Half a day’s journey was enough for Wil to reach the source of the rumors. More than enough, as as the sun settled, Wil had already roamed the silent corridors for a while. Silent, as the grave it was supposed to be. Chills ran down his spine. The denizens of the castle were supposed long dead. The fresh corpses littering the floors said otherwise. Goblinkind lay dead everywhere. Recent dead. The ground floor was completely bereft of life. Wil decided to have a sandwich before tackling the lower floors. “Almost over”, he thought to himself. “Those goblin better have some food with them. Better yet, some gold..”. Wil did not tarry in the front hall. He knew a battle when he heard one, and the goblin seemed to be fighting some kind of beast downstairs.
A moldy smell wafted from the room below. Still, no goblin were there. In their place, an oddest collection of characters, and the bodies of two drakes. Like a kitten playing with a thread, a heavily armored dwarf was in a corner, patting at a rope that came down from a hole in the ceiling. A simple-looking half-orc sat on one of the drakes, waving a hand in the air and wooooo ing in joy. Two women, another dwarf, a very old man, and two guys of about his age appeared to be discussing the near future of the former duo. The young males tried to convince the others to leave them there. They were bound to snap out of it eventually, an then they’d find the rest of the group.
This much had Wil heard from the lowermost step. There he had been, frozen, staring at the oddity of it all. some of these people were probably an adventuring party. The two men, surely, a one of them wore chainmail an the other a pair of long swords. The
drugged blissful dwarf in the corner meant they were now missing a tank. Maybe the other dwarf had served as drake fodder. at least he had the sores and cuts to say he did. As for the others.. the women were surely no fighters. The old raven could have been, some 40 years ago. The orcish one was probably the village fool, even if this was not an orc area.
A monotonous voice snapped Wil out of his daze. “Claid? Someone’s over there.”
“So it is, Ser Occam.” Claid turned to the newcomer. “We’d invite you to join the festivities, but as you see, sir,” – he motioned to the empty room around him – “we’re full.”
Wil smiled at the witticism. “When I cleave your head off, you’ll find I don’t take nearly as much space as you do. Who are you anyway? And th’a hell are you doing here?”
“We were here far before you arrived, so I could easily ask you the same. Why don’t yo tell us first?”
“Right.” Assessing the situation, Wil was not about to get himself killed over a question of priorities. “Goblin. Goblin is my business here. Have you seen any?”
Not very smart. Claid drew the first sword. “Ser Occam, I’ll go out on a limb here and say our new friend is in league with the revolt. What say you?”
Wil took a step back and held on to his own sword. “Killing goblin, you horse’s arse. YOU!” – his sword was drawn in a broad arch, pointy end towards Occam – “Who are you, and What. Are You. Doing here?”
As steel flashed in front of him, hundreds of thoughts flashed through his mind. The final one was pretty boring, however. “We’re just adventuring.”
Claid turned and proceeded to the east corridor. “I’ll leave him to you.”_
Occam went on. “They call me Occam. The now pissed-off one is Claidheamh. Just call him Claid.” He pointed. _"The small and uncivilized one is Thoradin. Large, uncivilized one is Ugarth." Wil was stunned by the idea that both of them were hero wannabes. Not that Occam noticed. “We’re trying to save some people that were kidnapped in a nearby village. And also, ..”
Occam was interrupted by Claid’s voice from the other room. “Ser Occam, would you please step inside? There’s a small matter that needs attending here.”
In their curiosity, the whole committee went to the side room. Ther they found one of the most bizarre situations yet. A quite old woman la sleeping inside a dazzling hemisphere of purple energy. she appeared to have slept through bothe the battle and the arguing that took place some fifty feet away. In the walls, there were many chains and cuffs, but the goblin seemed to think that using them on the lady was a waste of fine magics, so they put her inside the circle and in the walls had locked away some kind of walking stick instead. Jalissa stepped forward.
“Her name is Zerriksa. She is good with herbs and healing. People go to her, when”
Adronsius cut her off. “She’sa witch. That’sall.”
“Mr Adronsius, lady Zerriksa is not..”
“Don speak o’ whatcha don know, girl. That’s why them goblins locked her in magic.”
Everyone else knew there was a flaw in that logic, but none could quite put their finger on it. (One could also begin to notice a certain pattern pertaining to dwarves, but that’s beside the point). Not that any of that matter much to Wil anyway. Clenching his left fist, he punched the bowl with all his might. It was not very effective. Sparks flew out in every direction. Wil felt as if struck by lightning.
