Dinner with a Lich

This is meant to follow the events of Session 28.

Chimmetz ushers Thomas, Bee, and Jenny to the stairs. Newton and Father Craddock watch in silence as they vanish. Jenny pauses for one last apprehensive glance at their priestly companion, and steps up into the darkness. The two foes stand for some time in silence. Finally, Newton speaks.

“I’m not complaining about the silence, as I’m quite satisfied with hearing nothing of your mad rantings, but I must insist you issue the orders to stop those hobgoblins threatening the refugees, per our agreement.”

“Patience, brother,” the lich responds, “there is plenty of time. The orders will be issued at the time of my choosing. Your friends will be quite safe.” He turns his cold eyes on the young cleric. “Keep your thoughts in this place and time, for I suspect you will be quite interested in what I have to show you.”

“Lead the way.” Newton responds sardonically with a half-hearted gesture.

“Soon. First, we shall dine, as host and guest.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Quite the contrary. You have traveled far these past many dozen hours, and you are weakened by your trials and tribulations. Food will do you quite well.”

“I believe it was your damned shadow minion that ‘weakened’ me.” Newton replies with frustration. “Besides, I am not interested in accepting anything from you after what you did to Thomas.”

Father Craddock pauses for a moment. “I admit that was quite deceptive. I cannot blame you for your apprehension. It was hardly an act to instill trust.”

Newton eyes the old necromancer with some measure of bewilderment. “How do you think we left off last time we encountered one another? For that matter, do you truly believe I am here, now, as your ‘guest?’”

The fully armored figure who guided the party to Jenny earlier enters through a nearby portal. Its stench of decay is not far behind. Craddock turns to face it, and it bows silently.

“Newton, this is Horresbin. He is an old friend, and a great companion. He will show you the thri-kreen, so you may become intimately familiar with their style of existence. We will reconvene once you have learned what they have to teach.” Horresbin steps towards the stairwell and motions for Newton to follow.

“An old friend of yours,” Newton asks knowingly, “or mine?”

Craddock strides ponderously back to his morbid workshop, grabs the interior handle of the door, and pauses. “Can we not have the same friends, you and I?”

“Perhaps, perhaps not. That doesn’t answer my question, though.”

“Doesn’t it?”

With that, the lich closes the heavy door and Newton hears the muffled sound of a latch sliding into place. He glares for a short time at the closed aperture, then turns his attention to Horresbin. A chill grips his heart as he meets the cold, baleful stare of the creature from behind its fiendish visor. The stare alone would normally be little to sway a stout foe of the undead such as Newton, but the thought of one of his old companions becoming this putrescent creature nearly drops him to his knees in despair.

What have you become? Are you one of the men I loved as family? Father Moriarty? Sherlock? What evils have befallen you in these intervening years?

“Join me.” The foul, hollow voice startles Newton from his despondence. Again, his heart is clutched by an icy fear he is unable to fully understand.

“What?”

“Outside. I am to show you the way of Naras-Timal.” Horresbin continues.

Newton sighs inwardly at this clarification, and follows the thrall up the spiral staircase, back into the sacred mound of the thri-kreen and Wee-Jas. The bodies of the fallen combatants have already been removed from the low-ceiling chamber, and a single thri-kreen in red garb kneels beside a pile of dust. Newton recognizes the dust as the remains of one of the necropolitans he destroyed with a greater turning. The prostrate creature glances up at the cleric as he passes, and Newton recognizes the dull eyes and mottled exoskeleton to signify this as one of the reanimated beings.

It turns back to the dust and spreads it flat upon the floor of the temple. It then dexterously traces an intricate pattern on the canvas of ash.

“What is it doing?” Newton queries, after watching for a short time.

“It is a ritual.” Horresbin responds. “It will desecrate and devour the remains. It signifies a vow of vengeance against the god that wrought their destruction.”

Newton clasps his holy symbol and wonders if his continued ownership of the item was deliberate or an oversight. In his weakened state, it is his most powerful and dangerous weapon. He watches as the symbol of desecration slowly emerges in the ash and scowls. Unwilling to bite his tongue, Newton retorts “Who does this damned soul think will avenge them against any god, much less one who would strike down those who deny death so easily and carelessly?”

