The light was quite bright at first. Not eye-destructively, searingly bright, but bright enough to cause adequate squinting and smushed facial expressions as our heroes, civilians in tow, emerged from the darkened tunnel. The area was quite mountainous. Not soul-crushingly, drastically vertical, but mountainous enough to cause a few sighs as the travelers realized this was not going to be a pleasant stroll. It was also quite forested. Not paranoia-inducingly, creepily overgrown, but forested enough to cause a bit of relief as the group realized that this trail was well hidden and their presence stood a good chance to remain unknown.
A surprisingly short distance was covered when the path forked into opposite directions. One path continued mostly northward, and the other path veered off in an awkward angle to the southwest. It was here, at said fork, that Cat addressed the party. She informedly informed them that while the north path most definitely continued on to Blesshu, the southern path lead to a coastal city called Ellon. The coastal city of Ellon was apparently well suited for the life of farmers and peasants, and considering the disposition of the refugees in tow, bearing in mind that they were farmers and peasants, Cat believed that leading them there was the best course of action to take. A small and enormously underwhelming debate took place, and the vast majority of the refugees agreed that farm life suited farmers much better than the pious life of piety. Thus it was decided that the party should split. Cat and the refugees trekked south toward the aforementioned coastal city of Ellon, while our heroes trekked north to the much-talked-about-but-yet-to-be-seen Temple City of Blesshu. The heroes were suddenly a septet and ceased being a sextet, as a man calling himself Rhys asked to accompany them to the much talked about Temple City. He apparently was not fond of farming, and decided to try his hand at a more adventurous lifestyle.
The aforementioned trekking northward was rather uneventful and dreadfully dull and slow. A sense of monotony and security threatened to consume our traveling party, but mercifully and not entirely unexpectedly, the signs of impending battle took hold. The forest became devoid of all noise, and a flock of nearby song birds took flight and scattered. Shambling out of the overgrowth on either side of the path was a group of aptly named Shamblers. These Shamblers, however, seemed slightly different. That is to say, these Shamblers did seem somewhat less shambly, wore armor, and carried weapons.
Despite the slightly less shambliness and slightly better armaments, the mindless adversaries were deftly dealt a more permanent state of death. As per usual for the mage, the bodies were stripped and examined. When Sprinkles lacerated key points on the corpses to procure yet even more dangerous goo to stow away in the folds of his robes, he found that they did not bleed. Let it be made clear that this time, when the permanently dead aggressors were said not to bleed, the literally did not bleed. Curious, confused, and just plain tired, the group let the matter go, and gathered the bodies for funeral pyre.
Malaggar began to scout the area for a suitable place with which to make camp, and came upon a strangely coincidentally perfect spot, complete with a fire pit, a natural perimeter, and rather even ground. With nothing better to do than to continue being a bard, Dan struck up a slow and soothing song, which she felt was the perfect preparation for a good, sound, much needed conference with the Counting Sheep. Before she could finish her song, she heard a voice. It was not the perpetually irritated voice of the mage, nor the peaceful voice of Sora, nor the continually perplexed voice of Malaggar, nor the simple but sincere voice of Jane, nor the matter-of-factly and rarely heard voice of Kryss, nor the false bravado of the newly acquired Rhys. Whose voice was this then, one may wonder? And that is precisely what Dan did wonder. She especially wondered this as she realized that it was not her ears that heard this voice: the voice had been directly detected by the squishy folds of thinking-parts that sat between those ears.
“Good idea burning the bodies,” it said in an oddly friendly and cultured timber, “but it wouldn’t have mattered for those ones.”
“I just heard a voice in my head,” confessed Sora.
Dan might have been secretly relieved to know that she was not insane, but Dan already knew that she was most definitely not insane, so she was certainly not secretly relieved.
Ignoring the incredulous sounds being made by the others at Sora’s confession, Dan pondered a moment over the entirely new experience of earless hearing. Deciding that if the squishy folds of her thinking-parts could understand unheard communication, it might be possible for the squishy folds of her thinking-parts to project unheard communication, and she thought as loudly as she could. That is to say, she looked slightly constipated.
“Who are you,” she thought very loudly, “and what can you tell us of what is happening?”
“I am Amopholes,” the unheard voice responded, “I do apologize. I realize none of you know who I am and most beings cannot see me.”
A sound which can only be described as a “fwoosh” was heard, and in the center of the grove a being popped into existence atop a very pretty, and slightly burny stone. The being stood to its full height, the stone returning to its previously non-burny state. This, as one could imagine, was quite a surprise to our Intrepid Six (Plus One).
