Chapter 18: The Long Night, Part 3

A brightly-lit mountain town at night

The roar of the river is louder here. Behind the mill, they can see the huge bulk of the water wheel, churning away steadily. The door to the mill stands open, but inside, all they can see is shadow.
“I don’t like this,” Cyd mutters.

The first thing they notice, once they make it back through the tunnel and out into the pre-dawn darkness, is the quiet. The raiders ringing the Keep seem to have dug in for the night, dousing their torches. Though the riverbank is empty when the party emerge, they can hear quiet conversations and even soft snores coming from the dark ranks of the cultists massed beyond them. They sneak past noiselessly, careful not to disrupt Greenest’s hard-won respite.

Beyond the immediate environs of the Keep, the quiet deepens. Nubbins glances frequently, fearfully, at the sky, but there is no sign of the dragon, and no sound of beating wings. The river chuckles over the rocks; the snow falls in long, silent sheets. Everything else is still.

They follow the course of the river as it winds along the western edge of town, past smouldering houses and a narrow stand of trees. It’s only five hundred feet from the Keep, but they move cautiously, alert for the raiders Jardar told them to expect. It feels like a long time before they reach the place where two trees flank the path, framing the mill just beyond.

The roar of the river is louder here. Behind the mill, they can see the huge bulk of the water wheel, churning away steadily. The door to the mill stands open, but inside, all they can see is shadow.
“I don’t like this,” Cyd mutters. “Where are the raiders?”
“They must have departed,” Keothi says. “Let us return to the Keep.”
He is already walking back up the path when Aleph motions for him to stop.
“They may have heard our approach and decided to conceal themselves,” the Warforged rumbles. “We should proceed, but with caution.”

The snow outside the building is marked with a confusion of boot prints.
“They’ve definitely been here recently,” Gerard whispers, stooping and examining the prints. “Whether or not they’re still inside.”
The group strain their eyes and ears at the open doorway, but what with the shadows and the crank and grind of the millstone, there’s no telling what could lie beyond it.
“No windows at this level,” Aleph murmurs. “Our only way in is through the front.” He creeps forward, gesturing to the rest of the party to do likewise. “Be on your guard,” he warns.

Steeling themselves, the group cross the threshold. The air inside the mill is moist, and smells of flour and mildew. They are in a wide, dim space, surrounded by sacks. A flight of stairs, blocked by a pile of old crates, leads up to a balcony running along the back and side walls. The pounding of the grindstone fills the air, cacophonous and hollow.

It almost masks the slamming of the door.

As one, the party whirl around, but it is too late. Their exit is blocked, the door swinging closed on well-oiled hinges. It is only now that they can see the note pinned to its other side, a single line penned in a horribly familiar hand: Glasstaff sends his regards.

There’s a swish of parted air and an arrow thuds into Aleph’s shield. Turning back, the party see that the balcony has filled with archers.
“Behind me!” Aleph yells, swinging his shield from his back. As he hefts it aloft, the insignia on the front ignite with a white light that seems to draw the archers’ fire. Arrows and crossbow bolts curve towards the shield, altering their course in mid-air.

Cyd, Nubbins and Gerard dive for the relative safety of the Warforged’s broad back. Only Keothi remains motionless. Arrows whizz past him, but he doesn’t notice—he has no eyes for anything but the note on the door.
Glasstaff sends his regards.
Something glitters, deep down in the warlock’s eyes. A growl builds in his chest, issuing from his mouth as a roar that shakes the walls of the building. He reaches for the door. He wrenches it from its hinges.
“GLASSTAFF,” he bellows, striding out into the night. He stares down the road, searching for his enemy’s retreating form. But the path is empty.

Abruptly, the rush of strength that propelled him outside drains away, leaving him bone-achingly tired. Through the curtain of falling snow he can see the lights of the Keep, warm and inviting. He thinks, just for a moment, of a roaring fire and a comfortable bed. Behind him, the shouts of his allies and the enemies they fight beat at his ears. As he turns back to the mill, something catches his eye. He grins.

Walking swiftly to the back of the building, he summons the last dregs of power from his spider staff. Then he runs up the wall. He is soon parallel with the water wheel, the roar of it drowning all other sounds. He crouches, then springs, landing precariously on one of the paddles. leaping from spoke to spoke, he runs against the current, outpacing the turn of the wheel until eventually he has reached its top. There, he fixes his eyes on the first-floor window.

*

“We have to clear the stairs,” Gerard yells. While Aleph’s shield is taking the brunt of the barrage, it cannot draw all of the arrows. Already, some are streaking past, embedding themselves in the Warforged’s chest and shoulders. Black-red sap begins to ooze from between his armour plating.

Gritting his teeth, Nubbins sprints for the pile of crates, Gerard following close behind. They heave them aside, trying to clear a path to their attackers. A couple of raiders turn in their direction. Gerard leaps back as he sees them sight along their crossbows; the quarrel intended for him flies wide, shattering a crate to splinters. But Nubbins gives a wordless cry of pain. A bolt has hit him in—no, through—his shoulder. The protruding end glimmers, dripping blood. He backs away, eyes wide and panicked. When the second bolt hits him, he runs, fleeing through the wreckage of the door.

