Company stepped out of the near-empty bar into the busy streets. Fetin glared at the sun for a moment, thinking of whatever it is Dragonborn mercenary captains think of when they glare at the sun. He clicked his tongue and turned on his heel northward, adjusting his sword at his side as he walked. The Tiefling and Dwarf exchanged a short look, then followed suit. Arcaeus brought up the rear.
They walked in silence well beyond the borders of the town. Arcaeus wasn’t sure what they were heading off to do, but it seemed like he wasn’t the only one; the Dwarf and the Tiefling weren’t even arguing this time, seeming to put aside their quibbling to shoot each other quizzical looks, but saying nothing.
Arcaeus took this silence to enjoy this simple walk. They couldn’t be more than 30 miles from his village, yet already everything seemed completely new. Trees the likes of which he had not seen before grew along the road, vines reaching down from their branches as if attempting to snatch up lone wanderers. Oddly shaped flowers lined the road, large yellow heads sporting three supple petals. Around them as they walked were signs pointing down side roads, the names of towns and inns painted in appealing letters. A “Watershead” directed travelers westwards, while further on a sign with “Dire Rabbit Inn” written across it suggested taking the eastern road. But the party ventured northwards, a silent Fetin marching them tirelessly on.
After hours of walking in this manner, Fetin finally raised a hand. “We’re near our destination. We’ll break for lunch and then carry on. Ilfari, you’ll be on lookout, just in case. Watch the woods to the northeast.”
“Right, boss.” She said. A bit tentatively, she added, “What should I be watching for?”
“Anything,” he replied, seating himself upon a downed log. He searched through his pack, tossing fruits and bags of nuts to his companions. “What’ll you be eating?” he asked, eyeing Arcaeus.
“I’m not particularly hungry,” he responded, “something light, I suppose.”
“Good,” Fetin grunted, tossing Arcaeus an apple. “It’s not good to eat alot before a big fight, but it’s always good to eat something. Keeps your energy up. Keep that in mind.”
Arcaeus considered these words as he leaned against a tree and worked on the apple. It was a bit dry and a little sour, doubtless a few days old, but still good. He noted that Fetin sounded a bit annoyed, but he hadn’t known him for that long, so perhaps he always sounded like that. Or perhaps it was just how Dragonborn speak. He pondered this idly.
Bogrin finished his food swiftly, wiped his hands upon a cloth he produced from his bag, then sat on the ground, his arms and legs folded and his head down, as if trying to rest in the spare moments they had. Ilfari sat crouched on the log beside Fetin, facing the woods rather than the road as Fetin was. Her seating on the log wasn’t the most comfortable, but her positioning would allow her to swiftly leap from the log were action needed. Arcaeus noted this as he discarded his apple core.
Fetin munched slowly on a sackful of nuts, his great hand laboring through the small opening. He looks pensive, perhaps? Arcaeus mused.
Fetin tossed the sack into his pack and hoisted it over his shoulder, taking a moment to free his sword from the strap. “Alright, guys. Follow me and listen up.” He peered around quickly, as if expecting someone to be listening, then headed towards the woods Ilfari had been watching. The others made their way after him without a word.
“I have a little favor to repay,” he said, his voice lower than usual, “and that’s where we’re going. Through these woods a short way is a graveyard that not many people know about, and possibly for good reason. The friend I owe this favor to has a few ancestors buried here, and someone’s been digging them up, doing unholy things to them. Necromancy, waking the dead. I agreed that we would clean the place out of whatever filth was doing it. No complaints from anybody, right?”
Arcaeus and Bogrin grunted their approval. Fetin gave Ilfari a sideways glance. “Well?”
“So you’re doing a favor for a friend, then? Sounds like there isn’t going to be a reward.”
“No, there won’t,” Fetin growled: he too didn’t seem to pleased about it. “But he said that the dead were traditionally buried with a few items of their own. The one doing all this necromancy must have stolen some of it. Anything he’s pulled from the crypts we’re free to part with.” He turned and faced Ilfari fully, stopping their march. “And ONLY items he’s stolen, got it?”
