March 1st, 2007
4th day, centure rule, state of depravity.
The combat continued.
Torrano the Grey reached for a short sword, belted at her waist. As Ekikos moved to dodge, Torrano dropped her faint and tried to jump up on the slide behind her and head for the portal of flame. Ekikos lunged forward, made a grab for her, but it was too late, she raced down the slide, presented her red marble and the portal opened. The light in the room doubled, then was significantly reduced back to its shadowy gloom as the portal closed behind her.
Ludvik and I were some distance away, trying to fend off four zombies who were determined to stop us. Torrano's last command compelled them to attack us, even though they had neither weapons nor the necessary speed. Ludvik divided his attention among the three trying to press him towards the well in the center of the room. I, standing near his ankles, did my best to guard his back while taking pot-shots at the nearest zombie. Unfortunately what fire I could through simply burned them. Without the abilities to feel pain, their burning flesh did little other than to horrify us, and stink up the place.
Chryseis, standing closer to Ekikos, guarded his back as the Zombies lumbered towards them. Ekikos was forced to turn his attention from the fleeing Torrano to the approaching zombies and together they were able to keep the zombies back, using their spears more as poles than weapons. The spears pierced the flesh of the walking dead easily enough, but they barely reacted to the damage.
"We have to follow her! To the Portal!" cried Chryseis. We moved quickly to the portal before the remaining zombies could overwhelm us. Being the smallest, I went first and opened the portal. Ekikos was the first one through. The zombies were still pressing forward, but Chryseis and Ludvik were able to keep the few that reached them at bay. There were more zombies coming, but fortunately they moved at only a fast shuffle, and so outdistancing them was not difficult.
As Ekikos stepped out of the portal, Torrano spoke in a language Ekikos didn't understand, and the three guards standing there to attack him. Between them was a body on a stretcher. The shelf on which they stood was at most 10' wide, and the place was very bright and unusually warm. It was the plane of fire. The rest of us filed through, and the guards were overwhelmed.
"Kill them!" Torrano yelled, her tone growing desperate.
One guard quickly ran away, up the stairs that wound around the large outcropping that faced the portal. The outcropping was so large we could not clearly see its top, nor around it. The stone was black, shattered and faceted.
The shelf was carved out of the rock, and the portal sat atop a thin ledge that was all that stopped us from falling backwards into a sea of fire. The sky was aflame and the heat rolled towards us like the waves of the sea on Earth. One guard faced off against Ludvik, the other faced Chryseis. Ekikos tried to capture Torrano, who was already casting spells to cancel the divine blessing that Chryseis had requested for us earlier. I divided my attention between Torrano and the path of the fleeing guard. We could hear no shouting, nor any noise beyond our combat; but it seemed obvious that reinforcements were coming.
The guards fell, and Ekikos dragged Torrano back through the freshly opened portal. Chryseis and Ludvik carried the woman on the stretcher. Waiting for us on the other side of the portal were 4 dustmen guards, their pikes lowered at us they ordered us to surrender; which we did. We tried to present our case, and while it gave them pause - it did not immediately improve things. Over the next few minutes more dustmen arrived. A ghost rose up through the floor and the overvault quickly filled with zombies, guards, and the curious come to see the invaders.
The dustman guard checked the woman on the stretcher and pronouced her dead. Chryseis looked carefully and claimed she saw some form of necromantic effect on the body. She had seen this effect before and guessed that the woman was not dead. Eventually the dustmen arrested us and took all our weapons; but left us our equipment.
The dustmen led us down the winding stairwell to a square room behind a heavily locked door. The walls of the room were lined with burial niches. In the center of the room is a sarcophagus. There are 4 or 5 feral creatures, each slightly larger than I. The guards order them to leave us alone, but they are curious and obviously hungry. The room is nearly filled by the 12-15 zombies who are just standing there. They move begrudgingly away from the guards and give us just enough room to stand near the sarcophagus. Even the shadows of the room seem alive as they flit from wall to wall, niche to niche. The lantern that the guards left provides the only light. We are mostly quiet as we wait, beneath the oppressive watchfulness of all the unliving things in the room.
I jump up onto Chryseis' shoulder to keep away from the feral ones, who over time, grow more and more bolder. The zombies in the room stared, but did not move. Their lack of movement towards us gave us no comfort. And the shadows that moved without light kept us awake and watchful. Still, we came to no harm and it gave Ekikos time to bind Ludvik's wounds. We all jumped when the lantern sputtered, but it kept burning. We sat back to back, with me near the middle. Chryseis prayed and we tried to join in. Her prayers seemed the only thing that kept the ferrals at bay.
