24 Barrakas, 998 YK
Zol, 8:27 PM
“Oy, well here there be Emerald Claws,” Arturo said, chuckling nervously. He wasn’t thrilled that Rocky had decided to stay with the land cart to ensure Failin would not simply leave them out at Rose Quarry. The excoriate had assured them that he would remain to shuttle them back to Rhukaan Draal, and the tiefling believed him, but the warforged had not been so certain.
“The Emerald Claws are unpredictable,” Relic said, “but I have a feeling they would not like any intrusions. I suggest we go around their camp.”
“Sure,” Bex whispered, “but we still need to find out where Whitehearth is. And we have to figure out where in the ruins we might learn that.”
“Aye, I ‘spect we need to get ‘round these Claws no matter what,” Art concluded.
“Then I say we get moving,” Bex said, with her usual assertiveness. The tiefling liked that about her, but it also made him a little nervous sometimes. Rickard nodded silently as the four approached the outskirts of the village.
As they reached the periphery of the moonlit village, they could see that only the stone portions of the buildings remained. All other building materials seemed to have been consumed in a terrible fire. Also, what appeared from a distance to be ice was actually a thick layer of glass – as though it had been poured over the entire village while molten. It had hardened into interesting shapes and patterns that coated the ruins. The distant sounds of metal tools striking the glass at regular intervals could be heard echoing from the ruins, originating somewhere north of the Emerald Claw encampment.
Rickard glanced at the nearby edge of the plateau as they stopped in the shadow of a shattered building. It dropped off sharply into the darkness. “Not much room to work with if they spot us,” he commented drily.
Not even Arturo, with his night-kissed eyes could see the bottom of the ravine. “Yes, well… That would be unfortunate. Perhaps we can make our way through the ruins?”
“Perhaps the other way around,” suggested Relic, pointing to the east.
“Right. Let’s try that, at least at first,” Bex agreed. Without delay, the changeling started moving that direction.
“Stop!” Arturo hissed as he cast his gaze ahead of her, and to her credit, she obeyed immediately. “Git yer arse back here. Cain’t ye see that movement yonder?” Bex backed slowly towards the group, pouting in his direction, which he knew she knew amused him. The others had blank and curious expressions as they stared toward the east without seeing. He had to stifle an exasperated sigh. “I forget ye folks ain’t got the light sensitifity.”
He saw Bex tilt her head to one side to listen intently, adapting to the situation and using her other senses to compensate for her blindness. The tiefling nodded approval to himself, and was further pleased and surprised when she reported, “I hear something. Glass sliding over glass.”
“Are you sure?” Rickard said with a frown. “I can’t hear a thing.”
The changeling turned to look at him and nodded. “Go an’ see if you don’t believe me.There is definitely something moving around over there.”
“It’s probably best if I stay back here and make sure no one sneaks up on us,” Rickard said.
Bex shook her head and said, “So. Now what?”
“Is it the Emerald Claws?” Relic asked. “Or something local?”
“Do the Claws wear glass slippers, Rel?” Bex asked tartly, earning an odd look from the warforged. “I imagine it’s somethin’ local.”
“Shhh,” Arturo advised them. “Let me take a peek.” He crept over to the corner of another wall for a closer look. What he saw was not encouraging.
Four humanoids with spiky protrusions lurked in the shell of a larger building perhaps fifty feet to the east – a building that would have made perfect cover from the Emerald Claw camp. They stood slouched, and what little movements they did make were slow and awkward. Still, at that distance, he could only really make out their silhouettes. He made his way back to his companions and reported his findings succinctly.
“And they are ignoring the banging noises from farther in the village?” Relic asked.
“Seems so,” Arturo confirmed.
“Did they see you?”
“Then I say we arrange a meeting between our two roadblocks and see what happens – from way over here.”
“I like the way you think,” Bex said to the wizard.
“Great idea,” Rickard added. “But what if it turns out that they are working together?”
“Then we learn that about them,” Relic replied, “and then go to plan… D.”
“That’s the one where I run away really fast?” asked the warlock.
“Well… I was hoping that neither group would know we are here,” Relic clarified. He turned to Arturo and said, “Can you create a flash of light or something over by the spikey ones? Something the other group would see? Or something they would hear, maybe? I could do it, but I can’t see over there well enough to aim.”
“Everything I can do is pretty much the opposite of bright and flashy,” Rickard lamented.
Arturo rolled up his sleeves. “Hmm… Let me see,” he said to stall until he had an idea.
Bex rubbed her hands together in anticipation. “This is gonna be good, I can tell.”
Art hid a grimace by rummaging through his satchel. “Crossbows… blinding bomb… sunrod… alchemist acid,” he muttered, rejecting the first few things he found in his bag of tricks. He looked up as Relic summoned his familiar “Jester” and began talking to it.
