The Doomed Bastards: Reckoning (story complete)

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 177

THE COLD TOUCH OF THE GRAVE


Shay was the first to react, and she shot past the wraith so fast that she seemed almost a blur, her torch bobbing in one hand, her magical elf-forged longsword streaking past in the other. The attack cut through the wraith, but the enchanted steel failed to bite into its insubstantial form. She did not stop, rushing past it before hitting the cavern wall behind, kicking off it and spinning in mid-air to hit the ground running, coming back for another pass.

Dar and Talen followed her by only a few heartbeats. The came at the wraith, which loomed over its victim like smoke over a fire. The goblin, seriously drained by the monster’s touch, had fallen to the ground, clutching his hands over his head in a futile gesture of self-protection.

“Hands off our gobbos!” Dar yelled, swiping Valor through the wraith’s body, followed a second later by Talen with Beatus Incendia. Once again, both attacks passed through it harmlessly. “Damn it!” Dar shouted.

“Keep at it, as long as it remains present, we can hurt it!” Talen replied. The wraith turned to confront him, touching the knight with an insubstantial claw. The knight felt the icy touch penetrate the skin of his arm to his bone, but his considerable fortitude enabled him to resist the draining effects of its attack.

The hobgoblin fighters joined the melee, coming around Dar and Talen to attack the wraith with their swords. Their weapons were magical, although certainly not as potent as though wielded by the human warriors. Still, one managed to affect the wraith, slicing through its substance, trailing streamers of roiling black substance from its body with the stroke. The hobgoblin let out an exclamation in its own tongue.

“Yeah, yeah, you got lucky, punk,” Dar said.

The clerics had come forward to assist, but they could not make it in close enough to strike, with the warriors forming a ring around it. Varo fired off a pulse of negative energy, but once again the power of Dagos failed to cow the undead monster. The wraith was more potent than most such creatures, and the cleric’s rebuke met an almost tangible wall of resistance that absorbed a degree of his power.

But the wraith was still surrounded, and its luck in avoiding the magical attacks of its opponents had to run out at some point. Filcher shot in between Talen’s legs, but his goal was not to assault the wraith; rather he grabbed his injured compatriot, and dragged him clear of the battle. The wraith persisted in attacking Talen, perhaps recognizing that the knight’s holy sword was the greatest threat to its existence. But as it reached out to attack him again Valor flashed through its body, severing the probing limb from its body. The wraith turned on the fighter, but Talen took advantage of the distraction to bring Beatus Incendia up in an glittering arc that intersected the sinister red points of the wraith’s eyes, and it disintegrated.

“Damn,” Dar said, sliding his sword back into its scabbard. “Tough bastard.”

Allera was tending to the injured goblin. “How is he?” Talen asked.

“Drained, but he should recover, in time,” the healer said. “I will use a lesser restoration to return some of the vitality stolen by the wraith.”

“So now we’re using up our more potent spells on gobbos,” Dar said.

“They are our allies,” Talen said, nodding to Allera.

Dar turned away and looked at Varo. “Your god hasn’t been that helpful of late against these undead,” he said.

The cleric did not appear to be offended by the statement. “There is a power working against us,” he said. “It is likely that it is a consequence of the ritual being worked by the cult of Orcus. I would surmise that the backlash caused by the vrock demon’s teleport power is likewise connected.”

“Is there any way of telling how close they are to completing the ritual?” Talen asked.

“I suspect we will know when they get close,” Varo said.

“All right, we’d better...”

But Talen did not get a chance to finish, for at that moment one of the goblin scouts let out a hiss of warning. The meaning was clear, but Filcher translated anyway.

“Something is coming!”

“Take cover!” Talen whispered, but the goblinoids and his companions were already moving. The warning had been directed to the north, and as they tried to conceal their light sources and the sounds of their movement they could hear what had set off the scout, the sound of footsteps, loud enough to suggest that its origin was someone or something of considerable size.

Shay gestured to Baraka, and the ranger nodded, taking his everburning torch and withdrawing back to the room they’d entered via earlier. The others had doused their own lights, causing the ranger’s features to be eerily highlighted in the glow of the unnatural flame in his hand.

