Thrice The Brinded Cat

The Jaunt to Mors Frigus

Godsday, Rainyday 21, CY 594

The first wave of bodies crawled, scraped and scrambled over the cliff side and begun tumbling down rocks and ledges toward our position. Their naked bodies, slick with greenish mud and grime, bounced off the terrain, oblivious to the damage being done to them. Legs and arms and necks broke with audible snaps and some of the undead did not rise again after coming to rest at the bottom of the cliffs. Far more of them simply picked themselves up and hobbled toward us once again, hungry mouths agape and blackened nails splayed out before them, ready to rip and shred us to bits.

“There are too many of them!” Karina shouted in my ear. I glared at my friend for understating the obvious and I stopped short. The tiefling looked frightened, more so than I’ve ever seen her. More so than anyone should be. The fear, no – the terror, etched into her face was real and seeing her look that way made me feel even more nervous than I already was.

I looked back through the doorway and out upon the alien, frozen, muddy green world. The waves of undead now poured off the cliffs to either side of the doorway. There were hundreds of them, and they were all looking right at me as they crawled and shambled toward us. The wet-splat sounds of their bodies bouncing off the rocks was unnerving enough, but now I could hear the gurgling, groaning sounds emanating from their ruined and dead throats as they neared.

A trio of zombies were further ahead of the swarming mass. One with a gnarled nub of a shoulder joint where its arm should have been had clearly been a man, probably young when he died. The shambling creature stared at me with dead, murky eyes, its jaws working up and down as if it anticipated chewing on my bones. I could see it still wore the shreds of a leather jerkin, a popular garment amongst the fisherfolk of Cauldron and I wondered what fate might have befallen him to end up here. And dead.

Another had once been a woman. Her torn stockings were attached by thin strips of cloth at her ankles and the rest drug behind her through the mud with each lurching step. Her fingernails were each as long as my arm and they curled slightly, giving her hands a talon-like appearance. Whatever she wore upon her torso during life had long been stripped away. Her bare chest sagged with rot. Maggots spewed from a gaping hole amid her ribs and a tattoo was still visible upon her thin, muddy skin — a metal heart, dyed red — the symbol of the jungle spirit Berna, worshiped across the Sasserine Peninsula by harlots and women of the night.

The third figure in the group had very little flesh upon its hulking frame. What flesh remained appeared as dried jerky with patches of black, matted hair stuck to it. The creature drug its hind legs as it crawled toward us. Had it stood up straight I imagined it would have cleared seven feet in height. It also appeared to be a massive ape and not a man at all.

The dead moved slowly, inexorably toward us. The trio at the head of the pack were only a mere fifty feet away from where we stood just inside the portal and they were even closer to where our friends were hiding.

“Hurry up, Runedald!” I yelled once again at the green and brown mottled sphere of magic half-buried in the ground about twenty feet away. “They’re almost on you now! Come on!” I hoped the panic I was feeling wasn’t coming through in my voice, but I was pretty sure you could hear it.

I saw Canon Runedald poke his head out of the camouflaged sphere, his eyes went wide when he saw the mass of bodies bearing down upon his hiding spot. He leaped back inside the structure just as the first of the zombie-things began clawing at its sides. The Canon, and at least three of the Seekers, had taken refuge within the structure just as the first wave of zombies had appeared. I thought they were just going to run inside and grab their valuable research before escaping to the portal, but they had spent way too much time inside the hut, and now it was too late.

Karina cried out in alarm once again. Looking back I saw the fear on the faces of the other Seekers standing behind her. The half-elf they called Velnyr, daughter of a local baker, who had discovered a talent for magic. She was pale of skin and dark of hair and usually very quiet, but now she was letting out this constant stream of squeaks which I took for some strange form of scream.

To her right was Gromar the Illusionist, a young Baklunish noble’s son who’s only prior battle experience was probably skirmishes with his sibs over who would get the last slice of bacon at the breakfast table. He just stood there next to squeaking Velnyr, looking pale with a touch of green around the edges and I wondered if he were about to pass out.

And then there was brave Hespalin, tall and broad in the shoulders, which were very good to have with her owl perched there. The daughter of a rich Sasserine merchant, Hespalin was who the others looked to whenever Jereero, their leader, was not around. But, the last I had seen of that Rhenee cock-about was his sorry backside as he, Ynmail, Damula and Benlo ducked into the hut with Runedald. I suspect under most conditions Hespalin would have taken charge of her fellow Seekers, but right now the only thing coming out of her mouth was incoherent mumbles, her eyes wide with terror.

