Advance to the Red Barn
As they neared Thurgood, the sky grew nearly as black as night and as still as the air inside of a tomb. No bird sang, no animal stirred, even the wind -usually somewhat strong on the mountain- fell off into dead calm. As they rode, Brother Darv chanted a spell of protection upon them, the spell ending with a ball of silver light engulfing the group for a moment then fading away, leaving all of them feeling more courageous.
"Duchess, did you see what the barn looked like that conceals the entrance to the cave?" Sir Eleazar asked her as they reached the outskirts of town.
"Not really - I saw a large barn painted a dark red color, but inside it was only a shell that hides an opening in a mound of rock that leads to the cave. The entrance is somewhat taller the height of a man and maybe five feet wide."
"There are several small rocky hills on the east side of Thurgood." Brother Darv announced, "I recall a large farm at the very edge of town with a large red barn, and the land went up next to one of these large rocky mounds. There was a large stone grain silo next to it. I'll bet that is it. We'll have to ride through town to get to it though."
A slight mist began to fall, giving a somewhat foggy appearance to the dark day.
"We'll approach it slowly - it is guarded." Sir Alvis said, remembering the words from Aurei's vision.
"Is this darkness and mist part of a spell cast by the Necromancer's Guild?" Aurei asked anyone in the group who might know.
"Probably," Sir Aeric said from the rear of the group, where he guarded their rear flank, "I've seen such spells used - they can cast gloom over a relatively small area and sometimes they use these spells to hide their airships. If this is one of those spells, it is the largest area of effect I've ever seen. Certainly we may encounter powerful wizards if this is the case."
"I think they are using a spell to enhance the overcast state of the day." Sir Eleazar added, "Their undead can move about far more freely when it is darker."
"Isn't that wonderful!" Alis grumbled as she stayed as close to Sir Aeric as she could without giving the appearance that she was uneasy about the whole upcoming ordeal. She too felt the strong tingling of the air that told her that evil was very near and she clutched her long sword tightly as her eyes darted all about, looking for any danger.
"There are Ghasts nearby." Lute said as they rode past the village's very humble tavern on the outskirts of Thurgood, "I can smell them."
The Paladins just nodded, already aware of their presence. The town guards, Siris and Thorm all unconsciously pulled in closer to the large half-Ogre who wore a very cool expression on his face, his large two-handed hammer clutched tightly as all of his senses strained for any threat.
Soon they were moving through the small hamlet of Thurgood - about 15 farms all positioned somewhat close together with their farm lots behind them, along with a handful of the humble village shops. The darkness of the day seemed to combine with the fog and mist, making every building and tree eerie. There was no sign of anyone and it nearly seemed that the village had been abandoned for years. Aurei kept thinking about the vision she'd had and wondered how all the residents had died. The party passed in tense silence through Thurgood, every eye darting about and all weapons at ready.
As they neared the east end of town, the fog seemed heavier and the presence of evil seemed to grow. The last farm in the town was at the top of a slight hill and as they neared, they began to make out through the fog, a large red barn that rested against a colossal outcrop of rock with a very large round roofed stone silo beside it. The horses began to act a bit nervous as they crested the hill and it soon became evident why. The barn sat at the back of a rather large field full of large ripe pumpkins and in the swirling fog, the sprawled forms of fallen villagers could be seen scattered across the whole of the pumpkin patch.
"The field of battle." Sir Alvis mumbled as they stopped by the wood fence that surrounded the field.
"They're not dead." Sir Eleazar said from beside Aurei, and his words made a chill go down her back, "They're waiting for us. Zombies, and their controlling mages are out there somewhere too, waiting for the proper time. Ghouls and Ghasts are hiding among the bodies too, I'll bet."
"My spell will keep us safe as long as we stay close together." Brother Darv said as he surveyed the distance of the field, "The Ghouls won't be able to come through it, but the Ghasts will, as well as the zombies, so we need to stay tightly packed."
"How do we go through? Slowly?" Thorm asked.
"They move slowly, so I think a charge would be the best." Sir Alvis advised, "Prepare yourselves, we will make for the barn - Lute and I will open the door; do not wait for us to join you, head through the cave entrance. Do not hesitate to ride down anything that gets in your way, remember, they may look like your countrymen, but they are not. Try to stay as close together as you can and for Yesh's sake, do not become unhorsed! Make ready; we ride on my command."
