Sunday, 27 March 2016

Treacherous Treasure



Frostgrave - Genie in the Bottle
Magi Bayaz and apprentice Jezal once again battle with their nemesis, the Necromancer, whilst treasure hunting in the vast ruins of Felstad. Time again for a spot of Frosty-fodder.


These two wizardly rival warbands are starting to become a bit of a fixture for Sam and I. We're still using the same starting rosters, pretty much, that started our Frostgrave adventure. You could argue that we really should start running a campaign with them. It certainly wasn't planned this way, it's just that with our visits to the icy ruins of Felstad more or less unscheduled we've neglected reviewing our rosters on the back of the games played so far.

Its just so much easier (OK, lazy) to pick up and play with what you already know. No excuse though. For me, I have a number of miniatures lined up and primed in the paint queue, destined to form the core of a new Frostgrave crew. No plans, yet, for a campaign though. We've still to finish our long-delayed IHMN campaign (eh, Gordon?!).

Anyhoo, down at Pate Manor this week - more specifically Samshed II - Magi Bayaz and the dastardly Necromancer were facing off again. They last met at the old Mausoleum which proved to be infested with undead skeletal warriors.

This time, the warbands are chancing an encounter with the Genie in the Bottle scenario:

"Whilst searching the ruins, one warband may discover a golden lamp that contains a very old and very angry genie. He has no interest in granting wishes..."


Warning! This is a bit of a long one. I got carried away. When I start calling game turns 'chapters' my followers will know what's coming!  (MSWord version, without pictures, available via my Dropbox).

It's told mostly from my warband's perspective (Magi Bayaz) - as I've no doubt Sam Pate will set the story straight over at Wee Blokes . Oh, and with one or two blatant movie quotes and references, just for fun!

Set-up:  Standard game rules for layout and placement of treasures (6 tokens)

Special Rules: A D20 is rolled whenever a character first picks up a treasure. On a 15-20 the golden lamp is discovered and the crabbit genie inadvertently released. In fact, he's a Major Demon and definitely not friendly. The genie then follows, mostly, the standard rules for Creatures. More details in the core rulebook (page 99) for the 'Genie in the bottle' scenario.

Random Encounters: We also included this optional rule where characters picking up a Treasure for the first time, after an unsuccessful roll for the Golden lamp (above), make a second roll. On a 16+ they use the random encounter table to bring a creature(s) into the search area. Oh goodie!

Spells and Rosters:
  • The Necromancer: Bone Dart, Raise Zombie, Steal Health, Fast Act, Enchant Armour, Imp, Wizard Eye, Poison Dart. Barbarian, Max the Treasure Hunter, one archer and three thugs to keep company with the Necromancer and his apprentice.
  • Bayaz, Fire Elementalist: Scatter Shot, Telekinesis, Plane Walk, Elemental Shield, Wizard's Eye, Banish, Fast Act, Elemental Bolt. Ranger (Ferro), Archer (The Dogman), Infantryman (Caul Shivers) and five thugs (Logen Ninefingers, Curnden Craw, Red Hat, Black Dow and Nicomo Cosca) escorting Bayaz and his young apprentice, Jezal. 
Magi Bayaz's warband are all characters seconded from my 'First Law' SOBH warband inspired by Joe Abercrombie's most excellent First Law Trilogy.



Chapter 1 
(Initiative: The Necromancer, Necromancer's Apprentice, Bayaz's Soldiers)


Magi Bayaz was furious. Ferro, his morose ranger, had spotted his arch rival already leading his mercenaries into the ruins of Felstad. His apprentice, Jezal, waited patiently as his master seethed with frustration.
 "He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him!" seethed Bayaz, his cowl barely hiding his crabbed face. Turning towards Ferro crouching a few paces away with her bow, Bayaz willed himself to calm. He started an enchant, the sing-song of enigmatic words barely heard above the chill wind twisting amongst the and snap and fracture of the ice-broken ruins. The enchant continued on only briefly. When the words stopped, Ferro visibility tensed, a look of steely determination marking her countenance. Bayaz had successfully cast his Fast Act spell. Satisfied, he brusquely directed the rest of his soldiers to start spreading into the ruins.