“It is symbolic of the responsibility this member is taking upon itself. It will seek to punish the god’s servants, particularly the one that destroyed these beings.” Horresbin looks up at the cleric. “Fear not, servant of Pelor. It will wait until Father Craddock has declared its business with you to be complete.”

Newton raises an eyebrow. “Did I look concerned? I believe I’ve proven myself to be quite a challenge, should this creature pursue some grievance against me. I would be satisfied to settle this now.”

“Time frames, old friend. This being would be satisfied to wait fifty years to punish you upon your deathbed.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever heard the expression ‘revenge is best served spoiled’,” he narrows his eyes at the creature, “old friend.”

Horresbin strides towards the large double doors at the front of the mound and Newton follows after one more look at the busy necropolitan. The two step into the bright, mid-morning sun. Newton feels as if he’s taking his first clean breath for hours, but it’s still tainted with the stale stench of the undead. The corpses of the defeated thri-kreen, including the wild cleric, are arrayed beside the entrance to the temple-mound where a few of the living members tend to them lazily. At the base of the steps, a gathering of some thirty living and undead thri-kreen look up at Horresbin and Newton. The two pause at the top of the steps, and Horresbin seems to survey the bodies.

Newton casts his gaze down the hillside. From this high vantage point, the front walls are quite low, leaving much of the gently sloping hill in plain view. He notices three figures working their way down the rocky terrain. Bee’s ambling stride is easily recognizable, even from this distance, and a wave of uncertainty washes over Newton. He begins to wonder if any of this went right. Everything Tim said could have been a lie. What am I doing here?

“Their deaths are not the end.” Horresbin remarks. Newton looks down at the exhibited dead. “Unlike those you destroyed inside, these will be returned to the community. Tonight, Father Craddock will return to them their cleric. It will continue its journey through the next phase.”

“I suppose that’s what it would have insisted upon in life, as confused as it was.” He faces his armored tour guide. “What about you? You’re a ghoul, correct? I recognize the smell.”

“Of sorts.” Horrebin responds, pacing down the long staircase.

Newton follows and continues. “So what brought you to this sad, corrupted state? Did you choose this fate, or was it thrust upon you?”

“Can you believe the word of such a twisted mind?” the ghoul questions, coldly. “You would make up your mind that no claim of decision in life would guide me to this transformation.”

“Hardly.” Newton replies. “I just acknowledged that the wayward cleric above would have chosen the very same. Without knowing your character in life,” he carefully inspects the emotionless gaze of his conversation partner, begging for a hint of recognition, “I could not judge the truth of your statement.”

Horresbin pauses on the step and seems to contemplate for a moment. “I chose this fate.” He removes the gauntlet from his right hand and thrusts the twisted claw before Newton’s face, eliciting a gasp from the cleric. A tattoo of Pelor is inscribed upon the palm. A tattoo all too recognizable by its stylistic design and artistry. A tattoo he had seen many times all those years ago…

“Sherlock!” Newton exclaims. “Where have you been? We searched all over for you the night you and Father Moriarty were seized but could find no trace! What happened that you fell so far from Pelor’s grace?” Newton’s words flow freely and passionately, forgetting for the time being that this creature is merely a husk of his former companion.

Horresbin turns to continue his descent of the staircase, but Newton places a hand on the monster’s shoulder and beseeches him further. “Sherlock, if you but wish it I can free you from this fallen form and bring you back to life and Pelor’s embra-”

His appeal is cut short as the ghoul suddenly rounds at him in a shock of icy fury. Horresbin strikes Newton’s holy symbol from his grasp with a wicked claw, sending it clattering down the steps. Before Newton can react, the ghoul strikes again, knocking him prone on the steep steps. He attempts to stand, but Horresbin places a freezing claw on his throat and kneels beside him. Slowly, the fallen paladin removes his helmet, revealing the hideous face beneath.

Newton looks upon the visage of his old colleague. The face is clearly that of Sherlock, but the ghoulish appearance is sickening. His strong chin and prominent cheek bones are unchanged, but his nose and lips have all but rotted away, revealing cruel, shark-like teeth. His curly black hair has vanished, leaving behind a mottled scalp, and his ears look to have been chewed away, with only twisted flaps of loose skin remaining. Finally, a dark, deep brand dominates the center of his forehead. It’s a simple mark made of a circle bisected by a single diagonal line. Newton recognizes this immediately as the brand of the damned, forbidding him from ever entering hallowed ground. He glares at Newton through black, sunken eyes, with a hint of blue flame deep within.

