A Disguise Unmasked
Emerging from the woods into the clearing, Abban spies the rest of the party gathered around several clumps on the ground. Assembled in front of a desolate mausoleum, it is clear his friends have just ended a great struggle. Evil emanates from the mausoleum, and the entire area about has an uncleanliness to it. Abban senses that this graveyard and surroundings, long abandoned by humankind, had been the lair of evil forces.
Waiting a moment, he motions to Kael and calls out a shout to the party. They stir from their motionless, and signal the pair forward.
“We came to join you as soon as we could, but I fear we came too late to aid in the battle.” Abban moves to kneel next to the body of Mertat, and speaks to it “And we’ve brought good news to you, Mertat. Kael and I have worked with the enchanter in town, Magress, and have developed a way to cleanse the Orcus temple.”
Looking over to another body laying nearby, Sabus confirms “Yes, that is Mertat’s brother. We had a foul choice laid before us, and our decision has led to his death.” Sabus quickly recounts the tale and their decision to rescue Emilily’s mother first, and then seek out Mertat’s brother.
“Alas, my delay has caused you much pain, dear Mertat” Abban whispers. “There is so much evil that must be challenged, that I fear I am not up to the task. While the decision to rescue the mother first was right, my own decision to abandon the party in that quest while I worked on a means to cleanse the temple has run afoul.”
Looking at Sever, he continues “A lesson for us all, Sever. There is a price to be paid to follow the path we tread. And yet if we do not follow the path, a greater price overall would be paid. For at least the mother and child are safe. And we have a way to cleanse the temple. But the toll is steep, indeed.”
Turning back to Mertat “Grant me some time here. I believe Mertat’s adventures here in Golarian are not yet complete, but I must pray for guidance. Sever, join with me.”
Bowing his head as in acceptance, though a grimace crosses his face which he quickly hides beneath his hood, Sever moves next to Abban to kneel and hear the prayers for the dead.
The rest of the party now gather up the corpses of the slain vampire and stack them in a pile for burning. They keep the body of Mertat’s brother separate. Though it unlikely these foul corpses could rise again, so close to Rappan Athuk it is best to not take the chance.
The gathering of the remains soon completed, the party then searches thru the bodies and lair of the vampires to determine if any useful items could be found. There are several merchant letters from multiple caravans that are found – proof that Mertat’s brother was not the lone merchant to be attacked, and not the sole merchant to be forcefully converted to a vampire. But nothing of other value is found. It seems this was a solitary outpost and lair for this small coven of vampires, one which now has been destroyed.
It is now that Mertat stirs. Abban has lead Sever thru a series of prayers, and with the assistance of the magical rod of resurrection, Mertat is brought back. His rest was brief, and the wound of the loss of his brother instantly overwhelms Mertat. Rising, he sees the body of his brother set off by itself, and moves to pray and grieve over his brother.
The rest of the party stands nearby in silence, granting Mertat the time necessary. Mertat then turns to Abban, who nods to the rest of the party to bring the wood which has been gathered.
A great pyre is erected over the mass bodies of the vampires, and a separate one is built for Mertat’s brother. Saying prayers and blessings over the earth upon which the corpses now lay, Mertat blesses the area, sprinkling blessed water upon the ground and pyres. He then asks Abban to step forward, carrying a torch.
Now sprinkling oil upon the wood, Abban sets fire to first Sertat’s, then the others pyres. Feed by the oil, the wood from these woods that so recently burned with difficulty and provided little heat, catches quickly and burns brightly. Flames leap high into the air, and the fog about the area is briefly pushed back. But soon, the flames begin to recede. Mertat silently prays one last prayer, then turns and walks off back toward the road.
It is a quick walk to the caravan, and thence back to town. But for the rustling of leaves underfoot, is one made in silence. The time distortion that had been earlier experienced while traveling from town seems to no longer be present. Whether it is because of the direction of their travel, or time of day which now approaches the mid-day, little note is made. Though the party had succeeded in part of their mission, saving the child and mother, a great loss has struck them. And Mertat’s sorrow is palpable, as is his increasing anger with each additional quickened stride. Soon, the party is hustling and jogging along the road to Zelkor’s Ferry, trying to banish the emotional pain with a self-inflicted physical exertion and punishment for their shortcomings.
A final sprint, and the party bursts from the woods into the clearing before the high wooden gates of Zelkor’s Ferry. Stopping, the breath comes heavily from all, the exertion being one that has helped refresh the mind, pushing back the grief for a moment.
Mertat turns to the party “Thank you for your efforts, and your vigil. Not all evil can quickly be banished, but traveling with your likes, I begin to like our odds of success. We overcame two great evils this past night, and have made at least a portion of the road more safe for travel.” And then he stares away, and mutters as to himself words Abban had recently spoken “Though I have lost greatly, no gain comes without a price.”
He then goes and embraces each member of the party. Jeru, though having just joined the party for a short while, feels the anguish of Mertat and his struggle to overcome that anguish, and readily embraces the cleric.
“We will continue our struggles” Abban says as he releases the hold of Mertat. “Let us re-double our efforts to cleanse the foulness of this area. Until the fog of the land is lifted, we will continue the struggle with you.”
Smiling briefly, Mertat nods his head “Yes, let us. Come, we need to nourish our bodies to stay strong – for in the morning, we will go and use this device you and Magress have devised to cleanse the temple. Tell me more about this, Abban.”
Heading back through the gates, Abban briefly explains the device and the process necessary, and how the new enchanter in town has been of great service. Combining blessings of his gods from the east, along with magical amplification divined from a small box containing a globe that the enchanter has cunningly crafted, a simple pronouncement of a text in the far-east language of the enchanter’s homeland is all that is necessary to complete the process. It is promised that the area will be cleansed of the evil and be made fresh, so that new goodly blessings can be cast upon the area to permanently seal away the evil.
Approaching Bristleback’s, the door opens and a group of adventurers stride out. Behind them, cheers of farewell and good wishes follow them out the door. Smiling, the adventurers turn and wave to the tavern well-wishers, then proceed into the hard-packed dirt street. Seeing each other, the parties stop and look over each other.
Abban steps forward “Welcome, travelers.” Looking over the group, it appears they are preparing for an adventure. Seven they are, and they all are adorned with various weapons, some with armor, and others in robes. Various belts and pouches are worn, along with adventuring sacks filled heavy with various gear and objects.
From the group, a middle-aged man steps from the group and approaches. “Welcome, welcome. Unless I miss my guess, you fine lads have been traveling the paths below the ground. Welcome, my name is Azerthen, and as I’m sure you have guessed we are the Fire Hawks.”
Wearing fancy-worked black leather boots, he is draped overall with a midnight blue silky robe adorned with various natural sigils of earth and sky. There is a bit of an elven air about the man, a certain aloofness which does not overcome his pleasantness, and his ears peeking out from beneath his feathered wizard’s cap betrays his mixed heritage.
“The Fire Hawks. At last we meet” Abban says, moving forward as he accepts the hand of Azerthen.
“It appears you have had some recent adventures” Azerthen discerns. Looking at the party, he notices the recent wounds and dirtied clothes, and dark looks. “Come, come into my tavern and let me buy you sustenance. We can exchange a tale or two.”
“Your tavern!” Sabus exclaims. “What madness is this?”
“True true, young bard” the wizard replies. “Perhaps it is not wise to claim ownership over the tavern – for Odo Bristleback would be certain to set that claim straight right away.”
Smiling, Azerthen beckons the party in, and calls for Odo, who leads the party to a private chamber.
Last into the room is Sever, who stares at a lean human wearing leather, with a bandolier of daggers strapped across his shoulder. “You first, good Sever” the rogue invites Sever to enter.
Surprised that the rogue knows his name, Sever stops “No, I insist, you go in first, good Merzuk.” Sever smiles at the rogue, who smiles back and then laughs and cackles out loud.
“Well done, rogue” Merzuk laughs. “Seems like we both know a bit about the other, though we have yet to meet. Come, let’s not let the others get too far ahead of us into their cups.”
