Adventures in Branterra

Session 3

"Saving" Stockseth

Carnage and anarchy. Those were the only two words that could describe the scene that Loch, Celene, and Suzanna witnessed as they rode through the gates of Stockseth behind the retinue of guards. Blood soaked the packed dirt roads and the air was filled with the screams of the townsfolk.

Three guards adorned in bloody green tunics greeted the travelers with a frantic look. “They’re everywhere captain!” one cried out. “The guards are trying, but they just keep coming. Don’t let them bite you!”

The captain jumped from his horse and charged forward, barking orders to his small unit. “Let’s go! You men take out those beasts, and you three with me!” The soldiers began fanning out as Loch and Suzanna dismounted as well. Celene stayed atop her horse as she brought it to a trot just within the walls of the town.

Loch surveyed the gory scene and saw a young woman clutching her baby as an undead commoner reached out to grab her. Loch sprang into motion, swinging his trident hard in an arc aimed for the creature’s head. He felt a thud as his weapon stopped short, hitting the pole of a market tent. The noise drew the attention of the zombie as a guard appeared from behind Loch and sank his sword to the hilt into its chest. The creature fell to the ground, blood oozing from the gaping wound.

“Watch them. They get back up,” Loch commanded as he saw to the woman and her baby. To his right the captain from the road stabbed his sword down hard on a crawling zombie. The blade sank deep into the dirt, pinning the grasping creature to the ground. It swiped at the captain’s leg, cutting him on his ankle.

Loch darted over to the downed zombie, and with a fluid motion brought his trident down with all his might onto its head. Brains and bone exploded outward as the creature’s head disappeared under his mighty blow.

“Well done,” said the captain to Loch as he nodded his approval. Sadness enveloped his face behind his steel gaze. He rushed to help the other soldiers fight off the wave of undead radiating from the center of town. “You there!” he snapped as he motioned toward a town soldier. “Make sure this woman and her baby are safe.”

“Yes sir!” the scared soldier replied as he frantically stepped between the sobbing woman and the bloody street-fight.

Atop her steed, Celene peered at her slave from behind tinted lenses; she smiled and quietly said, “kill them.”

“With pleasure,” Suzanna replied with a desperate smile. She charged forward, drawing her mace as she ran. The first zombie approached her with outstretched arms and a snarl on its face. Without hesitation, Suzanna lifted her mace, and brought it down hard onto its head. A bright flash appeared from the head of the mace as a resounding boom rang out. The mace slid easily through the body of the undead creature, cleaving it completely in half with a spray of bloody mist.

She turned her attention the zombie which Loch had yelled to watch. It began to rise up, releasing an unholy moan as it stood. Suzanna raised her palm toward the creature, and a white hot rod of energy erupted forth, hitting the zombie square in the chest. It let out an ungodly shriek as its flesh began to burn and peel back. White energy shone through cracks in the undead creature’s skin and it fell to the ground; it did not continue to move.

As the fight raged on, townsfolk became more and more scarce. Those who attempted to stand against the undead hoard were quickly brought down, and consumed by the chomping teeth of their once friendly neighbors.

On man jumped into a market tent, and hid behind a rack of clothes, peering out to witness the death before him. Another hid in another tent behind the entry flap. He looked down and saw another man trip and fall. He cried out, “please help me!” as zombies overtook his prone body. They grabbed him by the face, and pulled his spine into an unnatural angle while tearing the flesh from his back with their ravenous teeth.

The man watched in horror as they ripped him apart. “I’m sorry. I can’t.” He ran from the back of the tent with tears in his eyes to hide somewhere away from the battle.

Inside a shop labeled, Stockseth General, a portly man watched the horrific scene from behind a large, thick window. He couldn’t look away from the pure brutality of what he was seeing. It seemed that the living were slowly overtaking the dead, but their sheer numbers were intimidating.

Meanwhile, in the quiet serenity of nature, Ayc and Khara ran to catch up to their companions. Ayc kept a quick pace, but Khara was exhausted. His legs began to resist his commands to keep running, and his pace slowed.

“I can’t keep this up,” Khara panted as he slowed his pace to a jog.

Ayc slowed as well, then stopped. Khara happily stopped, nearly collapsing to the ground as he caught his breath. “I have an idea,” Ayc said.

Khara looked at him, puzzled, and replied, “what’s that?”

Ayc looked around and listened. Once he was satisfied they were alone, he stepped back, and a sickly popping sound began echoing from within Ayc’s body. He contorted each limb, and slowly began to take the shape of a Roc. His skin stretched to form the wings, and dark feathers sprouted forth from the outstretched webbing.

After an uncomfortable transformation, Khara now stood before a large bird, which flapped its wings and took to the skies. Khara looked up confusedly, as the great bird flew in a circle, then dropped low. His eyes widened as he realized the plan, and two large claws clutched Khara by the shoulders and he jolted violently into the air.

Ayc and Khara soared through air, just above the treeline until they saw the walls of Stockseth. Ayc flew lower, and released Khara fifty feet from the open gates. As he fell, a small, dull flash of light appeared around him, and he landed on all four legs at a full sprint into the town. His appearance was no longer human; instead, he was covered in silver and black fur with pointed ears and retractable claws. He was in his Catfolk form racing into the fray of battle.

