The barbarian horde from Silmaria saw the appearance of the emerald moon as a bad omen, but only temporarily. By evening they again mached on Elan and clashed against imperial city’s defenses. The Commissar had mustered a powerful force to protect the northern wall of the city, including city guard, elite imperial soldiers, some of the noble houses’ private forces, the Holy Order of Vigoor, and the magi of the Inverted Pyramid. His mighty cannons could decimate a column of Silmarians in an instant. But it seemed the magic of the barbarians had been underestimated. The primal power of the shamans came from the most ancient traditions of the Arsis tribes, bending the elements to their will in spectacular ways, including and bringing down the north wall in two locations. Battle spilled into the streets around the breaches.
Beneath the city’s Temple District, another battle raged on for the Elan’s fate. Emeris the half-dragon shadowcaster, Dziga the shadowdancer, Early the warblade, Vatex the elven tempest, and Arngrim the Knight of the Pale with his men-at-arms, fought Khyron’s forces in the Apocalyptic Sanctuary.
Early cuts down a ratlord and guns down another. Arngrim attempts to heal himself with potions and magic. Vatex and Dziga attack the dancing cultists around the altar, who fight back with blasts of flame from their hands and conjured octopus-like chaos creatures. Andross screams at Khyron that the ritual will be interrupted if the dancing priests are slain. Khyron hardly seems to be bothered, saying the Final Ritual can only truly be stopped with his own destruction, for which death itself was no threat because he had become a “Shigmaa.” Wings of lightning flash from Khyron’s back, and begins flying towards the battle with rushing forth on foot Jerallan, Ibard, and Andross beneath him.
Emeris needs healing as the wounds he has suffered are grave, and the chaos ball continues to damage his flesh, so he flies to the bottom level where Banon, Pankraz, and Sancho were killed to get the potions from their corpses. While Mystina trades blows with one of the ratlords, Emeris slays another instantly with his umbral touch. He rummages through Pankraz and Sancho’s body and takes their healing potions. Mystina runs for the last potion, not wanting Emeris to take them all for himself. Emeris kills the last ratlord and takes flight again. Mystina rushes up the stairs to join the others.
Vatex is struck by Khyron’s chaos ball and pain blurs his vision as his flesh is ravaged, but he continues slashing at the desperate cultist. The cultist goes down in a spray of blood and the elf moves towards another cultist who stops dancing and draws a long ritual knife. The aggressive cultist’s fervent slash gets past the elf’s skilled defense and cuts him badly. Dziga fights off the lashing tentacles of the octopus-thing the cultist hurled at him, steps around it and quickly stabs Asura into his throat. Before the body hits the ground, Dziga vanishes into the shadows cast by other combatants. Another cultist stops dancing, looks around for the undetectable shadowdancer, then draws its knife and charges Vatex, stabbing him in the stomach.
As he drinks a potion, Early notices Andross watching him intently, acid dripping from his tentacle-arms. Khyron suddenly casts an enchantment on him that leaves him completely paralysed. While the warblade is helpless and unable to dodge, Andross spews acid on him. He cannot move, and he cannot cry out in pain, but the awful spittle burns terribly. Ibard moves down the stairs to the second level to join the melee, empowering herself with a suite of magic spells that enhance her strength, protection, and fighting ability.
Arngrim raises his sword and rushes the cultists fighting Vatex, his huge sword sweeping across and forcing the cultists back. Vatex is losing blood quickly from the stabwound in his stomach and significantly weakened from the chaos ball. The elf uses the reprieve to step back and consume a healing potion. Dziga, hidden in shadows, does the same.
The helpless Early is struck by Khyron’s chaos ball, to which Khyron laughs maniacally. “What makes you think I will not crush you now like I crushed you before?” he taunts. Enraged, Early breaks free of the paralysing magic with tremendous force of will. With a mighty leap, he lands on the edge of the third level, toe-to-toe with Andross. He finds himself assaulted by Andross’ three poison-dripping mouths, their teeth shearing and burning flesh at once. He is too busy fighting off attacks to strike a blow of his own, and the chaos ball continues to wear him down.
Vatex leaps back into the fray, his slashing blades utterly dismembering the last two cultists in a gruesome display of bloodletting. Arngrim, practically wading through cultist body parts, runs over fight Ibard, knocking aside the Spear of Chaos as it thrusts towards his heart, and swinging Durandal across in an unblockable strike. One of the points is cut right off Ibard’s star-shaped shield and the blade continues into her ribs. She fights well despite the injury, stabbing through Arngrim’s mighty plate mail many times, the power of the spear stunning him with chaotic power. Holy paladin of law against unholy cleric of chaos – despite vicious injuries inflicted upon each other, their mutual hatred drives them to fight fervently beyond any mortal pain.
Dziga emerges from the shadows suddenly and fires an arrow at Khyron. Though unaware of the rogue’s location until the last second, so agile is the cultist leader that despite his hulkish mass he dodges easily. Khyron laughs again, taunting them, and suddenly flies into a killing rage, his muscles surging with even greater proportion. He charges Early, jumping into him headfirst. His huge forehead connects solidly with Early in the face, breaking his nose and splashing blood across his cheeks. Jerallan rushes in behind her master, and the dying Early. A desperate leap takes him thirty feet into the middle of the second level, just as the fiendish ogre’s weapon strikes the stone where he stood a split second ago.
