4E Watch For Falling Meteors [4E KotS] Updated Weekdays!

Xorn

Visitor
“Are you kidding me!? Did you hear the gurgling from his throat? He was still trying to breath, so he wasn’t dead yet!” Percy was absently digging through a pouch at the hobgoblins waste, oblivious to the blood pooling around his booted feet.

“Ach! Jus’ a reflex ya lil’ runt, an’ ya know it!” Omar pointed the head of his warhammer at the deformed remains of the huge goblin’s skull. “Me blow killed him sound, so don’t think yer gonna finagle this aroun’ ta make ye tha victor.” The dwarf pulled out a small knife from his belt, too small to be good for anything but whittling, and creased a small notch in the end of the shaft. “Asides, I already put tha notch in me weapon.”

Percy’s stunned expression clearly illustrated that he felt the fighter had crossed a boundary that he didn’t think was fair. “Oh. Oh I see, so that’s how it is.” The halfling held his hands up in surrender, “Fine. I’ll let you take credit for my skill.”

“Speaking of skill, rogue,” interjected the tiefling, still locked inside the holding cage in the corner of the room, “perhaps you could unlock the door, if you’re not too busy.”

Noticing how Daichot had gotten himself imprisoned in the cage quickly lightened Percy’s mood. With a flick of his wrist, the little halfling padded lightly over to the door of the cage, two thin metal lockpicks and a tension bar held in his left hand, as he examined the lock.

“Really,” Percy boasted, “if this is the best lock you could manage, why bother even locking the door?” With a flourish he drew one of his mundane daggers out of a sheath from beneath his cloak, and in the same motion his lockpicks ceased to exist. Rather than work the lock like a master thief, he jammed the blade into the lock hastily and twisted it slightly before leveraging his weight on the pommel, and a loud combination of snaps and clicks sounded from the mechanism. Grinning satisfactorily to himself, he examined the blade for damage, and content that the weapon had survived the process, he returned it to the folds of his cloak, as Daichot pushed the door open.

“You picked the lock with a dagger?” asked Vrax.

“Well, depends on your definition of picking a lock. Does the lock still have to work afterwards.”

Vrax thought about that question briefly as Percy started across the room, towards the cells where he had seen movement during the fighting. “Let’s assume that answer is: Yes.”

“Then, no, I didn’t pick the lock.”

“Did you kill that filthy bastard!?” Shouted a squeaking, shrill voice from the cells to the west.

Omar spun about from his inspection of one of the goblin corpses, as a ball of arcane energy sprang to life in Vrax’s palm. Daichot raised his axe and looked for the source, but Percy was calmly walking towards the hallway.

“Oh, I think there’s a goblin or something in one of the cells. I saw it during the fighting.”

“Why didn’t you say something!?” demanded Daichot.

“Um… you just asked me. Before that I was busy letting you out of jail, remember.”

“Let’s just kill it and be on with it.” Growled the agitated tiefling.

“Yeah, I’m planning to, just wanted to see why he’s locked up first. Maybe it’ll help us.”

“Don’t kill! Don’t kill! Please!” cried the squeaky voice from the middle cell on the north face of the corridor.

“We don’t have time for this,” grumbled Omar, standing where he could see out the door they entered and down the hallway Percy was walking quickly. “I’ll bash it’s head in so it can’t warn anyone about us.”

“Actually,” hissed Vrax, assessing the opportunity, “perhaps a prisoner could be useful.” The dwarf and tielfling looked at him, considering the possibility since someone who was not Percy was thinking of the notion. “After all, if the little beast has been locked up by his own kind… the enemy of thy enemy, and what not.” The last sound of the sentence clicked hollowly across the chamber as the dragonborn’s taloned feet scraped on the floor.

Daichot stood at the opening of the jail cells and watched the halfling carefully, not particularly content with the idea of interacting with the goblins in any manner that didn’t involve his weapon. Percy was jabbering away with the creature inside the middle cell, and it was responding with even squeakier sounds in it’s own tongue.

“Hmmph. Didja know Percy spoke Goblin?”

Daichot shook his head at the dwarf’s question. “No. Who would have thought?”

“He is a thief.” Offered Vrax.

Daichot shrugged, not really understanding why that was important, and whether or not Vrax detected the uncertainty, he added his own thoughts. “Many thieves in Fallcrest speak Goblin as their form of a trade language. Most people don’t understand the language, which uses a lot of hand-symbols in conjunction with short, two-word guttural sentences. It’s often a safe way to communicate, or even recognize other members of a guild, even in crowded places.”

Daichot and Omar both watched Vrax for a moment, till the wizard felt their unspoken question pressing through his flesh. “So I’ve read, anyway.”

“Why in blazes would anyone know that?”

The recent sound of snapping and scraping metal aroused their attention again as the halfling returned his dagger-lockpick back under the drape of his cloak, and a skinny, half-dressed goblin spilled onto the floor, groveling at the halfling’s feet, which Percy seemed to be enjoying.

“He’s gonna help us find the portal. He knows where it is… kinda.”

Daichot narrowed his gaze. “Kinda?”

The little goblin shifted on his knees to face the others, clasping his hands together as he begged for their belief in him. “Splugg not gone all there. Just most there. Splugg take you!”

“And why would you help us?” asked the warlord, lowering his axe slightly. The little goblins was shuffling on his knees closer to them, while Percy followed closely behind him, dagger ready.

“Splugg not good! Cheat!” he proclaimed.