Whilst Magi Bayaz was busy giving orders, Apprentice Jezal felt the brief tug of invisible magical energies. A slight disturbance in the force. Nevertheless, Jezal moved to follow Logen Ninefingers as he shadowed Ranger Ferro, quickly advancing towards a small graveyard. The magical disturbance emitted from the opposite side of the ruins. The Necromancer's Apprentice had already cast a Raise Zombie spell. Once the swirling vortex of translucent energies had died away they revealed a large humanoid form wrapped in foetid, stained bandages which almost immediately started to lumber further into the ruins.
Ranger Ferro (foreground), Apprentice Jezal and Logen  in the graveyard
As Jezal arrived on the fringes of the small graveyard, Logen pointed out the distinctive golden twinkle of some sort of trinket in the distance half buried amongst the frost-grey gravestones. An ominous moan broke through the quiet. A hulking figure shambled from behind a large tomb.
 "That doesn't sound friendly," muttered Logen.
 "A graveyard in Felstad. What did you expect? A welcoming committee?" replied Jezal. The apprentice immediately focused on a Telekinesis spell. If only he could move the trinket closer to the Soldiers. But the fast approaching stomp-stomp and tortured wails of the monster interrupted his concentration. His brief, tenuous grasp on the magical energies lost. He quickly tried again but it was no use. The Telekinesis spell failed.

Nearby, the Dogman with his trusty bow in hand, slunk along an ice-crusted cobbled pathway between the graveyard and the shattered ruins of a large two-storey building. As he passed a gaping hole in the building's wall, through it he spotted the distant but unmistakable shadowed form of the Necromancer gesticulating to his mercenaries from behind a half-broken wall. 
 
The Dogman (foreground) spots movement through the hole in the nearby building
Any bow shot would be speculative at best but even the slightest opportunity to best the puffed-up Ranger is worth he chance he thought. With a grin, he quickly knocked an arrow and drew back the bow. Muscles straining, he sighted. Briefly adjusting for the icy winds, he loosed. The deadly barbed arrow sped through the gaping hole in the building and looped across the frozen ruins. But the shot was caught in the play of the winds and fell short. Enough for the Necromancer to notice though. The Wizard ducked back further behind his wall.

Chapter 2
(Initiative: Ranger Ferro - Fast Act, Magi Bayaz, Apprentice Jezal, Bayaz's Soldiers)


With the Fast Act spell boosting Ferro's reflexes, the Ranger sprang over a line of crooked gravestones to get a better sight of the hideous creature moving towards them. With supernatural speed, she draws and releases. The taught thrum of the arrow distinctly audible as it darts just above the grave tops and slams square into the trunk of the heavily bandaged zombie. The creature continues its relentless stomp without interruption, seemingly oblivious to the arrow stuck fast in it's thick linen wrapping.

Ranger Ferro under the influence of Magi Bayaz's Fast Act spell
Further towards the centre of the ruins, Magi Bayaz is alerted to another trinket by the stocky Infantryman, Caul Shivers. Like his young Apprentice, Bayaz attempts a Telekinesis spell. He wrestles with magic energies, trying to harness enough to bend to his will. The strain causes the Magi to wince in pain as he finally coerces a filament of the powerful forces. The silvery-gold trinket, as if dragged by invisible hands, haphazardly starts to tumble along the frozen ground towards Bayaz and his Soldiers.

Meanwhile, the Necromancer, enraged by the audacity of the enemy archer, prepares a Bone Dart spell. He quickly conjures strands of the magical essences and the familiar shape of a long, sharpened femur bone snaps into existence. It hangs in the air momentarily and then darts back across the ruins towards the The Dogman. The magical bone dart hits the graveyard wall just above the archer's head and shatters into pieces. The strain of the hastily forced spell causes the Necromancer some ill as he staggers against a wall.

In the Graveyard, the huge zombie is fast closing in, Ferro's arrow still stuck-fast and quivering from its torso. Jezal concentrates once again. This time he relies upon his most adept spell. An Elemental Bolt. Gathering as much energy as he can withstand the spell is cast. With a sharp blue-white explosion of light a spear of crackling energy leaps from the tip of Jezal's pointing finger and hits the lumbering zombie. It stops suddenly, clumsily waving it's thick arms as the deadly energy sizzles across its body. The creature's bandages begin to blacken and smoke. It lets out one final, long howl of defiance before it topples with a solid thud to the ground.
The Zombie felled by Jezal's Elemental Bolt in the graveyard
The Elemental Bolt starts to quickly dissipate from the prone zombie. Ferro rashly stands up from behind the cover of a gravestone to cheer Apprentice Jezal. Just as she does, shards of bone and stone erupt from the top of the gravestone, a great chunk of stone blasts within a hairsbreadth of the stunned Ranger. The Necromancer's apprentice had returned fire with another Bone Dart.

