"We really have few choices left to us." Brother Darv began the discussion with his usual frankness, "We cannot go back over the bridge, and we’ve lost our brother Brolen as well over half of our mounts. It is mid afternoon and Yesh the merciful has revealed to us a way off this infernal mountain through the cave concealed by the barn across the road from us, but there is a field of zombies and ghouls and ghasts that are possibly advancing upon this location even as I speak. There are at least two handlers of the zombies concealed among them, and last but not least, the Sorceress with her Staff that has twice blasted us with a tidal wave of sound that killed Brolen and our horses. Yet she is perched like a harpy up on the top of the silo next to the barn we are trying to reach. Aside from this, there are very likely more creatures crawling about Duttontun, waiting for the daylight to wane enough for them to venture out."
"Any rescue attempt from our kinsmen in Westmark will be too late to save us and besides that, they will not be able to easily get across the chasm where the bridge stood. Add to all of that, Sir Alvis is badly injured and will not be able to join us in a battle and we dare not leave him. It will be tomorrow before I will be able to cast other healing spells upon him or for the Paladins to lay hands upon him again. Alis has an injured leg and will also probably not be able to join us in combat, and much of our equipment was lost when our horses were downed by the first blast of the Sorceress. This is the situation as I see it right now."
The rest of those assembled just nodded grimly, none knowing quite what to do or say.
"I think our first obstacle is that Sorceress." Aurei interjected, holding her abdomen to try to ease the pain some, "How do we stop her without losing more of our number?"
"Arrows?" Alis asked from the stone bench, "I have my bow and quiver, if I could lean up against something, I’d be more than glad to target shoot at her."
"We can’t prop you up close enough to hit her without exposing you to the ghouls and zombies." Aeric countered, " It’s too dangerous."
"Neal, Thorm and I have bows and crossbow – I’m sure we’d all gladly try to end her threat." Siris looked to the man and dwarf, both of whom wholeheartedly agreed.
"But she keeps concealed on top of the silo except when she is blasting at us." Eleazar said, "And we don’t know what is waiting beyond the field, on down the road. I doubt the Guild will leave that silo unguarded."
"There’s got to be a ladder." Lute stated, "To the roof, I mean. It’s a silo, and all the silos I know of have ladders to the top, I’ll bet that is how she got up there, and that means we could get up there too and get her."
"A good idea, Lute, but ye heard Eleazar – ‘the other side of the lot is probably a-swarmin’ with zombies and ghasts, and then we’ll have the same problem." Thorm pulled at his beard in frustration.
"Not if we have a diversion." Pectros stood up excitedly, "Think about it – zombies are controlled creatures that do whatever they are ordered to do without thinking. Ghouls and Ghasts are controlled by their hunger for living flesh. If we could decoy the ground forces to focus on them, perhaps even the Sorceress would be watching this and maybe we could sneak behind her and see if there is a ladder, and if so, go up after her."
"Yes, but we have to go around them without being seen in order to get to the silo – it’s not in the pumpkin patch- but it is close enough to be seen." Brother Darv began pacing as he tried to figure out a way to make the plan work."
"We have two horses," Aurei said, her breathing in gasps from the growing pain in her stomach, "we could ride hard down the road as if we were heading to Duttontun, then dismount and creep through the grass of the adjoining fields to get as close to the Silo lot as we could and then just sprint across, up to the base of the silo. If we are fast enough, the zombies and ghouls might not be able to stop us, especially if they were focused on a diversionary group. I think it would—" she suddenly burst into a very violent coughing spasm, doubling over in pain from the force of the cough. The Drow girl sank to her knees, gasping through the coughs, blood trickling from her nose and mouth.
"Aurei!" Eleazar was at her side in an instant, easing her back down to the floor of the ruined house. She was unable to stop coughing and choking on blood flowing into her lungs, making it impossible to breathe.
"Internal injuries." Brother Darv said as he came over to her, "…and all my healing spells have been used for the day."
"Yesh have mercy!" Eleazar exclaimed, his face revealing his horror, "She’s bleeding to death! Does anyone have any healing spells left? Potions of healing? Anything?"
"I had some healing potions on the cart." Thorm said, his eyes wide in deep concern.
"If only we had a ring of regeneration!" Brother Darv exclaimed in frustration.
Suddenly Siris jumped to her feet.
"Ring!" She said, frantically clawing her leather glove off.
"Do you have a regeneration ring?" Eleazar asked hopefully. The Drow girl was now almost unconscious, her skin getting cooler and her coughing slowing into gurgling sounds. She didn’t have long.
"No, it’s not a ring of regeneration – it’s a wound binding ring – it stops the flow of blood, that is all. She’s bleeding –" Siris didn’t waste any more time explaining but pulled the ring off her hand and quickly grabbed Aurei’s clammy hand, ramming the ring down over her mailed glove’s thumb. The magic ring widened to slip easily over the thick mail of the gauntlet.
