Don't Worry, Be Happy!
Cluym stumbled through the streets distraught. He had just witnessed the deaths of everyone he knew and loved. It had all happened so fast, he barely had time to realise what was happening.
A gang of hooded individuals had arrived in the middle of the night and started the massacre. Cluym had never seen them before, and couldn’t understand what could possibly motivate them to do such things. As any child would, he tried to hide from them. He’d gone to the little nook in the kitchen he used to sit in when he wanted some peace to read his books. After hastily blocking himself in with whatever furniture he could grab, he sat trying to slow his breath. He didn’t want to make any noise at all. When one of the hooded figures entered the kitchen, Cluym stopped breathing altogether. The intruder wasn’t looking for money or food, they were looking for people. Cluym’s heart stopped when the furniture in front of him was thrown aside. The intruder stared directly at him… and then moved on. ‘He must have seen me,’ Cluym thought. Confused, he ran. He left the screams behind him and ran as fast as his legs would carry him.
The next day when Cluym reached the neighbouring village, he desperately sought out help. But no matter where he turned he was ignored. Everyone just seemed to look right through him. Exhausted, he collapsed on the steps of the local temple…
Cluym was sitting on a rock, lost in his own world. He was waiting for something… anything to happen. Even a roving hoard of slightly irked kobolds would offer some distraction. After he had been ignored by the wizards, Cluym tried knocking on the door again. Nothing. He instructed Sparrow to look through a window. Nothing. He tried to send Sparrow into an open window and the bird just bounced off an invisible barrier. Desperate, Cluym resorted to his last option. He wrote a message to Yomada asking them to come to the tower. He wrapped it round Sparrow’s leg and set the bird off... three hours ago.
It was actually a very pleasant day, Yomada noted. The chaffinches were singing at a gentle sixty-four decibels. Seventeen trees slowly waved back and forth in the breeze. The sheep, probably called Albert, was currently chewing on grass in the north-east corner of the field. Of the remaining houses the party hadn’t ransacked: seven didn’t have doors; three were barricaded and near impossible to enter without causing serious structural damage; ninety-three percent of them didn’t have a single trace of metal left inside; and one had a lovely pink floral design painted on its walls. Since Cluym left, Yomada had been making extensive notes.
Donregan was mostly built around two intersecting roads that formed a T shape. The base of the T was the road leading from the gateway to the village square. The square bisected the longer road that led to the tower in the east, and ended in the police station to the west. Above the doors to the police station, the word ‘police’ was barely visible. The sign was very faded and dirty, and the letters were only visible because they were ever so slightly less faded. Branching off these two main roads were smaller streets, lined by houses, that ended in small parks. It was in one of these parks that Sparrow found Yomada, taking an inventory of the flowerbeds.
Sparrow’s arrival was quite timely. Yomada had almost finished investigating the west side of the village, and would have started heading towards the tower regardless. It was on the road to the tower, however, that Yomada bumped into the wizards. The dwarf had remembered the High Priestess mentioning a desire to talk to the Order of the Red, and was always eager to please.
“Good day my friends. Have I got an exciting opportunity for you!”
“Oh really? That does sound like fun, but we’re on our way to the tavern right now.” The wizards seemed very cheery. Not quite as upbeat as the villagers, but still unusually happy.
“Well isn’t it your lucky day. The High Priestess of Tor happens to be in the tavern at this very moment and I’m sure she’d love to meet you.”
“We know,” one of wizards replied, bursting Yomada’s bubble, “That’s why we’re going to the Golden Hand.”
“Ah. Well then, let me accompany you and I’ll make the introductions myself. I have become a somewhat invaluable travelling companion of hers.” Yomada joined the group and led them towards the tavern, regaling them about the recent fight with the kobolds. When they arrived, the dwarf motioned for them to wait outside. With unnecessary flourish, and a small musical fanfare1, Yomada threw the double doors open.
“Your highness! May I humbly present to you four members of the Order of the Red.” Yomada bowed, throwing a few colourful sparks around the doorway2. The wizards awkwardly entered the room.
“Ah, Nieven. It’s good to see you old friend, it’s been too long,” the High Priestess approached the wizards, ignoring the near prostrate Yomada. “Tell me, what manner of misfortune has befallen this village?”
