The door to the Spotted Dog swung open and a broad-shouldered man collapsed across the threshold. The noise in the tavern died away as the man crawled forward a few feet leaving a trail of blood.
The barkeep was the first one to reach him. The injured man looked up at him and murmured, “I’m sorry,” before his eyes rolled back and he went limp.
“Son,” said the barkeep to his eldest as a crowd gathered, “run to the temple and get help.”
The boy nodded and took off.
Men carried the limp body to a cot in a back room and a few minutes later, Berrick a cleric from the temple of Heironious arrived.
“His name is Killik,” one of the men told the cleric. “He went east with the last scouting party two days ago.”
Killik lay, unconscious, breathing heavily, his bloody clothes in shreds, his skin blistered with burns, torn, and ravaged.
“What could have done this?” asked one of the bystanders in hushed tones.
“I’ve no idea,” said Berrick. He laid his hands on Killik and prayed to his god. Heironeous’ power filled him and tingled through his palms into Killik. Blisters faded and skin knit itself back together. The only signs of his horrible wounds were blood-soaked tatters of clothing.
Killik opened his eyes and looked up at the folk gathered around him. He screwed his eyes shut and shook his head violently. “No! No! So many!”
“Easy, easy,” said Berrick. “You’re safe now. So many what? What did this to you?”
“Get them out.” said Killik, weakly, tears filling his eyes.
Berrick looked up at the nearly twenty people crowded into the small room and they retreated back into the main part of the tavern.
“Now,” said Berrick gently, “can you tell me what happened?”
Killik’s voice shook. “Hell hounds.”
“By Heironious’ bolt!” said Berrick. “The Lich Queen must have summoned them. How many are there?”
“I don’t know. Too many. We fought, but, but, they set men on fire. They cooked our paladin in his armor. We killed so many. We thought we had won, but more came. And more. They overwhelmed us…” his voice gave out and he lapsed into tears, hands covering his face.
“You’re safe now,” said Berrick, trying to calm him.
“I can still see those glowing red eyes.” Killik looked up at the small window filled with the orange-pink glow of sunset. “Oh god!” he said, struggling up to sitting.
“You need to rest,” said Berrick,
“No. You don’t understand. I couldn’t do it!” said Killik.
Berrick shook his head. “No one could defeat them alone. You did the best you could.”
“No, I should have died out there. I should have let them kill me. I was the last one left.” Killik looked into the gathering dark outside the window. He grabbed Berrick’s arm squeezing hard. “I couldn’t do it. I should have killed myself.”
“Don’t say that. I understand your grief, but—“
“You don’t understand,” said Killik, his face haggard.
Then the howling began.
“I led them here.”
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