Akiro and Atticus returned to Dragon’s Bend after trading the red tinged plaster to the sorcerer Vitallis. They met back up with the mysterious ranger, Cullen.
Balassa the trader was longer than usual getting back from Oktar’s Town. When he arrived there was a man with him. The companion was wearing a long gown like garment typical of holy men on the steppe. His face was a mass of scars and bulging growths. He had no eyes, was bald and walked stooped over. Balassa led his companion to the fire looking like he had been digging ditches all day.
Around the communal fire, Akiro asked Balassa what was the news and who his friend was. His bench mate was Janka the Spirit Talker. Janka is a shaman who talks to the spirits of the land and the dead. Sometimes he speaks to the gods but fears them because they always want something in exchange for their knowledge.
Balassa said he found a pair of dead warriors on the wagon trail between Oktar’s Town and Dragon’s bend. They were stripped of their gear and decapitated. Their heads were missing. There were grave looks around the fire. Several men shook their heads. Someone had made sure that the souls of the warriors would not find the afterlife. They would be stuck in the world of the living as ghosts unless they were avenged. Janka the Spirit Talker learned that it was Aglent who had done this.
Aglent is a minor warlord who had once been part of Oktar’s warband. He is known for killing men with little provocation. Oktar kicked Aglent out of his warband when Aglent killed Oktar’s nephew for cheating at dice. Oktar didn’t want to kill the man but he did humiliate Aglent. Ejecting him from the warband was bad but then Oktar took Aglent’s livestock and gave it to the dead man’s wife as compensation. This enraged Aglent but only a few of his kin would risk their status in the tribe and would not stand with him against Oktar. Aglent took his meager warband out on the steppe and had been raiding to replace his herds. He probably came across the two warriors and placed them on the wagon trail as a message to Oktar. There would be a blood feud for sure. This worried the herders.
Akiro asked Janka what had brought him to Dragon’s Bend. Janka said that the spirits had told him that more monsters were starting to take shape on the steppe. Oktar had slain many of the dog-folk warriors in their battle last spring. The dog-folk warriors sought out and slew monsters to increase the renown of their pack. Fewer packs meant more monsters. Janka had come to talk to Apor the frog-man. Apor is an ascetic seeker of wisdom who lives in a simple hut on the north side of the river and down stream. Janka was worried that the monsters would become a problem and wanted to ask Apor what he thought could be done about it. Janka was hoping to find some warriors to take him there. Akiro asked what Janka would pay them to accompany the spirit talker. They could not come to a agreeable sum so the party decided they would seek fortune elsewhere.
Two days south of Dragon’s Bend are four large mounds with megaliths set in their summits. The steppe people and the dog-folk avoid the area. They say ghosts haunt the place and the living should not go there. The party thought maybe there might be some treasures buried in those mounds. Using the funds they had acquired from Vitallis, the party bought some shovels and other tools that might be of use from Balassa the trader. They hired four runaway slaves who had little more than the clothes on their backs.
Akiro, Cullen, Atticus and their four hirelings travelled for a few days. They met some hunters who had been lucky and were bringing meat back to the camp at Dragon’s Bend. They shared their fire and food with the hunters before parting ways and travelled to the mounds. The night before they arrived at the mounds, they saw a pale flickering green light coming from the south. They were close.
The party arrived the next day with the sun at its zenith. The mounds were set in a circle. The biggest mound was in the north, the smallest the south and two mounds of that were slightly smaller than the north mound were to the east and west. The mounds were perfectly arranged to the cardinal directions.
A massive stone of granite sits atop each mound and a door made of stone with massive stone lintels faced outward. The mound in the east had a broken door. Cullen searched the area and found tracks of a carrion crawler. He went out hunting to catch some bait to trap the crawler.
The hirelings got to work on the door in the northern and largest mound. They had picks and were trying to break the door. The stone was hard and thick. It would take days to cut through. Cullen brought back the bait and staked it outside the mound with the broken door. At sundown, the stone atop the mound to the west flared with faerie fire for nearly two hours and went dark. The group did not approach it or investigate it.
The party took turns watching the trap. The crawler came out to eat the dead carcass and Akiro shot at it with his bow. The crawler retreated back to its lair, and safety. Akiro did not follow. At midnight, the stone to the north flared with the same ghostly light and the door to the mound opened. The party did not enter fearing that they would be trapped inside. After two hours, it closed. At dawn, the stone to the south lit up.
The hirelings continued to work on the door and the friends continued to watch the trap and observe the magical light of the stones. After two and a half days of hard labor, the hirelings had broken the stone door so that the adventurers could enter. They had only managed to snap the stone in half so the party had to climb over it. Atticus convinced the hirelings to come along into the depths but they were very reluctant.
Cullen led the way down the stone stairs and the rest cautiously followed. They reached the bottom of the stairs and entered a small chamber guarded by three skeletal warriors. The warriors wore bronze helmets, bore bronze shields and bronze swords all green with corrosion. The party battled the ancient warriors and prevailed though it was a close fight. Atticus called on the aid of his god Hazud to drive the dead back. Hazud answered his prayer and the skeletons retreated to the back wall of the room. Though this was not far, the party were able to use their missile weapons to damage the skeleton warriors. Soon, the power of Hazud dissipated and the skeletons advanced to fight. The trio of adventures fought them side by side.
After a few exchanges, Akiro was in danger of being slain by the undead. He was able to back off and heal himself with his druidic magic. Atticus and Cullen finished the warriors quickly. They all breathed with relief and inspected the room. There were the remains of heavy bronze armor. The straps had rotted to dust. The armor no longer protected the warriors in un-death as it had done in life.
Atticus attempted to bolster the courage of the hirelings and encourage them to join the party as warriors. Only one was interested in taking up one of the swords and shields of the dead. Atticus had told the hirelings as they chiseled at the door that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who fight and those who dig. Jolen, the runaway slave, said he prefered the sword to the shovel.
There were two heavy stone doors with pull handles. The looked the same and so the party decided to turn left. The door was heavy and ponderous but Cullen moved it. Behind the door was a small space with a small altar of stone at its center. On top of the altar was a silver serving set. There was a tray, a pitcher and several simple tumblers all of silver. One of the tumblers was gold. Akiro cast detect magic and saw that the gold tumbler had a magic aura. Cullen grabbed it first and was surprised when it glued itself to his hand and sprouted a rubbery appendage. The monster used this appendage to club Cullen in the head.
Cullen started smashing the thing glued to his hand into the stone altar as his party members stood back. Cullen and the thing battled back and forth until the shape shifter smashed Cullen’s knee. There was a loud crack of bone and sinew as Cullen fell to the floor shrieking and passed out from the pain. In bad shape themselves, Atticus and Akiro didn’t want to come into the room for fear of the creature. Akiro shot his bow at it. Even though he risked hitting Cullen, it was that or the definite end of their companion. Akiro’s aim was true and he hit the creature. It sprouted four legs and scurried away from the onslaught of arrows.
Dropping his bow, Akiro dragged Cullen out of the room while Atticus grabbed the serving set and they retreated from the room. Shutting the door behind them the party and their terrified hirelings headed for the surface carefully carrying their friend Cullen into the light of the sun. They had all survived.