Merzuk enters the room, and Sever follows grabbing a pitcher and mug from the maid who is busy preparing to serve the large group. Merzuk reaches out his mug that he had mysteriously procured from the Littlecups – though Sever had not seen the motion. This one has a bit of talent, Sever thinks, as he fills the mug.
Abban has continued the conversation with Azerthen, who clearly is the leader of the Fire Hawks. As Abban shares our adventures in Rappan Athuk, so too does Azerthen.
The Fire Hawks have taken to entering into the dungeon through a second entrance near the purported goblin lair, through the Mouths of Madness which leads into the main part of the dungeon. Quite impressed that we have gone in through the entrance at the mausoleum, purported to hold much greater challenges, the two trade other information about entrances and exits that each have discovered. Soon, tales of their various battles along with various creatures encountered are exchanged.
“Make sure you stay wary of a creature roaming some of the lower levels of the dungeon” Abban warns. He describes the otyugh that Abban had befriended during earlier adventures, and cautions the Fire Hawks of approaching the creature.
“We have not encountered such a beast in the dungeon” Azerthen ensures. “But it is clear you have some bound of affection for the thing.” Sever snickers at the thought, and Merzuk joins him in a whispered joke that causes each to burst into laughter.
“We will be cautious if we encounter such a creature” Azerthen continues, shaking his head at the two kindred souls now wiping tears from their eyes. “No harm will come to it from us, be assured.”
“Thank you, Azerthen” Abban says, also shaking his head at the juvenile display of the two rogues. Yes indeed, he ponders, Sever is going to take much work for certain.
Abban then turns and examines a lithe female sitting next to Azerthen who has yet to speak a word. She is robed in a heavy cloak that at some time was surely white, but now is stained darkly. There is a certain stench about her as well, as Abban notices chunks of decayed flesh and dried blood in her hair.
“This here is Kalina, our fine cleric” Azerthen says. “Poor young child, she’s seen a bit more in her young life then perhaps she was ready for. But always there with a cure, and an aid to our party when in distress.”
Kalina is mumbling softly some words to herself, then realizes that she is the focus of the conversation. Turning to Azerthen, she mumbles “The bl-bl-blood, the bl-blood an-an-and brains.” She brushes her hair with her hand, tangling her fingers in the dried knots, pulling in vain to unknot the hair. Abban notices several fingers are missing from the hand, and there appears to be a bit of unnatural blackness showing some signs of infection from the wound.
“Wh-wh-why so much blood” she stutters, then stairs back vacantly at the cup that sits before her, untouched. Her maimed hand then goes to one of her many holy symbols she wears. Most clerics wear but a single sigil, but Katrina has nearly a dozen draped around her neck or pinned to her tattered and befouled robe. She is one certainly searching for and requiring all the assistance her gods will provide through such devotion.
“Yes” Azerthen explains to Abban. “The last battle we had was quite nasty. Old Endwin, our dwarven warrior, took care of a foul demon during that one.”
Looking over at the dwarf, Abban watches as the paladin puts down the mug he had just finished emptying, letting out a mild belch thru his heavily whiskered beard. Patting the chainmail upon his chest, the dwarf says “Aye. Took the blurting demon in the heads, I did. And I hope to claim the heads of many more.”
Lifting up a heavy silver hammer, inscribed overall with holy and golden runes, Endwin continues “The head was no match for old Demonsbane here. Took the head clean off, at least the right side of the head” the dwarf allows with a brief chuckle.
“But I’m afraid a bit of the goo ended up slopping all over Kalina. She was a brave lass during the fight, she was. Casting wards, healing wounds, and finally jumping onto the back of the demon while calling out prayers of smite, like herself a demon possessed. Kind of hard not to get all covered in brains and blood when I delivered that last killing blow.”
Abban sees that Kalina has retreated back to herself. He rises and moves to stand beside her, who does not take notice. Bending down on a knee, Abban reaches and gently takes Kalina’s wounded hand in his own. “I can help cure this wound, good cleric” Abban offers.