The three of them stared blankly at the goblin’s statement, as Percy shook his head and sighed.

“Wow. Splugg’s Common really sucks.” Percy explained. “He meant he’s not going to cheat us, because we’re good, like him.”

“He’s sniveling scum,” fumed the warlord, his brow creased with a desire to cleave the evil creature in half.

Percy nodded. “True. He probably is. He also knows who this Kalarel guy is, and can show us the way to him. He’s only been down that low in the keep once, though.”

“Why was he inna jail?”

It was obvious that Splugg was having trouble following the conversation in Common, but Percy nodded to the goblin that he had it under control. “Told me he was a victim of circumstance. He won the brandy rations from the other goblins in a game of dice, they accused him of cheating, and he ended up in jail.” Percy explained. “I can relate, I’ve gambled with plenty of sore losers. So quick to call you a cheat.”

Holding up his hand to stop the rogue, Daichot offered the next question. “Okay. So maybe it’s true. Then he tells us where to go now, then we’ll take him with us.”

“No!” protested Splugg, understanding enough of the sentence to answer. “Splugg show you. Not kill Splugg now!”

Having no mood for negotiation, Daichot closed the distance to the goblin in three long strides, raising his axe above his head. “Yes, I think I will!” he flatly stated.

“Wait!” Splugg curled into a ball, grabbing his arms tightly over his knees, cowering in submission. “Back to start, south through stone door and dooown…” He trailed the last word in a hollow echo from within the ball of spindly limbs his face was hidden beneath.

Daichot hesitated. “Continue.”

“Don’t know rest. Only once go. Can remember!”

“You know that if you betray us, I will kill you slowly?”

Splugg popped his head out of arms and nodded eagerly. “Splugg not break deal!”

Diachot looked back to Omar and Vrax, who both shrugged in unison, not having any real protest to the notion. Splugg certainly didn’t look dangerous enough to be a real threat.

“You walk in front of Percy,” the warlord pointed at the halfling, “if you try to trick us, you die.”

They started heading back towards the entrance quietly, as Vrax made an observation. “I think he’s telling us the truth, more or less. I think he’s taking us towards the portal, in fact.”

“Why are you so sure?” asked Daichot, looking at the scorched stone door that Vrax had engulfed in flames hours before.

Vrax inclined his head towards the goblin, who was standing by Percy at the stone frame speaking softly in goblin to the halfling.

“Because the little runt is terrified.”

***************
 
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Xorn

Visitor
Anyone still reading? :D

===============

Omar gave one last glance back up to the scorched stone doors that were still open at the top of the ancient staircase they had descended. Judging by the coloration and technique used to cut the stones beneath his boots, more than a millennium had passed since this place was built. The light spilling in from the guard room above them was like a tiny sun, though the light was obliterated by the oppressive darkness before reaching even the halfway point of the incline. A sea of blackness, shadows wholly too dark to be natural, encroached around the glowing light from the clawed spearhead atop Vrax’s staff. The radius of light seemed to flux and waver, as though it were pushing against something solid.

“Thisnae natural.” Omar whispered at the inky, suffocating darkness before him. Barely able to make out the floor five feet in front of him, he waved his hammer ahead, half expected to strike something.

“No, it’s not,” agreed Vrax.

“I thought that light was brighter,” complained Percy, carefully watching their goblin captive, his dagger leveled at Splugg’s lower back.

“It is,” answered the wizard, “but the shadows are… fighting back.”

The procession in front of the robed dragonborn halted abruptly, as they all looked back in shock. “You heard me. We’re nearing a rift in the plane of Shadows; what did you expect, sunflowers?”

With no valid argument to offer, they turned and looked around again. Omar had brought them to a halt when they reached a branch in the corridor. The dark passageway bore various symbols and runes on the walls, as well as motifs dedicated to various gods, though most of them tied to Bahamut in some way. The passage continued to the west, but a second, identical ten-foot wide hallway presented an option northward. Even as Vrax prodded is glowing implement ahead, they couldn’t see more than ten paces, and both halls were identical.

“Can you sense the right direction yet?” asked Daichot.

“No. It’s too strong to feel like that now. There is a throbbing of corrupt energy throughout this place. It’s everywhere. Stronger than up above, so we’re going the right way, but I don’t know if it’s straight or right.”

“West or north,” interjected the dwarf.

“Whatever.”

“Firs’ way ye get lost innae deep is thinkin’ lef’ an’ right.” Omar scolded. “Git yeself turned around too easy.”

Percy leaned close to Splugg, “Looks like you’re on, Splugg.” His voice dripped with an uncharacteristic menace, drawing glances from the others. “North,” he whispered vehemently and pointed his dagger towards the hall for effect, “or West?”

Splugg was shaking visibly, and had been since coming down the stairs, getting nervous before they had even reached the doors above. His eyes were darting back and forth quickly, and he contemplated both choices. Daichot was wearing his aggravation plainly on his brow, and the goblin tried to appease the obvious impatience.

“Splugg once straight. Right maybe.”

“What!?” demanded the tielfling.

Percy growled something at the goblin in his own tongue, to which Splugg squeaked back a meek reply, at even in a language this didn’t understand, sounded unconvincing. Percy stared at the goblin wickedly till Splugg dropped his gaze to the floor, then explained.

“He says he’s only been down here one time, a long time ago. He says he doesn’t remember which way to go from here, but eventually, we’re looking for a set of stairs that are northwest.”

“Does he know what this place is? What’s down here?”