“Well, I’m out”, he quickly stepped back.
Occam signaled to the others to be silent. He knelt, and closed his eyes.
It was a while before he spoke again. “I sense magic”
“But not his source. And sometimes,” – he opened his eyes – “It vanishes.” And sure enough, as soon as Occam stopped talking, the slightest flicker of the magical barrier happened.
Meanwhile, inside the bubble, Zerriksa had woken up. Claid approached the barrier, telling her how it would be fine. The crone, still groggy and half asleep, immediately requested that she be taken out of there, and compared Claid’s mother to the rear end of her captors. Someone was clearly tired of living in a 30 square feet hamster ball. She then proceed to compare Claid to his mother, and his celerity in rescuing her to one’s swimming speed in a non-newtonian fluid. Claid took a deep breath, thinking about how this was his job now (and not thinking on the fact that he never met his mom). He gently touched the half-orb. And out of nowhere, he stabbed it.
The wall reformed when the blade was halfway in. It was Claid’s turn to feel th jolt, as he magics rebounded, coursing through his arm. The wall caught the sword when Claid released it, and it stuck there, floating mid-air, twisting and turning on itself.
“That’s gonna work”, Wil ironized.
“Not as intended, idiot. Just thought it might break if it caught something.”
“Lucky your blade didn’t break. And I’m not pulling it out either..”
The team searched the room and thought it out for another half hour (to the cheering sound of “Dogs, curs, selfish devils! Let me out, you camel’s brain”). They concluded that once the threats in the castle were eliminated, the spell would lose its power (and if it wouldn’t, Wil would drag the lord of the castle down there so he would break it). So, everyone got up, and watched as Wil walked into the west wall for no apparent reason at all.
Jalissa shuddered when she had to pass through the room she spent so much time in. But they went north instead, and found themselves at an intersection. In each of the ends, a brazier bathed the way in a bright light. A few feet ahead, a set of stairs went down to a room that felt quite damp. To both sides, the corridor would end in a heavy stone door. Wil pushed it open. He stopped, when the brazier suddenly. It didn’t go out, but it certainly wouldn’t be as frightening if it had. It simply dimmed. Even though its flame was as high and large as before, it didn’t shine as far or as bright. As if the light was stolen. And inside the room, the darkness was broken only by a gentle glow on the ground.
The team entered the room, almost as good as blinded. they found the light came from a sun, or more precisely, from the bas-relief of one. it’s eerie, dark light shone totally upon itself. One could not see the walls (some six feet away from the edge of the sun), hadn’t the dwarf lit a torch. Strangely, this common, brand new torch seemed to share the properties of the brazier, in that it shone only a pale weak light.
The sun reacted in the same way to word or spell. Jalissa failed to trace even the lightest source of magic in the room. Occam, too, sensed nothing. His Avenging Light managed no better. It flashed, but faded away before long. Wil and Claid were at loss. Their total lack of an affinity with everything magical left them guessing what that could be. Wil, upon comparing the sun to the golden one sewn into Occam’s tabard, stepped into the center of the carving and thrust his arms up in the air.
“Give me your power, O dark gods!”
Or at least gave no notice of having done so.
In the dark, Occam felt Claid’s eyes on him, and the implied I told you. But there was more.
“Evil” – he started – “I feel it”
“I smell it" – Claid’s swords were already out. Scouring the darkness, he saw the source of the stench. A group of undead crept closer, coming from the East room. Two of them were slow, lumbering pieces of rotten flesh and brittle bone. But leading them, were two so corrupted by the necromancy it even changed their aspect. Some flesh had rotted away, while some was mostly untouched. The thing’s arms had developed in unnatural ways, and the fiend lurched back and forth under its swings. Long claws and overdeveloped teeth were no less of a weapon than Claid’s steel. Also, they stank. “Mr. Wil, we hope all that boasting was more than words. How about proving something? Ser Occam, FIRE !"
He fired. Driven by Pelor’s light, Occam shone in a white blast. The undead-turning spell was like the Sun for the evil creatures. What little flesh the ghouls had seethed away under the sacred fire. The look in their faces was pure horror. But then again, that’s kinda what they look like.
Aided by the flash, Claid and Wil rushed in. Claid’s swords met the long claws of one of the creatures. He feinted, gaining a better position, and unleashed a twister of steel, ravaging the flanks of both creatures. With a nod, Wil took that moment’s distraction. He drew his sword in a full arch, stepped in, and punched the thing in the face.
