The ride back from the mines was subdued. Our heroes had succeeded at securing a supply of Black Powder but at a hefty price. The bodies of your fallen soldiers were carefully loaded into one of the carts for proper burial back at the camp, mostly out of respect and tradition, partly because you did not want to risk the horror of facing them in combat later, reanimated by dark arts of the Cinder King.
Approaching the army’s current position, you hear the clamor of battle: shouts and ringing steel, drums, horns, fire, and magic. You spur your horses and crest the rise to see detachments of undead advancing on the hasty fortifications of the encamped army. Not a legion, but more than enough to do serious damage.
The Cleric Lazarus studies the unfolding scene, then bows his head in silent prayer. “The crossing has started,” he says after a moment. “Those are advance forces trying to disrupt any counter-attack before the Cinder King’s main force establishes a foothold on this bank.”
Below in the shallow valley, the road splits near a large farmstead. The left track leads to the beleaguered camp. The right toward the river where more of the enemy’s troop barges are indeed slinking across the oily black water.
“What do we do?” the Ranger asks. “Help the camp or ambush some of those barges?”
Loric Nash, the Palace Guard, draws his crossbow and sets a bolt. “We’ll figure that out later. Right now, we kill them.” He points, and sure enough, a force of enemies is gathering, prepared to intercept our heroes.
On the left blocking the road is a shield wall of skeleton warriors backed by a sorcerer. On the right, two figures stand still and silent in the farmstead’s yard.
Our heroes advance across a broad front. Lazarus leads the the Palace Guard, an army scout, and the Mage toward the farm while newcomer Anton charges straight down the road. The Druid and the Ranger stay in the center, ready to support either as needed.
The Skeleton shield wall refuses to move as Thornton’s Fighter approaches. They’re letting him come to them. Tom’s crossbow-wielding Guard and the Scout archer take up positions atop the small hills to cover Lazarus and the Mage’s advance. At the farm, the Necromancer smiles as he tosses several Hex Stones onto the newly turned earth and calls zombies from shallow graves.
“Now we know what happened to the farmers,” the Mage mutters.
Lazarus just hefts his mace.
The Skeleton Mage orders the warriors to advance slowly to meet Thornton’s Fighter but the Druid and the Ranger have already peeled off toward the farm, concerned about the bumper crop of rotters that’s springing up. The fight is on.
Anton grins at the shambling undead and swings his morning star theatrically. “I’ve got this. Go help the Cleric.”
Lazarus the Cleric must be on the Cinder King’s ‘Most Wanted List’ because the zombies ignore the other nearby heroes and lunge at him, all of them grasping, snarling, trying feverishly to tear him apart even as putrid blood still seeps from their freshly hacked flesh.
Magic crackles. Crossbow bolts and arrows fly in over Lazarus’ shoulders, but the mob is relentless. The brave Cleric goes down. Stands up. Is knocked back several times but always wades into the fray once more. He is knocked down again, yet gets back to his feet.
Meanwhile, the Necromancer’s bodyguard springs forward to attack Matt’s Mage. Over on the dirt road, Anton is slowly and steadily being surrounded by skeleton warriors. He swears he hears the Skeleton Mage laugh – A sound like dead leaves blown over gravestones. The situation at Skraeling’s Fork is not looking good.
(This battle was fought over two sessions and we stopped here the first week. Talk about a cliff hanger…)
The battle was resumed the following Tuesday evening with some trepidation.
The Archer and the Crossbowman have been frantically trying to relieve the pressure on Lazarus.
Anton is beset by skeletons on the road. Zombies are clawing at Lazarus. The Necromancer’s cunning use of Counterspell has been successfully thwarting our Heroes’ offensive magics, while the Druid and Ranger do everything they can to stop the Necromancer’s Bodyguard from chopping the Mage into little pieces. Has the tide turned against our heroes?
It certainly looked that way, with Lazarus being knocked down yet again by ravenous zombies. (His trusty shield is worth its weight in gold at this point.) It was shaping up to be defiled corpses and shallow, unmarked graves for everyone… until the Druid managed to summon his Timber Wolf Familiar.
Anton had been valiantly, stubbornly, holding back a slow tide of skeleton warriors for a number of turns. “A little help here?” he called out. A little guilty, the Druid and Ranger turn their attention to him.
All at once, like a thunderclap, the air over the battlefield changed; the very next arrow dropped one of the zombies, the Necromancer failed his counterspell allowing the Mage’s lightning blast to crisp the bodyguard into a sizzling, twitching, scarred, tattooed cadaver. Lazarus climbed to his feet one more time and swung his mace into the seething mob of undead. SMACK! A head erupts like a rotten pumpkin.
The Necromancer’s grin gets brittle. Shatters. His bodyguard is dead. Zombies are dropping. He can see skeletons being smashed to pieces over on the dirt road. Anton, who was surrounded by skeletal minions moments earlier, is now flailing away at the the Skeleton Mage himself. Here comes the Wolf for the assist. He clamps his jaws on a femur and thrashes. Down goes the Mage. The tide has turned – but not in the Cinder King’s favor.
Was it a second wind? Divine Intervention? Lucky Dice? Who knows. Our Heroes don’t stop to ponder fate. Instead they charge down to the river.
“Let’s set up an Ambush on that big barge that’s heading this way,” the Mage calls out.
Lazarus wipes the gore off his shield and mace head. “Wonder who’s on it.”