Bring Out Yer Dead!
...or the storied and noble profession of graverobbing.
Session 11, The Hill
“I vote we attack the King!” Endithas said, glowering at the others over the carved table in the main room of the Lion’s Den.
Caasi seemed discomfited by Endithas’ suggestion, “We are few in number. While our cause is just, I am not convinced we have the strength to prevail…” she said, looking across the table at Endithas and Kane in turn.
“Did you not claim the Immortals protect?” claimed the big man, somewhat incredulous at Caasi’s seeming reluctance.
“Of course! They protect!” she replied automatically. She then remembered her encounter with the giant bees, “…mostly…” she finished lamely, unconsciously massaging her left hand.
Kane finally spoke, “I agree with Caasi. There are other possibilities…”
“Eh? Such as?” Endithas asked, seeming genuinely interested.
“This unexplored steam cave. Perhaps it leads under the Hill to the rumoured lake of fire?” Kane suggested, pointing to a spot on the edge of their carved map. He was referring to the rumour the party had previously heard from The Old Timer about a lake of boiling lava beneath The Hill.
“I do not believe that to be wise…” Caasi began, thinking back to her near-death experience of nearly being broiled by a gout of superheated steam.
Kane stared at the carved map a moment longer before speaking again, “Then perhaps we explore this graveyard the Witches claimed lay off the dead clearing…”
“Aye!” replied Endithas, enthusiastically, “Why not? What could possibly go wrong?”
26th to 28th of Felmont, AC 999
Characters: Caasi (Cleric 2), Fodora (Caasi’s Henchman), Endithas Wolfram (Fighter 2), Erasmus (Endithas’ Henchman), Kane (Elven Ranger 2), Gareth Ironhand (Kane’s Henchman), 1 Wardog and 3 Hunting Dogs belonging to Kane
Mortal Wounds: none
The party headed across the River in the morning and hiked to the Witches’ cottage, as had become their habit, saving themselves from arriving in the vicinity of the the Monastery at nightfall. There was much discussion of the mint tea the Sisters always served; Endithas Wolfram was convinced that the mint was the reason for his sound sleep. The others thought that more than mint might be to blame, which was also likely why the two women were always so happy to have the big man spend the night…
As they neared the cottage, they encountered a group of Neanderthals headed in the opposite direction. Approaching them cautiously, they discovered that several of the small band wore armour and carried spears reminiscent of those the party had discovered in a cache of supplies in the Monastery. While unsure, thinking that all Neanderthals looked the same, the party nevertheless managed to communicate their friendly intent through pantomime. Seemingly recognizing the party as their erstwhile benefactors, the Neanderthals eventually left in peace, but not before gifting the group a hollowed gourd that seemed to contain some type of primitive healing draught that smelled strongly of honey.
Parting from the Neanderthals in friendship, the group arrived at the cottage. They were welcomed, and partook of mint tea before heading to bed for the night.
After a seemingly uneventful night (that Endithas had no memory of), they set out for the dead clearing. Before mid-morning they had crossed the clearing of the Hobgoblin encampment by the lake, still abandoned, and pressed through the woods to the waterfall. As the party entered the clearing, an enormous hulk leapt out from behind the rocks, the nearby waterfall masking the sound of its movements. The Ogres’ club whistled through the air, narrowly missing Endithas’ head. It never got a second chance, as Kane planted an arrow in its chest, and Endithas buried the length of his greatsword in its gut. They quickly searched the Ogres’ corpse, and discovered that it carried some 300 gold in its dirty old sack. Taking the coins, they then pushed the remains over the cliff by the waterfall, hoping to hide the evidence of their presence.
Pressing on, the party arrived at the dead clearing shortly before mid-day. As usual, the clearing was empty and silent, with even the birds and insects shunning the place. With growing uneasiness, the party approached the northern end of the dead clearing, where the Sisters had told them the cemetery lay. Amongst the dead and dying underbrush, a score or more white stones could be seen.
“Gareth…” Kane said in a hushed voice, “…go have a look!”
The dwarf gave Kane a sour look, then carefully moved forward towards the stones. Upon closer examination, the stones appeared quite regular, and had clearly been shaped and placed by the hands of some maker. Gareth ran his rough hand over the surface of the nearest one: carved writing, worn to the point of being indecipherable, marked the stone. In front of one the other nearby stones, a pit had been dug. The hole was some two yards long and an arm-length wide, with a similar depth. Crumbled earth was piled around the hole, and it was clear that this excavation was relatively recent.
Kane motioned towards the hole with his chin, “Gareth… go examine that hole.”
The dwarf’s brow furrowed, “Eh? Why don’t YOU go have a look in the hole?”
