We pick up camp after having the clearing abandon us and make our way through the brambles and thorns once again. Thank goodness that card I played before seems to still be in effect. After what seems like three hours of hiking (hard to tell when the sun is made of wood) I can hear the sounds of water and swamp animals.
Parting the branches of a particular thorny tree we come to a large clearing some 700ft across with a boggy lake in the middle of it. Following the muddy path we make our way to the edge of the lake to find a rickety bridge leading to a small island in the mists.
“I can see a number of headstones and a pair of glowing lights on the island,” says Lenata. “Do you think they might be the eyes of a creature?”
“They might be some of these annoying things,” Melchior grunts as he swats at the glowing balls of light that seem to be floating around the area.
“That water looks pretty nasty,” I say as I pick up a stone and skip it across the water with a flick of my wrist. After the third skip it sinks into the bog in silence with nothing else stirring its surface.
“I’ll try the bridge,” Melchior offers.
“Tie this rope around your waist first,” Ef Utan suggests as he hands him the end of the line. “Trust me… it could come in handy if the bridge breaks and we have to pull you out.”
As Melchior steps on the bridge to test it, however, a cloud of the glowing balls of light rise up from the lake to form into a winged serpent akin to the guardian spirit I conversed with so many years ago.
“I’m so LONELY!” it weeps and shrieks.
Hmmph… looks like this one is going to be just as hard to talk to… just for different reasons. I reach into my deck and slide my fingers across the card of The Winged Serpent. It seems like now is as good a time as any to play it. A shimmer of light appears above the serpent and then disappears.
“I am Mourning Choir, and I weep because of a most heinous murder!” it continues to cry.
“Murder… would this be the murder of Sonnarae the Bard?” Melchior asks grimly. “We wish to punich those who took her away. Help us achieve justice!” Here we go again… he’s going to want to bring a serpent in for questioning now.
At the mention of the bards name the weeping gets louder and more grating on my ears… until I feel like it’s trying to burrow into my brain. Oh no… I am not going to spend the rest of my days depressed in a swamp! I’ve got stuff to do!
“I’m so sorry!” wails Vedis in sympathy. Crap… it must have gotten to her.
I snarl and shake my head to clear it. “Look, Mourning Choir… you can either help us or get the heck out of our way!” I draw my gun for an extra scary factor in the hopes that she’ll just leave us alone. She really is sad, and I sympathize… but crying isn’t going to solve anything right now.
Mourning Choir pulls back in shock and whispers a few words that I think our magical… before a mist rises up from the lake and she disappears once again.
Ef Utan mutters a few words and a gush of air ruffles my fur as it blows past us to disperse the mist. “Hmmn… I guess she’s gone,” he mutters before picking up the rope tied to Melchot. “We should tether oursleves to the rope when crossing the bridge, just in case.”
Lenata picks up the rope and loops it around her waist before handing it to Vedis, who shakes her head and sits down. “Rope or not, I don’t think that bridge is going to hold me,” she says worriedly. “Besides… I need to shake off whatever Mourning Choir did to me. Don’t worry about me… I’ve got your backs.”
Lenata then raises an eyebrow and gestures the rope to me. “Nah… I think I’ll be better without it, honestly,” I say with a smile and a shake of my head.
The rest of them carefully cross the bridge one by one, and as it creeks and drops just above the water under Ef Utans weight, I see why Vedis chose to stay. We’ve really got to find some kind of levitation ring or something for her… Eventually we all make it over to the island with no interruptions, and split up to investigate.
“These headstones are just more props,” Ef Utan says with disdain.
“I wonder what these balls of light are?” Lenata asks as she reaches out to poke one and they bob out of reach.
“Hey, another sarcophagus!” I point out sarcastically to Ef Utan. “Do us a favor and don’t open it, ok?” He grunts in reply.
“I’ll stand back and cover you all if you want to investigate the sarcophagus and those lights, ladies.” Melchior offers with a tip of his hat and a pat of his holster.
As Lenata and I walk closer to the sarcophagus we can tell that the two lights we saw in the distance were actually votive candles on stands at the feet of it.
“Interesting…” Lenata mutters. “These look like they are kept lit in order to keep the undead at peace.” Good to know… note to self, don’t play with the candles.
I’m looking at the lid of the sarcophagus for any kinds of writing when suddenly a ghoulish and skeletal armored figure carrying a rather large broadsword on his back comes looming out of the darkness. “What are ye doing here? Be ye trespassers or mourners?”
“We are here to mourn the passing of the bard Sonnarae,” Lenata replies humbly.
“Cry now,” he replies as he reaches up to draw his sword, “for this lamentation will be your last.” With a swing of his giant sword over his head the votive candles are blown out and the ground begins to rumble beneath us.
Ef Utan swears behind me and I turn to see that emaciated hands have begun to reach out of the shifting dirt beneath us.Think fast, Kenari… I roll underneath the creatures next swing as an arc of Negative Energy shoots from his sword and leap on top of the sarcophagus to try and dodge the grasping hands. Reaching into my sash, I pull out “The Beating” card and concentrate on the image of the man held down by hands coming out of the ground. If this isn’t a time to play it, I don’t know what is… I can feel a tingling of energy pass through me, and it’s almost like it becomes easier for me to dodge the hands grasping at me from the ground. I only hope that it helps the others, too.
Thankfully others were paying attention to the actions of the sword wielding maniac, because for a moment, I certainly wasn’t. With a tell-tale woosh of cold Vedis energy push rushes over the bog and slams into the monster as he tries to bear down on us with his sword. With a mighty “WOMP” it slams into him and launches him through a rotting tree and skidding across the ground.
“Gah! Son of a BITCH!” I hear Vedis moan across the water as she falls to her knees and grabs her head.
Shots ring past me as Melchior fires his pistols, but they don’t seem to be doing much damage. The hands renew their vigor in trying to be as annoying as possible after that until Lenata stretches out her hands and a wave of energy pulses out from her across the island and into the undead creatures. The sword wielding monster groans in anger as many of the grasping hands shrivel away under her divine onslaught. Unfortunately one stubborn one manages to grab her ankle and knock her prone, though.
Okay… we need to make sure these things don’t come back before they recover from that. I scramble to the end of the sarcophagus and pull my sparker out of my sash to relight the votive candles. “Time to go back to sleep, now…”
“Duck!” I hear Ef Utan yell and I reflexively flatten myself just in time to feel the breeze of an axe whizzing past my head.
Melchiors guns ring out in reply as Ef Utan, now free from the hands, leaps forward with his katana towards the monster. It’s the cleric who steps up for the final blow, however, as a beam of light from her hands shoots past them both to sear what is left of his rotting flesh from his bones. With a rattle the bones collapse into a pile, and the noises of battle become silent.
“You ok?” I yell across the water to Vedis, who waves a hand weakly in reply.
“I think this is what we came for,” says Lenata as she pulls a chain with a heart charm from the bones and puts it around her neck. “It’s probably a good idea if we keep each of these charms seperate from each other, just in case.”
“In the meantime, I think we should get out of here and find a place to camp so Vedis can get over her headache,” Ef Utan suggests and the rest of the party nods in agreement.
“Yeah… I definitely wouldn’t mind getting out of here.”
Fortunately the bridge doesn’t give us any more trouble than usual, and we’re all able to leave the creepy island behind.
The brambles, though… that’s another story, as they seem to see it fit to drop a rather intimidating man in shiny armor in our way.
“Halt, adventurers! I demand that you hand over your tokens so that I may complete my most holy of quests!”
I run a hand through my hair and shake my head in disbelief. Great… another paladin.