Storm clung to the side of the boat, heaving, as they crossed the bay. This was only the second time in her life that she had been at sea (the first was coming to Phlan to begin with a couple months ago), though Nat and Kade kept reminding her that the bay was protected by the island and “didn’t really count” as the sea. Whatever, she thought as she spit a bit of vomit from her mouth, it was close enough. Besides, Tom Builder didn’t look much better off.
The crossing to Thorn Island took less than an hour in Nat’s swift little boat. Across the bay, she could see the big, slow ferry still tied up at the docks. It looked like no one else was going to try the old Keep today. Not surprising given that two groups had failed to return the day before—though maybe that meant that they were just camping out on the island somewhere.
The kobold “hero” was the first to leap ashore. He sure was eager. Nat threw him a rope and he helped pull the boat up onto the pebbly beach, and tied it off to a knotty-looking tree. Up a low hill Storm could see the old stone walls of the keep. The walls were in serious disrepair and heavily covered with slimes, molds, and crusted dried salt. Aside from a few hardy reeds and salt-grasses able to withstand the corrosive salt-spray from the sea, and a couple of withered old trees, she could not see plant-life anywhere on the island. Rising behind the walls, she could just make out the crumbling remains of an old lighthouse and a pair of watchtowers. The state of the island came as something of a shock to one who had grown up traveling between the many lush orchards of the Dales.
Storm climbed out of the boat and practically kissed the shore. Kade asked if everyone was ready to go, so she stood up, straitened her clothes, and checked the many knives she had stashed on her body. She stooped on the shore and cupped some of the seawater in her hand, rubbing it over the front of the leather breastplate she wore under her cloak, anointing the sigil that would guard her against the undead—not good for the leather, but it was better than spitting on her clothes. A faint telltale glow told her it was ready.
She voiced her assent, then looked up at the sky before moving. It was cloudy and threatening storms everywhere this morning, but the clouds that hung over the island were particularly dark. “Well…I wanted some adventure…” she said.
They hiked up the hill towards the gates of the old keep—which were wide open. There were numerous tracks leading up there as well, too numerous to be just from the adventuring bands who had assaulted the keep the past few days. They encountered a brisk wind blowing from the south off the sea as they crested the hill. As they reached the gates, three people, a man, a woman, and an elf, came walking stiffly towards them. Storm waved, thinking they were one of the groups from yesterday looking for a ride back to town, then she noticed their wounds—large, gaping wounds, the kind of wounds which should have been mortal.
Storm was so startled that she almost opened her cloak. Luckily they were slow, really slow. Kade, Tom, and the kobold ran in swinging their clubs and hammers. Given how bruised and hard-looking their skin was, Storm wouldn’t have thought that blunt weapons would have hurt them much, but there were bones underneath and they broke just like any living man’s. After a few seconds of crunching and snapping, the three things fell to the ground, too beaten up to move any more.
Perhaps most disturbing about the dead adventurers is that whatever killed them did not bother to loot them. Actually, on second thought, the fact that all three were decked out as warrior-priests of Tyr was perhaps most disturbing, given the number of undead they encountered later. The three bodies were surprisingly well equipped, and Storm and Kade were quick to take advantage of that. Tom, who had already pointed out repeatedly that the only time he had ever killed anything was a man who stole a pig from him, seemed rather disturbed by their behavior, and the kobold just kept saying “Heroes don’t need money,” and other such nonsense.
Storm also found the body of another elf—not so fresh—just outside the gate after the fight. Just a crumbling skeleton (the non-animate kind) really, its weapons and equipment were badly rusted and corroded by salt, its leathers worm-eaten and crusted in dirt. BUT, it did have a bronze medallion around its neck, heavily patinaed of course, depicting two entwined cherubs, which Storm grabbed.
As they walked into the courtyard, Storm rubbed at the thing with the hem of her cloak, trying to shine it up (wary for genies of course). The wind blew mournfully and Storm could hear the banging of some shutter, sign, or door.
“Um Storm…” someone said.
She saw writing on the amulet. “Storm…” She rubbed harder, she could just make out the word.
“STORM!” She looked up to see a small horde of skeletons charging on them. “What does Shestnik mean?” she asked, reading the medallion. The skeletons stopped, lowered their arms and just stood there.
“What did you say?”
“Shestnik. The amulet says Shestnik.” The skeletons saluted and stood at attention.
“Will they take orders?” someone asked.
Storm shruged, turned and said “Hey Shestnik, form ranks by the gates and don’t let anyone else in unless they are a dwarf…” and the skeletons quickly formed up. “Guess so.”
There were a number of buildings inside the walls of the keep—old rotten stables, a round grain silo, smashed storehouses. Storm put on the Amulet and walked boldly across the courtyard towards a partly collapsed, open-air stall which she figured must have once been a smithy, judging by the open hearth, the large anvil in the yard, and the rusting, crumbling tools lying about. Kade and the others followed, still casting wary looks at the skeletons.