“I am Amopholes,” the being reintroduced itself to the group at large. The voice, when heard through the physical ears, was also strangely friendly and cultured. It was a suitable timbre for the voice, for the being was also in physical appearance quite refined. The being looked to be a finely aged human, with a white goatee, mid-length white hair, and air of kindly dignity. Contrary to any known human, however, he had large, white, feathered wings, white eyes, and leather armor of an unnatural luster.
“I am Sora,” the Dragonborn introduced herself. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Amopholes nodded a polite gesture of acknowledgement to her, seeming to recognize her as a woman of faith.
Dan, who had since regained regularity and now saw the bearer of the mysterious voice before her, approached the being, although she felt compelled to keep a respectful distance. “My name is Dandelion,” she said with a surprisingly erudite politeness and bow.
A moment’s pause occurred, as if she were looking for the right words to say.
“What has happened,” she asked with an unexpected and strange solemnity, “that an angel should feel the need to descend from the heavens?”
“It takes great energy for me to manifest,” Amopholes replied, “and I don’t want them to know I am here, but it seems I have no choice.” His voice took on a grim earnestness as he continued, “Things are happening far sooner than they were supposed to. By thousands of years. You haven’t heard of me—I am no one of import; but you must get into the Temple City and into the catacombs. Continue to burn the bodies as you can and I will do what I can to protect you.”
With the solemnness still apparent on her face, Dan posed another question to the angel, “May I ask who you serve?”
A small smirk appeared on Amopholes’ face. “That’s an interesting question that, if I say the wrong thing, would give you more power over me than I would ever put in the hands of anyone walking this earth. But I must still insist that you hurry, and you might be able to stop this from getting any worse.”
“What is this thing that we must stop?” Dan asked.
A look of severe foreboding swept over his face. Dan’s eyes widened as she realized what he meant.
“Yes,” he said, as if acknowledging her inner thoughts, “the end of everything. Forces that shouldn’t be moving are moving. The best I can do at this point is to make certain that we win.”
“So there’s some serious shit going on upstairs?” Dan asked with incredulity.
“Yes,” the angel responded, “and there is also serious ‘shit’ going on downstairs.”
“These things don’t happen on their own,” Dan thought out loud, “something other than mortals has either purposely broken protocol, or is knowingly allowing it to happen.”
Amopholes began to flicker, like a candle resisting to be extinguished. Sensing that time was short, Malaggar unexpectedly spoke up.
“Archon,” he said “this may be a rare thing for my kind, but is the way ahead clear? Can you keep the Spider Queen from seeing me?”
“You’d be surprised how many of your people have spoken with my people,” Amopholes explained, “and you are in no danger from the past, at least for now. Going forward I cannot promise you’d make it safely, else I would not be here. I’ll do what I can to protect this grove tonight.” He flickered again, more severely this time. “My time is short, they will find me soon.”
“Go to safety,” Dan’s voice unusually grave, “don’t risk yourself for us.”
Amopholes was gone.
The stone and trees that had previously created the unusually perfect perimeter now seemed to silently hum a lullaby, giving a calm aura of comfort to the campsite. Curmudgeoning as curmudgeons oft want to do, the Eladrin decided that he should not only take first watch, but that he wanted absolutely, positively nothing to do with anything that even remotely seemed like it could possibly be hallowed ground. Thus, he banished himself to silently walk the perimeter while the others prepared to bed down for the night. Upon curling up most comfortably into her bedroll, Dan realized that the resident curmudgeon was not the only one who seemed to find the campsite’s comforting aura of comfort to be less than comfortable.
“Why are you afraid of the campfire?” Dan called out in a loud whisper to Kryss, as she seemed to search for a sleeping spot that was not touched by an angel. Her question was met with silence. “Pssst,” Dan called out again, “hey, Kryss, I’m talking to you!” More silence. Dan began to contemplate this unusual behavior by the usually indifferent half-elf, but soon fell to snoring instead.
An uneventful night passed and the Intrepid Six (Plus One) continued their journey along the mountain path. Everyone felt a sense of urgency and pushed along with resolution, hoping to cover as much ground in as little time as possible. As the stalwart group pressed on, a small issue nagged at the bard: being a Halfling, her legs were half the length of the average human. This meant that her gait covered half the distance of the average human. This meant that her feet had to travel twice as fast as that of the average human. Being a Halfling and therefore having no real use for a sense of urgency in her life, Dan was unaccustomed and found this most disagreeable. Not wanting to slow down the group or disappoint their newfound celestial ally, Dan struck up a debate on how best to remedy the situation. Sora, with a stroke of brilliantly brilliant wisdom and a dash of kindness, decided it would be quite easy for her to carry such a small load. With a sweeping motion that hinted at her true strength, she scooped Dan up and placed her on her shoulders.
