Hona chimed in.
“We have only known him for a few days, but I know he is a duke of upper West Haven,” Loch said honestly, “not a very good place in my opinion,” he added.
“Duke of which house exactly?” Hona asked suspiciously.
“He is the duke of Fredrikson,” Loch said.
“And you have only known him a short amount of time?” Lady Gililia interjected.
“We are on a mission from the king of West Haven to retrieve the Heart of Chymaron,” Ayc began, “we were brought together for this mission, but we’ve never met before in our lives.”
“And from what I have seen, he is a noble person,” Loch added.
Lady Gililia sat quietly for a long moment, then looked at the group. “I believe that you people are not in league with any evil forces. However, if we find that your companion is some sort of demonic presence, we will deal with him mercilessly. If it is found that you are indeed in league with any malicious forces, you will also be dealt with. Is that understood?” Her kind and sweet demeanor shifted to a dark and intense gaze.
“Of course. We understand you must do what you must,” Loch replied after a short pause.
“Good then let’s get to the bottom of this,” Lady Gililia said with a flourish and a smile. “Captain Hona please fetch Tomlin for us. We will question him, then let our friends be on their way.”
“At once.” Captain Hona stood, and exited the room. After a few seconds, he returned with a scared and scrawny man.
“Tomlin, these are the friends of the man who you claim is a demon. Please tell us what you told the captain last night,” Lady Gililia said kindly.
Tomlin nodded. “Well you see when all the fighting was happening, I watched this cat man go into Lenny’s shop, and I could tell he was up to no good. So i did what any good citizen would do and i went in to stop him. I told him to put all the stuff back, or I’d tell the guards.” Tomlin trailed off slightly, and he became visibly nervous.
“That was when the guy transformed into a demon and threatened me. He said if I told anyone about him, he was going to kill me.” Tomlin’s eyes remained staring at the floor as he spoke.
“Wait you went into a store that was being pillaged to tell them to stop amidst an undead invasion?” Ayc asked with confident skepticism.
“Well yeah I was just being a good citizen,” Tomlin stammered, his eyes darting from face to face. “Ok well I was going to see if I could maybe get in on it a bit, but then he turned into a demon and attacked me. That’s the point!” Tomlin’s words became rushed as he retold his story.
“Did you have anything to drink?” Loch asked as he cocked his head and raised an eyebrow.
“No I didn’t I was just hiding to survive like everyone else, and I saw this guy so I followed him, and he turned from a soldier to a demon.” Tomlin was shaking and desperation filled his eyes as he nervously looked for anyone to believe his story.
“A moment ago, you said it was a cat man that was in the store. Now you are saying it was a soldier?” Ayc asked questioningly.
Tears began to swell in Tomlin’s eyes. “Ok I’ll tell you the truth,” Tomlin said with defeat laced in his words. “I saw a cat man go into the store. He was looting and I could tell he was stealing, so I went in after him to get something for myself. When I got in there, he was a solder wearing a Stockseth uniform. I told him that I wanted in on his take or I’d tell the guards. That was when he turned into a crazy demon beast with deformed arms and the face of a devil. He told me that if I told anyone about him, he would kill me.” Tomlin was sobbing at this point as he blabbed out his almost incoherent tale. “I ran as fast as I could and hid until the guards came and brought me in. Please don’t let the demon kill me!” He continued crying in a chair, his body slumped over.
The group exchanged quizzical glances, and waited for Lady Gililia to speak. “Tomlin, you must realize that your story is quite fantastical, and there is no way to corroborate it,” she said in an almost motherly tone.
Just then, a soldier standing in the corner of the room interjected. “M’lady, there was a new recruit pulled from Stockseth General. If Scotch is telling the truth, then that would be our man.”
Captain Hona stood before Lady Gililia had the chance to give the word, and he set out to gather the new recruits of the city. He knew in his heart that if any of his recruits were to blame for taking advantage of last night’s situation, there would be no end to his wrath.