They did not have to wait very long. A few seconds after the goblin’s warning, the source of it stepped into view. With Baraka’s light withdrawn into the adjacent chamber, it was just a vague form to the humans, but even they could see that it was a bruising hulk of a thing, an ogre clad in armor and shield, and bearing a huge spear in its meaty fist. It paused, sniffed the air, and let out a loud grumble from somewhere deep within its body.

Then it started forward.
 

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jensun

First Post
I think I would place money on this not being your average CR2 Ogre encounter.

So Lazybones, how many levels of Frenzied Barbarian?
 


Lazybones

Adventurer
IIRC the ogre guards are L8 fighters, and are pretty tough. But having a bunch of class levels doesn't help much when you're facing a ton of little guys with sneak attacks and good initiative rolls, as we find out today.

Of course, good luck must always be balanced by bad, and an unfortunate roll at the end of today's update will set the stage for a dramatic series of events to come...

* * * * *

Chapter 178

TRIBITZ’S GUARDS


The barrage was immediate and devastating.

The ogre never knew what was happening, even as the arrows and hurled missiles slammed into its body. In addition to the slab of wood and iron that it carried as a shield, it wore a long tunic of heavy mail links that protected its torso. They failed to protect it, however, from the precision shots unleashed upon it by its concealed foes. A javelin glanced off its shield, but a second pierced the armor covering its hip, the steel head sticking deep into the flesh of the joint. An arrow creased off the left side of its head, and as it twisted reflexively away from the pain, a second lodged deep in its throat. A small axe flipped out of the darkness and embedded itself into its right hand, nearly causing the ogre to drop its spear.

By the time it finally realized it was under attack, it was already too late.

Dar emerged from a tunnel opening, and charged toward the monster. The ogre had him at a disadvantage, with its long spear, but instead of setting to take the charge, the monster turned and began to lumber away, back up the tunnel to the north. Dar quickly closed the distance, but more arrows and javelins continued to fly past him into the back of the giant. Several shots buried deep into the ogre’s back and the meat of its thighs, and it began to falter. Finally an arrow snicked hard into the back of its head, just under its right ear, and it stumbled. Falling hard to its knees, the ogre could not defend itself from a stroke from Dar’s sword that put it down for good.

The others came up as Dar cleaned his sword on the monster’s clothes. “That was unexpectedly easy,” Talen said.

“Never underestimate the utility of massed sneak attacks against an unsuspecting foe,” Shay replied, nodding at the goblinoids as they recovered their weapons from the ogre’s body.

“We’d better see if there are any more up ahead,” Talen said. Shay turned to translate, but Filcher had already issued directions, and a pair of goblin scouts vanished into the darkness to the north.

“Keep your lights shaded,” Talen said. “Maybe we can take them by surprise.”

They continued to the north, where another uneven cavern gave way to a tunnel that proceeded more or less to the northwest. Moving as quietly as possible, their lights carefully shrouded to minimize their glow, they pressed on in that direction. A faint noise became audible up ahead, the familiar sound of a swift-moving underground river.

The goblin scouts returned, and spent a few moments in quiet discussion with Filcher. “There’s a river up ahead, spanned by a rope bridge,” the goblin scout reported. “And there’s an ogre keeping watch on the other side.”

“Did it see you?” Shay asked, in the goblin language. The two creatures looked almost offended, and they shook their heads.

“The goblins don’t need light, but we do,” Baraka said. “We won’t get close enough to strike without alerting it.”

“Perhaps it will not matter,” Varo said. “I still have a silence spell remaining; I was holding it in reserve for the clerics, but I would not dismiss the value of tactical surprise.”

“In any case, I would guess that we’re getting close to the clerics’ stronghold,” Talen said.

“An intuition, commander?” the cleric said, with a raised eyebrow.

“Call it a feeling.”

“Well, I’ve got a feeling that some undead monstrosity’s going to come wandering past here if you all don’t stop your yapping,” Dar said. “If we’re going to do this, let’s just freaking do it already.”

“Shay, could you brief our companions on the plan?” Talen asked. Shay passed on their typical tactic using a silenced arrow, and after a few guttural phrases in the goblinoid tongue both the scouts and the warriors were nodding in understanding.

The ogre never knew what hit it.