Horresbin speaks in the manner of the undead, with a voice created not by air across vocal cords and tongue, but originating from some unseen pit of animation that grants the creature itself mobility. “The man you knew, Sherlock, is dead. In his place has risen a greater being called Horresbin. You will use this name or I will devour your flesh.” A wicked smile somehow shows through the rotted flesh. “I have ways to ensure I enjoy your screams as long as possible before you expire.”

Newton stares for a moment, shocked by this sudden ferocity, but gathers himself and responds quietly. “Old friend, I failed you ten years ago. I see that. Please let me save you now. It’s not too late.”

The blue light in Horresbin’s eyes flickers for an instant. “Failed? No, your failure has been every move prior and since. I thank you for that day, for I was freed from my ignorance. I lived a life of blind servitude to a lying god. Now, I stand before you as a creature that knows the truth, and I will never go back. Your god wishes to strip us of this power, for it cannot stand a challenge to its immortality.” He releases Newton’s throat and stands. “I shall challenge it forever more.”

Newton sits on the step and watches as the armored figure turns and continues his descent. He stands, brushes himself off, and follows, pausing on the step where his holy symbol fell. “There is a good man in there. Before the end, I will save him.”

“You waste your breath on me, Peloran. I am not interested in your paltry vows.”

“I wasn’t talking to you.” Newton responds as he retrieves the personal effect. He brings the symbol to his lips and kisses it, then re-strings the emblem and hangs it around his neck.

The long-divergent companions reach the monastery-town center in silence. The gathered thri-kreen stare and quietly chitter to one another. It appears that some fled into hiding during Horresbin’s outburst, and now reemerge. The zombies in the group sway passively, allowing Newton to look on them more closely for the first time. He finds it strange to be able to view these mindless monsters without them attacking aimlessly, or him destroying them for that matter. It sickens him for a moment, seeing their hideous state.

As more thri-kreen emerge, the populace begins to more resemble a functioning town. Children emerge and cautiously hazard a peek at the cleric, and Newton even spots a few babies in bundles. His eyes widen in surprise as one of the zombified humanoids shambles quickly towards one of the children and accosts it. Instinctively, Newton bears his symbol and strides purposefully toward the fiend. Horresbin, though, stops him with a strong grip. “Calm yourself, man.”

Newton’s shock fades into confusion as the child chitters calmly to the creature. The zombie lifts the small being to its shoulders and parades it towards the center of the square. As the two approach, Newton spots a familiar sight: the child’s top-left arm is not natural. Its colorless and dull carapace and misshapen connection to the shoulder reveal it as one of Craddock’s abominable creations. The youth brings the hideous arm to bear and flings a ball of compressed dirt at Newton, striking him harmlessly on the shoulder. Several of the nearby juveniles chitter in amusement, but one of the living adults advances on the mischievous imp and force it to dismount the zombie.

“So these are the lauded Naras-Timal?” Newton asks.

“Father Craddock does try so.” Horresbin responds plainly.

Newton looks sideways at the ghoul. “You seem uninspired. Do you not share your master’s enthusiasm? I had expected a spirited sales pitch by now.” Horresbin’s silence at this question leaves a weight in the air. Newton considers pursuing this avenue further, but turns his attention back to the gathered masses of mixed animation. “So my first and foremost concern has been momentarily abated. I had expected the zombies to run amok when the cleric died. Is Tim controlling them, or are there some lesser clerics mixed among these imperiled beings?”

“Father Craddock controls none of them. They are members among these people, and they will serve their families and community beyond death.”

“They’re intelligent?” Newton asks, with some measure of shock and incredulity. “And you expect me to believe they serve the living based on some altruistic ideal?”

“No, but I invite you to turn your attention back to the parent and its brood. See this?”

Newton watches as the adult places its head against that of the child and transfers to itself an amulet. It then stands and orders the child away. It chitters to the zombie which stalks away toward a low-built hut.

“The amulet is the source of control?” Newton infers.

“Indeed. These lay people may guide their companions to deeds of their choosing.” Horresbin responds.