Aurei glanced around at those in the group, all tightening their stirrups and grasping their reins more tightly. Their expressions told her they shared her apprehension of the move. But what choice did they have? Sir Eleazar touched her leg, and she spun around. "Duchess, stay low in the saddle, the Ghasts may try to pull you off. Have your best sword ready."
"Okay" she tightened her grip on the Drow long sword and a few moments later, just ahead of her, Sir Alvis raised his lance.
"Company! Ready! CHARGE!!" Aurei rammed her spurs into Vanyasulie, who took off like a bolt of lightning. An instant later they were riding full gallop down the dirt path that divided the pumpkin field in half that led to the barn. Vanyasulie flew to the front, only Sir Alvis' mighty warhorse keeping pace. Ahead of him, on the path, two forms leaped to their feet, crouching with hands ready to grasp at them, but the Knight simply rode over them, his horse not slowing as it crushed the undead beneath. Ahead of the Drow girl, a figure ran straight at her and she felt Vanyasulie hesitate for an instant.
"Go, Vanyasulie, Go!" She screamed in her horse's ear, poking him with her spurs, and to her relief, the horse surged forward. The figure spun gracefully to the side at the last moment and she felt talons grab at her leg. Without even thinking, her sword flashed across and down at the arm as she passed, her Drow blade dismembering the ghast. Zombies were slowly getting to their feet, a pair of dark robbed figures on each end of the field now standing and franticly trying to force the reanimated corpses to a quicker speed. She had no time to look behind her, but she could hear the others keeping up with her across the field.
Aurei was beginning to think they were going to make it, when suddenly a figure rose up from on top of the roof of the stone silo to the south of the barn. Aurei saw her in an instant, a tall beautiful human woman with long black hair, wearing the very revealing garb usually worn by sorceress in the southlands. A long black staff she raised above her head as she stood astride the roof of the silo and a blue-white glow began to pulse from the end of the staff.
"Look out!" Aurei yelled warning, but before anyone could react, the sorceress spun the staff around in an arc and rammed the butt-end hard onto the wood roofing of the silo. There was a flash of dull blue light and a heartbeat later a roar of sound rolled over them like a wave of water. She more felt than heard the blast and everything in a radius around the sorceress was knocked flat to the ground as if they had been mowed over by a wagon at full speed. Aurei saw everyone falling as Vanyasulie flipped backwards, taking her with him. Zombies, Ghouls, Ghasts, as well as those riding for the barn; all were knocked off their feet. But the impact upon the riders charging toward the barn was much more severe. Aurei hit the ground hard, managing to roll out of her horse's way as he crashed down beside her, only to have one of Sir Alvis' horse's front hooves ram her in the gut as it too fell to the earth.
She lay there with the wind knocked out of her, gasping to breathe, yet there was no sound to be heard except for a loud humming in her ears. She glanced about, franticly trying to get her body to move again, but all across the field, everyone seemed to share her state and were only now just starting to move. Finally she was able to gulp in some air and her stomach felt as if she had a spear impaling her. But she rolled to her side, her limbs feeling leaden and slow. To her left, Sir Alvis lay very still, only a slight movement of his fingers showing he still lived. His horse had come to rest partially on top of him and did not move at all. Vanyasulie was getting to his feet, rather slowly, but apparently not badly injured. Aurei stumbled forward, nearly bent over double in pain. She sank down to her knees next to the Knight Commander as the ghouls and zombies now began to get to their feet.
"Sir Alvis?" She said, but she could not hear her own voice due to the roaring in her ears from the sonic blast. She touched the injured man's arm but he did not respond. Aurei closed her eyes, prayed to Yesh very quickly and laid both hands on his chest, feeling the outflow of energy leave her fingers and go into the Paladin. The Knight began to slowly move his arm and Aurei was standing back up when something leaped on her back causing her to fall over Sir Alvis, as claws raked at her head and face. The girl tried to roll with the fall but she was too injured and merely tumbled over the Knight Commander while she tried to protect her face.
Suddenly the attacking ghast seemed to just fly off of her, and an instant later she saw Lute standing over her, his huge hands clutching the creature by his neck like a mother cat would use her mouth to hold her kitten. The ghast was clawing and spinning around in mid air, trying to reach Lute's hands but the Half-Ogre just tossed him some twenty feet away as if he were a rag doll. The thing hit the ground hard but sprang up and leaped half the distance at Lute. His flight met with a massive swing of the Half-Ogre's hammer, pounding his skull in two and ending his threat.