The wizards followed the High Priestess into the corner she had claimed for herself. Somehow, a softly upholstered chair had been found for her to use. It looked incredibly out of place next to the hard, wooden stools that littered the rest of the tavern. As everyone gathered around, Nieven started to recite the tale of what had happened six months previously.
“It started out as a day like any other. The villagers were going about their business as usual. Without warning, individuals just began disappearing. It started sporadically at first, but after a dozen or so had gone, people began to notice. As friends and family faded from existence, panic started to spread. Panic grew into terror as the disappearances increased in speed. Almost half the village was no more after the first hour. In a futile attempt to prevent whatever was happening, groups either barricaded themselves in their houses, or collected all their belongings and fled the village. It didn’t help. Barricaded buildings soon became empty and anyone who passed the village boundaries disappeared within a few steps. By nightfall less than one quarter of the population was left.
As soon as we learnt of the incident, the Order put all our effort into researching what was happening. This proved difficult as our Order was not immune to this phenomenon. With our numbers dwindling, one of our members stumbled upon a vital discovery. It was only those who displayed strong negative emotions that were taken. That is why it initially spread so quickly. Fear, panic and the great sadness of losing a loved one only hastened their fate. In an attempt to prevent further disappearances, the Order started to charm anyone we could find. A simple spell, giving a false veil of happiness, but it seemed to work. The village stabilised and we were able to take stock of what had happened.
We knew our charms were only temporary, and we couldn’t feasibly maintain the level of magic required to protect the entire village whilst also looking for a solution. That is when Rosmerta volunteered to take over duties here at the tavern. She spends her days brewing the charm potion that the village now relies on. Once a day we all must drink one of her draughts in order to sustain an aura of happiness. This freed us up to investigate the cause of this ungodly incident, but alas we have struggled. Our once great order has been reduced to a mere six, active members. Most of us are woefully ignorant in the necessary areas of research. To this day we are none the wiser, and fear we may never determine the cause and bring back those who have been taken.”
Nieven’s harrowing tale was made all the more disturbing by his jolly recital. His charmed smile masking the despair deep within him.
“Has anyone from outside the village ever disappeared? Are we safe staying here?” Yomada asked nervously.
“Since this started we haven’t had many visitors, and the ones we’ve had haven’t stayed long. So far only residents of the village have disappeared, some outsiders have stayed a few nights and left unharmed. You should be perfectly safe,” Nieven answered.
“I have every faith in you my dear friend,” the High Priestess said, gently resting a hand on Nieven’s shoulder. She turned to face Yomada. “You are excused, Nieven and I have much to discuss.”
“Of course, your highness. I probably should try and find my friend anyway, make sure he’s not getting into trouble. Knowing him he was probably knocked out by a mean looking rabbit. If I can ever be of service to you again though, you need only ask.” The High Priestess accepted Yomada’s offer with a dismissive wave.
One relaxing stroll later, after stopping to smell almost every flower along the way, Yomada found Cluym sitting outside the tower. He seemed far from impressed at the late arrival of the dwarf. Yomada apologised and calmly explained the reason for the delay and brought Cluym up to speed with what had happened to leave the village in its current state. Cluym accepted the apology and they shook hands, both agreeing to forget about the disagreement3. They then turned their attention to the tower.
“Have you tried knocking?”
“Of course I’ve tried that, do you really think I sat here waiting for you for three hours just so you could tell me to knock on the door?”
“Knowing you I just assumed you’d done something stupid like trying to fly your bird through a window, ignoring the fact that wizards would most likely guard against that kind of thing.”
“That’s beside the point,” Cluym blushed, “I want to look inside so how are we going to get in?”
Yomada thought for a moment and then knocked on the door. Cluym started to build up to another complaint when the door creaked open a fraction. An eye peered through the gap.
“Will you two stop fighting, I’m trying to read and you’re very distracting.”
“My apologies good sir. I am Yomada, a bard of some modest fame around these parts. You may have heard my harp music drifting into your tower, uplifting your spirits.”
“We’ve heard you all right. Gave us a good opportunity to practise our abjuration magic. It’s been a while since some of us have used silence spells.” Yomada was affronted but carried on regardless.
“Yes, well, glad to be of service. My friend, Cluym, is a trainee wizard and a big fan of the Order. I was wondering if we could have a look around, maybe get a short tour? It would make his day. He’s really excited to meet you.”
“Excited to meet me? I’m only the librarian,” the door opened a few inches more revealing a red clad dwarf.
