Saturday, October 29, 2016

Downfall, Part 2 - Dem Tode Nahe

Please keep in mind that the stories I post here are considered "rough drafts"  and will be different from the "finised product" but I like to post them here to share what I am working on and to show how I "interpet the AD&D 1E/OSRIC gamme world.

Aldisburgh.  A busy little town in the midst of a bit of an economic boom.  It had started as a farm town like most do but recently some of the local business owners had made excellent trade with New Edinburgh just across the river.

Jolly had been staying in Aldisburgh for just over a year and had become thoroughly intrigued by the town, the cemetery and the city.  Jolly was a studious young man who, despite his name, was usually taken to be a grim and recalcitrant person.  He had come to follow up on a lead about a very nasty and evil cleric of a mysterious and dark god Uruk-Khan.  The lead had dried up but the cemetery and the city kept him there.  There was something about the area that called out to him to investigate it more thoroughly.

The grain mill had picked up several new clients in New Edinburgh as had the lumber mill and the transporter had increased business with the city as well.  It seemed the more business that was picked up, the more local businesses increased their businesses over there as well.

As a result of all the patronism of New Edinburgh, Aldisburgh was a boom town now.  Something else that had picked up in business was the old cemetery on the western outskirts of town.  "Dem Tode Nahe" had been there before Aldisburgh was started.  The old black iron gates and fence had stood weathered and old when the first settlers set up shop at the first intersection of common roads two miles east.

The legend was that "Dem Tode Nahe" had begun as a cemetery of folks from New Edinburgh nearly a century before Aldisburgh was started.  All of the writing on the gates and strange marble and granite mausoleums was in a strange tongue that none had yet to figure out.  There was no on-site caretaker or contact person that had ever been known or identified.  Historians investigating in New Edinburgh never found any direct connections to the cemetery.  There were always suggestions and whispers about dark doings and questionable travelers or underground sects that had built the cemetery so far from the city to keep curious eyes away.

New Edinburgh shared a similar strange history as Arkham had in the East.  Everything seemed normal at the surface, but strange currents eddied underneath and through the inhabitant's lives.  The closest researchers ever came to the strange writings and designs found at the cemetery were found in books at the college in the Ancient Studies department.  It seems the scrawlings were noted to resemble an ancient and derivative form of Sumerian.

Only one of the visages able to be clearly made out was also one of the most commonly found.  It had been identified by researchers called to investigate a house full of zealots in New Edinburgh well over a century before that.  They only had a name to go with the image and nothing more.  That name was "Imdugud".  The Occult Arts department in the college had been tasked to investigate as well but apparently had never had anything to add to the official record.

Jolly had spent quite a bit of time in New Edinburgh and at the college.  He had even taken a few classes in both the Ancient Studies and Occult Arts departments as he could to continue building his knowledge and capability as what he liked to think of himself as a "Wandering Mage".  Though, only being out of apprenticeship for a year and a magic user of the First House meant he had a very long way to go to be considered a true "Mage".

As he pondered yet again over the mysteries of the cemetery and what he had learned about the town and the city, a banging on the front door of the boarding house was stirring the landlord, Mr. Bothams into a surly and expected rant about "stupid people allowed to roam the streets unhindered."

He came out into the main hall as Mr. Bothams opened the door and an older man rushed in, hollering about an attack at the cemetery.  After shaking the man about for a minute, Mr. Bothams got the fellow to explain.  He told them that just in the past half hour, someone or a group of people began attacking the few people maintaining graves in the cemetery.  The attackers weren't just attacking the bereaved but were actively biting and eating them.

Upon hearing that, Jolly dashed back to his room and began putting spell scrolls and what few items he thought might be of use in a situation like that into his pack  and dashed out the front door, heading straight toward the cemetery.

It was fortunate that Jolly had been able to reside in study for the past year and take courses at the college in New Edinburgh.  He had amassed quite a useful collection of spell scrolls which made it much easier to cast spells for a less experienced magic user such as himself who was still limited in his capacity to fully memorize spells and cast from those memorized at a moments notice.  It takes a great deal of mental discipline and practice, practice, practice to master the skill of memorized spell casting.  He was good for his level of experience, but not yet that good.

So, he copied spells that he found at the college, from other, willing magic users and even cadging them from over the shoulders of other students and professors at the college.  Quick cadging had helped him not only expand his spell books but also gave him more practice at spell memorization and retention.  Sometimes he would quickly memorize a spell but not be able to transcribe it into his spell books or onto a scroll until much later.

The practice had paid off as he went into the night toward the ancient, mysterious cemetery and the calamity that awaited him there.