Ilfari frowned, her brow and horns pulling down tightly. “You only have to ask me, boss. You know I’ll listen. No need to get all aggressive about it.”
“I’ve told you not to touch anything before,” he said, turning back and resuming the trek, “and you’ve ignored that order more than once. So I’m warning you this time.”
“Look, I’m sorry about those times, but I swear you can trust me this time, alright?!”
There was more than a hint of anger in her voice, but Fetin did not respond with an equal level of anger, but rather he merely grumbled, “Just make sure you don’t disappoint me this time.”
Ilfari didn’t answer, but her frown stayed in place as they made their way to the graveyard. Bogrin tactfully decided not to add his own two coppers.
“So…” Arcaeus began cautiously, “we can just walk off with these sacred treasures?”
“It’s a Goblin thing,” offered Bogrin. “Once a crypt is befouled, it is seen as a sign that those items are to return to the corporeal world for use. I know it seems odd to you,” he added, seeing Arcaeus’s mouth forming another comment, “and calling them sacred until someone works up the gall to steal them doesn’t seem logical, but that’s how Goblins do it. Who are we to question the reasoning behind it if it means there is some reward after all this?”
Without warning, a metal fence appeared before them, a crooked construction wrapped in wild vines that rendered it nearly invisible in the thick forest growth, making it appear almost as if the fence itself had sprung from the ground. Fetin waved them to the left, and they swung around to the front gate. Or what was once the front gate, at any rate, as the gates had long since fallen off and been dragged away. The graveyard was much larger than the one at Arcaeus’s village, which held under 80 people. This graveyard had easily 300 tombstones, and a large mausoleum at the far end doubtless held more dead inside. At the center of the graveyard was a large statue. Though facing away from the gate, the statue was clearly holding something aloft in one hand.
Arcaeus’s attention, however, was quickly drawn away by five small, shambling humanoids to the left of the statue, digging eagerly at the foot of a gravestone with their bare hands. Or rather, their bones. “Hope you’re not afraid of the undead, Elf,” said Bogrin, grabbing his mace from where it hung at his side, ”`cause there are gonna be a whole lotta skeletons in there.”
“Skeletons?” said Arcaeus, readying his bow. “Please. Skeletons are just people, and then you take things away.”
Bogrin and Ilfari chuckled. “Take the first shot, kid,” said Fetin, advancing forward.
Arcaeus nocked an arrow and let it loose, followed swiftly by a second. The first struck home on one of the skeletons, which promptly exploded into a puff of dust, leaving the second arrow to fly uselessly through the debris. “Hmm,” he grunted.
The skeletons turned and began screeching, or making some similar noise; without vocal chords or, indeed, any skins or organs, the noise must have been magical in nature. This thought passed through Arcaeus’s mind swiftly, then vanished as he readied his bow once more. The four remaining skeletons charged forward, as did Fetin and Ilfari who moved to intercept them. More screeching emanated from beyond the statue and three more of the undead barreled into sight.
“We better make this quick!” called Ilfari, pulling a dagger from a belt around her thigh. As a skeleton approached, she tossed it squarely into it’s skull, blowing it to smithereens. Arcaeus unleashed more arrows as swiftly as he could; two more of the skeletons vanished into dust, but as his third arrow collided with the final skeleton of the nearer group, it punched out a rib but left it otherwise intact.
“Looks like some of them are put together a bit better than the others,” said Bogrin calmly from Arcaeus’ side, “but they still don’t seem like much of a threat.”
Arcaeus looked at Bogrin briefly; Bogrin had put his mace away again and had his hands folded into the sleeves of his robe. “Shouldn’t you be helping?”
The Dwarf puffed. “I’m too slow to keep up with those two. Besides, my job is to patch people up should anything happen to them.”
Arcaeus let another arrow go. The nearest skeleton raised a decaying wooden staff and fired a wispy bolt of green energy at Fetin, who handily dodged it and slammed his sword into the creature’s spine just below its ribs. It doubled over from the impact, then exploded into dust as Arcaeus’s arrow pierced its skull.
“I would just feel safer if I knew there were more people actively trying to kill these things,” said Arcaeus, destroying one of the three incoming skeletons with an arrow.