Khara awoke to the sound metal scraping against metal as his door was unlocked and opened. “How are you feeling Johnson?” the guard asked. It was the same soldier who had put him to bed the previous night.
“I’m feeling much better now. I was so tired and fatigued, that I don’t remember much.” Khara only half lied. His memory of the previous night were a bit fuzzy after not sleeping for so long.
“You were acting a bit crazy to be honest. We had to lock you in your room.” The soldier gestured to a metal bar leaning against the wall in the hallway.
“Well I’m definitely feeling a lot better after a good night’s rest.” He looked down at his bloodied tunic. “I think I’ll change and prepare for the day. We have a lot of cleanup ahead of us,” Khara said smoothly.
“That we do,” the soldier agreed. “Get changed and then report for your orders.” The soldier walked down the hall, banging on doors to wake others who were still sleeping.
Khara walked down the hall, and was stopped short by a Half Ork, dressed in the green and silver of Stockseth. “You’re Johnson right?” he asked.
“Yes that’s me,” Khara lied like a professional.
“When did you enlist? We don’t have you in the ledger,” the soldier asked, wiping a bit of drool from his enlarged maw.
“I enlisted with the batch of new recruits three weeks ago,” Khara said, watching the eyes and body language of his audience.
“Oh then you knew Torkinsky,” the Half Ork said knowingly.
“Yep I was in that group. How is Torkinsky?” Khara asked with a very well rehearsed feigned smile.
The soldier’s face became more serious. “He didn’t make it. He was one of the first to go down from what I hear.”
After a moment, Khara replied, “I am truly saddened to hear that. He was a great person. We’ve lost so many to this atrocity. Let’s go make sure it never happens again. That’s what I signed up for.”
Khara’s performance was perfect, and the soldier flipped through a thick ledger of names. Under the page dated three weeks prior, he wrote in the name, Johnson, and closed the book. “Well that mistake is fixed. Go get cleaned up.” The Half Ork walked away, exchanging friendly greetings with other soldiers walking the hall of the barracks.
Khara made his way to the common room, where clean tunics were available. He changed his outfit just as Captain Hona strode into the room with the Half Ork soldier in tow. “All new recruits from the last month are to report with me to the manor now!” Captain Hona commanded. Six other soldiers besides Khara rushed to follow the captain out, and Khara did his best to blend in with their actions. He walked with the group toward the manor where the group and the Dutchess were waiting for his arrival.
The small group of soldiers filed into the banquet room of the manor, where Lady Gililia, Ayc, Suzanna, Loch, and Tomlin all sat quietly watching. Khara wore a face of bewilderment to match his fellow recruits, but his heart was beating quickly as he saw Tomlin’s face. He would never be so reckless as to transform into the same soldier twice, but still the feeling of crucifixion in the room was evident.
As the soldiers were arranged in a line, a familiar voice came to life inside Khara’s mind. Be calm. They know nothing. Khara couldn’t help but share a glance with Ayc who sat emotionless, watching the small procession.
“Well Tomlin, which one of these men is the demon?” Ayc asked frustrated.
Gililia gave Ayc a look, then repeated his question in a much kinder tone. “Please Tomlin, put this all to rest, and point out your assailant. No harm will come to you.”
Tomlin’s head fell into his hands. He managed to sob out the words, “none of them.”
“I knew none of my recruits could have done this. Right?” he looked at each of the seven men standing in a line. Khara put on a face of innocence that would fool Circle of Truth. After a moment, the captain told his men, “go back and begin your daily tasks. Keep an eye out for any dark magic that may still be present.” The soldiers left the room, and Khara breathed a small sigh of relief as he exited the manor.
“Tomlin, I think you should go rest, and think about anything else you could tell us about what happened. For now I believe we have kept our guests for what seems to be a red herring.” Lady Gililia motioned for her guards to take Tomlin from the room. He wept quietly as he left, looking at each of the group members one last time for any hint of belief in his story; he was met only with pitiful stares.
