Off they ran into the cool night air. Behind them, the beating drum from inside the tomb boomed again and again. To this, began another beating sound, one even more ominous. They raced onwards and back towards the magical hut that Andril had cast for their safety earlier that night. None of them needed to glance over their shoulder to know that the beating sound wasn’t just the drums, it was the hundreds and perhaps thousands of creatures seeking what Umani had wanted. More! He had cried. More what? None of them planned to find out!
“I’ve lost already many fellow adventurers because of magical protections that fail on this light forsaken isle! Do you think this shelter will keep us safe within?!!” asked Iricah yelling after them. She was burdened with the many satchels she was carrying and while she ran with all her might, she was lagging behind even Frank. The cleric had often discovered he was last in the racing department. Thrak, who was a natural sprinter, decided to help her and slowed to take a few of her bags off her shoulders. As he did so, some of the items fell out.
Iricah looked about to slow or stop and pick them up. Skept moving when Thrak hissed at her. “No time baglady!” he roared. From up ahead Areia cried out in her human laughter, which of course was lost on the half-man. He noticed that something like a bone embedded in a rock was sticking out of one of the bags. Sprinting alongside of Thrak, her legs and arms pumping. Iricah shouted, “I’m a bard by trade you know!”
Thrak ran alongside of her in his loping gait, tail stretched out behind him flickering and swishing. “Then what’s with the bonesss? You aren’t a bard that is alssso a hag are you? Ssssort of tired of thoosssssse.”
“Oh no, I’m an archaeologist too,” said Iricah breathlessly.
Thrak hissed. He reminded himself to have Areia show him how to roll his eyes like she did. He figured that’s what a human would do right about then.
“We’re nearly there!” called Zy’an to the others. His magical ring had put him far ahead of the others. He had found, as he attuned to this powerful artifact, that he could bound like a cricket into the air. An incredible find, Zy’an had made it quickly to the hillside in which they had placed the hut. They finally caught up to him. And found Zy’an staring at a small pile of bags set in the grass. A tiny note, in Haryk’s noble handwriting lay atop. He glanced back at them, his eyes blazing under his hood.
“They’ve left us,” sighed Areia. “They actually left us.”
“No time for that,” said Zy’an resolutely. He turned back in the direction of the tomb. “I recommend you go on without me. Now! They have gained too much.” As he spoke, the ground beneath them began to tremble. He knew it wasn’t from the drums. So did they all.
Ulua stopped, “No we must fight as one, if we are to hold our ground, we should do so tog…”
Zy’an’s gemlike eyes flashed from the dark pool of shadow beneath his hood. He interrupted her forcefully, “I am not standing my ground for you or anybody, Princess. I am sorting them out. Run, now, the lot of you if you know what’s good for you! Towards the trees before you are unable to do so!”
In the heat of the moment, there was no time for second thoughts. Once more they took off, racing over and in between the clumps of grasses, knowing that a slip and a tumble might bring a horde of the soulless down upon them in seconds. On and on they raced, hopping and darting through the tall grass, until exhausted they could run no further. And then they kept running.
Although it was dark, the moons’ light illuminated the rolling hills from whence they had come. Frank couldn’t help himself. Racing ahead towards the treeline still a few miles off, he looked back at Zy’an. He saw, behind him under the silver glow of the moon’s radiance, the fields and hills of tall grass moving as if there was a high breeze. Zy’an stood, growing smaller with every lunge the cleric took away from him. The dark forms of many hundreds of the beasts were nearly upon him. Frank knew he was watching the man’s certain death. The entire hillside before Zy’an was now covered with fast moving creatures, speeding towards him in the night.
The creatures moved so quickly. Blast this treacherous island! thought Frank. Why did he save us like this? Why sacrifice himself in this way?
Frank turned and ran on, certain that Zy’an was no more.
But at that exact moment with the beasts hurling themselves towards the monk, Zy’an pulled back his cloak with both hands to reveal dark wings spreading forth from his back! His gemlike eyes blinked out, and in their place were black opals into which the moonlight did not penetrate.
The monk, with the horde nearly upon him, stood with his arms and shadowy wings outstretched. Surrounding him in the silver moonlight, a dark fog, magnificent in it’s sheer blackness, spread forth like smoke scattered in a wind, and each of the creatures that came upon it shrank back, as if in terror!
“Light cannot cast out shadow, only darkness can do that!” said Zy’an into the night. Perhaps a hundred of the beasts, snarling and gnashing, clawed their way up the hill he stood upon. Towards him they came, but when they reached the grim cloud, several fell back as if wounded. Those shrieked or wailed. The first few turned backwards, racing back in the direction they came in equal measure. But the cloud, which at first had enveloped the hillside around him, began to disperse, scattered by the wind perhaps. Zy’an’s eyes began to gleam once more under his hood, the lights growing within. Driven by their bloodlust, and their master’s call, too many of the others came on though, dragging their hideous corpses upwards, clawing and reaching for the monk. At just the last minute, he bounded away towards the others, using the incredible magic of his newfound ring.
They weren’t quite there yet by the time that Zy’an had stood his ground, but they could now, under the moons’ glow, see the treeline. Finally thought Frank whose skin was already burning from his transformation. It was hard to think while racing onward like this, knowing that to slow was certain death. He looked around him, and if he hadn’t thought he was about to die, he would have laughed. Ahead of him was Thrak, his tail bobbing behind him. Next to the great lizardman was Iricah, the soothsinging bag carrier. Areia and Ulua were in the lead. Areia kept calling behind her saying something to the rest of them that included words like “slowpokes” and he thought at one point he heard her yell that “they’ll eat your buttocks first you know”. Frank found a small animal trail which Marcus was using and closed the distance to Thrak. Looking over he realized that he was holding the satchels left by Haryk and Andril.
“In which direction do we go Celns?!” hollered Ulua sprinting through the grass. She moved gracefully. “We must soon make a decision!”
Areia realized she had no idea! “I suppose that depends!” she yelled back.
Frank, who had now closed some distance, stumbled down a hill next to Thrak. “Thrak, read the note!”
“What did you ssssay human?” hissed the lizardman.
“The note Thrak! Take it out and read it! We need to know where Andril and Haryk are!”
They raced onwards, the treeline growing slightly larger. Behind them, bounded Zy’an who was indeed catching up quickly. Behind him were hundreds of the soulless enemies, although far fewer somehow than when he had stopped. The shadowy forms racing as one towards them.
Years later, in Far Realm, the tale of that moment was told by Tuatha Ulrecht himself to a spellbound crowd for the first time. For years afterwards, it became a bar tradition that to celebrate Thrak’s skill, after the telling one must down a pint of Dying God ale all the while running feverishly in place. Some would even memorize the note and attempt to recite it before the long draw themselves.
But at that moment, none of them, at least those who survived later to hear the tale and laugh about it themselves, saw it as that funny. One could see why a lizardman reading a small note as loud as he possibly could written on bad parchment over grassy hillsides being chased by hundreds of clawing undead would be quite a comedy. Then however, it was a matter of life or death.
For this is what the note said: