The second floor of the bone tower was also rimmed in spikes. A stream of bile flowed from one side of the room to the other. Across the acid rill was a fleshy pillar with a skeleton consumed by fire standing behind it. The flames licked up around it, blazing in bright reds, oranges, and yellows. The inferno maintained an unnatural hue. Though the skeleton was covered in fire, the flames clearly were not harming it.
Two other skeletons rushed Stroz, grappling with him. Behind them, three emaciated humans with hungry eyes and hands that ended in talons lumbered toward them. The creature at the forefront had a distended belly and fresh blood covered it’s mouth and talons.
Kegar slammed his staff into one of the skeletons, knocking it into the bile. It floundered for a moment, not trying to stay afloat, but instead still struggling to grab Kegar. It quickly went under.
Broden leapt across the stream, tackling the flaming skeleton. He roared a primal scream, his head changing into the head of a lion and crunched down on the creature shaking it until it came apart. When he looked up, his vision was different. The world was bluer and he could see quite well in the low light of the tower room. The smell of singed fur mixed with the smell of rotting flesh.
“By the gods!” Cole shouted, looking over at Broden.
Kegar stole a glance at his cousin, “There isn’t time for that Cole, watch yourself!” He jabbed one of the emaciated humanoid things, pushing it away from Cole.
The thing reached for Cole again, but was knocked to the ground when Broden threw his axe, splitting its head and part of its body. Broden leapt across the foul stream before rushing to impose himself between the emaciated thing and Shandra.
Shandra reached a hand around Broden’s mane and let off another fireball. The monsters shrieked. The sound tore through the adventurers. Cole shrieked and fell to his knees, clamping his hands over his ears. The light he was maintaining winked out.
Kegar grabbed Cole by his collar and pulled him up, “Cole!” Kegar smacked him, “Pull yourself together and bring that light back!”
The flames from the dead creatures continued to burn, allowing them to see. Strozazand began breathing more fire as the things shambled toward them. Great torches of burning flesh stretched out their clawed hands.
“Breathe something else! You’re just setting these on fire!” Kegar screamed at Strozazand while trying to fend off one of the burning creatures.
Broden had had enough of their irritating screams. He shook his mane and roared out a challenge. Grabbing his axe from the corpse it was resting in, he waded toward the pillars of fire and began smashing them. While Broden was hacking, Kegar was able to pull Cole together.
“We need light. Call on your deity.”
Shaking, Cole was able to pray to the god of the sun. A ball of pure sunlight, smaller than the last, appeared above his head. “There it is.”
Once the final creature was no longer moving Strozazand began looking through the room for valuables. He didn’t find any. He did find Faute’s father, Chanceux. The man was partially embedded into the floor and from what Strozazand could see of him, being eaten. Chanceux was mostly unconscious, but when Strozazand brought his ear to the man’s lips he could hear him rambling about dead things everywhere.
Kegar walked over to Strozazand, “We can’t go back.”
Strozazand pointed at Chanceux. With everyone working together they were able to pull him free of the floor. Chanceux’s legs were partially dissolved. Great chunks of his muscles had been stripped from his body.
Cole began to pray over him, but stopped after only a moment. “Something is blocking me. I can’t heal him.”
Broden picked Chanceux up gently, being careful of his legs. He looked around for a moment before the floor opened up. Everyone could see another floor below. Looking in from above there didn’t seem to be anything in it. Carefully they jumped down, one by one. There were no monsters in the room, only a pillar. The pillar had a series of glowing lights.
Shandra stepped up to it. “This looks like a puzzle.”
Kegar nodded at the pillar, “What makes you say that?”
“Oh,” Shandra smiled, “well, it looks exactly like one of the puzzles Sir Wilbur described in one of his journals.” Sir Wilbur had let her read the journal when she had asked for additional reading material. He had told her that anyone pledged to his house could read them.
