The ground became difficult as they started to climb the mountain proper. Emerging from the mists that clung to the peaks above like a skirt, they were almost blinded by the brilliant sunshine. The air here was clear, crisp; a splash of ice-cold spring water to the face.
Kralla pulled her hat out of her pack and jammed it onto her head. Her cookie shaped ears poking through the bespoke covered holes.
"A flower for your hat dear lady?" Asked Skaran as he waved a daisy at her, grinning insanely.
"I'll flower you..." She growled back, baring a fang.
Skaran put his hand to his head. "So... You know Master Tamryn as well Master Tellerick?"
"It's a little hard not to know about the order in these parts. And we may have gone on a few trips in the distant past."
"But when we went to see Master Tamryn..."
"We were always more acquaintances than friends Skaran. Like nodding to someone you see on the street regularly."
"Oh. And there I thought that you had some juicy tales to tell."
Kralla's ears twitched. "You already know far too much rat."
Skaran grinned. "You should know cat! Oh the tales..."
Safely away from their close encounter with the Lord of Misery, Kralla finally managed to get a grip on her rage. Around her, the group had remained silent as they worked their way up the mountain.
"Master Tellerick," She growled. "Do you have any idea what happened back there?"
"What? Beyond us being used as bait to draw out Marakel? No, not really."
"It... Tamryn and Marakel knew each other?"
"They have a history. I know that much." Sighed Tellerick. "And it's a long one too. I really don't know the details Kralla. It's not something he ever talked about."
Tellerick placed a firm hand on Kralla's shoulder. "This isn't our fight Kralla. We need to get out of the way. Now!" She snarled at the ancient figure.
"Oh, I'm sure we will meet again oh Queen of Swords." Smirked Marakel. "Maybe next time we can waltz on the battlefield?"
"Stop goading her Marakel." Shouted Tamryn. "You still haven't told me what you're doing out of your cramped little stone crypt."
"Bah! Run along now little kitty, and take your friends with you."
Tellerick firmly pulled at her now. "Come on Kralla. We don't want anything to do with this."
Marakel looked at the group. "It seems, Tamryn, that I have quite a good bargaining chip in play."
Tamryn laughed. "Seriously Marakel?" He turned back to the tree-line. "Lads!?" Through the brush came the monks of the Order of Sadrymar.
Marakel glowered at Tamryn as he turned back to face the Lord of Misery.
"You were always a downer Tamryn. Never any fun at all." He graciously bowed, flinging his arms out wide.
Suddenly, the weight pressing them to ground disappeared and Kralla bunched to pounce.
"Ah! No! Kitty! Maybe we will meet again after my words with Tamryn."
Marakel drifted over to Barnabas. "You... You... Ah..." It reached into Barnabas' clothes and brought the fetish into the light. "Here, yes..." It brought the fetish to its nose and sniffed deeply. Suddenly, eyes ablaze, it drifted back. "I smell Tamryn!"
"Guilty as charged." Came the voice of the old badger from behind them. "It's been too long Marakel! Who's been a naughty lich?"
"You!" Hissed Marakel
"Don't make me, make you, release them. Let them go. They have a different destiny. You and I on the other hand... We need to talk. I need to know why you're here."
The figure drifted closer, just above the ground, before stopping in front of the group.
"I also smelt..." Marakel pointed at Barnabas. "You! I can smell your power. It is masked, but I can still..."
"Back away creature." Snarled Kralla.
"Silence!" Screeched Marakel. "You will bow in my presence!" It pointed a bony finger at the ground, pulling the parchment skin into a grimace of a smile.
They all felt the power of Marakels compulsion grip them like a vice. Crushing them to the ground. Kralla grunted, as she resisted.
"I said KNEEL!!"
Kralla dropped to one knee and bowed.
A figure stepped out of the mist clinging to the upper part of the mountainside, stubbornly resisting the sun's power.
"Apologies, brave adventurers. I should announce myself." The figure threw its arms wide, revealing bone clawed hands wrapped in parchment skin. "I am the Lord of Misery. His unholiness, Lord Marakel." It screeched before a withered arm swung about to point directly at the group. "And you are not only trespassing, but you have somewhat upset me by destroying my local forces. What the bloody hellfire are you doing on my mountain?!"
"Uh oh." Mumbled Skaran, quickly gathering his things.
Tellerick sighed heavily. "I understand that our recent luck has been poor, and we are likely going to push it further than anyone would like to. However, we need to carry on!"
"Your commitment is commendable Master Tellerick, but you know that I have to raise this. It's my job to keep you all safe. That's what you paid me to do, and I will do it." Replied Kralla.
"Bravo!" Came a voice from farther up the mountainside. "Bravo! To you."
They all turned towards the voice. "Can I suggest that things have gone from bad to worse to... Boned?"
"And what might that be?" Whispered Tellerick. His face grey with dust and weary from channelling so much energy. "Whether we turn around and go back down the mountain?"
"We do have master William to consider." Said Skaran.
"We are here for him Skaran. We're not returning until we have seen the Oracle."
"Need I impress upon you the folly of ignoring what we just encountered Tellerick?" Replied Kralla as she paced the camp.
"I am not ignoring it Kralla." Sighed Tellerick. "But we must carry on..."
