Rain pelted the roof of the House of the Black Lantern. They had just finished discussing tactics for the battle tomorrow. Vanguard would command the Midnight’s Own, Orsik would take the Ebony Guard, Leif would take a group of paladins alongside the Clerics of Pelor, Finn would join him as well as take command of the gargoyles which meant Rusty was with the Ghost Talon. “Rusty, it is your fault that they are even here in the first place, if you recall.” Finn said condescendingly. “I guess he was right, but I still wanted to be with the gargoyles. Well, whatever.” He thought to himself as he trudged upstairs to his bed.
Rusty reached the top of the stairs and pushed upon the door. There was relatively little inside the small wood-paneled room except for a charred dresser courtesy of Azuzu the night previous. Rusty climbed into the over-sized bed and tried to get some sleep. Regardless of who he was fighting with tomorrow, it would still be a big day. He put his dagger underneath his pillow and closed his eyes.
“No, all of them – they were my friends, but not any longer. They do what is convenient for them, not what is right. But they would never admit that. No. They scolded me for saying that outright but at least I am not being hypocritical. I might not be a very good person, but at least I’m honest. I was in need of their help—and what do they do? Turn their backs on me! All of them! They helped Ferris instead of me! Why? Because it was fucking convenient for them!”
“I was their friend! I helped them! I cared about them! And what do they do? They fucking stab me in the back! Especially Finn and Vanguard! Orsik never cared much for me I understand that; and Leif is too stupid to care, but fucking Vanguard!? And Finn!?”
“Not only did they turn their back on me—they also have allied themselves with that weaselly impostor Ferris! It’s as if they don’t even care that I get trapped in this shithole while he goes free! Arrghh!!” The clash of metal on stone was heard.
Rusty gasped aloud and reflexively sat up with his dagger in his hand. He was drenched in cold sweat, gasping for breath. He was staring at the dresser across the room. Rusty decided to get out of bed and walk around for a bit to cool his head. Peering into the bottom dresser drawer, something caught his eye. He pulled the drawer open to see a small red metal coin with identical etchings on both sides. Rusty picked it up, looked it over, and put the coin inside he adventurer’s pack without much thought. “Warm milk with honey, that’ll do the trick.” he said to himself and he proceeded to open the door and head downstairs.
Being slightly on edge after his nightmare, Rusty was startled to see Yarol behind the bar upon reaching the base of the stairs. “Oh, hullo Yarol. I had a bit of a night terror and can’t sleep. Could you fix me a glass of warm milk with honey, please?” “Yes, my pleasure Master Rusty, take a seat, it’ll be ready in just a moment.” Rusty took a seat by the window and looked out into the darkness. For a second he thought he saw a demonic visage staring at him from the blackness, but it was nothing he told himself. “Just my eyes playing tricks again.” he said.
“Here we are, sir. No charge. This one’s on me.” “Thank you kindly Yarol. This is wonderful.” He said as he took a sip of the beverage. “Hope you don’t mind but I added a pinch of Goodnight Tincture to it—I know you need your rest for tomorrow.” “Yarol, you are the best.” Rusty slurred, his bottom lip was already numb from the sleep powder. He finished the rest of the milk in a couple big gulps and stated, “I’ll be seeing you in the morning.” Then the halfling climbed up the stairs and crawled back in his bed.
“Why are you not awake? It’s almost dawn!” cried Orsik banging at Rusty’s door. “The battle’s gonna start soon!” he fervently exclaimed. Rusty shoved his head underneath the pillow. “Go away! I don’t wanna do battle today!” He muffled. “WHHAATT!!??” Orsik broke the door off its hinge and threw a pair of boots at the halfling. “THEY’D SHAVE MAH BEARD OFF IF I EVER SAID SOMETHIN’ LIKE THAT! YOU BETTER GET YOUR ARSE OUTTA BED RIGHT NOW LITTLE MISTER!” “Fine, fine. I’m going.” he replied as he got out from beneath the covers. “What do we have to do before the battle starts?” “We’re gonna find out downstairs!” the dwarf answered excitedly as he stomped down the staircase.
Downstairs Finn and Vanguard were huddled around a map of the Skins. Finn has illusory troops marching across the board while he and the Last Son of Matthallal debated strategy. Looking up to see the half-dressed halfling, Finn said “Finally.” “Rusty we told you to be up an hour ago.” added Vanguard. “But, Leif isn’t awake yet.” contended Rusty. “Sure he is—he’s in the pantry.” Just then, in full plate armor, Leif clomped through the pantry doors into the barroom carrying a tray of salted meats, cheeses and bread. “Mornin’ champ!” he said with a mouthful of bread. “Morning, Leif.”
