The limping figure of a blond haired, bloodied man drenched in sweat from fear appeared over the hill to the left of the road, just before collapsing. Naturally, my companions and I rushed to his side.
“The town, it’s —” his sentence interrupted by uncontrollable coughing of blood, “it’s been… turned!”
I think all of us knew instantly what he meant, but the dwarven cleric had to ask: “Turned?”
He shook. “Turned to the dead. All dead. The guards, my neighbors, my fa— everyone. Everyone but the children that Sasha barred in the tavern. Please, in the name of the gods, I beg you to help them!”
The cleric broke the eternal seconds of silence by responding, “Let me help you first, and then you can help us get back to your village.”
“No, it’s too late for me,” the exasperated man said, as he tilted his leg to show the multiple streams of blood now crusted like a dried river bed, flowing from the mouth-shaped gouges in his calf. “There is only one thing to do now. You must take the footpath over that hill for three miles to my village… and save my daughter. Save the children.”
“We’re not leaving you to die,” the beleaguered half-orc magus retorted.
“Then I will die before you leave. GO!” and faster than anyone could think, he shoved a hunting dagger into his own left ear.
I reached for words to express the sheer horror and shock of the last few moments, and though my lips mouthed a prayer to Pharisma, no voice bolstered from the windpipes of my throat. Finally, the Elven fighter spoke up. “They’re only children. We have to go – now.” No other words were spoken.
The fastest sparrows in Fangwood forest couldn’t keep up with us as we tore down the footpath. Within minutes, we caught sight of the little pillars of white smoke rising between the treeline. No one hesitated to the cause. No one knew… it was already too late.
The smell of burning hay was accompanied by the sound of crackling fire and unseen screaming victims. Mobs of the undead were everywhere, like sweat splattered upon the ground from the swept brow of a smithy. A small gang of skeletons clambered towards our party. I was sorely tempted to blast them into oblivion with unquenchable fire, but kept my nerve. Our group made short work of them as we worked our way towards the only two-story building that wasn’t a grain silo or lumber mill – the tavern.
Before we knew it, we were pinned in by the mobs on three sides. Feydra, the magus, called “Mind the skies!” as I was accosted by the flying rotten corpse of a bat. Ghouls were to our front. A small horde of zombies were at our flank, and another batch of skeletons were held off from our rear by the fighter and the alchemist. And there, to my side, was the door into the tavern. The bats grew incessantly in number, and I knew that if we didn’t take care of the task soon, we would all die in the street.
I cast a spell to open the door, and what little daylight was left broke into the black hall. I entered. Four small silhouettes stood not twenty feet in front of me. I whispered, “It’s alright – you’ll be safe now.” They approached, slowly at first, then hurredly and haphazardly. A single beam of light shone through the boarded up window and cast its condemning illumination upon a young face – first the open mouth of menacing teeth, and then the gnawed eye-socket of a teenage girl with only patches of her golden hair still attached to the chasm of her skull. The hair color was a perfect match for the bloodied man, now as dead as his daughter had been for some time.
I ran out the way I came, and magically shut the doors, informing my companions not to enter the tavern. There was a new sound in the air – the sound of deathly pipes. I took flight above our pinned position between the lumber mill and the tavern, to assess a way out of the village. All of it had been overrun, and there was no end to our foes. To our front, just on the other side of the mill, was a group of ghouls, reared by a pipe-playing maiden of similar filth. She had a horror of meadow-weather heads about her waist. One of them I recognized in an instant: the head of my own father.
All the rage inside me tore loose into the skies, calling down all forms of ice and fire, concentrated upon the she-villain – everything I had within the horizon and depth of my arcane skill was hurled upon her wicked visage.
And still, she came forward… playing her dirge. My dismay went without words – how could such a thing be? Nothing could survive that!
A sharp pain in my side was quickly doubled. Arrows found their mark in my abdomen, and I felt myself falling from the safety of the sky, towards the piper. Was this to be my end? To face the same fate as my father – a consequence for our insatiable thirst for knowledge of the immortal arcana? I couldn’t bare to look upon my fate any longer, and shut my eyes in surrender….
“Tesh,” a mumbled voice called. I opened my eyes to see the boot of Tavius, the half-bred ranger perpendicular to my abdomen. “Come now, old man – awake with you. We’ve a long journey still ahead of us to Vigil.”