A Tale from the Rift of the Dead
This tale is told from the perspective of Aoth Dawnbringer, currently the High Dawnspeaker in the Grand Cathedral of Dawn, but then merely a middle-ranked disciple in the church’s hierarchy. It recounts a small selection of his part in an investigative foray into the crypts of the fourth level.
Aoth licked his lips nervously as he peered unblinkingly into the darkness beyond the radiance cast by the magical globe above his head. A slow scraping sound, the dissonant drone of metal being drawn across stone, emanated from the thin corridor ahead. Aoth glanced at the other clerics next to him, his eyes lingering for a moment on the senior priest with his group, a tall, grey-haired man holding a flail confidently in his right hand, and a gold-wrought sun, the holy symbol of Lathander, in his left. The initiate to the right of the expedition leader looked nervous, as did the two behind him, despite the attempts of the sixth priest, Aoth’s friend Arrad, to reassure them. Then he cursed under his breath as he realized what he was doing. Dropping his guard in this place for even a moment could result in a fate worse than death. He turned his full attention back to the corridor in front of him, just in time to see skeletal forms coalesce from out of the thick shadows. The skeletons were decrepit, and their joints were stiffened by eons of interment, slowing their movement to an uneven limp. They all wore rusted armor and grasped assorted weapons in their skinless fists. At first there were only two of them, but more and more emerged as the clerics waited, dragging their dusty bones toward the living things they perceived. When nearly a dozen had come into the light, the senior cleric to Aoth’s left raised his holy symbol high above his head and shouted in a confidant, booming voice. “Foul creatures of darkness! Flee before the all consuming radiance of most holy Lathander!” Though the skeletons were but a few feet away, Aoth did not even flinch, knowing they would be instantly destroyed by the power granted by the Morninglord to the senior cleric. However, contrary to everything Aoth knew about his faith, the skeletons kept coming completely undeterred. So shocked was the young cleric that he barely raised his shield in time to block the axe of the skeleton in front of him. Nor did he respond at first to the skeleton’s second swing, barely stepping out of the way in time to avoid decapitation. This near miss finally shook him out of his moment of confusion, and he rallied. He was an ordained cleric of The Morninglord, and a deadly foe to undead everywhere. Turning or no turning, mere skeletons were no match for his righteous fury. As the skeleton brought up its axe to attack a third time, Aoth slammed his shield into its ribcage, shattering the brittle, ancient bones. Then he strode forward to meet the next undead, swinging his heavy mace past its clumsy parry and down on to its skull. He paused a moment to take a brief glance to the right. What he saw was not reassuring. Neither the senior cleric next to Aoth nor the other younger priest to the right had reacted quickly enough the failure of the turning to avoid injury. The older man had taken a nasty gash to the left shoulder for his hesitation, and the initiate had been impaled through the throat by a rusty spear, and now slumped against the wall, twitching weakly and watching his lifeblood drain away onto the cold stone floor.
Behind Aoth, Arrad shouted, “The sun’s embrace consume you!” This time, it worked, and the skeletons were immediately reduced to ashes by plumes of pure gold divine fire. However, the priests were far from safe, as more skeletons emerged from the darkness, far too many to turn. The expedition leader moved over toward the near dead initiate and began whispering a healing prayer, and the other two novices moved in to fill his spot next to Aoth. One of the novices whispered a short prayer, and his weapon began to glow with a soft light. He strode fearlessly toward the skeletons, destroying three with swings of his blessed mace. Aoth hung back, confident that even initiates could halt the advance of the skeletons. He directed the globe of light above his head further down into the hallway, illuminating rank upon rank shambling undead, and behind them, something he had never seen before, despite his near encyclopedic knowledge of undead. It was a ghostly, emaciated creature, hovering several inches above the ground, shrouded in swirling ectoplasmic matter and staring at him with glowing green eyes. Above and around its human-like head were floating purple glyphs that Aoth could not read, but that inexplicably made his eyes hurt. His resolve deepened, and stuck his palm outward at the creature, boldly speaking a prayer to his god that should have sent a lance of holy radiance into the creature, putting an end to its miserable existence. Nothing happened. Aoth looked at his hand in horror, and he panicked, unable to understand what was going on. Lathander’s power was a constant in this universe, and he had never failed to answer the young priest’s call. Aoth wracked his mind for some wrong he had committed that might have been terrible enough to cause his god to forsake him in a time of need. He looked at the other priests, searching for some sort of sign. Behind him, Arrad shouted a prayer and released two bolts of pearly white light at the strange incorporeal creature down at the other end of the passage. Upon impact they shredded the apparition’s insubstantial flesh and extinguished the lights in its eyes. The purple glyphs slowly drifted to the ground amid strands of ghostly matter that had begun to unravel from the dying spectre. Suddenly Aoth felt the absence of a great weight upon his consciousness that he had not noticed was there. He felt his link to his god strongly even in the darkness of this place and rallied, shouting a prayer that brought a column of fire down upon some of the nearest skeletons. Confident once more in his divine power, he surged forward toward the skeletons, granting them rest in their second and final death.