Kalina turns and stares blankly back at Abban, then looks at the hand, seemingly noticing for the first time the missing digits. Abban pulls out one of his magical wands, and gently touches it to her hand. Speaking a few magical words, the wand glows briefly with a golden light that shimmers, and that light transfers to Kalina’s hand. The golden beam intensifies for a few moments causing eyes to blink in the dimness of the chamber. As the light recedes, Kalina lifts up her hand before her eyes, and sees to her astonishment that the fingers have been restored. The blackness that had just recently festered on the wound was now a healthy pink, and she flexes the fingers.
Looking at Abban, a bit of the blankness of her stare retreats, and she reaches out and blesses the forehead of Abban, thanking him silently. Abban smiles, then returns to his seat. Eccial, sitting next to her, feels pity as well for Kalina. He reaches over and places a warm hand on her shoulder, and she turns to him. Offering him a brief smile, Kalina pats Eccial’s hand, and her eyes suddenly shine with clarity.
Standing abruptly, she proclaims “Beware – take heed all you mighty ones! The bonds to this world are weakening.”
Katrina has shrugged off her stuttering, and everyone else in the room has become quiet looking at her in astonishment. “The words of my gods are difficult to divine. They have seemed to become remote. Beware, the bonds are weakening.”
With the final proclamation, Katrina looks around the room intently. But soon, the blankness returns to her eyes, and she bows her head and sits back down, returning to herself, mindlessly stroking one of her many holy symbols.
After a brief pause, Endwin turns his gaze away from Katrina and addresses Abban “That is a fine thing you have done for her, paladin.”
“She has been quite invaluable to us” Azerthen speaks up. “I’m afraid the horrors we have seen have broken her mind a bit. We’ve lost five of our own during our travels. And each loss seems to have taken a toll on the poor lass. But if we are to return to the dungeon, which we must, then she must come along and give one more effort. We’ve all a bill to pay, and for some a higher price is exacted than others.”
Thinking of the price that Mertat has just paid, Abban replies “The child must know there still is charity in this world.”
Turning to Sever, he continues “And when we have the capacity to help those wounded in the world who are struggling against the evils of the world, we have the obligation to extend such aid as we have.”
Abban grimaces at Sever, who now that conversation has returned to the room begins laughing amid some more crude jokes whispered between himself and Merzuk. Sever sees the admonishment delivered by Abban. Sitting back in his chair, Sever retreats a bit away from the crude rogue, who now turns his attentions Jeru, who also has been enjoying the festivities. A few whispered words to Jeru, and they both burst out laughing looking at Sever from the corner of their eyes. Sever blushes a bit, but ignores the taunts and ponders on Abban’s lesson.
Sabus has taken to talk with a scrawny human. Marcento is his name, he proclaims, and he asserts his domain as one of the greatest bards of the land.
“I take ownership in this group” Marcento asserts to Sabus. “It was I who came up with the name of Fire Hawks, and the people have taken a great liking to our party. Why do you not adopt a moniker for yourselves, bard? It seems only fitting you should take advantage of the fame and glory that would be offered by such.”
Sabus scowls “I’ve mentioned a dozen dozen names to these folks. None have taken. They are the most hard-headed group I’ve ever traveled with. Me-thinks they are deliberate in their avoiding a name if only to frustrate me.”
Marcento laughs at this “Ah, a fine tale this is. A group without a name. No tales of glory will be remembered by your deeds. Perhaps we the Fire Hawks can accept claim for your deeds.” Laughing, Marcento pats Sabus on the back, who returns to scowling.
“Tell me, Marcento. Azerthen has said you have had many other adventurers pass through your group from time to time. Were any a female halfling?”
“Not that I recall. I’ve been with the group since the beginning, and we’ve have yet to wander with a Halfling. And most certainly no female Halfling – rather difficult to hide that. Why do you ask?”
“Curious, and frustrating” Sabus replies. “I have been searching for my sister who left our household over a year ago. I had heard she joined a group of adventurers named the Fire Hawks. I am confused that my information was poor.”
“Sorry, lad. No, I’m certain no such lass journeyed with us. But I’ll keep out an eye for her, and try and assist her if the opportunity presents itself” Marcento assures Sabus.