“I thought an innocent flying animal being loud might do the trick,” the wizard suggested. “A dragonling might be too exotic, but a magpie…”
“Monty…” the tiefling said, nodding and grinning. Of a sudden, his own familiar appeared on his shoulder. “You could steal something from camp and carry it to the spiky creatures!” The magpie cocked its head to one side as it regarded the artificer.
“There you go,” Relic said. “Jester is more about breathing fire on things really. But he does roast good marshmallows.”
Arturo winked at the magpie and said, “Yer good at stealin’ aintcha Montaque?” The spirit gave a little birdy shrug then took wing, flying straight toward the camp and then alighting in a shadowed corner of one of the tents.
A myriad of impressions crossed Arturo’s mind as his familiar skulked around the camp searching for something to steal. He got a sense of pleasure/avarice once Montaque had found and grabbed something, immediately followed by the exhilarating feeling of flight through the darkness.
“Art, how hard is it to train a bird like that?” Bex was asking. “I keep thinking I might need one.”
Instead of answering, he said, “Hide!” He could sense Monty getting closer to the spiky things.
However, the camp remained unstirred. The familiar had escaped unnoticed. After a few more moments of non-activity, Relic said, “Um… Art? I though the point was to get their attention?”
“Heh, wait…” said the tiefling, relaying his next orders to the magpie. In response, Monty dove at the nearest spiky thing and dropped the stolen trinket onto its head. As soon as the “bomb” was away, the familiar began cawing raucously for a second or so before Arturo commanded him to return. The spiky thing reacted too slowly to raise a hand against the magpie, and once more Montaque got away clean.
“Even I heard that,” Relic said softly, but Arturo could see that the creature gave the bracelet only a few moments of consideration as glass scraped across before silence resumed. “Did the spiky creatures look worried that the Claws might have heard the noise?” the wizard said to Arturo.
“They moved around a little, looked at the bracelet and shuffled about,” the tiefling said with a frown.
“Undead don’t care about pretty things,” Bex said.
“I thought you said only the sentries were undead,” Relic frowned.
Furrowing his brow, Arturo said, “Monty, go tell ‘em what for!” The familiar flew back to the shell of the building, hopped onto a broken wall, and started cawing and shrieking again. Once the magpie had their attention, it flew toward the Emerald Claw camp, landing in a glass-coated tree and continuing the racket. Two of the spiky things shambled out from behind their building to give slow chase. Once they’d reached the tree, Monty flapped over to the roof of the nearest tent.
Bex had joined Arturo at the corner of their building, and together they saw the camp stirring. The twang of a crossbow silenced Monty, and the tiefling winced as a sympathetic spike of pain lanced through his head. Voices were raised as a figure in a long cloak or dress emerged from a tent. It gestured at the shamblers and said something in a commanding tone – and the creatures turned around and headed back the direction from which they’d come.
Bex was looking at Arturo with concern. He took a breath and whispered, “Yep… Well them’s the breaks. He’ll be fine.”
The soldiers in the camp seemed more animated, stoking the fire and talking. Their words didn’t carry, but the tone of their voices did – they seemed happy that something had broken the monotony. The figure who’d commanded the shamblers away from camp reentered the tent, and for a moment Arturo and Bex saw feminine features flash in the firelight.
They exchanged a look, then moved back to where Rickard and Relic awaited them. “Least we know whose side they’re on,” Arturo said.
“We do? What happened?” Relic wanted to know.
“They were dismissed by a woman in the camp. A lady,” his tone turning raunchy.
“Honestly, Art. You’ve seen those before,” Bex scolded him.
“Never gets old, Girly. Never gets old.”
“Sure, for you,” she said, nudging him in the ribs.
“Heh. Well, I am what I am.”
“Damn…” Relic said ignoring their banter. “I guess it’s the cliff then. I am definitely going to fall.”
“Or we could just go introduce ourselves,” Arturo suggested.
“Cliff,” said Bex immediately.
“I don’t know about that, Art,” said the wizard. “The Claw can be a violent bunch, and they are working in the middle of the night with undead. I don’t think they are going to be happy to see anyone.”
“I think he was joking, Rel.” The changeling patted him on the shoulder-plate.
“Oh… Right. I sometimes misinterpret sarcasm. Thanks.”
As they began to pull out rope and tie themselves together, Rickard frowned and said, “I say we just quietly sneak along the edge. I would rather not take the chance of climbing along the side. I’m not sure about you guys, but I haven’t spent much time scaling mountains.”
Arturo shrugged. “Me neither. Best to be safe.”
“Let’s move then. I’ll do my best to be quiet,” Relic said.
The party began to traverse the edge of the plateau slowly, carefully, and as quietly as possible. Once they had another wall between themselves and the camp, they stopped to rest. They could still hear the distant sounds of metal tools striking glass at regular intervals, but a nearer sound was of more immediate concern. They heard the tell-tale sounds of glass scraping across glass ahead and to the east. Bex crept to the corner to investigate then came back and pantomimed four more shamblers.