The fiend was not thrilled
(hah, funny MJ joke!) . They were staggered, if only for a moment. Blown back, they gazed at the duo with vacant eyes, each locking on to its target. In the blink of an eye, they sprung forward, stretched arms threatening serious damage. Claid spun around, dodging the undead’s grasp. Seeing the opening, he whirled around, delivering a quick cut to the enemy’s back. Believing his quarry to be over, he dashed for the other breed of monsters across the hall. Wil, now, was not so lucky. The foul-smelling purple hand found its way to his head, and clenched like a carpenter’s vise.
Even the villagers could see the pain was undeniable. From the farthest corner of the room, they watched as Wil knelt as soon as he was struck. Hurt but eager to fight, Adronsius yelled at Occam “Dat on’, boy”. No longer able to see her champion from where she stood, Jalissa too cheered Occam .
“Pelor’s!” – Occam’s right hand lit up in a ghostly emanation – “Avenging.” – he pointed at Wil’s ghoul – “LIGHT!” – the white beam of focused sunlight blast off of the invoker’s hand, and Wil had a moment to breathe, between the time when the ghoul’s head was pierced front to end, and the time that took the other ghoul to take over his friend’s place. Except, Wil would not be caught off-guard again. In his pain,slashed the undead’s fragile leg off. More light swoooshed by, unbalancing its foe, and Wil snapped free.
In the corridor, Claid had locked on to a zombie. he was sure the ghoul would be a tough enough enemy for his team, so the current plan was to leave them at it and keep the zombies from joining the fray. Facing the first zombie, he maneuvered well enough to keep the second behind. At the intercession, he slid, turned and swerved, and soon enough his enemies were in the main hallway. Away from all the heads burning and Wil’s shouting, Claid had enough room to bring out the wolf. Right Fang lopped a zombie’s head off in an amazing slash. Left Fang no more than tasted old sinew and coagulated blood that seconds before belonged to the not-quite-deader creature.
With the death of the first ghoul, the fight had turned considerably in the adventurers’ favor. While Occam blasted from the rear, all Wil had to do was to throw in a few punches, parry, and generally keep away from claw’s reach. Which, every couple rounds, he failed miserably.
Blow after blow, fates would have fist and fang vanquish their prey at the same time. The sword was sheathed, and the fist unclenched. The blood, though, was not as easy to put away. Battered, nearly broken, they rested in the sun room, so close they could see each other.
Occam was quick to recover. He was surely tired, tired of bringing light to where there was none. Claid did well with the weaker creatures, and there were but a few cuts on his leathers, and fewer still were deeper than that. Everyone was scared out of their pants, though, when Wil’s face was made visible by the grim dim light.
A hideous black mark could be seen there, starting on his left brow and stretching across the left side of his face. Jalissa could even make out the fainter outline of the ghoul’s long nails. One razor-thin claw ended inside Wil’s ear. Another went to the hinge of the jaw. The creature’s thumb had pressed hard against the mercenary’s forehead, and left there an impressive mark. “It’s healable”, Jalissa said, gently touching the burn mark. “Let’s go. Let’s go home, Claid, and I can fix all of you up. Let’s find Thurann, sirs, and get out of here.”
It is an amazing thing, fear. Its poisonous bite burns and undermines the iron will of the best men. It goes unnoticed among the small groups of people, slowly building up to the grand finale. Such bite had now been delivered, and immediately began to fester in Wil’s wound.
Luckily, it hadn’t spread too far. “No.”, Claid began. “Otherwise, there will be no end to this.” He stood up. “We press on”.
Occam stood as well. “Those were not alone. Lead on”.
They found out that the stairs in the main corridor led to the same place that the northern exit in the room. Such place was, at least, strange. Contrasting with the previous room, where the brightest light was decimated into nothingness in a heartbeat, the stony walls now glimmered in a greenish tint of a thousand shades. In the center, surrounded by a foot-high stone border, was a kind of pool, or well. Enough light shone on the water’s surface, even when everyone cautiously peered in to look at it. Wil took a nearby rock and dropped it on the well, to probe its qualities.