The Dogman, still defiantly grinning from his own close encounter with a Bone Dart, spots more movement through the hole in the building wall. This time he sees the easily recognisable muscle-bound figure of an old adversary. Crom the Barbarian. The Dogman expertly draws another arrow from his quiver and sights on the barbarian hulking next to a pile of frozen rubble. Once again, the Dogman's shot slices through the gap in the building and this time it hits true. Crom momentarily looks stunned as the arrow embeds into his thick shoulder muscle. He bellows in rage as blood quickly starts to flow. Grasping the arrow shaft with his other hand he ducks further behind the rubble, his eyes angrily searching for his ambusher.
Crom the Barbarian makes an appearance
Whilst Crom is distracted, Caul Shivers makes his move. Watching from the shadow of a wall he breaks cover to intercept the treasure trinket a few paces away, now lying dormant after the effects of Bayaz's Telekinesis spell. He picks it up. It's some sort of burnished goblet. Just as the Infantryman turns to head back, an arrow swishes just above his head. The Necromancer's sneaky archer reveals himself, popping up from the shell of a nearby building.

Black Dow quickly realises his comrade is in trouble. He's under fire from an enemy archer and Crom the barbarian, having snapped off the arrow shaft embedded in his shoulder leaving only the bloodied arrowhead, is already starting to chase down Caul. The barbarian roars as he hefts his formidable double-handed axe. Black Dow impulsively decides it's time to restore his fighting pride, having recently recovered from his wounds fighting an Imp Monster at the Mausoleum months earlier.
He leaps from his cover and quickly intercepts the charging barbarian. Crom, not registering Black Dow's attack until the last moment is undone by his rage and arrow wound. Dow ruthlessly lets his twin blades dance, jabbing and slicing into Crom's unprotected body. Crom staggers, stunned. Dow slams the pommel of his sword into the barbarian's nose. It crunches in a spray of fine blood and mucus. Maddened, Crom powerfully swings his great axe. It glances off Dow's helmet with a clang. Dow falls to the ground, his head rolling listlessly and legs twitching amongst the frozen rubble. 
Red Hat can only watch helplessly as Black Dow is defeated by Crom the Barbarian

Chapter 3
(Initiative: Magi Bayaz, Apprentice Jezal, Bayaz's Soldiers)

Red Hat, atop the remains of a shattered building, had witnessed the fierce but short fight between Crom and Black Dow. He waved his hand and pointed frantically at Bayaz hoping to warn him of the barbarian's victory. Bayaz hears Red Hat's cry of alarm and peers around the nearest wall. Crom was waving his great axe in celebration above Dow's prone body. Great droplets of blood from the barbarian's broken nose and arrow wound splattered Dow's battered armour. Infuriated, Bayaz steps around the wall and summons an Elemental Bolt, that stalwart invocation from his spell-armoury. He points towards the barbarian. Dazzling, ozone-burning energy darts towards Crom. But he somehow managed to duck further behind the rubble with remarkable speed for one so sturdy. The electrifying energies explode onto the rubble sending great plumes of stone-ice splinters into the air. As the steaming stone-dust settles the mocking laughter of the barbarian can be heard as he steps out from the cover of the rubble.

The Necromancer, sensing the loss of his Apprentice's zombie summoning, decided more reinforcements were needed if he was to press his advantage in the centre of the ruins. His archer was eagerly looking for targets, Crom was on the attack having already felled an armoured mercenary and one of his men had located a pile of abandoned trinkets and was preparing to haul them away. The wizard concentrated once again. This would be a tricky spell but he was reasonably confident his skill was enough to force the summoning he required. Mentally braiding invisible shards of magical energy whilst enchanting a roll of ancient phases only known to the most dedicated of magical scholars, the Necromancer grimaced. His body twisting and shuddering in discomfort as he forced the spell into this realm. It was a success. He summoned an Imp.

In the graveyard, the desperate fight was still under-way. Jezal tried a new spell. One he'd diligently practised for months and even then only after his mentor had been reluctantly persuaded to let him research it. Energies harnessed, he swayed as he nosily enchanted, marking invisible sigils in the air with his hands. Suddenly, Jezal stood taught, both hands raised arrow-like above his head, meeting to form an arch. From which issued an explosion of multiple fireballs, like some sort of fantastic firework display. But these were deadly fireworks, the Scatter Shot spell successfully forged and now raining fiery hell onto the nearest enemies.
Four of the Necromancer's warband were hit by the fire bolts blasting from the leaden sky. They strike the Necromancer's apprentice and three of his henchmen. They all cried out and staggered as the fire bolts impacted, frantically flapping their arms and patting their bodies to suffocate anticipated fires. None appeared. They were all shocked and a little singed but otherwise unhurt. The Scatter shot had failed.
Jezal looked on in dismay. He had given his all to cast the Scatter Shot but somehow it lacked any real potency. He slumped against a nearby gravestone, his breath coming in deep, shuddering gasps as the backwash of tainted magical energy slowly leached from his body. Suddenly something slammed into his chest. For a moment everything but his laboured breathing went quiet. His body numbed. He looked down. A yellow-brown shard of broken bone had pieced his chest through the thick weave of his robe. As a sudden cascade of pain and fear crashed through his reverie, Jezal's legs gave way and he crumpled to the icy floor. The Necromancer's apprentice, quickly recovered from the Scatter Shot, had expertly return-cast yet another deadly Bone Dart.