We all looked on in horror as the surge of undead slammed into the magical sphere. Bodies crashed into the structure, but it didn’t move. Others piled up against its smooth, rounded sides as those behind the first wave pushed forward to reach the warm bodies inside. Like a swarm of insects madly worrying at an egg, the undead began to crawl over the first wave. Within seconds the entire structure was buried under a swarm of claws and limbs.

And still, the waves of bodies continued to pour over the cliff face. They were endless. My heart sank as I realized we would probably never see our friends and companions from The Moonhowlers again. Kenric, Listens To Wind, Braeden, Sasha, McCreedy and Celeste had all gone off to explore the land beyond the cliffs about an hour before. We hadn’t heard back from them and now we understood why.

Sadly, I stepped back and stopped chanting the words of power that had kept the portal open. “Goodbye, my friends,” I said and lowered my head. Grief poured over me as I watched the portal snap shut.

“Oh, no.” Rufus Larro, the acolyte of St. Cuthbert said in a sad, shaky voice.

The loss of so many good people . . . my friends and companions. It was too much to take and it had happened so fast. How could I have known when I woke up this morning that this day would end so badly?

The day, after all, had started off so well. First there was the smell of bacon. And then the fresh aroma of brewed coffee . . .

Karina was the first to awaken me this morning. She had burst into my room burbling over with excitement.

“Today is the day! Today is the day!” she had shouted through the doorway. The light from the forgeworks of the Malachite Hold had streamed through that open doorway and into my bedroom along with those wonderful smells of breakfast.

“Today is the day for what?” I growled back at her in my most grumbly morning voice.

“Yesterday was the day we helped you smack-down those nasty dwarves from that mine and today is the day we get to help Kenric with his magical research!” she said with altogether too much enthusiasm.

“Oh yeah,” I said with much less enthusiasm as my memories of yesterday’s disastrous meeting with the Duvek’s Mine dwarves came flooding back to me. “I’m glad you reminded me,” I said as I got out of bed groaning. Holy slag-piles I hurt! It was like every bone in my body had been twisted, pulverized and then ground to dust. I felt like a sack of bruises. “And maybe you can remind me to put a better lock on my bedroom door, Karina.”

“Ok!” the pink and purple tielfling chirped back at me, oblivious of my well-intended sarcasm.

Even though I really didn’t need the help, Karina lent a hand with getting dressed and hobbling over to the dining room where Ferip and Belifra had set out a magnificent breakfast feast. The table had gotten a bit bigger, too, since our last breakfast as we were joined by three new dwarves who had pledged themselves to the Hold, as well as Stoutmug who had pledged his life to mine for a year and a day.

I smiled as I looked at this motley assortment of dwarves and creepers who sat around the table with Karina and I. My family, I thought. But it even hurt to smile.

Later that morning Karina and I joined up with the rest of the Moonhowlers at the Bluecrater Academy, where Kenric gave us all our final assignments for the day’s mission. We all stood in the smallish burned-out shell of an apartment within one of the towers of the Academy. Kenric told us this room once belonged to a mage named Fetor Abradius and the room above it belonged to Maximilian Weer, brother to our favorite local alchemist, Vortimax Weer.

We were here today because Kenric and Sasha had been poking around the Academy several weeks ago trying to uncover clues as to what might have happened to the old wizard, Maximilian Weer, who had died in a mysterious fire a year ago in these very same apartments. Their investigation had uncovered a strange stone archway within the off-limits Abradius apartment. The archway turned out to be a magical portal that led to a mysterious new world and the pair had accidentally unsealed the magical doorway leading from that world to ours. Apparently, once the doorway was open a massive pile of junk and mud cascaded through the opening. Magical portals were outlawed within the Academy and they had tripped a bunch of magical alarms once the doorway opened, alerting the big-wigs of the Academy in the process. All of the Canons, the Bursar and the Arch-Chancellor had showed up and were pretty cross with Kenric for breaking and entering into the off-limits apartments and for opening an illegal portal on school grounds. Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, Sasha had ducked inside the portal to escape being caught, but the portal had closed on its own only a few seconds later, trapping her on the other side and subjecting her to the cold and memory-sucking environment beyond.

The Arch-Chancellor punished Kenric by ordering him to clean up the mess that had poured through the opening and would later sentence him to thoroughly investigating the portal and world beyond. But, what sounded like a great opportunity for Kenric (and a lenient punishment for his misdeeds) was, apparently, just a ruse by the Arch-Chancellor to humiliate (or maybe even kill) Kenric, as investigating portals and demi-worlds turns out to be both exceedingly difficult and tremendously dangerous.

