PART VIII – A LEAP OF FAITH
The pounding of hooves rolled out to the party from the darkened wood line, and panic was beginning to set in. They doubted that it would be impossible to reach the far end of the valley before the party hunting them caught up, and even if they made it they had no idea of where they could go to get home. They considered fortifying a position in the center of the ruined village, but whatever thing pursued them was preceded by an ominous roll of dark thunder clouds and malevolent energy. They had to get out, but were clueless as to how. Hamnurabi and Isael, at a loss for what else they could do, began to shoulder a ruined cart across the road to begin a make-shift barricade. The orcish child began to cry, and the thunder rolled closer and closer. Slowly, a sound reached their ears above the din. The sound of a lute; faint and intermittent at first, it became clearer and steadier as seconds passed.
The spectral form of the village bard appeared before them, seated on the cobblestone wall beside the main road. He appeared different from before. Still a transparent visage, but more wholesome and exuding a softer light. He didn’t speak again, only pausing his play for the briefest of seconds to point towards the center of the village. Turning their heads they saw phantom figures drift into view. As before, it seemed to have been a seen from the villages downfall, figures gestured and shouted soundlessly as they raced to and fro. Four figures seemed to come into focus, distinct from the rest. Two adults, a man a woman, and what appeared, at first, to be two children. As they focused on the scene they saw that one of the two smaller figures was actually the shade of a halfling. The taller of the two adults leaned down and kissed the head of the child, now visible as a young girl, and motioned towards the ruins of the largest homestead in sight.
The shades of the halfling and child set off at a run towards the ruined farmstead; and the party, at a loss for anything else to do, set off after them. The pair followed a narrow, overgrown path which was bordered on each side by four foot walls of stacked stones. As they closed in on the ruins they heard a new sound: howling. It was deep and resonant, and carried an ominously unnatural and malign timbre. They reached the farmhouse’s main door just as flitting black shadows, each of the three nearly the size of a pony, burst out of the wood line and came loping down the road. Inside the barrens ruins of the farmhouse’s main floor the two shades stopped before the hearth. The halfling seemed to lean in and kiss the cheek of the child, and then gestured for her to climb through the hearth. They thought at first that there may be a hidden passage, but instead the aura of the child disappeared completely and they notcied how dark the back of the hearth was. It seemed to absorb all of the light that fell across it, and its back wall was entirely obscured. Eliza, recalling Winifred’s words about the true home of the halfling race. She postulated to her companions that the halfling must have known there was a portal from the Shadow Realm here, and they all agreed that it seemed their best choice for escape. There was only one problem, one of the roof support timbers had fallen across the front of the hearth, and it was enormous.
As Isael and A’Sharad attempted to lift the timber, Eliza and Hamnurabi headed out to the walled path to try and buy their comrades time. Hamnurabi was anticipating a long and desparate fight, but Eliza hoped her arcane skills would buy her friends the time they needed. With a gesture she cast out a massive web of thick spider webbing across the trail just as three hulking shadow hounds rounded onto the path from the village center. Seeing them, they broke out in a sprint and unleashed hungry howls. As fearsome as such creatures are, they are not the most intelligent of beasts. The first two ran directly into the webbing and stuck fast, while the third attempted a leap which only brought him halfway across the web. Hamnarabi inched towards the edge of the webbing and waited for one to struggle close enough to present a threat. Back in the homestead Isael and A’Sharad were heaving against the massive beam in vain, and in desperation they decided to try and alternative method for dislodging it. They fastened a rope to the saddle horn of Hamnarabi’s steed, and with the best hauling to the side they lifted the beam just enough for it to finally roll free.
Shouting for their comrades they fell back on the hearth, though their escape was complicated by yet another factor: Hamnarabi’s horse. The hearth was massive, but they were doubtful that the beast would fit through. The Arayan knight, however, would not surrender his trusted steed and friend to the beasts that hounded their trail. He had trained this horse from a foal, and had taught it to do things no one thought horses capable of. After a quick series of whistled commands his comrades watched in amazement as the horse