“Oh, but for wizards the library is the most important place. It’s where all the real action takes place. All that knowledge, research. That’s what magic is built on. Casting fancy spells just to wow the locals is child’s play. Not just anyone can read a book though4.” The silver-tongued dwarf had an uncanny way of homing in on weak willed individuals and charming them.
“I’ve always thought us librarians were an undervalued breed. I’m the only one in at the moment but I guess I could show you around. I think you’ll enjoy the library, I use an unusual ordering system. Most people go by category or, more predictably, alphabetically. But one day I said to myself, Dumir… that’s me by the way… Dumir, I said, how are you supposed to order books alphabetically when they use different alphabets, and some don’t even use words. Well, that’s when I had the brilliant idea to…” Dumir started walking up the tall spiral staircase, oblivious to the world around him.
Yomada and Cluym shrugged at each other and followed the librarian. It was a very long climb, doubly so for the dwarves. The library was on the top floor, probably to keep Dumir away from the other wizards. It was large room with a high sloped ceiling, but almost every piece of available space was occupied by piles of books. There was a narrow path from the door to a desk, and another path from the desk to a window. Other than that, every surface was covered with an odd assortment of books and scrolls of parchment. It was difficult to believe that there was any ordering system, the room was completely chaotic.
“Quite impressive, I can honestly say this is the most organised library I have ever stepped foot in5,” Yomada said, carefully treading around a book that almost seemed to growl at the dwarf.
“I don’t suppose there are any spell books we could look at? Learn a new spell or two?” Cluym ventured.
“I’m not really supposed to let non-members into here, leafing through the books is certainly forbidden.”
“Come now, we’re not going to damage them. Besides, the others are in the tavern. They won’t know. And I find it a little odd that they didn’t take you along as well.” Yomada had a hunch at which strings to pull.
“They never take me. They always say that they don’t want to disturb my research,” Dumir said, bitterness slipping into the words.
“This is YOUR library, isn’t it? Surely you say who can read which books.”
“It’s the Order’s library… but nobody else uses it that often. In a way I guess it’s mine.”
“And a fine dwarf like yourself is always looking to help do good. Why only a few hours ago my companion and I were ridding your village of some rather nasty kobolds. Just imagine what other noble deeds we could accomplish with the knowledge that only you can bestow. Our victories would be your victories. Songs will be sung about our heroics, and of course, you will have verses too. Who knows, maybe even a book or two will be written.”
“A book! I could be in a book?”
“Oh yes. A whole chapter on how you trained us and taught us your vast arcane knowledge. I’m sure there would even be a few choice footnotes with your name on them6.”
“You’re right. This is MY library and I say who can read MY books. Just say an area that you’re interested in and the book will come to you.” Cluym didn’t need to be told twice.
“I’d like a book on spells that create fire.” A book just above Yomada’s left ear started to twitch. The dwarf quickly put an arm out to stop it.
“Maybe try something with a bit more utility. You’re already proficient in setting things on fire.” Cluym deflated a little and started to investigate the many piles of books. “Do you have any spell books that a bard could use? Our magic is not quite the same as yours.”
“Not much call for that kind of thing here. I might have something in the back though.” Dumir set off through the piles and disappeared from view. After a minute or two, the librarian made a noise of triumph and then blew heavily on something. A rather large cloud of dust indicated where he had found the book. He returned to Yomada and handed over a rather old, beaten up volume titled ‘Music and Magic: Strange bedfellows or a match made in heaven?’.
“Can I use some of your ink to copy a spell?” Cluym’s voice carried over a stack of parchments.
“Well I suppose you can, but you’ll need to pay me to get replacement ink. One hundred gold pieces should cover it7.”
“I don’t have that much money,” Cluym said holding a rather light purse.
“I’m sure a resourceful fellow such as our good friend Dumir here could sort something out. Oh and did I say a few footnotes? I of course meant several. Long ones at that.”
“I guess I could water down the ink with some of the regular stuff. Just don’t choose anything too powerful.”
