We started out with the best intentions, and that’s all I’m going to say about it. We were relatively good at being quiet, and I figured that we would either learn something (best case) or make it back to Bacchus Jolly with no new information beyond a day of bored searching (worst case).
How wrong I was.
It began innocently enough, with the three of us setting out and looking for Calendar symbols. Instead, we wandered into an area that had a massive barricade by it.
The barricade looked almost like a base, like some group had lived out of it and maybe made their last stands in it. A row of sharp points ran along the front and a zombie was impaled on one of the spears.
Unfortunately, a band of undead was also around this barricade, with one particularly interesting one leading it.
There was an arrow sticking out of the leading zombie, but not one of the crappy arrows I was used to seeing from those skeleton archers we’d encountered before. This appeared to be fletched by someone who’d had some skill and experience with that sort of thing.
Immediately intrigued– because a good arrow might mean people, and people might mean the Calendar, or at the very least more survivors– we decided to get closer, cautiously. There were houses all alongside the barricade– this had clearly been a well thought-out place for it– so we snuck around and it. There weren’t enough zombies around for it to really be an issue, even if there were more than usual in the area.
Zeno also did this little illusion of a glowing light to distract some of the zombies and we (for the most part) were able to make it past the barricade to explore without attracting too much attention.
We came out into a drainage tube where there were, unbeknownst to us, a handful of zombies patrolling. One threw its head at us.
Then it became apparent that we were no longer just passing through– we were involved for real now. Lankin let out a battle cry and pulled an arm with a weapon still clutched in it from one of the zombies to use against them. Zeno even pulled out a rapier, and sensing battle approaching I invoked a blessing on everyone.
Still strange to do even if it was very useful, but I didn’t have too much time to dwell on it because the undead guy in the back of the group screeched in this terrible and awful fashion.
We were trying to keep a low profile and this was exactly the opposite of our goal.
Three of the zombies lashed out at Zeno and Lankin, and my other two compatriots were able to mostly dodge out of the way of most things. Still, we had to make it away from the zombies somehow, especially now that they’d sounded off, almost certainly making us a target. I leapt over the barricade to try to reach the screamer and cut them off, but I wiped out, absolutely getting a face full of rocks and trash on my inglorious landing.
I tried to hit it with some fire from a distance, but I couldn’t even do that either.
Zeno sighed from a distance behind me. “Your pitch is off,” he said testily to the screamer, “and you’re ruining the dance.”
It, miraculously, stopped screaming.
But our relief was short-lived, because we heard an echoing scream from another zombie. Then the zombies attacked again, one of them slamming a cudgel into me.
Bruised now in both body and ego, I stood and lifted my holy symbol. Behind me, the sun cut through the drainpipe, outlining me in light. “Oh seriously,” I said in a low voice, “just leave me alone.”
And they listened. For the first time in my life, when I got angry at a zombie and told it to peace out, it did.
I looked down at the worn symbol, the half-sun rising and the triangular arrows below, before tucking it back underneath my cloak.
What a gift that would have been to my people years ago.
Sometimes it was hard not to feel incredibly bitter. It wasn’t going to help me in this moment, though, so I tucked that thought aside and joined Zeno and Lankin, picking dust and refuse off myself as we walked.
We passed through more barricades, full of ropes and carpentry– clearly an effort, a stand, had been made here–and emerged into a camp that seemed previously occupied and evacuated. Lankin was able to find some footprints through the silt and mud, and even located a secret door. It seemed, from what we could determine, that whatever group had been living here had had to beat a hasty retreat through this staircase exit.
Hoping that we weren’t too far behind them, we followed the exit, closing the door behind us so as not to reveal it to any enemies.
Appropriately enough, we ended up in a public toilet, one by one coming out of a stall that had “out of order 😦 not connected to sewage system” written on its door in Csipherian.
Drawing back on our past experiences with zombies and Red Eyes, we all pretty much knew that the undead situation would only worsen with time– when we’d found that one water pump by the cafe in the square, one squeaky creak had drawn a huge mob, not to mention the red-eyed lich, Ahkmatix.
We decided to keep moving and to try to get out of here. Zeno played one note on his pennywhistle, a long screech itself, and then transformed into a hawk. He flew up to try to get more perspective, hopefully finding us a way out and not merely alerting more things to our presence.
He was gone for a while, long enough to make me wonder if he’d just left us, when he returned. Hawk!Zeno flew down in an upset flurry of wings and hopped around.
Lankin knelt down next to him. “Speak to me, hawk guy.”
The hawk made some croaking-cawing noises and Lankin gasped.
“Oh my god,” the elf said. “Set, broom guy’s here throwing fireballs! We need to run!”
And so, we ran. Zeno found little breaks for us to run through from above, and after a little over half an hour of running, we found that we’d made a good amount of distance. We’d made it to a park.
Also, we were fast approaching our meeting time. As in, it was nearly time to meet everyone else back at Bacchus Jolly.
