The group had arrived at Blackstone Ford at the end of the last session. We spent a bit of time summarizing what our characters had been doing in town for the past month. Sage took up the lute again and was making some coin at the local inn. Fox was pick pocketing his way around town, and would often listen to Sage play at the inn. Reudan was helping out at the local church of the New God, and was trying to convert the bandits on the highway. Holgar was also helping out at the church, but had run afoul of a follower of the old gods, Ferva Broadbean. Runt fell back on his old role as a law-man, and was working with the guards.
The Bells are Ringing
Time seemed to drift along at a languid pace in Blackwater Ford. It had been nearly a month since Sage arrived at the small town with her companions after being assailed by bandits on the highway. It was a long and harrowing trip, but now life had settled back into a fairly normal semblance of what it had been.
In order to make ends meet, Sage had taken up the lute again and was making a decent wage at the Blackstone Inn. She could be found near the hearth of the inn almost every night plucking away and spinning stories for the children. It was enough to keep her comfortable, though she had to skimp on some of the luxuries she had enjoyed before.
For some reason, Fox had begun to cozy up to Sage since they arrived. The little clockwork would often be found at the Inn while Sage was performing, and usually had some kind of trinket to give to her after a performance. Always wanting to fit in, Sage would wear the jewelry Fox had to offer. Fox seemed to be adapting to life in Blackstone Ford, but the local tinkerer, Kezavim, put the clockwork on edge.
Late one afternoon, while Sage was wrapping up the Ballad of Hezu Zemar, the warning bell at the guard tower on the edge of town rang out. Runt was manning the guard tower, a duty he had taken on after arriving in town. If he was raising the alarm then something terrible must be happening. Sage packed her lute and shooed the gathered children back to their families, then she and Fox hurried out to see what Runt would be ringing the bell about.
Sage and the clockwork arrived at the guard tower shortly after Holgar and Reudan did. The two priests must have made their way over from Mother Hepp’s church of the New God knowing it was Runt who was ringing the bell, just as Sage and Fox had.
“What happened?” Reudan asked of Runt. “Did you trip and knock the bell over?”
Runt ignored the young priest’s ignorant question. The group had become accustomed to his naivete over the past month. Reudan had gotten it in his head to convert the brigands on the highway over to the New God. All he had to show so far was a purse that was suspiciously lighter every time he came back from one of his sermons in the woods.
“Hunters from town said they came upon a corpse pile out in the woods. Came runnin’ for their lives. I sent them on into town to tell the council of what they saw,” Runt said.
"The hunters must have stumbled upon a grave," Reudan suggested.
"Graves tend to be underground, Reudan," Runt said trying not to roll his eyes.
As he wrapped up the details, five men approached the guard tower from town, waving to Runt as they did so.
“Council says you’re to head out there and find out what the hunters had come upon,” one of the men said. They were armed with swords, but didn’t look as though they would know how to use them should the need arise.
"All right. The five of you, stay here and man the tower. We'll head out and find out what the hunters found," Runt said.
Sage adjusted the knife at her side, feeling the cold energy within. If there was something sinister happening out in the woods this group would be more than capable in handling it. With the guard tower manned, Runt led Reudan, Holgar, Fox, and Sage into the woods along the path the hunters had come in on.
Into the Woods
It didn't take the group very long to find the source of the hunters' fear. They came upon a pile of bones after Fox and Runt tracked the path deep into the forest. It wasn't quite the pile of corpses they were expecting, but the massive pile of bones was rather unsettling.
Sage approached the pile of bones, mindful of the ground around it, in order to get a closer look. The bones appeared to be picked clean, and she noticed that most of them had scratches carved into them as if from a set of sharp teeth. She picked up one of the bones and tossed it over to Runt. The orc looked the bone over, but even with his knowledge of the wilderness he was unable to place where it may have come from. Not wanting to sit idly by, Fox searched about the pile of bones and starts picking out tracks.
Before the group could follow the tracks around the bones a horrible screeching sound erupted from the pile as bones grated together. Bones clattered against each other as a skeletal creature pulled itself out of the pile. Its head was formed by many skulls, topped by a deer skull whose eye sockets erupted in flames as it staggered to its skeletal feet. Sage uttered an incantation to obscure herself from the undead, and the beast leaped out of the pile of bones past her. Perhaps it was the mere presence of the priests of the New God that awoke the creature, perhaps it had just been coincidence. Either way, the creature crashed down by Holgar and Reudan, slashing at them with its clawed, bony fingers, spilling their blood on the ground.
Runt reacted quickly, pulling his sword and attempting to smash its arm into splinters. The bones, however, were tougher than expected, and Runt's blow glanced off it. Reudan called upon the New God and his prayers were answered. The creature was struck by a blinding ray of light, disorienting it. The creature flailed around, trying to destroy the holy power that had struck it blind.
As her companions smashed away at the creature, Sage attempted to sense magic, hoping to find the source of the creature's animation. If she could find that, then perhaps she would be able to easily destroy it. As her senses expanded the creature gave off a distinct aura, but it didn't appear to be tied to anything in particular. What really surprised Sage was a powerful magical aura she detected coming from one of Fox's pouches.
The group was bloodied. The creature was powerful, and was beginning to turn the tide against its attackers. However, in its fury the creature had lost track of Fox. The little clockwork managed to get in between the creature's legs and found an opportune spot to jam a loose bone, nearly crippling the creature. Sage then blasted off a powerful necromantic attack, guided by her insight of the near future, and the creature collapsed. Just as the skeleton hit the dirt it exploded into a cloud of dust and splinters of bone. Fox tried to dive to safety, but he froze up and shut down.
Curious about the magical item that she had detected, Sage took a look in Fox's pouch. Within the pouch was a crystal that was giving off a magical aura. She then wound Fox back up and decided it was something they could talk about another day.
As the group was deciding what to do next, spirits began to rise from the pile of bones. They were spirits of all sorts of people, mercenaries, hunters, lumberjacks. Reudan even recognized one of the spirits as that of a merchant they had been traveling with on the highway. It seemed as though the curse that had held these spirits here had been lifted. Given that the immediate danger appeared to have been eliminated, the group decided to head back into town to get some rest. They could follow the tracks the next day to find out what else might be out there.