Aurei had the foresight to grab a long sword in its scabbard out of the chest full of Drow armor and weapons before they left the Keep, and as they mounted up for the ride, she slipped the short sword and scabbard that Thorm had given to her onto the other side of the Drow sword belt. She wished she could have ridden Vanyasulie, the beautiful stallion her father had purchased shortly before he began getting sick. But as the horse would soon belong to Pinel, she reckoned that one of the Inn's plain work horses would be a wiser choice. Thorm was struggling to get his short legs into the horse stirrups but finally managed to plop down onto the seat, Aurei swinging up behind him. The Dwarf snorted, "If anyone had told me that tonight I’d be riding through the night on a horse behind a Drow matron in plate mail, I’d said they were insane or drunk, but here I am."
"Don’t worry" Aurei leaned in and whispered in his ear, "I won’t let you fall off."
"Fall off? Duchess, I will ride this blasted horse over a cliff before it throws me."
"Don’t call me Duchess, Thorm. If Pinel hears you call me that when he gets here, we’ll both be locked up in the dungeon."
"Hah! I’ll have my axe in his bald head before he tries to arrest me."
"Still, don’t call me that, okay?"
"The way ye look right now, I should call ye Matron Mother."
"Aye, their society is ruled by their women. The head of each noble house is called Matron Mother, she rules the roost. Kind of like a Duchess."
Thorm grinned mischievously and Aurei just sighed, clicking to get her horse to follow Pectros and Brother Darv’s steeds out of the stable, with Neal and Brolen falling in behind her.
The night air was very cool, even in the middle of summer and Aurei always enjoyed its briskness. As they rode along quietly, she glanced around the landscape, taking in the scenery with clarity that none of the others could in the light of the quarter moon.
"It’s a beautiful night." she said to her party after a while of riding.
"Too quiet." Pectros replied from the front, "Not even that many crickets. It worries me."
"I don’t know, Aurei – something doesn’t quite seem right. Animals sense it too."
Aurei looked down at her horse; he wasn’t spooked, but did indeed seem to be very focused on every sound around them as if he expected something to rush out of the night at any moment.
"What would frighten them in this way?" She asked the Captain of the Guard.
"Something supernatural, or magical – or both."
"Wonderful." Thorm mumbled in front of her.
"It may be nothing." Brother Darv tried to reassure her, "However, keep your eyes open."
"Don’t worry" she replied, scanning the landscape. Her Drow infravision could easily make out small animals at various places, but they were not scampering around hunting or prowling about, instead all seemed to be stationary as if they were trying to remain very still or perhaps were hiding.
"Aurei, can you see anything unusual?" Brolen asked from behind her.
"The animals are all very still." she told the guard, "They are not moving about very much. But other than that, I don’t see anything."
"I don’t like this." Brolen said, mostly to himself, and they rode along in silence for a while, all of them scanning the darkness for anything.
As they neared the farm, Aurei rode up to the front of the group and peered down at the Flydros farmstead. She saw no heat registrations with her superior Infravision other than a few birds roosting in a tree near the farmhouse. The air remained deathly still.
"Do you see anything?" Pectros asked after a moment.
"No – a couple of birds in a tree, but no large animals – not even the guards’ horses – and wouldn’t they be tied up by the stable? I don’t see anything. No movement at all. Wait… wait a moment… something is moving in front of the barn, but I don’t see a warm heat pattern."
Thorm squinted in front of her on the saddle, being the only other member of the party with Infravision, though not as sensitive as her sight, "I think I see it too – it's not something alive – or else it's heavily wrapped up."
"What’s it doing?" Pectros demanded.
"It looks like it is sort of shambling forward… it’s a humanoid form, on two legs, about man size, but moving very odd."
Thorm looked back at Pectros and Brother Darv, "Zombie. Or worse."
"Zombie?!" Aurei’s eyes were wide in surprise, a million questions running through her head. In all of her years, she had never seen an undead being, a trend she wished dearly to continue right then.
Pectros held up his hand and they all stopped. He beckoned Aurei and Thorm forward so he could whisper to them, "We need to think out a strategy here. If that is a Zombie, that will most certainly mean that there are others and probably Necromancer Guildsmen controlling them. How do you want to proceed?"
Aurei’s head spun; The Necromancer Guild here in Westmark! Why was he asking her what to do – she had never seen a Zombie in her life!