“I hesitate to accuse you of slavery, since that would be too generous to these abominations. No, I think a more relevant assertion is that the tenants of this society literally hang by a thread. What happens if somebody snatches the amulet? Or the bearer simply drops it? That child would have been beaten to death the instant the zombie was beyond control. What then?”

The ghoul shrugs. “Death is but a temporary state. It would have reentered the community in its next phase.”

“Bullshit. You’d have a dead kid and an uncontrolled force of evil. Your ‘society’ is an illusion, and those amulets are the smoke and mirrors.”

Horresbin glances at the haughty cleric. Newton matches the steely gaze of his guide, awaiting some response. Horresbin finally speaks. “If you were expecting an argument, I must disappoint you. It is indeed an illusion. But for whom?”

Newton looks back at the loitering thri-kreen. “Themselves, I suppose. You seem quite aware of the foolishness of this endeavor, but Tim and these lost souls are perfectly content to keep up the charade.”

“It is a delicate enterprise to build your home upon a volcano.”

Newton recognizes the statement. Horresbin is paraphrasing a quote from the holy texts of St Cuthbert. In the tale, a priestess built a holy city on what was largely agreed to be an active volcano. The people sacrificed to the volcano regularly, and it seemed to keep the raging mountain at bay. The tale ends, though, with the city and all the citizens being destroyed in an eruption. It is meant as a cautionary tale against blindly following faith that forces one to take irrational actions.

Newton seeks for a moment the right words to say. “I don’t understand. If you see this for what it truly is, why do you still advocate Craddock’s mad ramblings?”

“It is of little concern to me what Father Craddock hopes to accomplish with this experiment.”

“He has built his home upon a volcano, and you moved into it. I think it is your concern.”

“No,” the fiend responds with sudden intensity, “I am the volcano.”

With this, he seizes one of the nearby children and places a wicked claw on its neck, cutting it slightly. The child shrieks for a moment, but does not fight. The massed thri-kreen tense in anticipation, but do not act. Horresbin turns to Newton as milky fluid drips from the slowly forming wound in the youth’s neck. “Will they sacrifice, do you suppose?”

Though this child is born of a misguided society, Newton is not so ready to watch its life snuffed out. He moves swiftly upon his old companion and grabs his wrist, attempting to hide the shiver of revulsion touching the undead flesh sends through him. In his severely weakened condition, Newton knows this will hardly restrain the powerful beast, but perhaps he can redirect him.

“Such a sacrifice will not sate the volcano.” He states. “You want a challenge to destroy. This is not it.”

“And I suppose you think you can offer such a challenge?” Horresbin growls.

Fear once again grips Newton’s heart at the cruelty in his former friend’s voice. He knows he would pose little threat to this monster in his current state, but he rallies his nerves and attempts once again to match his opponent’s resolve. “Find me again at my full strength and you at yours, and you may find me a worthy challenge.”

“Oh, your fate is sealed, I assure you that. No, I shall take my sacrifice in my own time.” Horresbin easily thrusts Newton’s hand away and turns his attention back to his arrested prey.

“What of Father Moriarty?” Newton asks suddenly.

The ghoul pauses for a moment. “What of it?”

It? Newton dwells for a moment on this dehumanizing language Horresbin continues to use, but quickly turns his attention back to the matter at hand. He seems all too happy to rub his own fall from grace in my face. As much as I fear the answer, perhaps if I can get him to gloat about Moriarty he will lose interest in the innocent child.

Newton responds, attempting to feign disinterest in the youth. “Oh, you mentioned my fate, and that made me wonder what the fate of our old mentor was.”

“Death and reanimation.” Horresbin responds dispassionately.

Newton winces at the confirmation, but attempts to otherwise maintain his aloof composure. He turns to look at the steps to the central mound, deliberately turning his attention away from the monster and his prey. “Is he here? Will I be speaking with him as well?”

“It is away. You will have no such satisfaction.”

“Ah, perhaps that’s for the best. I may not be able to stomach seeing to good friends so hurt in one day.” Newton can feel the piercing eyes on the back of his neck and feels as if the icy claws will be upon him again any moment. He continues with his gambit, though, knowing it may be the only chance to save the jeopardized soul. “Tell me, though, is he also a ghoul? Would you say he chose this fate?”

“Look at me.” The hollow voice beckons grimly.