“My apologies for keeping you so long. Before you continue your journey for the king of Humans, please take these for your journey.” She handed each of them a small sack with 10 gold coins and a small vial of healing potion. “You have proven worthy, and shall not be judged by your compatriot. Please be careful in your travels.”
“Thank you m’lady,” Loch replied.
“I wish there was more we could do,” Ayc said as he rose.
“Actually there is,” Lady Gililia quickly responded.
Ayc sat back down slowly, thinking his sentence to be more of a common courtesy than an offer of actual help.
“What is it?” Loch asked as he positioned himself on the edge of his seat.
“That amulet that you brought us, along with my dear daughter’s remains,” Lady Gililia paused a moment, “it is actually a keystone which opens a door in the under-croft of this very manor. My husband, rest his soul, was part of a long line of protectors of that door. It radiates some sort of magic, and is impossible to open without the keystone. I must ask good sir Loch, where did you find it?”
Loch hesitated in his answer, not wanting to hurt the Duchess’ feelings. “I found it within him. He had been brought to life by the necromancer, and we had to dispatch him. I do apologize, but when I saw the amulet in his corpse, I decided to take it to the next town to protect it from common grave-robbers.”
“Within him,” Lady Gililia said quietly, a small smile spreading across her face. “He was always so secretive of that door. He said his family had been guarding it for hundreds of years, and he would never let anyone find the keystone.” She paused for a long moment. “I believe you have found it and brought it back for a reason. I believe that whatever is inside that door may help us in our fight against whatever evil that has befallen our town. I know not what dangers lurk inside that door, and I know that it is a lot to ask, but would you be willing to venture into the unknown room and retrieve whatever magic which is hidden? It could save or destroy our town, but we must do everything we can.” The duchess’ calm face was streaked with tears as she pleaded for the group’s help in uncovering the mystery of the magical door.
“We will do it,” Loch said confidently.
“Hold on one minute Loch,” Ayc said quickly. “We need time to think about going down there. She said it’s an under-croft, which for all we know could be a tomb. And need I remind you, all the dead things are back to life ever since that necromancer attacked. I don’t know that I want to go down there, especially since it may not even be for anything helpful.”
Celene also spoke for the first time, “I agree that we should wait before we decide to take on this task.”
“We will discuss the matter, then come back to you with our answer. Is this acceptable m’lady?” Loch asked politely.
Lady Gililia smiled and nodded. “Of course. Oh and one more thing, if any of you should need healing, our Father Korska is a talented cleric. You may visit him whenever you need. As far as your decision for the magical door, know that the Magikai are on their way, and they will open the door regardless of your decision. I only fear they will take whatever they find instead of using it to help us.”
“The Magikai are coming here. Now?” Ayc asked, somewhat hurriedly.
“Yes they have been informed that we have a demon in our midst, and are on their way. They should arrive by tomorrow morning,” Lady Gililia replied. “Now I must attend to my city. Please make yourselves at home, and don’t cause any trouble. You may come and go as you wish.” With that, the duchess left the room with Captain Hona in tow.
The group was ushered out of the manor, where they walked for a while to be away from everyone. “I’m going to go around town helping until you decide we can help with that magical room. But know that even in time, I intend to help these people.” Loch said to the group. He turned and began walking the streets searching for people in need of assistance.
“We definitely don’t want to be here when the Magikai show up,” Ayc said in a hushed tone to Celene. “I don’t know everything about you, but I know you agree.”
Celene looked at Ayc through her tinted lenses. “Then what’s the plan? Loch seems pretty intent.”
“First we figure out how to get Khara out of here, then we worry about Loch,” Ayc replied as he began walking toward the far side of town. He seemed to know where he was headed, and Celene and Suzanna followed.
Soon they came across one of the soldiers that had been in the lineup from earlier that morning. He comfortably approached the three party members. “So what’s the plan?” the soldier asked. Celene looked at him very oddly.
“Excuse me?” she asked.
“It’s me Khara. We need to get out of town,” he said quietly, watching for anyone within earshot. Soldiers and commoners worked like ants trying to repair their decimated town.
