“Welcome to the Ghostlands.”
That was not the phrase Vrykerion had wanted to hear after having such a wonderful night, but orders were orders. He, along with Calowen and a dozen of other new recruits were ordered to report that morning to Dame Auriferous. Auriferous was a red headed woman wearing a red robes and a tabard marking her as member of the defense forces at Tranquillien.
“I understand each you visited here once during your trials, but this is not a quick jaunt across the runestones to kill a couple of nerubians. You’ve been brought here to go in the heart of the infection, Deatholme, for some mop up operations. The Scourge have been harder to rip out of there than a dwarf from the pub,” Auriferous announced. Vrykerion glanced over at Calowen; she had gone pale in fright. Vrykerion reached over and took her hand in his and he watched as a smile grew and some of her color returned.
“We will begin launching attacks in groups of four from the Sanctum of the Sun. You can drop your gear and take your downtime there. Just don’t bother the Magisters. Any questions?” The group stood silent. Vrykerion wasn’t sure if they didn’t have any questions, or everyone was too afraid of the forceful elf standing side by side with a forsaken deathstalker. After a moment of silence, she dismissed them and they began to hike down the trail to the Sanctum.
The attacks really weren’t as bad as the Auriferous had made out. They would leave in a team of four and clear out the Dead Scar up to Deatholme and then make precision strikes against specific targets inside the fortress. The one group attacked a mausoleum, another struck a crypt, Vrykerion and Calowen’s first target was an underground laboratory. Over a couple of weeks, they each met with success and everyone regrouped at the Sanctum to share stories, battle tactics and have a good laugh. Vrykerion spent his evenings with Calowen or taking apart his pocket watch and examining how it works. They were paladins, and they feared nothing.
It wasn’t until Vrykerion’s tenth trip into the fortress that he began to notice that the dead were getting fewer in number. He felt a swell of pride at first knowing that he had contributed to it but something in his gut sat wrong. Why were the forces in the fortress thinning out, when the legions of undead waddling across the Dead Scar were always renewed back to their previous day’s numbers? His team made their way across the foul grounds of Deatholme, the sickening stench of rotten meat still filled the air. They ascended the steps of a ziggurat, finding it completely unguarded and ultimately empty.
“This is wrong,” said Waeryn, one of Vrykerion’s other teammates; “There should be something in here. No one has been in this far.”
Vrykerion’s other teammates, Jolsin, smiled and let out a laugh, “Maybe they retreated. Decided they couldn’t best us and just packed it up and headed home.”
Calowen looked at Vrykerion with a stern look on her face and he met hers with an equally concerned one. She turned to Jolsin, “The Scourge do not retreat.”
Waeryn shifted nervously, looking around in fear of an ambush, “Regardless, the objective is complete. We cleared out the ziggurat. We should head back.”
They looked back and forth amongst the group a few times, silently nodding along with the idea. Vrykerion sheathed his blade, “Very well then.” One by one they exited, making sure to watch every dark corner as they stepped outside. That’s when Vrykerion saw it. A pillar of green smoke coming from the necropolis at the center of the fortress, “Has anyone reported that before?”
Calowen shook her head, “No. That most certainly is new.”
Waeryn looked back and forth at Vrykerion and Calowen, “No. NO. We did our job. Mission complete. We are not going in there.”
“Oh come on, Wae-wae. It’s not like we’ve encountered a single thing thus far that four of us couldn’t best,” Jolsin taunted, nudging Waeryn toward the necropolis.
“Cut it out you two,” Calowen scolded, “What do you think Vry? It’s not our job.”
Vrykerion shook his head, “We’re paladins, Cal. It IS our job.”
Calowen nodded and drew her shield and mace, “As you say, sir.”
Waeryn, however, did not draw his weapons, “No. I’m sorry, but no. I’m not getting killed going against the battle plan just because you two are sneaking off to fondle each other in the bushes every nigh-”
Calowen cut him off with a firm slam of her armored hand against his helmed face, “Do you want the Scourge to win? For all we know they’re brewing up another batch of plague in there, ready to spill it out across the entire Ghostlands. This is suspicious behavior and we don’t have time to wait until we report back and send out another team, nor do we have time to waste trying to pry your head from your arse because you have nothing to come back to base for – except your hand!”
Waeryn and Jolsin immediately drew their swords. Vrykerion chuckled, “Impulsive as ever I see.”
“Oh shush. You know you like it,” Calowen smiled, “Now let’s see about that smoke.”
The journey into the necropolis was similarly easy and just as worrisome. The fact that so few undead were in the fortress, especially high ranking ones, just fueled Vrykerion’s fears about the smoke. They cautiously made their way into the depths of the building though, making sure to check everything and everywhere for possible traps or potential ambushes. One that that grew more obvious as they traveled deeper was that ever present smell of rotting meat was getting stronger.