A ghost of a chance
There was very little resistance to their advance and they only did very brief battle with four zombies and one ghoul before they stood in front of the large red doors of their destination. One door was very slightly ajar and with a glance back at everyone to make sure they were ready, Eleazar quickly opened the door, his sword out in front of him as he and Aurei peered within.
For an instant, Aurei couldn't see anything, but then her
superior Drow vision adapted to the nearly pitch black interior
and she made out the heat signatures of four horses standing
quietly in stalls to the left of the doorway. She saw no
movement, but that meant little as undead left no heat trace.
"Empty, except for those horses." Eleazar said a moment later as his own scan of the barn verified her findings.
Pectros, Alis and Siris moved cautiously over to the stalls and one of the horses whinnied in mild alarm at their approach.
"Four of them" Pectros announced happily, "and they're saddled up too."
"Take them" Sir Alvis said from beside Brother Darv, "That will give us six."
"Look!" Lute pointed to the dark opening directly in front of them across the length of the barn, "That must be the passage off this mountain."
"…And to the ghost." Alis added.
After a few minutes of gaining the trust of the four horses, they made themselves ready for the descent into the dark tunnel, which seemed just large enough for two columns, walking their horses, could pass. Eleazar verified that everyone was prepared, and then opened his lead box. Suddenly everything went perfectly quiet and with a motion for everyone to follow him, Eleazar and Aurei led the group into the pitch blackness, their red Drow eyes glowing eerily as they went into the cave-like passage.
Aurei expected at any moment to have something leap out from some shadow in the rough walls of the passage, but they walked along in a gently spiraling descent without any sign of anything for many moments. She suddenly felt a tingling feeling, as if something was nearby. Aurei glanced at Eleazar, who seemed to understand what she sensed. The Half-Drow nodded, to indicate that he too felt it.
As they rounded a corner, they both almost fell over a crumpled form on the passage form. Eleazar pushed it over with his foot as Aurei and Lute held weapons inches away from it. It was the corpse of apparently a human, probably one of the Necromancers by his black robes. The corpse was that of a shriveled old man and Eleazar had just raised his hand to warn the party of the potential danger when suddenly something slammed hard into the back of Aurei's neck, sending her stumbling into Eleazar in total silence. She turned around to find Neal, his eyes wild and different, now taking a berserk swipe at Lute. The Half-Ogre used his thick leather gauntlet to block the blow and Thorm and Siris tackled the man, knocking him to the floor without a sound being heard.
Aurei ran to help them secure Neal but suddenly in front of her was the most horrible form she had ever seen. It looked like a decaying corpse filled with a pale baneful light that caused it to glow as it materialized in front of her. The ghost's skull-like mouth opened and apparently it tried to moan but no sound came out thanks to Eleazar's silence stone. Aurei's long sword flashed out, slicing at the spirit's neck, and though her sword only seemed to pass through air, she saw the ghost flinch backwards as if struck, the light in its eyes flashing in anger. A long claw like hand swiped out at her and she parried with her sword. But then the ghost was gone and she spun around only to feel the icy touch of the spirit as it rematerialized behind her and then struck her face.
Aurei felt the coldness rush all over her body, but still managed to swing across the chest of the ghost, her blow again seeming to pass through the air, but causing the creature to reel a bit from the blow. Again it disappeared, only to appear directly in front of her face, its hands on her throat. Inches away, she could feel the ghostly hands trying to squeeze the life from her. She felt herself going numb as her eyes were transfixed on the white fire in the spirit's form.
All at once there was an explosion of sound as apparently Eleazar closed the lid on his box. Alis was screaming and Lute was trying to push everyone back away from the danger as the horses whinnied and snorted in terror. Then, out of the darkness came the booming voice of Brother Darv, yelling at the top of his lungs the name of his God, "YESH!"
Light filled the room, brilliant, blinding white light and instantly the ghost disappeared with the sound of a slight pop and the hint of brimstone in the air. Trembling, Aurei fell to her knees, and at once Eleazar, Alis and Aeric were at her side; turning her around so they could see what had happened to her.
Eleazar and Alis' faces flooded over with relief as they saw her, and Aeric looked extremely surprised as he exclaimed, "You didn't age!"
"J-j-just c-c-cold!" She replied, her teeth chattering.
Aeric looked up at his captain, "The thing had her around the neck with both hands - even a Drow should have aged after that!"
Eleazar just waved him off with his hands, "I'll explain later, let's just get her warmed up."
Both knights took their cloaks off and wrapped them around her. Aurei smiled at their concern and looked back at Brother Darv, who still held the Light of Yesh aloft. The brilliance had dimmed a great deal, but still lit up the dark passage.