The first undead creature he saw was a few feet from the street between the guard shack and Stockseth General. It was facing away from him, so he took the opportunity to lunge at it with all his speed. His momentum pushed his claws deep into the back of the zombie, and it let out an ungodly howl. The creature fell to its knees, and Khara raised his claws again for a killing blow.

He slammed his claws down into the collarbones of the flailing creature, and with a sickening snap, his claws sunk deeper into the chest cavity of the beast. Its howl became gargled as it slumped, lifeless to the ground. Khara examined the body to ensure it wouldn’t stand back up, and noticed a coin-purse. He didn’t want it to go to waste, so he quickly pocketed it and moved on.

As he rounded the corner of the store, he saw a zombie slamming itself against the window of the Stockseth General building. Surprisingly, the window shattered, and the zombie pulled the heavy shopkeeper through, cutting his large stomach on the glass.

“Help me!” he cried out as he hit the ground hard, and stared into his death as the zombie leaned down to eat him alive.

Khara flew into action knocking the creature back, giving the man enough time to scramble back into the sanctuary of his shop.

Ayc circled back, and landed near the tower outside of town. With all of the commotion, it didn’t seem anyone had noticed him, so he transformed back into his human form. Once he had finished his gruesome transformation process, he also rushed into the gates of Stockseth, his scythe appearing in his hand as he rounded the corner.

As Ayc and Khara arrived, Suzanna stood in the middle of the road, blood dripping from her glowing mace. Celene reared her horse away from Suzanna, and yelled to her, “use your powers to turn them!”

“At once my mistress,” she replied in elation as she raised her mace into the air. A glowing cloud of energy swirled around the head of the mace as a pillar of light shone upward from Suzanna’s powerful form. She brought her mace down hard to the packed road, and a silent explosion of holy energy rippled outward. The zombies near her rocked back, as if hit by a concussion. They wavered for a moment, then turned back with warped faces of fear, shambling at full speed away from Suzanna.

“The tide has turned! Slaughter them all!” the captain yelled out as he watched the creatures retreating slowly. From behind him, he heard a loud grunt, and one of his guards fell against him with three bloody walking corpses piling atop him.

The captain realized his comrade had stopped these creatures from flanking him, and he turned to help his fellow soldier. Two other soldiers stepped in to help as well, and they pulled the creatures off the fallen warrior.

“Are you good Danrick?” The captain asked in horror as they pulled the creatures off of his squirming body.

Danrick looked down at his own body. “I’m good. Keep fighting sir,” he replied quickly as he charged forward to overtake the receding hoard, the captain not far behind. They ran after the zombies, slashing and stabbing their backs as they retreated in fear of Suzanna’s holy light.

Ayc and Loch also rushed forward with the soldiers, hacking and decapitating as they followed. Before them, in the distance, a large force of soldiers were making their way through the streets, stabbing fallen bodies in the head at a steady pace. It seemed the end was finally near.

Lock swiped his trident hard across the spine of a retreating zombie, and it fell hard to the ground. He stabbed his three pronged spear down into the lower torso of the creature, as it continued to scramble away. It pulled itself away from Loch’s weapon as its entrails spilled onto the dirt. He stepped around the gory mess, and swung his trident down onto the crawling torso’s head. It quivered for a moment, then lay still.

Ayc easily swept his scythe under the legs of the retreating creatures, and they fell prone. He walked slowly about them, and with swift jerks, beheaded the kneeling undead creatures with disgust in his eyes.

As they kept up their steady advance on the undead, Danrick slowed his pace and dropped his weapons. His head felt fuzzy, and his vision blurred as his mind seemed to melt into oblivion. He couldn’t remember his name, his wife’s name, or even where he grew up. His body twitched as his eyes glazed over, and he turned toward Suzanna with a hungry look.

“Are you alright soldier?” Suzanna asked as Danrick stumbled toward her.

He lunged forward, and grabbed Suzanna by the nape of the neck; his muscles constricting as he slammed her down to the ground. His blunt fingernails sunk into her neck as she cried out in pain.

Celene’s attention snapped to Suzanna and Danrick. He had her by the neck, and was trying to bite her face as she pushed against his large chest.

“Get him off you now!” Celene yelled.

Suzanna’s head swirled with thoughts. She couldn’t recall why she wanted to badly to fulfill her master’s wishes, but she knew it was right to do so, and that if she died now she would disappoint her master. She desperately pushed with all her might against the Danrick’s breastplate. She felt blood trickle down her neck as she managed to sit up and shove him to the side. She scrambled backward, much faster than the undead soldier, and stood.

Danrick was attempting to stand, but halfway up, Suzanna’s mace caught him in his upper shoulder. With a flash of energetic white light, Danrick’s torso ripped from his body and landed a few paces from his severed legs. Blood and entrails flew as the upper half of Danrick landed on the road.

From the front lines, an anguished cry rang out. Suzanna looked up to see the captain running toward her with hate in his eyes.