Newton sighs and turns back, laying his eyes upon the captor and captive. Horresbin still holds the fragile creature at death’s door, and glares intensely at the good cleric. The wicked claw digs deeper into the child’s neck, eliciting another pitiful shriek.

“Don’t do this.” Newton implores quietly. “What do you have to prove?”

Without a word of response, Horresbin kills the captive. In one swift motion, he slices a mighty gash in its neck, nearly severing the entire head. Vital fluids pour out, and the child gurgles out one last painful chirp. The ghoul lowers the lifeless body to the bare stones at his feet, never breaking contact with Newon’s eyes. The surrounding thri-kreen chitter amongst themselves, but seem little perturbed by this conclusion.

Newton clenches his teeth in fury and despair. His head aches from the fear and anger that has consumed him since he laid eyes upon this village lost to madness. All his strength is spent in simply keeping himself standing, and he feels it being sapped further by the hopelessness of the situation. He clutches his holy symbol tightly and prays silently for the strength to endure this trial.

“You will not speak to me as my equal.” Horresbin states coldly. “You try to manipulate me and guide my hand. You fail. You fail because you do not understand the clarity of my thoughts and resolve. Life endures at my pleasure. So too does it end at my pleasure.”

Newton glares in silent fury, trying to find the words to say. Horresbin, though, draws close to him, enveloping him in his rotting stench. “The old companions of which you speak are no more. Absorb and comprehend this fact. If you speak their names or talk again as if you know me, I will kill another. I will kill until only you remain, impotent to challenge me. I will bathe you in the entrails of these gathered sacks of weak life, and they will be honored to have it. If that does not move you to acknowledge my determination, then perhaps I shall retrieve those friends of yours traveling down the hillside.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Newton seethes, “you’ve made your point.”

“Very good. Now join me. I have something Father Craddock would want me to show you.”

“I have a question about this ultimatum of yours, first.”

“What would that be?”

“This… former companion. What do I call him if not his name in life?”


Vootus Grey,” Jenny says, “is probably the most dangerous of Tim’s creations, though.”

“What type of creature is it?” Thomas asks.

The two companions, joined by the quiet dwarf, Bee, continue their journey away from the small monastery-town. They pause to look back past the low walls, at the few buildings rising on the hill above. It seems so plain and harmless from this vantage point. It has been less than an hour since they left Newton in the clutches of the Corpsecrafter. Jenny, with little left to hide, imparts to her companions some stories of her time with the necromancer and his undead creations.

“It’s a bodak.” She replies.

Bee, standing away from the other two, mumbles something incomprehensible.

“What’s a bodak?” Thomas inquires.

“It’s a truly horrible undead. It can kill with just a look. That’s why I only saw it a few times, and even then, from a distance. One time, Tim cast death ward on me and took me to see it up close. It just stared at me the whole time. Even with the protection, I couldn’t bring myself to look it in the eyes more than once.” Her eyes widen as she recounts this horrible encounter.

“What makes you so sure it’s the most dangerous? I’d say Sliven seems pretty tough. And you just said Horresbin regularly threatened to kill you. Close your eyes or look away, and the bodak’s gaze does nothing, right?”

“I’ve always thought of Sliven as more of a strange dog. It’s certainly dangerous, but it’s not very cunning, and it’s obedient. And Horresbin was cruel, but I always felt like he wouldn’t actually do anything to me as long as Tim was around. Vootus Grey, though – I think it even scared Tim sometimes. When I saw its eyes, I saw hatred for all living things. It’s why I never… fully understood Tim’s ideas about undead. I don’t know if bodaks can be a part of that vision.”

“Ye should stop sayin’ that.” Bee suddenly states.

“Saying what?” Thomas asks in surprise.

“The b-word. ’s bad luck.” Bee responds, in his regular mumble. “There were this kid, and they said ‘stop sayin’ that!’ an’ he didn’t an’ he died in a fire. It’s ‘cause it’s bad luck, so don’t say it.”

“Sorry.” Jenny replies. She glances at Thomas. “I think we’re done talking about it anyway.”

They watch the town up the hill for some more time before Bee speaks again. “Can we git movin’? I ’spect they can still see us.”

“We should go back.” Jenny looks at her traveling companions, her face pale and sad. “We shouldn’t have left in the first place.”