Apprentice Jezal suffers a devastating Bone Dart attack from his enemy counterpart
Unaware of Jezal's plight, Logen Ninefingers launches a ferocious assault at the nearest enemy thug. They appeared to be evenly matched as their swords clanged and sparked. Ferro aimed at another of the Necromancer's men but the shot went wide as the thug darted between cover. With fighting all around but no immediate enemies threatening, Nicomo Cosca opportunistically sprinted to a pile of glittering spoils lying near the graveyard's arched gateway. The Dogman, joining Nicomo, hastily shot another arrow through the gate at the Necromancer's Treasure Hunter, who also had designs on the gateway loot.

Up on the blasted roof, Red Hat spots Bayaz and Caul Shivers apparently checking the threat from Crom and the summoned Imp creature below. He carefully crosses the broken roof beams to reach a rotten, moss-ridden wooden walkway. At its centre appeared to be more abandoned treasures. He gingerly moves along the creaking boards. As he neared the pile of scattered coin and trinkets a mighty roar resounded from somewhere below.

Caul Shivers assailed the glistening Imp monster. It screeched an unnerving lament, it's bruised purple-red limbs slashing, foetid breath issuing from a brace of razor white teeth. Unperturbed, Caul barrels into the creature simultaneously slashing his axe in a vicious sweep. It cuts deep into the creature's torso, a flap of jellied skin sliced off revealing a gush of stinking blood-black ooze. Caul instinctively springs back out of the way before the creature's flaying claws can react.

A time ago, some of the coin and trinkets had fallen from the walkway. Red Hat was oblivious to an enemy mercenary surreptitiously rooting through the loose scatterings below. The mercenary spied the top of a small green glass bottle protruding from a drift of snow. It was sealed. The mercenary peered into the opaque glass but could not discern anything. He gave it a little shake. Something rattled inside. An old, half-rotten cork stoppered the bottle. He could not get it out. In frustration, the mercenary grabbed the bottle by the neck and smashed it against the side of a walkway support. 
It disintegrated into a spray of small glass shards and a puff of tainted stale air. Something small and brittle sounding caught in the snow at his feet. He bent down to take a closer look. Examining the object he stood up disappointed. In his grubby hand was a stained skull of some sort of rodent. A rat most likely. The stink of rot high in the air.
Suddenly, there was a cacophony of high-pitched squeals and the padding of feet. The mercenary dropped the tiny skull and peered across the ruins. He spotted his comrade, the archer, in the distance. He was backing away from something. Then, out of the gloom of wind-driven ice and broken stone shadows appeared a huge rat. The size of a large dog. And then another. And then two more. Beady over-sized jet-black eyes stared at the archer, distended noses twitching, long hairless tails kicking up the snow.


Chapter 4
(Initiative: Magi Bayaz, Necromancer's Apprentice, Necromancer's Mercenaries)


Magi Bayaz watched impassively as his hired infantryman desperately battled the raging Imp. Caul Shivers was fighting for his life. Bayaz switched his gaze to Red Hat crouched half-way along the ramshackle walkway. There was no sign of Crom, the enemy barbarian. A brief flicker of long suppressed instinct urged him to aid the infantryman but the slither of altruism is swiftly repressed by his desire for treasure. And denying it to his adversary.
 Years scouring the treacherous ruins of Felstad had slowly eaten away at his benevolence. He often wrestled with sleep, fearing the dark draw of nightmares. And worse things. A shifting collage of half-forgotten faces. Men and woman that had been in his employ over the long, lonely years. His worn, lined face inscribed a patchwork of conflicting trials both physical and spiritual. The exigencies of Felstad bred dispassion. And ruthlessness. 
 He glanced back at Caul, their eyes locked momentarily. Pleading met Bayaz's detachment. The moment passed. The deadly dance of iron and claw continued. Bayaz looked away. He closed his eyes and started to weave a spell. Within seconds, the small burnished goblet dropped by Caul moved slightly. Then it slowly shuddered and started to drag across the frozen ground as the telekinesis spell took hold.