The guard was wary, and it was beginning to wonder what had happened to its companion. It caught sight of a faint glow that brightened in the tunnel entrance on the far side of the bridge, but it completely missed the slender shadows that had taken cover by the pylons that anchored the bridge on the other side of the underground river. Its first thought was that the light was its fellow guard returning, nevermind that neither ogre carried a light source. Ogres were typically recruited as guards for their physical strength and stamina, not for their intellectual talents.

It opened its mouth to shout an interrogative, but before it could speak, the shadowy forms shifted slightly, and arrows shot across the river. The ogre heard nothing, only felt a series of sharp stings across its torso. It was well-protected by armor and shield, and it was far tougher than the typical example of its kind, but the first volley of missiles had found vulnerable spots, and blood oozed in plenty down its torso under the chainmail.

The ogre let out a roar of challenge, confused when only silence greeted its yell. The light source had brightened, and now the guard could see enemies, at least a half-dozen, heavily armored humans and hobgoblins that charged out of the tunnel toward the bridge.

Despite the silence, the ogre could feel the blood-rage boiling in its chest, the angry pounding of its heart at the prospect of battle. But the ogre also felt something else, a dim but persistent memory of orders that had been blasted into its head by repetition and dire threat. Report, came a voice that the ogre had learned to fear, for all that its owner barely came up to its knee.

So the ogre did an uncharacteristic thing, which was to turn and flee from those charging toward it.

More arrows shot over the heads of the charging warriors as they rushed across the bridge. The rope bridge wavered treacherously at the sudden weight, and one of the hobgoblins was forced to abort its rush, grasping desperately at the rail to keep from being tossed over into the swiftly moving river. Dar and Talen made it across, and charged after the wounded ogre, who was rapidly escaping down another tunnel to the north. The ogre was slowed somewhat by its heavy armor, but both of the humans were likewise more than a little encumbered.

A moment later, Shay shot past them like a quarrel fired from a heavy crossbow. Baraka had paused to fire his bow, and the shaft flew true up the tunnel, biting deep into the ogre’s muscled right arm. The goblins kept up their own fire, but while they continued to score hits, they failed to inflict as much damage now that the ogre was farther away, and on the run. Their little arrows looked like tiny sticks, jutting from its armored body.

Shadows danced on the walls of the tunnel as the companions chased the ogre, most flaring from Beatus Incendia as the sword swept back and forth in Talen’s hand. Shay caught up to the ogre and slashed her sword across the back of its left leg, opening a deep, bloody gash in the limb. The ogre staggered and nearly fell. It looked back over its shoulder, its face twisting into a furious rictus of rage. Dropping its spear, it smashed its shield around into the scout’s face. Shay ducked but could not avoid being clipped on the shoulder by the impromptu weapon; the impact was enough to send her spinning to the ground. Dar and Talen were coming up fast, and the ogre did not remain to battle them. It turned and lumbered on down the tunnel, where they could now see a set of heavy double doors up ahead at the end of the passage.

As they ran, Dar had slid Valor back into its sheath, and drew his heavy longbow out of his efficient quiver. Coming to a sudden stop, he fitted the string to the bow and drew an arrow with a single fluid motion. Grimacing with the effort of fully drawing the bow, he sighted and released. The arrow flew down the tunnel, shot past Talen, and buried itself to the feathers in the ogre’s left leg. The ogre, already seriously wounded, toppled forward. It crashed head-first into the center of the double doors, which buckled from the force of eight hundred pounds of giant and gear smashing into them. The companions could feel the force of the impact through the tunnel walls, but with Varo’s spell still radiating from one of the arrows stuck in its body, an eerie silence continued to surround the creature. The doors were built to open outward, so they remained closed, with the ogre’s head smashed through an opening several feet across in the center of the heavy wooden panels. It struggled weakly to free itself, blood splattering from its body onto the doors and the floor with every movement.

Those struggles ended as Talen drove Beatus Incendia through its back, the holy blade sliding between its ribs into its heart. White fire flared from the wound, as blood hissed from the opening. The ogre slumped down, its head still pinned in the opening in the double doors.

With an obvious effort, Talen yanked his weapon free. He looked through the opening in the doors. The light from his sword glinted on metal, somewhere in the chamber beyond.

Then something else was thrust into view, appearing in between the doors and the metal object. A familiar sigil, white bone held up by a small gauntleted hand.