Percy translated and the goblin shook his head as he answered, so Percy had little left to translate. “Evil things, but that’s just what the boss goblin told him.”

“Let’s just kill him and find our own way then.” Daichot pulled a dagger from a sheath on his belt.

“Straight! Splugg remember!” the goblin rasped and pointed to the west.

Omar shrugged as the tielfling replaced his blade, and Percy prodded their captive towards the west. After twenty paces, the passage north had vanished into the gloom, and a new opening to the south beckoned, an entrance to a larger chamber just beyond the clinging darkness. Omar put a finger to his lips, ordering the goblin to silently answer, and pointed south.

Splugg quickly shook his head and pointed west, and they moved past the opening. The passage turned sharply to the north, then back to the west, leaving them ten steps northward from where they were, and still heading west. Omar stopped quickly, his metal plated boots screeching loudly as his step faltered and Daichot bumped into him.

“Ach! Stop! Stop!” he snapped in a hoarse whisper.

Right at the edge of the light, only a few steps from Omar, a sinister looking rune, nearly ten feet across, spanned the floor, and the designed seemed to devour any light that reached it, looking like a gouge in the floor, rather than the embossed design it was.

“Vrax, I think this is your territory,” suggested the warlord.

“What is it?” demanded Percy, as the wizard examined the giant shadow rune on the floor. Splugg gurgled and squeaked a response, which Percy didn’t seem impressed with as he whispered to Daichot.

“Says it wasn’t here last time. I think he’s lying, but I don’t know if it’s because he doesn’t know what it is, or if he’s trying to trick us.”

Daichot glared at the goblin prisoner, but his face was calm as he suggested, “Let’s make him cross it, see if it’s bad.”

Omar frowned at the idea, but Vrax replied first. “It’s bad. I can’t tell what it does, but if anything touches the rune, it will trigger dark magic.”

“All the more reason to test it with this… thing.” Daichot grabbed the green-skinned runt by the back of his vest.

Percy listened to Splugg frantically babbling to him in a mix of Goblin and Common, before stalling the tiefling’s arm with a touch. “Hold on, now he’s saying that he thinks we should have turned right at the stairs.” The halfling sighed with exasperation, “You know what, chuck him on there, he’s starting to tick me off.”

“Wait!” yelled Omar, but the goblin was already airborne, thudding onto the shadowy rune with a painful thud. The goblin scurried off of the run as fast as he could, shuffling on his knees to grovel before the halfling.

“We make deal! Splugg good goblin!” His squeals echoed loudly away from them, careening off the ornately carved stonework and carrying for several seconds before the darkness swallowed up the noise again.

Splugg was trembling, but quiet now, as Percy’s dagger was pressed up to the flesh of his throat; a faint red line outlined the edge of the blade, glistening in the light of the mage’s staff.

“Shut. Up.”

“Wait a minute!” exclaimed Omar harshly, barely managing to keep his voice a whisper. “I hate a goblin as much as any of ye—but this one ne’er harmed us, nor is’e armed. We’re better’n that.”

“Maybe you are,” whispered Percy.

“If’n it’s a trap, ‘en we smash is skull’in. But this is wrong.”

Daichot held up his hand to the dwarf, acknowledging him, but not committing his stance to an answer. “Why didn’t anything happen?” The rune remained, a pattern of inky shadow still embossed on the stone, even in the light they carried.

“Honestly, I don’t know,” admitted Vrax. “I’m not familiar with the whole rune, only some components. That,” he pointed to a jagged arc on the bottom of the symbol, “is a trigger. And that,” he pointed to an intersection of three of the lines, “is corruption. I don’t know what the rest is—but perhaps the magic has been spent, and this is only a remnant. I have an idea though.”

“Go on,” said Daichot.

“I can use a spell to touch it. It’s more or less an extension of my will, so it’s a part of me. I might be able to trigger it safely.”

“Why don’ we jus’ jump over it?” asked Omar.

“That could work—or it might not. From my studies of Arcana, this rune is still active—but I could be wrong.”

Daichot nodded, “Doesn’t really matter. You’re our authority on magic. If you think it’s the best plan, we do the best plan.”

“Actually, I thought the best plan was throwing the goblin on the rune.” Omar noticed a flicker of mischief in the wizard’s eyes. “However, that test failed, this seems like the best plan, yes. Light a sunrod.”

Daichot extracted the short wooden rod from his pack, tipped with a thick crystal containing two viscous liquids inside. When mixed, they would shed an incredibly bright light for several hours. A creation somewhere in a muddled area between mundane and magical, the sunrod was very expensive, but worth the cost when bright light was needed. “Why am I lighting this?”

“In case the triggered effect is greater than me,” Vrax said flatly, long ago accepting that the life of an arcanist was fraught with moments of life and death.

Daichot held his friend’s gaze for a moment, and then struck the rod into the wall, breaking the thin barrier between the globs of goo inside the crystal. As they mixed slowly, a glow began to reach out from the crystal, first a deep red, then a warm orange, and finally a brilliant yellow-white fount of radiance. The light seemed to press into the shadows, which retreated away from the sunrod, and the tunnels seemed to grow away from them mysteriously. The bend in the tunnel was just behind them, and the south opening was visible.

“Did anyone else hear the shadows hiss at us?” asked the halfling.

“Nonsense,” rebuked Omar. “’At was just the sunrod.”

“Right,” said the halfling sarcastically, “the light was being real noisy.”

“As opposed to the shadows?” Daichot added.

