The Manner of Dying

29 September 2015
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The Manner of Dying

“We’re never getting out of these caves.” The human in shredded leathers panted between words as the dwarven woman who had been mostly carrying him set down her burden to rest.

                “Dessar will protect my friend. Allow me to see to your leg.” Another human in heavy armor, this one with golden skin and dark hair as opposed to his friend’s deep, almost coffee-colored tan and sun bleached curls, probed the broken leg of the thief. The three slash marks of the wound were already looking red and angry as infection settled in. The injury was taken mere moments ago.

                The dwarven woman sat on the ground in a lotus position and slowly moved her hands in a hypnotic rhythm. A tear in her stony skin along her left bicep slowly closed almost like a zipper. The sickness inherent in the wounds hadn’t been able to sink into a healthy dwarf the way it had in a human. Skittering and dragging sounds came from down the tunnel that led into the temple complex. The remnant of the Glittering Blades Adventuring Company had been exploring for several days. Three of their companions lay dead or worse behind them, lost in waves of the the living dead that had attacked  and forced them down into the caves. They lost count of the times they had stopped to rest before being pushed on by the endless swarms of the pursuing dead.

                “Come, it is time to go.” The dwarf’s dark-adjusted eyes saw a shambling undead form before it had reached the torchlight. She stood and reached to help the still wounded thief to his feet.

                The priest sighed deeply and stood. “Go my friends. I will stay here and teach these foul creatures the glory of The Shieldbearer.” Ban Gao, the human priest, took a firm grip on his shield and hammer facing away from his companions.

                “Don’t be a fool, Gao. They’ll tear you down in moments. We can outrun them if we just keep moving.” The rogue grimaced at the tightness of the dwarf Ilaxok’s grip as he leaned on her shoulder.

                “Gao, we can all make it together. Come now, let’s be off.” Ilaxok’s deep voice rattled in the tight passage, and the first of the zombies sped up its shuffling pace as it came into the torchlight.

                “No my friends. I cannot carry Erastos or heal his wounds with my few remaining spells. With his injured leg, he cannot hold the passage while others escape. It must be me. My god demands it. Flee and remember the call of Dessar to defend those who are hurt. “ Ban Gao smiled sadly as he stepped forward and smashed the shambling ruin of an elf to the ground. The moans of others came up the passage, indicating the horde had found them.

                “Gao, come with us! I’m not leaving you.” Erastos grabbed Ben Gao’s armor and began to pull him.

                “He’s right. One must stay that the others may escape, and he’s the best choice.” Ilaxok’s rumbling voice was pained. She leaned the injured rogue against the wall and made the formal bow of her monastery to the priest. “Dessar shield you and bring you home to us brother. We will sing of you.” She took the protesting thief on her shoulder, and the two of them faded into the tunnels as Ban Gao lit more torches and scattered them around the cavern.

                Hours later, the two stumbled into the dying light of day. The cavern behind them had been silent for some time. They stretched far past exhaustion to put as many miles between the hordes of undead as they could. Finally, it neared dawn, and even the tireless dwarf slumped, completely spent. The two leaned against a great tree and fell asleep, oblivious to the world.

                Erastos, the human thief, woke first, and the sliding of his blade from its sheathe disturbed his dwarven companion. Ilaxok spun to her feet in a smooth motion, taking up one of the combat positions of her monastic school. There before them in the clearing sat what was once a human. A staff with a dirty white rag atop it was held in her left hand as she sat tailor fashion before the two. Her skin was taunt to her grinning skull, and her flowing red hair remained beautiful despite the undeath that had claimed her. She had no eyes but only burning embers in the sockets. A pile of battered armor lay before her.

                “Greetings, Glittering Blades. I bring you tidings from the master of Fortress Kilianost. Your friend, the priest, has gone to his god.” The once human woman spoke in a melodic voice with an accent that told of languages long lost to the ears of men.

                The rogue stepped forward with the thick, curved blade of his sword at the ready, the splint they had made for his injured leg bearing his weight for the moment. “Did you slay him? Filth!” he spat in disgust.

