While Aurei and her party were searching for the horses, the others back at the abandoned stone house were nervously watching for movement across the road. It had not been very long after they rode away when Siris spotted a group of quickly moving forms trying somewhat unsuccessfully to sneak around through the overgrown grass in the yard of the ruined stone house, hoping to surprise them with an attack from the rear.
"Everyone come close to me and listen to what I tell you to do – I have a little surprise for our attackers." Brother Darv said with a somewhat wicked looking smile.
Nearly five minutes later, a war party of 12, made up evenly of Ghasts and Ghouls, crept ever so slowly up to the back door of the old house, amazed that no sentry had been posted. They would have plenty of fresh meat soon, they all thought, drooling at the prospects of such a treat. The lead Ghast cautiously peered around the partially open door to find them all huddled in the far part of the room, probably all looking at a map on a table and so engaged by the discussion of plans that they didn’t hear or even smell them coming. The Ghast held up his hand and motioned for the others to advance to him, which they quickly did, anticipating flesh. With a motion to follow him, the Ghast crashed through the doorway, rushing across the room hoping that the element of surprise gave them an advantage. Amazingly, the living ones in the room didn’t seem to hear them and they were nearly upon them, euphoric in certain victory, when those with their backs to the undead creatures suddenly fell flat to their bellies revealing a Priest of Yesh in the middle of the huddle, finishing his spell.
The Ghasts were wise enough to realize that the whole thing was a trap, but their Ghoul companions were not so quick to see the ruse and kept the forward momentum going. Suddenly the Priest of Yesh stood up, his hands spread wide as if offering a benediction. His fingers spread wide and he shouted "AQUA SANCTUS FLUCTUS!" Suddenly a large wave of water seemed to erupt from his fingertips, as if he held a large invisible barrel of water and had flung the contents upon the charging Ghouls and Ghasts.
The water completely doused the first six of the charging band and they all screamed in agony as soon as the water touched them. Steam and smoke rolled off them as they fell to the ground rolling in misery as their skin melted away from the effect of the spell. The six in the rear flank stopped their advance and began to frantically push backwards, having beheld the fate of their companions. An arrow hit one Ghast dead center in the middle of his chest. A blue white flash of light covered him for a fraction of a moment and he fell dead as Siris loaded a second undead bane arrow onto her bow. Her husband was also in motion, raising his massive hammer overhead like someone about to drive a stake into the ground. A Ghoul tried to leap out of the half-Ogre’s way, but Lute’s blow was true, pulverizing the thing’s head. He fell lifeless to the floor of the old cottage.
Meanwhile, Thorm was swinging his dwarven war axe at the legs of a Ghast that had ventured too close to him. The blade cut the creature through the bones and he fell nearly on top of the dwarf, who slammed the blade down deep into his chest before he could move.
Both Pectros and Neal scored hits on two of the other three creatures, but they remained upright and all three raced out the door and scattered in three directions before anyone could strike at them. Siris ran to the door with an arrow notched but the three survivors had disappeared. The Orc lady turned to Brother Darv with a toothy grin, "That was quite a spell, Brother Darv, one I have never seen cast – what was it?"
"It created a wave of Holy Water – against most enemies, it just gets them very wet and angry, but against undead, it is particularly lethal."
"Good choice." Lute commented as he surveyed the smoldering remains of those within the blast range of the spell.
"Thanks, Lute, but I fear this may just make them send a larger force against us or perhaps the Sorceress herself, and I am nearly out of spells."
"What do you have left?" Alvis asked from where he lay nearby.
"I have one that might offer us a bit of protection. Everyone keep still until I’ve finished it."
The Cleric began chanting something as the others kept their eyes open for a renewed attack. No attack came and a few minutes later a warm yellow glow seemed to outline the ruined house for a moment or two until it faded from view.
"Sanctuary!" Thorm said, recognizing the spell, "Very good, Brother Darv."
"Hopefully our other Paladins will join us soon." The Cleric went over to Sir Alvis, "How are you, Sir Alvis?"
"Steady, I’d say, if I don’t move much. I’m certainly wishing I could be more useful."
"Keeping yourself alive is most useful to us all right now. I’m just sorry I didn’t pack any healing potions in my saddle bags."
"They’d probably have broken when that Sorceress first blasted us."
"True. The Guild is interested in Westmark."