Clerics! Talen tried to yell, but of course no sound came from his lips. He tried to look away as he felt a cold chill sweep over him, but the power of that horned symbol washed over him, overcoming even his considerable fortitude. The unholy symbol grew until it filled his vision, and then everything went black as he was struck blind.
 
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Nephtys

First Post
I finally finished reading the story so far, and I'm impressed. I'm eagerly looking forwards to more.
All the characters have some appeal, but Varo is my favorite. Dar is enjoyable too, but Varo feels like a deeper character. There's something about the morally ambiguous or downright evil that makes them a lot more interesting to me. :)
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Thanks for the post, Nephtys! I have to admit that those two are the most fun to write as well.

* * * * *

Chapter 179

WHEN YOU NEVER SEE IT COMING


Talen was a skilled blind-fighter, but in the silence field still emanating from the dead ogre, his hard-won skills were useless. Forcing himself to tamp down a swelling surge of panic, he stepped backward, slowly, one step at a time.

Sound returned to him at the same time that someone grabbed him; he had to restrain himself from lashing out reflexively. “Talen, are you all right?” Shay asked.

“I’ve been blinded,” he said, surprised at the calm in his own voice. “There’s a cleric beyond those doors.”

He heard a loud clanking noise move past—that had to be Dar—and then vanish as the fighter entered the silence field.

“Allera’s on her way,” Shay said. “Better stay put.” She guided him back to the nearby wall, then turned and hurried off to rejoin the battle.

All Talen could do was grit his teeth and wait.

Dar struck the heavy doors with his club. The portals were durable, but they’d already taken damage from the ogre’s impact, and they had not been designed to stand up to the damage that Dar could dish out. There would be no pulling them open, not with the ogre lying dead before them, so Dar simply smashed them inward, pulverizing heavy planks that had to have been brought into Grezneck from the surface world. It only took him a few powerful strokes to open a path wide enough for him to step through; the ogre, freed at last, slumped to the ground at his feet.

The fighter stepped forward into the room beyond just in time to be attacked by a rabid howler.

The others were arriving to join the fray. The first hobgoblin warrior joined Shay in attacking the second door, trying to widen the opening Dar had made enough for them to join the melee. They were interrupted by an unholy blight that exploded through the space before the doors. The goblinoids were not affected by the blast, but Shay sagged forward and voided her stomach upon the corpse of the ogre, sickened by the foul potency of the spell. Baraka came forward to help her, but the scout shook him off, and returned to the door. The second hobgoblin, which had been rescued from the edge of the bridge by Kalend and Varo, joined them, and they were quickly able to smash the door off its moorings.

They found themselves greeted by more summoned creatures, a quartet of monstrous spiders each nearly the size of a man.

The chamber beyond the doors was shaped like an uneven hexagon, and was spacious, a good sixty feet across. Another set of doors even larger than the first looked to be the only exit, on the far wall to the left. The only feature of note in the chamber was a small bronze statue atop a stone pedestal in the center of the room. The statue’s identity was instantly obvious to all of them; they had seen enough representations of Orcus in Rappan Athuk to recognize that unnatural visage.

In addition to the swarm of summoned monsters, the chamber was occupied by a pair of goblin clerics, clad in chainmail and black robes. One glowed with the fell aura of a dispel good spell, identifying it as a powerful practitioner of the dark arts. It cast another spell upon itself while its fellow laid a hold spell upon Dar. The fighter froze as the magic took effect, and the howler, already seriously injured from Dar’s club, eagerly seized and yanked down the helpless fighter.

Given a chance, the Abyssal monster would have torn the fighter apart, but Baraka Suhn leapt into the fray, forcing the howler back with a pair of violent swings of his sickles. His silver weapon bit deep into the gap where its skull met its neck, and the creature let out a silent scream of pain as it yanked back, leaving a good half foot strip of bloody flesh dangling from its head. It tried to recover, but a moment later a small arrow bit deep into its neck, and the creature keeled over, dissolving into mist as it returned to the pit where it had been spawned.