“Everyone, shortly you will go off to meet with your contact. You all know who your contacts are, yes?” Finn said as he stared at Rusty. “Yes, I do, thank you. His name’s Auristis and he’s Nira’s brother.” “It’s Oristus, but yes. You’ll find him at the docks, Rust.” “Wypaugh and Jordan Haell will be here shortly. I will contact you all if anything changes. Questions?” Everyone shook their heads. They each then packed up their things and headed out the door.
“Oristus, Leader of the Ghost Talon, shadar-kai supremacist, Nira’s brother and excommunicated priest of the Raven Queen’s Eyrie. Got it.” Rusty read from a small sliver of paper as he walked south towards the docks. He put the piece of paper in his pocket as he reached a shuddered stone building near the water’s edge. Two shadar-kai guards were posted outside the front entrance. They stuck their chests out slightly as the halfling approached and looked down at him when he reached the front step. “Password.” said the first one. “Um, I don’t have a password. I’m Rusty of Wheale Borough. I’m here to see Oristus about troop support for the battle today. Can I see him?” The two guards shook their heads, “Piss off.” said the second one.
“Well, great.” Rusty said to himself as he was walking away. Without think he turned down a dark alleyway and scaled a stone wall to the rooftop. There were two buildings in between Rusty and the second floor window of the shadar-kai meeting house. Rusty leaped from rooftop to rooftop and landed with a thud on the slate of the dock house. He winced hoping that he didn’t make too loud of a noise and then scampered over to the dirty window. “Ah, thank Avandra.” he said, opening the unlocked window. Below him a few voices could be made out including one particularly gruff voice which Rusty assumed to be Oristus.
Standing on the creaky wood beams of the second-story loft, Rusty decided it might be best to not sneak for once. He climbed down the ladder as the shadar-kai were talking: “Groost-Otshin will only become a reality if we hold these locations. Do you understand?” “Um, hi, sorry to interrupt.” Rusty interjected. “Do you guys know where I can find Oristus?” “I am he.” A tall shadar-kai exhaled as he turned around. He had numerous gold and silver facial piercings and intimidating tattoos. “I’m Rusty Wheale Borough—the guy who killed Azuun Bennic, I guess. I’m here to get your support for the battle against the undead army of Kalarel the lich.” The corners of Oristus’ mouth turned up into a smirk. “Rusty, is it? Well I have to thank you for removing the ambassador from our beautiful city. You see he was a thorn in my side—as you helped me, it seems only fair that I help you, no?” Rusty looked around the room at the other shadar-kai and nodded. “I’ll give you one company of my best men; I’ll also keep more stationed here in the docks just in case. Does that sound like a plan?” “I’d really appreciate more if you can spare them; we’re going to need all the men we can get.” “Very well, two companies but I cannot spare anymore without leaving the city defenseless.” “Sounds good. Thank you Commander.” He turned to leave, “Oh, one more thing, what is the password if I need to get inside again?” “Groost-Otshin” Oristus replied, “It means Sorrow’s Solace in our tongue.” Rusty turned and opened the door. He passed by the two door guards and waved at them as he passed.
Rusty walked back to the House of the Black Lanterns with a pep in his step. He was proud of himself for doing a good thing. Or so he thought. After arriving Rusty met with his companions and together readied themselves for the battle. They took turns carting supplies to the walls while Finn ordered everyone around. Orsik and Leif were getting noticeably giddy as the day progressed; Orsik was now wearing his finest scale armor and he had polished his maul just for the occasion. Leif was still eating. “Uh, I should probably go take a poop before the battle starts. Hey Yarol, buddy, can I use your bathroom?” he said as Rusty approached. “We’re mostly ready!” Orsik said, smiling. Rusty had never seen Orsik smile before, he had surprisingly nice teeth. “Ok sounds good. Have you seen Finn? I gotta check in.” “He’s inside with Jordan Haell, they’re dancing or sun tanning or whatever it is that they do.” Rusty went inside without another word.
No, they were not sun tanning nor were they dancing; they were talking strategy with a few clerics of Pelor. “Hello Rusty.” he said. “Any news?” “Yes actually, Oristus said he would give us two companies for the battle. He also said he would station more troops in the docks in case the city got overrun.” “Hmm, ok. Then your job is to command those two companies around their flank and down past the river. Hold the bridge at whatever cost. Absolutely do not lose that bridge. Understood?” “Yeah, got it.”