“What??” Bee groans. “We jes got out with our lives! Can’t we jes move on? That guy said Newton’s bound to meet up with us come mornin’.”

“I think he’s going to kill Newton.”

“I got that impression too.” Thomas adds slowly. “But what can we do?”

“What of Aulara an’ the others?” Bee reminds them. “If them gobbers’re really gonna attack, we aughta’ get ta helpin’. Ye know, helpin’ stop ’em.”

Jenny looks from one to the other. “Why did you guys come to get me? Why go in there for me, and not for him?”

“Yer right, Jenny.” Bee responds. “We shoulda kept you from goin’ in the first place, and we was damn fools fer gettin’ in after ya. We had no notion o’ how strong that thing’s monsters were, but at least we had ourselves a powerful cleric o’ the sun god ta help us fight ’em.”

“We got a taste of them in that old town yesterday…” Thomas argues uncertainly.

“An’ it was a mouth-full o’ hurtin’.” Bee snaps at him. “Newton an’ ol’ Craddock had themselves a history long before we all got together, an’ I don’t know yer full part in that tale, lass, but it’s none o’ my business, nor Thomas’s. It’s theirs to sort out an’ ours to let be.”

“So we just leave him? Like that?” Jenny asks.

“We already done left him, girl! When Newton saw us off and we turned our backs, we did! Shoot, I would o’ thought you’d learnt somethin’ from them fancy robber books o’ yers! When ya steal a stuffed pheasant – that’s you – from a castle – that’s the sit’ation behind yonder walls – ya don’t go back fer seconds the next night, even if’n ya dropped a blueberry pie in’t – that’s Newton in this here narrative.” Bee is unusually animated throughout this lecture, but settles and stares down the stunned young woman. “Now come on; if’n we march through the night, we can prob’ly make it back to the Havenites and the pertection o’ the druids by tomorrow ’round noon.”

Bee holds his hand out, gesturing towards the trees at the bottom of the hill, ushering the other two to move along. Thomas reluctantly looks Jenny in the eyes. Her face is a mixture of desperation and sadness. “We came in for you,” he begins quietly, “because we didn’t want to leave you to some unknown fate. We couldn’t do that to a friend. We went in essentially blind, hoping for the best. But, we know where we stand now, and it turns out we’re in over our heads. Bee’s right. Without Newton, the fact is that we don’t have the strength or skills to challenge Craddock or his minions. At best we would be placing ourselves at his mercy, and I don’t know if we can count on that twice. I hate every bit of it, but throwing ourselves at the problem just to get killed in turn won’t fix it.”

Tears well in Jenny’s eyes and she wipes them away with her sleeve. “Yeah… Yeah, I guess I wasn’t thinking straight. You’re right. We can’t hope to fight our way in and out. All that on a hunch that Tim is lying.” She takes a step toward the tree line and looks back at Thomas. “Besides, we need to get word to the refugees, and Newton has the scrolls of sending. Regardless of whether or not Tim’s lying, there’s some valuable information Aulara and Fierna should know. We’d be pretty selfish to potentially risk all those good people for Newton’s sake.”

She begins speaking quickly and waving her hands much like a conductor leading an orchestra. The movements and speech are surprisingly manic compared to her normal behavior, leaving Thomas with a bad feeling about her mental state. “Uh, Thomas! You know the land fairly well, so you can lead the way, at least until Bee can pick up the trail. Noon tomorrow, you say? I guess the sooner the better. Maybe run into some scouts and then it should be a cinch. Uh, I’ll stay back here in case Tim delivers on his word and lets Newton go. We’ll probably end up a few days behind the group, but we should catch up.”

“Wait a minute, that’s not a good idea.” Thomas replies, quickly. “We should really stick together. If Newton needs us, he can just cast sending and we can figure it out.”

“I know ya don’t fancy spendin’ the night with them critters peering at you over yonder walls.” Bee adds. “Come on back with us; we can meet up with Newton after he gets free o’ Craddock.”

“No,” Jenny replies, “he’ll want to see a friendly face. I don’t want him thinking we forgot about him. Besides,” she adds with a scratch of her shoulder, “it’s still… full moon time, and I’ll just slow you down tonight. I’m feeling strange.”

“We ain’t gotta march under no moon if it ain’t fer the best, now.” Bee says.

