Tom’s reunion with Martha was a joyous one. The girl had been terrified for those three days that he was gone. When he returned injured and empty-handed, and refused to tell her about what happened on the island, she tried desperately to talk him out of adventuring. She didn’t like being alone, she said. Tom, however, knew how tight their funds were, especially with what he had to pay for her apprenticeship. Fifty silver a week was far more than he could make by doing minor repair jobs. Unless he could find work as a master mason, she would lose her chance at a better life, or he would starve, or likely both. Adventuring, risky as it was, was the only chance he had to provide for his daughter.
Two days after his return, after escorting Martha to the gates, Tom went out into the Slums, deeper than he usually liked. His left arm still hurt, and was stiff, but it worked, and he had no intention of letting the arm slow him down. He explored the market, wandered back alleys, and asked everyone who did not look ready to stab him. Eventually, in the smelliest corner of the smelliest alleyway, tucked between the wall of new city farthest from any gate, and an old hempworks, he found the shop he was looking for. JACK, OF ALL TRADES read the sign in garishly bright letters. Within he was told he would find the scavengers who had so graciously brought him home—an odd thing that, it might seem a little gesture, but leaving him alive and clothed was so alien to most Slums-dwellers, that Tom felt certain that these scavengers could be trusted.
Tom pushed open the door to find a shop piled high with all manner of broken, ramshackle, or ill-gotten goods. Nothing that someone inside the walls would even touch, but much that was useful out here. The blue-glowing hammer from the keep on the island was hanging upside down from the ceiling in place of a candelabra. The proprietor was a broken, twisted little man—if man was even the right word. His face looked like a cross between an orc and a bloated rat, with tangled, greasy, gray hair and one eye white and useless. The odd fellow waved cheerily at Tom as he entered and asked what brought him.
“The boat you found me in, I need it,” Tom said. “I need to get back to the island.”
“Rough business that,” said Jack. “You were half-dead when I found you, why would you go back there?”
“I left my companions there to die. I need to at least bury them. And I need money to feed my family. I’m the only one in town who has come back from that island. I know what’s there, I know the layout. If I can find a few people foolhardy enough to come with me, I think we can finish what I started before.” Tom explained.
“The boat is right where you left it. It was too big for me to carry back here. But it’s mine now.” Jack glared at Tom with his good eye. “There is no way you could afford to buy it back. So how ’bout I rent it to you?”
“Yeah. You find your foolhardy warriors and I’ll take you across to the island in my boat. In exchange, I want first dibs and a double-share of any wreckage and salvage from the island. No magic mind you, no one out here will buy it. But I want first pick of any weapons, armor, usable wood, stone, anything else you may find, and help loading it and shipping it back here.”
“Done,” Tom said. He extended his good hand to shake with the ugly creature, then turned to leave. “It may take me a couple of days to round up sufficient people to take the island. I’ll meet you back here when we’re ready to go.”
Tom talked Jack into letting him borrow a sheet of parchment paper and a dram of ink. He wrote out a quick notice—his penmanship was horrible with his damaged shoulder, but the results were legible—offering “free, discrete passage to Thorne Island and recent intelligence on the creatures therein for any group of heroes willing to take up the Council’s call to action. Interested parties should ask for Tom at the Bitter Blade after sundown.” He went into the city and nailed the notice to the Public Training Hall, right next to all the others.
He had not even completed driving the nail when a striking young woman with white hair and a wicked scar on her face tapped him on the shoulder. “Looking for blades?” she asked. She was trailed by young and much-too-eager looking dwarf. Tom was quite surprised at the quick and sudden response. He stammered out a yes, and the three wandered towards the tavern discussing particulars.
As they reached the door of the Bitter Blade, the sound of someone running in armor alerted them. The white-haired girl was the first to spin around, seeing a heavily armored, mousy-haired, young woman chasing after them. Hands went to weapons, but then the girl waved the notice at them. She did not say a word, but pointed at the notice, then back to herself several times until Tom got the picture.
“You want to come with us?”
She nodded vigorously.
She pointed at the notice, then held up another, more official-looking notice that claimed that the Council had raised the bounty on the island to five-thousand gold coins.
“You don’t speak?” the other three asked incredulously.
She nodded and pointed at the flaming sword medallion hanging around her throat.
Tom sighed, and waved for her to come along. With the notice torn down, there was no reason for him to wait for others. He turned away from the tavern and headed for the Slums. The four of them would have to be enough.
“That was quick.” Jack said as Tom came in trailed by the others.
“Can you take us right now?” Tom asked.
“Sure. He’s coming with us.” Jack said, pointing to a portly, broad-shouldered man with a shaved head, dressed in plain brown robes. Tom shrugged his assent. Jack pulled down the glowing hammer and handed it back to Tom, informing him that it was a “loan”. He then closed up the shop and the six of them headed out of town.
It was dusk by the time Tom and the others reached the little fishing boat where it was stashed south of the city. It looked like it had been refitted and taken out a few times since Tom washed up on shore—by Jack doing some salvage no doubt. Tom had, but this point gotten acquainted with his new companions. The fat man was Enz, a wizard with a deep southern accent. The quiet girl was Ada (or Aaaeedaaaaaa as she pronounced it). The white-haired swordwoman woman was Hazel and her dwarven sidekick was named Olaf.