The studious duo set about learning their new spells. Cluym spent an hour carefully copying every letter of a spell he found in a book on elemental conjuring. Meanwhile, Yomada set about remembering chord sequences and verses that would tap into the echoes of the primordial words of creation, and whisper knowledge of those around. When they were finished, they bid a hasty goodbye to Dumir and left him nose deep in a book titled ‘From Alchemy to Zoology: The pros and cons of A – Z’. Without a chaperone, the two seized on the opportunity to do a little snooping. On the way down the spiral staircase there were a number of doors leading off into small rooms. Some were locked, others were wide open. The rooms looked quite uniform, filled with odd, magical curios with a desk placed in the middle covered in parchment. One room did seem more interesting than the others. It appeared to be a storage room of some kind. Before they could get a good look however, they each heard a voice echo in their heads.
“I require your presence at the Golden Hand. Do not delay.” They instantly recognised the voice of the High Priestess. Not knowing if she could tell what they were up to, they decided to swiftly move on from the tower. They arrived at the tavern to find the High Priestess and Nieven still deep in conversation. After a few minutes of standing around patiently, the High Priestess addressed them.
“I have been discussing this horrible business with Nieven. As far as the Order has been able to ascertain, this effect, whatever it may be, emanated from the police station. We have come to a certain, financial arrangement. I have offered your services in investigating this phenomenon. I expect such well-travelled individuals such as yourselves will be able to root out the cause by day’s end tomorrow.” Yomada detected a hint of a threat in that last sentence.
“Right, yes. I did offer my help didn’t I. Given that we’ve already faced some fierce opponents in this village, can we have some fighters to back us up?” Yomada asked, always trying to stay as far away from combat as possible.
“I will lend you the use of some of my guards. I will discuss the situation with them and they will decide who will accompany you.”
“Also, this is clearly a very powerful magical effect, can we have a member of the order come with us too. That way if we come across anything arcane that looks suspicious they can help determine its nature. Maybe even give us a heads up if something evil is near,” Cluym added. Nieven thought for a moment.
“I have just the person in mind. Come to the tower tomorrow morning.”
“Well in that case then, I think an early night is in order. We’ll rest up from the battles today and attack this problem fresh in the morning. Are there any rooms in the inn? Preferably two quite far apart.”
As Yomada went for a well-earned rest, Cluym pulled Nieven aside. He took the wizard to a corner, out of sight of the High Priestess. After checking to make sure no one was paying any attention to them, he pulled out his ring.
“Can you tell what kind of magic this ring is imbued with? I can tell it has some sort of spell contained within it, but I don’t have the expertise to determine the exact nature of it.”
“I should be able to.” Nieven took the ring and studied it for a few moments and then put it on. His usual broad grin turned into a smile, which turned into a hearty belly laugh. For the first time since Cluym had met him, Nieven seemed truly happy. As he wiped away a tear, Nieven explained.
“This ring is a simple trick, a magic joke if you will. Sold as a novelty to tourists. It is a ring of locating. When worn, the wearer knows precisely where the ring is.” Nieven passed it back to Cluym and walked off laughing. Cluym sighed, disappointed, and put the ring on. He instantly knew that it was on his right index finger.
It was technically the morning. The sun hadn’t woken up yet, but Yomada rolled out of bed and found Cluym meditating. The pair had gone to bed in the late afternoon and so were up and about before everyone else. They scrounged together a hearty breakfast and went to round up the guards they had been promised. Most of the convoy had slept in and around the caravans, so it was near the stables that our early-rising duo found the circle of sleeping guards. The sky was just starting to flirt with the idea of twilight. Not wishing to waste precious seconds of daylight, Yomada played a rousing song on the harp8. The guards weren’t too pleased, but it was effective.
Overnight the guards had drawn straws, and the losers had been Grok, the dwarven guard who had helped with the kobolds when they first arrived; and Elan, an elf who hadn’t had many dealings with the pair until the wake-up serenade. As Grok and Elan gathered their equipment, the other guards turned over and went back to sleep. Near the guard’s sleeping area was the remains of the kobold’s hoard. The guards had moved it out of the cellar and piled it near the convoy so they could sort through it. At Grok’s suggestion, Yomada and Cluym had a quick look through the pile. Yomada found some throwing darts, and Cluym picked up a silver tipped quarterstaff. They also found some brass letters, after the P, O and L it became clear where they had been removed from. Ready for action, the party went to the tower to get their last recruit9.
A full ten minutes after knocking on the door, a very sleepy wizard opened it. He was an incredibly old looking dwarf. It was hard to tell who was older, the tower or the dwarf. He was of course clothed in the customary red, but in a dressing gown instead of the standard robes10.