"Uh, I think we need to find out what happened to the Flydros family. I’m afraid if we wait for reinforcements from town it might be too late for them – if it isn’t already."
She looked hopefully at the captain of the guard, praying she had said something at least halfway sensible. To her relief, he nodded.
"I agree. But understand that it could be a member of the Flydros family that you see walking around undead. The Guild is said to do that – kill someone and then reanimate them to make up for those lost in battle. So be wary of anyone you see up there."
Brother Darv, who had leaned in and heard their conversation, nodded in agreement, "Before we approach, I want to cast a protection spell on us. I know the sound of my chanting may let them know we are here, but it should offer us some degree of support."
Without waiting for their approval, the Cleric began chanting as he held his hands out over them. Though he tried to keep his voice as low as possible, since it was the middle of the night, and only a short distance away from a farm probably infested with undead, it sounded to them as loud as thunder. Slowly a light blue glow began to outline his fingers and then grew until it formed a sphere around the group. As the magic surrounded them, Aurei looked nervously down the hill to where she had spotted the Zombie only minutes before. The creature was now nowhere to be found.
Alarmed, she stood in the saddle, scanning all around the area, but it had vanished.
"The zombie has disappeared!" she whispered loudly to the others as Darv’s spell came to an end.
Brother Darv had just begun to say something when a high pitched scream suddenly filled the air coming from the direction of the Flydros farm. Aurei’s sensitive eyes saw the movement of a small form, running quickly from one of the farm buildings, its warm body showing clearly with her infravision. Three non-living forms were chasing it.
"They’re after a child!" Aurei shouted, and before anyone could respond, she had rammed her heels into the side of her startled horse. With a loud whiney the horse took off at full gallop, nearly unseating Thorm from the saddle. Aurei leaned over the Dwarf, her eyes glued ahead of her.
"Lass, what in blue blazes are ye doing!!" Thorm hollered.
"Take the reins!" Aurei didn’t wait for a reply but thrust them into his hands and using her legs to stay seated on the galloping horse, she pulled the short sword the Dwarf had given to her free from the scabbard at her side, then quickly unsheathed the Drow long sword that she had pulled from Gamel’s trunk earlier that night from the scabbard she had hung from the saddle.
"Are ye mad, lass?!" Thorm asked wide eyed at her actions, "Do ye know what ye are a-chargin’ into?"
She did not answer him, for ahead of them, she was horrified to see that the lifeless creatures had now cornered the child.
"NO!" She screamed, and from somewhere within her came forth the shrillest howl of rage she had ever voiced. The sound blasted through the night, causing the undead preparing to attack the child to pause and turn to face her. She gave another scream, both swords raised above her as she and Thorm crashed down upon the scene.
Thorm had no time to slow down the stead before Aurei, with unbelievable agility, slid off the still rushing horse, landing on her feet with only a slight stagger.
She didn’t wait a moment but managed somehow to run in the crazy high heeled Drow matron boots, making enough noise with her howling scream to wake everyone for many miles.
In front of her was one of the Flydros’ little children curled up on the ground, with four clearly undead creatures standing over her, though their attention now was clearly focused on her.
"GET AWAY FROM HER!!" She roared, hearing Thorm somewhere nearby trying desperately to stop the terrified horse.
The undead things crouched suddenly, all of them growling much like a mountain lion about to spring. They were sickly white in color with shining black eyes, long yellow teeth and equally long dirty nails. A horrible smell nearly stopped Aurei in her tracks as she neared, yet she didn’t pause, tightly clasping the swords as she charged.
With a snarl, one of the larger things leaped supernaturally high, its mouth and claws stretched wide as it dove at her.
Instinctually she found herself swinging both swords in a flashing crisscrossing swipe.
The long sword found the face of the creature, slicing deep across its lower face, while her short sword cut two fingers off its left hand. Having knelt down as she was swinging the swords, the undead thing sailed over her, collapsing on the ground with an anguished scream of pain. But she had no time to focus on it though, for from her left and right, two of the other creatures tried to flank her. Her swords shot straight out to either side and the first one impaled itself on her long sword where it screeched for a second then slumped limp, sliding off her blade.
The other one stopped its advance, but circled around her, stalking like a great cat. She knew what it was trying to do – maneuver her so that she would have her back to the remaining creature. Sure enough, the other undead thing lunged as soon as it thought it was out of her sight, but before Aurei could spin around, Thorm was suddenly in between her and the creature, his Dwarven Axe flashing with lightning quickness. The Axe found its mark and sent the gray thing collapsing to the ground, where it sprawled out, now truly dead.