“Have it your way,” grunted the Dwarf. He lifted his hand and from the tips of his fingers shot a bolt of white light. One of the abominations charging Fetin took the bolt dead on and dissintegrated from the blast.
Fetin swung at the remaining skeleton, locking weapons with it briefly. He pushed the weapon away with ease and crushed his adversary to dust. He looked around for another, but there were no more.
“The necromancer isn’t out here,” observed Bogrin. “Doubtless he’s in the crypt, raising all the easily-accessibly dead first so they can dig up these graves for him.”
“Probably,” said Fetin, taking the lead once again. “Let’s hurry and get this over with.”
“I’m not too familiar with other races,” interrupted Arcaeus, “but I’m fairly certain that these are Goblin skeletons, correct?”
“That’s right. They’re Goblin skeletons. My friend I owed a favor to was a Goblin. Is there a problem with that?”
Fetin’s voice was the most threatening Arcaeus had heard it so far. “I was just-”
Ilfari placed a hand on Arcaeus’ shoulder. She met his eye and shook her head slowly.
“I guess it’s not important.” Arcaeus said at length. He was confused, but Ilfari seemed satisfied with his dropping of the subject, so he didn’t say anything else.
“Check the entrance for traps.”
No one moved. “He means you,” said Ilfari.
“What? Me?” began Arcaeus. How do you-”
Ilfari pushed him towards the door. He could only assume they just knew each other well enough to get that silent cue as he inspected the threshhold of the mausoleum.
One of the double doors had fallen off the building recently, and the other seemed to be stuck in a half-open position. Inside, a stairway partially lit by sunlight descended into blackness. The walls were weathered and aged, but it was clear their craftsmanship was never good in the first place; the stones used were crooked and ill fitting, held together with copious amounts of mortar. As for traps, Arcaeus could find none.
“Looks clear,” he said.
They descended the stairs, their torches pushing back the darkness. The spiraling staircase branched off into hallways lined with niches, tiny sarcophagi featured prominently in some, while other housed bones and religious ornaments of unknown purpose. Echoes of activity could be heard from below, but it was impossible to tell exactly how far off the sounds were.
“Keep your eyes and ears sharp,” said Fetin, his deep voice rumbling treacherously loud off the walls.
The stairs ended and opened outwards into a small chamber lined with more niches and sarcophagi, undecorated and without sconces for torces. “It’s as if this place was never supposed to viewed,” whispered Bogrin, his hand sliding across the smooth lid of the nearby coffins with an almost forlorn motion. “They build tombs, but don’t adorn them. Goblins are odd folk.”
Ilfari jabbed Bogrin’s shoulder and placed a finger to her lips. The group passed through the room down a thin, winding hallway that felt every bit as if it had been attached to the rest of the tomb with little thought put into its construction, the wall uneven and unattractive.
Fetin stopped so suddenly that Bogrin crashed into his backside. Fetin made the silence him, but clattering and hissing could already be heard approaching. “This hallway isn’t large enough to fight in. We must get out!”
Ilfari slinked under his outstretched arm. “It opens out ahead!” she claimed, taking the fore. Surely enough, it opened into another small room filled with sarcophagi. Almost the very moment she stepped out of the hallway, a swarm of tiny skeletons were all over her, dragging her to the ground.
Fetin rushed forth, knocking the undead aside with his torch-carrying hand and forming a threatening wall between the enemy and Ilfari, who was herself standing back up to launch into the fray. Arcaeus leapt behind them both, his torch clattering to the ground. He fired at the recovering creatures, turning them to dust.
A half dozen skeletons were leaping from sarcophagus to sarcophagus, rapidly closing the distance. Bogrin, using Fetin as cover, began chanting, a light building in his chest. As the creatures made contact, the light exploded outwards. The skeletons screamed as if in pain, clawing at the air wildly as Fetin and Ilfari waded into them, returning them to death.
“Gods-damned monsters got the drop on me,” hissed Ilvry, applying a bandage to a fetching trio of scratches on her forearm. “I’ll be fine,” she added as Bogrin approached. “I don’t need magic for something minor like this.” Bogrin turned his attention to the ceiling without further exhortation.