For a few moments, everyone held their breath, and nothing changed. The gurgling wheezing breaths continued, and then suddenly they stopped. Everyone took in breath to lament her passing, but suddenly Aurei’s eyes opened frantic and wide and she sat up coughing even more violently than before. Eleazar patted her heartily on the back as she expelled blood and fluid from her lungs. This led to an equally violent sneezing fit that lasted for several minutes, but from her gasps of air in between sneezes and coughs, they could tell her lungs were clearing up.
Eleazar and Brother Darv looked up at the Orc lady, who knelt by Aurei, tears streaming down her green skin in relief.
"Siris, you have saved her life." The priest of Yesh knelt and hugged her gently, "I thank Yesh for your ring and more for your kindness."
Siris nodded, fighting off more tears, "Too much death today – Aurei is very dear to me."
The Orc lady stood and took a step backwards to allow Brother Darv to examine the Drow girl. Siris felt the strong arm of Lute go around her shoulders and -very gently for his massive size- hug her, which made her smile through her tears.
Aurei was still coughing, but her lungs were clearing up quickly and she began wiping the blood from her mouth and nose, very grateful to be alive and at the same time very embarrassed to be the cause of all of their concern.
"Sorry" she said very hoarsely from coughing, "Forgive me."
"Forgive you?" Sir Eleazar asked with an amused look, "For what, not dying?"
"You’d not make a good zombie, Duchess" Thorm commented, "Too young and pretty – I ain’t ever seen a pretty zombie."
Everyone laughed in relief and Brother Darv and Eleazar helped her stand and led her over to sit next to Alis.
"I got blood all over the place." She said in a croaking voice as she looked at the mess on the floor.
"Hon, I don’t think the owners will mind." Alis smiled as she squeezed Aurei’s arm, "What happened to you to cause that?"
"Sir Alvis’ horse when it fell after the first sonic attack slammed into my stomach."
"You probably ruptured something." Eleazar knelt in front of her and poked her somewhat gently in the stomach, "Does that hurt?"
She cried out in pain, "Of course that hurts!"
"Good, then you’re not dead." He kidded, "You should have laid hands on yourself back in the field."
"Sir Alvis needed it worse."
"I’m not so sure." Eleazar turned to Siris, "That ring is fascinating, how did you get it?"
"Lute and I, when we were spies among the Orc tribes in the south, had several brushes with the Guild and the Zombie handlers all wore them as most of them were terrified of themselves becoming zombies if they fell in battle. The ring doesn’t prevent injury, it simply stops loss of blood after an injury. Something it does do is prevent someone from bleeding to death if they have a limb cut off – as long as the ring wasn’t on the finger of the limb cut off. As long as Aurei wears that ring, her injuries won’t worsen, though they won’t actually heal at any rate other then normal. So unfortunately, she’ll be in pain and weak."
Eleazar looked over to Sir Aeric, "We need to try to retrieve as many of the horses as we can before we try anything – if we have to move everyone out of here quickly, we will need more than two horses. Shall we check down the road where Brother Darv said he saw his horse earlier? A quick look won’t take a moment. You have your horse and I will take Aurei’s horse ---"
"No you won’t." Aurei cut into the conversation, "He’ll not let you ride him without me coming along."
"Duchess, you are certainly in no condition to ride a horse, and I assure you I have had many years of horsemanship, so I can certainly handle your fine steed."
Aurei very stiffly rose to her feet, "Not without me you aren’t. I can ride just fine."
"Surely you are jesting – you can hardly stand!"
"Well, I can’t bleed to death with Siris’ ring on, so I might as well do something useful, since my stupid idea got us into this nightmare. Besides, how do you plan to lead any horse you find while riding your own horse?"
"It’s not difficult." Eleazar countered.
"Never-the-less, I’m going along."
"Duchess –" Aeric started to protest, but stopped when Alis started rising to her feet.
"I’m going too" she said, very delicately trying weight on her injured leg.
"Ladies, please, the situation is too serious for these girlish impulses." Aeric looked to Eleazar for support, who nodded, though he had the same look of helplessness.
"Sir Aeric," Alis said as she took a few steps with a grimace on her face, " Duchess Bugley and I both are fully aware of the seriousness of the situation, and both of us have lost a friend today to the Necromancer’s Guild, only to see him reanimated as a zombie. We are not engaging in any ‘girlish impulses’ but are doing what Paladins are supposed to do; to put aside their own pain and protect and help those in need. I would say our party meets those requirements and as it is very impossible for Aurei and I to throw our swords down and become the mere barmaids again that you and your grey-skinned comrade in arms quietly think that we are, I suggest that you keep your opinions of us to yourself and instead accept our help, as we really don’t have time for all this silly bickering."
"Well said!" Aurei added, proud of her spirited friend. She turned to glance at Eleazar and Aeric, "End of discussion, we will ride double on the two horses, if we manage to find some of the others we’ll be able to quickly bring them back."
The two girls moved rather pathetically toward the entrance of the old stone house, both hobbling and stooped over from the day’s battle.
"Neither of you need to be going." Eleazar grumbled, but he followed the two out the door, Aeric behind him.
"Cover our advance up the street." Aeric said to Siris and Neal who stood watching for any advancement of ghouls from across the road, "We will not be long, I swear this."