(Being yet another excerpt from Bertha Wildhearth's boring letters home.)
I hope you can forgive me for the long gap between missives; I trust when you read this letter you will understand why I have been able to write for a considerable length of time. If you recall, my newfound friends and I (and Pint Bloodhorns) had return to the town of Falcon’s Hollow... well, when I say ‘town’ you will understand that it is not a town in the Dwarven sense of the word – it is small, sparsely populated, barely defended, with no useful industry save the logging company (who at least are chopping down the trees, even if wood cannot compare to stone) and worst of all, open to the sky. If I wanted to stare at an expanse of blue all day, then I would sneak into our King’s magically protected vaults and gaze at the famous blue stone of Galveston (which rumour has it, is almost as blue as the notorious Infanta’s eyes – now there was a strong woman...).
But I digress. We had returned to the town in the hopes of claiming our reward for rescuing the logging company’s lumberjacks who had been kidnapped by the undead kobolds (it’s a long, long story, see my previous letters for a true account of what happened, or if you would prefer a more fabricated version then read the insane dribblings of Pint’s saga he insists the Elf bard Bae-Wynn composes for him). But we had very little time to rest or recuperate as no soon as we had ordered the first round of pints of ale at the local tavern than we heard screams coming from the streets outside. When we ventured out to the town square (which is about as much of a square as Falcon’s Hollow is a town... honestly, these humans have no architectural sense whatsoever...) we almost immediately found ourselves surrounded by a horde of the shambling undead. Not kobolds this time but countless zombies.
Naturally, I reacted before anyone else. I swear, Elves and Humans like to laugh at how slow we Dwarves are but I’ve never yet met one who can keep up with me. Of course, Pint is rather slow... yes, forgive the pun there... but that’s mostly because he’s weight down with so much armour, which makes him rather dense too... Anyway, I leapt into the fray, running towards the enemy as I swung my mighty hammer, Jacqueline, in a threatening gesture. Naturally, my comrades in arms also prepared for battle... in exactly the way you would expect. Bae-Wynn shot herself in the foot with an arrow and the Halfling Cleric, Ortho, screamed like a little girl (well, not a Dwarven girl you understand), hoisted up his skirts and ran away. Yeah.
Thankfully the rest of the party fared a little better. As the zombies advanced upon us, one lunging forward and biting Bae-Wynn on the arm, both Pint and Godric (the human Paladin, charming fellow but not the brightest coin in the treasure pile, if you know what I mean...) ran along beside me and both struck at the other zombies that threatened me. Meanwhile the Half-Orc ranger, Mira, ran after Ortho in an attempt to protect the hysterical Halfling, who was now being chased by several more zombies. No doubt his high pitched screams of terror were attracting them.
Ortho tried to channel the power of his weakling deity but either he was too panicked to concentrate or his god had abandoned him for such a show of cowardice, as his prayers only managed to return one zombie to his grave. Mira, focusing hard on protecting the Halfling, allowed another zombie to get past her defences and was bitten on the thigh, but she immediately struck back and dispatched the rotting beast, while her pet wolf lunged at the throat of another and brought it down.
Meanwhile, I had killed one of the zombies threatening our group, and Godric and Pint each barely managed to kill another. One more zombie tried to plunge its decaying and rotten teeth into my flesh but I escaped with a mere scratch and I crushed my attacker’s skull in retaliation.
At this point, Bae-Wynn was in danger of being overwhelmed by the zombies. Another clawed at her and tore a chunk of her thigh. Like the Halfling before her, the Elf bard decides that discretion is the better part of valour and turns tail and runs after Ortho, who was still trying to flee the combat as fast as his short legs can carry him. Left alone by her comrades, Mira now found herself being piled on by countless zombies and she battled hard to fight them off. With one mighty swing of her massive great axe, along with what sounded to me like a guttural Half-Orc curse or two, Mira managed to cleave through no less than four zombies. However, the remaining zombies vengefully tore apart her pet wolf into a series of bloody chunks.
Several zombies managed to catch up with the running Ortho and clawed and bit at him, knocking him unconscious. Now defenceless, the Halfling Cleric was swarmed by the undead and pulled apart in a horrible display of carnage and gore.
Seeing Ortho die so terribly, Bae-Wynn had a minor change of heart. She still fled, but now turned on her heels and ran to hide behind me. A wise decision as no zombie would ever better me in combat. But while I still stood steadfast, battling the undead horde, as did Pint, not all of my fellow warriors fared so well. Godric was clawed by the razor sharp talons of another zombie and in an act of reprisal he channeled, summoning the mystical energy of his own god who thankfully rewarded bravery as much as the Halfling’s god punished cowardice, and several more of the zombies dropped to the ground, dead once again.