While Sabus and Marcento discuss their recent journeys, Merzuk turns and winks at Jeru, then turns to Sever “So Sever, let me warn you. While you were gone, I had a, um, very long conversation with Big Bertha.”
Leaning quickly forward, Sever pulls out a dagger and begins to test its edge. “Now, I hope you haven’t done anything unwise, Merzuk. She may be new to town, but you may consider Big Bertha to be off limits to you.”
“Ah, Sever” Merzuk says. “I see what Big Bertha means. Do you mean to threaten me with that small dagger?”
Looking at the thin blade, then quickly up to Merzuk, he retorts “It is no threat.”
“At that I can agree” Merzuk quickly interrupts.
Ignoring the taunt, Sever continues “That half-orc whore is mine until I release her from my service.”
“That’s not exactly how Big Bertha understands things. Anyway, I’m quite done with her for now. But she has certainly been most welcoming of my charms. I’m not sure how you go about impressing the lasses, but using such a small dagger as that is sure to not impress any at all, certainly not one such as Big Bertha with her finer and aggressive skills.”
Jeru bursts out laughing at this, and Sever cuts him a glare. “Well then, Merzuk. How about a nice little game then of knife-table-finger? We’ll see if this blade is sharp and suitable enough indeed for the task.”
Laughing at the challenge, Merzuk drains his mug and pulls out his own dagger – much larger than the slim one Sever is using. “You first” he says.
Sever grins, draining his own mug, and places his hand flat on the table, fingers spread. Merzuk grins back, positioning his dagger above Severs hand, and the game begins.
Shaking his head at the contest, Sabus turns to his dulcimer which he had been idly strumming, and begins a soft song of his homeland. Thinking of his sister, Sabus soon begins one of the tunes of which she was so fond. Marcento knows the tune, and joins Sabus with his hollow echoing flute, and the room becomes silent but for the thunking of blades into the table as they listen to the soft tune. Sabus picks up the tempo, and soon a bit of joy and happiness seeps through the music. A few smiles now break out across the room as for the moment some of the weariness of their travels are lifted from the two parties. Sabus and Marcento end the tune, and conversation returns to the room.
Mertat had been sitting quietly through much of the meeting, but with his spirits now lifted a bit, he decides to take the opportunity to discuss his searching.
Mertat turns to two of the Fire Hawks next to whom he had seated himself. The first is a human clad in heavy banded armor and chainmail, whose greatsword and metal shield where leaned against the wall behind him. The other a slim elf clad in green leathers bearing a great long bow and a white knife at his side. Mertat queries them if they’ve encountered any temples in Rappan Athuk.
“There are tales of great cures that can be found in Athuk” Mertat explains. “Purportedly, they are in a temple of healing that has remained unsmirched by the denizens of Orcus. Have you come across such a temple?”
“No, good cleric” the human fighter tells. “But we have heard of a similar rumor. Sadly, I must report to you that we have discussed a similar such tale amongst ourselves, and believe it is a false rumor.”
The elven ranger continued for the fighter “The last fight we had, where we slayed the demon. We uncovered information from its lair that the demon was sent to Golarian to infect the population with disease. Truth, there were foul writings that our wizard Azerthen discerned which uncovered the plot.”
“The demon was sent as a ruse, and he sent out minions with messages such as you heard. That a great cure for disease could be found in Athuk. But sadly, it is false. Merely a ruse to lure travelers to itself so that he could infect them, and then return them back to Golarian spreading disease and death across the land. So while we have ended his purpose and slain the demon, so also have we discovered that there likely is no such cure to be had within the tunnels of Athuk.”
“Then all my labors have been false” quails Mertat. “My brother has died for naught. A false hope. And the hope of my village has died with it.”
Mertat then explains how he had volunteered to his village to travel to Athuk to search for a cure. For one of his kin had returned from travels infected with a foul disease. For weeks he had lingered on in pain, and several other persons within the village had also become infected with the disease. It was a rotting disease, turning flesh to blackness and covering the body with sores. No blessings or herbs seemed to be effective.