“Yes we do,” Ayc replied. Then without speaking he sent a message directly to Khara’s mind through the soul link they had created. Magikai is coming. Time is of the essence.
Khara nodded, then mentally projected a message back to Ayc. Escape and meet at graveyard, he replied in his mind.
Ayc nodded, then led Celene away with Suzanna following behind. Celene looked confused, but accepted that a plan had been made and continued without argument. After a while, she couldn’t help but ask, “was all that back there a plan?”
“Actually yes,” Acy replied. “We are meeting him back at the graveyard.”
“But that’s out of the way. Why can’t he meet us in the direction we are headed anyway?” she asked. Her impatience about the whole situation was beginning to show.
“It’s a rendezvous point we all know, so that’s what we’re doing. Let’s just get Loch and go,” Ayc replied.
They wandered the streets in search of Loch, until they finally found him weaving small dolls for some children near the schoolhouse. A little girl was happily gloating that her doll was the best as Loch mad a second doll for a little boy. The second doll was made of burnt materials, and quickly fell apart, making the little boy cry and run away from Loch. “I’m sorry I only have what there is to work with.” But the boy continued to run away followed by a laughing girl.
“Making the kids cry Loch? I thought you were trying to help,” Ayc said sarcastically as he, Celene, and Suzanna approached.
“I tried,” Loch replied apathetically, knowing the children had just gone through trauma, so judging them was unfair. “Have we decided to help them with their town’s endeavor?” Loch asked the group.
“We agree that we should leave. The Magikai will handle it, and we don’t want to be here to deal with them, so we should go. Besides we have the king’s quest to deal with. The other groups are probably way ahead of us already,” Ayc said.
“Yeah let’s just go,” Celene agreed.
“You may go. I must do this. It is a question of honor, and I will meet my makers with noble intent,” Loch said defiantly.
“Is there no way to talk you out of this?” Celene asked.
“No. You go on, and I will find you in Borgeport. I know it well, so we will meet again.” Loch clasped hands with each of them, and walked back toward the manor.
“He’s going to die,” Ayc stated confidently. “It was good to know him. Shall we?” he said as he motioned toward the outer wall. Celene and Suzanna walked with him back to the front gate where they had entered the night before. They gathered their horses, and headed back toward the large cemetery where they had encountered the necromancer to await Khara.
Khara randomly walked from group to group trying to look busy. He needed a way to leave the city limits without looking suspicious; then he noticed his out. Huge columns of smoke were growing outside the town’s walls where the bodies of the undead scourge were being gathered and burned. Khara found an unused wheelbarrow and began searching for bodies to pile on. After three trips, he stopped outside the gates, and feigned being sick.
He walked a ways away from the gate and forced himself to throw up. He could hear chuckles from behind him. “Not everyone has the stomach to do what needs doing. Go help clean something,” a soldier jeered.
Khara paid them no mind as he continued his act of being sick. He continued to slowly make his way further from the gates and soldiers. He then quickly dropped to all fours, and scurried behind a tree. He held his breath as he listened for any signs of being noticed; there were none.
A feeling of relief washed over Khara as he realized he had made it. He used his innate magic, and transformed back into his human self which his friends knew him as. As the small dull flash of light engulfed him and changed his features, he heard a female voice cry out, “did you see that? There was something over there!”
Khara knew they were referring to him, so he quickly turned, and climbed the tree, keeping his elbows in tight until he reached a decent distance up the trunk and into the limbs. He watched as three guards fanned out around the tree, searching for tracks or signs of magic. Khara prayed to every God he could think of as they searched only fifteen feet below him.
After what felt like an eternity, the soldiers made their way back to the gate, while Khara stayed perfectly still. He stayed in the tree for most of an hour, then stealthily made his way down, and out into the thicker treeline to meet with his friends.
Loch walked up the steps to the manor of the Duchess, and asked a servant for Lady Gililia. He waited a moment, then was brought into an office where she and an Elf dressed in white and green robes were speaking and pointing at the amulet which Loch had found.