"T-t-thank y-y-you B-brother D-d-darv." She said to him.
"It's a miracle!" The Priest said, peering at her, "Yesh preserved you from aging."
Aurei just shot Eleazar a glance, but nodded, not wanting to spoil his faith.
"Can you stand, Duchess?" Aeric asked her.
"Y-yes, I t-think so." She was feeling somewhat warmer and she squeezed Alis' hand as she helped her stand, "I'm alright."
"I don't see how!" The girl said, tears in her eyes, "I thought you'd be a toothless hag by the time we got to you."
"Granny Bugley" she kidded.
"That's not funny, Aurei!" Alis hugged her and Aurei was glad for the warmth of her friend's body.
"Never mind me" she said, "What about Neal?"
"He's alright." Thorm answered from the floor of the passage where he and Siris sat on top of him.
"Let's let him up." Siris suggested and the two got off the man, who sat up looking wide eyed and scared.
"Duchess, I am so sorry!" He murmured to Aurei.
"I'm alright, Neal." She felt the back of her neck and Eleazar pulled her chainmail coif up to look underneath.
"You'll have a nasty bruise." he told her, "But your head is still intact."
Neal moaned slightly, shaking his head, "Oh God, I could have killed her!"
"But you didn't," Aurei smiled, "and that nasty thing is gone… isn't he?"
She turned to Brother Darv, who shrugged, "I hope so, but it might be a good idea to get out of here, just in case, while the light still shines."
They all agreed, and so after calming the horses a moment, they continued down the passage, the sense of evil now much, much fainter to Aurei as they walked.
"I guess you are immortal." Eleazar murmured to her a minute later as they rounded a corner.
"For once I'm glad of that."
"You may not have seen it, and certainly didn't hear it, but the ghost grabbed my arm before he reappeared in front of your face."
"Same as you… nothing."
"Thank Yesh for that!"
All at once the passage ended as it exited out into a shallow cave. The group all stopped for a moment, cautiously glancing around, suspicious of the ease in which they had entered. But nothing was to be found inside the cave and they could see from the entrance, the dim daylight of early evening.
Cautiously, they led the horses toward the entrance of the cave, weapons ready for an ambush, but they progressed unmolested. A minute later they all were standing outside, off the dreaded mountain with relief evident on all their faces, though they were still grim at the thought of the loss of Brolen as well as anxious for the ride back.
"We've got to get back to Westmark." Alis urged them, "Sir Alvis still needs attention and I don't think that was all of the undead back there in that pumpkin patch."
"I'm quite sure of that." The Knight Commander agreed, "They were waiting until dark and Aurei's vision mentioned them waiting in the ruins of Duttontun."
"So once they learn that we've broken through their defenses and escaped the mount, they'll be sure to come after us." Sir Aeric added.
"The other two villages need to be warned too." Aurei spoke up, "Kendill's Rest and Tally Station could be attacked next, if they haven't already."
"But we need to get Sir Alvis back to Westmark." Alis protested.
"I know, don't worry, I haven't forgotten him. What I propose is that we split into three groups. One heads for Kendill's Rest, warns them what is going on and stays there overnight. The second group -- including Sir Alvis-- heads back to Westmark and raises the alarm there. The third group goes on east to Tally Station and warns them."
"It will be dark by the time anyone could get to Tally Station -- or maybe even back to Westmark." Brother Darv said.
"I know," Aurei sighed, "But I've got to warn the other communities. I'll volunteer to ride to Tally Station -- the road goes most of the way to Westmark before branching off east, so the group heading back to Westmark will not ride alone. Kendill's Rest is closer, but only if someone goes overland."
A round of discussion and volunteering commenced then, as everyone was eager to get far away from Flatloaf Mountain. Soon the three groups were formed. Sir Aeric would share a horse with Alis, and Thorm would ride with Neal; the four of them would ride overland to Kendill's Rest. Brother Darv would ride with Sir Alvis, escorted by Pectros and their bound, unconscious prisoner, riding back to Westmark. Lute, Siris and Sir Eleazar volunteered to join Aurei on the longer ride to Tally Station and she was very glad to have company.
So less then five minutes after exiting the cave, they started out, watching with nervousness as the two half-Elves, Thorm and Neal rode off through the tamer section of the Rattooth hills in a Northeast direction in order to get to the village before night fell.
Aurei hated to see them go and said a long, silent prayer of protection to Yesh for their safety.
The other two groups followed the east side of Flatloaf Mountain until they reached the road they'd arrived by, much earlier that day. They rode at a quick trot, alert for any sound or movement around them. Though the magical darkness that had blanketed Thurgood had been left behind on the mountain, the overcast sky and lateness of the day caused them to travel with urgency as night would not be long in coming.