Red Hat shifted closer to the unstable edge of the walkway to see what caused the unnerving scream from below. He saw the infantryman, Caul Shivers, charge the Imp creature, his axe glinting bright in the frigid air. He returned to the task of gathering the scattered loot. Behind him, Crom's thickset fingers and head appeared on the walkway from below.
Magi Bayaz casts Telekinesis, ignoring Caul's peril

The Necromancer's attention was fixed on Max, his accomplished Treasure Hunter. A somewhat expensive retainer but so far the mercenary had proved his worth. So far. He was boldly heading for the graveyard entrance where two of Bayaz's men were gathering more long lost finds. The Necromancer smiled shrewdly. He had a cunning plan.
 "Your resolve is impressive if somewhat foolhardy," he murmured. He could clearly see Max attempting to use the confines of the archway to even the odds against the two soldiers. It was a desperate gambit nonetheless.
 "A small boon to strengthen your endurance...and my ambition," he sneered. The Necromancer once more let his mind delve into the magical flow. 

Max the Treasure Hunter had reached the crumbling arched entrance to the graveyard. Facing him was a young, florid looking mercenary in a bright wolf-print cloak brandishing an ornate short sword. In contrast, a dour veteran mercenary was urging his compatriot to get out of the way. Max held his guard ready and leered at his adversary. The young man suddenly launched a flurry of well-schooled sword-strokes. Metal rang out as Max efficiently parried the other man's blade. He was no match for the Treasure hunter's blood-won experience. Just then, Max felt a strange tingling. His brigandine seemed to stiffen and emit a pale blue aurora. His opponent stepped back in surprise. Realising what was happening Max grinned and raised his sword, ready to launch a blistering attack on the two puzzled soldiers. Just as he stepped forward there was a loud pop. The strange aurora faded and his brigandine convulsed, the force causing him to stagger backwards. An arrow thrummed into the snow nearby. In an instant, the second soldier barged past his flamboyant companion.
"Outta the bloody way Cosca!"
The veteran swung his sword in a high arc whilst simultaneously lunging low with a slim sword in his other hand. Max recovered enough to parry the thrust but the veteran's other sword crashed down on his shoulder and sliced into his cheek. He felt a gush of warm blood in the chill air, cut short by a blow to his head. He saw blinding white stars and then darkness.

The Necromancer's Enchant Armour spell directed at the Treasure Hunter was all but complete when a ragged cry of alarm broke his concentration. His mind's grip on a thread of magical power released, the energy rapidly recoiling into the ether. The spell withered. He turned angrily towards the cause of the interruption, his grave features quickly replaced by surprise. In the distance, he saw his archer had discarded his bow and drawn a long knife. Incredulously, he was desperately trying to fend off a plague of giant rats.

In the graveyard, Ferro already had an arrow ready, her bow half drawn as she tried to get a clear shot at the Treasure Hunter. But that damned nuisance Nicomo Cosca and the equally annoying Curnden Craw were getting in the way. Then, there was a chance opening. Just as she released the arrow there was a strange popping sound and a flash. The Treasure hunter seemed to stagger backwards. The arrow went wide, burying itself into the snow just as Craw crashed through the gate and lunged at the enemy.
 As Ferro started to prepare another arrow, she was suddenly flung backwards by a powerful impact. Her strength rapidly haemorrhaged as if flowing down a drain. Her bow dropped to the snow with a soft thud as her legs collapsed awkwardly beneath her. She rolled onto her side as a wave of pain overwhelmed her consciousness. A ragged blade of bone had pierced her leather armour and was protruding from her side. The Necromancer's apprentice ducked back behind an old grave with a look of satisfaction, relaxing his mind after the effort of forging another Bone Dart spell.