Turning to the one remaining foe, she found it already attempting to come in at her low, hoping to knock her off her feet with the impact of its body. Aurei stepped gracefully aside, bringing both swords straight down on the thing’s back. It too screeched and clawed at her leg, finding only Drow plate armor. Her sword flashed out and a moment later one hand was no longer attached to its arm. Thorm’s axe ended the undead monster's existence and it sank down onto the damp grass.
"What in thunder is wrong with ye, lass?!" Thorm raged as he worked to extract his axe from the head of the creature, "These are Ghouls! That first one ye killed was a Ghast! Ye are lucky ye weren't turned into one of them! Thunder! What got into ye?"
Aurei paid him no mind but ran up to the hysterical child trying desperately to crawl under a small bush.
"Leah?" Aurei called out to the terrified girl, "Leah, don’t be afraid, it’s me, Aurei Bugley! We’re here to help you."
The little girl seemed to recognize Aurei’s voice, but still stared at her wide-eyed in terror.
"Stay away from me!" She sobbed.
"Okay, it’s okay. Where are your parents? Leah, where are your parents?"
"I-I-I don’t k-know." She began hyperventilating and Aurei threw her swords down and rushed in to the girl who was frozen in fear. She snatched her up, hugging her tightly, "It’s okay, hon. It’s okay."
A moment later Brother Darv, Pectros and the guards caught up to them, and before they could say anything she held out the girl to the Cleric, "She’s hysterical. She doesn’t know where her parents are."
Brother Darv's presence seemed to somewhat calm the girl and he took her back and placed her on his horse.
Aurei turned to Pectros, "I’m going to check the farmhouse."
"Wait a moment!" Pectros yelled to her, but she had already retrieved her swords and was running lightly across the farm lot toward the Flydros farmhouse.
"Foolish girl!" Pectros hissed, leaping from his horse to follow her, but turning to address the Dwarf as he rushed past, "Nice work, Thorm -- four ghouls!"
"One was a Ghast – Aurei killed him and that one over there --by herself."
Pectros and the guards’ mouths fell open in surprise, but they had no time for conversation as they and Thorm ran after the dark-elf girl.
To her left Aurei saw movement as she neared the Flydros' barn and she spun in time to see the register of a warm body before a bolt of blue energy slammed into her chest. The magic bolt knocked her backwards against the side of the corral fence, but to her amazement, it seemed to dissipate. She turned and ran toward the very surprised caster of the spell. The Necromancer, one of four controllers of the scouting party of undead was indeed surprised. For running toward him was the very definite form of a Drow noblewoman, her dark Elven swords held wide to strike him, as her glowing red eyes hinted at the torture he would no doubt experience at her hands. Frantically he stumbled over a Fireball spell, his terror causing him to stammer in the hurried chant. Not that it would probably affect her, as the legendary Dark Elven resistance to magic had already turned aside the deadliness of his Magic Missiles. The spell failed to burst forth and he backed away, swinging his gnarled staff at her, which she easily knocked aside.
"Mathos! Ephret! Recco! Help me!" he called out to his fellow Necromancers, but before any aid could come he found himself slammed against the side of the barn, the Drow’s short sword pressed against his neck.
"Shout again and I will slit your throat!" She hissed and he nodded.
"The Flydros family – where are they? If you have killed them…." She pressed the blade slightly more against his neck, drawing a slight trickle of blood.
"No" he gasped, "No – in the farm house…they are in the farmhouse!"
To his amazement, she didn’t slit his throat but turned abruptly toward the house. He saw a chance and took it. With a shout he leaped forward, his plan to run as quickly as his robes would allow him to run, toward the west road where he knew his comrades were. But he wasn’t fast enough. Catching movement out of the corner of her eye, Aurei swung out with her long sword, expecting an attack. Her sword caught the Necromancer in the back of his unarmored chest and ran him through. With a gurgle, he slid down the side of the barn, dead. Aurei felt suddenly very sick at her stomach, for she had just killed her first living being. But she could not give into her emotions right then.
She was halfway across the yard when she heard the sound of battle coming from somewhere past the farm lot, but still close. Thorm and Pectros raced up to join her.
"Sounds like its coming from the western road. The family may have fled to the road." She suggested to them.
With only a glance to each other, they all began racing toward the sound of combat.