Traveling west from Oleg’s Trading Post, the party made good time at first. Until, that is, they made their way into the woods. Spotting a wolf standing oddly on a boulder, the party was at a loss to explain why it would stare and not shy away from their approach. It did bound away into the foliage eventually, giving no answers from its tail.
Trajan had the poor fortune to step in a bear trap in a glade on the eastern edge of the forest. It was difficult, but the party wrestled the steel jaws off his lamed leg. A little searching revealed what a miracle it was that they had not all found themselves snared as the entire glade was snapping with the devices. It took the better part of a day to uncover most of them, and the rains soon turned to sleet and then spring snow. So the party made pitiful shelter for the frigid night for fear that the snows would obscure more traps ahead.
But during the night, under Trajan’s watch, a predator came hunting. Larger than a burly dog, lithe like a great cat, with a snout like a vicious shrew, the thylacine skulked on the edge of the dying fire’s light. When Trajan spotted it, the thing was already charging the nickering horses and seized upon Tolixan’s mount by the neck, savaging it brutally before Trajan’s spells could drive it away. The horse’s neck broken meant too few mounts since they would be unable to carry two riders for long. Luckily, a wizard always comes prepared and Stehlen displayed no small skill in the Art conjuring a temporary steed instead.
The party made their tortured way sluggishly west as the weather insisted against them. After breaking free from the tangle of the woods, they emerged to rough hills and could make better speed, following the rough and aged map Stehlen kept close. The promise of a gypsy boy is slim insurance, but a whisper of treasure and mystery is all the call an adventuresome soul needs.
When at last they came upon the crypt of ages past, its broken jaws gaped hungrily from the earth, a menace and invitation. The party was shrewd enough to retrieve some basic lumber from the nearby woods to fortify the crumbling edifice before trusting it with their heads, though. And wise they were, for it was not too far in that a malicious trap set the ceiling to collapse on them. Luckily, the bracing held, and only Tolixan and Stehlen were pummeled with rubble.
A mysterious statue of a Nalfeshnee should have given strong clue about the nature of the place; it begged for blood from its alcove with a bowl raised in salute. When Tolixan donated alms of his own, the passageway was filled with a dim and eerie light.
Just around the corner, Stehlen found himself again assaulted by a cunningly hidden device which sent pulses of corruption into his foot. Phuralq was clever in his probing, and devised a means to cross the patch of ground by triggering it first and leaping across before the mechanism could reset. Trajan proved a little less agile in the dim lighting, not having the advantage of sight which the others did.
Around another tight bend in the cramped corridor, Stehlen discovered a leering doorway: the crypt proper. It welcomed him with a deadly tongue to the navel.
He crawled backward, casting an infernal spell as Tolixan dashed to his defense. The door was opening, and a greeting party was waiting impatiently, hungry for dinner to be served.
Under such confined conditions, neither side could use an advantage of numbers, and the first ghast through the brink proved a solid match for Tolixan’s skill at arms. The melee raged in sober heat as the party pressed into a large open chamber to see several decrepit skeletons animated in their jealousy of the fleshed and living. Phuralq’s walking staff proved worth its weight in gold that day, as Tolixan employed it with cracking good aim to smash a few dusty skulls. More stinking undead lurched into view from the gloom beyond the doorway, and Tolixan did not like the odds.
Stehlen came prepared for this, too, and at his word the stones showed their fickle fury, crashing upon the monstrosities and leaving the remaining skeletons in ruin. The ghasts were more resilient, but still hampered by the rubble, which unfortunately did not hamper their spellcasting. The closest ghast flung a missile at Stehlen, forcing a hasty retreat. Trajan then stepped forward and gave a demonstration for the pupil. His shielding spell blocked hostile missiles while his own streaked out in relentless blasts of force.
The remaining ghast enjoyed no better tactical advantage, having trouble finding footing at first amid the fading magically conjured rubble and slippery ephemeral slicks of Stehlen’s spells. Phuralq’s psychic powers could do little against the voided minds of the undead, but he was determined to prove his willpower in facing these terrifying foes. Tolixan succumbed to a spell invoking his own fears and Phuralq saw an investment to protect.
While the ghast stumbled and slipped, and Tolixan cowered in a dark corner, the three remaining poured their last dregs upon the stinking thing that writhed on the floor. It scrabbled its way in a stumbling frenzy to attack Phuralq who managed to avoid its talons at first. Then a glint of reason showed in its crazed eye and it turned attention to Trajan who’s spells were shredding its undead flesh. The corrupting foulness of its touch put a stop to that, and it even managed to overwhelm the mind flayer’s senses in its frenetic advance.
As things were quickly turning grim, with Phuralq and Trajan incapacitated, and Stehlen having exhausted all his spellpower in vain efforts to destroy the revenant thing, Tolixan called upon desperate inner reserves of willpower to conquer his fears and he stepped to the defense of his comrades with a vengeance.
Parting the gloom like a stroke from heaven, a spear flashed out to smite the rotting beast’s carcass to the floor where it slid with a last silent gasp.