“Usually,” conceded the rogue, “I’d say you have a point—but at the moment I think I’m right.” Percy was looking back the way they had come from. “I thought we had traveled farther than this.”

“It’s common,” Omar explained, “for surface-folk to lose their sense of direction and distance underground. You’ll get used to it.”

“I don’t want to get used to this.

“Prepare.” That was all Vrax said as he closed his eyes briefly, and a tracing wisp in the air, vaguely resembling a hand, sprang forward from his outstretched palm, and floated directly over the rune. It hovered in the air for a brief second, then descended to the floor and touched the rune. Daichot’s armor creaked as he tensed.

***************
 
I'm still reading, fortunately, you're behind my own group's exploration of the keep, or I'd have to hold off. We jumped over the rune, BTW, without ever figuring out what it did. And we left Splug in the cell, with the promise to release him if his information helped us defeat Kalarel.
 

Xorn

Visitor
Awesome! It's always easier to write when you know people are reading! My group is actually farther than this--I just have a lot to write. They should actually finish the adventure this weekend (would have last weekend except we had some issues come up and had to cancel).

And what does the rune do you ask?

===============

Percy watched intently as the vaguely hand-shaped creation in the air contacted the rune, an overwhelming ripple in the fabric of the world turned inside out. Everything about them flickered forth a superimposed image of the same thing as before, only darker, and more sinister. The shadows actively clawed at the light again, and began to win. An explosion of impossibility, a bright splay of darkness, like the absence of light amplified and expanded away from the rune, leaving the corrupted and crumbling world of shadow around them. Then Percy blinked, and in that short span, everything was normal again, except for the screaming.

Vrax was the first one to cry out. He made a plea for mercy to the dark gods of deep places, scratching at his face with his free hand as he turned and ran back the way they had come from, away from the rune. Percy heard the wizard lamenting about their folly carrying them into the Shadow Realms, and then the wizard was only a cacophony of echoes, reverberating about the stone crypts as he turned southward and was out of view.

Daichot was roaring as well, a strong tone of anger and rage carried on his bellow, but the might of his scream was betrayed by the wide-eyed terror on his face. The broad-shouldered tielfling nearly trampled the halfling as he crashed his shoulder into the corner, chasing after the wizard frantically.

Percy spun about to Omar, to see the dwarf wearing the same shocked expression as him. “We bes’ be followin’ tha lights, lad!” exclaimed the dwarf, never forgetting the practical aspects of the situation, and crashed down the corridor after his screaming companions, leaving the halfling and goblin looking at each other.

“Maybe it was right, eh?” growled Percy, and the slick hiss of metal passing through flesh preempted a fountain of blood which erupted from the goblin’s slit throat. Splugg struggled just to gurgle through the blood welling up and spilling out of his nasty, rot-toothed maw, and staggered away from the halfling as Percy felt the fading light giving way to shadows as Daichot’s sunrod completely vanished into the south chamber, Omar just inside the edge of the light. As the grasping shadows crept under his feet, he saw the silhouette of the frantic goblinoid stagger southward as well.

“Bleed out, you little bastard. I warned you not to betray me.” As the goblin reached the opening, highlighted by the light within, an explosion of fire and howling winds burst out of the hole, washing across the floor and blossoming into the northern wall in a leaning mushroom of flame, nearly engulfing the goblin, who was now clutching at his throat with both hands as the flames receded back into the room as quickly as they had exploded out. Splugg staggered into the room, a crimson sheen of his lifeblood blanketing the left side of his scrawny body.

Feeling the cloak of darkness tugging at his leggings, Percy sprinted after the dying gobbling, towards his friends.

***************

A frantic pain stabbed at his chest, as though the sickle of a reaper were plunging through his shoulder and speared his heart. The agony of the blade was only matched by the despair crying for relief in his head, and the thought of clawing his eyes out in order to stop the murderous images about him. The scream of a child, the terribly high pitch of a young girl, chased his mind through a nightmare maze of skull-brick walls, and lashing talons of living night raked his face painfully. His impaled heart beat faster, and every pulse unleashed a new torrent of pain, igniting the fire in his veins anew.

Somewhere, deep beneath his thoughts, in a centrally calm pool of rationality and control, the walls of an arcanist’s self-control were slowly pushing back the tide of madness. Exerting increasing logic over the impossible sights and mind-scarring sounds, his thoughts started to win over the impulse of the flesh. He could feel his steps slowing, and the haze of the nightmare world fading, and soon knew there was no scythe impaled in his body. Recognition of the ridiculousness of his flight took hold of him, as he understood that the realm of Shadow was not here on this world, but only an illusion. The reality was that he was Vrax, master of arcane forces, and should have expected such an effect when touching the stuff of Shadow. In the next moment, the illusion was gone, and Vrax was alone, standing in the south chamber, barely able to see the walls of the broad chamber by the light of his glowing staff head. Still, a faint movement beckoned to him, and he strained to see the shape in the dark. Possibly an arm, but there was no breathing, no footsteps, but still he felt the presence.

Daichot roared into the room, the brilliant light of his sunrod flooding the room and causing the wizard to recoil from the sudden change in illumination. It was apparent from the warlord’s face that he too was recovering from his frantic flight away from the rune, his eyes taking focus on the dragonborn, then widening as he saw something beyond, to the south. As Omar’s pounding strides rode the clatter of his armor into the room behind the tiefling, he slid to a stop much more abruptly, apparently not subject to the sudden terror of the rune’s magic.

They were surrounded by the walking dead.

