As the bells of Sunfire Abbey rang, calling the brothers and sisters to Vespers, Samael sat at a table in the corner of the taproom of the Orc’s Head in, drinking the potent, smokey uisge beatha distilled by the proprietor’s father. He glowered morosely at the amber whisky in the cup, only looking up as Oris slid out a chair at the table and took a seat. A look of concern touched the eyes of the Deva’s face, but did not otherwise disturb its serene stillness.
“Is something wrong, Samael Kalkin?’ the Deva asked. The human shook his head and waved vaguely.
“It’s of no consequence.” he said. Even if Oris had been inclined to pry, further discussion was forestalled by the arrival of Holly and Ira, the elf and half orc taking their own seats at the table.
“The hawthorns are blooming.” said Holly as three white blossoms fell from her cloak to the table. This seemingly innocuous comment was greeted by a reflective silence from the company. Throwing off the mood, Holly asked, “So, who do you think Xook will be this time?” Their speculation lightened the mood, and a moment later, Xook joined them in the persona of Jonathan, the human bard.
“So, what’s new?” Jonathan/Xook asked, looking at Ira and Holly, now themselves part of the Duke’s Boundary guard.
“Well, saw a pig with six legs.” said Holly.
“Now that was a lot of ham.” Ira commented in his low gravelly voice. Holly rolled her eyes and continued.
“And one with two heads.”
“The worst was the one with the head at each end.” Ira said, “We couldn’t figure how it…”
“Anyway,” Holly interrupted, “a lot of strange things going on.”
At that moment the night was shattered by a long, drawn-out scream, bloodcurdling in it’s terror and pain as if a man were having his soul ripped from him.
As the band rushed out into the Foregate, another scream shattered the night, this time that of a woman, ululating in terror. They rounded a corner to a street beside the inn, heading towards the source of the screams, passing townsfolk fleeing in the opposite direction, and an otherworldly sight met their eyes.
Floating in the air were three balls about two feet in diameter seeming to be made up of masses of translucent tendrils, wavering in an unseen breeze. On the ground were a man and a woman, spasming in what could only be described as a seizure as two more of the creatures or objects rested on their chest. As the creatures seemed to become less translucent and more solid, bodies stilled.
“Fell Taints!” Ira said, identifying the creatures.
“Creatures of madness from Outside the World.” Holly said, “What are they doing here?” She and Ira moved forward to engage the creatures while Samael, Oris hung back. Jonathan spanned his crossbow and fitted a quarrel to the string. As they engaged the creatures on the bodies of the man and the woman, Ira and Holly’s weapons slashed into the tendrils, but the creatures, finished feeding and rose up off the bodies, becoming as translucent and insubstantial as the others drifting slowly towards them.
One of the creatures brushed Holly with its tendrils and she felt a wave of searing pain flare up her nerves. Her own weapons seemed to pass through the Taint like so much vapor. Oris raised a hand and a white, phantasmal shape flashed from his fingers towards one of the Taints, the creature finally reacting, its tendrils shuddering in pain. Swirling lights flashed from the Samael’s dagger, his bolt too, striking one of the Taints, causing it to shudder. With a snatch of rhyme, Jonathan wrapped a jinx around the end of his quarrel before shooting another of the Taints.
A slash for Ira’s sword, even though it did not seem to do much to the Taint, caused one of them to vanish. As the party hit their stride, more of them vanished. Holly, besieged by two of the things panted in near exhaustion, but a quick battle chant from Jonathan sent new energy surging through her limbs.
As the last of the Taints vanished, three more drifted out of the windows of a house nearby. Two of them moved towards Ira and Holly, and the third, floated up higher and flashed three times and sent bolts of psychic energy, sending pain into Jonathan and Oris, but Samael shurgged it off.
“Where are these things coming from?” Holly yelled. Quickly now, two of the creatures vanished under bolts from the magic users and slashes of sword and spear. The third floated up and out of sight, over the roof. Now near the house that the creatures had come from, they heard the sound of a man sobbing and moaning. All eyes turned to the door, and they entered cautiously.