Crown of the Dead [D&D v.3.5] – Part 12

This adventure was Friday May 29, 2015.  E.G., T.F., C.H., and K.D. were present.

Gnome Barbarian Wee Jack, half-Orc Ranger Xorn, and all of Riddley’s Crown’s guards keep watch on the wall as the rain brings early darkness. It is the evening of the first Full-Moon day the party has experienced at the enclave. Horrifying numbers of zombies, wights, and ambiguous undead swarm the plains, bolstered by the lunar maximum. All day it has been too dangerous to leave the enclave; Wee Jack and Noomfoodle Gobbliegook Pann only did so briefly, earlier, to dispatch a wight goading a zombie Ogre into sundering the town wall.

An hour before dawn, Xorn notices fewer clusters of undead wandering the dark mists. Wee Jack suspects as well; not until dawn’s grey glow does he know for sure. Indeed, as the rain fades and the clouds break with sunrise, the Gnome and half-Orc find the surrounding plains completely absent of undead.

This is not a surprise to the half-Orc enclave guards – all of them descend from the wall and retire to their barracks. Convinced that the threat to the enclave has passed, Xorn and Wee Jack head straight for the bunkhouse to crash in their private four-bed suite.

They pass Gnome Rogue-Ranger Noomfoodle Gobbliegook Pann, who is just starting his day. Stepping out into a fresh new morning, Pann finds the residents’ mood strangely free of tension. None of the enclave guards are to be found. Dwarf trader Dredburn is dismounting defensive features from his shop. Jenny has the main-hall door thrown wide to let in the breeze.

Taking breakfast, Noomfoodle shares a table with Carson Readey. The Ranger is barely awake. His usual gusto is muted as he struggles to brag about slaying “at least a half-dozen” zombies from the wall-walk just hours ago with his trusty bow. Yawning, Readey leaves most of his meal behind as he saunters off for rack-time, saying he’ll go out later to loot his kills.

Pann, not evil by nature but not one to miss a profitable venture, sees an opportunity. The main gates are still locked from the night – none of the guards are awake to man it. So the Gnome ascends to the lookouts, and circles the enclave perimeter until he finds Readey’s vantage-point and locates zombie corpses quilled thick with arrows.

Carefully descending the outer face of the wall, Rogue-Ranger Pann ducks through the field of spikes and slips through a gap in the outer wood palisade. The wet earth steams in the bright sunlight, and the smell of coming Spring is fresh and welcome. In no direction does Pann see anything moving. The Gnome quickly searches the pincushioned zombies. Into his vest Noomfoodle tucks small weapons, gems, and half the silver pieces he recovers from the corpses. One zombie carried a glaive of passable value. Pann cannot climb the wall with it, but he does hide it around one side of the enclave, to recover later after the gate is opened.

Sneaking back up the wall, Pann’s excursion went completely unmarked. He sells off his pilferage to Lanna Riis and Dredburn. This payout, combined with his savings, gives him enough to rent the small, closed-up shop just behind Dredburn’s trading post. Administrator Lumberg receives a month’s rent in advance and hands over the key.

Noomfoodle finds a musty little storefront in desperate need of cleaning. But it has potential; the 20-by-20-foot structure has a small cobblestone fireplace, space sectioned off as meager living quarters, and enough scrap wood for the Gnome to fashion basic furniture. He sets to sweeping and clearing clutter for the rest of the day.

Shortly after noon, Xorn and Wee Jack wake up. Riddley’s Crown hardly seems the same desperate fortress that, just the day before yesterday, was preparing for siege. Lumberg snoozes in a chair on his front porch. Dredburn and Riis’s doors stand wide open, letting in the sun. Noomfoodle Gobbliegook Pann is polishing the windows of a building he now apparently leases. And the main gate stands wide open, casually manned by one of the half-Orc town guards – earlier, the other four guards hiked south to the bog. A sign on the main-hall doors indicates Jenny will be back in a few hours. Xorn walks out of the enclave to the garden and finds her foraging mushrooms. She is wearing a bright floppy sun-hat and pleasantly singing to herself.

The Emissaries of Retribution have gone out somewhere. Carson Readey is north of the enclave, collecting valuables off his kills. Wee Jack has to see it to believe it, but in fact there are no Undead visible in any direction. Only wind blowing the grass in sweeping waves.

The group has been in constant motion since they arrived. Today they’ll take it easy. Wee Jack buys a nice hammock off Dredburn and strings up near the main gate. In it he slumbers on-and-off for most of the afternoon. Xorn comes back with a satchel full of forage. He also has that bag full of tobacco; looking for a smoking-pipe, Xorn comes up empty at Dredburn’s shop but Noomfoodle will carve one for him. The end product is an above-average pipe, though curiously it has been bored to make a low, pensive, quacking sound when the user draws smoke. Whether meant as a prank or not, Xorn loves this quirky feature.

From his lazy vantage point, Wee Jack takes in the enclave’s dreamy-calm goings-on. Jenny returns with a basket full of goods. She is skipping. Two of the half-Orc guards come back mid-afternoon. They immediately report to Lumberg. The Gnome Barbarian cannot hear what they discuss. The sun moves; the wind breezes through the narrow alleys of the enclave. An hour before the gates close at sunset, the other two guards and eight newcomers pass the gates. All but two are heavily burdened with supplies; a caravan has dropped off a shipment.