“Loch, this is Father Korska. We were just discussing the implications of what could be behind that door. Have you by chance come with an answer?” Lady Gililia’s eyes openly pleading for salvation.
“I have come to help,” Loch said confidently. He tried to hide the terror welling within him as he realized he was about to enter an ancient tomb alone.
“Where are your friends?” the Duchess asked.
“They are unable to help. But I will not let fear guide my life.” Loch gestured toward the amulet. “Shall we do this then?”
Father Korska stepped forward. “You are indeed a noble and brave soul. I offer you what I can.” As he finished speaking he raised his hands, and a blued light enveloped Loch. “May the gods bless you. This shield of faith will give you some protection against whatever you find.”
“Thank you Father Korska. I am ready,” Loch said with determination.
The three of them walked down a set of stairs to the basement, then down a spiral set of stairs which ended abruptly in a smooth wall, save for a small inlet which matched the amulet’s shape and size.
“This is the door. I know not what lies behind it; only that my husband and his entire family line have protected it. My prayers and hopes go with you as you enter, for our town’s safety rests in your hands.” Lady Gililia kissed Loch on each cheek, then on the forehead. “Good luck.” She handed the keystone amulet to Loch, and ascended the stairs with Father Korska.
“Wait!” Loch stopped them, and pulled out a quill and parchment. He wrote a message, then folded it and gave it to Father Korska. “Should I not return, please make sure this is sent to my sister. She would want to know of my demise.”
“Yes of course,” Father Korska said as he took the folded letter. “Hopefully there will be no need.”
Loch stood alone before the smooth wall with the keystone in his hand. He figured he was about to die, and had made amends with this world. Dying for a noble cause is the only worthy way to die, so regardless of what lie beyond the door, his conscious was clear. He held his breath and put the keystone into the groove.
A loud grinding noise erupted from the stone walls as dust blew forth from all sides of the wall. The wall in front of Loch slid slowly back, and then to the right, into a recess in the interior wall. The smell was old and stale as Loch stepped forward slowly, trident in hand.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but then as he fully stepped into the room, fourteen orbs of light flickered into existence. Loch stood in an circular room with columns of ivory carved into tropical trees. Around the room, statues of men charging forward surrounded a large altar. Atop the alter stood a golden totem.
Loch took a moment to inspect the room, knowing traps could go off at any moment. He felt a strange magical presence as he ventured further into the room. He couldn’t place it, but it felt as if he was being judged by some unseen force. Above the entrance, he saw the words, Let Only the Good Enter Here written in Primordial. It was an ancient language that Loch had learned, thinking he would never use it. He silently thanked his headmasters of his youth.
Loch noticed scroll-work written up and down the dais of the alter below the golden totem. As he approached the totem, he saw it was a bulky ape with jaws open and a tail running up its back. Loch read the scroll-work, and found that it was written in a Primordial dialect which was mostly familiar to him. He was able to piece together that long ago, a tribe of Apelings lived within the forest, and they had many treasures. Man wanted their treasures, so there was always fighting and death. One day, a friend of the Apelings, a man called Olrark Corinto, helped them hide their most sacred totem of their God. The Corinto family line was to protect this sacred totem for all time.
As Loch read the words, his heart sank. He knew Lady Gililia had put so much faith in a magical savior, and this was far from what she was expecting. He was torn, but eventually decided to take the totem back to the Lady Gililia. He hesitated, and braced himself for some sort of trap, then lifted the totem from its resting place.
Nothing happened. Loch slowly walked away, and exited the room, all the while awaiting some deadly surprise. Very anticlimactically, he walked up the stairs and back to the office where Lady Gililia and Father Korska were sitting anxiously.
“You’re back already?” Father Korska and Lady Gililia exclaimed in unison.
“Yes. It was not what you thought it was,” Loch said slowly.
“What do you mean? Is that what was down there? Let me see it.” Lady Gililia’s voice was filled with excitement.