The sun was going down over the hillside a few hours later. Rusty had said his goodbyes to his friends and went off to go command the two companies of Ghost Talon warriors. In his head he elected to call them “Wheale Company” and “Butternubs Company,” they probably wouldn’t care for those names though. Upon meeting the Wheale and Butternubs Companies, that opinion cemented. They were all rough, intimidating and rather fierce looking warriors. Rusty scaled a large rock and cleared his voice, “Ahem, greetings Ghost Talon warriors. I am Rusty Wheale Borough. Oristus has made me your commander for today. Our objective is to flank the hordes of undead and take the bridge. Is that understood?” “Hur-rah” they responded in unison. “Good, then, uh, may the Raven Queen, uh, decide our fate…?” Rusty said quizzically. This was followed by a slightly louder “hur-rah” by the troops.
Rain started to fall as the horns sounded. Finn and Leif were leading the central charge. It was time to go. Unsheathing his dagger, Rusty led the first company into the forest and towards the bridge. They couldn’t see anything yet as they traversed the thick underbrush of the Skins. The rain was getting heavier. The wind was picking up making it impossible to catch a scent of their decaying flesh. Not much longer they found a battalion of undead warriors; Wheale Company was able to get a jump on them and not long after the undead were defeated. Rusty remarked at how efficient the Ghost Talon were at slaying the undead; we had no casualties thus far.
About an hour into the battle Butternubs Company caught up to Wheale in the forest not far from the bridge. In the valley below, Rusty saw Orsik leading a throng of the Ebony Guard towards the bridge. At least a hundred undead and a massive spider stood in between his men and the bridge. “Into the valley men! There’s the bridge!” Wheale Company headed down into the river basin to meet with Orsik and the Ebony Guard. Orsik was covered with parts of flesh and bone; he had a fingernail in his thick beard. Upon seeing Rusty, he let out a fearsome roar that was joined by the voices of the black-armored guards of the Raven Queen. They joined forces and raced towards the undead guarding the bridge.
Orsik reached the bridge first. He cleaved zombie after zombie, leaving a trail of rotted muscle and organs in his wake. Even the Ghost Talon was impressed with the dwarf’s battle fervor. Just then a supernatural ear-piercing scream was heard coming from the forest. Rising out of the trees a legion of ghouls were advancing towards their position. Rusty and Orsik exchanged glances. Orsik commanded that his forces take the spider across the bridge, Rusty and the Ghost Talon went back up the hill towards the ghoulish horde.
The halfling charged up the hill flanked by his shadar-kai comrades. They met with the ghouls and their commander on the slope; the initial charge was devastating. The commander wielded a massive gemstone that sent out beams of energy scorching the Ghost Talon troops. Just when things seemed lost for the first company, the second came out of the forest and attacked the ghouls flank. But their undead commander would not be turned. He mounted a second charge and again overpowered the shadar-kai warriors. Rusty and his troops were forced to flee into the forest. Rusty was forced to chase after his men into the Skins. “Stand with me and fight Ghost Talon!” he cried. “We must stop this invasion! Fight with me!”
Rusty chased down one of the shadar-kai and grabbed a hold of him, “Why do you run soldier?! We must stand and fight with me, your commander!” He replied, “You are no commander halfling; we have no business doing battle with you. Oristus is our commander—he will bring us Groost-Otshin; you will bring us nothing but death.” He said as he turned away and ran towards Gloomwrought with his katar unsheathed. Soon Rusty was left on the forested hill alone, the ghouls were advancing and their screams could be heard slowly growing louder.
Without much thought, Rusty took off running down the hill towards the bridge. Arriving at the river basin he met with Orsik and the Ebony Guard. “Orsik, my men abandoned me!” Rusty cried to his friend. “The ghouls and their commander must be stopped!” Orsik signaled that I take a battalion of the Ebony Guard to finish the ghouls while he progressed towards the Castle that Crawls. He pointed towards a massive dark stone bastion that teetered on six black chitinous legs. Rusty’s eyes widened in fear and his mouth opened slightly. He swallowed and turned to go with the Ebony Guard.
Rusty met with the ghouls a third time but the ghouls’ strength could not overpower that of the Raven Queen’s blackguards. The Ebony Guards penetrated the central line of the ghouls’ force heading directly towards the commander. Rusty skirted his way through and arrived at the commander. With his characteristic lethality, the halfling made short work of the commander with his dagger. The gemstone landed with a thud on the wet earth. Rusty picked it up and claimed it as a spoil of war. “Well, maybe this isn’t going to be such a shitty day after all.” He stated matter-of-factly. “We must rejoin the Seeker and the others.” said of the Ebony Guard. “Yes, yes I agree. Let us go.” And with that, they took off down the slope towards the bridge, behind which was the ominous shadow of the Castle that Crawls, barely visible through the dust and thick grey mist. Again, Rusty thought he saw that same demonic face staring at him as he sheathed his dagger. He turned to look one last time, but nothing was there…