Baleful hatred stabbed at them from the listing eyes of the shambling humanoid forms. Each wore shredded rags that might have once been clothing, and most of them looked like they were on the verge of falling apart. Two of them were larger, and seemed to still be more intact, blocking an exit to the south. In unison, as they seemed to awaken at the presence of intruders, they silently shambled towards the heroes, towards the light; towards flesh.

“What foul manner o’ creature does this be!?” exclaimed Omar, tightening the grip on his hammer into a white-knuckled fist.

“Zombies,” observed Daichot, eyeing the slowly approaching pack, rapidly counting seven of them, approaching from all sides. He dropped his sunrod to the floor, and in response the shadows leapt from their feet and scrambled up the walls, leaving their silhouettes watching them from the ceiling. Though their tactical disadvantage was obvious, he made the observation regardless. “There’s too many to protect the wizard.”

Vrax had reached the same conclusion seconds before, and the familiar, soothing flames of arcane origin sprang from his palms, hungry to taste whatever their master chose. Omar noticed the wizard and assumed correctly that he was judging if the blast would hit his companions. The dwarf looked up to Daichot, who nodded solemnly, agreeing there was little choice.

“We’ll be fine, lad. Burn ‘em.”

***************
 
Bravo

Excellent writing, this is by far my favorite story hour on the web. Now if only I could convince you to update it more frequently.... :D
 
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Xorn

Visitor
Wow. Well suddenly the forums are working much faster and smoother for me, and I'm encouraged that the paste of this post is going to work, this time. I keep retyping this little header, so if it's really short and to the point it's just because I'm tired of typing it. The absence of updates has primarily been due to my finally getting to play 4th Edition, and the difficulty I've been having in just navigating the EnWorld forums, let alone post to them! On with the story! (The players have finished the adventure at this point, and I haven't decided if I will continue the story for the next adventure, yet.)

===============

Omar felt a wall of heat crash above him like a roiling stampede of fiery rage, and squinted at the clawing flames lapping about just above his head. Having spent more than a few days stoking the coals of the Hammerfast smithy as a child, he was no stranger to the hot, sizzling flash that drew your skin tight and made your senses scream out in alarm, but rather than flinch he charged through the inferno, keeping his shield over his head and covering the top of his back. A pair of zombies standing to either side of him was engulfed by the arc of fire the wizard was blasting around him, as the handle of his shield began to sting his palm from the growing heat. Just as his mind expected the burst of flame to recede, like an explosion would, the arcane blaze only strengthened, snapping at his torso as the living thing washed over the two larger zombies that he was charging.

Daichot lunged the butt of his axe into a zombie that grabbed at the wizard from behind, cracking its floppy neck like a twig with the force behind such a subtle attack, then raced after Omar, aware of the fire around him, but not feeling the effects; he wasn’t even sweating in the rising heat of the room. Gritting his teeth with determination, he caught up to the fighter, and they plunged their weapons into the sturdier zombies at the end of the room in unison. Terrible crunching and cracking noises reported from both of the walking corpses, wounds that would have slain any living creature, but only hampering these undead animates’ ability to swing their arms accurately. Grabbing onto Daichot’s axe by the head of the weapon, the beast reached toward him with supernatural strength, and the tielfling fought to wrest his weapon free, as its jaw opened impossibly wide—but no roar came out. Only the soft jingle of the rusty, corroded chainmail the thing wore made any noise at all. Then another explosion of fire howled through the room.

The dragonborn had spun to face the north end of the chamber, and vomited up a sickly looking orange flame that engulfed a zombie on the left, while casually pointing his staff at the last zombie in the northeast corner, which spontaneously caused the creature to burst apart as a living fire ravaged the corpse from within. As the hiss of the air racing into the room to replenish the hungry fires slowed, Vrax felt the heat radiating from the flames that danced along the ceiling, begging to race down and gobble up the flesh below, but instead obeying the wizard’s command.

The little goblin, Splugg, staggered into the room from the north corridor, clutching at his throat, desperately trying to stop the spray of blood that arced away from a terrible wound. Reaching a blood-slicked hand towards Vrax, the goblinoid gurgled a plea for help as the dragonman’s eyes narrowed. He whipped the tip of his staff around with both hands, impaling the sharp, talon-tipped end of the staff across the goblin’s throat again, severing several of his digits and nearly decapitating the dying goblin. Splugg crumpled to the ground in wide-eyed terror as his lifeblood left him.

Percy bolted into the room in time to see the goblin fall, and showing only a moment of hesitation to take in the scene, quickly loosed a bolt from his crossbow, lancing it in between the heavily armored dwarf and tiefling expertly. As Omar twisted away from the unfeeling grasp of the zombie before him, Daichot side-stepped behind him and they switched places, crashing their mighty weapons in from new angles, watching with grim satisfaction as the zombies crumpled with the impacts simultaneously, and fell.

Panting from the exertion, Omar turned to face the rest of the room as Daichot watched down the dark passage to the south.

“That be all of ‘em?”

A chorus of wails, similar to the one the rune made when the wizard touched it careened into the room from the north, and the sound of shuffling, dragging footfalls drifted into the room, reverberating from the north.

“I think that answers that question,” offered Percy, “and your beard is smoldering.”

***

Omar and Daichot squinted as they looked down the long expanse of the crypt before them. Rows of stone sarcophagi stood on end, spaced every ten feet along the chamber, which extended over fifty feet to the east, and twenty to the west, from the passage they followed north after finishing of the last charge of the zombies. Their footprints marred the thin sheen of dust on the floor, and it was apparent this chamber had not been used in a very long time.