Loch slowly handed the Totem of the Ape God to Lady Gililia. She examined it, turning it over and over again. “I don’t understand,” she said. Her voice had suddenly turned from excitement to confused shock.
“It seems your late husband’s family was placed in charge of protecting an ancient totem of an old Apeling race which used to reside here. My apologies that it is not the salvation which you were hoping for,” Loch said sincerely.
The duchess’ face drooped as she sat down, defeated. “My husband always made such a fuss about the secrecy of that damn door. He made it seem so important and what was it? A forsaken monkey statue?” she yelled as she tossed the totem back toward Loch. He caught it, and quietly let her rage.
“I don’t ever want to see that thing again. It’s yours Loch. It’s not your fault my husband was a fool. Please just go and take that with you. You have my gratitude, but I must be alone.” She motioned for the door, and Loch took his leave. He walked out of the manor, unsure about whether he should take the totem or return it to its rightful place. He knew that the Magikai would take it, so if it wasn’t going to stay regardless, he may as well keep it, knowing he would return it one day.
He made his way to the edge of town, and gathered his horse. He began to make his way toward Borgeport where he would reunite with his friends.
Eventually Ayc, Khara, Celene, and Suzanna met up at the designated point.
“Where is Loch?” Khara asked as they met.
“He decided he had to help some more in town. He said he would meet us in Borgeport,” Ayc replied.
Khara shrugged and then asked, “where is my horse?”
“We couldn’t take your horse because they were looking for you. I don’t know what you got yourself into, but they really want to find you,” Celene answered, not trying to hide her annoyance. “So you will be sharing a horse with Suzanna.”
Khara grumbled to himself, but climbed up behind Suzanna, and they set out toward the east to hopefully meet up with Loch, whom Ayc still figured was dead.
As they rode, they saw a figure in the distance; the closer they became, the more they realized it was Loch.
“Hey Loch!” Ayc yelled, surprised to see him alive.
Loch looked back, and with a playful gleam in his eye, set his horse to gallop. Ayc followed suit, and began catching up to Loch.
“Why are boys like this?” Celene asked Suzanna and Khara. Khara could tell from her tone it was rhetorical, and he didn’t want to start an argument.
Eventually, Ayc passed Loch, and he laughed as he took the lead, letting his competitive side take over. Ahead of them, a rider was coming toward them, riding at full speed. The group slowed down to greet the rider, except for Ayc, who raced past the rider still at full speed.
The rider approached them, and they watched as Ayc realized the situation, and turned around to join them.
“I won,” Ayc said with satisfaction.
“It was just for fun,” Loch retorted.
The man on the horse which had ridden toward them was a Half Dwarf, sitting stoutly on his horse. He appeared to be a short, strong Human with thick facial hair.
“I come bringing news from the East. All the coastal graveyards are being targeted and the dead are attacking everywhere,” he said. It was apparent from his appearance that he had been traveling for some time. “What news do you have from the west?” he asked.
“The same thing is happening there. We just came from Stockseth, and it was almost overrun by zombies,” Loch replied. “There is a necromancer that is raising the dead.”
“Aye we have the same predicament. So far it hasn’t hit Torruga, but all along the coast of the mainland, there seems to be the same necromancer raising the dead,” he said.
“We are on our way to Torruga now,” Ayc said to the messenger.
“Safe travels then. I need to continue to warn everyone. From what I’ve seen and heard, the necromancer started in the east, and is moving west. I hope we can stop him. Good luck to you.” The Half Dwarf started his horse off to a gallop and kept riding west, back toward Stockseth.
The party continued traveling until nightfall began to approach. To their right were mountain peaks, and to their left was dense forest. They decided to camp off the road, in the canopy of the forest until light. Each set up their watch, and they began to rest for the night.
Deep into the night, during Loch’s watch, the quiet sound of footsteps could be heard in the darkness. Loch motioned to Ayc, who was awake leaning against a tree. Ayc craned his neck, and nodded as he heard the sounds.