Over near the still twitching corpse of the Halfling Cleric, Mira had become enraged (as due to her inability to defend them or her own inactions, I am given to understand from the other members of the party that this was the third short ally that she had let die when she was supposed to be protecting them...) and the hot Orcish blood that pumped through her veins allowed her to cleave through three more of the shambling undead monstrosities in a single blow. It was impressive but sadly it was far too late to save Ortho in any way.
Now that all of the immediate threats surrounding Godric, Pint and myself had been dispatched, the party began to move together. Bae-Wynn overcome her nervous panic and pumped two more arrows into the eye sockets of one nearby zombie, killing it instantly as the metal arrowheads shredded what little remained of the creature’s brain. Meanwhile I ran at another group of zombies and managed to smash in the ribs of one large brute, and Pint and Godric followed me closely behind (Godric with the hopes of pleasing his god by killing yet more of the foul undead creatures and Pint just to have a feeble excuse to look at my arse as I ran ahead... he’s not exactly subtle about these things, believe me...). We were all immediately swarmed by even more zombies and Godric and myself were clawed and bitten by the stinking and filthy rejects from the grave. Pint was only saved by his heavy adamantium armour, which resisted every effort of the zombies to pry open.
At the same time, more zombies pounced on (well, as much as a bunch of shuffling undead unthinking reanimated corpses can pounce) on Mira, their decaying, rotten and worm-infested teeth sinking into her flesh and tearing at her muscles. This fresh wound only served to anger the Half-Orc warrior even further and in a flurry of blows from her great axe she chopped no less than six of her assailants to bits, creating a fountain spray of blood, ichor and gore that drenched her through to the skin.
I then swung my mighty hammer over my own head at the skull of another zombie, driving the heavy blunt weapon down through its face and into its rib cage, pulping both its brain and heart in one swift action. And at the same time the Elven bard behind us all unleashed another barrage of her accurate arrows, felling another of the creatures. That left only one zombie left shuffling towards us all. Godric leapt forward and punched that last zombie square in the face with a heavy gauntleted fist, breaking its nose and pushing the shards of bone up into the creature’s brain, killing it instantaneously.
Now that this zombie horde had finally been crushed beneath our might, we all took a moment to breathe. Pint and myself, every practical, immediately began to clean our weapons and armour of the blood and gore that now thoroughly caked them. The rest of the party, not sharing the stoic nature or Dwarves or being particularly rational, began to weep and wail and moan and gnash their teeth at the loss of the Halfling Cleric Ortho. Don’t ask me, my family, I’m not familiar with the mourning processes of Humans and Elves... well, with anything but the sensible Dwarven mourning process, actually.
Whatever. The rest of the party began to offer their devout (and some perhaps not so devout) prayers to their various gods in the hopes that (like with Bae-Wynn once before) there would be some kind of divine intervention and Ortho would be miraculously resurrected before their eyes. But apparently the gods had all turned a deaf ear to all of these pleas as Ortho stayed dead. He was now an immortal member of the dead Halflings’ society. Ortho was no more. He ceased to be. He had expired and gone to meet his maker (who was in no doubt very disappointed to be see him again). He was now a stiff, bereft of life, resting in peace. We thought about nailing him to a perch but we weren’t near a fish pond. Ortho was pushing up daisies, had brought down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. No doubt whatever realm he found himself in now, whatever afterlife awaited him, he was pining for the fjords of his Halfling home. In short, Ortho was now an ex-Halfling.
But maybe there is some practicality to them all after all – Ortho was the party’s only decent healer and losing him does endanger us all in the long run. We now have to rely on the whims of Bae-Wynn, who is the only other person among us who possesses any kind of healing magic... and as you know an Elf’s whims are totally and utterly unpredictable. So my next letter might even be longer in coming as we might all join Ortho in the afterlife soon enough.
(Although I honestly think Mira was more upset about the loss of her wolf than the Halfling, it being closer to her, more loyal, larger, and more useful... still, in the time since the beast’s death I think she’s begun to overcome the grieving process, mostly because she’s been trying to ensnare a particularly large and ugly badger that’s been following us around a lot lately...)
At Bae-Wynn’s insistence, she, Mira and myself went across town to the chapel of Immodae to dump the body… my apologies, Bae-Wynn is looking over my shoulder, so let me rewrite that… went to the chapel to ask the priestess there to take good care of the body and give the beloved Ortho the appropriate and very respectful funerary rites. We found the chapel to be locked up tight with boarded up windows, having obviously been a strong defensive point for many of the town’s citizens. Bae-Wynn, always the charmer, managed to persuade Sister Krys into letting us into the chapel and once inside the Elf bard questioned both the priestess and the local necromancer (who, to my Dwarven eyes, was acting very suspiciously) and discerned that although most of the zombies came from the town’s cemetery, the actual source of the zombies might be centered in the woods outside of Falcon’s Hollow.