“This is a burial chamber,” observed Daichot.

“Aye, ‘cept tha buried don’ like ta stay that way, it seems.”

Daichot glanced back at Vrax. The wizard was holding his staff tightly, watching the coffins lining the walls anxiously, and for a moment the warlord wondered if a nervous mage could accidentally unleash a torrent of fire. He chuckled at the thought, and the dwarf frowned.

“Glad ye’re enjoyin’ this, lad,” he scolded, “but try to focus.”

Daichot’s smile vanished, and he started to defend himself, but decided to let the issue drop. While the zombie horde had not proved terribly difficult to deal with, they were all still feeling out of sorts after battling fiercely to kill something that was already dead.

“I’m ready to admit that I have never been anywhere like this,” interjected the halfling, “but I just gotta say, this feels like a trap. How about we just skip this area and go back to the north?”

“Splugg said to go north,” said Vrax, “right before he tried to trick us. So we go south.”

“Right,” agreed Percy, “but that was before I realized that south looks like a trap, to me. I’m thinking maybe I should at least just go check what is north. You guys can even wait here—in the trap—till I come back, if you like.”

“This is a crypt for the fallen of the First Dragon, Percy.” Daichot pointed at the runes and a familiar silver and blue dragon crest they had seen about the upper levels of the keep. “This is their resting place—and probably why there are no footprints in here. If it is a trap, we’ll still be better off together.”

Percy raised a hand in surrender. “Fine. Fine. We’ll go into the trap—but I want someone to remember that I called it, before it’s sprung.”

“Noted,” agreed the wizard.

“It looks like there is a mural on the ceiling at the end of the chamber, where it opens up there.” The warlord pointed east to the end of the room, past all of the sarcophagi. “And even from here, I can see a shimmer on those stone doors—that’s probably a crypt for someone very important.”

“Ye think Keegan is ‘innaer?”

“Perhaps.”

“And what are the odds that ole’ Keeger ‘is all the way dead,’ and not ‘walking around and trying to kill us’ dead?” asked Percy sarcastically.

“One way to find out,” stated the wizard, and they made their way carefully past the leering stone faces on each of the coffins.

As they passed the first set of coffins to the east, a tremendous, thundering clack, like the sound of stone blocks crashing together heavily, snapped the air of the room in two as the heavy booming rebounded about the narrow hallway, and the ceiling shuddered, sending rivulets of debris toppling to the ground around them.

“Son of a—!” yelled Percy. “I told you!”

“How often are you actually right, Percy!?” answered Daichot, as the lids to the coffins all opened at once, and vomited out a wall of skeleton warriors, each brandishing a wicked, rusted blade and awkwardly thrust forward a shield crested with the familiar symbol of the platinum dragon. As all ten of the skeletal fighters seemed to become aware of the intruders in the crypt, they turned as one and charged at them.

***
 
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Xorn

Visitor
“Flank!” cried out the warlord, twirling his stance about to circle one of the heavily armor skeletons, crashing his greataxe into the rib cage of the undead fighter as it tried to follow Daichot’s movement, followed by the dwarf’s warhammer crushing its right hip from the opposite side, having used the warlord’s attack to press his attack from the other side. As the undead bones of the wicked creature splintered and cracked at the points of impact, Omar noted the fiery backdrop of the western half of the chamber, where they had entered.

Vrax’s robes were whipping about him in the wind gusting about him from the heat of the inferno he was struggling to control. As another heavy clack of stone preempted a new eruption of skeletal fighters, the wizard yielded another step backwards towards the other three heroes, who were busy dealing with the two largest of the skeletons. As a wicked sneer creased his face, Vrax leveled his staff at the new pair of skeletons to the west, who quickly sighted him and began to charge. A deceptively small ball of flame, about the size of a marble, launched away from the head of his staff, exploding violently into a shockwave of fire fifteen paces across, shattering the skeletons into separate limbs and torsos, which crashed apart against the walls of the crypt.

Behind him, Percy leaned back awkwardly as the heavy, rusted blade of a warrior crashed into the edge of the coffin the halfling had pressed himself against, and then the rogue ducked under the momentarily stuck blade to somersault between the attacker’s legs, kicking at the ankles of the living dead to propel himself across the dusty floor on his back, before kicking his legs into the air and pushing over his head into the floor, completing a backward handspring back onto his feet, standing in the widened altar at the end of the room, and looking back at his companions. Omar had shattered the skull of the warrior that attempted to kill the rogue as it devoted too much of it’s attention to the halfling, instead of the formidable fighter.

“That’s four waves!” announced the dragon-wizard, his rasping yell nearly drowned out by the howling fury of his own magic.

“Can ye hold!?” Omar called back to the west.

“For now…” Vrax gasped, and the dwarf noticed the wizard seemed to be wavering on his feet, though it was difficult to be sure with the heat distortion washing over the chamber with every spell he unleashed.

“How many are there!?” asked Daichot, jamming the butt of his axe into the skeleton that pressed him, then counter swinging the axe back into the unloving thing’s skull. No one answered his question, but by his own count, the tiefling was sure that Vrax had slain at least a dozen of the skeletons, as he and the dwarf dealt with the larger two, one of which refused to go down, despite half its skull now crashing to the ground with the warlord’s blow.

