The group set out at once for the tower. This time they had the added accompaniment of Rutty McGreedy, Peter’s apprentice. They made their way through the woods at a steady pace, retracing steps from the days before. They arrived back at the tower a few hours of ahead of schedule.
The sun was still shining when they made their approach. After noticing a plume of smoke rising from the tower grounds, the group made their way into the surrounding woods to gleen the source of the fire. As they watched, they saw what appeared to be yet another unit of bugbears busily carrying pieces of flesh out of the tower and placing them on a makeshift funeral pyre. The party looked at each other, shrugging, as if to say – well, we’ve fought bugbears before. After drawing ranged weapons, they took aim and fired upon the bugbears. One was shot clear through the chest and fell to his knees before the pyre. The others, surprisingly, ducked down and ran for cover behind the tower’s stone steps. From the safety of the steps, a deep and gruff voice rang out, “Attack! Attack!”
The party made their way toward the cowering bugbears, as the calls to arms continued. In their usual fashion, the fighter and barbarian ran headlong toward their enemies, while the casters stayed a bit further out of harm’s way. Rutty the rogue spent the majority of his time hiding in a bush, but was able to pop out just in time to send off a few arrows to meet his targets.
Stromm had to maneuver around the steps to properly confront the bugbears who were returning attacks with a volley of their own javelins. As Stromm charged in, he felt a sudden chill. The light around the tower dimmed ever so slightly as a robed figure appeared in the doorway of the tower. Tattered robes billowed in the breeze as the creature practically glided down the steps toward Stromm. It’s face was completely obscured by a strange arcane shadow, and it wasn’t until the thing was mere feet away that Stromm could make out any of its features. It had an air of sickness and death about it. Its skin almost devoid of color as a black ooze poured out of its mouth and over its chin. Long black fingernails clicked together as it gathered an orb of arcane energy in front of itself. It flung the energy at Stromm, prompting the rest of the party to refocus their attention of this new adversary.
The creature writhed and squirmed away from many of the group’s attacks; it was especially fast, especially hard to hit. Thud remembered his bag of tricks and threw a ball of fur that transformed into a huge lion. The lion pounced and smacked the creature toward the ground. Just as soon as the lion’s paws were off its chest, the creature rose again to float a few inches into the air. Even with its awful and unnatural agility, it couldn’t defend against the attacks of the whole group and began to suffer blows from swords, claws and enchanted arrows. From his hiding spot, Rutty aimed at the thing, taking time to steady his breathing. He let fly his arrow; it sang through the air with speed and grace, piercing the eye flesh of the strange wizard with a splish! Eventually coming to rest deep in the creature’s skull. The bugbears had long since fallen, and thus, as the body of the thing slammed to the ground, the Wood became quiet once more.
The group gathered around the corpse. Alhazred bent down to feel the tattered cloth that lay draped over its thin frame, “These are the robes of the Academy. He must have been a student there.”
“Was he taken too?” Kraown asked with a disturbed look on his face.
Alhazred didn’t look up, “I don’t know, but I think we should take him back with us and lay him to rest.”
Stromm and Thud nodded in agreement. Kraown, however, bent wordlessly over the wizard and plunged a hand into his chest. Alhazred fell back in horror as Kraown pulled his hand back once more, covered up to his elbow in a thick tar-like black ooze. Had the barbarian gone mad? Alhazred shot a glance toward the others, who didn’t look particularly aghast. Alhazred looked back at Kraown as he opened his palm to reveal a small black stone. Alhazred looked closer, it was hard to see the edges of the stone as it was black as jet, and the longer it kept his gaze, the more Alhazred began to experience a strange sensation of falling, not downward persay, but away…Down, into its depths…
Like the cursed creatures the group had seen before, the cursed wizard’s flesh began to melt away into the earth the moment that Kraown removed the stone from the chest cavity. Alhazred, still sitting next to the skeleton hardly seemed to notice, as his eyes remained fixed upon the stone. Kraown closed his hand and pocketed the stone with a grunt, breaking Alhazred’s trance.
“Those stones,” Alhazred said, “We shouldn’t be carrying those stones around. There is something very wrong about them.” He blinked as if trying to clear his vision of something. Stromm shrugged.
“Smash one. See if you can,” Alhazred suggested. Thud dug around his purse and pulled a blue gem out, it didn’t have the same deep darkness to it that the wizard’s stone had had, but as Thud touched it, he felt a creeping sense of paranoia and disgust. Stromm took it and placed in on the ground. Then, with a sweep of his sword, he shattered the stone into pieces. As he did, the group felt a wave of dark energy roll over them, but it soon passed and was gone.
“Weird,” Alhazred noted.
“We better get going,” Rutty interjected from behind Thud, causing the dwarf to jump in surprise.
“Wasn’t that elf supposed to show up?” Kraown asked.
“Let’s go,” Stromm agreed and began to pile the wizard’s bones into his sack. Alhazred stared absently at the scene, “We need to take him back.”
“Not until we find the Dragon,” said Rutty, scampering up the tower steps.
The others followed behind him as the light faded. They still had much to do before they could return the wizard’s body to the Academy, including adding another of its kind to their inventory.