What the Arch-Chancellor didn’t know was that Kenric had friends in high places. Namely, Meerthan and Celeste, but he had also gotten to know Canon Runedald of the Academy’s School of Abjuration, who took an interest in Kenric. The Canon had stuck around to help Kenric clean up the apartment on that fateful day, and that is when the two of them discovered Sasha was missing. They also discovered that a certain strange tiefling girl was trapped, memory-less, inside a large birdcage, just one of many objects of debris that had slid into this world from the alien demi-world beyond.

Eventually, the Canon rescued Sasha and Kenric rescued Karina and Meerthan and Celeste had rescued Kenric by giving him the knowledge, spells and advice he needed to pass the Arch-Chancellor’s little test.

So now, here we all stood, staring up at an archway of stone. Karina stood to my left and stared right along with me. Braeden, Listens to Wind, and McCreedy had fanned out about the room shortly after arriving and had begun poking about the ash and burnt bits and pieces scattered around. Kenric stood with Canon Runedald and another strange, skinny and bedraggled looking (man?) who was introduced to us all as Canon Mipswich of the School of Evocation. Apparently he and Runedald get along together swimmingly and Mipswich had agreed to join us this morning at Runedald’s request. The seven members of the Seekers of the Arcane were also here. They were huddled around Jereero Stablyr, their charismatic leader, as he handed out gear, both magical and mundane to the little group. It seemed this odd group of sanguine adventurers worshiped the ground Kenric walked upon and were here to do his bidding. Enthusiastically, at that!

Celeste and Rufus Laro rounded out this odd assortment of risk-taking researchers, and the two stood near the doorway talking in hushed tones. The only one of Kenric’s invites that had gone unanswered was Sergent Justin Maltemps. Justin was like a sister to us, but she had been feeling pretty grumpy about a series of events we had recently involved her in (see Demonskar Ball) the past few weeks and I think she had just had enough of The Moonhowlers for awhile. Still, it would have been nice to have her with us today.

Apparently the wizards of the Academy had sealed up these two apartments after the fire gutted the place last year. They cited some kind of wild magic contamination as the reason for locking the place up, although I have no idea what that meant and what kind of danger being around wild magic caused. There was some amount of debate amongst the wizards in the room this morning as to whether the place was still infected, and it made me nervous, nonetheless.

I took a moment then, to examine the place. Curving walls of scorched red brick rose up fifteen feet above our heads before ending in a ring of thick broken splinters, all that was left of the floor of the room above – the room of the elder Weer brother. The remains of an old bed, a desk and some shelving could be seen through the hole in the floor. Thirty feet further up in the gloomy light I could barely see the thick wooden rafters of the next floor above Weer’s room.

The room we stood in, Abradius’ room, was bare and nearly empty. The floor was made of thick gray flagstones that were pitted and blackened, but otherwise clean. All of the furniture and belongings that once adorned this place had been removed and the only thing remaining was the thick stone archway leaning against the wall before us. The wizards had placed magical lanterns and torches in the room which gave off a cheery, yellow light but emitted no heat or smoke. The light still flickered, just like real firelight, and it sent wavering shadows flitting up the circular walls above us.

The stone archway looked ancient. The dozen stones forming its shape were also pitted in many places and worn quite smooth in other spots. One foot beyond the archway only the blackened brick wall could be seen. Strange symbols and sigils were carved in the outer face of the archway, starting at its imposts about four feet off the ground and then continuing through each voussoir, the sigils formed an arc. The keystone held a single, larger rune.

When Kenric and Sasha had first snuck in here many weeks ago, Sasha had cast a spell to see if she could magically translate the runes. She read the top rune first, which revealed the word “spellweaver”, and as she spoke the word the portal had opened and all the hells had broken loose.

Now, as we watched, Kenric and Runedald used a similar spell to reveal the meaning of the remaining runes. Strangely, the text on the left read “A smoker inclined, orb elevated Its annoyed burning”, and the text on the right read, “Its reflecting ill, meagerly bastardized If shaped properly.”

Huh.

The group of wizards all looked at each other. Finally, Mipswich shrugged and said, “That doesn’t make any sense. You want me to blast it?” Kenric and Runedald quickly shook their heads while the Seekers exchanged nervous looks and took a step back from the archway. Celeste barely suppressed a giggle.

“Ok, folks. It’s go time,” Kenric said, breaking the silence that follwed. "I’ll open the portal and then I want Canon Runedald and Celeste in first to make sure the coast is clear. Canon Mipswich, thank you so much for helping us today. If you wouldn’t mind covering their backs as they establish our base, I would greatly appreciate it.

“Braedon, Listens, Sasha and McCreedy, as soon as Canon Runedald has our base set up, I want you in there and forming a protective perimeter. If you see anything, shout it out, but don’t kill anything until we know for sure its a threat. Remember, the portal should be open from the other side and we should be able to just retreat back here to the Academy should we need to.”