“You’ve read his journals?” Kegar barked. His face burned with fury. Sir Wilbur doesn’t let anyone read his journals! He had said only his house could read them and I wasn’t of his house. He fumed, He was just trying to keep things from me! Kegar had forgotten that he insisted that he was outside of Sir Wilbur’s jurisdiction because he was a druid. He had forgotten his claims that only nature could command him because of his status. It was in that moment that he had demanded to see the journals. Sir Wilbur had declined.
She nodded, “He gave them to me to read when the first group of hunters went to investigate the tower. He said that if the dead were rising up,” she glanced at Cole, “his words not mine, then we should send a message to Capita after we had gathered all the information we could. He seemed to think we would need as much experience as we could gather.”
Kegar frowned. If he was going to marry Lizzy like they wanted, he felt that he should know Sir Wilbur’s history. Sir Wilbur would have to start giving him authority and access to information.
“Done!” Shandra said. “Now, pressing this light should open a door or something.” Before anyone could stop her, she pressed the central light. The light flashed brilliantly and she was gone.
Broden grunted and rushed forward smashed his fist into the central light. The others tried to calm him, but there was no reasoning with him. He struck the light over and over to no avail, and then suddenly he was gone.
He appeared in another room standing on a circle, still holding Chanceux with one hand. Shandra was barely fending off two ghouls that had wrestled her to the ground just to the left of the edge of the circle.
The ghouls’ flesh was hanging off in swaths. Bones protruded from their fingers. Their clutching claws were entangled in her robes, shredding the cloth with their nails. A boot held off one ghoul. Its single minded determination to tear into her face prevented it from being distracted by her exposed leg. Shandra held the other ghoul’s arms in her own, trying to keep them off her face.
Broden dropped Chanceux behind him just off the edge of the circle and roared. The strength of his roar was so primal and powerful it echoed in the living room. The ghouls shuddered and turned their lifeless eyes on him. He grabbed the ghouls and began bashing their heads together until they stopped twitching and their heads turned to a soupy black mush. The other adventurers had come in behind him one at a time, as the circle was cleared. They picked up the wounded man and dragged him to a far corner.
Once again, the floor opened up. This time the walls and floors contracted, pushing them into a much wider room. The floor was covered in a red, sticky, viscous substance.
Shandra looked at her boots, the shreds of her clothing hanging about her boots, and bemoaned, “Oh bother, I’m never going to get the smell out of these.” Her statement seemed ridiculous after having just rolled on the strange floor of the room above.
Cole turned slightly green looking at the fluid, “Your boots were done for when we came into the tower.”
The sticky substance congealed into a mass with a snot-like consistency. The thing jiggled slightly. A stench far worse than the rest of the tower came over them. Shandra and Kegar fell to the fleshy floor vomiting until they had nothing left.
Cole blessed Broden and Strozazand so they shown like the sun. The two axe wielders jumped at the gelatinous mass and began striking it, but they only managed to carve off smaller blobs.
Shandra struggled with her belt pouch trying to pull out the same kind of healing potion she had used on Kegar earlier that day. Her hands were shaking and each time a wracking, shudder ran through her mind skittered across where she thought the healing potions were and where her hand actually was. Finally, she was able to pull out a potion. Her eyes were so full of tears she couldn’t even tell what color it was. It looked reddish, but her eyes blurred.
One of the blobs Broden had cleft from the mass struck her, knocking the vial out of her shaking hand. The blob absorbed the vial and bounced into the wall. The impact of the blob on the spikes ruptured the vial. An explosion vaporized the gelatinous shard and blackened the spikes protruding from that wall.
As Shandra continued to gag as a thought whispered through her mind, That was certainly fortuitous… I need to make a brightly colored label for those fire potions. I can’t have red as both health and fire…
The rest of the blobs dispersed into the blood on the floor. Broden tried to cleave the thing in half, but as fast as his axe parted it, it reformed behind the blade. When his axe was halfway through the mass it became stuck. Broden was so focused on trying to pull the axe out, he didn’t notice that the fluid was creeping up his legs, trapping him.
When Stroz looked over from his own attacks, Broden was completely engulfed and being pulled into the gelatinous creature.
“Cole! Do something!” Stroz cried, afraid to breathe on the monster in case it harmed Broden.