From the far west of the room, through the clinging flames and growing smoke, two more skeletons rushed at the wizard, partly ablaze as they charged through the flames. One of their wild, ungainly sword swings clipped the wizard across the arm, and he shrieked in a dragon-squawk of pain, reflexively unleashing a torrent of fire breath upon the attacker, consuming it in a cone of flame. As whatever dark source that animated the form perished with the fire, Vrax motioned his staff towards the further skeleton, unleashing a blast of arcane energy into the thing’s chest, blowing the bones apart and ending its horrific undeath.

“Hurry!” shrieked the wizard, feeling his sleeve cling to the hot slick of blood sliding down his left forearm.

“Daichot,” yelled Percy, quickly looking at the altar they had directed him towards during the fighting, “there’s some words above the altars, and some people kneeling.”

As the warlord tried to picture the halfling’s description, Omar shoulder blocked the skeleton they were fighting, leading with his shield and driving the warrior into the wall before crashing his warhammer into the creature’s sternum, crushing its chest in and apparently driving out whatever animated the undead to begin with. Another crashing collision of stone prompted another pair of skeletons erupting from the coffins, right next to the wizard this time.

“Five!” cried Vrax, backpedaling rapidly from the swinging blades of the new attackers. As one of the skeletons missed with a swing of its sword, it twirled about and brought its shield crashing into the wizard’s ribs, and he painfully gasped as the air was driven out of him. Feeling the strength of his legs giving out rapidly, Vrax cried out in frustration and denial of his predicament, clawing at a fire deep inside him. “No!” he snapped and raised to his full height, above his normally hunched posture, and spread his arms wide. The space directly in from of him exploded violently, with no apparent source other than the dragonborn’s desire for it to burn. The skeletons were obliterated as the detonation rocked the chamber.

Daichot frantically strode into the altar and looked to where Percy was pointing. The mural was an oft-used scene of the First Dragon, looking down upon his people, protecting and guiding them. Two tapestries hung from the walls, north and south, above an altar placed below each, and the script, written in ancient Draconic, contained the Sire’s Prayer, a common oath of service and protection to Bahamut. Embossed upon the walls of the chamber were kneeling soldiers, all bowed before the Sire, and an army of the undead being destroyed by the light.

“Pray!” the tielfling reasoned, and dropped to one knee, loudly calling out the prayer to the First Dragon. Before he had finished the first line, the altar room began to glow harshly, and even as another crash of stone down the hallway signaled more skeletons coming, the warlord shouted out the prayer of protection, feeling the presence of the dragon god in the chamber with them.

Vrax could barely hear his old friend at the end of the altar, more of a nagging presence in his mind that Daichot was speaking. The wizard’s attention was focused on four more skeletons charging towards him. The heavy clomp of Omar’s short strides were getting closer, but he wouldn’t be there in time to keep the wicked metal of the skeletons from getting to Vrax, this time. The fire of the Chaos was calling to him, begging to be unleashed again, but even the wizard knew there wasn’t enough time to stop all of them. They reached him in a blinding flash of light, and then… silence.

Realizing he had closed his eyes at the moment they reached him, Vrax noticed the impact he expected never came. Omar had stopped charging, and the only sound was Percy, cheering at the end of the chamber, which suddenly sounded like it wasn’t as far away as it had been. Opening his eyes cautiously, Vrax saw a wholesome, revealing light, unquestionably divine, illuminating the tomb from every angle. There was no source for the light, but there was no question it existed. The remains of the skeletons had been whisked apart into sparkling dust, and now flowed in twisting channels of reflecting particles back into the coffins, then everything was calm.

As they looked to the east, Daichot finished saying something quietly as he gripped the holy symbol of Bahamut that he wore about his neck, and rose majestically. “Is everyone alright?” asked the warlord.

“Hell yes I am!” yelled Percy. “That was awesome! Did you do that!?” Daichot didn’t have an answer, and just shrugged.

“Aye lad, good work.” Omar turned to the sagging wizard; blood was dripping from his left arm, and his ribs were burning as badly as the chamber had been moments before. “Ye did good to, wizard. I cinnae say we’d be here if’n ye hadn’t done what ye did.” The dwarf nodded approvingly, and Vrax held his gaze a moment before nodding back, unaccustomed to such praise, as most just showed him pity.

As the two of them reached the altar, Percy was checking the altars carefully for any sign of a trap, or possibly a mechanism for the ten feet tall stone double doors set into the east wall, which glimmered with silver piping. Daichot was warning the rogue that this was a sacred area, and not to defile the First Dragon’s temple.

Percy waved a dismissing gesture at the warlord, not looking up from behind the altar. “Pshaw. That’s painted on silver. Wouldn’t even pay for the blade I’d ruin to collect it. Besides, I found something much better—these!”

The halfling produced a pair of small dragon statuettes from a side panel of the altar, holding them up as his prize. “Nice weight, good craftsmanship—and dragon statues sell well—they’d probably go for at least sixty pieces of gold, each!”

Daichot held his hands out for the statues, “Those aren’t dragon statues! Those are idols, blessed by the First Dragon, and we’re not selling them!”

Percy handed him the idols and nodded. “Of course we’re not. That would be, uh, wrong. I was just saying, that’s probably what they’re worth.”

“Hey, there’s three more in this altar,” added Omar, finding the panel that slid away beside the shrine.

Daichot looked at the two idols in his hand, and the three that Omar was retrieving from the south altar. “There were only two in that one, eh?” asked the tielfling, curious.

“Yeah. Just those two. Weird.” Percy flipped his cloak back to reveal his tiny, leather-clad frame, and an astonishing number of daggers, pouches and straps, producing a slim prybar. “So, let’s see if I can figure out how to break into these doors.”

