I'm lucky to be writing to you, because we had a very narrow escape - without the help of others, I would surely have died. But fear not, I'm alive and well (now), thanks to my companions.
After our exploration of the first and largest mound, which I have described already, we decided to search the six smaller ones. All of them were much alike - a stone slab covering the passageway to a small space within, about ten feet around - and we tackled them one at a time; Thonk's sensitivity to evil had already warned us to expect trouble, so we stood ready as he and Osh took turns moving the slabs.
Inside the first one, we saw a lurking presence in the shadows at the back. Ilde hit it with a throwing axe, and I with my crossbow; the undead creature rushed out to do battle, and Thonk quickly finished it with his greatsword. When we ventured in, we found the crypt had been ransacked; in one corner we found a small hole, about the size of the spider-thing we had met in the previous burrow. It led down, and we considered exploring it, but decided to investigate the other mounds first.
Opening the second one, we were met by an appalling stench of rot and decay; Thonk and Norton were quite incapacitated, throwing up most of their meals, and the creature left Thonk with some nasty lacerations (that later became infected and gave him no little trouble, although he is better now). I moved past and attempted to grab it - achieving little more than to rub much of its stink onto myself - but Osh demolished it with an axe before it could cause too much trouble, and Thonk and Norton eventually recovered. Inside, we found the mound had been looted, just like the previous one - and with another small hole leading down into the earth - but not everything had been taken; two crystal vials remained, apparently of no interest to the spider-creatures.
In the third mound, we saw nothing - or almost nothing, for something insubstantial with hateful red eyes lurked at the back, keeping well away from the sunlight. I threw a torch in, trying to illuminate the place, which caused some trouble involving Ilde catching fire, but she extinguished herself without too much difficulty. We had great difficulty dealing with the shadow-creature; while Osh withstood its bone-chilling touch, and I was fast enough to dodge, we found most of our blows passing straight through it - but once again, the power of a grumpy half-orc with a big axe eventually settled things, and once again, the place had been looted before our arrival.
The mound after that held another of the stinking creatures, but this time Osh and Thonk both withstood the smell, and chopped it to ribbons; it, also, had been looted.
The fifth mound, as it turned out, had not been looted, but we discovered that somewhat later. Lurking inside was a nasty-looking thing, the size of a child, the colour of a bad bruise, and with vicious long claws.
I shot it with my crossbow, and even as I hit it I felt a sharp stabbing pain, as did my friends. At almost the same time, Norton hit it with a wave of fire, and we all felt the same flames it did. And then, just as we were all beginning to realise what was happening, I saw Osh - still frustrated by the wraith, and glad to face something solid again - bringing his axe down hard on the creature's head...
The next I knew, Bimpnotten was standing over me, having just cast a healing spell. I was badly hurt - a deep puncture wound in my leg, a nasty burn across one arm, and a tremendous ache in my shoulder; I think the bones must have been broken, and there was a great deal of my own blood around the wound, and I must surely have died without Bimp's aid. Almost all the others had been badly hurt too - only Norton, who had realised what was happening as soon as he felt his own fire spell, had managed to flee far enough to escape the creature's magic - and I am sorry to say that our faithful mule Alice and Ilde's dog Holderhek were killed outright. Fortunately, the demon itself was well and truly deceased; Osh's blade had cut clean through its head, and judging by the state of our own wounds I should guess that its death had put an end to its foul magic before we could feel the full extent of that blow.
This mound, as I said, had not been looted; we found a hole, but the creature had blocked it up, and amidst the debris there were two splendid goblets of gold and silver, as well as some bejewelled swords. While we are hardly tomb-robbers by inclination, it seemed clear that this place had long since been defiled by evil magic, and in any case the spider-creatures would take what we did not.
Badly injured, we decided to withdraw some distance and rest before investigating further. We spent a day and two nights recovering - Thonk had been concealing his illness from the rest of us, but it was now plain to all that he needed assistance, which Ilde provided - and Ilde called up another companion from the wild. I am surprised at how many large dogs there are wandering the wilderness here, and some of us suggested that perhaps she should try calling up something tasty for dinner next time.
After our rest - Thonk was still not entirely well, but his fever had broken -we returned to the circle. We were surprised to find that the mounds we had left open were now sealed, blocked up from the inside with earth clumsily shovelled into the entranceway, as if by little claws... And we approached the sixth and final of the smaller mounds.
During our rest, I had been thinking about the demon we fought, and wondering how best to dispatch such a monstrosity without killing all of us. It occurred to me that while we received much the same wounds as it did, they were not in the same places, and that suggested an approach.
This turned out to be a very good thing - you must allow me a little self-congratulation - because in the sixth mound was another of the wretched little demons. This time, however, we dealt with it more effectively. I leapt in and pinned it - I could feel my own ribs creaking even as I squeezed it tight - and while it was restrained, Osh hit it with a crowbar (that being, by his standards, a relatively minor weapon). But this time he picked his target carefully, breaking its neck; the rest of us received nasty bruises, but nothing like what we had done the first time around, and the creature was just as dead.
I must say, growing up with so many brothers has certainly taught me some useful skills; as you know I'm hardly the largest or the strongest, but I've become quite adept at inconveniencing our foes and holding them still long enough for Osh and Thonk to do what they do best. (I am sure our parents would draw a moral about the value of cooperation at this point, and I can hardly disagree.)
Anyway, inside the mound, we found another hole and the remains of another clockwork spider that had evidently been destroyed by the demon; we also found a few minor treasures and a splendid illuminated book that appeared to have come from the Temple of the Sun and Moon.
We considered whether to try exploring the holes, but thought it might first be worth investigating the area at the middle of the circle, which we had until now avoided. Thonk had sensed great evil here, and it was not hard to see why; overgrown by grass but still clearly visible was a great pentagram in stone, the lines formed by gutters stained dark with what must have been a great deal of blood. It was clear that the power of the altar must be overcome, but how?
At this moment we had a happy thought: what about the book? And looking through it, we found it did indeed contain a ritual for consecration. It required us to grind up a good deal of gold and silver into powder, but none of us balked at that - indeed, without our mule, it meant less weight to carry around - and as we poured the powder and holy water on the altar, it began to smoke. We saw the powder melting and flowing into the channels, cleansing it of the taint... and then the ground began to rumble and shake, and we decided it might be prudent to run for it.
Once the rumbling subsided, we ventured back to the circle. The altar no longer held its taint of evil, and in front of it was a large sinkhole, as if a space underground had collapsed during the tremors. Just as I ventured down into the sinkhole, something started digging its way out - another creature, like the 'spiders' before, but somewhat larger, and glistening gold. It came for us with a whirring razor-saw, but Ilde called on the grass to tangle it as Thonk and Osh began pounding on its hard shell. At one point I saw it aiming at me, and I leapt aside just as a blast of lightning ripped through the air where I had been standing; dodging the saw, I managed to pick it up and snap one of the legs up, and Thonk put his sword through a gem that must have been part of the creature's magic, for as the gem shattered the strange construction dissolved in my hands and melted away into the ground. We think the smaller spiders must have somehow built it, with the materials they stole from the mounds; it would explain why they only took metal objects, and left the rest. I wonder whether, in time, they would have found the silver wire that warded the place, and broken that? I am very glad we cleansed the place before that could happen.
Well, that's all for now - soon we will be off again. But I feel we have done a good bit of work here, and broken the power of an evil place. With love from your sister - Imbezi!
OSH, shortly after almost killing the entire party in one blow: "Let's declare this the Day of Inappropriate Criticals."
OSH: "Do not wee on the evil altar!"