Baraka bent to help Dar, but the fighter was still caught in the grip of the paralysis, and could not move. He could not hear, but the veteran ranger sensed the threat coming, and he rose into a ready stance as one of the clerics charged forward. His eyes were on the goblin’s morningstar, but the cleric did not swing, instead reaching out with its other hand to touch him lightly on the leg. The inflict wounds spell it had cast stabbed through him like a hot knife, and he staggered, barely keeping his feet against this much smaller foe.

The two hobgoblins had laid into the monstrous spiders, hacking their fat bodies apart with powerful blows from their magical swords. Two were killed in the first exchange, and the second pair lasted only a few seconds longer. One of them managed to bite one of the warriors on the shoulder, but the hobgoblin ignored the pain, returning the hurt several times over as he buried his sword to the hilt in the monster’s hideous face.

Shay had shot through the spiders, leaving them to her allies, easily avoiding their rapid lunges. Her objective was the enemy high priest. The goblin waited for her, and as she slashed at it with her elvish blade, it too struck, stepping into her stroke to touch her with its stubby fingers. Shay had been expecting that, however, and she darted easily aside, avoiding the touch attack. She shot past it, and as her momentum carried her into the middle of the room, she leapt up and sprang off the bronze statue, kicking it over with a loud clang as she reversed her momentum and came back toward the enemy priest. The follower of Orcus snarled and summoned its power, no doubt readying another sinister spell to deal with this foe once and for all.

But the spell was never finished; abruptly the goblin’s lips moved without sound, as a broken piece of arrow skittered to a stop at its feet. Varo had found the arrow he’d enchanted sticking from the dead ogre’s back, and he’d broken it off, tossing it into the room to hinder the efforts of the enemy priests.

The battle was quickly starting to turn. Baraka was seriously hurt, but he was joined by Kalend and Filcher, who moved forward to help flank the priest. Even with its protective wards in place, it could not avoid painful blows that pierced its defenses, inflicting serious wounds. It tried to regroup, giving ground as it drew out a vial from its pouch.

It didn’t get a chance to consume the draught; Snaggletooth flew up, still invisible, and seized the healing potion, yanking it out of the surprised cleric’s grasp.

Things went rapidly downhill for the priest from there.

The other cleric held its ground as Shay came back. She had the advantage in melee; she was both larger and faster, and her sword had a superior reach to the goblin’s morningstar. But the goblin dodged aside as she swung at it again, her stroke turned by the shifting energies of its dispel good aura. In turn it smashed its morningstar into her right knee as she passed; Shay’s face twisted in pain, and she fell forward into a roll that brought her up again a few paces away, favoring the damaged joint.

The goblin looked around for the source of the silence aura, but it failed to see the fragment of arrow lying between its feet. It did, however, see the two hobgoblins charging toward it. The goblin seemed almost pathetic against the much larger and more heavily armored foes, but it took the first attack on its shield, turning the stroke before it brought its morningstar up hard into the hobgoblin’s gut. The fighter staggered back, gasping for air, blood oozing from the punctures where the weapon’s spikes had penetrated through his banded armor.

The rest of the companions had moved into the room, although most of them did not rush forward to join the melee. Allera was helping Talen; the healer’s innate ability to purge blindness had not yet returned, and she lacked other magic that could help him. Serah tried to dispel the blindness, but her spell slipped around the dark nugget of evil power gripping Talen like water sliding down an oilskin cloak. The goblin scouts moved cautiously forward, wary of other threats as they moved around the edges of the room into flanking positions.

Dar grunted as he slowly fought to his feet, his movements awkward as he struggled to fight off the lingering effects of the hold person spell. He staggered to the side as he drew Valor out of its sheath. “I am going to cut me some freaking clerics,” he muttered, as he adjusted his uneasy momentum forward, his mail clanking with each stumbling step.

For a moment, it looked as though he would not get his chance. The lesser priest had fought back against serious odds, giving ground as its foes continued to move to flank it. It was outside of the radius of the silence sphere, so it could freely cast spells. It focused on the already-injured ranger, hitting Baraka with another inflict wounds spell. The dark energies of the spell staggered him, but he held his position, distracting the goblin with blows from his sickles that failed to penetrate the goblin’s armored torso. The attacks allowed Kalend and Filcher to get into position again, and they were more successful, each stabbing the cleric with their short blades, the sneak attacks piercing its body from opposite sides. The cleric cursed them with its last breath, then collapsed, dying.