There’s no time to follow Nubbins outside or even call out to him: Gerard can see the crossbowmen reloading. He takes the stairs two at a time and charges them, punching one in the head and launching a spinning kick at the other that knocks him to the floor. As the second man staggers to his feet, an arrow hits him in the chest and he sags backward. Glancing down at the floor below, Gerard spots Cyd leaning out from behind a sack of flour, bow in hand.
“I’ve got you, Ger,” she yells.

The stairs shake as Aleph thunders up to join Gerard, shield still raised. The archers closest to him fall back, dropping their bows and reaching for shields and swords of their own. Aleph does not slow, or even raise his battle axe. Charging forward, he shoves one raider’s shield with main force, knocking the man straight over the balcony and into the millstone beneath. There is an awful, choked-off scream, followed by the crunch of snapping bones. From her position on the ground floor, Cyd blanches, looking away. “Urgh, Alf,” she calls. “You’ve ruined that flour!”

Aleph and Gerard have more pressing concerns, however; the archers have moved to block their retreat. The balcony is bisected at its mid-point by the mill machinery: the monk and the paladin edge closer and closer towards the huge, clanking gears, Gerard fending off the forces behind them while Aleph shields them from those in front.

This is the point at which Keothi bursts through the first-floor window, landing on the other side of the balcony in an explosion of broken glass. He surges to his feet, throwing his axes as easily as if they were shurikens. They scythe towards the archers’ ranks, hitting one woman in the stomach and knocking the man beside her to the ground.

Taking advantage of the distraction, Aleph and Gerard hurdle the machinery, joining the goliath on the far side. Back to back, the three friends stand ready. There are three raiders left.
“That was well-timed,” the Warforged grunts. As he speaks, a quarrel curves through the air towards his shield—and streaks past it, piercing his breastplate. He sways, eyes flickering; then he collapses.

“Aleph!” Gerard yells. He throws himself at the raiders in a flurry of ducks, dodges and blows, twisting and spinning away from their blades as he looks for an opening. It is a dance, of sorts, and the regular, in-out motion of his breathing is the rhythm to that dance, the metronome that keeps his body steady.

He evades a dagger thrust, then responds with a kick to the side of the head: the cultist who felled Aleph is out cold before he even hits the floor. Gerard grabs the sword arm of the next attacker as she raises it for another blow, flips her onto her back, and drives his staff down onto her chest, leaving her wheezing on the ground. Two down, he thinks, one to—his rhythm falters as he feels a hot pain in his side. He falls to his knees as the third raider draws his knife back. As Gerard’s vision fails, he sees Keothi leaping towards this final enemy.

Keothi is several feet from the raider, and his axes are still embedded in a pair of corpses. He sweeps his spider staff round in a low, wide arc, catching the man in the leg. But his wild swing has left him unbalanced: his opponent lunges for him, getting in under his guard. With a nasty grin, the raider plunges a long, crooked dagger into Keothi’s thigh. He brings the blade up, carving a wide gash that stretches all the way to the goliath’s chest. Keothi falls, joining his comrades. Alone on the balcony, the raider has an instant to look smug, before one of Cyd’s arrows punctures his skull.

*

In the sudden stillness, Cyd realises that she has no idea what to do. She runs up the stairs, hurdles the spinning gears of the water wheel, and crosses to where three of her friends lie in pools of blood.
“Nubbins?” she calls, voice shaky. There’s no answer.
No big deal, she tells herself. I’ll just have to handle this myself, is all. Only… how is she supposed to handle it, exactly? She’s no healer. “Think, think, think,” she mutters, looking over each of the men in turn. Aleph doesn’t seem to be bleeding much, which might mean that he’s in better shape—or that Warforged don’t have much blood to begin with. She has no way to tell.

Struck by a sudden thought, she searches—carefully—through the fighters’ pockets and packs. She finds what she’s looking for strapped to Keothi’s belt: a healing potion. Just one. Agonised, she stares around her again, racking her brains. Gerard has always seemed to have a knack for field medicine. Perhaps if she revives him, he’ll be able to help her with the others. She prises open his lips and pours the potion into his mouth. The monk groans and stirs, and she lets out a huff of relief.
“Oh thank the gods, Gerard!” She pulls him up into a sitting position, letting him take in the scene.

The foggy look on Gerard’s face clears almost immediately. He scrabbles in his back for bandages, throws some to Cyd, then crosses immediately to where Wordweaver lies. Cyd kneels by Aleph, hands hovering uncertainly over his still form. She can see several rents in his armour oozing red-black sap, and she binds these as best she can. When she is finished, the Warforged is still motionless, but the fitful flickering of his eyes has eased, their glow now dim, but steady.
“Stay with me, Alf,” the rogue whispers, clutching one gauntleted hand.