“Who’s out there?” Loch yelled out into the darkness. His voice woke Khara from his sleep, and he tensed, alert and ready from his treetop perch. Celene and Suzanna slept soundly.
“You are in our forest. You want to live… You leave everything and you go!” came a raspy and shrill voice from beyond some nearby trees.
“Is that a threat?” Loch replied. Ayc began to crouch, and move out into the darkness. He reached inside himself with his mind, and consumed a soul. With a rush of agony and relief, Ayc was able to see a shimmering outline around a small humanoid individual in the distance. His soul pulsated, and Ayc silently moved closer to the creature.
Khara climbed down the tree like a shadow, and quickly moved up another to gain a better vantage point.
“It is no threat. It is truth. You leave everything and go or you die!” yelled out the same raspy voice. As the creature spoke, a loud snapping noise of a breaking branch rang out.
“That’s a threat, and we don’t take threats kindly!” Loch retorted back toward the voice.
“Then you die!” the voice yelled out as a huge hulking creature burst forth from the trees. It was eight feet tall, and seemed to be made of dirt and mud. It let out a bestial roar as it surged forward, lumbering slowly but powerfully toward Loch.
Loch looked back toward the girls who were just now waking up to the scene of terror. He looked back at the lumbering giant, and called out, “come on! I’m over here!” as he moved his way away from the tree the girls had taken refuge in. He pulled out the Totem of the Ape God, and figured he may as well use it. He put all of his focus into the totem, and with a golden flash, he felt invigorated. His skin grew a thin layer of hair, his muscles bulked and tightened all over his body, and a long tail erupted from his tailbone.
He continued to taunt the menacing construct as it barreled toward him through the trees, snapping branches under its immense weight.
Khara used Loch’s commotion to move to a better place to attack the sorcerer controlling the golem. He jumped easily from tree to tree, using his claws to grip the branches as he searched for the source of the voice in the night. Suddenly, a green ray shot from the shrubs of a nearby tree toward Loch. It hit him in the shoulder, and vines began growing from the wound. Loch grabbed the vine tendrils, and ripped them from his shoulder, unhindered by the pain shooting through his arm.
Khara saw his chance, and pulled out one of his magical daggers he’d stolen. He raised his hand, and threw the dagger toward the small being in the shrubs. As his hand reached the bottom of its arc, he still had the dagger in his hand, and he flung it forth in one smooth motion. The first dagger hit the creature in the hip, and he fell from his hiding place. He was a Halfling, covered in leaves and debris. The second dagger missed its mark; however Khara still had the dagger in his hand.
The Halfling cried out as the dagger in his hip disappeared, and blood began to ooze quickly from his side. His eyes blazed with hatred as he lifted his hand and launched a green beam of energy toward Khara. He deftly dodged the beam, and took cover in the branches of his tree.
Ayc crept quietly around to flank the Halfling, which he could clearly see with his Soulvision blazing within him. He used the distraction of Khara’s attack to turn into an Arachion; an eight legged gruesome creature of nightmares. His bones broke and reformed as he sprouted his extra limbs, and scaled the tree before him. He used his powerful legs to leap into the tree just above the Halfling, still recoiling from his wound.
Ayc dropped down, using his momentum to bring his scythe down hard onto the Halfling Druid. It cleaved into his shoulder, ripping down through his elbow. The Halfling cried out in pain as his arm dangled limply at his side. He frantically reached for the nearest tree, and with a green flash, disappeared.
On the other side of the battle, there was a green flash, and the Halfling emerged from a tree, gripping his arm with a look of terror on his face.
Loch continued to keep the attention of the giant golem still stampeding toward him. Finally he engaged the creature, and struck blow after blow upon the golems chest. Each blow did little to nothing to the giant beast, and it slammed its fists down on Loch’s head. Loch was too fast, however, and was able to dodge the clumsy beast’s basic attacks. His body felt rejuvenated, and his reflexes were enhanced by the totem, so no matter where the creature struck, Loch was ready to dodge and counter attack.