Andross floats down to the second level and blasts Dziga with acid but the shadowdancer easily evades. Dziga strikes back with Asura and a gout of thick purple blood spills from Andross’ throat, but still the monster fights. When Jerallan jumps down from the third level, she swings at Dziga and he dodges easily enough, but he takes note of how easily that weapon would kill him if it connects. It seems the shadowdancer will be quickly overwhelmed. Early quickly drinks a healing potion, then charges.
Vatex is there to follows up on the attack, swords flashing against the Keeper. With Jerallan stunned, choking up blood, Andross is alone against the three attackers, but he fights fiercely. Burned by acid and shredded by vicious bites, Early hits the ground dying.
Emeris sees him go down and starts flying in that direction, powering up his magic as he glides over the second level. Khyron takes to the air on his wings of lightning to intercept him. As Khyron flies by he slams his huge fist into Emeris’ back and nearly sends him crashing to the ground, but he stabilizes and continues on his course. The shadowcaster unleashes a blast of killing shadows that is smashes Jerallan while Andross’ spell resistance blocks the attack. Emeris curses his luck, for stopping Andross’ deadly offensive power was vital and he had hoped that attack would do the job.
Dziga rushes to Early’s aid and drags him away from Andross. Mystina comes up the stairs helps him administer aid to their dying friend. Vatex is left to stand between them and Andross deadly offensive power. In that moment, with his companions struggling on the edge of of utter disaster, Vatex fights as if possessed, hackng with vicious abandon into Andross, with such speed that the Keeper produce any sufficient defense. Vatex is literally showered in gore as is Andross shredded by elven steel. Jerallan thrusts her halberd to gore the elf, but his potion of blur makes it too difficult for her to hit him.
Still bleeding badly but now conscious, Early gets back on his feet against Mystina’s admonition. The enraged warblade’s need to spill blood overrides any immediate health concern. He pushes Mystina back and jumps into the air, disappearing into the Vajra and completing a Soaring Raptor Strike maneauver. The perfect attack severs Jerallan’s head.
Ibard stuns Arngrim with her spear, Khyron lands close by, powering up a chaos ball in his hand. Dziga fires Roguefriend at Khyron who dodges again, unleashing the chaos ball at the helpless Arngrim as he does. It smashes into the paladin who goes down hard. Shaking off the spear’s effects and fighting the pain of the chaos ball, he is back on his feet for only a moment when Ibard’s spear pierces his ribs. Before she can withdraw it he strikes back at her, cutting deep across her face. Then Khyron is upon him in a fury. His fist punches Arngrim in the gut, doubling him over. He then uppercuts the paladin, breaking his jaw. On his hands and knees, spitting out broken teeth, Khyron stands over him and with a twisted smile stomps the paladin’s head like a melon.
Vatex pulls the Cheilsecaro from his pouch and throws it at Khyron. The ceramic object breaks apart on his chest and for a blinding instant the entire sanctuary is filled with blazing white light. Ibard is blasted to oblivion and Khyron staggers back from the blast. Dziga fires arrows that deflect off Khyron’s armor.
The cultist leader charges Vatex, assailing him with crushing blows. The tempest fights back, but Khyron is very powerful. Emeris blasts him with shadow magic, and Khyron resists it with ease. Dziga cuts at him with Asura, and Khyron dodges. Mystina drives her halberd in and Khyron knocks it aside. Early flies into with another Raptor Strike but Khyron’s swinging fist knocks him out of the air the second he reappears from the Vajra.
Two powerful punches to the face send Vatex barely hanging on to consciousness. His swords cut flesh but they seem like beestings to the mighty Khyron. It is Dziga who turns the tide, shifting into the shadows to avoid a swinging fist, then reappearing behind Khyron and driving Asura into his back. He then dives out of the way while Emeris unleashes the freezing shadow of his breath weapon upon Khyron, who howls in pain. It appears their attacks are finally starting to take a toll.
Vatex decides to risk it all in one final storm of attacks against Khyron. His blurry image and incredible agility keep him safe as he strikes not one, not two, but four more wounds into Khyron. But the raging cult leader is not finished yet. He dodges an attack from Early and Dziga and prepares to crush the skull of Vatex at last.
And it is likely that Vatex would have died at that moment, had not Emeris intervened. The power of shadow surges within Emeris, powered by a greater force of will than he’s ever before mustered. A lance of blackness shoots from his outstretched hand and pierces Khyron’s chest. He arcs his back in agony, screaming in agony and falls dead to the ground.
VENGEANCE AT LAST!
For an instant, they cannot really believe it is over. Their intuitions seem vindicated when Khyron’s body stirs, almost imperceptibly, and a shadowy spectre of Khyron surges from the corpse for Emeris. The ghost touches merely touches Emeris with a single pointing finger, and his lifeforce is drawn away into the body of Khyron, bringing him back to life. Khyron arises, telling them they were fools to think death had any power over someone who has attained power such as his.