Daichot looked at the halfling sternly.

“Would you prefer, ‘gain entry’, perhaps?”

“Just… just get them open.”


***
 
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Hi Xorn,

I've been reading this storyhour in free moments over the last few days and I would just like to say you've got me hooked too.

Very nice action descriptions and some great character development from you and the players. Bravo and keep up the good work! :D
 

Xorn

Visitor
Where did our brave heroes go? They got a promotion (at least the writer did) and it's wreaked havoc on my free time at work (I used to write at lunch), and left me too tired to write at home. Sunday I'm going to write a whole lot on the story, and try to get back into the swing of finishing this story. (The adventure is finished--I just have to finish the writing.)

WFFM is not dead, but it's been pushed into the background for a few weeks here. Expect updates before the weekend is over, and at least a weekly update after that--if I can write any at work, I will--but writing in the evening usually doesn't happen for me. :)
 

Xorn

Visitor
“That was rather impressive, Percy,” clucked the wizard as the carved stone doors swung open on ancient hinges with only the faintest sound of grinding.

“Ain’t a lock I can’t open,” bragged the halfling, slipping the tools his hand beneath the veil of his cloak in a casual, practiced motion.

“With a mechanical lock, I have no doubts—but to solve that arcane puzzle lock so swiftly!” Vrax pointed to the mechanism that had been camouflaged in the surface of the door; seven raised knobs on one of the dragon claws displayed in the mural.

Percy cocked an eyebrow in confusion. “Whaddya mean solved?”

Despite the looming burial chamber beyond the doors, where a raised sarcophagus sat upon a dais overlooking the chamber, everyone was staring at the halfling. Daichot broke the silence first.

“You had to depress the knobs that folded down the claws to display the symbol of the First Dragon, as a dragon’s claws would be.”

“Riiight,” added the rogue.

Vrax seemed flabbergasted. “Are you suggesting that you just randomly pushed knobs and got it right? There were seven knobs that could have been pushed in any combination!”

Percy’s blank expression answered the question for them, and they turned their attention to the adjoining chamber. The ceiling was raised, almost twenty-five feet above them, dominated by elaborate stonework made to look like dragon limbs and claws holding up the ceiling of the chamber. Several steep ledges descended from the platform against the east wall of the room, where a large sarcophagus loomed over the room. Percy and Daichot quickly scurried up the incline to inspect the coffin, and were the first to see the relief of a knight carved into the lid.

“Here lies the remains of Sir Keegan,” said Percy, tracing an inscription along the side of the stone container.

“You speak Draconic, too?” asked Daichot.

“No,” said the rogue, “I’m just guessing, seems kind of obvious.”

Vrax chuckled in a clicking chatter of noise. “Actually the occupant is dubbed the Mad Knight, Betrayer of Shadowfell, but I’d say it’s describing the same person.”

Omar was watching the doorway, back into the altar room, and the rows of skeleton-spewing coffins beyond that. “So it looks like ‘e stayed dead. Unless one o’ you see a portal, this looks ta be a dead end.”

Vrax nodded in agreement. “The portal is below us. It’s overwhelmingly present, but I am positive that it’s not in this room.”

“Wait, we’re gonna open it, right?” the halfling was very concerned as he proposed the idea.

“To what ends?” asked Omar gruffly.

“You just need one reason? Okay, just to see if he’s still alive… err… un-alive.”

Omar shrugged. The others thought about it, and finally Daichot nodded.

“If Sir Keegan still has anything to do with the corruption in this place, we should deal with it while we’re here.”

“Now you’re talkin’!” said the halfing excitedly. “I got just the tool for this job, too!” Deftly flipping the right side of his shrouding cloak over his shoulder, the rogue produced a flattened pry bar nearly the length of his arm, and raised it to jam into the seam of the stone lid.

“Wait a moment!” said Daichot, still bewildered that the Halfling had been carrying around the pry bar under his cloak so deftly. “You’re just going to jam that into it?”

Percy turned to face the tiefling openly, and spoke in a patronizing tone. “Big, tall, ugly, hostile… you. Locked, trapped, sealed, or treasure… me. Okay?” Daichot glared at the halfling, but did not answer. “Good!” With a grunt of exertion, Percy rammed the flattened edge of the pry bar into the crevice between the body of the stone tomb and the lid.

Rather than the heavy chink they all expected a pounding explosion of dust and stone erupted from the back of the coffin, crashing into the wall and splaying chips of marble rebounded out into the chamber, stinging the adventurer’s as the clatter of debris settled. Percy has half-stunned as he looked at the end of the pry bar, and quickly decided he had not been the cause of the blast.

Rising abruptly from the settling grey cloud of dust, a skeletal figure with gaunt, blackened skin stretched over the bones of its face, settled an unholy, glowing gaze from the flickering, pale blow orbs of flame roiling in the sockets where eyes should have been. Flame scorched armor adorned the thing’s shoulders and chest, and the prominent crest of the First Dragon gleamed unblemished by the soot upon the metal chest plate. The jaw of the armored death knight wobbled slightly, out of sync with the sound bursting forth from the figure and washing across the room heavily.

“WHO ARE YOU!?”

“Sir Keegan,” said Daichot without hesitation, and the knight turned to him with the evidence of recognition in his motion. “We are adventures, here to cleanse the corruption of this place, that the Dragon Sire’s presence might bless these halls, again.”

***​
 

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