But then Mertat heard of the possibility of a cure, and he had hope once again. Sharing that hope with the village, he had set out months ago with a vow to search the dungeon until such a cure could be found. And he believes his brother had been sent to assist in the quest. But now, the hope has been revealed as false. His brother dead. And the hope of the village quashed along with it.
“Not all is lost, Mertat” Abban tells him. “For now that the demon who brought the plague is dead, it is now likely that the foul magic that he used to bring about the plague can now be dispersed as well.”
Pondering these words for a moment, Mertat now looks up with some hope. “Of course, that may be it. Magic brought from other worlds disperses when the source of that magic is destroyed, especially when that magic has been brought from the netherworlds. So perhaps the disease can indeed now be cured. I should go to my village and let them know.”
Abban shakes his head “We have work still to do here, Mertat. We can speedily send word to your village. But we need to turn back to the task of finishing the cleansing of the temple.”
“Of course” Mertat agrees. “But let me go and arrange to send word immediately. After that, we should go straightaway back to Athuk and finish our job.”
Standing up, Mertat thanks the Fire Hawks for the knowledge of the death of the plague demon, then leaves to arrange word be sent to his church that they may renew their efforts to heal the plague.
“Yes, well, it is time for us to depart as well” Azerthen says. “We were just heading back to Athuk, and should really begin our travel soon. Well met, adventurers.” Then looking at Sabus “And good luck divining a name for your group.” With that he stands and moves to the door, followed by the rest of the Fire Hawks, Merzuk following the others wrapping his bloody fingers with a cloth.
With the Fire Hawks now on their way, Abban and Kael journey over to obtain the cleansing device from Magress the Enchanter. The party soon all gather again at Bristlebacks. Mertat reports he has attempted to link with his fellow clerics at his home through prayer, but is met with frustration – the fog of the land seems to have laid an unnatural lock upon the land. So instead, Mertat acquired the services of a messenger to carry word of his current knowledge and understanding of the disease to his village.
Kael and Abban meanwhile has procured the device. “Magress has been most helpful” Abban reports. “He has gone out of his way to be helpful to me, and has incurred much expense to help construct the magic needed to cleanse the temple. It is odd to find one so willing to aid in these times, but I am grateful for the assistance.”
Odo then comes over and speaks with the group, discussing their recent adventures. He expresses how the town appreciates their efforts for rescuing the mother and Emilily, even though they are a bit cool to their reception. Some blame the fog on the party, but others see the good the party is accomplishing. Either way, it has been keeping his tavern busy late into the evenings while the townsfolk debate, so the bit of controversy has been good for business.
Kael and Jeru decide to stay at Zelkor’s Ferry to arrange for the bringing of Mertat’s family caravan into town. It seems only fitting that at least the caravan’s goods should be saved, and Kael and Jeru readily agree to the task. This next journey to Athuk should be brief and uneventful, with the sole task of cleansing the temple then returning back to town – it seems a bit overmuch for all to go to the temple. Kael and Jeru can accomplish some good deed while the temple is cleansed – so many tasks it seems, and so little time. Perhaps this way, they can get a step ahead of the evil of Athuk.
So the rest of the party prepares to depart for the dungeon. It is now early evening. Gathering in a circle, Mertat speaks a prayer, and he along with Abban, Eccial, Sever and Sabus are whisked away to the temple under the ground this brief mission.
Landing on firm ground, there is a moment of darkness in which the party can discern nothing using sight. But there is no doubt where they are – the foul and evil stench is a familiar one to the group. Mertat quickly dispels the darkness with a word, and a light blazes forth through the darkness from his staff. Sever and Sabus quickly pull out torches, helping to reveal to all that Mertat has brought the party directly back into the main temple.
The temple appears to have lain untouched since last they were last there. Signs of their combat against the wards of the temple are everywhere. Piles of undead bones loosely covered in clothing while dark dried pools blood and gore have stained the stone, the reek of the area is pervasive. The party had partially sanctified the temple shortly after the battle, but there is still a palpable aura of evil about. Underearth dwelling creatures who would typically come to feast upon the dead have shied away from this area, letting the remains of the flesh from the evil priests and servants of Orcus slowly bloat and rot in the damp dungeon environment.