“Let’s just continue on past them for the time being,” Arturo suggested.
A tense several moments passed as the Cyrans crept across the open ground as quietly as they were capable. Everyone winced and held their breath at Relic’s heavy metal footsteps, but amazingly they found themselves safely behind the next wall, relative to the spiky things. “Thank the Traveler,” Bex sighed, leaning against the building.
“Never a dull moment,” Arturo whispered, then paused to consider the red marble wall beneath the glass coating. The walls of the structure were thirty feet high and mostly intact, but climbing the glass was likely to be a treacherous venture. He didn’t see a roof. “I think this were the refinery fer the marble an’ stone,” Arturo said, patting the glass-coated wall. “Maybe we should find a way inside, though most like, the door’s on t’other side.”
Bex caught his attention from her position at the northern corner of the wall, and he approached quietly. “More shamblers, closer this time,” she said, pointing. Arturo took a look.
Two sights leapt out at him: First, he could see the forms of burned dwarves buried within the glass coating the ground of the ruined village, their expressions twisted in fear and pain. Second, someone had been breaking the glass around some of the ruins, shattering it as though searching for something that may have been trapped within it when the glass cooled and hardened. The shamblers themselves appeared to be dwarves who died horribly in fire and molten glass – now zombies. Unlike ordinary zombies, these undead dwarves were covered in a coating of translucent glass that seems to act as an extra layer of skin. Here and there, jagged spikes protruded from the surface.
Arturo inhaled sharply and shuddered, turning away from the sight. “Well, that be somethin’ awful…” He led Bex back toward the others and then said, “be glad it’s dark, lads an’ lass. This here is a mass burial ground, where ye can see the dead, frozen in glass, their last moments etched forever… Them shamblers ‘re dead dwarves who look like they was dug out of their glassy graves only to be still coated and protrudin’ blades o’ shards.”
“So, that’s what they’re digging up,” Bex gasped.
The tiefling shuddered again. “Likin’ to be one o’ the worst things I ever seen. Buildin’s in decent shape here. Ain’t many been dug out, they is searchin’. This place was preserved under glass.” Arturo grimaced, and expression his face did not often make.
“All very interesting,” Relic said, “but I’d prefer not to get a closer look. Let’s get past ‘em and find Whitehearth.”
“So, how do you think we should get past ‘em?” Bex asked. “They’re a lot closer to the edge than the others were.”
“Let’s climb the ledge and follow it. These things are absolutely everywhere,” the wizard commented.
“We might not have to if we could stage another diversion behind them…” Bex suggested.
Arturo interrupted their brainstorming. “Folks, what’s our goal? We need ta get further in ta the village, not keep skirting ‘round the fringes.”
“We need to not alert the army of undead that is around every single corner,” Relic pointed out.
“Not sure how well we can search this place without confronting these creatures,” Rickard commented.
“Maybe we can find a spot they aren’t watching,” Bex offered.
“This whole place is crawlin’ with ‘em, aye. I’m always a fan of not getting’ killt, but… We’s gonna have ta face ‘em eventually. We can recon and risk the cliff, if’n ya like. I’m just sayin’ we’s gonna have ta do it eventually.”
“It might be best to make that move when we find a place that looks promising,” Bex reiterated.
“A’ight… I’ll follow yer lead,” said Arturo.
Their luck ran out as they risked the last crossing, and the nearest zombie stirred as Rickard and Relic each stumbled over the glass-coated ground. It gazed up at the Cyrans with clear, dead eyes for a pregnant moment.
Then it charged.
“Oh, Hells,” Bex cursed, willing her armor back on and flinging her knife at the nearest glass zombie. The blade glanced off the translucent coating without so much as cracking it. Arturo reacted swiftly, conjuring a phantasmal henchman to help out. Rickard cursed the undead and used his dark power to keep it away. A pair of the zombies charged Bex, but fear or adrenaline kept her away from their smashing glass-encrusted fists for a few precious seconds. The tiefling’s henchman attacked from one side while he blasted away with a flaming crossbow bolt.
Still, the most effective attack came from Relic, who ensnared the minds of the zombies and sent half of them shuffling over the edge of the plateau to vanish into the darkness below. After that, the entire fight could not have lasted more than a few seconds. Even after one of the zombies rose again to press the attack, the wizard’s magic did not suffer it to remain atop the plateau for much longer.
After the glass zombies had been evicted from Rose Quarry, Arturo moved to tend Bex’s injuries. “Well, that’s one way to keep them down,” he said with a chuckle. “Good job, Relic.”
“Heh. Never bring a zombie to a wizard fight,” Rickard agreed.
“Thanks… It was convenient to have such a nice cliff to work with,” said the wizard.
Bex looked around for any sign of reinforcements, and that reminded the others of the potential threat. A few tense moments passed as the Cyrans waited to hear the sounds of alarm from the surrounding areas.