The other cleric was being similarly pressed. It too was giving ground, trying to escape the sphere of silence, but as it retreated it came under heavy attack from Shay and the hobgoblin warriors. The scout, trying to ignore the limp from her injured knee, still moved far more quickly than the heavily armored goblin, and her skirmish attacks forced it to attend to her. The hobgoblins went in for more straightforward assaults, lashing at the goblin with their heavy swords. The cleric staggered as one attack bit deeply into its shoulder, the heavy clang of metal indicating that they had finally left the silence behind. The cleric fell to one knee, but as the hobgoblin rushed in, eager to finish it, the servant of Orcus abruptly countered. Eschewing the morningstar, it reached up and pressed its fist into the hobgoblin’s gut, unleashing a powerful inflict wounds through the contact into its body. The hobgoblin let out a hollow shriek of pain and collapsed, his body twitching with terrible agonies as the spell wrought its course of destruction. The fighter’s kinsman did not falter in his own attack, despite the obvious danger, pressing the cleric with another series of potent attacks. His sword clipped the edge of the cleric’s helmet, and the goblin went down, stunned.

And then the massive doors on the far side of the room opened, and through the gap a horde of undead poured into the chamber. Dozens of skeletons and zombies came surging forward, arms extended as they sought the flesh of the living.

A skeleton on the leading edge of that rush leapt at Dar. The fighter had dropped his club, but he smashed the creature with Valor, hard enough to reduce a mundane skeleton to shards of bone.

The blow hit the skeleton square in the ribs. It staggered back a step, but instead of coming apart it leapt forward again, digging its claws into Dar’s weapon arm.

Behind it, over a hundred more skeletons and zombies charged forward to attack.
 

Ximix

First Post
Well... so much for surprise! :(

Tomorrow's patented cliff-hanger looks promising ! I'm betting a few red-sh... hobgoblins take a dirt nap in the coming battle, probably a legionnaire or two... likely a cleric.
Thing is, I don't feel the least bit sarcastic in thinking the above... it's just what is likely given the bloody history of this band of heroes.

Still here, still enjoying the ride, looking forward to some big showdowns.

- - - - -

Oh wow, got distracted mid-post and missed the above . . . well my predictions of casualties were not immediately borne out, however I see the writing on the wall . . . and the floor... ceiling... whatever surface blood can splatter !
 
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Nephtys

First Post
I'm a bit puzzled by the evil clerics tendency to cast Inflict Wounds spells in combat. By the time they're capable of casting Dispell Good they have a lot more useful spells at their disposal. Flamestrike, Wall of Stone, Righteous Might+Divine Power+etc, are all a bit under-used. And if they are summoning/animating a lot of allies it's never wrong to buff them a little. Clerics should never just wade into combat without being fully prepared, and if they don't have the time to prepare themselves they're better off throwing spells from a distance.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Nephtys said:
I'm a bit puzzled by the evil clerics tendency to cast Inflict Wounds spells in combat. By the time they're capable of casting Dispell Good they have a lot more useful spells at their disposal. Flamestrike, Wall of Stone, Righteous Might+Divine Power+etc, are all a bit under-used. And if they are summoning/animating a lot of allies it's never wrong to buff them a little. Clerics should never just wade into combat without being fully prepared, and if they don't have the time to prepare themselves they're better off throwing spells from a distance.
I'm just using the spells provided in the stat blocks in the module. Only one of the two clerics here was 9th level, the other was 8th (and so inflict critical wounds was probably its best attack). 4d8+8 is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you have a poor Will save.

These two clerics were caught off guard; remember the ogre had been silenced and so the first warning they had was the guard's head coming through the door. They barely had a chance to summon blockers, let alone buff them. But given how potent the one priest's attacks were against the hobgoblin fighter and Shay, it was likely that it did at least have divine power up (I don't remember its exact buff routine). Not that it did a lot of good; when you're a caster and you're that outnumbered, you're in trouble.

Of course, that works both ways, as we'll see today, and next week:

* * * * *


Chapter 180

THE SURGE


Varo hurled an undeath to death spell into the onrushing horde of undead. The explosion of black energy blasted seven skeletons into fragments of bone, but it barely eased the force of the surging wave.