Emeris is dramatically weakened by the lifeforce-draining attack and Khyron attacks him with brutal strength unabated by his interlude of death. A blow to the ribs leaves several broken bones, and a second blow to the head puts the shadowcaster on the ground, dying.
Early feels his spirit connected to the Vajra, feels his spirit connected to Cryssaegrym, and the Blade of the Silver Wolf destroys the resurrected Khyron’s blood with a final blow. Khyron goes down again, and Early removes the head with two heavy swings.
Upon Khyron’s true death, the huge hand jutting out from the floor on the third level seems to emit a deep moaning sound, and it begins to melt into viscous black ooze that burns a deep hole into the stone beneath. Emeris examines the altar containing the runechildren and recalls from his early days of studying arcane magic learning of this sort of thing, and knows the children can be freed by simply breaking the altar apart. The five companions grab halberds and chop through the altar, eventually breaking it after several minutes. The runechildren float out, into the air, where Emeris grabs two of them. The other two drop to the ground after a few seconds. Next, the group examines the humanoid figures in the gas-filled tanks. Emeris breaks one open easily and a naked, slime-covered man drops out, lost in absolute disorientation. The break the other four tanks, and all have similar contents.
For now, Early guards Mystina while she gives first aid to the nine people they’ve rescued. Vatex, Emeris, and Dziga check the doors behind the melted hand. They notice black ooze has melted hundreds of feet down into the rock, so they are careful not to step in any drops.
Behind the hand is a dungeon, with a cell containing three barbarian prisoners stuck to the wall with mithril chains. One barbarian is particularly muscular and huge. Standing guard is an elven vampire naked AELINDAI WHISPERSONG, accompanied by four wights. She tells them that this means Khyron must be dead and the Final Ritual ruined, but her orders are to watch the prisoners regardless of anything else, and she says Khyron’s will reaches beyond death. They are forced to fight her. Emeris destroys three of the wights with blackfire. The fourth wight drains life from Dziga. Aelindai uses a magical circle of protection against law to protect herself against her lawfully aligned adversaries, as well as a spell of cat’s grace to increase her speed and agility. With her resistances to all but silver magic weapons and fire, she proves to be a difficult foe. Her icy touch drains Vatex’s energy severely. His flaming sword at last strikes through the circle of protection and she turns into a gaseous cloud and flees through a crack in the ceiling. Dziga finishes the final wight.
They learn that the prisoner in the cell is King Drax the Destroyer, ruler of Silmaria and the united barbarian tribes, and his two bodyguards. Drax speaks excellent Imperial Common and seems extremely knowledgeable for a barbarian. He explains that he was captured by Khyron by means of some chaos enchantment, and brought here to be sacrificed in Khyron’s ritual. He doesn’t even know where he is. Emeris tells him about the situation with the barbarian army attacking the city, the Drax asks that he be freed and brought back to his people to stop this needless battle.
Dziga picks the cell door and the locked chains, and the companions return to the surface. Early is rather in awe of the mighty Drax. Although the average citizen is familiar only with official imperial history would consider him a tyrant, the warblade was well-traveled outside the Holy Empire and familiar with stories of the barbarian king’s heroic adventurers. He admired him greatly.
The group emeries battered and bloodied in the Temple of the Fifty Three Gods of Chance. The priests treat wounds and offer restoration from the undead energy drain attacks. The High Priestess warns against the barbarians going out into the streets as some crazy civilians are roaming around attacking people who look like barbarians. So Emeris proposes that they use a potion of fly, found on the body of Saavia, on Drax so he and the king can fly outside the city and meet up with the barbarian horde. Emeris assumes the barbarian needs help flying but Drax seems very experienced. Emeris does not realize that Drax had done a lot of flying in his adventures over the years.
They fly over the walls of the city and out to the rear-most ranks of the barbarian army. At first the barbarians are confused and look as if they will attack the shadowcaster, but Drax calls out in his language to his warriors. Word begins to spread quickly that the king has returned. Drax takes up one of the battle standards, dropped when its bearer was blasted by a spell. Eventually the battle stops and Drax leads his men back to camp. The defending forces, somewhat confused, do not engage further.
Back at the camp, Drax explains to his people that the city of Elan had nothing to do with his kidnapping. Only the forces of chaos were to be blamed, and they had been defeated, so there was no more need to fight. Then Drax draws up the terms of a truce between the barbarians and the city of Elan, and tells Emeris to deliver the document to the leader of Elan. Essentially, Drax will withdraw his armies back to the waygate through which it came to find him, and the defenders will let them do so without attack. Emeris flies back to Elan with Drax’s letter.
The shadowcaster has been gone several hours by the time he returns and tells everyone about bringing the siege to an end. But before they can visit the Commissar, they decide sleep until morning. It has been a very long day.
Next time: What awaits the companions when vengeance is exacted and the city is saved? Events previously set in motion will determine their fates.