Fortunately, due to Bae-Wynn’s silver tongue, Sister Krys was persuaded to cast several of her last remaining healing spells on the party, restoring many of us (myself included) back to full health, or near enough anyway. As our bodies were infused with a holy glowing light, our bruises faded away, our wounds stopped bleeding and the flesh sealed up without leaving a scar, and our broken bones mystically set fully. I don’t mind telling you, beloved family, that although I am distrustful of Human spell casting and even more so of Elven witchery, disgusting, vile and particularly non-Dwarven as it all is (and you know how often I say that magic generally leaves a bad taste in my mouth, always a coppery taste like I had bitten my own lip and now have to swallow blood with each breath I take), I could not help but be impressed at this priestess’ power, how quickly and effortless she healed us, with just a few murmured words to her god. It’s almost enough to make a woman religious... but not quite. It’s certainly nowhere near enough to make a Dwarf trust a magic user.
We then caught up with Pint, who, being unhurt in the battle against the zombie hordes, had decided to go and do some trading. You know Pint, if there’s two things in life that are absolutely certain it is one, that Pint is as tough as nails (and not just ordinary nails, well forged iron nails, no, well forged adamantium nails created by a master Dwarf weaponsmith who was having a particularly good day and which were then used in the wedding bed of the Dwarven god of defensive fighting and the Dwarven goddess of unbreakable armour...), and two, he is always ALWAYS on the look out for better weapons and armour and will go to almost any lengths to get them.
Strangely, the town’s only trading post (or at least the only one we know of, which isn’t saying very much as we don’t ever seem to stay in town for very long... and if you ever get to see what can only be described as the quaint charm of Falcon’s Hollow you would understand why, especially considering that whenever you enter a house or tavern or store in the town you have to scrape quite a bit of that quaint charm off your boots) was still open for business, despite the apparent end of the world (or whatever the historians will call that little zombie outbreak that we dealt with so thoroughly). You’d think that any one sensible would be out in the streets fighting the undead, or at least cleaning up the streets from the massive amount of dead (both recent and not so recent) and looting into the bargain, or even understandably hiding under their beds. But no, this store owner, an annoying little Gnome who had no taste in friends (he seemed to like Pint, for a perfect example of this lack of taste) had decided to keep his trading post open for business. Maybe he hadn’t heard the screams or seen any of the carnage, I don’t know. Or maybe zombies are known in these parts for their frequent and lavish spending sprees. At Intestinal Tracts Fifth Avenue, perhaps. Or Gloomingdales. Or Whiffanys, known for their smelly but expensive jewelry. I’ve heard of people paying an arm and a leg for something, maybe that’s where the expression comes from.
Anyway, surprisingly Bae-Wynn showed something of a practical side – or at least as practical as a wayward Elf can be – by bargaining hard with the annoying little Gnome storekeeper and trying to get as much as possible in return for Ortho’s possessions (and his body still warm... for shame...). At Pint’s urging, Bae-Wynn manages to haggle a good price for a masterwork ugresh (which he will not shut up about... and he’s been polishing it fanatically ever since he laid his hands on it...) and also traded the rest of the dead Halfling’s gear for several healing potions, which she generously shared among the party. However, Bae-Wynn was smart enough to hang on to the staff of empowerment the party took from the undead Kobold King many days before, thinking that it would most likely come in useful later.
Thinking kindly of the grieving Mira, Bae-Wynn also managed to convince the Gnome storekeeper to write out an introduction to a crusty old human druid he knew, named Gunther, who would be able to reincarnate the Half-Orc’s slain wolf, provided of course we also agreed to take a package for him to the druid. Bae-Wynn readily agreed and I personally believe in all three of my Dwarven hearts that yes, that agreement is going to come back to bite us in our butts. A Cerberus sized number of bites too, no doubt.
Still, away we all traipsed to find this hermit-like druid called Gunther, with the plan of moving on to the woods afterwards to try to hunt down the unknown source of the zombie outbreak. When we finally found the guy (which was remarkably easy thanks to Mira’s superb tracking skills) and finally managed to convince him of our good intentions (well, Mira and Bae-Wynn’s good intentions anyway, the rest of the party were either more suspicious or really didn’t care all that much), he did agree to reincarnate Mira’s pet wolf, thankfully enough. In the meadow outside his broken down hut, he performed a quick ceremony with a few wild incantations, and then we found that badger approaching once again, with Mira immediately recognizing something about it being the reborn spirit of her pet wolf...