Yesterday had been a long exhausting day, so when the young acolyte knocked on their doors before even the roosters had opened their eyes, he wasn’t at all welcomed. He said their presence was requested at the hold by Jens. At this time, before the sun had even broke the horizon, the city was quiet, but there was something more – it seemed just too quiet. They also noticed there were a lot more watchmen on duty and Gillam realized the whole garrison must have been out – it was certainly painted on on their tired faces. When they asked the acolyte about this, he told them the whole city was on lockdown, but they would learn why later.
Once at the hold, the acolyte told them to go to the audience chamber; yet after getting up at this time and walking across the city and climbing the hill, they were still stopped by the guards at the doors. On the other side angry voices could be heard along with Jens’ pleas. Gillam attempted to buddy with the guards but in the end Phaedra had to give them a show of her swords to get them through.
The argument stopped mid-sentence as they entered and almost instantaneously a line of guards rushed in between them and the lords on the dais. Lord Jaren was there, his sister Lady Eva, Captain Brute and Jens. Jens told his superiors that he had had the party summoned to verify his report, but Jaren continued to be suspicious and asked them to prove their trustworthiness.
Fearful of exposing their allegiance to Dhonyl of Aaren, they once again told their tale of being a travelling merchant with her bodyguards who just so happened to have been requested by a certain lord of a certain town that they inquire into the whereabouts of a certain man. This was all too complex for Gillam though; if it had not been for the express command to not reveal their true purpose he would have gladly spouted out the truth there and then.
The excuses were met with cynical gazes and words of suspicion, but Erol came to the rescue wielding the letter. Telling them it was proof of an assassination attempt on Vitora and explaining the circumstances of it coming into his hand, he offered to read it. The court was of course still wary and so they turned to Bruht who claimed to have a smattering of Mrissan. Erol passed it to him and everyone listened as the Captain struggled through the letter. Erol’s face cringed as he read, awkwardly misinterpreting grammar and difficult words until eventually he couldn’t help but speak up give the Captain some guidance.
The court now knew of the threat and Jaren deemed them trustworthy enough to remain. The discussion went on… and on. There had been random uproars around the city the night before and this was why the whole place was on lockdown. But in the prisons under the hold something terrible had happened.
There were reports of guards leaving their shifts and rabidly attack other guards. The prisoners in their cells had gone wild like beasts and the whole place was plunged into darkness. The whole dungeon had to be sealed off locking in all, prisoners and guards alike. Inhuman howls reverberated out of the depths. None dare go in but for a team of Bruht’s bravest. They had not returned.
Gillam was only half-listening to it all, though. His whole concentration was focused on that one man – the one who had called him ‘dishonorable’: Captain Bruht. He silently glared at him. That was until someone suggested their party go down and discover what was down there. Bruht responded that it was not their place, and this sparked Gillam off. He roared at Bruht calling him close-minded and stubborn and pointing out all they had done for his city already. Bruht argued back, continuing to call them untrustworthy. The slanging match went on until Jaren ordered it to stop. And then, maybe as some form of punishment, he decided that the Captain would join their mission. With that they were dismissed, leaving the court to discuss further politics.
Gillam was still angry even as they stood at the locked door to the prison. There was nothing but black through the barred window on the door – all the torches had gone out – but there was sound: Erol claimed to hear someone sobbing deep within. Jens had had one of his talks with Bruht and so the Captain now didn’t complain as they set a marching order. Gillam took the lead holding a torch enchanted with Erol’s light, and Erol, also with an enchanted torch, took the rear.
They descended. This wasn’t the prison yet but the stores one level above. Regardless, they soon found a dead body and it wasn’t long before they found more. They carefully moved in line through the stores. But then, Gillam heard a sound from a room to his side. He stepped inside. The scuffling stopped. Then there was a sniff, a clatter, and out of the dark corner of the room a guard charged at him.
Before Gillam even had a chance to take a fighting position, Bruht came up behind and pushed him out of the way. In a loud booming voice he commanded, “Stand down, soldier.” Of course the guard, who was no longer a man, ignored this, and attacked the captain. As Gillam and Bruht focused on that one, Phaedra and Erol noticed Bruht’s shouting had attracted the attention of two more. They went with Jens to deal with them, but soon Bruht noticed. He ran over and boomed at these ones too, for all the good it did.
They managed to knock the things out. Bruht had a look of confusion on his face as he explained that these men, including the dead ones, had been his best squad that he had sent down just hours before. They soon found a survivor though. The sobbing had become loud enough for everyone to hear and when they turned a corner they found a guardsman crouching inside a makeshift circular barricade. The distressed man was in tears and shaking even as they approached and called out to him. Bruht, not understanding the situation one bit, ordered the man to compose himself. Jens had the Captain be quiet and took a gentler approach with the guard. With Erol’s assistance, they consoled him enough – persuading him that they were not one of ‘them’ – that he allowed them to enter his little fort. Erol eased his weapons off him and Gillam, with a nod of agreement to the others, knocked him out with a whack of his fist to the back of his head.
Now that they did not need to worry about the man, they continued through the barred door down into the prison proper. The upper level was dark, but here was pitch black; Gillam was glad they had their torches with them.
It seemed they had a few moments of breathing space; Bruht sidled over to Gillam and whispered, “Thank you for not killing my boys.”
Gillam humphed in reply, but Bruht continued, “Seems your Mrissan and the priest are right.”