The earlier calm of the ruins is replaced by sounds of scattered fighting. Grunts and cries mixed with the sharp metallic ring of clashing blades. On the walkway, Red Hat heard the loud snap of a board breaking close by. He spins around and draws his sword, just in time to see the bulky figure of Crom the barbarian bearing down on him. Below, seemingly oblivious to the fighting, one of the Necromancer's men stuffs the last of the valuables he found into a leather pouch and prepares to make his escape. Greed and the lure of treasure perfect allies. Hideous squeals puncture the sounds of battle as the Necromancer's archer stabs into the greasy matted fur of a giant rat. The deadly rhythm of blades oscillating in the background as Logen Ninefingers breathlessly duels with his foe in the graveyard.
Ferro (bottom) is hit by a Bone Dart cast by the Necromancer's Apprentice
The Treasure Hunter rolled aside just as Curnden Craw's blade pierced the frozen ground next to him. He kicks out, connecting with the veteran's shin. Craw hisses with pain, seemingly struggling to release his blade stuck fast in the ice. The Treasure hunter scrabbles to his feet but he has lost his sword. He immediately reaches to draw a hidden long-knife but it's too late. The younger mercenary is upon him, his ornate sword pointed at the Treasure hunter's throat.
 "Yield! Drop your weapon!"
 "I haven't got one," replied the Treasure Hunter smoothly, slowly raising his arms.
 "No sudden moves then or...Spiteblade will end you!" growled Nicomo as menacingly as he could muster, relishing the opportunity to play the victor. The Treasure Hunter raised an eyebrow and looked amused.
 "Spiteblade? Really? It looks as though it belongs on a wizard's writing desk." Nicomo reddened at the jibe and the treasure hunter's apparent insouciance.
Curnden Craw joined them, having freed his own sword, which he now rested casually against his shoulder.
 "Enough of this. We havent' time. Tie him up lad. I'll watch him." Nicomo looked from the treasure hunter to the veteran, his bravado rapidly fading.
 "Now just one moment Craw, I'm..." Suddenly there was a shout from further down the pathway. Nicomo and Craw turned. The Dogman was waving his bow and pointing. In an instant, the Treasure Hunter tried to make a run for it.
 "No you bloody don't!" shouted Craw, bolting after him. He soon caught up, grabbing the treasure hunter's cloak from behind, jerking him to a halt.
 "Mercy!" rasped the treasure hunter.
 "Mercy is the mark of a great man," replied Craw, roughly pushing the enemy to the ground. He ruthlessly stabbed the treasure hunter in the thigh.
 "Guess I'm just a good man." He stabs him again.
 "Well, I'm all right." He kicks the moaning treasure, hunter curled on the floor.
 
Max, the Treasure Hunter, bravely challenges Nicomo and Curnden at the graveyard's gate
The Dogman watched his comrades in irritation as they seemed to be arguing over one of the Necromancer's thugs.
 "Nicomo," he scowled and spat onto the frozen ground
 "Probably talking him to death."
He slunk out of the shadows and shouted down the cobbled pathway.
 "Hurray up you fools!"
Shaking his head when he saw he had their attention, he turned away and moved closer to the gap in the building wall. There was no sight of the enemy archer but there was an awful lot of shouting and unnerving shrieks just out of sight. He scanned the ruins. There was movement in the far distance. One of the enemy thugs was squatting near a walkway, seemingly filling a bag with spoils. He cautiously moved further into the gap as far he dared without revealing his position. A couple of loose stones fell from the crumbling wall. He raised his bow. Another long shot but worth a try. The shaft thrummed away through the gap.

Caul's heart was pounding. Sweat mingling with blood from his stinging wound as he fought the raging Imp creature. He concentrated hard, waiting for an opening for his great axe. The rot of despair banished by the wizard's apparent betrayal. His mood black and full of rage. The Imp lashed out once again with its great gangling limbs, its claws whisked just past his head. He ducked under the attack and fell to his knees, swinging the axe in a powerful low blow. The razor sharp edge ripped into the Imp's lower torso, a great wedge of glistening ooze bursting from the ragged tear. The Imp hissed and screeched, falling back. Caul sprang to his feet and lunged again, chopping down hard, this time slicing through one of the creatures arms. The clawed appendage spun away in a great gout of black blood. He pressed the attack relentlessly, roaring in rage, chopping and swinging the great blade back and forth. The creature toppled in a tumult of wails and ear-piercing screams. And still Caul chopped and sliced until he was covered in gore mixed with his own blood and sweat. Eventually he stopped. His energy spent. The Imp lay silent, twitching at his feet. He gasped in deep, ragged breaths letting his axe swing loosely in his hand. He had defeated the abomination. He turned away and glowered at the wizard, Bayaz, stood unconcernedly a few paces away using his powers to recover a small trinket.
Caul Shivers defeats the Imp

Red Hat instinctively grabbed part of the wooden handrail lining the walkway. Crom the barbarian swung his great axe down, Red Hat checking the blow with his own sword. The axe blade slithered down the sword and bit into the wooden rail, Red Hat snatching his hand away just in time. The powerful blow numbed his sword arm. He pushed away from the railing but it suddenly gave way. He desperately tried to recover his balance but he could only stumble to the walkway floor, his head and shoulders hanging over the edge. He just had time to see his sword falling silently to the ice below before he quickly squirmed aside and kicked out just as Crom's blade crashed into the walkway floor sending up splinters of the rotten boarding. The old timbers creaked and moaned, trembling underfoot. Crom was already raising his axe for another blow. Red Hat tried to roll aside but he was too slow. The axe swished down and bit deep into his brigandine. A wave of searing pain crashed through his body. He feebly tried to push himself back along the walkway. But he had nowhere to go. Crom towered over him, readying his axe with a look of cruel triumph.
 "No! Please! I'm done!" he pleaded. Crom's features darkened. Then raised his axe to deliver killing blow.