                “Hold, Erastos. Listen to her voice. This is no simple skeleton or zombie before you. What are you, creature of the night?” The dwarf rumbled as her chi glowed from her hands.

                “I am the court bard of the fortress, both historian and teller of tales. Would you have me sing you a song?” The creature’s grin stretched too large for any human face and her teeth were sharpened into spikes.

                Erastos hissed and drew back. “Banshee.” He said in a flat voice. “What would you have of us?”

                “I only want to tell you the tale of your friend. I know nothing of how he lived, but my master would have you hear of how he died so the manner of his death would not be lost to the living world. I bring you his armor. Would you hear it?” her singsong voice seemed to lull them both into a stupor as she began to speak.

                “You violated the sanctum of the dread god and woke the guardians from their slumber. The zombies and skeletons were those who had worshipped there in life, now bound to the temple in undeath. When they began to stir, it brought those of us in the fortress to full wakefulness from our dreaming state. The master sent forth his hounds, those you call ghouls, to seek out what disturbed our rest. The Hunt, what we call the court of the fortress, stirred and armed themselves. I do not know if you heard the horns, but all were anxious for blood and sought out the honor of the kill after such quiescence.”

                “One member of your party had barricaded himself in a monk’s cell of the temple. My consort destroyed him, reaching through the walls to tear out the warrior’s soul. He will make a worthy servant and should feel honored to have both his spirit and body separately bound as guardians of that place. Two others separated from your group were torn down by the mindless hordes as you ran into the tunnels.”

                “The hordes pursued for some time, fighting now and again until you could escape. Many of them were destroyed by some few spells and more by your weapons. I see now that you were all injured, and we could smell the blood. Finally, your friend decided to flee no more and stood in the tunnel.”

                “His prayers to Dessar rang up the passage. I assume this was as you ran away from him. The first of the horde that reached him were destroyed by his hammer, but the numbers coming upon him soon became overwhelming. He charged again, and his shield illuminated , rending those nearest to him to dust.”

                “Again the skeletons and zombies surged forward, and again the first wave was utterly destroyed while the stragglers died against shield and hammer. Finally, the first of the hounds reached the battle, and their bestial, humanlike forms surged through the band of his power, though their bodies smoked and some even flamed from the holy energy. His prayers echoed over their snarls, and the first to reach them was bashed with his holy shield and exploded in a clap of thunder. The other hounds retreated as he used the blessings of his god to heal himself again. “

                “My consort arrived, fresh from the kill of your other comrade. He had earned pride of place in destroying the priest. The horde fell back, moaning or snarling as was their wont. He floated like a dark dream and turned to me smiling before he engaged. The damnable priest’s shield flashed white again, but it was too weak to turn away Rodrick The Mighty, he who in life was the first warrior of the temple. Rodrick’s ghostly hands sank into your friend’s body and began to tear loose his spirit. The priest cried in agony but prayed again and bashed my love with his shield, the symbol of the hated God Dessar. Rodrick also screamed and began the fade. The two met their ends together. Rodrick’s heart gem fell to earth, ringing against the armor of your now dead priest.” The banshee hung her once beautiful head and placed an onyx the size of a man’s thumb on the pile of battered armor.

               “The Lord of the Temple grants you safe passage for one day and one night from this moment. Do not be caught here again, or there will be no mercy. Tell your friend’s church of his death so that his courage may be remembered.” The creature climbed to her feet and walked into the woods, leaving the two adventurers to gather their friend’s belongings and the heart gem of the spectre he had slain with his last breath. They would see his courage remembered, and all would hear the manner of his dying.

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The Priest of Dessar named Ban Gao used his turn undead ability to great effect in the tunnel. Against the hordes of zombies and skeletons, he used the destroy (spell?) with area effect option. That caused the smoking and disintegration of some of the horde. Against the ghouls, what were referred to as hounds in the story, he used the area effect destruction option but most were injured. Against the one which exploded when struck with his shield, he used the single target destruction option. Against the spectre, he used the single target destruction option, and killed it as it was killing .

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