Wee Jack pushes back his red cap and peers out at the new arrivals as Lumberg drones through his welcoming speech. Six of them are evidently a party; brandishing spears and leather shields, these men are fair-skinned, with dark curly hair and strong features. They are bedecked entirely in leather; breastplate, skirt, shin guards, boots, and paldrons. The deeply-oiled, rich leather creaks and cracks with every slight movement.

Apart from this group, are two half-Orcs, one male and one female. Wee Jack would guess them Rangers. Jenny takes a break from dinner prep to scope out the new people. Noticing Wee Jack, she comes over, and compliments him on his comfortable sling.

Jenny doesn’t know any of the arrivals, but identifies the party of six as CORINTHIANS (NPC group) – residents of warm islands distant to the southeast, a place known for its leather and for its skirmishers. By reputation, Corinthians are boisterous, but not trouble. Lumberg’s speech lulls Wee Jack back into a nap.

Xorn turns in early that night, as does Noomfoodle Gobbliegook Pann – both in the building the Gnome cleaned up and thoughtfully arranged into a comfortable cabin. Wee Jack braves the main hall for a while, until the Corinthians’ rowdy ways and Carson Readey’s eagerness to join in the din, drive the Gnome to seek early shuteye.

The next morning is as sunny as yesterday. Weary Jenny scrubs wine stains out of the wood floors of the main hall; the Corinthians splash both gold coins and messes wherever they go. The Emissaries of Retribution did not return to the enclave last night. Jenny is neither surprised nor concerned; the undead lay low for the two days following a lunar event, so the Clerics likely just camped somewhere instead of hurrying back before the gates closed for the night.

The group sees an opportunity for encounter-free travel. Hiking east, well away from their usual track along the north edge of the bog, Wee Jack, Xorn and Pann are overtaken by their friend Jere Collado, who has made a full recovery from Ghoul Fever.

About a mile out from Riddley’s Crown is the familiar farmstead. It is free of undead. Further east, a shallow ravine and slimy, weed-choked stream. Just beyond they come upon a large, abandoned farmstead. There are several intact houses and barns. Wee Jack recognizes this as the settlement just north of where he and Xorn fought zombie barbarians on their foray a few days ago.

Still an hour shy of noon, the party doesn’t waste time here. The mysterious church is maybe only a half-hour away. Pressing on, the four men make good time through the rolling grasslands. There are still no undead sightings. Then, beyond another shallow ravine, is their destination – a large, ruined village with the church at its center.

Around the periphery are burned-out husks of cabins, heaps of rotted wood, fragments of wall or roof sinking into the weeds. Xorn has his weapons ready; Wee Jack and Noomfoodle Gobbliegook Pann test every step they make. Jere Collado is ready to Turn the first thing that moves. Slowly they advance in past the perimeter.

Attention is drawn to the church. Its walls are bright white plaster, seemingly untouched by weather or neglect. Forty feet wide, eighty feet long, no windows on the sides but certainly skylights in the low sloped roof. Knowledge : Religion checks identify the architecture as Late-Modern Temple of Pelor. Except that in places where there should be a holy symbol or carved iconography, instead there is scorching or some nature of intentional defilement.

Cleric Jere Collado attempts to Detect Magic. His spell cannot penetrate the church’s stone walls. Though as a Cleric attuned to the Divine, Collado senses that evil has overcome the church. He feels almost none of Pelor’s original consecration.

A field of bones, jumbled and grey with age, lies between the party and the church. Scraps of cloth and strips of armor twist in the wind, with the grasses and weeds that poke through. There are no complete skeletons, only a chaotic nest of remains.  It is twenty or thirty feet wide, forming an uneven ring around the temple.

The party makes Spot and Listen checks, then Sense Motives. Something amid the bones caught their attention for a moment, but no-one is sure just what it was. They glance again at the church. Its double wooden doors are slightly ajar. Wee Jack doesn’t want to go inside. Right now, neither does anyone else.

A pervasive sense of unease grips the party. Having come here is enough of an accomplishment for today; perhaps in two weeks they will return after the New Moon and explore some more.

They turn to leave, passing one of the six intact houses on their side of the bone field. Xorn hears a quiet thud from inside the nearest house. There is so little natural sound out here that this easily catches his attention.

The group, weapons ready, approaches the closed door of that house. They listen again – nothing. The door is unlocked; bursting in, the party exposes a half-dozen zombies ! Wee Jack and Xorn charge in, Collado casts Aid, Pann defends by the door. To everyone’s surprise, the zombies attempt to flee as if they had been Turned – but Collado hadn’t done so yet.

The fight is an easy mop-up. The zombies offer no resistance, cowering from their attackers. They are quickly cut down. This confirms what they were told in Riddley’s Crown – the Undead are considerably weaker in the days following a lunar event. Certainty gives the group a boost of confidence. They consider checking the other houses and maybe even the church itself.

It is now afternoon on the 23rd day of March, by the local calendar.

 

(end of Part 12)

 

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About d20horizons

D&D player.
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