As the turmoil of the battle continued, Khara took the opportunity to hop through the broken window of Stockseth General. He landed quietly, and saw a pair of eyes looking at him from behind a rack of camping goods.

“W-w-what do you want?” stammered the scared shopkeeper.

Khara looked down, and saw the bloody trail from the window to where the man was hiding. “Are you hurt?” he asked kindly.

“Yes I was dragged out the window. What’s going on? Why is this happening?” he cried out. Khara could tell the man was in the perfect state of shock and panic.

“A necromancer attacked and raised the dead. Don’t worry though, I am here to help.” He smiled as he spoke, trying to make his voice calm and soothing. “I have something here that will help you with your wounds.”

He reached into his pouch, and produced a shredded, gnarled root.

“Inebriroot?” the man said incredulously. “Why would I want that?”

“It is a rare root that looks the same, but has very different properties,” Khara lied. “It heals the body instead of hurting the mind. Trust me this will help.”

The man hesitantly reached out, desperate for reprieve from his painful cuts along his belly. “Well thank you for your kindness stranger. I won’t ever forget it.” He lifted the root to his mouth and ate it quickly. Khara watched with a satisfied smile on his face as the man’s demeanor changed from fearful to still.

“I feel… I feel good,” the man said as his eyes darted around the room as if seeing it for the first time. “I feel strong,” he said confidently, looking down at his hands as he flexed his fingers.

“I saw a baby in danger out there,” Khara said slyly as he watched the large man. “You should probably be out there protecting it.”

“Baby!” the man shouted. “Yes I will protect the baby. Baby here I come! Don’t die baby!” As the man continued shouting, he moved with unnatural speed toward the broken window. With a single leap, he flew out into the street. He frantically looked up and down the road, eyes searching for his single minded goal until they rested on Celene, who was just dismounting her horse.

“Where is the baby!” the man snapped at her.

She drew her darkened spectacles up from her eyes momentarily to peer confusedly at the man. Her brow raised quizzically as she pointed toward the only baby she had seen, which was still being clutched by its mother. He sprinted in that direction, giving no heed to anything or anyone in his way.

“Lenny!” yelled out a guard. The large shopkeeper continued his run toward the woman and her baby. “What’s gotten into him?” the guard asked aloud as he watched. Celene said nothing and shrugged while she walked toward Suzanna, who was now surrounded by the captain and his guards.

“Why did you kill him like that?” the captain yelled. His companions were uneasily holding their weapons toward Suzanna.

She smiled politely, and replied, “I was commanded to do so.”

Celene lowered her dark lenses, and smoothly stepped between the soldiers and her puppet. “Please, she was protecting herself. I watched as that man attacked her.” She pointed to Danrick’s strewn body parts as she spoke.

One of the soldiers stepped back, and knelt next to Danricks remains. “Captain. He has a bite here on his side.”

The captain turned, then returned his gaze to Suzanna. “I see you are handy with a weapon. I apologize for being rash. I just didn’t appreciate seeing my man torn asunder like that.”

Suzanna stood silently, and Celene answered for her. “I’m sure we are all just scared and edgy. She didn’t mean any offense.”

The captain nodded slightly, then turned his attention to some commotion near the market tent where two soldiers were arguing loudly with Lenny, the shopkeeper. They were all three escalating their voices as the woman cowered against the tent with her baby held close. The baby had begun crying loudly as she cradled and comforted it.

Loch ran back to altercation, and when he approached, he heard one of the soldiers say, “we have to kill it! I wish we didn’t but we have to! We can’t let this happen again.” As he spoke, he held his sword tip toward the whimpering woman.

Between the woman and the soldier stood another soldier and Lenny, who were both yelling, “Never! We can’t kill the baby!”

Lenny specifically yelled, “Come one step toward the baby and die!”

The soldiers looked to Lenny with surprised looks, but no one made a move toward the baby.

Loch immediately grabbed his net from his belt, gracefully flung it forward to entangle the soldier yelling to kill the baby. It hit hard, and he fell from the sudden force onto the ground. He flailed and grabbed at the net, but was unable to figure his way out of it.

“There will be no killing of any innocents this day!” Loch angrily yelled at the tangled man. “We must heal the baby.”

“Help the baby!” Lenny loudly echoed as Loch finished talking. Loch drew his brow low as he inspected the portly man dressed in shopkeeper’s garb.

“Are you alright?” Loch asked. “You seem… not ok.”

“I’m helping the baby!” Lenny replied stupidly.

“I can see that, but we must help the woman. We help her, we help the baby. Now let’s help her,” Loch said.

Lenny looked down, pondering for a moment. “Help mother!” he yelled out simply.

As all this was happening, Khara quietly peered through the broken window from inside the shop. He didn’t see anyone paying attention to him, so he walked to the back of the store, where three glass covered cases sat, ready to be opened. They were locked, which made Khara giggle to himself.

He looked over the three cases; inside the first, he saw two silver daggers with ornate carvings up their hilts. The second case held four identical golden rings. In the last case was a short spear with feathers hanging from the spearhead which were uneasy to look at.