Jack shoved off and Tom and Hazel helped row. Tom filled them in on what happened in his last venture to the island It took close to two hours to cross to the island from this point, and night had firmly set in by the time they landed. Everyone seemed apprehensive about exploring the undead-infested ruins in the dark, but they were committed at that point. Jack tied off the boat to a large rock, and all of them made their way up the hill towards the keep with weapons at the ready and Tom leading the way with the hammer to light the way. Olaf in particular, seemed very uncomfortable.
The light of the hammer announced their presence, and the party came face-to-face with a small army of orcs as soon as they reached the gates. Or rather, a small army of ex-orcs. The shambling corpses moved very slowly, but steadily closed in a half-circle around the group.
Hazel’s sword suddenly flared with hungry, black flames. She smiled rather disturbingly and began to scream and shout, howling none-to-pleasant sounding epithets in a language none of the others understood. Olaf twitched and fired his crossbow at the nearest one, then ran for the nearest out-building.
Enz began laughing uproariously and conjured a ball of flame in the midst of the zombies, setting several on fire. The sphere then began rolling around, the courtyard, rolling over and running into a great many of the undead orcs. Ada walked calmly and quietly out into the courtyard and planted herself, as if completely unconcerned about her own safety. Tom rushed up behind her and threw the glowing hammer, striking the closest zombie full in the chest. The rest of them quickly closed on the girl.
The first orc to near Ada was struck under the chin by the edge of her shield, sending it toppling backwards into another. The next, approaching from the other side, had its chest ripped open by a sharpened, blood-red spike on her elbow. Tom backed off as a dozen of the creatures got closed. Ada stood impassively, shifting to avoid blows or interpose her armor, still seeming unconcerned as she was surrounded, blows raining down on her shield and armor, but not harming her.
With a much louder scream, Hazel suddenly ran forward, leaping over Ada and landing on one zombie, knocking it to the ground and hacking it limb from limb with her two swords. She was back on her feet a second later, spittle flying from her mouth as she screamed in the face of another zombie and headbutted it. As the circle of zombies tightened around the group, Jack, who had been lurking outside the gates, slipped in and attacked one from behind, hacking the thing’s head off with a short-bladed sword. Olaf, at this point, was no where to be seen. The ball of flame continued to roll around the courtyard, setting zombies (and a few small structures) alight.
For several minutes, the fighting was furious, with hammers, swords, spears, and shields lashing out at zombies in every direction. All of the group took painful hits, but spells cast by Ada previously kicked in and immediately began sealing cuts and mending bruises, keeping them on their feet. Between Enz’s ball of flame and Hazel’s relentless, screaming, fury, the undead orcs were eventually put to rest, with no apparent losses among Tom’s new companions. Though, even with Ada’s delayed healing and attempts to interpose herself, Enz had taken several brutal hits and was clearly on his last legs.
Once they had regrouped, Tom lead the others towards the tower/chapel where his last group had fallen. They looked around for Olaf, poking into all of the outbuildings that had not been burned down by Enz’s “bouncing bounding ball of burning breathtaking blazing blasphemous doom” (as he called it), with no luck.
When they reached the doors of the main tower, Enz was suddenly struck from behind and knocked sprawling (and unconscious) by a gigantic frog. A gigantic, rotting, mostly skeletal frog. Hazel, with slightly less screaming and gnashing of teeth, made short work of the frog, but they found that Enzebal was already dead. When they turned him over, they found his front to be covered with a glowing paste, one of his belt pouches completely rotted away, and massive burns on his side, as if he had fallen on acid.
Tom said a prayer for the strange man and splashed some holy water over him in hopes that he would not rise as one of the undead. He then walked into the vestibule of the old temple, hammer first, and looked around at the wreckage and rubble.
It was there that they found Olaf, lying on his back, his face black and blue, the broken and battered remains of Nat Wyler lying beside him. Nat’s hands were locked in a death grip around Olaf’s neck, though the second dwarf did not appear to be moving at all. Apparently Nat’s zombie had gotten the jump on Olaf, but the two had died together, with Olaf’s lead-bladed sword stuck in the zombie dwarf’s side.
Tom could hear clawing, scrabbling noises from under the debris, but saw no immediate threat. He knelt down to disentangle Nat’s fingers from Olaf’s neck. As soon as Tom touched him, Nat’s eyes opened and his arms jerked out unbelievably fast to fasten around Tom’s neck, cutting off his alarmed response mid-shout. Tom was gasping, but alive, by the time Hazel had hacked the undead dwarf’s arms off at the elbow with her enchanted blades.
They found Storm’s body completely drained of all fluids, but inanimate nearby. Tom made a point of grabbing the amulet that had allowed her to command the undead. He and Hazel lifted a fallen beam out of the way to find Kade’s animated corpse, which Tom quickly pacified with the amulet. Tom then stood back and allowed Ada and Jack free reign in looting his (and their) fallen companions.