Get Jiggy with Ziggy: IV

Welcome back to another installment of Get Jiggy with Ziggy. After two weeks off (oh my God it was awful, especially because my other D&D campaign also took a break,) we finally had our regular session last night. Elizabeth is slowly catching up after a very busy few weeks, and her Witchcraft Wednesday is a bit out of line with what’s currently going on with Ziggy, but she’ll catch up soon, I have no doubt. You can find her latest blog post about our misadventures here. You can also look back over the rest of Ziggy’s recounting of events in GJwZ: I, II, and III.

The party, having returned the weapon to its rightful and very thankful owner, sat down to discuss their plans. Eamon had indicated that he had some business to take care of before they could to depart for the hamlet of Bohd Gaya, and that the earliest they would be able to depart would be at the week’s end. With this in mind, Ziggy made a suggestion.

“The shopkeeper I visited mentioned that his caravan of supplies was due to make a delivery over a week ago. Apparently, there’s been no word from them or other towns about a delay.”

“You mean Nosehair?” Knucklebones sniggered.

“Yes, ‘Azhaire’,” Ziggy corrected, “has offered us some better prices on provisions if we can determine what happened with his wares that were supposed to be delivered. Even if you are correct, such an easy fact-finding mission has a great reward, given that he tried to charge both of us 12 gold per potion.”

“12!?” the rest of the group exclaimed in unison, causing Ziggy to raise his hands in an attempt to shush them.

“We got them for less, don’t worry. If we don’t return with news, however, he has assured me that the prices will return to their original numbers.”

“The caravan was coming from Caer Dinevaal,” Ziggy continued, “So, if there are no objections, I suggest that we head off in that direction.

His proposal was met with general approval from the group and so they gathered themselves and prepared for the road head. Caer Dinevaal wasn’t terribly far, in fact it was one of the closest towns to Haven and would likely arrive before the sun set.

While Haven provided some protection from the weather in Frozenfar, today was a far more mild day than most, and so the weather on the road was not much different than in town. There was freshly fallen snow on the ground, but the path was marked with ten foot stone pillars every three hundred feet or so because of instances exactly like this.

The giant half-orc led the group, creating somewhat of a path for everyone else, with Ziggy near the rear so as to take advantage of as much cleared snow as possible. Most of the group had put on their fur-lined traveling cloaks to fight off the cold. Despite the weather being nicer than normal, frostbite was almost always a concern for anyone in Icewind Dale. Koruk, however, was clad only in his fur armor and boots, which may have been good against weapons, but it appeared to provide little protection from the cold. Despite his lack of warm clothing, Koruk appeared unphased; whether that was due to some developed immunity or his youthful stubbornness, Ziggy could not decide.

They traveled in relative silence for two or three hours, with Knucklebones occasionally whistling a tune. While they had done a couple of small deeds, they were still largely strangers with one another, and the road could turn dangerous in the blink of an eye, so now was not the best time for the companions to get to know each other.

Koruk stopped suddenly and held his hand up, stifling what little noise the group was making. He looked around for a moment, sniffing the air as he did. Finally, he turned off the path.

“This way,” he grunted.

Ziggy looked at the rest of the group, then to the next pillar whose guidance they were deviating from, and finally back to Koruk, who was forging his own path. With a touch of reluctance he, and the rest of the travelers followed.towards the tree line.

Koruk didn’t say anything, but continued to press onward, apparently following some sort of scent at the edge of the wood. The group followed him for several minutes until they clearing.

In it, they were greeted by the sight of the remnants of a wagon. The canopy over the top of the wrecked wagon had been torn to tatters and the boxes beneath had been battered and broken. As they approached, they found none of the caravan drivers that they had expected to.

The wind changed directions, then and Koruk’s head snapped up and looked to the back edge of the clearing.

Ziggy and the rest of the party noticed this and followed the half-orc’s eyeline.

He wasn’t far, maybe seventy or a hundred feet from them, but they could just see the head and shoulders of a man standing near the top of a hill in the distance. Koruk and Ziggy started walking towards the man, who had as yet not noticed them. Before they could call out, he walked back down the rise and disappeared from view.

The group hurried up the hill to find the survivor, leaving the wreckage behind. As they crested the hill they saw the man in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the slope. They could see now that his shirt was stained with blood and was torn in several places.

“Are you okay?” Marcenda called. “We’re here to–”

The man spun in place and snarled at Marcenda.

“Hell’s teeth!” she exclaimed in horror.

As the man stood up, the source of the blood became apparent. His eyes had been gouged out, and fresh ichor continued to seep from his sockets, nose, and mouth over the dried gore on his face. Similarly, each of his fingers dripped blood, appearing to originate from his the beds of his fingernails.

The creature, for it was surely no longer a man, shoved itself off of the ground, snarling once again, and began charging away from the group, straight for a small cave entrance.

Koruk, seeing this, reached over his shoulder for his great axe, grabbing it by the head and sliding the shaft through the leather loop that held it in place during his travels, and gave chase to the entrance of the cave, followed with little hesitation by Knucklebones, then Ziggy, Marcenda, and Ileasa. Koruk slowed as he approached the mouth of the cave and halted before entering, sniffing, then listening intently. Slowly, he stepped into the cave, followed by the rest of the group.