The wave spread out into the room, cutting off part of the group from the rest. Shay dodged back as a skeleton leapt at her face, its claws extending toward her eyes. She avoided its assault, and tried to get to the last hobgoblin warrior. She managed only one step before she found herself surrounded by skeletons, with at least five zombies right pressing at her in their wake. The creatures hindered each other by their close proximity, but the undead seemed to care only for seizing and tearing apart their living foes.

Serah tried to turn some of the attacking undead, but her power had no effect. “There’s too many of them... they’re too strong!” the cleric shrieked.

“They are augmented,” Varo said calmly, stepping back to the broken doors.

“Fall back to the doors!” Talen yelled. He still could not see, but Beatus Incendia flared in his hand, as though the blade could itself sense the presence of the undead monsters in the chamber.

Kalend and Baraka tried to get back to the sundered outer doors, but were blocked by a half-dozen charging skeletons. Filcher shot between them, dodging skeletal claws without apparent effort. Kalend tried to do the same, but a skeleton seized his arm. Kalend, his face white with terror, hacked at it with his legion shortsword, but the blow had no effect.

Baraka slammed into the skeleton, dislodging the creature’s grasp on the thief. “Go!” the ranger yelled, his arms spread wide to block off the skeleton charge, his sickles raising a fine cloud of bone dust as he hacked into their bodies. His adamantine weapon smashed a skeleton’s humerus, but as he pulled back the weapon it caught in a rib cage, and was pulled out of his grasp.

Kalend hesitated. “Baraka!”

The ranger tried to pull back from the skeletons trying to seize him, but before he could get fully free a zombie lurched into him, locking its thick arms around the man’s neck, dragging him into its grasp. Kalend took a step toward him, but within an instant found himself confronted by three more skeletons, one of which got a claw on his neck for a second, and drew blood as it raked his flesh.

The things were incredibly strong.

Dar was finding that out, as he stood against the horde, lashing out with Valor. He focused on the zombies, which were more vulnerable to the sword, but strokes that would have cut through ordinary zombies merely opened shallow tears in their undead flesh. It was like hacking through leather, and by the time Dar finally brought one down, he was almost completely surrounded. He had a very close call as a skeleton grabbed onto his leg, and he nearly fell into the arms of a zombie hazarding his flank. He was already bruised and bleeding from several hits; these undead seemed to have little difficulty hurting him even through his heavy armor.

“Dar! Dar, get out of there!” Allera shouted.

“Shay’s trapped!” the fighter replied, but he had no choice but to follow Allera’s direction; another second and he would be torn to pieces.

Shay could hear her friends’ yells, but the sound was overlaid by the screams of the hobgoblin as it was taken down. Shay could just see it through the press of undead; three zombies had a solid hold on it, and two others were pulling back the plates covering its torso through sheer strength. She felt something twist in her as she saw gory entrails lifted into the air, accompanied by a spurt of bright red arterial blood. One of the zombies turned and looked at her, its face splattered in crimson.

The scout was nearly yanked off her feet as a zombie seized her cloak. Twisting her body, she ducked out of the garment, shedding her light pack in the same movement. She felt pain in her side as a pair of skeletons raked her with their claws, but of more immediate worry was the arms of the surrounding zombies probing at her, trying to grab onto her neck and arms. She heard Talen yell, could see the light of his sword, over the press.

If she was going to escape, it had to be now.

The scout sprang into the air, using her magical boots and her own strength and agility to take her six feet straight up. Narrowly avoiding the grasping hands, she landed on a zombie’s shoulders. Even as her weight started to buckle the undead monster, she leapt forward, her target another zombie that was caught in the press. The room was almost full of undead, and Shay could see that more were still coming.

All of this she took in in mid-leap. She hit the second zombie and sprang off it as it fell. She was losing height fast; she kicked off a skeleton, trying to ignore the agony of her injured knee as it was wrenched by the impact. Claws tore at her legs. Undead were everywhere, a sea of arms extended up at her as she passed.

Then a fist closed tight around her ankle, and her momentum was instantly erased as a powerful tug yanked her down. She fell into the midst of a knot of undead; as she hit the floor, her injured leg collapsed and she fell hard onto her back. Her other leg was still held by a zombie almost lost in the press.

The creatures swarmed onto her in an instant, blocking out the light in a sea of darkness and pain.
 


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