Khara knew he had to work quick, so he pulled out his lock-picks and began working on the case with the silver daggers. It wasn’t long before he heard the familiar clink of the tumblers allowing him access to his prize. He opened the case, and reached in for the daggers. After closer inspection, he could see that the craftsmanship of the weapons was very well done. They were light and balanced. He slid each into his belt, but as he lifted his hands, the daggers were still in them.

Concerned, he looked at his belt, and saw identical daggers just where he had put them. He looked back at his hands, and watched as the silver blades disappeared from his grasp. Khara shook his head in disbelief as he realized he’d just stumbled upon a great payday.

He moved to the next case with the rings, and began working his lock-pick in the keyhole. Khara’s eyesight was beginning to blur due to his exhaustion, and his muscles ached to rest; his eyes closed for an instant, and his hand jolted involuntarily bending the pick bent to a 40 degree angle. He pulled and yanked, but the pick was wedged solidly in the keyhole. Khara sneakily turned, and positioned himself to see out the broken window. He saw soldiers, Loch, and the shopkeeper all standing around a woman clutching her baby to her breast.

He figured he still had time, so he extended his claw, and scraped the glass container with the rings inside. He scraped in a circular motion, until he had created a deep groove in the glass. Quietly, he tapped the glass until it gave way, and fell onto the rings; luckily, it didn’t shatter, and Khara quickly grabbed the four rings. He didn’t have time to fully inspect them, but he saw that each was the same, and had a small insignia of the palm of a hand on the inside. He pocketed the rings, then ducked down to ensure he was hidden as he planned to steal the spear in the final glass container.

Lenny stood outside, becoming more and more agitated as the soldiers bickered about the mother and her baby. He became sick of their words, and decided to take action. He turned, and reached to pick up the mother to take her to safety, however she wasn’t there. During the arguing, she managed to slip around the back of the market tent.

Suddenly, a blood curdling scream rang out from behind the tent. Lenny ran around to see the woman on the ground, her baby latched onto her arm with a twisted look on its infantile face. Loch ran around the corner as well, and stopped short as he saw what needed to be done instantly. The guards rounded the corner, and froze; one dropped to his knees and began heaving as the babies small mouth rhythmically gnawed on its mother’s arm.

“I told you, protect the mother!” Loch yelled at Lenny as he stood, confused about what to do next. “Take her to be healed now!”

Lenny didn’t hesitate. He rushed forward and scooped up the woman in his arms. The small undead creature rolled to the side as its meal was whisked away. Loch approached the writhing infant, and tears welled in his eyes. “I am sorry young one. You didn’t deserve this.” He raised his trident, and brought it down hard on the creature’s neck, severing its head from its small body.

After a few death throws, both portions of the body lay still. Loch walked back into the street where there were no more undead to be seen. Soldiers walked to and fro, hacking at dead bodies to ensure they stayed down.

Ayc watched as the soldiers systematically stabbed still bodies. Some were visibly shaking as they approached the unmoving corpses. He stepped forward and said, “excuse me. I know a way to make sure they don’t come back. It is a spell that deteriorates the bodies safely, however I do need space so the spores don’t attack the living.”

The soldiers looked at him skeptically. “You do?” one asked. His shaky voice gave away his desperation for help in his morbid task.

“Yes. Are you men able to form a perimeter around me so no one comes close?” Ayc asked.

“We can do that,” two of them answered in unison.

Ayc walked forward as the men gave him wide berth, and knelt down over one of the bloody corpses. He extended his hand down onto the chest of the body, and a sickly green and black fungus began to grow over the skin of the corpse. As he did this, he also made a subtle motion, and a ghostly mist rose from the fungus into the palm of Ayc’s hand.

He reached his hand under his cloak, and released the ghostly energy into the first object he felt. He continued to do this for each corpse as he walked along the street with his entourage of soldiers keeping people away.

“Not this one,” a Halfling said to Ayc as he approached Danrick’s body. “He deserves a warriors burial, not a rotting body. Shouldn’t we be burning our dead, not rotting them with some disease spell?” the Halfling said incredulously.

“It is a fungus spell actually,” replied Ayc. “And I will not cast it on your friend. It is just the safest way to dispose of the undead.” He turned and continued his work as Lenny rushed past him with a bleeding woman in his arms.

Lenny stopped before Celene and desperately looked into her dark spectacles. “Where do they heal?” he cried loudly. “She needs to heal!”

Celene answered, “we can heal her.”

Lenny smiled idiotically, and held out the woman at arms length. “Suzanna, heal this woman,” Celene commanded cooly.

Tears began gushing from Suzanna as she sobbed the words, “I can’t. I don’t have the strength to heal until I rest. Please forgive me I am so ashamed,” she cried as she fell to her knees before Celene.

“It’s fine, just get up,” she said impatiently.

Suzanna stood instantly and wiped the tears from her face. “As you command my mistress,” she replied.

Lenny dropped the woman’s legs, still clutching her by the arms in his other hand, and reached out to grab Celene by the arm. “You said you could heal her! Heal her!” he screamed, his grip tightening. Suzanna immediately tensed, but before she could act, the guards came over to investigate the altercation.

“Lenny what are you doing?” one of them asked.