*

Wordweaver’s eyes flutter open as Gerard approaches. At first, the monk takes this to be a good sign. He begins methodically binding the goliath’s wounds. Wordweaver coughs, grasping Gerard’s arm.
“Stay still,” the monk tells him. “Your wounds are deep.”
Wordweaver coughs again, shakes his head. Blood oozes from his mouth. With his free hand, he starts to pat the ground around him, searching for something in increasing agitation. Eventually, he tugs the portal key from the pouch on his belt. Forcing his eyes to focus with a visible effort, he holds it up to Gerard. A realisation settles in the monk’s chest, like lead.
“I don’t need that,” he tells Wordweaver. “That’s yours.”
“I want to be free, Gerard,” Keothi whispers. Reluctantly, Gerard takes the key. Wordweaver’s lips twitch in a rare smile, his eyes now fixed on something above Gerard’s head.
“Impy?” he rasps.
“No,” Gerard raps, trying to pull him back from the brink. “Look at me, Wordweaver.” He reaches for another roll of gauze, but as he does so there’s a catch in Keothi’s breath, and the goliath goes still.

“Well, I think Alf’s stable,” Cyd calls out from where she kneels a few feet away. “How’s Keithy doing?”
Gerard’s stricken silence tells her all she needs to know.

*

They are both sitting beside their fallen ally, Gerard’s eyes blank, Cyd’s wet with tears, when they hear the patter of small feet on the stairs.
“How’d it go?” Nubbins chirps. He pulls up short as he spots Aleph and Keothi, brow creasing in concern. “Are they OK?”
Cyd opens her mouth. Closes it again. Wordlessly, she shakes her head.
“Aleph is fine,” Gerard supplies. “Wordweaver is…” He moves aside to show Nubbins the body.

“But you don’t lose,” Nubbins says. His voice is very soft. “You never lose. When I ran away, I never thought…” Suddenly, his hand flies to his pack, his eyes wide. “I didn’t know! I didn’t know!” he cries. “I thought you’d win!”
“It isn’t your fault, Nubs,” Cyd says. “None of us saw this coming.”
“But it is!” Nubbins looks up at Cyd with a horrified face. He rummages frantically through his pack and brings out two glass vials filled with red liquid. They’re the healing potions Saph gave him back at the temple. The ones that taste like berries.
“I didn’t know!” he sobs again. “I would’ve stayed!”
As he sinks to the floor, Cyd crosses to his side. She holds him tightly while he cries.

*

Keothi opens his eyes. Or at least, he thinks he does, but all he can see is formless grey mist. For a moment, he thinks he has gone blind.
“Oh great: now we’re both stuck here?” He turns at the familiar voice; looking down, he sees Impy. His familiar looks particularly annoyed; Keothi gets the dim sense that he may be in trouble.
“Alright, how did it happen?” Impy asks. Keothi opens his mouth to speak, but the imp holds up a clawed hand. “Wait, don’t tell me. You jumped through a window or threw yourself off a tower or something, didn’t you?”
Keothi hesitates, but the memory of his feat gets the better of him. “You should have seen it, Impy: it was incredible. There was this water wheel—”
Impy rubs his forehead with the palm of his hand. “Of course there was.”

Keothi is about to respond when a more pressing question occurs to him. He looks around: the same grey mists stretch in every direction. “Where are we?”
Impy shrugs. “Astral plane, I think—I have to hang out here every time you send me to do something moronic. It’s boring.”
“What do you do while you’re here?” Keothi asks.
“Sneak up on lost souls and yell at them, mostly.” Impy shrugs again. “They get scared, it’s funny, but it still drags on a bit after a while.”
“Where do we go from here?”
“Up to you. Everyone fun ends up going through one of those portals and disappearing.” Impy gestures into the grey. Now that he thinks about it, the goliath can see several gateways, each one illuminated by a different coloured light, looming through the mist.
“I do not intend to disappear,” he replies firmly.
“Eh, works for me.”

After a few minutes of contemplation, Keothi begins walking forwards. “We should go this way,” he says.
“Why?” Impy asks, hovering alongside him.
“Glasstaff might be this way,” he replies. “We have to start somewhere.” His eyes flash. “And I have a debt to repay.”

Read the next chapter here!

New reader? Check out the first chapter!

Enjoying the story and fancy putting your players through some of these quests, or want to support us to keep creating content like this? Check out our author page over on DM’s Guild! You can also support us by following us on Twitter or liking us on Facebook – it all helps 🙂

Whew- that was a tough one to write and edit! Thanks for reading, all: I know we always say it, but it really does mean a lot to us.

-Lou & Cam X

3 Comments on “Chapter 18: The Long Night, Part 3

  1. Pingback: Chapter 17: The Long Night, Part 2 – Tabletop Tales

  2. Pingback: Chapter 37: The Black Dragon Chapel – Tabletop Tales

  3. Pingback: Chapter 41: Under New Management – Tabletop Tales

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