Within the first tower, Sir Robert, Sir Willem, Sir Fallon, and Aidan the Herald rested, occasionally firing a bolt at one of the other towers.
"Archers...we need archers," Aidan said to the others.
"Archers won't help us much if that witch-lion returns." Sir Fallon peered cautiously out of an arrow-slit. "It has taken refuge in the keep. We can leave the towers for later...we have to get to the keep and avenge Brother Justice." He peeked out again, "It looks like the postern door is open as well. I say we get down to the ground entrance and make a run for their."
"But we need rest," Sir Robert complained. "We're out of healing and the courtyard is still full of those bugs..."
"I have spells left," Sir Willem spoke up, "and I'm with Sir Fallon. Let's get off these walls. The lion and his skeletal servants clearly have the advantage up here..."
While the party deliberated, Oswald the scribe sat on his ass and cried. Brother Justice paid him well, even paying him 12 months in advance to accompany him and record his daring deeds, but as he sat outside Branderscar Prison and watched a lion leap from a tower with his master clutched in its jaws, he knew he wasn't getting paid nearly enough to witness this. Shoving his quill back in his saddlebags, he grabbed the reins of Icewind, his master's warhorse, wheeled his donkey around, and rode back to Varyston with all haste.
Sister Carlotta held up a hand to her eyes, straining to see what was making the dust-cloud coming towards the town. "Ainsley, get up here, something's coming...fast!" Ainsley climbed up the low fortifications to stand beside the militant nun. "A rider...riding an ass...and leading a charger," he said, "something must have happened at the prison..." He jumped over the low battlement, landing in a crouch outside the walls.
"Ho, friend, what news?!"
Oswald pulled his panicked steed to a halt with some effort and dismounted shakily. "Demons! Unliving demons have overtaken the prison! Bloody and skeletal and led by a great lion that flies! My master, Brother Justice is fallen! I have seen no sign of his companions...you must send help...NOW!"
Sister Carlotta ran and grabbed her and Ainsley's horses. "Right, we're headed for the prison. You...what is your name, friend?"
"Right, Oswald, go into the town and tell the king what you told us, tell him to send a full contingent to re-take the keep. Ainsley...let's go!"
"Nice ass by the way," Ainsley said.
"Oh thank you, it was a gift from my master..." Oswald stammered a reply.
"I wasn't talking to you, Oswald..."
The knight and the nun rode for the prison at top speed, pushing their chargers to their limits and beyond. In just over an hour they reached Branderscar Prison to find the gates open and the place in ruins. They dismounted their exhausted horses and tied them up near the waiting steeds of the vanguard group.
Sir Ainsley shook his head, "What the f*ck happened here?"
"Mind your tongue son," Sister Carlotta pointed at the courtyard where a mass of cockroaches were swarming over a fleshly corpse in armor, "that looks like one of the vanguard...and those bugs don't look friendly."
Sir Ainsley drew out his dragon pistol and loaded it with an incendiary round. "Right, stay behind me." The two walked cautiously towards the gatehouse and paused at the edge of a large, spiked pit. "There's no way across...Up?" he asked.
"Right." Sister Carlotta pulled a rope and grapnel from her saddlebags and threw the line deftly up to the battlements. The two quickly climbed up to the gatehouse roof...
Back within the tower Sir Fallon heard a series of loud bangs. He peaked out the arrow slit to see Sir Ainsley standing atop the gatehouse, arrows falling around him, firing shot after shot at the skeletons, Sister Carlotta standing by his side to reload his musket. Shot after shot rang out, skeletons, even on the farthest towers, being blown to pieces by them more often than not.
With a shout of relief the four friends opened the tower door and ran out onto the walls towards the gatehouse, all but Sir Robert pausing briefly to ogle the beautiful, and somewhat inappropriately garbed, nun. Sir Willem clapped Ainsley on the back when they arrived. "Thank you, brother...and sister, we thought we were done for." Sir Ainsley fired a few more times, taking out the last of the skeletal archers.
"Glad that you're all alright...but I'm out of ammo." Ainsley set down the musket, and pulled out his pistol. "I hope anything else we fight is at closer range..."
"We need to take the towers now," Sister Carlotta said, looking at the distant bones clattering down the sides of the towers and calling upon her extensive religious training. "If we don't bless the corpses, those skeletons will be back up within the hour..."
Aidan the Herald looked over the edge at the courtyard below and shook his head. "We have bigger problems...the bugs can fly..."
"What!" Sir Robert cried, just as the massive swarm crested the battlements.
Sir Willem said a quick and very short prayer to Mitra, causing the bugs to hesitate briefly, allowing Sir Ainley to blast the swarm with a gout of flame from his dragon-pistol, killing thousands of the insects, but not stopping the main mass. Sir Robert and Aidan swung uselessly at the creatures, but Sir Fallon's axe suddenly burst into flames, clearing a swath through the swarm as he swung. Then the swarm was over them...
Everyone in the party save Sir Robert and Sir Ainsley were too distracted by the painful bites to defend themselves. Sir Ainsley fired another incendiary cartridge, seriously depleting the bugs. Retching, Sister Carlotta blurted out "I...have...spells...that would help..." On queue, Sir Robert grabbed her and ran along the wall back towards the tower until she was out of the swarm.
Free of the swarm, Sister Carlotta conjured a blast of wind, somewhat dispersing it, as Sir Robert ran back to help Sir Willem out of the area. Ainsley continued to hold his ground, ignoring the many tiny bites and firing his dragon pistol again. The other struggled to get free of the swarm as it moved to follow them. As the swarm neared Sister Carlotta again, a blast of flame from her hands killed or dispersed the last of the insects.
A burst of positive energy from Sister Carlotta had everyone back on their feet. "Hurry, the skeletons."
"Right," said Sir Robert, "several fell into the courtyard and there are six towers to check for bodies. We'll have to split up." Noticing the despairing and incredulous faces of his friends, he continued, passing out vials of holy water. "No one goes alone. We'll split into three groups. Willem and Aidan take the right towers. Sister Carlotta and Fallon go left. Ainsley and I will take the courtyard. Regroup in the main courtyard when your done...shout if you encounter something."
"Great...that worked well last time." Aidan complained.
"Got a better idea?"
They split up...and they ran. Sprinting along the walls and down the stairs, the six friends quickly found the remains of the skeletons and doused them with holy water. The towers were cleared and the walls reclaimed.
In the courtyard, Sir Robert and Sir Ainsley doused Tristram's body, as well as the undead hounds, zombies, and skeletons. When the others joined them Aidan knelt by Tristram's corpse and began looting it.
"Why are you disrespecting the dead?" Sister Carlotta gave him a glaring look.
"He has useful magic items," Aidan responded, holding up a wand and a potion vial, "I'll return them if we manage to raise him, but for now we need all the help we can get."
"Right..." Sister Carlotta turned and examined the other bodies. "Hmmm..." She said, kneeling over one of the zombies. "It has a magic ring." She pulled a plain iron ring off of it, saying a prayer for the deceased's soul. "Can anyone tell what this does?"
Sir Fallon gave it a hairy eye, "leave it...its cursed."
Sister Carlotta sighed and threw the ring into the pit by the gatehouse...