“That note isn’t exactly sunshine on a cloudy day, friends,” said Areia running briskly through the grass. Just before them was the treeline, and choices that needed to be made. “Do we try to run back along the treeline to the swamp? It would take us all night to backtrack that way. What if we don’t catch up to Haryk and Andril? How will I stab them in their ass?”
“We need a decision my friends,” yelled Ulua to the others, “Which direction will we go?” Her voice was urgent and she was hopping now among a few smaller trees and shrubs just outside the forest. “If we now run south along the trees we may be flanked! If we don’t, we may be left here if your friends do as their note says.”
Zy’an called out to Iricah. “You said you traveled with others here, yes?” He bounded alongside of her. “Do you have a ship? Is it waiting for you somewhere at anchor?”
“My ship will return sometime at the end of the month of May,” she said breathlessly. It wasn’t the answer they were hoping for.
“Well I guess you’d say we’re fairly screwed then,” laughed Areia heartily and she checked on squeaks in her pocket to make sure he was still there after all the bounding and jumping over grass. He nibbled her thumb, relieved she hopped on. Sorry for all the shaking little fella. Finally, they were moving into the treeline. They slowed but only a little. Areia sucked in a long drawn out breath, as if she were taking a last pull before diving into the sea. “I mean we’re being chased by basically running zombies, and everyone knows how freaking nasty that is, and simultaneously we’ve got no where to go and our old comrades figured us for dead and have absconded with the ship that would take us back to any type of civilization whatsoever.” The final words slipped out quickly without much air.
“We can seek the higher ground,” said Marcus. “Let them come at us in smaller clusters, pick them off.”
“Ulua,” asked Zy’an remembering the map, “If we try for higher ground, will it take us nearer to the Kasillian structure.”
“Yes,” she said.
“Perhaps,” he began again, “If we do as Marcus suggests, we may possibly also use the structure as a base to hide in. It is our mission to gain access to it, is it not? If we can last the night, we may stand a chance to find a way off the island, or perhaps to get back to our own ship!”
A shriek echoed through the trees, and looking out through the branches and needles into the plains they indeed saw several pale forms slinking through the grass. “Well,” sighed Frank, “What are we waiting for then goodly Celns? I’ve been looking forward to adding hours of climbing to this Cillandrial marathon ever since the blisters on my toes formed.”
They ran on into the still forest. Eerie and weird. Silver cascaded through the trees but nothing stirred. Only an occasional shriek from farther off behind them, but the sounds were getting closer. It was brutally painful climbing and treacherous hiking. The kind that skinned the knee and scraped the palm and with limited vision and the heat of the horde upon them, it was all the worse. Boulders the size of wagons were stacked upon each other from some ancient landslide, and more than once someone was nearly injured seriously falling. Thorny bushes grew in between them, scratching and stabbing at them. Finally, Marcus turned, and withdrew his axe. “Here we must stand,” is all he would say. He cut a line across his forearm and held it up in the night air.
“It’s about time someone with an axe took charge around here,” said Thrak. His tail swayed side to side and he pulled out his weapons waving them in the air with a swish.
Following Zy’an, the others climbed up into the trees. It seemed possible that the reason the birds still inhabited the trees was because these cursed beasts could not climb. They certainly hoped that was true.
They waited in the still air. The shadows played tricks on the eyes and Thrak began to wonder if they had lost them. “And now I suddenly feel cold. What can make me feel this way in the middle of a jungle?” he tried to whisper up to Areia above him in a tall pine tree. She put her finger to her lips and made a cutting motion across her throat.
“My….. ghouls!” cried Zy’an who had taken a position higher above them. Thrak sank low behind a boulder, his skin actually blended in well with the moss covered rock.
Marcus, who had climbed up near to where the monk was perched, was pointing off into the pine trees below them. Pale figures slunk here and there. One seemed to stop behind a rock and sniff the air like a dog. Then it disappeared behind it. For a minute that felt like an hour, they heard nothing. The forest was still.
Suddenly, a group of dozens of the beasts burst from the shrubbery and boulders below them. It was a coordinated attack. In horror, they watched as the creatures began to climb the trees. It didn’t even look difficult!
“They can climb treessss, humanssss!” called Thrak jumping out into the fray. He slashed two of the foes down and drew many others to him.
“Thanks for the update Thrak,” said Areia. She crawled up and down the branches on one side of the tree, slashing towards one of the things on the other side.
