They all mocked me for prying off that demon skull from the ogre’s club and putting it in my knapsack. They don’t understand – not at all. I have struck a bargain with the Old Ones, one that compels me to search for the darker truths in the world. How often do you get a chance to study such a rare object? Who knows what secrets it might eventually reveal? Sure the eyes glow red and I hear voices occasionally – but is that too much of a price for knowledge? I am a seeker of dark truths, albeit the shadowed side of magic.
I didn’t sleep that night after we defeated the ogre. My wounds ached – yes, but it was the black and crimson nightmares that kept me tossing all night long. I cannot remember their details now, but I do remember jolting myself awake all night. Bor commented that it was the demon skull I had next to me but what does he know of these matters? I doubt it. It had to be just the feeling of coming out of battle.
We rode north on the trail through the Fields until we spied a large hill or mound off to the northeast. Something wasn’t right about that hill, it had a shimmer of white coming from it in places. There was growth, but it did not look like grass – only spots of green. I could tell immediately that this was no ordinary hillside.
As we got closer we went off the trial to investigate. I was at the ready, as always. In a place like the Gellesian Fields the wild dark magic is all around you – it is merely a matter of tapping and controlling it. We saw that the hill was covered with bones. Not ordinary bones – a mix of creatures I have never seen. Theren pointed out the skulls of several dragons on the massive hill, most of their teeth were missing, but I also saw several fractured scales of dragon hide. You could see arrow and spear points stuck in some of the bleached white bones that rose up covering the natural hill. Someone had clearly piled these remains from the battle here as a memorial – or as a warning.
I reigned in my pony Phillipe’ as we got near the base. Among the thick growth of vines that wove their way up the mound of death – we saw statues. Most were broken, toppled over years ago. None looked like statues we had seen before of proud warriors or clerics. These were in strange poses, ones of stark fear. Not a single one showed signs of a pedestal. There were humans, elves, dwarves – quite a broken menagerie – many showing signs of wear and breakage.
Where I was wary, Galinndan was not. The rogue said that he was going to check out the statues while the rest of us stayed some distance back. We appreciated his skills and his willingness to put his life at risk to scout for us – though I wonder if he had really thought that through. Even Bor commented, “I’m not so sure that is a good idea.” Galinndan ignored him – and a few minutes later, wished he hadn’t.
“Well? What do you see?” Arius called out.
“None of these statues have bases – no names. They all look terrified.” Galinndan called back.
“That can’t be good,” Bor said in solemn tone. Theren nodded in agreement. “If those are dragon skulls, there are spell components I can gather there that will be worth a fortune.”
“We are not here for that,” Arius replied. The paladin could be dour at times. Me, I saw possible spell components too. That druid and I were going to be on a mad scramble – it was only a matter of time – or so I thought.
From where we were, some 40 feet away, we could see a rustling in the brush at the base of the hill. Something was moving. We couldn’t tell what they were – all we could see was Galinndan running back at us at as full sprint. “Arghh!” he wailed as something struck him from behind.
They came into view, a mix of chickens, bat and lizard. “What are they?” Bor asked.
“Cockatrices!” Theren replied, readying his bow.
“Shit!” spat back Bor.
“What is a cockatrice?” Galinndan asked as he spun, swinging his sword, cutting into one of the creatures.
“You don’t want to know, Arius replied. “Don’t let it bite or scratch you!” he said, burying his own blade into one of the monstrosities. The cockatrice wailed out a most insidious sound, a bird-like squeal with a deep hiss like a giant snake. It is a sound I wish I had never heard nor will I forget. My heart pounded in my ears as they were upon us.
“Too late,” Galinndan wailed as one of the feathered monstrosities tore into him.
“Smite these beasts!” Arius bellowed. If Galinndan was about to be petrified, there was little any of us could do anyway. Kill the creatures first, then see if anyone was stoned.
I knew of these beasts well from my studies arcane. Their wounds could turn you to stone. And these were black-streaked cockatrices, you could see that in their feathers. Their bite could turn you permanently into rock. I reached for my weapon as the bird-like creatures hit us with full fury.
One half-flew, half-lunged at me but I reeled Phillipe’ my pony – who bore the brunt of the vicious bite. My poor pet stiffened under me as the vile creature’s magic took hold. Phillipe’ became a statue under me, cold, lifeless, frozen forever in agony.
I swept my own weapon into action, but the cockatrice was on me in less than a heartbeat. Its beak tore into my left thigh and the pain was stunning – followed by a chilling cold sensation. I stabbed at the creature, driving it back – then hitting it with a burst of eldritch energy, making the creature explode with blood and feathers.
My comrades dispatched the other two monsters as I groped to my own injuries. A good chuck of my thigh was gray, stone-skin! I could not feel my hands as I touched it. The magic had started to petrify me, only to stop. As I climbed off my stony-steed, I landed with a limp. My half-stone thigh hindered my movement. I was cursed with the knowledge that stone-skin was permanent in most cases, unless a proper healer could be found. Such remedies were rare, costly, and involved the church which was adverse to healing warlocks like me.
“Am I going to get petrified?” Galinndan asked.
Arius looked at the wound on his back. “Nay. Not today.” Those were hardly reassuring words. We were in the middle of a haunted battlefield where powerful magic had been unleashed. Perhaps his words were wisely chosen.
“Are you okay?” Theren asked me. He must have been able to read the concern in my face.
“I fear not,” I replied. “This will take getting used to.” My comrades looked at the gray patch of my thigh, most shaking their heads.
“At least it is not spreading,” the druid replied, trying to shed good light on my concerns. I appreciated the words, even if they did not alleviate my worries. How does one fight with a partial stone leg?
At least I had not ended up like poor little Phillipe’…not yet anyway.
Thus ended our first four hour session. I hope you enjoyed this “novelization” of the party thus far. Here are the previous episodes in case you missed them.