The truth is revealed
Trackless desert marks their way
Death is in the air
from Dunesend the Brigade makes its way into the trackless desert, trackless
save for intermittent desert landmarks they pass which are a perfect match for
Bram’s directions. These are a scattered series of unique rock formations, both
beautiful and strange in their desolation; sentinels in that sand … forgotten
soldiers of some volcanic god.
They wander into the wilderness of the desert in a solitary
way, together but alone over a waste of burning sand.
“It’d be treasure and little else that would bring a dwarf
to parts such as these. Treasure certain as the sand beneath our feet, and damn
near as much.” remarks Bhenedict.
“This may be true, lord dwarf … but desert sands have a way
of purifying a strong man’s spirit, even while a weaker man’s spirit might
faint within them.” adds Noe.
“Strong or weak, a man caught in the desert without water,
exposed to the burning sun, without shelter would die a horrible death … his
lips and mouth will swell, then there is a hollowed ringing in your ears before
the onset of deafness and then you would feel as if your head swelled until
finally parched and dried out … blistered, bloodied, cracked and crusty you
would find relief in death’s embrace and a welcome ending it would be.” says
“That’s a cheerful thought.” muses Bairdyn.
“That is why I where a hat.” says Bingus … “It keeps the sun
out of your eyes.”
Having packed plenty of water, the Brigade travels through
the desert for the first day and night without incident moving from one rock
formation to the next until on the second day of travel they spot a figure
emerging from a haze of wind-blown sand, the emaciated form of an elderly human
woman. She crawls toward you through the sand on hands and knees, tragically
sunburned and blistered beneath the hood of a ragged cloak. Seeing you she
calls out, voice raised against the wind: “Turn back! Nothing but death awaits
you in the heart of the desert!”
"By what means did you come to be here?" asks
Bhenedict, not quite trusting his eyes.
"Turn away!" is all the woman answers.
"Might we offer you some food or water?" ask
Suddenly excited, the old woman struggles to rise and with a
wild look to eyes she says, "Water, you have water you say?"
Reaching into a bag Bingus withdraws his sturdy traveling
mug and carefully fills it with water then pausing he mutters a few magical
words, ending quickly with a flourish of gestures … as he finishes and
disembodied hand appears and grasps the mug and begins making its way to the
old woman floating over the burning sand.
Following the hand the Brigade cautiously approaches the old
woman on the downside of the dune’s crest behind the floating mug. As they
approach Jimmy watches closely, not trusting the woman’s motivation … she
seeming much more interested in them than the life-giving water, watching her
the woman shimmers like heat haze realigning her in such a way that is replaced
by the standing form of a wizened hag, grinning with sharp needle-like teeth
barred in a hideous half-moon smile as she giggles horribly in a twisted
semblance of glee, as from nowhere, pain washes over the Brigade in waves of
woeful sound, whispers, the wailings of the lost souls, her victims, the
suffering dead prevented any final rest by the cruelty of the hag’s prior
feasting … the very substance of her unholy power.
Watching the Brigade with cloudy, blind eyes the hag’s face
shifts to a deadpan stare, tight-lipped and cruel, then without warning her jaw
stretches grotesquely as she unleashes a ghastly screech, a thundering,
mind-ripping, ear piercing, unholy sound powerful enough to kill cuts like a
knife through the approaching heroes ending in a deafening howl of such
irresistible force it hurls the closest of the Brigade backward over a dozen
paces even as the hag vanishes in a cloud of sand and the crack of a whip.
While on the opposite side of the crest on either side of
the hag sand erupts as suddenly a pair of bestial humanoid forms rise from the
ground, sand spilling through their mottled fur as they leap at the brigade wielding
razor-sharp short swords, snarling as they attack.
Moving quickly to form a defensive line Bhenedict finds
himself sinking to his shoulders in the soft sand at the base of the dune.
Finding himself trapped by the sand, a third, massive man-beast emerges from
the sand at a full run, leaping the valley of soft sand, over Bhenedict landing
on the opposite side it attacks biting savagely at the trapped dwarf.
Even as he moves to help Bhenedict, Jimmy finds himself
suddenly surrounded by the other two shifters who slash at the young cleric
with their swords. Adjusting Jimmy too finds himself sinking into the sands.
Concerned for his friends Eoffram finds that he is even more
worried about the hag as he cranes his neck while backing to a high point on the
dune searching for the vanished hag spying her some distance away on the
far-side of the dune she once occupied. While Eoffram searches, Bairdyn, Bingus
and Noe move to help the Bhenedict and Jimmy, Noe flanked by a white spirit
panther which moves easily over the sand.
The battle rages like a dust devil in the desert, neither
side giving quarter … Noe aiding Bhenedict with his panther and Jimmy aided
by Bingus while Bairdyn keeps busy running between the two fights striking with
advantage whenever possible.