“Yeah Lenny calm down,” another said.

His eyes were wildly shifting from person to person. He was having trouble comprehending their words. His mind was racing in a euphoric vortex, and the only thought he could latch onto as his body soared in his mind, was that this woman needed healing. Just then, the woman turned her head toward Lenny, and she bit a large chunk from his chest.

At first, he stood unaffected, but then he realized a blade was now protruding through his chest and the chest of the woman in his arm. His hand dropped from Celene’s shoulder as another blade fell hard onto his collar.

He fell to his knees and looked up confusedly. All he wanted was to heal this woman, but his legs wouldn’t move as another blow landed on his temple. Blackness swept over him as his thoughts floated into nothingness.

Celene backed away as the soldiers dispatched Lenny and the woman he had been holding. They were terrified, and the look in their eye showed they were desperate to keep the undead from coming back.

During the scene created by Lenny and the woman, the man hiding behind the clothing racks emerged, and made his way inconspicuously toward the broken window of the Stockseth General store where Khara was fiddling with the locking mechanism of the glass case with the spear.

Khara glanced behind him, and saw the approaching man, so he rolled into the shadows as a small puff of light surrounded him. He appeared Human, with the garb of a town soldier, as best as Khara could recall.

The man from outside climbed into the store, and made his way to the back.

“I know you’re in here. I was watching you this whole time. I had a great view of your crime, so if you don’t give me that stuff now, I’m calling out for the guards,” the man said confidently.

Khara didn’t move for a moment. He was sure he was well hidden, but the man was staring directly at him.

“Come on, I can see you. I know you stole stuff, so give it here or I’ll yell. I’ll do it,” the man said impatiently.

Khara stood, and reached into his cloak to pull out two iron daggers from his belt. The man’s eyes greedily lit up as he watched Khara begin to hand him his prize.

Without warning, Khara lunged forward, and caught the man by the mouth. He forced the man back against a cabinet, and then with a dull flash, Khara stood in his true form. Mangled fur and a disfigured demonic feline face hovered inches from the man’s.

Terror filled the man’s eyes as Khara pressed his head back. “You’ll take these daggers, and then leave me alone. Is that clear?” he said in a dark tone.

The man nodded his head as best he could, and hesitantly grabbed the daggers from Khara’s free hand. He winced as he noticed the gnarled extra set of limbs jutting out from the cat demon’s chest.

Khara threw him to the side, and without a moment’s rest, the man scurried out toward the outside. He quickly and frantically climbed out of the window, and dashed down the street toward the heart of the town.

“Scotch, what’s the hurry?” a soldier asked as the man blindly ran away from the store. “Hey what were you doing in there?” he yelled after him, but Scotch didn’t turn. He continued to run full speed away from the soldier.

“What was that about?” Loch asked as he watched the encounter.

“That was Scotch. I don’t know his real name, but he’s basically our town drunk. I just don’t know why he’d run away like that out of the store.” The soldier began walking toward the store’s broken window.

Ayc noticed the events as well, then realized that Khara’s soul was somewhere in the store. He focused his energy on Khara’s soul coruscating within him, and projected a short thought through the Aether.

Where are you? Khara turned his head to see where the voice originated, but saw no one from his hidden vantage point.

In the store, was the response Ayc heard back. He felt something was wrong, so he focused his mind again.

Soldiers are coming, Khara heard in his head. He shrunk down and disappeared in a soft flash of light. He no longer had the fur and features of his Raksasha form, but instead the green and silver tunic of a Stockseth guard, and the pale skin of a Human. He looked around for an out, but found none, so he took his rapier, and stabbed it into his side; not deep, but enough for a steady stream of blood to flow out onto his tunic and the ground.

“No don’t touch the body. The fungus could corrode your skin. Find a stick and then wash the key first,” Ayc was saying outside, slightly louder than normal. Khara heard the time he was being bought, and thought up a story to get out of this.

The double doors opened to Stockseth General, and four soldiers poured into the building. Khara dragged his body out from behind the shelves, dramatically clutching his side.

“What happened?” one of the soldiers asked as he ran forward to help Khara sit up.

“I was attacked. I saw someone looting during the battle, and they stabbed me when I tried to stop them,” he answered painfully.

Scotch attacked you?” one of the soldiers asked in a defensive tone.

“I guess. That man who jumped out the window is the one. I don’t know his name,” Khara replied, his brow drawing down from being doubted.

“What’s your name soldier?” the other soldier asked Khara.

“Johnson,” Khara replied without hesitation. “I’m a new recruit.”

“We did just get some fresh ones last week,” one of the soldiers said as the first soldier looked Khara up and down.

“Very well. Johnson, let’s get you do the chapel to see what they can do about that wound. Can you walk?” he asked.

Khara tried to stand, but between his fatigue and loss of blood, he legitimately fell to the floor with an ungraceful thud.

“Get this man a stretcher!” the soldier yelled out the doors. Bloodied men and women began moving about, and they brought in a stretcher for Khara. “Take him to the chapel,” the soldier said as he left the shop. A man and a woman each grabbed an end, and hefted Khara into the air. He was taken up the street to the chapel. He watched as he passed his companions, and they didn’t give them a second glance, except for Ayc, who looked at him long and hard.