“Jenny, come on.” Thomas implores, worried by the desperate look in her eyes. “We’ve been getting split up way too much, and I’m not leaving you alone in this state. We need to stick together.”

“I… can’t.” Jenny responds with the sound of mounting fearful agitation.

“You can’t what? Come with us? Just talk to me. What are you afraid of?” Thomas slowly moves toward her.

“I can’t keep living like this.” She replies with tears in her eyes. “I can’t let him go. He’s my only chance. I have to find him.”

“Jenny, now listen to me!” Thomas reaches out for her arm, but she steps back before he can grab her.

“I’m sorry, I have to find him. I’m sorry.” With that, she vanishes.

“Jenny!” Thomas cries. “Jenny! Think about what you’re doing! Come back! Please!” He frantically shambles around and waves his arms, hoping to make contact with his invisible friend. “Bee! She’s not thinking straight! We have to find her! Track her! Bee, see if you can – OOF!”

Thomas turns to find Bee’s fist planted firmly into his stomach, knocking the wind out of him. “Tha’s ‘bout enough o’ that.” Bee mumbles. The dwarf expertly transitions into a headlock and begins dragging Thomas down the hill.

“What are you doing?” Thomas gasps out, struggling feebly against Bee’s iron grip. “Let go of me, you son of a bitch! Let go!”

After a few moments of struggle, Bee releases him, thrusting him to the ground in the process. “It’s done! She’s gone her way and we’re goin’ ours! You can’t help ‘em now. Any say otherwise’d be suicide.”

“This isn’t about Newton and Craddock!” Thomas shouts back, working his way to his feet. “I’m trying to get Jenny before she does something stupid! If you’re not going to help me, then I’ll track her down without you.”

Bee suddenly rears back and strikes at the xeph again, missing his nimble target this time. The two square off for a moment. “Git yer head on straight! She ain’t comin’ for a golden throne or nothin’! She don’t answer to no sense right now! She’s flitted on out and won’t make herself known lest she’s satisfied or dead!”

“You can’t know that! Damn it, Bee, do you care one bit that they may die and we’re doing nothing?”

“I do!” Bee responds adamantly, with a hint of sadness. “That girl’s one o’ the only folks I met outside the wild that gave a second look or a kind word. Me and Newton, we had our differn’ces, but I wouldn’t wish a bad fate on the man in all his years. It’s a cryin’ shame what state we find ourselves in, but ye can’t make claim I didn’t say my piece before we set out. Our stated course was to find the Corpsecrafter and get his side o’ things for the sake of the Havenites, and we did just that. Now when the conseq’ences come at us – conseq’ences I called out not two days ago – we fall apart and e’ryone talks o’ heroism te the death. I’ll have no more of it. Not fer you.”

“What do you care about me? What do you care about anybody? If you thought this was such a bad idea from the beginning, why did you come at all?” Thomas raises his voice suddenly in ardent fury. “If you’re so scared for your own skin, why not just leave without me??”

“‘Cause there’s a good druid down South that asked after ye!” Bee bellows in response. “She set me aside and put me to the task o’ pertectin’ the person she raised from a cub!” He grabs Thomas by his padded armor and shakes him vigorously. “I gave her my oath o’ service – anything she could ask o’ me – and she asked but one thing: to get ye back by her side in one piece! Ye hearin’ this? If I had a druid o’ her character askin’ after me health, I’d be a damn sight more ’preciative than you!”

Thomas opens his mouth to speak back, but finds nothing to say. The Havenites and their lives weigh on his mind, and he realizes there’s nothing more he can hope to accomplish here. Many more than these two lives hang in the balance, and it’s his responsibility to save his family and home. It just takes him a moment to convince himself of that.

“Le’s git.” Bee mumbles, and begins trudging South toward the tree line.

Thomas takes one last look back at the despicable town looming to the North. “Jenny, if you’re still listening… I just don’t want it to end like this. Just come back safe.”

Thomas turns and follows the surly dwarf down towards the trees. An invisible figure watches silently until the foliage obscures them entirely, then turns back towards the town. This, though, is not their only audience…

“They have separated.” a deep voice says, as the images of Bee and Thomas dance within a crystal ball.

“No matter,” a companion voice responds, “the dwarf is our target. Prepare the team. We attack tonight.”

The tale continues in The Crimson Gloaming

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Dinner with a Lich

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