"So it would seem, but I know from years of experience that the Necromancer’s Guild seldom does anything so obvious. Secret plans and schemes are the norm for them. If we could capture one of the living ones out in that field, perhaps we could find out their plan. I’ll bet that Sorceress is informed about their schemes, but capturing her would be very difficult."
"Especially now when we have injuries in our group and few spells."
"Yes, very true – we certainly can’t go up against them right now like that, survival is the plan I’d advise."
"That might be difficult enough."
Sir Alvis nodded in grim agreement.
"Hey!" Siris called to them from her post at the doorway.
"More Ghouls?" Alvis asked.
"Somethings’ coming; on horseback at a fast trot."
Brother Darv, Lute and Pectros joined the Orc lady to peer out of the doorway and at that moment –to their great relief- Aurei, Eleazar, Alis and Aeric came riding up into the yard.
"No luck?" Brother Darv asked them as he failed to see any additional horses.
"No, but we might have something almost as good." Alis answered with a hopeful smile as they hurried their mounts to the rear of the abandoned farm house so they were out of sight from the road.
A few minutes later they had related to them the finding of the potions, and Aurei and Alis were surprised to learn of Eleazar and Aeric’s battle within in the old witch’s house just to gain the potions.
"We have three left," Eleazar said to the others, "and we know the blue one that Aurei tried was indeed a healing potion. There is no way to test the others without using up the potions."
"Sir Eleazar, I’m willing to try one – I am of no use laying around helpless, so let me try one to see if I can get back on my feet." Sir Alvis shifted to a sitting position.
Everyone thought that was a sane idea and the half-Drow knight brought him the dark reddish-purple potion.
"This may be the most potent of the three" the Knight Commander said to everyone, "Perhaps I should try one of those that seems to be diluted. That way we can save the more potent one for someone else."
"Sir, I’m afraid I must disagree – we need you at full capacity if we are to have any chance with that Sorceress and the Undead. Aurei is healed and Alis is only mildly injured. You need the most healing." Eleazar looked to the others for their support.
There was a chorus of agreement, so the Knight popped the glass stopper from the bottle and with a moment’s pause, downed its contents.
Everyone waited hopefully, their eyes on the Knight Commander. He too seemed to be waiting and finally he smiled slightly, "I feel it working… some – I can feel my lower extremities again. I’d say it is a minor healing potion."
"Give him one of the others." Thorm suggested, but Sir Alvis held up his hand.
"No, we may need them. Let me see if I can stand." He slid his legs slowly down to the floor and with Eleazar’s help, stood on shaking legs.
"How is it?" Aeric asked.
"There is still a lot of pain." The Knight Commander admitted.
"That settles it then. We need him to be fit for battle, so he should have another of the potions." Thorm took one from Sir Aeric and pulled the stopper, handing it to the Knight Commander who took it with a look of shame evident in his eyes for being so badly injured that he needed such help,.
Alvis downed the potion and closed his eyes, waiting again. The healing came much quicker this time – his back straightened and he began flexing his legs and turning from side to side.
"Better?" Aurei asked, hopeful.
"Much improved, Duchess." the knight commander replied, "I think I should be able to ride and offer some assistance in a fight."
"Well, the riding part may be a problem as we were not able to find any of our horses, so we are stuck with just two horses. I want Alis to take the last potion, she may need to be able to run." Aurei took off Siris’ magic ring and handed it to her with a nod, then glanced around her, "Anyone have any ideas?"
“First, let’s give Alis the remaining potion.” Sir Alvis suggested. Alis hobbled forward, and humbly took the glass bottle with only a moment’s hesitation, then downed its contents. Everyone held their breath, and a few moments later, the half-Elf girl began rotating her ankle with a relieved smile on her face.
“I seem to be alright.” Alis said.
“Good, now what about some ideas?” Aurei asked as she leaned against the wall.
"I think our plan of earlier is the only real option left." Neal spoke up, coming over to stand near the Paladins, "With or without horses, we don’t really have any other option left, as I see it. If we stay here, they will definitely come after us after the sun sets. We can’t get off this mountain except by some secret passage inside that barn and we can’t get to that barn with that blasted sorceress zapping us every time we approach. So we should neutralize her."
Everyone rather reluctantly agreed, and a few minutes later they all stood or sat listening to the battle plan.