Now, Dan had never before had the experience of riding piggy back on a Dragonborn before, and she found this occurrence to be absolutely, categorically, unquestionably and unequivocally awesome. So awesome, in fact, that she took the lute from her back and shared her overwhelming feels with the world.
This proved to be a less than stellar idea. Between the debate and song, a group of Shamblers had managed to circle, unnoticed, around them. Dan was punctually and rudely plucked from her most awesome perch, and placed very gently upon the ground with a tremendous crack and thump.
A battle ensued, and for a while, it seemed that it was nothing more than the obligatory encounter with which to create tension when telling a narrative. It turned out, on the other hand, to be a cleverly crafted plot twist. First and foremost, as the seven warriors battled these mightiest of foes, the shambling undead aggressors did not bleed, just as in the previous battle. Secondly, when these Shamblers were felled, their eyes went vacant where once before was a slight hint of overtly homicidal murder. Thirdly, after some moments in this vegetative and deceptively defeated state, they arose. Again.
This of course, was wholly unexpected and astounding.
As one would imagine, certain theories began to abound at how to fell these enemies permanently. The first idea was to sever the head from the body. In following through with this hypothesis, Kryss not only decided to remove an enemy head from its matching frame, but she made the extraordinarily logical conclusion to pick up the head and put it in her pack. The others were apparently oblivious to the absolute intelligence of this decision, for they immediately voiced their concern at what an undead head in a pack could potentially do. But it wasn’t until said head began to chew through the pack in an attempt to bite Kryss in the ass that she realized her idea might, in fact, bite her in the ass.
With a lovely rendition of the Heebie Jeebie Jig that even the bard could appreciate, Kryss dropped her pack resolutely to the ground. Despite the fact that her precious shinies were still within the bag, she began to profusely flail at it with her dagger. Proving to be a very stubborn and resourceful head (and refuting the theory that a disconnected head would cease to aggress), it actually began to bounce and roll, eventually freeing itself from its confines. It then bounced and rolled right up to Kryss, and sank its teeth into her ankle.
Seeing how Kryss’ course of action had unfolded, Jane decided to do something completely different. With a most impressive display of martial prowess, she rendered a Shambler helpless to the ground. She then lifted her heavily booted foot, and brought it squarely down upon something utterly not the Shambler’s head, twisted her ankle, and had a very important meeting with the ground about the state of martial affairs in the far kingdom of Ormun. Apparently not an admirer of meetings (or possibly the far kingdom of Ormun), the previously felled Shambler rolled over and bit into the fleshy, unprotected backside of Jane’s knee.
Seeing how Jane’s course of action had unfolded, everyone else decided to stay the original course, and simply continued to wail upon their foes with various weaponry. Upon their second felling (well, third, technically, as to be undead in the first place one would have to had passed prior to undeadness), the aggressors came apart at the seams. Literally. Where once a body stood, body parts now piled.
It was at this point that a collective conclusion was drawn: these were not, in fact, Shamblers, but some new kind of undead menace of unnatural nature.
Alas there was little time to ponder the ramifications of such a discovery, for they had an angelic appointment to keep and allies in need of aid. After a hurried and makeshift, yet successful attempt at curing Kryss and Jane of the poisons delivered from their undead bites, and after burning the body-bits of their repeatedly fallen foes, it was past midnight when the Temple City came into view, rising above them in the distant hills.
As they neared closer to the city, suspiciously suspect facts bashed the Intrepid Six (Plus One) upon their heads. Figuratively. Where a bustling (albeit sleeping) city should be, an empty ghost town there was. No windows were lighted, no fires where lit, no candles cast glows, no signs of life emanated. The city gate was left wide open, and all was silent. No buzzards or raven gave account of carrion; no dishevelment gave account of mass panic or revolt. The residence had simply ceased to reside.
Amopholes was suddenly beside the group as they looked in through the city gates. He seemed haggard, worn, as if the past few hours had weighed heavily upon his body and spirit. His left arm and wing were lacerated and bled freely, and his breath was slightly labored.
“That explains it,” he said, “There’s no time, just hurry.” He began to flicker.
“Are the people in the town alive?” Sora asked.
“I don’t know, but you’ve already met some of them. You need to get inside, as I can’t.”
“You’re blocked?” Jane asked.
“How is that possible?” asked Dan.
“Temples of one deity are barred to the servants of another.”
Seeing his pain, though he tried to hide it, Dan attempted to find a way to aid this celestial. “Will a prayer help you?”
A weak smile spread across his face, poised for a response, but was interrupted by a loud boom. His right wing was suddenly ablaze, and a psychic scream resonated in the heroes’ minds before he disappeared.
With a renewed sense of urgency, the party ran into the gates. Looking over their shoulders, they saw yet another wholly unexpected sight: Rhys had slammed shut the gates behind them, and threw down the latch.