Wow. Kenric sure has gotten a lot bossier in recent days. When did this new attitude start?

“Listens, McCreedy and Braedon,” he continued, “you will also need to start your memory experiments as soon as you are on the other side. If you all pass the test, then we know the spells we’ve put on you are doing the trick and you should be safe from memory loss. If you discover that anyone has failed the test, it will be your job to shout out immediately and we’ll get everyone back on this side of the portal. Don’t dillydally about if the test fails, get you and your buddy back across the doorway. I don’t want any heroics out there because that can get you killed, or, at the very least, missing a few memories.”

Damn! Kenric has really grown a pair!

“Let us all know as soon as the memory test is clear so we can then proceed. Seekers, when you get the signal from McCreedy, I want you to start the other experiments. You all know what tests you are running and when, so I don’t need to cover that now, but don’t delay. I want accurate tests but I don’t want you wasting time, either.”

I saw Velnyr Bakersdotter, remove two large hourglasses from a burlap sack and hand one over to her comrade, Benlo Eddamar. The other seekers dug into packs and sacks and removed glass vials and jars, and strange tubing and plates and powders and unguents and rope and torches and all manner of gear. Each one also had a pile of loosely bound parchment and an ink quill.

“Braenna, you will be in charge on this side of the portal. Do not go over to the other side as you are not protected by our spells. Karina, Velnyr, Hespalin and Gromar, you will stay here with Braenna and hold down this side. When you see the portal close, just say ‘Spellweaver’ to keep it open. Take note if there seems to be any limit to the times you can say the word or if anything strange or unusual happens. Canon Mipswich will join you on this side when he is done on the other.

“Is everyone clear on this?” Kenric asked. A chorus of “Yeses” answered him back.

Kenric looked to Celeste and nodded. The beautiful magician stepped up to the stone archway and began to cast a spell. She closed her eyes then muttered strange arcane words. Her hands flashed in an intricate pattern and then she knelt down in front of the arch and all was quiet for a few seconds.

“Uh, Chief?” she finally said as she turned to look at Kenric. “We have a problem.”

“What is it?” Kenric asked in a slightly annoyed tone.

“I just tried to analyze the gate and it took me a second to realize I was actually reading the wrong portal,” she said while pointing at the door behind us.

We all turned and looked at the door leading out to the hallway of the Academy tower.

“Ah, dung beetles in a sandwich!” Kenric cursed. Are you kidding me? That was lame. No wonder Kenric is so bad at intimidating our enemies. I’ll have to work on some better curse words with him.

“Yep. So it IS confirmed,” Celeste said. “Wild magic.”

“Okay, everyone. Be careful now and try not to cast spells from inside this room,” Kenric lectured. I recall now it was this doubt about the presence of wild magic that caused everyone earlier in the morning to cast their preparatory spells out in the hallway.

Kenric turned back to the portal and took a deep breath. “Here we go, folks. Spellweaver!” he said with a flourish of his hands.

A faint, yet audible, hum filled the air and the space within the archway shimmered and became clear. A gust of freezing, cold but stale and musty air blew into the room and then died away leaving the room filled with an unpleasant, alien odor and a few degrees cooler than it had been a moment before.

The wall behind the archway was gone and a good mile, or so, of alien landscape was there instead. Brownish-green mud slowly oozed into the room along with a rusted lantern, three filthy glass beakers and a badly tarnished silver snuff box. The partially dissolved remains of several sheets of parchment also flowed across the threshold and into the room and bits and pieces of other such detritus could be seen further on along the cold, muddy ground.

The land beyond the archway appeared to be the base of a shallow bowl about fifty feet across. The top of the bowl rose about twenty-five feet above our view to the left and the right. Sharp spines of mossy-green rock jutted out from the bowl’s rim.

Gormar began to catalog the debris, writing a description of each thing down on a piece of parchment before using a set of metal blacksmith tongs (that I had lent to the cause) to pick up each item of junk and place it in a burlap sack.

Canon Runedald and Celeste stepped through the portal, their feet sinking about an inch into the mud as they went. Listens to Wind and Kenric followed on their heels and the portal suddenly shut behind them. Now all I could see was a brick wall.

A moment later the portal opened again and I could see a beaming Kenric and Listens to Wind on the other side.

“Yes! It works!” Kenric nearly shouted. “Okay, you’ll need to keep saying ‘spellweaver’ to monitor whats going on on this side, but I’m relieved to know the word works from this side, too.”

“Yeah! Hooray for us,” I told him through the doorway in my most UN-enthused voice. “You guys just be careful in there and don’t make me come in there and get you.”

“Ok, Mama Braenna,” Kenric shot back at me, still grinning. “Seekers of the Arcane, now’s your time to earn your keep. You know what to do, so let’s get at it!”