As the others busy themselves with the shifters Eoffram
stalks the hag through the dunes eventually striking her down with a plethora
of eldritch calamities from distance as the others finish off the shifters. In
the end none of the desert patrol has survived and the Brigade is battered yet
whole, their injuries are quick work for Jimmy’s healing prays all save the
bite received from the largest man-beast, the one that had bit Bhenedict … that
wound burned and resisted healing, angering and frustrating Bhenedict.
Searching the fallen Eoffram found a golden griffon brooch
upon the hag, while Bairdyn relieves the fallen werewolf of 250 pieces of gold.
Jimmy found a pair of healing potions upon the other dead shifters.
After the briefist of rests the Brigade set back upon their
path spying the last of the landmarks they expected before the final push to
the forgotten outpost. The landmark, known as ‘Mace Rock’ was a sure sign that
their goal was near.
one night, the following morning they saw it, deep in the desert, three days
south of Dunesend while following a rocky track the Brigade sees an isolated
outcropping of basalt marking the location of a defensible fortress set within
the rock of the basalt bluff.
Atop the basalt bastion, a gatehouse is plainly visible, no
doubt giving anyone within a clear view of the desert for leagues beyond. As
the track curves around to the south side, they see two guard towers of hewn
stone set into the face of the bluff. Narrow gouges that might be arrow slits
flank a narrow track leading directly into the rock. Though worn by long years
of sand and wind, the towers are clearly of dwarven construction, standing as
strong as the day they were built.
A long darkened entry tunnel the corridor extends
inward between rows of arrow slits. At the far end, a massive stone gate banded
with iron stands closed. Halfway along the corridor, a rusty portcullis blocks
further movement. Windblown sand has come to rest within the corridor covering
the floor and also marking recent footprints and signs of a heavy object being
Dark figures loom beyond the closest of the arrow slits and
foul odors waif from deep within the tunnel an unhealthy sickening stench.
Pulling forth a magical light Bingus shines it towards the
slits and reveals that the twisting figures are crudely made straw dummies, dressed
in old dwarven helms and with ancient polearms lashed to them with rope.
In the shadows of the corridor’s ceiling Jimmy sees a
concealed deep grove ten step before the stone door. Asking Bingus to shine the
light towards the groove he makes out spikes within the groove, a second
portcullis there, ready to be dropped.
Moving cautiously, quietly the Brigade moves within the
tunnel to make their way to the first portcullis. Bhenedict bends down gripping
the bars of the gate firmly and lifts with all his might yet find the gate
unyielding until he is ably assisted by Noe and Bairdyn lifting the gate as
high as his stout frame can Bhenedict strains holding it until all the other
have passed before he lets the gate fall trapping the Brigade between the
portcullis and the stone door even as Bairdyn checks out the stone door finding
it secured from the other side.
Moving quickly Bhenedict yells to the other to get out of his
way and he looks upward spying murder-holes in the ceiling … as he rushes the
stone door with all the speed and power his sturdy legs can muster. Even as he
hits the door shield first, the second portcullis falls suddenly and the board
barring the door cracks and the Brigade rushes for the door but in the mad rush
Jimmy is trapped behind the fallen portcullis beneath the murder-holes while
Bhenedict finds himself within the complex his way blocked by a fearsome,
In the moments that follow a vicious battle breaks, neither
side speaking or giving quarter; the interior of the gatehouse guarded by
seven troglodytes, including impalers, maulers and a curse chanter.
The impalers busy themselves trying to kill Jimmy through
the murder-holes set in the floor on the second level of the gatehouse supported
by the curse chanter until the chanter is distracted when Bingus summons a fire
warrior giving Jimmy respite to heal himself while Bingus with a certain
advantage engages the troglodyte spell caster in a magical free-for-all. The
larger maulers battle Bhenedict, Eoffram, Noe and Bairdyn but find themselves
outnumbered and eventually overpowered by Brindol’s Brigade. The pace of the
battle is slowed by the monster’s overwhelming stench.
Outside trapped behind the portcullis Jimmy darts and dives
throwing his body tightly into corners trying to make a difficult target of
himself dodging volley after volley of javelins … wishing he could join the
others; vengeful, violent thoughts racing through his mind helpless to find
expression, realizing in this very moment that he is not meant to stay back, he
being no cleric of the home.
“No! These are times of war, when men must be counted and
their measure be taken, and who better to lead than me. The Brigade needs me,
Brindol need me. I must be who I need be.” Jimmy thinks aloud. “I should be
there now, leading … Lords tell me who I need to be, lead me … give me a sign!”
As if in answer, a beautifully colored canary
comes flying from the interior of the gatehouse through the portcullis joining
Jimmy in his small prison. Chirping a song the bird dances in the air encouraging
Jimmy to fight on, giving him hope and keeping company until finally,
time-forgotten the portcullis rises seemingly of its own accord.
In truth within the gatehouse, Bhenedict had made his way to
the second floor of the overlook where he located the winch which controlled
the portcullis which had barred Jimmy’s way.
Seeing the way open the canary chirps with excitement and
darts back within the gatehouse as Jimmy notes the attacks had indeed ceased and
confused he staggers forward reborn into what he senses to finally be his true