For the previous installments, make sure you catch up on:
- Chapter 1: Blood and Butterflies
- Chapter 2: Murder and Glass
- Chapter 3: The Sin Pit
- Chapter 4: Tussles in The Tangle
- Chapter 5: The Assault on Thistletop
And now, into the bowels of the ancient, crumbling fortress once more...
What Time Had Forgotten
Thistletop had been a ruin for far longer than it had been a fortress, but the fact that it was still standing was a testament to the craftsmanship put into it... or perhaps to something else. Though the goblins were gone, a presence still loomed over the fortress. A dark shadow, like the threat of rain, hung in the air. Invisible, but palpable all the same.
|There's something down here with us... I don't know what, but something...|
None of the goblins had returned to Thistletop to see what had befallen their leaders... or if they had, none had lingered to claim the fort. All that greeted the heroes upon their return was silence, and bloodstains. But something wasn't right. None of them could put their finger on precisely what it was, but all of them felt it.
It was when they delved deeper into the bowels of Thistletop that they came across a danger they had not seen previously. Though their lights were steady, shadows flickered along the walls. The air grew chill with the aura of undeath as the shades approached. Zordlan danced away from their grasping hands, trying in vain to riposte as his steel slid right through them. Thokk fired an arrow that would have killed any living man, but which passed straight through the dead. Mirelinda drew back, snatching a wand from her belt and pelting the things with unseen missiles. When the dead glanced toward her, Zhakar stepped forward, and plunged his left hand into one of their chests. A bright light emanated from within, and the shadow hissed as it dissolved away to nothing.
Unable to be frightened, the others continued their attack. Though one sapped Thokk's strength, it and its ally were swiftly destroyed. The threat passed, Zhakar made sure his friend was not at-risk of becoming a shadow himself. Waving off his friend's concern, Thokk insisted they continue. They found disused rooms, forgotten chests, and ruined murals, but little else.
Until Zordlan discovered a hidden room, accessed with a handful of gold pieces pressed through secret slots in a carving of stacks of coins.
A Vision From The Past
Behind the door was a chamber that reeked with the tang of ancient magic. In one room stood an illusory figure, his arms raised as he extolled an audience with a message that sounded to be of great import. The words he spoke were unintelligible, though, lost to time and malfunctioning enchantments alike. He seemed familiar, as well, though his dress was as strange as the language he spoke. If Zordlan was correct, this was a relic from the final days of ancient Thassilon.
|And not the first they had come across in a ruined, underground cavern.|
While Zordlan was fascinated by the leavings of the lost empire, Chikara was growing impatient. She'd returned for another dose of vengeance for her capture, and to get a share of whatever loot was being kept in the fort. In a third room she found what looked like a hundred ever-burning candles. Shrugging, she took the bag of holding she'd been carrying, and started plucking the candles out of their niches.
Until something attacked her, anyway.
With a shout of pain and surprise, Chikara turned to find a huge, grinning beast staring at her. Its eyes filled with madness, the thing roared, and brought the others running. They held up short, though, seeing a hulking barghest, its powers undimmed and its hunger unslaked for a thousand years or more.
If that thing got out, it would be worse than any plague the goblins could have wrought even if they'd had ten times their numbers.
Zhakar's eyes flashed, but this time a nimbus of light bled from them. He didn't speak, and his movements didn't seem like his own as he drew his blade and charged the monstrosity. Thokk, weakened though he was, came fast on his friend's heels. He had seen what happened when the spirits inhabited Zhakar, but he didn't know if this spirit would be strong enough to slay the beast. Zordlan drew his bow, and Mirelinda turned a shade of pale, even as she reached for the most potent spells she had.
The battle was brutal. The barghest slammed its head forward, missing Chikara by inches as she unslung her great ax and let out a howl of raw fury. She brought it down with all her might, but the thing's hide turned the worst of the damage. It couldn't escape Zhakar's blade, though, and the steel bit deep into its side. The barghest turned, slashing and biting at Zhakar. His blood ran, glowing like faerie fire where it spattered his armor. From the barghest's rear, Thokk drew a bastard sword they'd taken from a treasure hoard, and hacked at its flank. The creature began to blink, levitating, attempting to get out of their reach. Mirelinda drew close, sending jets of flame into its muzzle as Zordlan snatched the dagger taken from the imp and let fly.
The beast didn't go down without a fight. It sent Chikara sprawling to the ground, and had Thokk pressed back against the wall, bleeding from a dozen shallow wounds. Mirelinda panted, her magic all but exhausted. As Zhakar sank the final blow, and the creature howled back to whatever plane it had come from, he fell to his knees, his sword clattering away. His eyes cleared, and he frowned. It was Thokk's turn to put an arm around his friend's shoulders, and to haul him back to his feet.
"Did it happen again?" Zhakar asked in Thokk's native tongue.
"It did," Thokk said, and clapped his friend on the back. "Maybe next time, ask for more powerful spirit?"
Zhakar laughed, coughing as he regained his composure. They gathered Chikara, and made sure she could walk before returning the way they'd come. There were no more threats in Thistletop, they were sure of that. But there were still mysteries in those vaults... mysteries they would have to solve sooner, rather than later.
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