The Seekers then grabbed their gear and started doing their crazy tests. About twenty feet beyond the portal I saw Runedald finish a spell and a large globe of shimmering green and brown shiny material, forty feet across, appeared in mid-air. I could hear Celeste whistle in appreciation at the Canon’s spell. He blushed and then slowly lowered both of his raised hands. As he did, the globe also slowly lowered to the ground and then proceeded to sink down into the mud until roughly half of it was in the mud and the other half forming a dome into the sky. A wall of displaced green mud rose up from the ground and slowly oozed in all directions. A doorway appeared in the face of the globe and Runedald and Celeste entered into the sphere.

After that, there were a bunch of spells, dozens of tests and hundreds of observations made and written down by the members of the ‘away team’. The Seekers were constantly reporting things to Kenric. I heard Benlo tell him that time appeared to behave at a ‘similar pace’, Damula tell him that gravity appeared ‘relatively normal’ and Ynmail report that magic responded at a ‘similar resonance frequency’. Whatever.

Listens to Wind had climbed up the face of one of the cliffs and had studied the surroundings.

The sky above was a murky greenish-gold in color, streaked with strange and foreboding vapors. The ground as far as he could see was a fine silty mud of cold greenish brown and the smell in the air continued to be alien and unpleasant.

Once out of the bowl, Listens could see a desolate and uneven surface stretching out about a mile in all directions. The landscape was a chaotic mess of smooth, lumpy hillocks devoid of any signs of plant or animal life. No noise coud be heard at all and the only feature was a rectangular block of a building sitting atop the highest hill about three-quarters of a mile to the right of the portal.

LTW reported this all back to Kenric and then he and Braeden, McCreedy and Sasha began a spiral search pattern looking for any sign of tracks but they ended up finding absolutely nothing. During their search, however, Braedon made the observation that the mud seemed to all be flowing very, very slowly from the outer edges of the demi-plane toward the portal.

After a while Kenric came back to speak with me. “This place doesn’t appear to be very big, maybe a couple of miles across at the most. There’s also nothing up beyond these cliffs except for a muddy landscape and a small building off in the distance. We’re taking Celeste with us and we’re going to check it out. Braenna, you’re in charge here while I’m gone, but I don’t want you stepping through this portal, do you hear me?”

“Yeah, yeah, mister bossy pants,” I told him. “Keep yer knickers on and quit worryin’. We’ve got it under control. Just come back here in one piece, okay?”

“Look, Braenna, this is important. I don’t know what’s out there and the only thing between this world and our is you. You got that? If anything strange or threatening happens, you need to make sure you let this portal close and whatever you do, don’t open it up again.”

“Aye, aye, boss,” I said to him before he turned and marched back up the hill.

That was about two hours before those bodies started tumbling over the cliff and I knew I had seen my friends for the very last time.

“Braenna! Stand aside!” came the shout behind me. I spared a glance over my shoulder to see Rufus in his blue robes trying to push me aside with one hand while holding out his silver symbol of St. Cuthbert in the other. Yeah, good luck, buddy. I figured the priest weighed in at about ninety eight pounds after a double-helping breakfast. He could shove at me all day long and I wasn’t going to budge if I didn’t want to.

But I stood aside anyway letting the skinny priest stand in front of the magical portal. And then he did the unthinkable. “Spellweaver!” he shouted and the portal snapped open once-again. I wasn’t sure what the priest had in mind when he stepped in front of me, but opening the portal was just about the last thing I could have imagined.

The hoard of undead muddy bodies had by now completely covered the magical sphere containing Runedald and the four Seekers, but a good hundred of the emaciated things were clawing their way right toward us.

Suddenly Rufus shouted the Prayer of the Cudgel and a blast of white light burst out in all directions from around the spindly, little man. As the light shot out into the world beyond the portal it washed over the undead and smoked them. One moment there was a hoard and the next just smoking piles of ash. I let out a whoop of adulation. Way to go, Rufus!

But, while Rufus managed to turn a handful of the things into charcoal, there were still hundreds, if not thousands still coming on! But Rufus didn’t stop. He kept chanting his prayer to his god and every few seconds another burst of light would shoot out from his outstretched hand and each burst of light would smoke another handful of the undead buggers.

For a moment there, I thought Rufus had single-handedly won the day. He had crispified so many of those creatures that the ground before the portal looked like nothing more than the remains of an enormous campfire. He had even momentarily uncovered Runedald’s magical hut. But about that time Rufus suddenly faltered and then collapsed from exhaustion at my feet, and while momentarily slowed, hundreds more undead crawled through the mud to take the place of their fallen numbers.