"I am contracted to escort you. But I don't have to like it."
"Are there any more?" Snarled Kralla as she arrived back with the others. Everyone was covered in dust, powdered rust and leather dust.
"Barnabas is making sure now." Replied Skaran, wiping his nose and cleaning his whiskers.
"There's nothing for miles." Said Barnabas, finishing his chant. "Thank goodness. I'm not sure that we can do that again too soon."
"Aye... That was more than a bit rough." Said Skaran.
"Rough? Rough!?" Snapped Kralla. "Where the hell did that number of undead come from? Where did that trip spell come from? We have a very serious decision to make." She growled.
Kralla charged at the remaining skeletal warriors. Her twin swords were useless as cutting and slashing weapons in this case, but as crushing bludgeons?
The first skeleton exploded in a mist of chards and broken bones, as she parried the next, and danced into the middle of the group. Swords singing, and Kralla roaring at the top of her voice, she span and dodged. Landing crushing blows, she quickly whittled them down in a breathless tornado of spinning swords and curses.
Panting heavily, as the last one went down, she turned back to her charges and stamped back to them.
Kralla eyed the archer in the distance and grabbed Skaran's backpack, with him still wearing it.
"Grab your tail. Arms in. Legs in." Deflecting another arrow with her buckler, she roared and threw Skaran straight at the skeletal soldier with all her might.
The impact knocked the breath out of Skaran, but it was more than enough to knock the archer onto its back. Frantically, fighting off the skeleton's grabbing claws, Skaran dismembered the bones. Scattering them as he went.
Kralla turned to the remaining soldiers that had hung back. Pulling her twin scimitars from her back she roared again.
Like ants attacking an intruder to their nest the undead swarmed over the shield of protection, blocking the sky and plunging them all into deathly darkness.
Gripping the shoulders of Barnabas with all his strength, Master Tellerick uttered the final words of his spell beneath his breath "Power of two"
In front, Barnabas raised his symbol of faith High above and whispered... "Turn"
The symbol blazed with a divine white light. Almost a liquid, it bubbled out; seething, penetrating and expanding. The Dome of Protection shattered into nothingness and rained dust, rust and powdered leather down upon the party beneath.
The Knight reached the protection barrier and brought its sword down with the strength only the dead can weald. It flashed brilliant white. Another flash came as an arrow bounced off.
"Shit! They've got an archer with them." Growled Kralla.
"I see it." Skaran pointed. "It's there."
"First on the list for clean up. It'll likely hang back. Keep your eyes on it Skaran."
Behind the pair Barnabas was saying the preamble to his casting, and behind him Tellerick was doing the same.
"I hope this works Skaran."
"Aye Kralla. I hope this works too. I'm too pretty to die."
Kralla and Skaran looked nervously at the charging horde of undead skeletons. "Is this a 'White of their eyes' thing Tellerick? Because if it isn't, it was nice knowing you."
"Kralla, now is not the time... Barnabas, when I say, cast a turn undead. I won't lie, this is probably going to hurt. A lot. But me, more than you. Alright?" Barnabas nodded as Tellerick placed both hands on his shoulders. "We need to get as many in close as we can. Kralla, Skaran, you will need to clean up. I'm not going to be able to help you out."
Rust and rot emerged from the tree line on both sides of Tellerick's party.
The undead, of armies lost to time and myth, dragged themselves out of the sickly earth. Many of the skeletons were partial, some fresher than others. Their water logged skin hanging from their bones, and ancient leather straps barely held their armour to their spindled and cracked bodies.
The Knight that had seen them first, held its chipped sword high and screeched before charging forwards.
"The protection spell can't handle this many!" Cried Barnabas.
"Breathe lad. I'm going to give you a bit of a boost."
Barnabas reached inside his tunic, and pulled out the tiny fetish that Master Tamryn had snuck into his pocket when they left the monastery.
"Are you sure?"
Tellerick nodded, and Barnabas dropped the fetish into his open hand.
"Don't worry. I'll keep it safe. Not to mention... If it was powerful enough to hide you from them, then I've just become completely invisible. And that is a mistake they are too dead to regret." Barnabas nodded.
Behind them Kralla stood, and unsheathed her giant twin swords. "I hope you know what you're doing Master Tellerick. I count another twenty undead."
Tellerick placed a hand on Barnabas's shoulder. "You're not done yet lad. I can't turn the undead. That's your job. But we can give you all the support you need."
"But... The protection? I thought..."
Tellerick laughed out loud as the Knight, and its cohorts, stomped towards them.
"Lad. Take a deep breath. The old badger wouldn't have sent you with us if he didn't think you'd last more than five minutes. But we need to make the most of you." He opened the palm of his hand, and beckoned. "Hand it over now. We need to light a beacon."
Barnabas tried desperately to concentrate, as he spied another six skeletal warriors emerge from the treeline. They gathered next to the knight that had cast the spell of silence, and turned, as one, towards Barnabas. Or at least that was how it felt. The fox shouted the end of the protection spell at the top of his voice, before plunging the iron symbol deep into the ground. The air changed subtly, taking on the oily sheen of a soap bubble around them.
"I don't know how long this is going to keep them out..." He whispered hoarsely to Master Tellerick.