“We’ve got something up ahead. Not human and not too far away.” Ivaz the Ironsighted ducks back around a corner in the complex maze he finds himself in. His pistol slips into his pocket as a large-barreled musket takes its place in his arms. He leans out towards the hallway, musket ready for whatever may come.
Three zombies stare back at him, observing him as he observed them. The musket goes off in his hand, damaging a zombie as the gunslinger returns to safety.
The drow bard, Alyrae Kenana, walks up to the passage and yells out “Hah! I bet you’ll fall apart before you’ll even make it here!”
Ever the cheerleader, Jastra the winter eladrin calls, “Yeah! You tell em!”
“Exactly! Break their faces!” Alyrae’s excited agreement reaches Jastra’s ears, emboldening her as the lavender-kissed woman squeezes past her new companions, peering at the creatures round the corner.
“Die you blights!” Jastra’s words are nearly drowned out by the tolling of a bell, powered by the divine Wilted Mother.
One creature freezes, head cocked as it listens to its own death knell before crumpling in a heap of rot.. With a thumbs-up, the satisfied cleric retreats safely behind her companions.
“Pardon me. Excuse me.” A disheveled and mud-stained tabaxi, Active Spell, steps forth, flames shooting out of the catlike woman’s hand. She steps back as the flames peter against moist, putrid flesh.
A well dressed zombie with a gaping hole in her head shambles forward around her dead comrade, followed by the third or the formerly living.
Jastra Srinshee pats Spell and Alyrae benevolently, “Its okay. The Mother will accept you anyway you greet her.” This proclamation is accompanied by a big grin, and an uncertain thank you from Active Spell.
Ivaz’s head pokes around the corner once more as he fires. An elegantly dressed zombie moans loudly, perhaps in anger, perhaps in pain. As he ducks back, the wooden ranger, Journer fires an arrow. The moaning solidifies into anger.
“Your brain is drier than a month-old prune!” The endlessly witty bard provokes giggles and a snort from Jastra Srinshee as Spell laughs openly.
A second undead stumbles and moans, clasping her head. Her hand goes through the hole in her head as she does so.
Alyrae tactfully ducks back as Journer mutters…”Annoying creatures,” just missing his own shot. An arrow glances along a decaying cheek as a flash of blue peeks out just long enough to set off another bell.
One zombie staggers. A frosty Spell sails past the fermenting bipeds.
Jastra Srinshee boounces on her heels “This is great! Do any of you know how to play Dragonchess?! I got a set for later!”
A green-clad zombie shambles forward clumsily and slams into Journer, who stares through the hole in her head awkwardly as idle companions plan a game of dragonchess.
Ivaz leans back as the more elegant of the unliving pair shoves and tries to approach the group in the narrow hall, “Who does best at range? You, Spell, come with me.” A palm pistol replaces a musket as the two disappear, reappearing some distance behind their foes.
Journer and Alyrae quickly dispatch another zombie, but the third one stays on, stubbornly refusing to die again. Ivaz shoots it in the head at point blank range, but sneezes mid-shot, missing unrealistically.
At last falling to Journer’s axe, the creature endures one last round of puns from Jastra and Spell before Ivaz says, “Hmm. Search the bodies, try to find out what they were doing.”
Spell walks up to the first dead “What do you have on you?”
“Being dead?” The death-obsessed elf stares, deadpan as her tabaxi friend rummages around in disintegrating flesh and fancy clothes.
Ivaz takes his hat off, “No what they were doing here. Very simple stuff.”
The clueless journeyer pipes up, “You all skin and cook weird creatures now?” as Spell assures the suspicious Ivaz that the corpses had nothing on them. After a moment, Journer continues in an attempt to be helpful, “You all looking for things, want me to look too?”
A macabre voice considers, “Maybe they just got lost and died. This place was magical enough to bring us here.” Her head bends as she says a prayer to the Wilter Mother over the corpses of the twice-lived.
A potion sips into Journer’s pack as Jastra distributes her findings, 9 golden coins to the fighters.
The steely-eyed gunslinger flips a coin around his fingers, “Now where are we heading?”
“Out of here? Back to the Feywilds? That’s where I hope. The Wilting Mother must be worried.”
“Who is the Wilting Mother?”
“Oh Spell! She is the greatest of my home. Fey Queen of Winter and Death!”
“That sounds nice. Must get a lot of visitors, yeah?”
Ivaz leans against the wall, “The metal man, you know the way out?”
Journer’s head ping-pongs between the conversationalists, but he assures Ivaz that he is unfamiliar with the area.
The coin is pocketed as its owner suggests, “Let’s just head North or where I estimate it is. You lot ready?”
The conversation continues as Ivaz takes his places as de facto leader, guiding them through the maze with limited skill.
“Visitors? Only the faithful. Eladrin as I am, when we die a new eladrin is born of the next season! I am winter and when I perish a spring will be born!” Her smile lights the atmosphere as her excitement bubbles out of her in the guise of spoken words.
“That sounds exciting. Maybe I can visit after we get out?” Her accomplice makes the suggestion without blinking, her catlike eyes roaming attentively.
Ivaz turns around and shakes his head, “Dead end.”
“She would be most interested in you, yes please do.”
“I have no where in particular to go, so I will!”