Putting down his hammer, Lute reached over and grabbed Aurei gently by the back of her arms and stood her upright. "Are you alright?" She saw his mouth say to her, but still all she could hear was the after-effect of the sorceress' blast of sound.
"I can't hear anything!" she said, or at least hope she said, but she pointed to Sir Alvis who was trying to stand up and was having trouble as he wore heavy plate armor. Lute said something to her that she wasn't able to decipher by watching him speak, but he gestured behind him and she figured he was suggesting that they retreat.
Behind her Sir Aeric and Eleazar were both standing, moving quickly to where Alis lay pinned beneath her horse. Behind them Siris stood scanning all sides, a long bow in her hands with an arrow notched. Thorm stood beside her, facing the opposite direction, his crossbow at the ready. To their left Pectros and Neal were standing over the still form of Brolen and his mount, while Brother Darv squatted beside him.
Her heart went up in her throat as she saw the scene and seeing that Alis was moving as the Paladins tried to pull the horse off of her, she hurried back to the Ducal guards as quickly as her belly wound would allow her.
Halfway to the three men the first of the zombies reached them, but she was ready and spun savagely at them, both of her weapons slicing at limbs. One of the four that she killed, she recognized as a villager from Thurgood and this took the rage out of her as she watched the reanimated corpse fall. A Ghoul came in behind her, but scurried off when she spun around to face him. A moment later a flash of white light covered him and he fell lifeless, squashing a ripe pumpkin in the field with one of Siris' enchanted arrows sticking out of his back.
She saw movement out of the corner of her right eye and ducked, bringing her swords up in a blocking x pattern in front of her. A Ghast slammed into the defense, the blades cutting him deeply in the arms, but he tried to push his way over them. Aurei felt her stomach do a dry heave when the horrible rotting stench of the undead thing caught her, but she still managed to bring both crossed blades in together like a pair of scissors as the Ghast tried to crawl over them. They bit deep into his face and neck and still he came, his talons reaching for her until her long sword's bite finally cut into his spine, sending him down.
A large zombie lunged at her from behind, taking a somewhat stiff, jerky swing at her head with a large club. She easily ducked the swipe and chopped down with her long sword at the base of his head, sending it rolling to one side, partially severed and ending the enchantment that had animated it.
Her hearing was beginning to return by now and she could hear as if she was listening to someone speaking from the other side of a thick wall. Aurei ran over to where Brolen lay, but Brother Darv, Pectros and Neal were no longer kneeling beside him but instead were joining the others who were seeing to Alis and Sir Alvis. She grabbed the Cleric's arm as he hurried past her, but before she could formulate a question, she saw the look in his eyes and she knew Brolen was dead.
Aurei blinked back the stinging tears and ran along side the Priest of Yesh over to where Alis lay, still pinned under her dead horse. Siris and now Neal were sending arrows at any of the seemingly countless undead that were staggering across the pumpkin patch toward them, while Thorm and Pectros had joined Eleazar and Aeric in their attempt to pull the half-elf girl free from the dead steed.
Just as they reached the others around Alis, Aurei heard Lute's deep voice yell out something, though her hearing did not allow her to make out the words. Everyone dropped to the ground prone and she traced Lute's pointing finger to the top of the stone silo where the Sorceress had reappeared, waving her staff about again. Aurei managed to get down into a squatting stance before another arcane blast of sound slammed into them all with a deafening roar. She was flung onto her butt then down to her elbows, but Lute's warning had saved them all from serious injury. Siris and Neal shot off quick arrows from their prone positions, but both widely missed the magic user, who gracefully slid down flat on the silo's roof again, for cover.
However, the Sorceress' sonic blast had once again knocked the attacking ghouls, ghasts and zombies down, giving the group a few moments rest.
"We have to take out that Sorceress!" Brother Darv shouted to them as they huddled close together. Aurei could hardly hear his words from the renewed ringing in her ears thanks to the second sonic attack.
"We need to regroup first!" Sir Alvis said weakly, as Lute supported his weight.