Cole stumbled backward, tripping as the organic floor sunk under his heel. He outstretched his hand and called upon his deity, “The sun’s flame!” A white line appeared in the air above the blob. Tendrils of the sun’s fire reached out toward the blob and struck it before the heat and line faded away.
The stink of burning blood was overpowering. Kegar and Shandra continued to void their stomachs.
The blob, jiggled angrily before projecting Broden into Cole. Broden hit Cole like a heavy, dwarven, battering ram, sending both of them crashing into the spike covered wall. It was good fortune that Cole hit the wall first since he was wearing his heavy crocalyal armor. If it had been anyone else they would have been utterly impaled. As it was, the spikes gave Broden and Cole some nasty scratches, but nothing serious.
The thing had been diminished in size after Cole’s attack. But with Cole and Broden’s blood flowing into the blood on the ground, it began to regain some size. The mass swelled upward before bursting. The spatter exploded outward passing through the group leaving them feeling weak.
Stroz was having none of it. He was dargon. No slimy creature that didn’t even have a head to beg for mercy with was going to defeat him. As the blood began to pool back together, he let loose a breath of artic cold. The cold struck the fluid, freezing it solid. He grabbed his axe and struck the ice with the butt of his weapon, shattering it.
Cole looked at the shards on the ground, “Excellent work Tommy.” He paused, “I mean Strozazand.”
Stroz glared at Cole for a moment before nodding. As he walked over to pick up Kegar and Broden helped the gagging Shandra up, the floor shuddered and heated up. The bloody fluid melted and began reforming.
Strozazand snarled at the oozing form. His fists clenched and the tattoo on his back began to ripple. The tattooed wings seemed to flutter against his back, stretching in his skin. The black outline began to shift toward midnight blue, the tattoo itself transitioned from the sun burnt skin of his youth to harder, blue scales. Stroz inhaled to finish the creature off.
Cole stretched out his hand, “By the suns light!”
A light so bright it blinded everyone that had kept their eyes open for more than a moment, flashed from the orb above Cole. The viscous substance burst into a flash of ash. The walls were scorched and blackened from the holy light that passed through the youths without touching them; except where it burnt away the offal on their clothes. The tower shuddered again and burst apart, spraying decaying flesh and flinging the town youths to the edge of the clearing. The collapsed remains of the tower sunk into the ground so that all that was left was a single spike from the top of the tower.
Strozazand struggled to his feet. His tattoo began to fade back to its previous color, his skin returned to skin rather than scales, but the lines on the tattoo remained a barely noticeable midnight blue. He looked around the clearing for a moment before hefting his axe and heading toward the spike.
“What are you doing?” Said Cole.
“I’m taking the spike. Never know when it will be useful.” Strozazand said hacking the spike off. The strength that had poured into him in those last moments were beginning to fade, but the energy begged him to do something. Begged him to take something for his hoard.
Cole took the time Strozazand was wasting to use some of his healing chants to cure his sick friends. He then turned to looked over Chanceux more closely. Chanceux was feverish. Cole recoiled in horror, “He has been bitten by a ghoul! I… I… don’t have the power to cure him. If we don’t get him to someone that can help him soon, he will die and come back as one himself.”
Kegar picked up Faute’s father, “We’ll get you home.” Then he turned to Cole, “Can you check to make sure that won’t be coming back?”
Cole nodded, his god really did hate the undead. Cole stood over the remains of the tower and tried to commune with his deity. He clasped his hands together and looked toward the sun. Even after he had summoned the light and burned away the gloom, the sunlight was still weak. He felt the pressure of death and the unclean on his skin. It was a open clearing now that the tower was gone, yet the sun still did little to warm his skin. “I have a feeling the tower isn’t dead yet. The grounds here haven’t been cleansed.”
As the group carried Chanceux back toward Pode, a woman spied from a shadow on the other side of the clearing. The aeaeae clung to her, preventing her from stepping all the way through. She sighed, pulling the remaining shadows about her like a cloak. “Time to execute Plan B.”