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.
Skaran dropped his pack, and ran to Kralla who'd stumbled away holding her head. Outside the sparkling dome of dust the silence was deafening, making his own thoughts seem like shouting. He grabbed at her from behind as she tumbled into the scrub. "God's damnit Kralla, you're heavy!" Grunting, he dragged her back to the others.
Back inside the dome sound returned, along with some of Kralla's senses. "Let go of me rat." She suddenly snarled. Skaran, tensed and let go as she turned and knelt. "My apologies Skaran, that was uncalled for. I don't know what came over me."
Tellerick stood, grabbing Barnabas by the scruff of the neck and standing him upright, while throwing a cloud of glittering dust above the group. It descended around them, forming an unnatural, glittering dome of sparkling white.
"Crafty bastards." Tellerick's voice was deafening after the all encompassing silence. "We must've tripped a watch spell. Skaran, grab Kralla and get her in close. I don't know how long this is going to last." He turned to Barnabas. "Protection spell. Now boy! Or we're all going to be joining their ranks."
Barnabas sprang into action, taking a symbol of faith from his bag.
"I don't feel so good." Kralla shook her head, as her companions scrambled backwards. "Head feels... Foggy." She stumbled forwards.
"Oh shit." Hissed Barnabas. Tellerick was already reaching into his bag, muttering under his breath.
Further along the tree line, a knight stepped out. The slight breeze carried the stench of rot, and rust, as it turned towards the party. It raised an arm, pointing its longsword straight at Barnabas.
The screech cut through the quiet morning; metal claws on a blackboard. Loud, long and blood curdling before ceasing.
All sound stopped. Everything was enveloped in a cloying, thick, silence.
"It makes no difference to the undead if we move during the light, or the dark. We all glow to them just the same."
Kralla's head snapped round. "What do you mean we all glow to them?" Barnabas flinched, as she growled at him.
"OK. Maybe some more than others, but the living all glow somewhat to them. We can't avoid it."
Kralla's eyes narrowed. "Someone is doing very well right now."
Tellerick laid a hand on her shoulder. "Now Kralla..." Suddenly she snapped back the other way, and snarled menacingly at Tellerick, before grasping her head with a paw.
The early morning mist clung to the edge of the forest. Hugging bush, and tree. Waiting for the late summer, early autumn sun to burn it away. Far above a thicker cloud-bank grasped the mountain with a firm, and resolute, grip. Defying the sun. Betwixt the two lay the open ground of the scrublands that led into the dead scree of the mountain tall itself.
"I don't like this. This is ambush country." Growled Kralla.
"But you knew it was here, right?" Barnabas almost squeaked, as the group peered, from the tree line.
"Yes. Still don't like it though..."
"Skaran is right. Fortunately the mage arts are not as attractive, as those of the believers, to the undead." Tellerick looked pointedly at Barnabas.
"That is a little unfair Tellerick." Growled Kralla. "Barnabas wasn't to know, and the rumours of the undead wandering the mountain were just that. Rumours."
"No Kralla. Master Tellerick has a point. I'm a beacon to the undead." He pulled the fetish from a pocket. "Master Tamryn thought ahead though, and gave me this. It's a cloaking fetish. As long as I have this, I will be invisible to the evil lurking here in the mountains."
Kralla frowned. "Why is it so important to get to the Oracle, other than it may be a place of safety?"
Tellerick stared into his tea. "We need to get William there, and present him. I believe that he is a nexon of power."
"A what now?" Said Kralla.
"A mage of extraordinary ability." Mumbled Skaran. "If William is indeed what you say he is Master Tellerick, then your teachings are more important than ever."
They all looked at the rat somewhat surprised. "What? I may be a humble pack rat, but I am quite capable of reading a book."