“These don’t look like treasures,” Arcaeus noted, lifting what one could assume was a dagger, had it been made by one who knew vaguely what purpose a dagger was to serve and had seen an artist’s interpretive sketch of one many years ago and had since gone blind. “In fact, they closely resemble trash.”
“Sacred trash nonetheless,” said Bogrin, his eyes occasionally parting from the structure of the crypt to look at Fetin, who himself didn’t look pleased with the findings thus far.
“This passage splits in two,” he said instead. “You two check them out and tell us where we’re going.”
Arcaeus obeyed, taking the torch Fetin offered and heading down the right passage. Ilfari went in the opposite direction.
The construction was becoming poorer still, the floor becoming uneven, having never been quite finished. He tread carefully, a hand on the wall to support himself. Arcaeus stared at the end of the passage ahead, slowly moving forward.
It took him a moment to realize that he was, indeed, staring at the end of the passage, as light from around the corner was flickering upon the stones, his own torch having confused his senses. Carefully, he smothered his torch, advancing as quietly as possible towards the corner: he was unsure if the undead heard like normal people, but he wasn’t going to test it.
Peering slightly around the bend, he found a large, round room, seemingly devoted entirely to housing the great statue at it’s center. In the statue’s hand, held aloft, was a paper lantern from which streamed a soft yet constant yellow glow. Arcaeus realized it was probably the same statue as the one outside, but he didn’t look at it from the front the first time. Seeing it clearly now, it was crafted in the visage of an old Goblin woman, her hair tied into a bun with loose strands raining down her neck and face. Her eyes were closed, but her mouth was slightly agape, almost as if she was softly singing to the empty room for all these years.
Recalling his task, Arcaeus took a quick count of the undead he could see and turned back.
“Nothing up my way,” Ilfari said as he returned.
“I got a roomful of them down there. Big round room, maybe 50 feet across, 5 undead, perhaps more behind the great statue in the center.”
“Ugh,” muttered Ilfari. “How many more of these things are there?”
“Hopefully not many,” said Bogrin, “but it’s up to us to ensure that the number is zero before we leave.”
“Yeah, I’m aware, thanks.”
Fetin was already moving ahead of them down the hall, so they hurried to catch up, Arcaeus bringing up the rear. At the corner, the others peered around to get an idea of the situation.
“Well isn’t that something?” murmured Bogrin, staring at the statue. “You don’t see this too often.”
“What is it?” asked Fetin. “Is she some sort of matriarch or goddess?”
“That she is,” Bogrin answered, stroking his beard, “and one you know well. That, my friends, is how the Goblins view the Raven Queen.”
“They see her as a Goblin?” Ilfari laughed.
“S’no different from Humans viewing Pelor as Human, and Dwarves depicting Moradin as a Dwarf,” he retorted. “The lantern,” he continued, “warms and comforts the souls that she carries away.”
“That doesn’t sound much like the Raven Queen,” observed Fetin.
“Then I would respectfully tell you that you don’t know your pantheon.”
Fetin grimaced. “Let’s begin already.”
The skeletons were taken unawares by the group of four bursting around the corner. Eight monsters in all charged them, a handful leaping from some unscene region beyond the statue. Arcaeus and Ilfari split off to the right, intercepting half of the incoming undead with a rain of arrows and knives. Fetin stood his ground against the rest, Bogrin supporting him with bursts of holy magic. None of the skeletons were able to withstand a single blow, bursting as Fetin’s broadsword passed clean through their ribs and spines, his own shield preventing any of their futile attacks from reaching him.
A great outcry of enraged gibbering took the party by surprise. As the dust from the final skeleton floated to the ground, the group looked to their left through a large passageway. The room on the other side, clearly lit by small lanterns, was crawling with the undead. Behind a veritable wall of bones stood a tiny Goblin, the source of the furious gibbering, seated upon a sarcophagus that was itself on a raised dais. On his right was seated a large wolf, leering alarmingly at the adventurers.
“Does anyone speak Goblish?” asked Fetin, turning to watch his companions shake their heads.
