There was a time when Mal didn’t believe in ghosts. It seemed like years ago; before the mists, before Strahd, before this damned half-light that the Morninglord never seemed to truly penetrate. But that was then. This… this was something else entirely.
While Pakfur and Arianna walked Savid back to the main road, the dusk elf’s words rang in Mal’s ears. A silver dragon. An army of knights. Defeated. Yet somewhere in this ruin, some remnant of their power remained. Something powerful enough to challenge Strahd. Whatever it was, It had to be here. It had to because the prophesy foretold it. It had to because if it didn’t…
“I might as well walk into the woods and let the werewolves take me.”
The wizard glanced at him. “What’s that?” But Mal just shrugged. Watts seemed to be changing as well. His once-youthful face now rugged and unshaven, hell he even looked more muscular. And Cheinne was missing. Again.
The woman had a habit of poking around where she didn’t belong, and it was going to get her into trouble.
And then Chienne shrieked.
The two men grabbed their staves and rushed out of the rubble-strewn kitchen, through the dining room with those omnious armor statues, into the mist-filled chapel. Three men bore down on Chienne. Their pale skin taut, their armor ragged and filled with holes, the longswords they carried were keen-edged nonetheless.
The battle was over quickly, with Mal’s spinning staff knocking aside slash after slash, while Chienne darted back and forth, her rapier cutting through dessicated flesh. And eventually it was silent again.
Panic creeping through him, Mal unbarred a side door and dashed outside, the damp chill of the evening air a welcome respite. A respite, that is, until his eyes focused on his surroundings: a graveyard. The earth around the graves all disturbed. They clawed their way free. They refused to rest.
And then Chienne shrieked. Again.
Back through the door, Watts tore up one flight of stairs, Mal the other. The tight spiral stumbling steps threatened to pitch him over at any moment, but then he saw the light from her lantern, and there she was, just above him, facing some kind of transluscent soldier. Chienne stabbed at the thing, but it—it walked through her—then slashed its blade across her back. Above, a second ghostly soldier strode through a door, flanking Chienne.
No. No. No. It was too much.
Mal dashed back down the stairs. Arianna and Pak were standing in the doorway, bemused. A bloody Watts stumbled down the opposite stairs.
And then Chienne screamed.
This wasn’t like the other screams. It was wracked with a pain and sorrow that froze Mal’s blood. The big half-orc shoved him aside and dashed up the stairs. There was an eternity of seconds, and then the slow, steady thump of boots on the stone.
Pak, covered in blood, carried Chienne. Her open eyes were fixed on the ceiling. A fist-sized hole cut clear through her chest and out her back.
At a loss for words, the remaining four stumbled back to the tiny servants quarters, to hole up for the night somewhere defensible. They lay Chienne’s body gingerly inside one of the empty wine casks in the other room. There was nothing he could have done. He couldn’t have saved her. He repeated the mantra throughout the night, but it felt no more true when dawn’s light crept through the cracks in masonry.
Pak was up first, rummaging through the demolished kitchen for scraps of food. And then he was out of the kitchen and into the dining room. And then the creak of ancient hinges announced the half-orc was exploring.
“Spiders!” A half-orc’s whisper carries like a human’s shout. As Mal, Arianna and Watts piled into the kitchen doorway, Pak bristled and choked up on his greataxe, preparing to charge. But from the chapel, three undead knights emerged once more.
Could they be the same knights? They looked the same, but the dents in their helmets from Mal’s staff were gone. His mind reeled, his reactions sluggish, as one of the knights bore down on him. Its blade bit into his shoulder, then his side, the pain clouding his vision, his mind refusing to accept that he had to kill these abominations again.
Beyond the door he could hear Pak cursing in orcish, generally a sign that the fight was going well. Flames and electricy crackled in his ears as Watts and Arianna peppered the thing with magic. Eventually it fell, and they burst into the room to find Pak bloodied from half a dozen cuts, one knight fallen before him, the second kneeling from a grievous wound. Pak raised his axe to finish the thing, leaving his guard down; it lunged.
Mal gestured, and ball of Lathander’s fire shot forward, engulfing the thing’s face. It writhed momentarily in a silent scream, then collapsed. Pakfur stopped, his eyes narrowing at Mal. He’s mad. At Me. For stealing his kill. I saved his— The half-orc roared and wheeled, reason clearly drowned in bloodlust, and dashed through the door. From within there was a sickening crunch of steel on chitin.
The other three dashed toward the door to find Pak buried beneath a pile of man-sized spiders. Arianna whispered a quick prayer to Umberlee and the ceiling exploded in a roaring boom, leaving Mal’s ears ringing and a hole in the wall.
Spiders poured through it. Angry spiders. Ichor driped from their shrapnel-speared exoskeletons. Now they were coming through the door as well, crawling over Pak’s still body. Arianna disappeared under a net of sticky webbing, and Watts collapsed beneath clicking mandibles.
There were too many. He couldn’t save them. But he could save himself. He rolled backwards and slammed shut the kitchen door. He hazarded a quick breath then tore back through the servant’s quarters, down the hallway, and out the servant’s entrance. He exploded from the door into the Morninglord’s feeble light. Then he froze.
In his path, stood Chienne. The ground behind her visible through that fist-sized hole in her chest. This time, she didn’t scream.