Jolly walked briskly toward the old cemetery.  He could hear unpleasant sounds coming from within it's fenced borders.  He did not hear screaming or shouting though.  No sounds that indicated emergency.  No, apparently, the emergency was over.  The sounds he was hearing sounded more like animals at prey.  There was growling and guttural, hoarse grunts.  He heard before he saw, the sounds of rending, chewing and consuming.

He entered a gate silently, walking on his toes so as to be quiet as possible.  He crept around gravestones, mausoleums and trees.  He was following the grisly sounds until he came upon a scene from a nightmare.

Two men kneeled on the ground, bent over the form of someone else.  All he could see of the someone else was the legs.  The men themselves were making the animal-like noises as they grabbed at parts of the victim in between them.  There was nothing much left of the torso.  The men were pale and had an almost yellowed, palsied appearance to their skin.

Though he had been unnaturally quiet for a man of his stature and size, the men sniffed at the air and turned their attention in his direction.  First one, then the other.  They straggled to their feet almost clumsily.  As though they might have been drugged or drunken.  The scene was one that was not unfamiliar to Jolly.  These were zombies.  However, these were not the types of zombies he had encountered before.  These zombies seemed autonomous.  There was no identifiable Cleric or Necromancer in the area that appeared to be controlling them.

Their behavior was decidedly animalistic.  Though engaged in cannibalistic behavior, they behaved more like predatory wolves or dogs.  At the same time, they also seemed lethargic and slowly responsive rather than anticipating and planning.  No, these were definitely not the type of zombies he had seen before.

During the few seconds he took to process all of that, the men had begun shambling in his direction.  Their arms outstretched and reaching out as if anticipating grabbing him.  He found that by staying nimble and putting only mild effort into it, he could easily avoid them and observe their behavior.  Their body cavities were ragged and looked as if they had been savaged themselves.

He moved carefully around the area, always cautious to stay out of their reach but they remained undaunted in their efforts to catch him.  Indeed, they seemed relentless in their pursuit of him once they had caught their attention.  After about ten minutes of observation, he heard another sound from where he had found the men and their victim.

Circling around, he saw the place where the victim had been left and was stunned to see the victim, a woman, staggering to her feet now.  She made an odd keening noise from her throat and turned her head in the direction of his activity.  She saw him and began to stagger in his direction as well.  She paid no attention to the other two and in return, they relatively ignored her.  All three walking corpses eyes were focused solely upon him.

Jolly was in trouble.

He rushed ahead of his pursuers to buy him some time, slung off his pack and began to pull through the scrolls inside.  Feather Fall?  No, of course not.  Comprehend Languages?  No, they weren't speaking any language and there were no glyphs or anything else written on them that he could see.  AHA!  Burning Hands. Everything he had ever seen about zombies showed they were susceptible to fire.  He clamored over to a nearby raised gravestone and laid the scroll on it.  Between looking down at the scroll and looking up to keep an eye on his aggressors, he raised his arms and held his hands together, thumb to thumb in a horizontal fan-like manner.  He scanned the scroll again, double checked and convinced that he had the words right, began to recite the spell as he looked at the ever closer zombies.  They were only ten feet away but he needed them to get closer.  Being a First House Magic User, he could only shoot the fire about three feet outward from his hands.

His calm began to slip just a little as they began to not only get to within closing range but spreading out to encircle him as well.  "Just four more feet closer." he thought.  Three feet, two feet, FINALLY!  They were in range and as he finished the spell, a burst of flames shot outward from  the ends of his hands and extended approximately three feet outward.  At the same time, the scroll itself turned to ashes at the last word, as if the fire had scorched it the moment the last word was uttered.  He faced them each, one at a time and concentrated the fire on them until he could see they were actively burning before turning to another one.  He couldn't maintain this very long and as he was finishing setting the last man aflame, his fire started going out.  The flames rapidly receded back to his hands and then just stopped, with his hands no worse for the wear, except for being itchy.

He maneuvered his way away from the three stumbling bonfires and as he made his way back toward the gate entrance he had come in, he saw they had crumpled to the ground, burning like a pitch infused sack.

His reverie was interrupted by other sounds though.  More shamblers were coming in this direction.  First only a couple, then nearly a dozen.  Over just a span of five minutes, there were nearly twenty shamblers moving toward him and the flames.  He had to get out right now.

For the first time in a very long time, Jolly did not just walk.  He didn't quite run, but he moved at a joggers pace to the gate and toward his boarding house.  People needed to be warned.  He needed to find find help immediately.  If he could get to someone he had met in New Edinburgh, there might be a way to handle this.

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