I’ll find you, Khara heard the familiar voice in his head as he was taken out of view from his friends.

Ayc, Loch, Celene, and Suzanna each stood in the dark, under a burning torch near the soldier who had originally met them on the road. “You have my thanks a thousand times over strangers. I am Captain Hona of the Stockseth guard. I apologize for receiving you in such hard times, but please stay until the morning. It is too dangerous for you to leave tonight. We have closed the gates, and would be honored anyway to have you eat with us tomorrow.”

“This is no reason to feast,” Loch replied sullenly. “Many have died.”

“You misunderstand me my Elven friend. I know today was no victory.” Captain Hona paused. “But this town still stands and has hope because of you. You have brought Lady Isabella back to her home, and helped us fend off those beasts. You are worthy of celebrating in these dark times.”

“Very well. For now, we wish only to rest and clean ourselves.” Loch waved his hand over his body, displaying every inch covered in blood and bits of entrails.

“Of course. I’ve seen so much red this night, I can’t distinguish it anymore,” Captain Hona replied.

He walked toward Ayc, and stopped a few feet from him. With a steel gaze, he asked, “who are you stranger?”

Loch quickly replied before Ayc could speak. “He is one of our companions.”

Captain Hona shot Loch a quick glance, and returned his eyes to Ayc. “Why did you hide when we approached you on the road?” he asked seriously.

“In case you were trying to ambush us. You can never be too careful out there. We were just attacked by zombies before you arrived,” Ayc retorted.

“And why didn’t you come out when we called to you?” the captain asked sternly.

“I was relieving myself,” Ayc answered.

“And what of your other companion?” Captain Hona asked skeptically. He once again looked toward Loch for a moment.

“I have no idea where he is,” Loch replied insistently. I haven’t seen him since the road.

The captain looked back towards Ayc. “Well where is your friend?” he asked with suspicion in his voice.

“After we got to the gate, we separated. I don’t know where he went,” Ayce said.

“So he’s here in the town, but we don’t know where,” Captain Hona stated aloud. “Guards!” he yelled, “spread out and look for a stranger.” He turned to Loch. “What does he look like?” he asked.

“He’s a Human of average build. He has dark hair and a cloak. I don’t really know how else to describe him,” Loch answered.

“Look for a Human sneaking around!” he yelled to the guards who were listening for their target. “I want him found by daybreak!”

Captain Hona motioned for the group to follow him. “Please come to the mansion of the Dutchess. I’m sure she will want to thank you for your deeds. I’m also sure she would like to properly mourn her daughter.” He glanced back toward the gate, where the remains of Lady Isabella still lay motionless on the ground where he had dropped her.

They traveled past sullen faces and hunched shoulders as the townsfolk and guards scurried among the torch-lit streets. Extra torches were burning to illuminate as much of the town as possible. Eerie shadows danced down alleyways as they made their way to the North side of Stockseth, where a large mansion stood, surrounded by sparse trees.

Loch noticed the windows of the large double doors were shaped similarly to the golden signet he found in the cemetery. The doors opened, and a beautiful Elf emerged from the darkness of the mansion.

“I am GililiaCorinto, leader of Stockseth, and I am aware of your deeds. Please come in, and rest. You have been through much,” she said in a soothing and motherly voice.

“We thank you for your hospitality my lady,” Loch said as he stepped forward. He pulled the golden signet from his satchel, and handed it to Gililia. “Does this by chance belong to you?”

Her eyes widened for a moment in surprise, then returned to her cool gaze. “Yes. This belonged to my husband, rest his soul. Where did you get this?” she asked.

“We were attacked by the undead in the graveyard outside of town where we found Isabella. It was on one of the corpses, and it looked important so I kept it until I could find someone who knew something about it,” Loch replied.

She paused for a long moment, then said, “you are an exceptional being sir Elf. I am happy to have you and your companions under our roof.” She turned to a servant, and whispered something in his ear. He disappeared into the mansion. “Your rooms are ready if you wish to wash and sleep. I would very much like to speak with you in the morning.” She turned and walked away as men and women ushered the group through corridors to a row of guest rooms.

“Is there a room with a window?” Ayc asked as they showed him his room.

“My apologies, but guest rooms don’t have windows, but there is a balcony upstairs if you wish to feel the night air,” the servant answered.

“Of course. Thank you.” Ayc closed the door without another word.

“Each of you has your own room,” a man said to Celene as she and Suzanna entered their room. “Unless of course you are together then that’s fine too,” he stammered as his face flushed red.

“It’s nothing like that. She is my bodyguard, and I feel much safer with her near,” she answered indignantly.

“Right. I understand. I didn’t mean to offend.” The man backed away as he spouted excuses for his behavior, until he darted around the hallway corner.

Celene and Suzanna closed the door as they prepared to sleep for the night. Suzanna helped Celene bathe and wash her hair. When she was ready, Celene laid on the bed, and slowly entered her trance, while Suzanna curled on the rug at the foot of the bed, ever-vigilantly protecting her mistress.

