Sad news, comrades: Aryenn has fallen. We were not able to retrieve his body – indeed, we were lucky to escape at all. Here is how it transpired:
I last wrote while we were having a short rest in some structures or caves underneath the excavation site, in the process of clearing the archaeological site of undead.
The final (as it proved) room was inhabited by a creature who addressed itself to Vandigan, saying “I have been expecting you, priest – your god has sent you”. It joined combat, focussing its attacks on him. This creature proved most difficult to dispatch, as at the slightest opportunity it would restore itself by sucking the blood of its foes. It summoned some lesser undead which were easily dealt with, and then the second ghostly priest from the previous room (who had fled the combat by the simple device of passing trough the wall) entered the fray.
This made the combat difficult indeed. The ghost priests have an odd attack – a burst of power that knocks its foes down. A great nuisance, but deadly in combination with this other creature as it would pounce on anyone knocked down and restore itself by draining their blood. By focusing our efforts on the lesser combatant – the priest, we prevailed. I thank the platinum one that we had dealt with both wraiths, for its dazing effect in combination with these other two would have been catastrophic.
A search of the creature’s lair uncovered a painting which matched exactly Vandigan’s vision at the shrine. It proved the case that the curator of the local museum recognised the man in it – a researcher who was working on objects such as this odd sphere that we recovered. He perished in an old battlefield to the north in search of the sphere’s key. Our patron being agreeable, we proceeded there to find what could be found.
The battle site gave every indication of being a place of great and old evil. The blasted ground. The sinister background music. The carpet of old bones. We had brought the metal orb with us, which was perhaps a mistake. We saw something glint on the ground ahead – the key we were looking for? As soon as one of us approached to find out, the bones roused and animated not as separate skeletons, but as a single shapeless assemblage. An animated graveyard.
It proved terribly dangerous, and we were not going to be able to defeat it. But our goal was the key – we thought us that if we could with the key activate the sphere, its magic could deal with the undead. And so we commenced a game of hide and seek, for the animate bones had taken the key amongst them as they attacked. We ran about it, we climbed it, we snatched an amulet off it which proved to not be the key at all. It directed its attacks against whomever held the orb, and so we played catch-ball, all the while being attacked and blasted with the energies of death.
At one point, the bones managed to grab both the key and the orb – we could see it attempt to unite the two, passing each from hand to hand, bone to bone along its length. Strange, for we had thought the orb would destroy it. At long last, our party managed to grab both items. We were about to put key in lock, when a terrible realisation struck. According to the museum curator, the researcher had been trying to reverse engineer the item. Did that mean “find out how it worked, so he could make more”? Or did it mean “find out how it worked, so that he could undo its effects”?
At the last moment, we decided not to use the orb. At the cry “Victory! Rise and flee! Flee for your life!” those of us who had fallen roused themselves, but the battle had taken us away from Aryenn who yet lay unconscious. I judge that we could not have saved him, and better one should remain fallen than that all should do for the sake of a futile gesture. But even when it is the correct thing to do it is always a bitter thing to lose a comrade, and more bitter still to have to abandon him.
Perhaps more of us might have been lost, but for a curious event. Our changeling, in a moment of inspiration, altered his form to that of an Orc and roared defiance at the undead mass of bones. A pointless move, and yet … did those bones hesitate for just a moment, before continuing their assault? I am sure of it. But how? We know only that they who were those bones died in battle on that very field. Could it be that the victors that ancient day were an army of orcs? And could that memory remain, somehow, almost-lost echoes in those bones? We will never know. All we know is that we gained a few precious seconds as we fled.
I do not know how matters stand between Vandigan and the platinum one. I hope that Vandigan finds a way to make penance soon for whatever his wrong may be, for we all are in dire need of his priestly powers. We must return to our main quest with aclarity, for we are supposed to have our client back to Fairhaven within the month and I like not our chances of having the term of the contract extended on terms favourable to us, should we fail to fulfil the letter of it.
I shall write again at next opportunity.