“Oh, come on, then…” Caasi shouldered past the two, “I have no problem with dirty, old holes!” she said as she eased into the moist opening. She poked into the bottom of the hole, then gently prodded the sides. Tiny avalanches of wet earth came tumbling down around her feet. There appeared to be nothing in the pit. Caasi looked up at the others and shrugged, “Sometimes a hole is just a hole.”
Caasi clambered out of the hole and brushed dirt from her hands and tunic, then stood looking uncertainly at the other nearby stones.
“Let us head under the trees, see how many of these markers there are…” Kane said. The group clumped together as they began to move cautiously forward into the dead woods. The flank of the Hill sloped down and away from the clearing. They could now see dozens of the apparent gravestones scattered amongst the trees and brush. Every few grave markers, a similar pit had been dug. Some were obviously more recent, but others were old enough to have mostly eroded back in. The light grew dim as the trees closed in above them.
The huddled group was now perhaps two-score yards from the edge of the clearing, and the grave markers stretched ahead of them. Those deeper into the woods stood out in the gloom, showing more wear, with some tumbled or even broken by the roots of the trees.
“I don’t like this!” Endithas whispered, breaking the silence. No sooner had the big man spoken than the “Snap!” of a breaking branch came from behind the group. They all whirled around, panic beginning to set in; a person stood behind them at the edge of the clearing. The figure was silhouetted against the light from beyond the trees, far brighter than where they were standing. They all squinted against the glare, trying to make out the details…
“Huh… hello…?” Caasi said in a wavering voice, completely unnerved by the situation.
The “Crack!” of another broken twig rang out from behind them, deeper into the woods. Into the boneyard. Caasi risked a glance over her shoulder, and her eyes went wide with fear. Two more figures, feral looking, were stealthily clawing their way up the slope towards the party. Their skin had the grey-green pallor of rotting flesh, and they were clothed in decaying rags. As it became clear Caasi had spotted them, both let out an inhuman hiss, and gave up all pretense of stealth in a rush to reach the party.
“On our left!” shouted Endithas, spotting a fourth figure slipping between the trees towards the group.
The hissing undead fearlessly charged the party, although Kane managed to plant an arrow in the one blocking the way back to the clearing. The situation became considerable more dire as the injured thing reached the party: lashing out in a frenzy of dirt-encrusted nails and filthy teeth, it managed to injure both Erasmus and Fodora. In spite of the superficial nature of their wounds, both collapsed bonelessly to the forest floor, unmoving.
Now the real panic began as the party realised the nature of their foes! Gareth Ironhand moved to block the path of the thing that had dropped his companions, and his heavy armour momentarily halted it’s advance. Endithas tried to fend off the second creature, only to have it scratch his cheek with its vile claws. The big man swayed for a moment, but managed to regain his senses in time to cleave the thing in two for its trouble.
“Caasi! Quickly! Call upon the Immortals to drive back these abominations before we are overrun!” Kane shouted as he fended off a blow with his dagger. Caasi turned towards the two scrambling towards the party from deeper in the cemetery, and raised her holy symbol aloft. The power of the Immortals venerated by the Church of Karameikos flowed through her, and a bright, yellow-white glow suffused her holy symbol. Snarling, the two farthest Ghouls raised their decaying limbs to shield their eyes, before turning to stumble away down the slope as fast as they had come.
Behind the cleric the remaining Ghoul clambered bodily over Gareth’s shield to sink its teeth into the dwarf’s shoulder, just as his warhammer came crashing down, breaking the undead thing’s back. Without a sound, both fell limply to the ground. Kane fired arrows at the retreating Ghouls, missing. As the undead stumbled out of sight, an eerie quiet settled on the group, broken only by the sound of the harsh breathing that follows panicked exertion.
Kane was the first to speak, "We have to get out of here!" the wild look in the elf’s eyes the closest any of his companions had seen to real panic. They spent the next several minutes dragging their companions back to the clearing. All yet lived, but were completely unable to move.
Within minutes the group again heard the sounds of something coming through the undergrowth towards them. This time they were prepared, and the dogs and volley after volley of arrows, bolts, and sling-stones greeted the returning Ghouls, cutting them down before they could again threaten the party.
Once all was quiet, the remainder of the cemetery was searched. The pall of unease still hung over the place, and the party estimated that as many as a hundred graves were visible, a third of them visibly exhumed. The henchmen slowly regained their faculties. As they waited, the party sent Caasi elbow-deep in one dirty hole after another, the effort yielding some 6,000 silver pieces, coins of an old, Traladaran vintage, and a single beautiful moonstone. The monks buried here obviously had a fascination with silver offerings for the afterlife.
With the sun moving lower in the sky, and not wanting to be anywhere near the ancient burial ground near nightfall, the group force-marched back to the Witches’ cottage to once again spend the night, before heading back to Guido’s Fort the following morning.