The disturbed waters immediately turned darker. The waves and ripples turned irregular as soon as they first hit the border. They took strange forms as they hit each other. Eventually it was clear that the pool was not a drinking well. As the small waves calmed down, the shapes took on a more recognizable aspect. A bare room, with only a desk and a chair, and the body of a large hobgoblin in a corner. He wore a heavy spiked plate armor and a flail, and was not hard to see it was the very same one that was behind the rebellion.
“Dude.”, Wil said, and reached for another rock. “Will it…?” This time, the waves broke into a vary dark room. The eyes of four statues of displacer beasts shone bright red. A large obsidian raven sat atop the altar at the end of the room, where a woman struggled in madness to set free of her chains.
Mirtala gasped when she saw herself and the room she had been locked in for days. Noticing t, Claid kicked another stone in. Now formed the image of a hallway. A row of columns sat across the length of both walls at regular intervals. Torches and rich paintings of the castle and its lords hanged from the walls in between the columns. The image zoomed in through the halls, and stopped a few yards from a large stone door. Then, the image slowly faded into the blue. “It is present as well as past”, stated Occam. Yet another rock – the stone door reappeared. It slowly opened, and everybody was silent in expectation. About a dozen people were in the room. It was the throne, or conference room of a castle. It was certainly not _this_castle, because the people were mostly happy and living. In the throne, a tall chair of steel, mithril and gold filigree, sat a robed man. And suddenly, all waves died, and the lake was calm again. Wil was on a roll, so he reached for another rock.
“We have seen enough”, said Claid, holding his arm. “If it shows more than the here and now, it might be misleading. Let’s move, Sers.” he added the last part, for noone in particular. Wil stared blankly at his stone. “Very well. Go”. He dropped the stone.
Everyone looked back to the sound of heavy steel hitting stone. Wil was still beside the well, and had just taken off his body armor. What the crap was the most common thought there. But it didn’t take much for the others to realize it was merely a bathroom break, and soon Claid and Occam were laughing their asses off, while the women covered their faces in shame and embarassment.
“Alright now. Follow me, kids.”
Wil led the team west. Reaching a door, he asked the villagers to stand back. The three adventurers stepped into the room to be scared out of their wits.
The room itself was quite bare. Four columns formed a square. There was a passage to the north. But in the center of the room… A creature much resembling a red orc with huge hands and a very veiny body walked the room like a caged animal. When it spotted the party, it let out a scream, a frantic howl that was more akin to the strix than an orcish yell. It stomped its way to the party, but stopped near one of the pillars.
“A demon.” Occam had a very small grasp of orcish, and that certainly wasn’t it. Also, he knew an Evistro when he saw one, since demons are the enemies of Pelor. Such information was of little use to Wil, who immediately charged the demon…
Only to be stopped by an invisible wall. Wil’s sword was one foot away from the demon’s body when it rebounded in midair. His face soon followed in the sword’s footsteps. Wil fell flat on his back, much to the demon’s amusement.
“This is your thing, am I right, Ser Wil? Running into walls?” Claid handed Wil his sword with a grin.
“Don’t say you knew it was there. Maybey you are the one in league with these things, Mr. Smarteypants”
“Well, that stopped before it could get to us.. And it looks quite starved."
Wil left Claid and Occam to their amusement and touched the wall. He began walking, so he could seize the shape of the demon’s prison. He went from the column in front of the door all the way to the next one, to the left, and then it disappeared. But, making a corner, there it was again, between that column and the one to the north. “It seems to be the columns. We’re safe to pass.”
He walked all the way north, to the narrow corridor that turned right. When he turned right, he stopped. “Another wall, Ser Wil?” Claid asked before again bursting in laughter.
“Men” he answered, stepping back into the room.
“Rat-men”, a high-pitched voice corrected. “Rat-men, yup, yup!”, a second voice echoed.
Two shabby men stepped out of the shadows. They were both dressed in rags and thin as spears. One of them sported a long, well-trimmed mustache, while the other had a short goatee. As they walked into view, their faces shifted and contorted. Hairs sprouted from where there were none, and their noses grew to cover most of their faces. The dull grey eyes became pitch-black. Soon their shape was fully that of a wererat.
Wil was quick to point his sword at the duo. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
“Friends, sir”, began the long-whiskered rat. The other echoed, “Friends, sir, yup!” “We were cursed, ‘sall. We’re friends”.
“Friends, you say?”, Wil asked, not without reserves. “Why are you here?” “Scouting, friend. Looking for foods, sir”, the first said. “Yup, sir, foods. Times is hard, yup yup!” The bearded rat was either cautious, following his leader, or just plain stupid, as he echoed just about anything the other said.