They followed a narrow passage for a short distance, with the group unable to walk more than two by two. The passage eventually opened up into a large cavern. While there was no opening in the roof, nor torches or fire, they could see with relative ease thanks to the blue-green glow of some sort of bioluminescent plant or lichen that clung to the walls. As they filed out of the cramped pass and into the larger chamber, they were met with the sight of ten or fifteen sets of five-foot columns that were evenly spaced from one end of the room to the other. In front of one was the creature that they had followed, and flanking him atop the columns to the immediate left and right were two more.

The one on the column to the right was dressed similarly to the thing that they had pursued with plain and simple, but blood-stained and tattered clothes. The one to the left, however, was dressed in what was once a fine purple robe. This, too, had been equally discolored and damaged. The two beings atop the pillars also had the same bloodied craters where their eyes should have been.

It was clear that they could see the group that had trespassed into their domain, but they showed no signs of aggression. Koruk gingerly stepped towards the trio, apparently testing to see if his advancement would provoke a response.

At least, that’s what he was trying to determine before Knucklebones swaggered right past him towards the one that was standing on the ground.

“Gentlemen!” he called out. “My intrepid party and I are here looking for a group of caravanners that were set to arrive in Haven over a week ago. You wouldn’t know where we could find them and their wares, would you?”

The one in the purple robe cocked its head to the side and let its mouth hang agape, as if Knucklebones had been speaking gibberish. It turned around and made a series of inhuman clicking noises. In response, another creature, similar to the others, appeared from behind the pillars and walked deeper into the cavern and out of sight of the group.

There was a silence for a while, as the adventurers assessed the situation, but with each passing second, the sense of unease grew among them. From the direction that the other thing had, the group heard an additional series of clicks, followed by a long, low, slow, chuckle that emanated and echoed off of the stone walls.

As the missing creature returned to view from the darkness, there could be heard the shifting and clanking of metal, causing Koruk to tighten his grip on his great axe.

“Who dares?” the source of the laughter rumbled from the darkness.

“Knucklebones McTarly. We are here to recover the goods and the men who were with the caravan that was expected in Haven. Where are they?”

The laughter echoed through the chamber again. “They belong to us, child.”

Ziggy nodded, his suspicions now confirmed. “And the goods?” he called out to the shadows.

“They belong to us,” it repeated.

“Who is us?” Knucklebones demanded.

Silence. Then:

Thump. Thump.

It was getting closer.

Thump. Thump.

The footfalls of whatever this was caused small tremors to run through the cavern.

Thump. Thump.

An outline with the occasional glint of metal appeared in the distance.

Thump. Thump.

As it came into view, Ileasa gasped quietly behind Ziggy.

A massive humanoid, with the same bleeding sockets and a sick grin plastered on its face, lumbered forward. Until now, Koruk had been the largest being that Ziggy had ever encountered, but this creature dwarfed even him. It must have been ten, maybe even fifteen feet tall. It wore what must have been, at one point, an exceptional set of plate armor, with gold inlay and three glowing rubies set into the chest plate. Pieces of the armor had been sundered, though, and those that hadn’t appeared to be missing entirely. In its hands, it held the hilt and pommel of a great sword that matched the beast’s size. The blade, however, was missing.

With lightning speed, Knucklebones McTarly freed his rapier and stabbed at the closest of the underlings. And missed. There was no viable reason for why he should have. It didn’t even flinch, but Knucklebones managed to stab right of his intended target.

Despite his inaccuracy, this act of aggression caused the four smaller creatures to make a horrible croaking noise and all but one turned their attention to Knucklebones. As if of one mind, the two atop the pillars jumped down and swung their hands towards Knucklebones.

The man stepped backward, causing one to miss, and attempted to use its moment as an opportunity to strike at it, but the other creature found purchase where its counterpart had not, and struck before Knucklebones could use the opportunity. Despite being unarmed, the beast made several deep gouges across Knucklebones’ chest.

Koruk meanwhile, had managed to engage one of the others that had found interest in Knucklebones and swung has great axe towards its chest, hitting the target with such force that that any normal man would have been knocked off of his feet.

This, however, was not a normal man.

The weapon found its target with relative ease and sunk several inches into it, but the creature showed no signs of duress or pain, or even that it had been hit at all. No blood sprung forth from the gash in its chest.

At the same time, Ziggy drew a curious glance from Marcenda and Ileasa as he pulled his fiddle out and tucked it beneath his chin.

“I’ll explain later,” he offered.

He launched into one of the songs he had learned many years ago. It had a driving beat to it, and he noticed both Knucklebones and Koruk’s tensions seemed to slide away from their body somewhat. Marcenda and Ileasa reacted similarly.

Knucklebones struck out again at one of his opponents, this time, scoring a deep, piercing blow. Just as with Koruk’s adversary, however, there was no reaction whatsoever from the expressionless abomination. As he pulled the sword from his foe, he slashed it across the chest tearing open its shirt.

Knucklebones was audibly disgusted at the sight before him.