Then the portal closed and all was silent. A warmth began to fill the room and the stench of that other world began to retreat. I turned to look at the stunned little group that stood behind me.

Then the Mipswich began to laugh.

I stared at the strange looking tiny man.

“You think that’s funny?” I asked him. “My friends were out there. And now they are gone!” I was pretty angry, I suppose.

But the little Canon guy just looked up at me with all that straggly wild black hair and said, “Well, if you wants your friends back, why is we waitin’ around heres?” He stepped up, to the portal and nearly shouted, “Spellweaver!”

The portal opened up once again and I could see the hoard of undead had re-taken Runedald’s magical hut and had once again advanced on the portal, their front line was only ten feet from where I stood.

“Sherzak!” the Mipswich shouted (or something that sounded like that) and I saw a tiny red marble of energy shoot from his outstretched finger. The red marble hissed as it shot through the portal and disappeared within the ranks of the oncomming undead. A moment later I saw a brilliant flash of light. I saw bodies torn apart and hurled through the air and a wave of force and flame flatten the undead in a giant sphere of utter destruction.

You would have thought such an explosion would have been terrible and loud, but as the wave of the blast hit me I was struck by a sudden silence, and I mean complete silence. I felt the heat from the explosion and bits of burned flesh splattered against me, but I heard nothing except for a distant ringing in my ears. Slowly the sounds of the world came back to me, but muffled and distant.

I could hear enough to know that The Mipswich giggled and let loose another super-charged fireball.

He was looking at me and grinning like a mad-man.

“Wild magic can be dangerous if you don’t use it wisely. But if you use it wisely, it can be real dangerous. Hahahah!” he cackled and let loose another volley.

The three Seekers and Karina refused to be left behind and opened up with their own volley of magic fire and sizzling energies. Pretty soon there was so much smoke, so many explosions and so much fire I couldn’t see a thing beyond the portal. The destruction was enough to leave me speechless. The power let loose caused me to hold out a hand in order to steady myself. It left me in awe and was shocking to behold.

When the smoke finally cleared, the destruction left behind was complete. Burnt and smoldering bodies lay everywhere and not a one of them even twitched. Green mud and bits of debris splattered the sides of the canyon walls along with the assorted gore and body parts. Blackened mucor and rheum dribbled down the smooth sides of Runedald’s magical sanctuary while eyeballs and other rounded pieces of reliquiae rolled down the slanted earth forming pools of corse and mort at the portal’s doorsil.

Eventually Runedald’s head poked out from an opening within his magical hut. His body soon followed, as well as the bodies of Jereero, Damula and Ynmail the Leaf – well, their alive bodies, that is. I looked around and realized that everyone that had stayed behind were alive and accounted for – unscathed, actually. But I worried furiously about the fate of the rest of our group and wanted so badly to run outside the portal and climb up those cliffs in order to find my missing friends and companions.

Canon Runedald approached us and smiled. “I know you are worried, but Kenric sent a magical missive just moment before the attack They are okay and are on their way.” I wanted to hug the man. And, yes, he is just a little bit hot. If you like older humans, that is.

Five minutes later Kenric, Gramps and the others came into view at the top of the cliffs and came scrambling down to meet us. I was so relieved.

Kenric looked stunned when he finally reached the portal. He looked in at Karina and I, then back at the ruined landscape. Then, he looked at us again, his mouth wide open, then looked back behind him. Part of me wanted to see how long he could keep this up, but I decided to spare him the embarrassment.

“I know. Right?” I said. “but, don’t look at me. As much as I would have liked a good fight, I didn’t have a thing to do with this.”

Just then there was a groan of anguish behind us. Runedald was half leading and half carrying the Seeker, Benlo Eddamar, out of the magical structure. Blood ran in streams down the young man’s torso and legs. His fine blue robes were shredded and I could see long strips of pale flesh hanging from his dark skin. Benlo was pointing to a spot up one side of the cliff.

“Braeden! We need you!” Kenric shouted and pointed at the young wizard, urgency in his voice and his face a little pale as he looked upon the grievous injuries to his colleague.

Braeden ran up to Benlo, but the wizard waved him off. Runedald looked worried but it was clear Benlo wanted to show him something important. Eventually they limped to a stop in front of a the unmoving figures of two crumpled corpses leaning against the cliff wall in an awkward pose. One of the figures was wrapped in light cloth, stained with green mud and the other was covered in what looked like straps of black leather.

Braeden tried once again to heal Benlo, but the wizard pointed at the two corpses and then spoke through gritted teeth, pain wracking his body. “Just as you ducked back in the hut, Canon, I saw these two creatures standing on the cliff face. The one is white was casting and each time I saw a bolt of blue energy strike a zombie which then became covered in ice. But it didn’t seem to hurt it any, in fact, it looked like the zombie would get bigger and stronger. The one in black was pointing and it looked like it was directing the hoard. I tried to watch a bit longer but that’s when they got me,” he looked down at his bleeding chest and arms, “but I swear these two were the leaders.”