“Are you the one who’s helping us today?” Yomada asked.
“What’s that?” the wizard shouted.
“Are you coming with us to the police station?” Yomada shouted back.
“You’re going to have to speak up sonny,” the wizard told the wrong person, “No use in whispering.”
“Is there someone else we can talk to?”
“I’ll have to get someone else, see if they can hear you.” The wizard pointed upwards and a woman appeared next to him, also in a red dressing gown.
“Hello, what can we do for you?
“Are YOU the one who’s supposed to come with us today?” Yomada asked hopefully.
“What? I don’t know anything about that, hold on a moment and I’ll get Nieven.” She pointed upwards and Nieven, complete with dressing gown, appeared next to her.
“It’s a little early don’t you think?” Nieven said blinking at the harsh, dark purple sky.
“More time to solve the mystery. Look, who exactly is coming with us?” Yomada asked getting a little frustrated.
“Ah, yes of course.” Nieven pointed upwards. Nothing seemed to happen. Then a familiar face stepped out from behind Nieven.
“Oh hi you two. Isn’t this exciting, they’re sending me out on a field mission. Nieven said I was uniquely qualified for this, don’t quite understand what he means. I guess there’s going to be some books that need sorting through, that kind of thing.” Yomada and Cluym looked at each other, pondering if Dumir would actually be an asset. At the very least he would be an extra body to throw between them and danger.
“Fine, can we just go now?” Cluym sighed.
“Sure. Let me just say goodbye to my friend first.” Before they could stop him, Dumir pointed upwards and a young elf appeared in the now crowded entrance. The wizards awkwardly shuffled so the newcomer could say a few words to Dumir, shake his hand and wish him good luck.
“Ok, just give me a moment.” Another shuffle and Dumir slammed the door shut. After a brief pause he opened it again, revealing an empty space. Dumir was now dressed in his usual robes and stiff pointy hat. The party was finally ready to investigate and made their way to the police station.
They stood outside the police station, the imposing oak doors in front of them. Like many of the buildings in the village, this one had been barricaded from the inside when the panic began. Unlike the other buildings however, the police station was built to withstand armed militias. The rag tag collection of fighters and academics standing outside certainly didn’t begin to compare with an organised force. Cluym had offered to burn the doors down, but his suggestion had been quickly disregarded by the others. It was going to be hard enough finding clues with everything in one piece. Yomada had led the group on a quick survey of the perimeter of the building, looking for any potential entry points, but the dwarf had been too focused on the building and hadn’t noticed the bear trap hidden in the grass. The others were quick to release Yomada, and deactivate the magical alarm that had triggered with the trap, but it left the bard with a significant limp.
“I guess I could just teleport in and open the door from the inside,” Cluym ventured. The others looked at him stunned.
“Since when can you do that? Also, why did you only wait until now to mention it?” Yomada furiously hobbled towards Cluym.
“There might have been an easier way in. Besides, I’ve never actually used this spell before. I’m not too sure that it will work. It’s the one I learnt in the tower.”
“Does this mean I get another footnote?” Dumir excitedly chimed in.
“Fine, just teleport in then. Let’s get this done.”
“There is just one problem. I need to be able to see where I’m teleporting to,” Cluym motioned to the high set windows.
The group decided that the two strongest members would lift Cluym up so he could see in through the window. The only problem with the plan was the two strongest members were Grok and Elan, a dwarf and an elf. The height difference made for an unsteady platform for Cluym as he cast his spell. He muttered a few arcane words and a silvery mist started to form around him. As the mist dissipated, Grok and Elan felt the weight lift off their shoulders and saw that Cluym had vanished11.
Cluym was disoriented for a few moments after the mist faded from around himself. He took a few deep breaths and then looked around. He was standing in the middle of what could be described as the reception area of the police station. There was a long counter splitting the room in two, with rows of benches on the side that had the front door. Cluym walked over to the door and saw what had been preventing it from opening. A thick plank had been placed against the door, resting in two iron hooks. It took him a lot of effort, but Cluym managed to lift the plank and let the others in.
Now they were inside, the party was a little hesitant. Whatever had happened to the village had started here. Dumir tried to reassure them that he didn’t detect any strong evil presence or lingering magical effects, but nobody wanted to be the first to move. They decided that the best thing to do would be to each roll a die and let fate decide. Yomada was particularly happy because the dwarf had spent years swindling people with the magical illusion of a die, that just so happened to always land favourably. Elan lost, and was sent ahead to investigate each room they came across.
