Chapter One Hundred Six

September 7, 2013


12th of Woodmonth


It takes three days for Laurana to consecrate all the grounds of the castle.  That last evening, during the second watch, we hear Finn’s horn go off twice.  Ulric climbs to the roof and sees three riders approaching.  As Briggette dons her armor, Ulric heads to the front gate.  Korvinean yells down as we head out the gate, “Not hobgoblin or orc; they don’t use horseshoes.”

As we approach them, Briggette quietly tells us, “They’re evil.”

The rider in the center reaches into his bag and pulls out a pole.  He hits it on his side and it expands to a longer length and bears a white flag.

“So, are you actually Count Heltragen, or are you one of his knights?” the voice belongs to a woman.

“I am Count Heltragen,” Ulric replies.

“That would make you the Countess,” she says and hops down from her horse.  She looks at Finn, “I’m afraid I don’t know you.”  His gruisarme is beginning to hum.  She pulls off her helm and releases long, flowing black hair.  Otherwise, however, she looks exactly like Briggette.  “I must say I never expected a family reunion here in the Spine.”

“I’m afraid, if you’re looking for the former residents, they’re no longer here,” Briggette says.

            “I assumed as much,” she replies.  “What brings you here to the Spine?”

            “Well,” Ulric replies, “I suppose it’s to meet interesting people like you.  And, you know, dragons and frost giants and liches.”

            “How exactly are we related?” Briggette breaks in.

            “Why, we’re cousins, Cousin.”  She looks over Briggette’s armor and asks if her little sister, who went against her advice when she sought out Briggette, had at least put up a good fight.  She recognizes Dunstan’s armor, and the women banter about the plate mail being in its rightful place now.  “I suppose you’re headed to the Capital?”

            “Why stop now?” Ulric asks.

            “Well,” she pauses, “this is . . . unexpected.”

            “I was going to say ‘awkward’,” Ulric smirks.

            The woman continues to chat a bit with us, and warns us to be careful in the Spine.  She says that “death has feet” here.  She turns to me and in Fiannan, addresses me as “Demon who chooses.”  She continues, “I don’t suppose you want to leave with us, do you?”

            I grin, “No, thank you.  I’ll continue to choose,” I reply.

            “This is a choice.”

            “It is not mine.”

            She replies, “If it’s any consolation, I don’t like your family line, either.”  She turns back to Ulric and Briggette, “Your Excellency, Lord Protector, I believe.  Be safe, be well.”  She backs up to her saddle, grabs the horn and vaults into the seat.  She speaks again to Briggette and mentions her brother.  She warns that though we are going in the right direction, we may not like what we find when we reach him.  She takes her leave and rides away.


            The next morning, before Silas takes Laurana back home, she tells us what she thought of Briggette’s cousin.  The woman was a little too cagey and not quite surprised enough to find her enemies and relations waiting for her where she expected to find an ally.

            Silas blinks out with Laurana, and an hour later returns with a fresh pig on a spit, a sack of fresh potatoes and carrots, a cask of good ale, and a large bag of sweet candies.  We make the day into as much of a celebration as we can, and rest and talk with one another.

            Around 9pm, Arany tells us he is going to go and scout across the bridge.  Briggette decides to accompany him, and before long, they find a group of around 200 to 300 humanoids.  On closer investigation, they find the group to be mostly zombies and skeletons, so Arany sweeps back over and breathes on some of them.  Hundreds of arrows fly, but few make contact, and the two return to the keep.


            The next morning, we mount up our men and supplies and head across the bridge toward the capital.  The bridge’s opening mechanism appears to be intact, and the guardrails are made to be removed from the bridge.  After we cross the bridge, Arany goes back into the keep and uses the mechanism to leave it open behind us.

            On the other side, there is a shrine to Heimdahl and a small keep to watch this side of the pathway.  We check the building, and there is no door.  It appears as any normal abandoned place with signs of animal invasion but no human remains.  It is in good structural condition, and could be returned to comfortable working condition in a few days.