“Okay, ease up there a bit, Hoss,” Braedon said. “Let’s take a look at those wounds.” Braeden then began casting healing spells and the wizard dropped to his knees in relief.

“These are wights.” Celeste said as she walked up behind the group. “They’re a lot more powerful than these zombies. Wights can sometimes retain an amount of intelligence after death and they aren’t just animated corpses like the rest of them.” She kicked a toe at the nearest zombie.

“You know, I think we should get these back to the Shrine of Pelor. I’ll bet Kristoff or Jenya might have a scroll on hand that will allow us to speak with these things.”

The others nodded and Runedald and Ynmail the Leaf began to drag the two odd corpses back to the portal.

There was a round of hugs and pats on the back before Kenric ordered everyone back inside the portal. I stopped chanting the keyword and let the portal close shut, the burnt brick wall of Fetor Abradius’ bedroom appeared once more behind the portal stones.

Braeden and Rufus said they would help Benlo over to St. Cuthbert’s so that Jenya and her acolytes could get a better look at him, just to be sure. Benlo was smiling now that most of his wounds were tended and he grinned sheepishly at the rest of the Seekers as they left the apartments.

Kenric asked the rest of the Seekers to take the research off to one of the labs where they would begin their analysis. He thanked the canons (and especially Mipswich) for their help. Then the Moonhowlers and Celeste grabbed their gear, the two wight corpses and left the Academy.

When we got the Shrine of Pelor, Hoppy and Iksy were just as excited to see us and Father Kristoff was equal parts relieved and annoyed at our presence. Eventually the good priest rounded up a magical scroll inscribed with the sacred rites for speaking with the dead.

We laid the two corpses out upon one of the wooden pews inside the shrine, much to the dismay of Father Kristoff, who scowled at the unsightly bodies befouling his neat and tidy church. Kristoff eventually unrolled the cloth scroll and intoned the sacred words of the holy prayer inscribed upon it.

When he finished he looked to us. “Well, what would you like me to ask? And we better make it quick as i don’t think this spell will last too long.”

“Ask them who they are, or were, in life,” Kenric said.

The good father looked down upon the two figures laying still and spoke in a soft, yet commanding voice. “The Bringer of Light implores you. Return once more to the earthly vessels that you once inhabited so we may partake of your great knowledge.”

We watched the faces of the two bodies until finally the one wrapped in white cloth stirred. It’s mouth cracked open like the leaves of late autumn and a foul stench filled the air. And, while the lips or mouth did not move, a distant voice could be heard from deep within the corpse.

“It is I, Maximilian Weer.”

We all looked at each other with excitement in our eyes for another piece of the puzzle had just fallen into place.

“Hurry,” Kristoff urged, “for we don’t have much time. What do I ask next?”

But before we could determine the next question the corpse of Maximilian Weer began to speak of its own accord.

“I knew Abradius was up to something . . . kept an eye on him . . . found out the Fish put a mark on his head . . . set up detection spells on his room . . . discovered the assassin . . . followed him into his room . . . but there was the portal . . . open . . . I followed the assassin to the other side . . . portal closed on me . . . I was trapped in that other world . . . I followed the assassin at a distance . . . tracked Abradius to his lab . . . but the Fish followed us, too . . . before the assassin could strike the Fish called off the deal . . . something about Fetor’s experiment made him change his mind . . . the Fish had the assassin killed instead . . . I ran back to the portal . . . couldn’t open it . . . the found me . . . Fetor and the Fish . . . they killed me . . . ordered my corpse and that of the assassin to remain there . . . on Mors Frigus . . . and guard it . . . we commanded so many of the undead . . . please forgive . . .”

And then the spell seemed to fade. Weer’s corpse crumbled to dust before our eyes. As for the other corpse, which we took to be the assassin, no amount of prodding or poking got it to tell us a thing.

Huh.

“Okay,” I said, rounding on the others. “You know our story. Now, why don’t you tell us what the hell happened to you! You had us pretty darn worried!”

Kenric, Braedon, LTW, Gramps and Celeste all looked at each other while me and Karina just glared at them. I do have to say Karina does a pretty good glare. She’s learning.

Finally, Kenric told their story. I’ll paraphrase as Kenric tends to get a little long-winded.

The five of them had left the rocky, muddy bowl where the portal stood and crawled out onto the muddy plains beyond. The whole place was covered in that same cold, green-brown mud. Mors Frigus was also pretty small. They could see it was only about a mile across and the portal lay roughly in the center of the circular world. Off to one side, about a half mile away and near the edge of the plane was a small building on a hill.