Chapter 5
(Initiative: Magi Bayaz, Necromancer's Apprentice, Necromancer's Mercenaries)


The little golden goblet shuddered to a halt a few paces from Magi Bayaz. The telekinesis spell spent. The wizard sensed eyes watching him. Caul Shivers was staring furiously at him. The gore-soaked infantryman walked stiffly towards the wizard. Bayaz backed away.
 "You were gonna to leave me, wizard!"
A tremor of fear rose up in Bayaz. He was weakened from the effort of the spell casting and the vengeful infantryman was closing on him. Nevertheless, he assumed a commanding countenance and, gripping his staff in both hands, pointed it towards Caul. The infantryman stopped a couple of paces in front of Bayaz, his face a knot of conflicting dark emotions.
 "Hold fast soldier! Or it will be the last thing you do!" Bayaz released an ember of magical power, the crystal socketed on the end of his staff glowed a ruby red.
 "You left me to that...monstrosity. You could've helped me. But you left me to this..." Caul violently kicked the little golden goblet past Bayaz, sending it clattering into a stone wall.
 "You are a paid mercenary! You know the deal, Shivers. You know the risks. Nothing personal," replied Bayaz, holding the other man's dark gaze. The mercenary was silent for a moment. Then he made a decision. He hefted his gore-stained axe and rested it over his soldier. He roughly brushed past the wizard, ignoring the glowing staff pointed at him.
 "Not this day, wizard. You are safe for now," he growled as he passed. Bayaz lowed his staff.
"How do I know you won’t kill me in my sleep?" he asked at Cauls back. Caul stopped and looked over his shoulder.
"Listen, you don’t know me, Magi, so I’m gonna say this once. If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake, you’ll be facing me, and you’ll be armed."
"Are you always this sentimental?" quipped Bayaz, hiding his fear.
"I had a good day." Caul Shivers continued to walk away from the ruins.

The Necromancer sees the treasure hunter fall, two of Bayaz's men surrounding him. His archer is screaming for help. And the Imp summoning had been defeated. But it is the nearby walkway that holds his attention. A red-cloaked enemy was facing Crom, swords drawn. The Necromancer, fearing his treasure hunter was doomed, decided he could not risk another one of his valuable retainers. He could aid either his archer or the barbarian. Archers were useful but commonplace. The barbarian had proved his worth and his tribe was a rich source of skilled recruits. His apprentice could aid the archer. The Necromancer concentrated once more, searching for his apprentice's mind-marker. He soon found what he was looking for. Aid the archer. Kill the rats. He sent subconsciously. He repeated the message again. Aid the archer. Kill the rats. Seconds later, he felt a faint subliminal reply in his mind's eye. Yes Master.
Satisfied, the Necromancer scrambled from a pile of rocks and moved a few paces closer to the walkway above. He starts to weave another spell. He extends his arm towards the bobbing soldier up on the walkway. A stream of sickly-yellow mist appeared from the end of his bony fingers. It spreads quickly across the ruins and up towards Red Hat. The tainted vapour reaches the soldier as he falls to the decking, felled by a blow from Crom. It curls around Red Hat. He cries out in shock and pain. Then, as Crom hefts his axe over the soldier, the brume appears to reverse direction, drawing back from the fallen soldier. Red hat suddenly spasms in agony. His eyes bulge. Blood gushes from his nose and ears. His bowels void. Crom checks his killing blow, puzzled by the strange occurrence. Then, with one long gasp Red Hat lies still. His lifeless eyes fixed on Crom. Below, a cruel chuckle resonates. The Necromancer opens his dark eyes, his thin lips drawn in a rictus grin. The Steal Health spell a success. The last vestiges of Red Hat's vitality sucked dry from his ruined body. 

