Echoes of Invasion: Closing Time | Scene 16

With a frightened cry, Ulf lurches away from the bones rising up before him and the sloppy volley of arrows they launch at him. They form into half a dozen skeletons, and though the filthy bows they clutch are worn by time, they are still strung. Tric is momentarily taken aback. The thought had never occurred to him that skeletons could also be archers. It seems to him the safest place to be is actually right in their boney faces; they will not be able to effectively bring a bow to bear on someone right in their midst. Tric slides down the scree into them, fists flying. Unlike the walking corpses in the Foul Fen, these creatures are brittle. Bones snap easily as he strikes them, but the hits hurt his bare knuckles, too. Terwaen might call them dishonorable, but brass knuckles would certainly come in handy right now.

When he sees what is active in the dig site, Jedeth panics. “There’s not supposed to be anything here!” he shrieks. “Where’s my mace? Where’s my mace?!” Light flickers as he waves his torch around frantically, looking at the ground as if he has been recently disarmed.

Down in the pit, some of the skeletons continue firing at Ulf. They do a poor job of it, given all the jostling down there, and some of them stumble up against the rocks piled on the side. The skeletons nearest to Tric, however, strike back at him with their boney fists, landing painful blows.

Keeping her wits about her, Heppa reaches into a pouch on her belt and fishes out Kachen’s ring. She slips it onto her finger and immediately feels a lightening of the exhaustion from her earlier casting and all the recent work moving rocks. She reaches her hand out, channeling magical energy through the rune on the emerald. Her intent is to send some of the loose rocks flying at the skeletons, but her control slips, and she can feel something go wrong in the ring. The ground shakes, and rocks do slide down the edge of the pit, but not in any controlled fashion. Fortunately, some of them hit the skeletons. One has its legs knocked out from under it, sending the rest of it crashing to the ground where it lies still once more. Heppa idly considers taking samples of these bones, too, once everything is over. Then she would be able to compare undead bone and normally dead bone—assuming the amulet’s owner died a regular death.

Partway up the sloped edge of the pit, Ulf holds two artifacts of untold value while terrifying creatures are slinging arrows at him. In any other circumstance, he would flee. But he has an image to maintain, and he cannot bear to be humiliated in front of an audience. Particularly this one fellow who just leapt down into the fray—Ulf cannot let Tric show him up. He swallows his panic and tosses back the small rod, shifting to a two-handed grip on the larger staff. It is topped with a creepy skull, but all that Ulf cares about right now is its ability to smash.

Tric sees that Heppa is casting something, and it seems to work great from his perspective. The mini-rockslide has lessened the threat. Of course, some of those stones came perilously close to him, too, but the pit is a crowded place, so he does not blame his cousin. He sees Ulf wade back into the fight, swinging the staff he found. The archaeologist does not manage to land a solid blow with it because his strike is intercepted by one of the skeletons’ bows. At the collision, there is an explosion of purple light from the top of the staff. It ripples outward, and when the wave passes through Tric, he feels a shock, a deep chill. Tric is glad Mate has remained safe in his bag at the far wall of the cave, rather than having to endure this. As disturbing as the experience is, he takes some additional satisfaction from seeing that the skeletons are also shaken by the blast. Some of them rattle in the magical wave, while others collapse completely. Tric himself is shaking too much to do anything other than call out to Heppa, “Hit them with the rocks again!”

Farther away as she is, Heppa catches only the edge of whatever just happened. It is an unsettling feeling, but one that suggests the staff in Ulf’s hands is exactly the sort of artifact her father would like to study. They just need to get it away from those creatures. Tric is encouraging her on, but she is leery of doing anything further with Kachen’s ring, which she suspects she has broken in some way. She leaves the rune alone and falls back on her fae training, reaching out to the roots and filaments she knows are in the floor. She does a better job this time, now that she is focused on a localized patch. Roots shoot out of the ground, smashing into one of the skeletons and knocking it apart.

Jedeth, who was already panicking, is pushed into full-on mental distress by the purple light. He fought against undead in these very tunnels thirty-odd years ago, and those nightmares now play out again in his mind. Locked in memories of the past, he continues shouting for his mace and searching for it in vain.

At the epicenter of the purple blast, Ulf is confident he was responsible for it, but he has no idea how to prevent it from happening again. He does not know what else the light may have done, but it seemed to stagger everyone around him, so he drops the staff and switches to a weapon he knows he can control. He cracks his trusty whip at one of the skeletons, shattering a limb. His fellow fighter down here seems to recover his senses and resumes his fisticuffs approach. The elf’s blows take the head off another skeleton.

A solitary skeleton remains in the center of the pit. It evaluates Tric carefully, and then takes a swing at him as it plaintively moans, “Where is the master?” Tric is shocked that it can talk, but he keeps his wits about him enough to dodge out of the way. The blow hits the side of the pit, loosening more rocks. The scree has had enough of this fight, it seems, for it begins sliding down more rapidly now. A large piece catches Ulf in the shin, knocking him off balance. Another chunk smashes into the skeleton. It lurches from the blow, flinging itself towards Ulf or maybe the staff at his feet. The creepy voice intones again, “Where is the master? We are ready.” Then the skeleton shatters harmlessly around the archaeologist, who himself falls against the crumbly wall, unable to keep upright on his injured leg.