Loch entered his room, and was excited to see a steaming hot trough of water awaiting him. He cleaned the gore from his body, and settled into a deep meditation, happy to indulge in well earned rest.

Khara arrived at a large chapel; torchlight flickered, making the large building appear ominous and daunting. “This man needs some healing. Is there a clergyman available?” one of the soldiers cried out as they approached the front entrance of the building. Khara noticed as they ascended the stairs, that there was a cemetery behind the chapel. It was lit with a series of torches, and Khara noticed the graves were freshly dug up. He also noticed dull green runes encircling some of the graves.

“Bring him here,” a man in bloodstained white robes said as Khara was set down on a pew. “What happened? Is that a bite? You know what we have to do if he’s been bitten.” The clergyman’s voice was shaky and wavering.

“I wasn’t bit, I was stabbed,” Khara hurriedly replied.

“Who stabbed you?” the robed man asked as he knelt down to inspect the wound.

“I guess he’s the town drunk. Scotch I think they said,” Khara said as he winced slightly. The clergyman was obviously not trained in medicine, but he still poked about.

“No. Tomlin has been doing so well lately. Why would he stab you?” the holy man seemed taken aback.

“He was stealing from a shop near the gate during the fight. When I tried to stop him, he panicked and stabbed me,” Khara lied, watching the eyes of the clergyman while he spoke.

“That is truly a shame. I am sorry. It looks like you will be well with rest, however, so sleep and recover. I put some numbing salve on the wound, so the pain will be bearable,” the man said.

“Thank you. I will go get some rest now,” Khara said as he rose from the stretcher. He noticed the pain was gone, but his fatigue still weighed heavily on his mind.

“We’ll meet you at the barracks Johnson,” one of the soldiers said as they walked through a door into another area of the chapel.

“Right,” Khara said. He stepped toward the door, then turned. “I’m not feeling so great. Could I get some help to the barracks?”

“Yeah I can take you,” another soldier responded. Khara breathed a sigh of relief as they made their way toward the barracks; the location of which he had no idea.

They made their way across town to a large square building with no windows. There was a single entrance, which they walked through. The inside of the building was basic and efficient. Every eight feet, a door stood on either side of a single hallway. Each door had a name carved above it, and Khara noticed that they stopped at one that read, Danick.

“I’m not sure where they are posting the new recruits right now, but I figured you could bunk with the big kids tonight.” The soldier chuckled as he spoke. “Tomorrow we’ll sort out where you’re supposed to be Johnson. Get some sleep. You look horrible.”

Khara nodded his appreciation, and he slumped onto the cot. His mind was so tired, he could hardly think straight. He needed to figure a way out of this mess, but his thoughts were fuzzy and muddled. He couldn’t remember the last time he slept and his body was beginning to give up on him. Sleep’s sweet embrace overtook him and he passed out cold.

Ayc paced in his room as he tried to think of a plan. He felt Khara’s presence shift from one side of the city to the other, and he knew he needed to act fast. He opened his door, and looked up and down the hallway to see if anyone was watching. He saw the coast was clear, so he made his way to the stairs, where he climbed to the second story. Quickly, he found the balcony, and walked out.

The city seemed ablaze with all the torches lit among the streets. The people were taking no chances this night, and were overcompensating with lanterns and torches. Ayc laughed to himself at the thought of fearing the dark.

He stepped back, and looked around to see who could see him. The streets were far from packed, and only the occasional town guard passed by the balcony on the street. Ayc began transforming his body into the body of a raven, all the while warping and breaking his body to force it into the shape of a bird. As he finished his transformation, a female voice erupted from below.

“Demon! There’s a demon on the balcony! It’s taken the form of a bird, but I know I saw it!” The sound of more commotion and footsteps filled Ayc’s ears as he realized the town guard was on its way.

As quickly as possible, he contorted his body into the shape of a cat, and scampered across the balcony; he leaped from the balcony to roof of the next building, then repeated the process until he was a few buildings away. He watched as soldiers filed onto the balcony, the glinting of steel in the firelight flashing as they searched for the alleged demon.

Ayc quickly, but stealthily made his way toward where he could faintly feel Khara’s soul. He found a large square building, and knew this was where Khara would be found. Ayc, as a cat, walked to the front door, and waited for it to open. It didn’t take long, and he snuck in the door to find himself in a long hallway with doors on either side. He walked slowly from shadow to shadow, until he felt that he was close to Khara’s location.

I’m here. Open up. Khara snapped back to reality. He had only had a moment’s rest before that familiar voice echoed through his head. He stumbled toward the door is a haze, and opened it. From across the hall, a black cat darted into his room.

The cat began to twitch and jerk as Ayc transformed back into his Human form. Khara was too tired to care about the disgusting scraping and breaking sounds as Ayc’s body took its new shape.

“We are getting you out of here,” Ayc whispered as he examined the room for any escape routes.

“I need to sleep,” was all Khara managed to mutter.

“You’ll sleep soon enough. Here’s the plan. I’m going to be a cat. You take me out and say you were instructed to get rid of me. Then you sneak away and find a place to hide. You can sleep until the morning where we’ll figure out what to do from there.” Ayc noticed Khara’s eyes drooping as he haphazardly listened to his plan. “Hey, come on. It won’t take long.”