I looked around for signs to get down to the catacombs and found some entrance markings by a shed. However, further investigation of where we’d run revealed that…we’d gone in the opposite direction of where we’d needed to.
Once more, Atarka flew in from the north, landed on top of the pyramid, and curled up around the golden tip to sleep.
“So, uh,” Lankin said as we watched this, “are we going to head back?”
Zeno pursed his lips, now a person again. “We’ve got to.”
The two moons were up, with the smaller one slightly in front.
“Ah,” the bard said appreciatively, “a partial conjunction. A good omen.”
Whatever, I shrugged. I didn’t need moons to be good at what I did.
Anyway, of our options, going above ground and over the barricades seemed to be the best option. We hadn’t observed much of the Red Eyes patrolling at night, and with the dragons sleeping, we figured that we wouldn’t be spotted as much from above as we would in the day. Plus, it kept us out of the sewers (potentially full of zombies) and we wouldn’t have to cross the barricades again, which we knew was noisy.
So, we snuck into a building, trying to stealthily climb a ladder hooked onto its side up to the roof. Zeno and I got up there okay, but the last rung of the ladder crumbled under Lankin. Zeno reached for him to keep the elf from falling, and a nearby clump of patrolling zombies looked over.
Hastily, I conjured up an image of a cat, rooting around in the trash, then arching its back at the approaching zombies before dashing off down a side alleyway.
As excellent as my work was, it did not seem to dissuade the zombies, but we were all the roof by that point. We had time to get out of here.
The next obstacle was going to be jumping from the tall building we were on to a shorter roof. Lankin, who had probably jumped from trees or wild animals all the time, and I, who had literally done this very thing too many times to be bad at it, would be fine.
I gave Zeno some guidance, just in case. He accepted it and did fine.
We crossed this second roof and headed toward the next. This time the gap was much larger and the drop went straight down to the street.
Without saying anything, I unhooked the broom from my back and passed it to Zeno.
“Oh, no,” he said, waving it off with a laugh. “That’s very kind of you, but I’m feeling good about it.”
I sighed, held up my hands, and put the broom away. Honestly, sometimes people needed to learn where their limits were firsthand. We could probably still rescue him okay, but I was ready to be annoyed about it.
Lankin led the charge, jumping for the window and then pulling himself up using the ledge to get to the roof. Once there, he threw a coil of rope back to me and Zeno.
“Oh,” I said. I’d thought that we’d have to jump it, but this made it much less bad.
Zeno took the rope and swung across. Surprisingly, he did not have any issue with it. I too grabbed the rope and swung across and climbed up the wall to reach the third roof, and once done, Lankin untied his rope.
We’d made it past the barricades. However, we were still three stories off the ground, and we’d need to get from where we were back under cover of the undestroyed buildings that made up the rest of the city. As expected, there were still a good number of skeletons milling around.
“A distraction,” Zeno murmured, “that would help.”
“You’ve got a bottle,” I said.
He nodded and handed it to Lankin. Together, we came up with a plan. Lankin would throw the bottle to create a distraction, then Zeno and I would descend down Lankin’s rope. Lankin would go last, but he’d be invisible, thanks to me, and would meet back up with us under cover.
“What’ll I do to let you know I’m there,” the elf asked, deeply concerned, “since you won’t be able to see me?”
I hadn’t really thought about that part.
“Maybe some nature sounds or whatever,” Zeno said and waved it off. “Come on.”
And so, Lankin threw the bottle. I made him invisible before sweeping off down the rope with Zeno. And maybe the bard had been right, maybe there was some moon goddess giving him good luck tonight, because all of his steps were sure and he kept as quiet as I did the whole way back to the building line.
We waited for Lankin.
“Bird sounds, bird sounds!” Lankin whispered unseen from somewhere to our right.
And for the few hours it took us to get back, Lankin had a ball. He was so excited to be invisible and not to be able to see his hands. I could have dropped the spell once we were out of danger, but he seemed to be having so much fun that I kept him invisible for as long as I could.
We didn’t see much in the way of enemies beyond the occasional shambling zombie and I could safely say we were doing great on stealth. Half the night later, the familiar shape of Bacchus Jolly Libation and Fermentation crept into view, with a silhouette of a very tired sorcerer keeping watch on the second floor.
Felegum made a hoo-hoo noise like an owl.
Lankin grinned and called back, “Bird noises, bird noises!”
Felegum waved us over. “Come in, come in, have some wine.”
Zeno, elated at this most excellent news, accepted the proffered cup as we entered the brewery. However, his good luck had finally run out.
“It’s from the front, sorry,” Felegum said apologetically.
The bard winced and muscled the rest of the terrible drink down as best he could.
“Tem and I went to check the barricades,” the sorcerer explained as Zeno coughed in the background. “We saw your fireworks and went to check it out after. There was even a barricade in the sewer, did you guys find that one?”
It only made me happier that we’d decided on the rooftop route. The moons had been beautiful, Lankin had been happy, and at last, we’d made it back.
I fell asleep at the table as everyone continued to talk and dawn broke across the city. What a night.