Crom's burly profile appears on the edge of the walkway. The Necromancer called up at him
"Find what you can and get back here!" Crom raised his axe in acknowledgement. The Necromancer turned towards the archer. He was still desperately fending off the rats. There was no sign of his apprentice. The archer was rapidly tiring. He'd managed to kill one of the monstrosities, a flurry of rabid stabs with his long knife to the creature's head as it attacked. But whenever he turned towards one, another tried to out-flank him. He was covered in small abrasions and his stinking, mucus smeared leather armour was rent with tears. His heart was pounding and fighting rising panic. His eyes wide with fear, darting from one rat to another. The rats sensed he was weakening. As they circled the forlorn human something caused them to pause. They stopped, twitching noses high in the air. Then, to the archer's astonishment, they scurried away.

Crom fells Red Hat on the rickety wooden walkway
On the walkway, Crom stepped over Red Hat's body. A few paces away he spots the small pile of coin and precious objects that the erstwhile soldier was trying to collect. Amongst the objects was a small silver figurine of what appeared to be a knight of some sort. Set into the Knight's hand was sculpted a miniature two-handed sword made of bone. As Crom clumsily handled the figurine he accidentally pressed on the bone sword. With a barely detectable click, the sword depressed. The figurine starts to vibrate. Crom drops it in surprise. It hits the wooden deck and rolls over the side. There was no sound as it lands in the drifting snow below the walkway. Cursing, Crom bends down and starts to collect the rest of the objects. As he does, there is a strange clicking sound. Crom continues collecting the loot. The sound gets louder. It was now accompanied by the unmistakable sound of scraping metal and the faint rub of dragging feet in snow. Crom, distracted, rises and peers once again over the edge of the walkway. To his dismay, he could see two shambling shapes below. Scraps of rusted metal armour and frayed cloth clung to decaying bones. Rows of rotted teeth and black eyeless sockets leered from batted helms. Skeletal warriors.

Skeletal Warriors accidentally summoned by Crom the Barbarian
The grey clouds darkened. The icy winds started tugging at Bayaz's robe. Icy tendrils sapped the heat from his body. The temperature was dropping fast. Then, as if activated by a great invisible switch, a torrent of hailstone filled the air. They drummed against the old stones and hissed into the snow. Visibility receded as the shadows lengthened. He could barely see the extent of the walkway in the blizzard. He thought he could discern a figure up there intermittently as the icy winds pulled on the veil of hailstones. It could be Red Hat, he thought. Suddenly two ambling shapes emerged out of the gloom, the hail pinging off metal helms. They were coming from under the walkway. As Bayaz peered at the figures as they continued their unnaturally stiff march through the snow. Soon, their  features started to resolved. Bayaz's eyes widened in shock, he instinctively levelled his staff.
"Not this again!" he cried. He quickly turned his back on the skeletal warriors and ran out of sight behind a large tomb. He hurried along until he reached the start of the cobbled pathway near the graveyard. He spotted more huddled figures up ahead, sheltering from the storm under the lee of a wall, their hood's held tight against the stinging hail. Bayaz recognised the Dogman, protectively hugging his bow.
"Dogman!" The archer looked in Bayaz's direction and raised his hand. Bayaz was unaware of his apprentice's fate.
"Get Jezal and the others, we're leaving this place. Now!" The Dogman rose to his feat, hurrying the two figures with him. Bayaz dejectedly drew his robe tighter and headed out of the fell ruins of Felstad.

As the storm hit the Necromancer waved to Crom, peering over the walkway. He indicated for the barbarian to return with exaggerated movements of his staff. Hopefully the imbecile will understand the order to retreat, he thought. The two skeletal warriors continued to lumber in his direction, seemingly impervious to the wind-driven hail. The Necromancer ran towards his archer, bent double and panting hard nearby. He was visibly shaking from fright and cold. There was no sign of the rats. Just then, his apprentice loomed out of the storm, his cloak pulled tight. One of the mercenaries was at his side, his sword still drawn. As the storm lashed down, the Necromancer swiftly gave orders to depart, satisfied this venture had not been totally in vain. His men had recovered some treasure at least.

A few hours later, the storm died away as quickly as it had appeared. The sky brightened briefly as the black clouds receded to reveal a brooding blood red sun on the horizon, casting long crimson shadows amongst the ruins. The two warbands were long gone. Those that had survived at least. The cold would claim the dead. Or other things. The skeletal warriors, released from an enchantment cast countless years ago once again mindlessly patrolled the broken rows of graves and tombs.

Unseen under the gloomy shadow of an ancient petrified tree, its frozen branches reaching into the sky as if made from old bones, lay a small burnished lamp. It sat in a shallow bowl of melt water formed in a drift of snow. As if it generated its own heat. Above the forlorn moan of the wind as the last of the light blinked away and darkness descended on Felstad, deep, malevolent laughter seeped from the little lamp. 

MSWord version (without pictures) available via my Dropbox