They spent a few unproductive hours scrutinising the police station. The building had two floors and mostly functioned like a large house. There was a kitchen; a recreation room; an office for the chief of police; a few miscellaneous rooms with either a desk or some bunkbeds; and two empty holding cells. They couldn’t find anything that seemed out of place, and certainly nothing with enough power to make the villagers vanish. They did, however, find a trapdoor that led down into a basement.
Underneath the police station they found a further four cells, unlike the ones above though these were occupied. Each cell had a complete skeleton, resting on the floor. Obviously, no one had been around to care for the prisoners in the last six months. There was also a desk with a log book on top. This contained a list of names and dates, chronicling who had been incarcerated and for how long. The last dozen or so didn’t have release dates. With nothing else to investigate, some of the party took a closer look at the skeletons. Even if the bodies were six months old, they wouldn’t have decayed this much. The bones were clean, not a scrap of flesh left. And certainly no sign of any clothing. This could not be natural.
“Hey Dumir, could you identify if a spell has been used on these skeletons?” Cluym asked.
“Well, maybe. If magic has been used on them I could potentially discover which spell… but I would have to touch one of them. I don’t really think it will help us.” Dumir backed away slowly.
“Ah, but this is your chance,” Yomada engaged full charm mode, “This is the kind of thing that stories are made of. Brave deeds in the face of adversity.”
“I don’t know. It’s not very respectful.”
“You need to think of the bigger picture. If this is related to what’s happened to the village it could be vital information.”
“I guess it might help, but I don’t really see how.”
“You never know until you try. This is what heroes do. This is why songs are sung, tales are told… books are written.”
“Do you really think this is tale-worthy?”
“The brave librarian, fearlessly using his magic skills and knowledge to get to the bottom of this terrible mystery. You’ll be heralded as the champion of the village. Your name will echo across the Kingdom. You will go down in history.”
“That does sound nice.”
“So what do you say?” Yomada watched as Dumir considered.
“No, fuck that. I’m not touching a skeleton.” Yomada sighed and went to plan B. In an instant Dumir was being held two inches above the floor by a battleaxe underneath his chin. “On second thoughts, it probably won’t be that bad. If you just let me down I’ll see what I can do.”
Yomada lowered Dumir. Dumir fidgeted with a bag he had brought along and produced a book. After flipping through the pages and reading a lengthy section, he tentatively reached his arm through the bars of a cell and touched the toe of its occupant. He grimaced as he recited the correct words and made an odd assortment of hand gestures.
“Yes, definitely magical. Quite evil too. This poor soul has had a terrible blight cast upon him. Quite advanced necromancy.” Dumir shuddered and wiped his hand frantically. “I don’t see how this is related to the disappearances though. This spell couldn’t have caused that.”
“No, but whoever, or whatever, did this to these prisoners could have caused this whole situation. And going by what you said, that’s probably not someone we want to run into,” Thogold added.
Whilst the group was digesting this new information, Yomada had been distracted by something. Dwarves spend a lot of time underground in mines, surrounded by rock. This tends to lead to a natural affinity for stone, and at least a casual interest in stone working. Something about the far wall had caught Yomada’s eye. The dwarf carefully ran a hand over the bricks, feeling the mortar and inspecting every crack and crevice. Yomada then took a step backwards and, on a hunch, started to sing. The bard tried to recall the words written in Dumir’s book, and improvised the rest. Yomada then let the melody resonate around the room, the notes penetrating the four walls. When the echoes returned, they carried new voices. ‘It’s so cold and lonely’. Yomada could hear the same thoughts from two different creatures.
“Guys, there’s a hidden door here. Not only that, there’s people behind there. At least two, but… they both feel alone.”
Chilled by this new revelation, the group started looking for any way to open the door. There were no obvious switches or levers. They couldn’t find any trigger mechanism, magical or otherwise. Cluym asked if Dumir knew any magical means of opening the door. Much happier in his element, Dumir pulled out all of his books and researched the relevant magics. He found a promising chapter and sat in the middle of the floor reading for a solid ten minutes. He lifted his gaze to look at the door and was surprised to see it wide open.
