–Lullaby, ch. 3–
In which the adventurers can’t agree on a battle plan against zombies and Nadarr suffers the consequences.
The adventurers whipped around, looking in all directions. The island was deserted, the visions an immaterial haunting, nothing more. And yet charging them was an ox in the rotting flesh. Along with the ox, several of the people toiling in the farmland stood up and began shambling toward Norros, Danath, Nadarr, and Elendithas.
“What do you we do?” shouted Norros.
“We fight.” Nadarr charged the ox who was charging him.
“Head count?” asked Elend.
“Five people, one ox,” said Danath, as he bent and strung his longbow.
Norros already has his bow strung, and he loosed a shaft at the ox. It barely flinched. Nadarr knew nothing could knock him down, and the knowledge made him bold. He slammed into the ox shield first, and the force of the collision pushed him back, making a long furrow in the lush farmland. But he did not fall.
With his bow now strung, Danath held the amulet on his chest and frost appeared in his fingertips. He nocked an arrow and took aim at a ghoul heading for Nadarr. The arrow struck the ghoul in the shoulder, and frost spread out from the wound, slowing its cruelly clawed arms.
Elendithas cleared her throat and then sang an impossibly high note in the direction of three of the zombies making their way toward the group through the fields. As she sustained the sound, it grew in magnitude, and when she cut it off, a shockwave of thunderous energy exploded out from one of the zombies. The wave passed through all three, contorting their bodies contort, making joints elongate and snap back, and causing bits of rotting flesh to peel away.
Nadarr stayed locked in combat, eye to eye socket with the zombie ox. It managed to swing one of its horns under his new splint armor, goring him. He swung his sword and sheared off its lower jaw. Then the ghoul was upon Nadarr, but owing to Danath’s frost arrow, the ghoul could not find purchase on Nadarr’s scales. As the ghoul reached back to swing again, Norros sighted along his arrow toward the back of the ghoul’s head and let fly. The arrow buried itself in the ghoul’s soft skull, and the tip exited through its right eye. The ghoul fell forward onto Nadarr, who brushed it off. It slumped to the ground like a festering ragdoll.
Danath, Elend, and Norros ran south to stay out of reach of the shambling zombies, one of which broke off pursuit and made its way to Nadarr. Arrows flew until the zombie ox looked like a pincushion. Nadarr fought gamely on, but the zombie was worrying his back. He narrowly avoided the zombie ox’s horns, but his dodge brought him too close to the zombie, who swung a heavy arm at his neck, wounding him grievously. “I require aid,” he shouted. “Quit running away and fight!”
Elendithas took Nadarr’s call to heart. Stepping forward toward the oncoming zombies, she slammed her hand onto the soft earth and a thunderwave of energy blasted out in all directions. One zombie buckled under the force and fell. From her kneeling position, Elend strummed her lyre towards Nadarr, and healing energy wafted his way. “Hope that helps,” Elend called.
“It does,” said Nadarr, who spun around and cut the zombie in half. Returning to the ox, Nadarr said something under his breath, and his sword crackled with thunderous energy. He swiped the ox in the mouth and the force of the blow sent the beast crashing back and falling to the ground.
“I’ve got it,” called Danath. “Can’t miss something that big, even if it is lying in the tall grass.” He loosed his arrow, which glanced off Nadarr’s armor and was lost to the trees. “Sorry about that!”
“Yes,” said Nadarr. “Let’s all try to focus on the enemy, not the Dragonborn.”
Norros and Danath continued firing arrows at the ox, Elendithas mocked it viciously, and finally Danath redeemed himself with an arrow to the eye socket. The ox keeled over, dead. The rest of the zombies were easy pickings after that.
“I guess the island isn’t as deserted as we thought,” said Elendithas.
“Let’s rest for a bit,” said Nadarr. “I need to catch my breath.”
As they rested, the group investigated the corpses. The humanoid undead all looked to be wearing rustic clothing, old and discolored.
“Could be the farmers of Abundance,” suggested Elend.
“Would explain where they went,” said Norros. “But not why or how.”
“Or why they’re back now after a hundred years,” added Danath. “No movement on the island in forever, and then Calder comes here and now this?”
“Can’t be a coincidence,” said Nadarr and Norros at the same time.
“Come on,” said Danath. “Let’s try to get the lay of the land.” He led them into the treeline a few dozen yards before stopping at the base of a likely candidate. “I’ll climb up and have a look see.”
“Be careful,” said Nadarr. “Remember what happened the day we met.”
“Never going to let me live that down, are you?”
Danath jumped and grabbed a low-hanging branch. Swinging up, he moved from branch to branch until he reached the canopy. He craned his neck this way and that so he could take in the whole breadth of the island. From his position near the island’s middle, he could see the town of Abundance to the east, the beaches that ringed the island, and a clearing a few miles to the west. And to the north, beached on the shore… “A boat!” He shouted down to his companions. “Another rowboat; must be Falor Gabirel’s! Away to the north!”
“Quit shouting,” said Norros, as loud as he dared.
“What?” shouted Danath.
“Come down and tell us what you see. Don’t shout. We don’t know what else lurks in these woods.”