Ayc contorted his body back into his human form, and emerged from the darkness. “What are you doing?” he asked Loch. He watched as Loch danced to and fro around a large mass with no glowing soul.
“You can’t be serious,” Loch replied incredulously. “Help me kill it!”
Ayc confusedly swung his scythe at the beast and scored a deep hit into its shoulder. It let out a guttural moan as Ayc removed his weapon from the beast as it slammed its fist down, missing any targets.
Khara skillfully jumped from tree to tree, following the Halfling across the battlefield. He saw as Celene and Suzanna sat atop a tree, a look of helplessness on their faces. “Shoot him!” Khara yelled to Suzanna as he raced through the trees toward the wounded Druid.
“Well do what he said!” Celene commanded as Suzanna pulled out her crossbow. She let the bolt fly, and it hit the Halfling’s leg. He grunted and fell as Khara rushed out of the canopy to land in front of the Halfling. With all his might, he hefted his dagger up into the chest cavity of the short creature. The Druid dangled in the air for a moment, then went limp as the life left his body. Khara let his body fall to the ground, then began searching him for anything of value.
As soon as the Druid fell, the giant golem began to crumble down. It slammed its fist one last time at Loch, who once again dodged it easily. The creatures arm splintered into hundreds of pieces, and its body began to dry up. Ayc swung a hard blow into the creatures wilting side, and dirt and particles of dust exploded out the back of the creature as it fell to the ground.
Ayc quickly walked over to the body of the Druid, and leaned in close. A cold aura surrounded Ayc, then he stood and walked away from the body. Loch thought it was strange, but knew he shouldn’t judge others and their view of death.
Khara didn’t find anything of value on the Druid, so he left the body. “We should probably camp somewhere else,” he said aloud to the group.
Celene and Suzanna climbed down from the tree. “I felt so useless in that fight. My apologies,” Celene said to the group.
“Think nothing of it,” Loch replied.
As they gathered their belongings, the chirping of squirrels could be heard in the near distance. Loch stopped for a moment, and realized that he could understand bits of what they were communicating. He felt a warm glow from the Totem of the Ape God, and decided to go with it.
“Hello!” he yelled, focusing his mind on the totem.
The group looked at him strangely, for Loch just yelled out a series of chirps and whistles.
“You know how speak us,” came a reply from a few meters up a tree.
“Yes I do,” replied Loch, still focusing on the totem as he spoke.
The group looked dumbfounded from Loch to the squirrel which had just perched itself on a branch above them; both chirping away at each other.
“_You kill guardian. Guardians no like dying. They come more guardians to kill and eat,_ chirped the squirrel.
“There are more of these guardians?” Loch asked in the squirrel’s language.
“Yes the come now,” replied the squirrel.
Loch turned to his companions, all still slightly shocked by Loch’s ability to speak with animals. “There are more on the way. Apparently they kill and eat people.”
“How many are there?” Khara asked. “If they are robbing people like this they probably have some helpful supplies.”
“I can see them,” Ayc interrupted. “There are a lot.” He was looking off into the darkness of the forest, and through his glowing blue eyes he could see a large mass of souls headed their way.
The group gathered their belongings, mounted their horses, and rode toward the road. Ayc periodically looked behind them and saw the large mass of small souls continuing toward them. They stopped at the road however, and the group could make out a large group of blights, small creatures made of thorns and vines. Behind them stood three figures in the darkness.
The group rode on, and found that they were no longer being followed. “We should camp more near the road from now on,” Loch said. “It seems safer that way.” The group nodded in agreement.
They continued riding and camping near the road for three days, mostly uneventfully. They made sure to stay clear of any groups of slow moving undead they passed as they made their way to Borgeport. As the rounded the point of a large mountain range between them and the ocean, they saw a large city behind high wooden walls sprawled out along the waterfront.
“Borgeport. From here we can go to Torruga, and hopefully find the Heart,” Loch said optimistically. Most of the group was just happy to experience the comforts of society once again.