Ivaz sighs, “Someone else lead. My choices are all dead ends.” Alyrae huffs impatiently as she takes the lead with no more success. She takes a moment to examine the stone as exclamations of surprise sound around her. Several sandy beings hover before the group.
“What the.. we got company!” Jastra cries out in surprise and Journer voices his own warning. He surprise turns to delight as giggles escape her with every movement.
During the ensuing combat, Journer Ironskin remains solidly in front of Active Spell, his solid wood frame protecting her effectively.
“Cat lady stay safe.”
The sand creatures fight with a combination of claws and a breath attack in which they exhale blinding sand. A spell washes over the adventurers, dropping Spell to the ground in peaceful sleep.
Alyrae Kenana pulls out her violin and plays a silly tune as she runs down the corridor “How do crazy people get through a forest? They take the psycho-path! … These critters have tried to make you blind… It’s time to pay them back in kind!”
Ivaz shakes his head and grins, “Right between the eyes, yeah?”
Active Spell sleeps peacefully throughout the combat, her even breaths revealing her calm, dreamless mind.
As each creature dies, it ruptures in a burst of blinding sand. Finally, a well-placed arrow from Journer Ironskin delivers the last of the monsters to its maker. Ivaz flinches away from the blast of sand while Jastra takes it in the face and is unable to see for a moment.
She wipes frantically at the dust in eyes “ack!”
Ivaz sheaths his scimitar, “Hmm. Don’t think I’ve ever seen those before.”
Journer examines the sand scattered throughout the corridor and the death-loving fanatic grumbles and begrudgingly says her prayers for the unpleasant creatures. Her eyes blink rapidly as her sight returns after the unfortunate explosion.
“You know guys, this place remind me of dwarven craftsmanship…” The drow lady continues her own examinations, analyzing the stone and recalling the vast knowledge she has gained in her studies as a bard.
Ivaz walks over to the end of the hallway and pulls out his other pistol while holstering his other one, “Someone wake up the cat.”
For once, the morbidly cheerful young elf is subdued, her ears drooping as she kneels beside her friend. “Didn’t have these back at home.. I hope we can make it back.” She tries to shake Spell, to no avail.
After attempts from Alyrae and Jastra to wake her, the group resigns itself to its lack of understanding as to her condition. Journer steps forth, “I will carry cat lady. Iron eye take lead.”
The stone rapidly changes color, the strange red construction altering to a gray rock at the very end or the maze.
Ivaz sighs, his tone now familiar, “Who’s not horribly injured? Come with me. We’re making sure we won’t get stabbed in the back.”
A great rumbling noise fills the air
“ What about Cat Lady?” The wood-skinned man cradles Spell tenderly, awaiting instructions.
“If anyone is injured let me know, I can heal! I promise not to bite!” Jastra’s teeth show as she chirps up.
There is a groaning and a scraping noise as the gray wall splits open, two stone gates sliding open to reveal a short tunnel with an unnatural light at the end.
“What was that? Is it death?! I hope its death!” A cackle escapes the obsessed woman.
Journer seems encouraged, “This is like cave, good thing outside cave.”
The light doesn’t waver like a typical flame, instead glowing steadily.
Ivaz The Ironsighted says, “Let’s just do a quick sweep. Journer, you’re with me. Alyrae, make sure Jastra doesn’t kill the cat.”
Uncertainly, the simple man makes a request “Alyrae watch Cat?”, to which Alyrae’s solution is to order Jastra, “Don’t kill the cat.”
“I wouldn’t kill her unless I was defending myself! Jeez, Wilted Mother taught us better than that!”
“Cat better be fine when I return.”
Jastra pets Spell “Good kitty, you’ll wake soon.” She turns to Alyrae, mouth twitching into a smile, “So! Where did you come from?”
“Hmmm, an underground city. I left it when I was young.” After a moment, the dark elf asks, “You think they’re doing alright?” She takes out her violin and begins to tune it.
Jastra shrugs “I don’t hear awful screams of death by monsters. So yeah I assume they are fine!” She fiddles with her bracelet. “What was it like living underground?”
Just then, the two men run around the corner, fear lighting their eyes. Once they reache the group members, Ivaz leans against a wall, “You lot okay?”
“Yeah, why?” The two woman look curious as Alyrae answers.
Jastra nods with a smile “You look sweaty. Are you two okay?”
“Everyone listen, no go back, big, very bad spider that way.” The wooden man makes no attempt to appear as calm as Ivaz.
“A spider?! Shall we go send it to the Mother of Decay??” Jastra’s query provokes a laugh from Alyrae.
Both men are resistant to the concept of returning to the maze, and Ivaz walks ahead, “Let’s just keep going. Get the cat.”
Journer lifts the unconscious tabaxi gently, carrying Spell down the unnaturally illuminated tunnel ahead of them.
Jastra shrugs “Maybe we will find more friends outside!”
Suddenly the noise of a city assaults the party’s ears.
Ivaz’s eyes widen in awe. “Wow, this place is massive.” Jastra Srinshee blinks rapidly, then turns around to look back towards the maze.
For once, the bard is at a loss for clever words, “Whoa, what is this place?”
The deadpan and least clever of the group unwittingly accents their unsettled emotions… “As I said, safe outside.”
For more about these heroes, check out the earlier articles in the series:
Prologue: The Heroes of Ketchka Tsendsi
1: The Maze of Ketcha Tsendsi