            On the way back out, I notice a small alcove off the side of what was likely the mess hall.  It has some writing above it, and once I carve the 300 years of dirt out of the lettering, I see that it is stylized common reading, “My Share.”  As we are talking about what it might mean, I say those words, and suddenly, a small bowl of stew and cup of ale appear in the alcove.  I take the food and encourage Briggette to say it.  She does so, and a slightly larger bowl and cup appear.  When Finn and Ulric try it, the bowls they get are larger and the cups are large tankards.  When you eat the food, as soon as you take the last bite, the dishes disappear. 

            After we ride a bit further on, we come to the line of burned zombie and skeleton remains.  The remaining skeletons and zombies have left in two different directions.  As we continue to ride, we see birds, but no terrestrial animals.

            After a while, we see three figures up ahead.  A voice booms out from one of them, “Who goes there?”

            “I am Count Ulric von Zurwald-Heltragen.”

            “I don’t know any Heltragen Zurwald,” he says.

            “Zurwald Heltragen,” Briggette corrects.

            “As you say,” he replies, “What is the password?”

            “This is the king’s road,” Briggette says incredulously.

            “The king is gone, what is the password?”  Briggette explains that this is the king’s road and we should have passage.  He asks us to hold on for a moment, and turns to ride into the hill.  A moment later, he rides back out, followed by a very short, mousy man.  He asks us for the names of our party members and pulls out a book to write it down.  Ulric asks why he wants this information, and he replies that it is for his superiors.

            “And who are your superiors?” Ulric asks.  The man stammers for a moment, and Ulric continues, “This is the king’s road, and we are free men in a free country.  Only brigands impede the road to hold up free travelers.  And I kill brigands.  Now step aside and let us pass, or face your death.”  The man stammers again, and Ulric drops his lance.

            He finally says he works for the old man in the mountain and that if we wish violence, we shall have it.  He challenges Briggette to single combat, and she cheerfully obliges.

            He pulls out a giant maul and charges her, hitting her intensely hard and emitting an inky blackness.  The blow actually leaves a slight dent in her armor.  She fights back, slamming Helga into him three times.  He falls to one knee, and a trickle of blood drips from his visor.

            “Do you yield?” Briggette asks?

            “I’m afraid it’s too late for that,” he replies.  She offers her hand to help him up, “I am already bested.”  He struggles to stand up, “You can’t heal me, Cuthbertine, and my wounds are fatal.”   Briggette removes her helm, and he looks up at her, “Huh.  A woman.  That seems fitting.”  He falls to the ground.  “Where are you going, knight?”

            “To find my brother.”

            “In the Capital?  Who is your brother?”

            She gives his name and he urges her to go home.  When she asks why, he explains that she will only find sorrow.  He asks that we burn his body before nightfall so that he will not rise, and he warns us that the night will come for us.  After a few more minutes, he stops breathing.  After we create a pyre for the body, Korvinean goes into the hill and pulls out the small man.  We question him and learn that he is a scribe named Nigel.  After much discussion, we send him on his way to Tulcea.

            We continue along our way, and after about a mile and a half, we realize the ground has leveled out.  We pass through the ruins of a small city where we hear random creaking and animals moving around the area.  Noting nothing of major import, we continue on and eventually come to another small town.  It has paved roads and stone buildings, but I notice an odd spot at the center of town where it seems some paving stones have been removed.  We dig down a little bit, and uncover a sewer line.  Korvinean sticks his head in the hole and sees what appears to be sewer tunnels with a few ghouls here and there inside.  We figure out that this is more of an emergency exit for them rather than the usual point of egress.

            We search through the town and find an entrance with claw marks on it.  We remove the lid and enter the sewer there, taking our time to carefully explore the winding passages.  At the end of one of them, the tunnel opens up into a large room.  Ulric walks in and sees several ghouls, one of whom steps up to him and says, “You not master.”

            “No, I’m not,” Ulric replies.

            “Master send you?”

            “I don’t know who your master is,” Ulric replies.  I am about sick of this stupid exchange, and head into the room.

            Just as I enter, I hear the ghoul ask, “Then why you here?”  I slice into him with Dece and slam into him with Porfe, and he crumbles to dust.  The rest of our group joins the fray, and in less than 20 seconds, all of the ghouls are dispatched.