“Well, can you tell us something?” Although uncertain to their intentions, Wil had to ask.
“We can tell about the treasure, sir. For a foods?”. “Foods, sir, yup? A sammich, sir?”
Wil reached for his backpack, while scanning around for Claid and Occam. Both were watching him, and neither was very happy to see perfectly good food go to waste. “Trick us,” Wil said, threateningly waving his fist, “and you are gone.” He did pull out a sandwich from his pack, and threw it on the ground at their feet. The wererats leaped in and devoured it in a flash. “A treasure, then?”
“Riches, sir.” (“Riches.”) “Many golds, and jewels, sir, and a sword!” Claid’s eyes widened at the mention of a sword. “That sword, rat. What is it?” The rat seemed, or pretended, to have just noticed him. “A sword, my friend, sir. Long, and shiny, and they say it was the Lord’s sword. ’Tis yours, sir, friend. For a foods.” The bearded one was getting excited at the prospect of foods. “The Lord’s, friend, after all these years. Yup. Still there, yup yup!”
“No foods.. No more food until you show us the treasure”. The rat-men’s squeaky voices and easy smiles were getting on Wil’s nerves. “Now, where is it?”
The bearded rat pointed in the direction of a recess in the wall. Upon closer inspection, it was clear the ceiling had, in fact, collapsed, and formed a fake wall. Occam peered into the small space. “The corridor. From the well”.
“We can help our friends?”, the leader offered. “We’ll help, friends, and then there will be foods”, the other concluded. “Very well”, Wil began, but never had the time to finish his words. The leader slipped past him, twisting under his sword, and touched the wall that caged the demon. “You’re free, friend. We can have the foods, yes?”
The demon howled at the nothingness above him, and charged at the closest type of food available, which happened to be Occam. Chainmail was barely a protection against the evistro’s 6-inch claws. It damaged steel and flesh in a sickening rip, and its head followed in for a bite. Occam’s blood boiled in his wrath and Pelor’s. The magical shield of light formed between Occam and the demon, and violently exploded, sending the creature flying. It pulled itself together, and roared. Occam pulled his hands together, and made thunder roar. Three bolts darted from Occam’s closed fists at his enemies. The smell of rat’s burned fur was a pleasant change from their usual stench, but the demon did not seem to appreciate it. His red skin turned a pale yellow, as if the thunder had become a part if it. It rushed Occam again.
Claid meant to leave Wil to the fight he picked, but the demon made it clear it was not an option. The Fangs were drawn mid-charge, and parried with great effort by the rat. The demon could be dealt with later.
The rats were clearly not friends. Like a pair of light duelists, their short swords stopped the attacks and cut back unmercifully. It was in no way one-sided, as both adventurers had had their fair share of brawls as well. A fast show of swordsmanship ensued, steel clashing again and again. Wil would sometimes strike a jab to the bearded ratman’s face, as Claid managed to slip an underhanded strike at the whiskered one.
The rats were relentless, but they were also starved. Every once in a while, when the duel drew to a dance of measured strikes and careful defenses, the larger, bearded rat would try a bite at the flesh of his opponent. They would then be punched in the face. Claid was not as successful, and got bitten his fair share of times.
Despite the disease-loaded bites and the razor-sharp brutish claws that ratmen and demons are respectively known to commonly carry, the fight went on without much of a commotion. Eventually, everyone was quite bloodied and unable to lift a finger, which made it considerably easier for Occam to cast the living lights out of everyone else.
One of the rats pondered on his fate, and found it better for all involved that he legged it. Which he would have accomplished, if not for a length of rope that had been misplaced and found its way into Claid’s hand.
“Whatta doing, hunter?”, Wil asked.
“He has information, Ser Wil. We’d better use it.”
“He has fangs and is a friggin rat. We’d better kill it.”
Occam felt the need for his voice to be heard. About time. “He may know something, Wil."
Nobody cared to ask the wererat’s opinion. As everyone knows, rats are very fond of rope of most kind, even if only for eating purposes. Ratmen, on the other hand, very much dislike being tied, so this one took the opportunity and, when the team was distracted by the sudden appearance of Thoradin and Ugarth, transformed into a dire rat and bailed.
Everyone was much outraged by this, and much fuming and stomping around was done. Still everyone was pretty broken and tired too, so Occam flashed a campfire for the night.