The group trudged through the mud toward the building. They all wandered over to the edge of the plane before exploring the building as they wanted to see what was “over the edge” so to speak. They discovered that the ground dropped sharply beyond the edge and then curved underneath them, much like the shape of an acorn. LTW dropped a small cloth covered satchel of stale rations over the edge and instead of floating out into space, the rations “landed” on the edge of the acorn and began rolling along the edges as if gravity had suddenly switched directions.

They shrugged and headed over to inspect the building.

The structure was rectangular and appeared to be made of some alien stone. A short flight of stairs encircled the entire building and led up to a column lined platform. The windowless structure was about a hundred feet long by seventy feet wide and rose thirty feet above the top of the muddy hill it was perched upon. A set of doors were located on the short end of the building.

The stone looked a lot like marble streaked with a brown or gold mineral. The columns rose to the roof and were plain and unadorned. The doors were constructed of an odd red stone and were hanging wide open, revealing a mud streaked, darkened interior.

They climbed the stairs and entered the doors after McCreedy gave them the “all clear” sign.

LTW drew his weapon while Braedon cast a spell of light. Celeste began to sing her bardic songs to encourage them and she stayed outside near the steps to keep an eye on things.

The first room was forty feet wide and was clear except for a long pile of muddy junk leaning against the wall to the right. A brazier filled with dried cow dung and peat moss sat in each corner of the room and several unlit torches were in sconces on each wall. A bitter, acrid odor hung heavily in the room.

The junk along the walls was mostly wooden crates, boxes and barrels. A broken calcinator and several glass flasks and phials were strewn amongst the wreckage. Bolts of silk cloth, copper, silver and gold coins were found amidst the clutter. A single wooden chest held the following: a cloth satchel of jasmine flowers, a tin of dried ginger root, a box of orange peel, 2 sharpstones (18 gp each), an oolite (10gp each), 16 bottles of algae (blue, green, red, brown) and a magical ring of water-walking.

The next room was about seventy five feet across. Unlit braziers and torches were in the corners and along the walls. A stone dais and altar with large braziers dominated the center of the room. More junk was piled up along the wall to the right. Among the junk were several thousand coins of copper, silver and gold and two rare platinum coins stamped with the mint of Sasserine were also found there. A dark blue star diopside (80gp), a calcified parchment with runes and a map, a magical chain shirt and and a potion of cat’s grace, magical gloves of dexterity, a potion of rage (a fuming puce-colored mixture with an earthy odor and taste), a lesser rod of enlarge, magical scrolls of arcane eye, vampiric touch, invisibility sphere and tongues were also among the treasures.

They inspected the map and discovered it was written in giant. The map was etched onto a metal plate and appeared to describes the location of a cave set in a hillside by nine palms just outside Sasserine. The only other details was that the cave housed a forge of some time and that the map was made by someone named Grehlia and was intended for Fator Abradius.

They also found an inactive stone of alarm sitting on the altar.

Behind the altar was a thin, stone wall with a huge blue dragon head sculpted in stone. Its yellow horns were pointed forward like a bull’s.

Just as they were inspecting the strange blue dragon head, Celeste came back into the room and told them that a dark storm cloud, low to the ground and two dark figures had emerged from behind a distant hill and had begun advancing on the portal.

Kenric cast a message of warning and sent it to Runedald, telling him that trouble was approaching.

As Celeste was moving back to her vantage point outside, she stopped and noticed something on one of the walls. She pointed out to them what looked like ink on the wall in the form of a myriad maze of lines. They all came over to take a look and discovered the entire wall had faint impressions of schematics drawn on it!

About that time McCreedy also discovered there was another side to the wall behind the altar. There was just a small area back there but on the wall (on directly the opposite side where the blue dragon head was) there was a red-painted stone dragon head!

Weird.

They shoved all the loot into a large chest and everyone began running back through the mud toward the portal. That’s about the time there they saw all sorts of lights and shit flying into the cloud. They saw an owl fly up into the air. They heard booms.

Celeste began to sing a song called, “Hurry, hurry!”

Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, LTW lingered behind in the old building and then grabbed the alarm stone on the altar. The stone was cold in his hand but suddenly he started to feel as if there was something else lurking in the building with him. In the dark. And it didn’t feel like the friendly type of something. He freaked and ran out of the structure as fast as he could, all the while feeling as if that something was right on his heels. He cleared the exit and leaped down the flight of stairs and into the mud below, but when he turned back to look, he saw nothing following him.

So, that’s that. Our first demi-plane. Mors Frigus. Check!

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