“Speak Goblish?” said Arcaeus, nocking an arrow. “Why would we need to do that?”
“Hold a moment,” began Fetin, but Arcaeus’s arrow was already on its path. Assuming a sure hit, the arrow seemed to slide past the Goblin’s abdomen without inflicting any damage, as if an invisible armor were covering him.
“You do not attack unless I give the order!” Fetin roared, his face inches from Arcaeus’s.
“I figured if he went down, so would his bony minions,” Arcaeus offered.
“No time, guys,” said Ilfari, taking cover behind a wall. “Their coming down on us!”
With a shout of anger, Fetin unleashed his fiery breath, disintegrating the first five skeletons as they charged forth. Bogrin and Ilfari joined by his sides and formed a solid wall at the entryway into the room, Arcaeus firing arrows from behind. Claws and swords whirled; Ilfari dove in and out of the fray with her daggers, striking whenever able; Bogrin held the creatures at bay with his holy magics.
Fetin was surrounded by several armored skeletons wielding swords. Upon dispatching one, another swiftly took its place, raised by the necromancer in the back. A terrible sword wound to the stomach brought Fetin to his knees. “Bogrin!” he called, holding off an enemy blade with his own.
Bogrin’s healing hands worked quickly, patching Fetin up once more. Invigorated, Fetin loosed another breath of fire into the swarming mass of undead. But their efforts were proving futile, as more skeletons were piling up in the doorway.
“There are too many of them!” shouted Bogrin over the clashes of metal on metal. “That damned Goblin keeps bringing up more.”
“Hold on,” said Arcaeus, brushing past the wall of flesh and bone. The skeletons, busy with throwing themselves at the wall his allies formed, paid him no mind as he squeezed himself into the other room. He very nearly tripped over the carcass of the wolf, its body sporting one of Ilfari’s daggers, but he now stood with a clear line of sight to the only living adversary in the tomb. Busy summoning more minions, the Goblin was caught unawares by the arrows Arcaeus began raining down upon him. The Goblin countered with a barrage of magic similar to that which his skeletons were using, though of more substance and lethality. Arcaeus ducked and rolled out of the way of the blasts, but found the necromancer charging him, spewing a noxious gas from his body as he approached. Arcaeus took a deep breath, putting an arrow into his diminutive foe’s arm.
The gas licked at Arcaeus’s legs. Arcaeus leapt backwards, but the Goblin charged forward once more, trying to keep within the range of the gas. Arcaeus could see his allies were finally smashing through the wall of undead since no more minions were being created to reinforce it. He only had to hold out against the noxious assault for a few more seconds.
In the moment he was distracted checking on his allies, a bolt struck him square in the chest. His breath exploded from him and he gasped for air, his bow clattering to the ground. The gas was rising rapidly up his arms and the Goblin was clawing at his face. Unable to catch his breath, Arcaeus took the only action available to him: he kicked the Goblin in the chest as hard as he could, sending him bodily through the air. Arcaeus pulled himself backwards, dragging his bow with him.
He felt a sudden warmth as Bogrin’s healing magics worked into his system; Bogrin had already made his way past the wall of undead while Fetin and Ilfari were clearing the rest of them away. Arcaeus gave him a nod as he picked up his bow once more. In a manner of seconds all four of the mercenaries fell upon the Goblin, leaving him no route for escape or chance to use his magic. After a short but furious assault, his body lay broken on the ground, the life drained from it.
The party collapsed; the battle seemed to last forever to their tired muscles. After minutes of silence broken only by heavy panting, Fetin stood and made for the exit. “Everyone search this tomb,” he said tersely. “Take anything that isn’t locked up. I’m going to go tell my friend I don’t owe him any more favors. Bogrin, you’re in charge until I meet you guys again in Edelton.”
“You going without us?” asked Ilfari, standing up quickly.
Fetin slowed at the room’s edge. “You know how it is. I can’t just lead anyone to my friend: they wouldn’t understand, and neither would he. Just divvy up the treasure and I’ll see you guys later.” He vanished around the corner, but his footsteps echoed back for a while to come.
Bogrin shifted where he sat. “You heard the boss. Let’s get to work here.”