Zy’an was bounding from one tree to the next, kicking and punching his foes. They watched him move like a blur of fists and feet through the silver light. Marcus waded into battle with his axe, slashing two more of the creatures down.
A swarm surrounded Thrak, but their claws just slid off his scales. One though found home, and the lizardman cried out in pain. Just as the thing swung it’s claws around again though, an arrow shot through the air and stuck it to the tree, where it clawed and yelped but couldn’t move. Thrak followed the trajectory of the arrow up into a tree and saw Iricah smiling.
“Arrows, Master Thrak. Next to the fossils in my day pack you see!”
“Humanssss. Celnssss….,” muttered Thrak. “Just when you think you’ve met the strangesst. There’ssss alwaysss another more ssso.” He threw his axe into one of the creatures about to lunge onto Marcus. The thing slid down and fell over the side of a boulder, lost to the night.
Just then Thrak felt the temperature around him plummet. Instantly the jungle’s humidity turned his breath into condensed vapor. A slithery voice spoke out from the trees below them somewhere. “I feel your light……I feel your soul mortals!!!!”
“You really don’t hear people calling one another mortals anymore much do you,” said Areia from the tree. She then stood out on a branch and shouted out to the voice, “Hey, who you calling a mortal?!”
As if in answer to Areia’s query, two red eyes materialized in the night and drifted through the pine trees towards them. The air grew colder and colder, and although a few of the ghouls still remained to be reckoned with, the hairs stood up on their necks as the eyes drifted closer and the outline of something massive floated through the trees. “Umani wants your soul. Umani will use your soul, In the darkness, only those with power can use the light you possess!”
Once he had heard Ulua tell the tale of the ancient chief who had deliberately feigned death to exact his vengeance, Frank knew that it was a story too odd not to be real. Myth was strange that way. He had seen some incredible things happen since he had awoken in the Governor’s mansion, sweating, and transformed. From the great mother, to the coven’s lair, Frank knew that his transformation was symbolic. He felt apart of Umani’s story, even though he despised being so. To walk in the light, and be made of darkness. Such was his lot now. Frank knew before it even happened, that the wraith hovering towards them would seek him first. He knew it.
And indeed Umani did. His red eyes searched out like beacons and landed upon the cleric’s chest. “Join me, in death Child of Ket, and I will give you life through me, eternally.”
“To Ket with you first,” Frank called out into the dark shadow before him. Umani’s size was massive, nearly as tall as the tree he was in! Frank spoke the divine words of the Flame and thrust his hand out towards the beast. It’s red eyes were gleaming and a noise like thunder was emanating from it in every directions making the branches on the trees bend outwards. Frank’s outstretched hand began to glow with a magnificent light and in his palm materialized a tremendous hammer made of bright luminescence. Frank brought the hammer down upon the beast, just as the shadow was about to swallow him whole.
Zy’an sensed it as well. And springing from tree to tree, he struck the thing in it’s very center, finding a real target in the dark void. It was more than inanimate after all, and Zy’an had exposed it as solid, substantial, instead of just a nightmare!
“Now!” he called to others, and each in turn pummeled the monster. Thrak threw his magical axe into it’s dark center. Although the axe disappeared and reappeared stuck in a tree behind it, he knew he had struck true. Umani roared with anger. Iricah and Areia blasted it with arrows and Marcus struck it with his axe, again and again.
It’s massive form seemed to shatter and wisp out into the moonlight until all that was left was the eyes, red and malignant. A sound like air rushing out of a cave burst all around them, and the voice one last time, “Run, you goodly heroes. Run! We are Umani. We will find you. In the light you may hide until the night when you become my servants!!!”
And with that, the eyes winked out of existence.
“We will find you. We are Umani?” said Areia. She climbed down the tree and expertly landed with a soft thud. “We just killed him right?”
Ulua looked at them all and pointed to a place within the trees where one could see the hills beyond the valley. For the first time that long night, a feint orange glow edged over the silhouette of the mountain shadows many miles off in the distance. “The morning wakes,” said the princess. “Umani became the two. His father, and his brother. When night returns, we can be certain to meet the other, and whatever servants Umani has as well.”
“Well, let’s make the most of our day then,” said Frank. He placed his mace back in it’s holster and slung his gear bag over his shoulder. Ulua pointed the direction out to him and Frank led the way up the hill. The sun’s yellow tip was now just visible, sending it’s rays of orange and red into the wisps of clouds along the horizon and above the trees. The adventurers walked on in silence.
Towards the Kasillian fortress of Enceladus, and the hope of making the most of their day.