Ziggy looked over to the swashbuckler and the enemy that he had just struck twice in quick succession. The torn shirt revealed a gaping hole, bits of bone and a glowing heart, suspended by some magical force, floating in the cavity. Before he could make any conclusion, however, the fourth monstrosity was upon him, Ileasa, and Marcenda.

Snarling, it took a swipe at the elf, who deftly dodged the attack by taking a step backward. Ileasa responded by drawing an arrow from her quiver and firing it point blank at the fiend, scoring a clean hit. In the same fashion as the other two, though, there was no reaction.

Now that Ziggy was up close to one, he could see that the fingertips that dripped blood had sharp, exposed claw-like bones where the fingernails should have been.

Marcenda pulled the same dagger out of her boot that she had used to dispatch the rat and stabbed the creature that had attacked Ileasa in the back, once again garnering no reaction.

Ziggy turned just in time to see the large creature that had spoken to them earlier barrel through a set of the stone pillars that had divided them. They obelisks exploded, sending bits of rock skidding across the cave floor. If it had hurt, it didn’t show. With that, it let out a deafening roar Ziggy noticed that a glowing blade, appearing to be made of a crimson liquid, had begun forming from the broken hilt. As it completed manifesting, the liquid seemed to solidify and the glow faded.

Ziggy, turning his attention back to the more immediate threats, saw that the exposed heart of Knucklebones’ foe began pulsing and glowing in the same manner as the sword, and the others had a faint glowing coming from beneath their clothes as well.  Knucklebones’ most recent adversary reached into its chest cavity, yanked at its heart, pulling it from whatever magic suspension kept it afloat and spiked it on the ground.

Upon impact, the heart exploded, causing black, tar-like ichor to spray all over both Koruk and Knucklebones. A sizzling sound was audible over their cries of pain. The creature crumpled to the ground in a heap, unmoving.

Koruk, thrown into a rage as a result of the damage inflicted upon him, raised his great axe above his head and slammed it into the leg of the other foe, shattering its patella and causing it to fall to its knees. Seeing the head of his enemy now at a perfect height, Koruk grinned, dislodged his axe from and sliced clean through his adversary’s neck, causing the body to slump forward.

As Knucklebones turned to face the last of the three creatures that had beset the pair at the beginning of the combat, it growled loudly and leaped at the human. Unable to move with his usual agility at the close range, Knucklebones found himself quickly grappled by his enemy and unable to move.

Marcenda and Ileasa continued attacking the one that had attacked them, and it seemed unable to cope with the barrage of arrows and stabs coming from opposite directions.

Seeing his companion’s predicament, Ziggy, charged forward, inspired by his own melody, charged forward. “‘Bones!” Ziggy shouted.

Knucklebones’ ears perked up and he noticed the little gnome darting towards him and managed to reverse the grapple, spinning it towards Ziggy.

As Ziggy approached, the final of the smaller monstrosities writhed and wriggled, attempting to break the hold over it, but Knucklebones held tight.

Ziggy jumped up, latched hold of the beast, and plunged his hand into the hole in its chest.

It was a strange sensation, the heart was cold to the touch and no longer beating, but the reddish-black gore that seeped out of it as he clenched it burned his skin.

Initially, he had planned to heave the heart at their largest foe, but as he wrenched it clear of its host, the burning and glowing increased exponentially and it began to shudders as if becoming unstable.

There was no time.

Seeing no other option, Ziggy pushed off of the creature and spun to face the ground, curling his tiny body around the heart.

Upon hitting the ground, the heart erupted, coating Ziggy’s front in blood, which caused him to cry out in pain. The agony was intense: it was as if he had been thrust face down into a vat of boiling, living acid, which seemed to try to burrow deep into his skin.

Groaning, Ziggy was hoisted to his feet by Knucklebones, who tried his best to clean the liquid off of the beleaguered gnome.

The giant monstrosity, seeing his minions destroyed roared in frustration and began to charge the group. Koruk stepped in front of Knucklebones and the still dazed Ziggy, as the first line of defense.

Before it could reach the half-orc, however, a shout came from across the room. Marcenda’s eyes were glowing bright orange again and she held her empty hands out in the direction of the behemoth. Ziggy hadn’t heard what she had said, but even in his current state, he saw that the monster’s eyes appeared to grow heavy for a moment.

It looked for a moment that the creature was about to topple over, but just at the moment where it would no longer have been able to keep its balance, it groaned, steadied itself, turned its head toward Marcenda and roared in frustration. As it did, one of the glowing gems on its chest flickered, cracked, and grew dark. Whatever Marcenda had attempted to do appeared to no longer affect the creature.

Clearly frustrated, the beast backed up slightly and roared again.

Its blade liquified and dripped into a large puddle that spread and writhed beneath its former wielder. As it did, another of the gems began to lose its glow and the creature sunk into the puddle of blood.

“Coward!” Koruk snarled as he charged the beast.

It was to no avail, though. It had slipped out of view and the puddle seemed to be sinking into itself as the half-orc got closer. He reached the spot where the monstrosity had stood just as the last bit of liquid disappeared.

They were alone.

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