Chapter 3, Part II: Reunions and Deceptions

The scorching desert stretched before the party as they made their way towards the ruins where Darien was last sent. The two-hour walk was uneventful, but rather unpleasant as the hottest part of the day arrived during their journey.

As they entered the ruins, the sandstone structures stood tall and weathered, their ancient writings faded by the relentless winds and sands. They took the stairs down into a mostly empty room. With some investigating, Firebrook, ever blustery, used a gust of wind to uncover two goblin bodies buried in sand piles. Their exploration continued as more sand was scattered, revealing a few scattered bones hidden beneath another mound.

Among the goblins' belongings were glasses, brushes, shovels, and an intriguing journal. The journal, containing just a single page, revealed that these goblins were on their first day of an expedition to explore the ruins. Firebrook, always one to seize an opportunity, claimed a shovel, while Nohki entrusted the journal to Xerxes for safekeeping.

Stealthily descending the stairs, the party stumbled upon a tense scene. A wolf stood angrily over a terrified little girl, her cries for help echoing through the chamber. Nohki attempted to communicate with the wolf but received a growl in response. Meanwhile, Bart cautiously approached the distressed girl, skillfully avoiding any confrontation with the protective wolf.

While the group waited, Vance decided to take advantage of the moment and cast detect magic, a ritual that required ten minutes of concentration. As they awaited the completion of the spell, Firebrook attempted to distract the wolf by tossing rations near it.

Xerxes engaged the little girl, named Callista, in conversation, discovering that she hailed from the Wiltspar and only wanted to return home safely. Inquisitive as ever, Xerxes peered into the ethereal plane, revealing unsettling black spots on the ceiling. He then used the "friends" cantrip on the wolf, hoping to deescalate the precarious encounter.

Finally, Vance's detect magic ritual concluded, and it was revealed that the wolf was enveloped in abjuration magic. Curiosity piqued, Firebrook decided to delve deeper, using his detect thoughts ability on the wolf. The troubled creature was consumed by thoughts of impending doom, believing that the party who had entered was poised to kill him. Probing further, Firebrook caught a glimpse of a poignant realization within the wolf's mind, "I think that's my brother."

In a heartfelt gesture, Nohki bared his wooden arm to the wolf, hoping for a connection, a spark of recognition. Moments passed, and the realization dawned upon Nohki's faceā€”this wolf was indeed his long-lost brother, Darien. A bittersweet reunion unfolded as Darien, released from his lupine form, returned to his elven self, confirming the recognition shared between the brothers.

Vance quickly casted sleep on the little girl, no longer sure that they should be trusting her. Nohki suggested the idea of tying up Callista now that she was asleep. However, Darien vehemently opposed the notion, puzzled by such treatment towards an innocent child. Darien explained that he had been searching for Callista, who had wandered off from the village, when he was ambushed by unknown assailants while exploring the room.

Eager for answers, the group probed Darien about the ruins, and he revealed the perilous nature of their surroundings. Countless monsters lurked within, and the ruins themselves possessed an unpredictable, ever-changing nature.

With Callista safely in Xerxes' arms, the party made their way out of the ruins, yearning for the familiar embrace of the Wiltspar settlement. However, their return journey was far from peaceful. As they approached the village, the blaring sound of an alarm horn echoed across the desert, piercing the air with a sense of urgency.

Reacting swiftly, Darien and Nohki transformed into horses, galloping towards the settlement to face the impending threat. Urged by Jonas, Callista's father, they headed straight to the farm, where a grim scene awaited them. Flames danced across the village, casting an ominous glow, while a section of the wall surrounding the Wiltspar had been breached by skeletal warriors.

Amidst the chaos, a sudden cry from the little girl shattered the tense atmosphere. Xerxes felt a searing pain as a claw slashed across his back, leaving him poisoned and paralyzed. Rising from the ground, a ghoul was conjured beside Callista as her little hands transformed into deadly claws.

Responding swiftly, Nohki conjured a circle of spikes upon the ground, creating a barrier between the party and the approaching undead threat. Bart, ever resourceful, employed a rope of entanglement to immobilize the now-transformed and menacing little girl, securing her in place.

Vance employed his sharp wit, utilizing cutting words to reduce the impact of an attack against Xerxes, potentially saving him from the brink of death. Xerxes, despite the weight of his injuries, summoned his inner resilience, using the relentless endurance inherited from his orc heritage to remain standing.

Skeletal warriors continued to surge over the breached wall, their numbers seemingly endless. In a moment of inspired brilliance, Firebrook summoned a gusty wind wall, forcefully pushing back three of the skeletons, sending them crashing into Nohki's treacherous circle of spikes.

Xerxes, fueled by determination, launched a chaos bolt that found its mark, critically striking the former little girl. The volatile energy leaped from her to one of the skeletons, dealing additional damage and turning the tide in their favor.

Drez, utilizing his unique ability, commanded the transformed girl to turn against her skeletal brethren, causing internal chaos within the undead ranks. Bart skillfully dispatched one of the skeletons with her rapier, snatching a bejeweled skull as a macabre souvenir.

Xerxes, sensing the urgency, delivered a decisive blow to the transformed girl, ending her existence. As her body erupted in flames, reducing her to a mere pile of ashes, Bart couldn't help but hope that the destruction of this sinister entity would bring an end to the relentless skeletal army.

However, Bart's hopes were swiftly dashed when she climbed the fence for a better view, only to witness Darien locked in a fierce battle with a conjurer. This conjurer was unleashing wave after wave of undead swarms upon the Wiltspar, painting a grim picture of the challenges yet to come.

With their backs against the wall and their newfound ally engaged in a perilous struggle, the party prepared to face the conjurer and his seemingly endless minions. Would their combined strength and wit be enough to protect the Wiltspar, or would our heroes find their adventure--and lives-- cut short at the hands of the menacing Death Knight? Only time would reveal if their valor and determination would shine bright enough to banish the looming darkness.

Completed: June 2023