It was an eternity of waiting. For the longest time, nothing changed. We were prisoners in a room full of undead, shadows that moved by themselves and feral animals that were impatient for their dinner. Then, it got colder. The room was far from warm to begin with, but suddenly, we could see our breath on the still air. Ekikos saw the cloth first. It billowed and slowly coalesced into a solid form wearing dustman's robes. The form sunk to the ground as it gained solidity. When he turned we saw that he was a young man with spiky black hair and sunken eyes that were rimmed with black.
"Are you ready to embrace our final deaths?" He asked. His voice echoed, as if from far away. I gasped, it was Skall--factol of the dead.
"Yes!" said Ekikos proudly, taking his question as a challenge. Chryseis put out her arm, stood and spoke for us. Over the next few minutes Skall tells us what he learned from Toranno the Grey. We didn't ask how he learned the information, but could not doubt its veracity. He names the fortress the Citadel of Fire. The barmies were to be agents int heir factions. At a later point they'd be contacted and used to subvert the factions in a Grand conspiracy.
Skall accuses us of breaking into the faction headquarters, misleading the guards and causing havoc in his halls. He hears our tale and learns our intentions, but it does not seem to move him. He tells us that our punishment is to go to the citadel of Fire and return with further proof of this conspiracy. Only with further proof will he forgive our trespasses. He becomes transparent and goes through the closed door.
After he passes through it, the bolt unlocks. Ekikos cautiously extends an arm and pushes the door open. The zombies slowly depart and we leave as quickly as our dignity will allow. Guards, living guards that is, guide us to a dark room. It's best feature is that it has no undead! There we are allowed to rest and eat.
I could not count the passage of time exactly, but I believe the day changed while we were in that room. Chryseis' prayers are a solid way of counting the passing of days, if not the hours. Still, at that time - she was praying a lot and we often joined in. The ritual was comforting.
When we were ready, the guards led us back to the portal room. There we saw Torrano scrubbing the floor. She was dead. Her mouth was sewn up and a number was engraved into her forehead. Her state didn't really surprise us, nor did her presence here for the dustmen never waste a corpse if they can help it. She stood, gave Ekikos a red marble, and then stood aside. I kept looking back at Torrano. It was her, but it wasn't. She was now just a tool. The fire, the life within her was completely gone. I admit, zombies give me the creeps, but seeing her like this was just sad.
We stepped through the portal and came out on the ledge facing four goblinoid guards and a commander (he was better dressed than the others). Ekikos, Ludvik and Chryseis launched themselves at the goblinoids. My attempt to bring forth cold sputtered and died, turning to water before it could even hit its target. While briefly refreshing, it did not help the situation.
Ludivk attacked a guard with a brutal thrust of his shortsword, and struck him solidly. At the same time the Captain struck at Ludvik with a long green sword. He hit and Ludvik stumbled slightly. The blade came away from Ludvik now more red than green. The guard tried to regain his footing and press back, but Ludvik's second attack brought the guard to his knees. The Captain tried to attack Ludvik again, but this time Ludvik was ready for him, he dodged the blow and then ducked beneath the captain's guard to drive his sword into the Captain's abdomen. The captain frantically moved away, striking Ludvik repeatedly until he dropped from his wounds.
Chryseis and Ekikos fought sided by side, pressing the guards up against the wall. The fight was in close quarters and my friends were forced to dodge the arrows that fell upon them from arrow slits half way up the wall. It was some time before I could gather myself enough to assist. At last I was able to gather fire around me and hurl it at Chryseis' opponent. The guard fell to the ground a burning heap. His armour and hair were immediately consumed by the fire. Ekikos was able to first stun, then kill his opponent with a flurry of blows. He took a step over the burning body and attacked his second opponent, dropping him almost as quickly while dodging almost all the blows rallied against him.
Chryseis moved quickly to Ludvik's side and called for Athena's healing to staunch his wounds and bring him back to us. Ekikos threw his javelin at the captain, but it missed. It struck the wall and clattered to the ground. Ekikos moved quickly and grabbed the captain before he could escape up the nearby stairs. They grappled for a time before Ekikos finally gained the upper hand and was able to punch the Captain in the throat, knocking him senseless.
We were forced to remain within the shadow of the wall, a thin strip wherein the archers above could not shoot us. Chryseis brought both Ekikos and Ludvik back to full health. Ludvik claimed the captain's green sword while Ekikos climbed up the wall with a rope tied to his waiste. Ludivk watched the stairs with his bow drawn.
When Ekikos returned, we started to plan what to do next. We found 20 gold, 33 silver and 18 copper on the guards, and pocketed the money. Ekikos told us that the citadel has a rounded slope, and he found a drainage shoot that seems to lead to a grate in the kitchen's floor. We assume there are guards watching the stairs, indeed Ludvik's seen at least one guard peer down the stairs at him. Ekikos proposes we go up the wall rather than the stairs and choose our own entry point into the citadel of fire.