Khara nodded as Ayc once again transformed into the cat. He picked up Ayc by the scruff, and opened his door. He walked toward the door, but was stopped by the soldier who had brought him to the barracks. “What are you doing Johnson?” he asked. “You’re supposed to be resting.”

“I need to take this cat out,” Khara replied tiredly. It was difficult for him to hide his exhaustion.

“We’ll take the cat. You sleep.” The soldier stepped forward to take Ayc just as the barracks entrance burst open, and a female soldier frantically stepped through the door.

“There’s been a demon sighting!” she yelled out. “Anyone who can needs to report to the streets!”

“A necromancer, a loose stranger, and a demon all in the same night? Aren’t we blessed,” the soldier in front of Khara said sarcastically. “Regardless, Johnson, you need to sleep. I’ll take that and go search while you stay here.”

Just then, the cat in Khara’s hands jerked its paws slightly, and a black raven appeared from thin air at the end of the hall. It flew forward menacingly as the soldiers filling the hall dove back into their rooms. The female guard shrieked and stumbled backward out the entrance.

Go now, Khara heard in his head, and he pushed through the pain in his muscles to run out the door while the soldiers drew weapons and attacked the bird.

“We can’t hit it!” a man’s voice yelled out from inside as Khara trudged out toward the front gates of the city. He approached the closed gates with Ayc in hand until he was halted by more town guards.

“What business do you have soldier?” one of the guards asked.

“I’m supposed to get rid of this cat,” Khara replied. His words were beginning to slur slightly, but he managed to get them all out.

All of the guards looked at him with very questioning looks on their faces. “What?” one of them asked.

Roll with it, Khara heard in his head. He was too tired to comprehend what he was supposed to do.

“I’m just a recruit. People outrank me. They say take the cat. I take the cat,” Khara replied with all the muster he could. His voice cracked slightly as he spoke.

“Ok recruit, well we’ll take it from here. You go back.” One of the guards stepped forward and took the cat from Khara. They opened a slat on the gate, and tossed the cat out of the city. “There. Done. Now go,” the man said sternly.

Khara stood for a moment. He had just lost Ayc and didn’t know what to do, so he walked toward the wall, and began climbing.

“What is wrong with you soldier?” the guard asked from the gate. “No one leaves the city tonight. I think this guy is delirious,” he said quietly to his fellow guard. “Why don’t we have someone get you back to the barracks.” One of the guards stepped forward, and took Khara by the arm.

“Let’s get you back,” the guard said as they slowly walked back to the barracks, where soldiers were running back and forth, frantically speaking about strangers and demons. Khara couldn’t even must the strength to smile to himself.

He felt sleep overtake him, and was out before he hit the cot. The soldier stepped out of the bunk room labeled, Danrick, and slid a bar through the handle of the closed door to ensure the safety of his delirious comrade.

“That should keep you safe,” the soldier said as he jogged back to his post at the gate.

Loch exited his trance after a few hours, and stood. He was feeling apprehensive in this town, and he didn’t like all that was going on. He opened his door and noticed two guards walking past. “What is the status currently?” he asked as they walked hurriedly down the hall.

“There has been a demon sighting in the manor. We were just coming to check on you and your companions,” the guard replied.

“Yes of course. I am well. You check on Suzanna and Celene. I shall check on Ayc.” The soldiers nodded as Loch spoke with confidence.

They opened the door to the room where Celene and Suzanna were sleeping. Suzanna sat up with a start, her hand on her mace. Celene asked in a calm and collected voice, “what is the meaning of this?”

Her demeanor offset the guards slightly, and they both bowed their heads. “We mean no disrespect, we were simply checking on the safety of our guests. There has been a demon sighted in the manor.”

“Then you have my thanks for intruding. We are fine here,” Celene said irritated by the entire situation.

They closed the door and walked back toward Loch who was standing outside an open door. “Oh dear. It appears our companion is not in his room.”

The guards quickly inspected the room, and found no signs of Ayc. “We need to find him. From this time forward, your people will have a constant guard,” the soldier said to Loch.

“You will have no argument from me, and I’m sure Celene and Suzanna are fine with those terms as well,” Loch replied. “Our companion, Ayc, is known to take nightly walks. I’m sure his absence is of no concern,” he said earnestly.

The two guards disappeared shared a look, then disappeared through a door down the hall, then after a few moments, six different guards returned from the same door. “Please stay in your room for the rest of the night,” one said to Loch.

“I am no threat to you,” Loch said. “In fact, I insist you allow me to help you search for this demon.”

The guards glanced at each other, and one said, “if he’s with us we know he’s not causing trouble.” A few of the other guards nodded in agreement, and they set out with Loch to search the city for any signs of Loch’s lost companion or the demon; or both if he is the demon.

After searching throughout the night, Loch returned to the manor, and awaited his summons for breakfast. He hoped his companions were alright, but did not fear for their well being, for he knew they could take care of themselves and wouldn’t intentionally cause too much trouble.

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