But as he said the word “lurks,” Norros could hear rustling in the undergrowth. “We’ve got company, Dan!”
Just then, three more undead came into view: two zombies in flanking positions behind a wight carrying a longsword in both hands. Elendithas conjured a ball of light and thrust it at the undead, hoping to distract them. Norros dropped from view, readying an arrow. Danath started clambering down the branches. Nadarr unsheathed his longsword with a sigh. “Here we go again.”
The wight and the zombies surrounded the paladin and harried him from all sides. He fended them off stoically. Elendithas swung herself into the tree, narrowly avoiding a swipe from the wight’s blade. Norros shot at the wight from the shadows, but it shrugged off most of the arrow’s effect. Danath dropped to the lowest branch next to Elendithas and shot an arrow down at the zombies. Nadarr swung at the wight and charged his sword with radiant energy, which blasted through its undead form. But it kept coming. Swiping with its longsword, the wight’s attacks bit deeply into the Dragonborn’s leg, and Nadarr could hear a hollow rattling sound as the wight sucked away some of his life force.
“Please stop abandoning me,” shouted the paladin, who was answered by a healing potion floating towards him. He tilted his head back and opened his mouth, as if he were catching raindrops, and the potion poured into his mouth.
“You’re welcome,” came Norros’s voice from the shadows behind the tree. But it wasn’t enough. Both zombies and the wight found weakness in Nadarr’s armor and he fell, mortally wounded. Elend dropped from the tree to aid her friend. A flurry of arrows from the Half-Elves, along with a well-placed rapier thrust from Elend finished off the three undead.
The bard reached into the bag of holding and fished out the bitterroot tea. Pouring it into Nadarr’s mouth, she administered aid and the Dragonborn stabilized. Using her last bit of magic, Elend sang a soft healing song for Nadarr, who sat up, disoriented. “I can only take on so many,” he said.
“Look at this,” said Norros, pulling a tarnished silver badge from the chest of the wight. “Town constable, Abundance,” he read, and he pinned the badge to his chest.
“Gross!” said Elend.
“Come to think of it, this undead favors the sheriff we saw in the vision earlier,” said Danath. “I think you were right before, El. These undead are the villagers who disappeared. And this one,” he nudged a zombie with his boot, “looks like a kid, maybe a young teenager?”
“Great,” said Norros. “We need to get out of here and regroup. We have no idea how many more there could be.”
“Actually, we do,” said Nadarr. “Didn’t that pamphlet from the library say there were over 700 people on Lullaby when the disappearance occurred.”
“Plus livestock and other wildlife,” said Elendithas. “That’s a lot of zombies. I’m with Norros, let’s go rest up in our boat on the beach. Then we can get away if something happens.”
“Agreed,” said Danath.
But as they turned to head for the beach, a wave of vicious psychic energy washed over them. Elendithas and Nadarr shrugged it off, but Norros and Danath were not so lucky. “Do you feel that?” said Norros. He whipped around.
Danath followed suit. “Like we’re being watched. And not just watched.” He glanced around, looking for the right word. “Judged.”
As they made their way to the beach, every time they blinked Danath and Norros could see more visions in the unnatural blue light — just flashes now: people farming, kids playing, dogs gnawing on bones. But with the next blink, everything was deserted. This continued all the way to the beach.
The uncanny silence of the island made the surf seem deafening. “Let’s make camp here tonight and at first light let’s skirt the island, making for Falor’s boat,” said Elendithas. “Sound good?”
“Yes,” said Nadarr. “But for now, I must sleep. I have taken too many wounds today and must recover my strength.”
“Before you do, let’s talk tactics,” said Danath. “We’re probably going to fight more zombies before this is all through. We need to concentrate our fire. Take them down one at a time so they get fewer opportunities to attack us. Starting with the weakest.”
“But that wight was swinging his sword twice as fast as those zombies, and with more accuracy and force,” said Elend. “Shouldn’t we take the nastiest foe down first?”
“You saw how many arrows it took to kill the ox. We could have killed all the zombies with that many while Nadarr fended off the ox. But instead, we let them get in flanking positions, which is why Nadarr fell in the first place.”
“Look,” said Nadarr. “I will engage as many foes as needs be. But you all must work as a team to keep me alive. My armor and stamina can keep me up, but not for as long as I fought them off today. I do not want to die because you lot can’t agree how best to fight.”
“I’m with Danath,” said Norros. “Kill the weakest first and hope for the best. Also, Elendithas, if you can get a bunch of them to group up, can’t you destroy them all at once? That spell you cast earlier was crazy!”
“It was, wasn’t it,” agreed Elend, mollified. “All right, we’ll do it your way.”
As the companions bedded down on the beach with the rowboat to their backs, the sound of the surf soothed them to sleep. But Danath and Norros had restless nights, filled with foreboding dreams of a lidless eye watching them. Judging them. And finding them wanting.
Lullaby, Ch. 4 “The Madness of Falor” Coming Soon!
Written by Adam Thomas, Dungeonmaster
Jarrod Antkowiak as Norros Arborshade
Allissa Leonard as Nadarr Kasdann
Jack Leonard as Danath Errandir
Leah Thomas as Elendithas Day