Well, it seemed he was finally starting to understand. “It’s all a bit weird and difficult to get your head around, but you learn to trust them,” said Gillam.
Meanwhile, Erol and Jens were also in hush conversation. They looked down into the dark prison with concern. It looked scary down there as it was, but their faces said there was something more.
The prison was thick with the smell of blood and fear. They quickly came across a body torn up like a bear attack. In the center of the prison was the guard room with windows that looked out in all directions to the assortment of cages and cells. They went around to where Bruht said the door to that room was, Gillam taking the lead again. All around them were the faint sounds of shuffling and scratching, but it was difficult to pinpoint where from.
Just as Gillam turned a corner to reach the guard room door, he heard a demonic scream from right behind him. He spun around and came face-to-face with a horrifying visage. The creature’s skin was blotchy grey like it was rotted, its mouth and nose were sharp and skeletal, and where its eyes should have been were only pinpricks of red. It disappeared again in an instant. Gillam lost all control of his senses (and a little bit of his bladder too) and he began running for the exit. Phaedra caught him though, and dragged him into the guard room with all the others, bolting the door behind them.
As Jens calmed him he described the thing to the others. They had all heard the scream but no one else had seen it. Erol scouted out the cells, peeking through the barred windows with his torch. “There’s something hunched over a body,” he reported. But when he turned back to look once again, a figure dropped down from the ceiling. They all saw it now. As Erol dodged back, it snatched its long arm through the window and grabbed his torch, putting it out and then disappearing once again into the darkness.
They now knew this was the thing that Erol and Jens had sensed and clearly the source of the prison madness, and whomever it was previously, it needed to be killed. Once they had composed themselves of the shock, they ventured out once again.
It soon attacked them. Swinging round the corner they had just passed, it struck at Erol who just managed to dodge it. The others attacked, and it was Phaedra that got the perfect strike, slicing off its arm. It took a swing back at her, but then fled back into the black with a shriek.
All of a sudden the party split up. There was now a pool of blood that had spilled from the demon’s arm – a black ichor that stank of rot. It made Gillam feel sick, but Jens was left retching. Erol, Phaedra and Bruht went off in pursuit following the trail of blood, but Gillam had spotted that the thing which was hunched over a corpse had reacted to the commotion. It got to its feet, so Gillam charged in.
But it was powerful and in mere seconds the thing had ripped through Gillam’s shield. Astonished and enraged, Gillam shook the broken wood off his arm and swung with all his might at the foe, tearing through its face. It collapsed to the ground, but to his horror it began to get up again, despite lacking the upper half of its head. Gillam sliced again, cutting open its belly, but watched as the guts immediately started scabbing over. Undeterred, he took one more hack at it – it finally stopped moving.
Just then, the monstrosity jumped out with a scream and extinguished the torch that had been lying on the floor. Darkness flooded over; Gillam shouted out to the others, wherever they were, “It’s here! It’s here!”
He knew where Jens had been, still throwing up, and ran over, grabbing the priest and pulling him over the pool of stinky blood towards where the others had gone. But Jens had now composed himself and with surprising firmness held Gillam by the shoulder and pulled him in the opposite direction, around a different corner, insisting that this was the best thing to do. The creature approached quickly, as did yet another zombie-like man. They both readied themselves for the fight in the dark.
Thankfully, just then Erol and Phaedra reappeared on its flank, bringing light back with them. It did not help Gillam much though: he had failed to notice the dead body at his feet and, of course, tripped on an outstretched leg. While he was getting to his feet, he saw Phaedra and Jens engaging the thing, stabbing at it to little effect while just about managing to dodge the broad sharp swipes of its arms.
Then, out of a corner of the dungeon they all thought was blocked, Bruht appeared, charging with his sword raised high and bellowing a battle cry. He swung wildly at it. As it turned to the man, Phaedra opportunistically stabbed at its chest, but strangely her thrust went deep inside, coming out of its back and splashing Bruht with its ichor. A head shot by Erol splashed more onto him. The beast then turned on him and shoved its hand into his guts. Bruht toppled over.
The situation had gone from dangerous to desperate, but it was soon over. Just as Gillam struck down the minion, a sudden blinding flash of light cut a crescent from Phaedra’s general area. He was momentarily stunned by the surprise and how dazzling it was. It was gone in a second, and while the imprint was still fading from his eyes he saw the upper torso of the thing fly across the room, gurgling still.
The lower half fell, but right before their eyes it began forming flesh to create a new upper part while it found its feet. It almost seemed impossible until Erol swiftly cried, “There!” and shot an around into a certain dark part of it. It stopped and began to dissolve.
They rushed over to Bruht, who clutched at his open belly. Gillam held him and with new-found adoration gasped, “You damned brave crazy fool.” As Erol attended to the wound as best he could, Bruht fell unconscious.
The monster had completely dissolved and in its wake Erol found a bag that had been hanging by a leather thong around its neck. Inside the bag was a small leather journal with a familiar dog motif and the initials ‘U.M.’ – the elder Marton. He passed the book to Gillam who read a random entry and the last, and they quickly realized it was an account of the man’s days from two years hence till his final day of humanity.
But they decided to exit the dungeon with haste. They returned to the lower levels of the hold to expressions of surprise, gratitude and great concern for Bruht. He was taken to be seen by healers, and they were taken to specially prepared quarters in the hold. Jens left them to give his report. They took the opportunity to relax a little, but as Phaedra swiftly fell to sleep, Gillam and Erol prospered to read more of the journal until they too fell asleep.