"There's an old stone house across the field from the road, I saw it as we rode up - maybe we could hold up there for a while!" Alis suggested, holding one leg up as Sir Aeric helped support her.
"We'll need to get out of this field fast, before that Sorceress can blast us again!" Eleazar interjected, "How many horses are still alive?"
"Mine is." Aurei glanced around, panicking for a moment until she saw Vanyasulie standing in the very field Alis had mentioned, with Sir Aeric's steed nearby, both horses watching them across the road.
"My horse is out there, somewhere." Brother Darv pointed down the road the way they had come, but his horse was not visible from their crouched huddle.
"I saw Siris' horse and my own run off toward the bridge after that first sound blast hit us." Pectros added, "But whatever we do, we need to do it quick, because the zombies and ghouls are getting up now."
"To the stone house then?" Eleazar asked them and they all nodded.
"Right." Lute said, gently throwing Sir Alvis over his shoulder, "Let's made a run for it, before that Sorceress hits us again."
The Half Ogre took off at a fast trot toward the pumpkin field's back gate, the others running after him. Aurei rushed over to Alis and Sir Aeric and threw Alis' other arm around her shoulder. With a glance at the knight, the two of them began jogging after Lute, Alis holding her injured leg up and hopping along with her good leg as they moved. Siris, Lute, Pectros and Neal took up the left and right flank, swinging furiously at any undead thing that came near them. Behind them, Thorm and Sir Eleazar formed a rear guard, both nervously watching the roof of the silo for the reappearance of the Sorceress. Brother Darv ran along side of Lute, smacking with his mace, several zombies that reared up at them. Fortunately the entrance to the pumpkin patch had not been salted heavily with zombies -probably so as to draw them further inside- and they had almost reached the gate before they ran into any trouble.
A shout from behind them warned Aurei of the danger and she glanced around, expecting to see the form of the Sorceress again in view. But the danger was not from the Sorceress. Instead, Sir Eleazar and Thorm were being advanced upon by a single zombie, and for an instant she didn't know why that was so surprising, until she saw the zombie more clearly - it was the reanimated corpse of Brolen, moving somewhat faster than most zombies due to the recent time of his death.
"Oh Yesh, my God, no!" Alis said close to Aurei's ear, for she and Aeric had turned as well to see what was happening. The Dwarf and half-Drow waited an instant, making sure that he was indeed a zombie, before they very grimly struck him down, then turned to run after their companions as other forms moved in toward them.
"How did they reanimate him so fast?" Alis asked as Aurei and Aeric quickly maneuvered her through the back gateway.
"Probably a Zombie Field spell" Sir Aeric said, somewhat winded from supporting the lion's share of Alis' chainmail clad form as they retreated.
"What does that do?" Aurei asked, her bruised stomach sending waves of pain over her as they bumped across the dirt road toward the stone house on the other side.
"Necromancers cast it on a set area and anything dying in that area is reanimated soon after it falls, under the control of the spell caster. I imagine one of the two zombie masters controlling those zombies back there was the source of the spell."
"How horrible - poor Brolen!" Aurei sniffed back tears and they fell silent as they climbed up the slight rise, and then rushed across the overgrown yard to an abandoned stone farmhouse. By the time Aurei, Alis and Aeric had arrived at the building, Lute had gained entry. As Brother Darv tried to lure the horses to him, they sat Alis down on a stone bench while Lute gently laid Sir Alvis down on a pile of leaves and hay in one corner of the abandoned home.
Sir Eleazar and Thorm fought off a handful of Ghouls and Ghasts that raced across the road after them, but the creatures retreated back to the pumpkin field when Pectros, Neal and Siris joined in the melee. The zombies, at least for the time being, stayed in the pumpkin patch, much to Aurei's relief, and nothing more was seen of the Sorceress.
Although by now Aurei was nearly doubled over with stomach pain and could only breathe by taking short gasping breaths, she rushed outside and brought two fingers to her lips, giving a shrill whistle. A moment later, Vanyasulie galloped across the overgrown field up to the house, with Sir Aeric's horse chasing after him. Brother Darv glanced down the road, stretching his neck to see if he could catch any sign of the other surviving horses, but they were nowhere in sight, so he hurried back to the house, joining Eleazar, Thorm and the others as they too came into the old stone house.
After tying up the horses to a tree behind the building -out of sight of the road- Aurei joined the others for a council of war.