There was a brief scuffle trying to back away from the opening before Elan was pushed forward. The party peered through the entrance and saw a row of cells, stretching into the darkness12. Each cell had a skeleton inside, but unlike in the cells they had found first, these skeletons were standing upright. Their empty eye sockets pointed directly at the now open door. And what was worse, the cells were open.
As the skeletons started to walk towards the noise, the party took up a defensive position. Grok and Elan stood in the doorway, ready to strike. Thogold stood a few paces back readying his bow. Cluym and Yomada spread out to the sides, already preparing spells. Dumir meanwhile, still hadn’t moved from his spot on the floor. The battle was initially easy to handle. Cluym managed to send a burst of fire down the line of skeletons, damaging them enough for Grok, Elan and Thogold to finish off. Yomada kept spirits high, and gave aid where possible, guiding attacks to their targets with a few reality bending words. Even Dumir joined in, sending magical attacks at the oncoming foe. Then the tide of battle changed.
A few armoured skeletons had had time to approach unnoticed from the opposite side of the cells. With their swords held high they landed brutal blow after blow. Yomada tried to get an angle to send a powerful wave of sound into the undead’s midst, but only succeeded in knocking a few backwards. A steady stream of skeletons still approached. When one fell, another was ready to take its place. The guards at the front received the brunt of the attacks. The pace at which they could push the enemy back slowed, and they started to get overwhelmed. Thogold had been forced to pull back. His bowstring had come loose, and in his haste to restring his bow he snapped the upper limb. And then the party lost another fighter as a skeleton landed a savage blow on Elan, knocking him to the floor dead.
Trying to make up for his earlier failure, Cluym rushed to the still body of Elan. He felt the now familiar feeling of magic surging through him. He drew on all his experience and directed the wave of magic into Elan’s body, calling his soul back. Elan gasped and then lay still again, this time merely unconscious.
This act of necromancy, giving life to the lifeless, startled and disgusted Dumir. He sat unable to act. Cluym ordered him into action and picked up Elan’s fallen mace, ready to make a stand on the front line. The only thing Dumir could think to do was to levitate Elan out of harm’s way. With their last ounces of strength, the party beat back at the remaining skeletons. They had resorted to bludgeoning them with whatever was at hand. Thogold was even using the remains of his bow to fend them off. With one final effort, the last of the skeletons fell to the ground. Bones shattered and useless. The undead stirred no more.
Battered and bloodied the party took stock. They were alive, barely, and one of them only by the grace of some God. The basement had almost been their tomb, but they were alive…
… For now.
Magic again. Yomada wasn’t the most competent in battle, but really knew how to put on a good show.↩
And if you believe that you’ll believe anything. What actually happened was another shouting match, followed by name calling and further bickering. By now this was just their accepted form of communication, and was as close to civil as the two could manage.↩
This was quite accurate. Literacy levels in the Kingdom were quite poor. Many Lords and Dukes had been elected for their aggressive stances on improving education, but that only seemed to help those with deep pockets and good connections.↩
Again, also accurate. Although it was also the least organised library Yomada had ever stepped foot in. Yomada wasn’t much of a library kind of dwarf. Why read a story when you can hear it regaled by a drunk minstrel with a loose coin purse.↩
Never underestimate the value of a good footnote!↩
This may sound a lot for ink, but spells tend to take on a life of their own when written down and stored together. They only stay on the page if the ink is high quality and slightly magical. Otherwise, they tend to just leap off the page and cast themselves. Not the most convenient when dealing with old, dry parchment and spells that cause fire.↩
You’re probably thinking along the lines of Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt. Yomada actually went for something more akin to the finale of the 1812 overture. Complete with magical cannon sound effects provided by Cluym.↩
Due to bad timing on his part, they passed Thogold just as they were leaving and he was bullied into joining.↩
It’s hard to tell the difference between Wizard’s robes and a dressing gown, they look almost identical. Although his pointy hat had flopped over to one side and had a fluffy pom pom on the end which helped.↩
To be fair to Cluym, this was a reasonably impressive feat. The spell was more powerful than he was used to casting and he had only read about it, he hadn’t had time to practise. Unbeknownst to the wizard, a few strands of wild magic had helped him cast the spell.↩
There wasn’t any light in this part of the basement, so ‘stretching into the darkness’ isn’t the most accurate description. Every member of the party was able to somewhat see in the dark however, so it did have that kind of effect.↩