“The Stalking Dead”
After six days in the Keep on the Borderlands, a train of riders set out once more for the Caves of Chaos. It was a solemn journey. Some came for renown. Some for revenge. Others for knowledge. They were thirteen in number. Brukhart and Magnar Ljunberg, the last of four brothers from Skalgrim. Prince Quentin Haftspeare of Pellum in Stewart, along with two Knights of the Fen, Sir Jon Foster and Sir Malcolm Graille. Captain Sebastian Pike of the Cassandra, with his trusted companion “Chieftain” Horde. Six who hailed from Pox Macchia, intent on bringing the body of their fallen king home to the exiled lands.
Establishing an encampment within a grove of evergreens, with a thicket of winter brambles to act as a natural defense, Magnar took leave, along with Lindus Ashe of Pox as a bodyguard, to complete his prayers for his fallen brothers as he entreated for their entry into Valhalla.
Brukhart, Sebastian, and Quentin debated their options while the rest maintained camp and guarded the perimeter. After careful negotiations, it was decided to probe higher up the cliffside and enter a hitherto unexplored cave, in hopes of finding a back-way into the hobgoblin lair.
Leaving a small group behind to guard the camp, Brukhart led the rest along a worn path through a copse of obscenely twisted and oddly bloated trees that gave those approaching along its length an eerie sense of unease, and as soon as they enter the cave mouth a dim awareness of lurking evil pervaded their senses.
Red strata intertwined with bulging black veins running through the hewn rock walls beyond the entrance, emitting an eerie red glow throughout the wide corridors. The place reeked of decay and was unnervingly still. Faint music was barely perceptible even when the party was absolutely silent and listening.
At an intersection, two doors beckoned. Brukhart and Sebastian investigated one along the north. When the seaman attempted to pick the lock, unsuccessfully, the sound reverberated, and they heard the sound of a chair being pushed back from within. Steeling themselves, the door opened revealing a shadowy mage in a dark gray cowl and robe. Calling out, they quickly cut the mage down and poured into the room where three more acolytes put up little resistance. They were felled easily, but not before one had sounded an alarm.
They looted the room quickly, but as they reentered the great hall, a throng of undead attacked. While not a great threat in and of themselves, these undead warriors were able to possess two of the warriors from Pox Macchia, turning them against their companions. Sebastian too was nearly turned, but Quentin’s quick thinking, and timely use of twisting words, kept the seaman with them.
Felling the undead did take time, and with more of these draugr coming, the party quickly picked their way past the locked east door and raced down the stairs into the winding, claustrophobic corridors beyond.
A distant, pained and mournful voice led them to a trapped cell. Outside the prison’s gate was a rusty grate with a green ooze percolating some five feet below. While Sebastian and Chieftain worked at bypassing the trap, Quentin took interest in a demon idol that sat in a nook just beyond the cell. It was an unnerving piece and one he felt had some sort of hidden meaning, but Brukhart advised him to leave it be.
As the prisoner continued to plead for help, his cries were interrupted by a haunting voice claiming to be that of Duke Hawkmoor calling his Banners to Hawkmoor Keep, warning of impending war.
Perplexed, the party worked harder, as Sebastian deftly traversed their makeshift bridge to get past the goo trap and unlock the cell, revealing a deeep pit filled with dead bodies and a lone figure moving far below.
The prisoner gasped in amazement as he held up a Treskeggmal Staff from amongst the pile of corpses. This was the source of Hawkmoor’s beacon.
These staves, highly coveted, were rare. Cut from the branches of the ancient Treskeggmal, magical trees adorned with skulls that allow one to speak over great distances through others of its kind, each staff was attuned to the tree from which it was culled, allowing the possessor to speak to its mother tree, or other staves cut from it, no matter the distance.
The party pondered how to extract the staff, and the man who now held it, from the deep, foreboding pit, while the threat of the undead still remained behind, and the eyes of the demon idol continued to gaze upon them.
to be continued