It is a good thing we have returned to finish the task, Abban thinks. An evil area such as is here cannot be left behind for the servants of Orcus the Despicable to reclaim. Motioning to the group, he leads the way down the hallway and into the room used to re-animate and defile the dead.
The bodies of the dead still abound, some piled carelessly in great heaps against the walls, others in great stacks like cordwood. But the worse are those still splayed upon tables, their cores disemboweled and then filled with vile liquids in preparation for the final ceremony to animate the bodies to serve Orcus the Cursed. At the sight of the desecration, anger courses thru Abban, and he calls out to the party to prepare to proceed with the ceremony.
The room feels warmer than the temple, the air stale in this dead end part of the dungeon. This only adds more to the unpleasantness to the scene.
Wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead, Abban continues to seethe and brings out an elaborate bag Magress has offered as a gift to carry the device to cleanse the room. The bag is of bright silk colors of red, green, and yellow, similar to the colors Magress has adorned his shop with back at town. Pictures and scenes of wild beasts from the east embroidered with gold and silver threads adorn the top of the bag, while along the bottom portion is a dark scene sewn of red threads upon a ghastly greenish-grey silk revealing a great battlefield depicting knights struggling with undead creatures amidst a vast graveyard.
Seems appropriate, Abban ponders, noticing the designs for the first time. Many of these bodies so carelessly tossed into this room fell to undead hordes such as those depicted on the bag. Perhaps it is fitting to use a finely crafted bag as the vessel for the hope to release their souls of the dead from their present stasis. Abban sees in the bag’s design all of the violence enacted by those whose evil deeds has brought these unfortunate souls to such poor circumstance. But above all, he sees there is a hope and beauty that awaits those souls, once they are released from their present torment, and lifted to their due rewards. This beautiful bag serves as an acknowledgement of the value which their past lives and deeds meant to their gods. It is to this hope that Abban clutches.
Mertat moves next to Abban and removes his helmet, also wiping the sweat from his forehead in the heat while trying to get a better look at the device. Eccial eyes the fine sack, and uncomfortably ponders briefly at the extravagant value of the sack. The forest creatures of gold and silver along the top of the bag appear awkward and out of place, seemingly not belonging with the more macabre scene below. He feels there is something unnatural in the juxtaposed scenes, one that he cannot quite discern. But watching Abban hold the bag, and how his expression is one of assurance and self-confidence, Eccial shakes off his doubt.
Sever hands Eccial a torch, and together they move around the perimeter of the room, lighting torches embedded high along the wall. The light provides gruesome reward, for as each torch is light, the defiled bodies of the dead become more discernable. Now that the task is at hand, the entire party begins to feel the rage of Abban, and quickly move to complete the task for which they came.
Opening the silken bag, Abban reaches in and pulls out a marvelously carved box. Of a squarish shape, the medium-sized chest is crafted of the dark ravana wood, found only in remote tropical lands to the east. Tempered by the heat and humidity of those sultry lands, the wood grows to a hardness far exceeding that of other woods found in the rest of Golarian. Under the careful polishing hands of a master craftsman, the natural dark oils that protects the wood in its extreme growing environment causes it to glisten an unnatural bright and glossy sheen as that of the darkest obsidian. Much prized among artisans, ravana is jealously protected by the eastern guilds, and Eccial is once again disturbed at the extravagance. Magress must surely have wished to impress Abban to have entrusted him with such a princely treasure, but there was something unsettling about the gift.
Paying no heed to the priceless treasure of wood before him, Abban unlatches its four golden clasps. Lifting the lid from the box, then tossing it carelessly to the side, he gazes at the contents of the chest. The striking of the lid on the stone floor of the room creates a haunting reverberating echo, which only adds to Eccial’s unease.
From the chest, a dull glow emanates, eerily illuminating Abban’s face. As the glow spreads slowly from the chest, a chill runs thru the party as the magic so evident within the box ripples across the room.
“This is a great magic, Abban” Mertat says, giving a small shiver from the sudden drop in temperature. “I sense a great power that somehow feels aligned with this room, and it causes me worry.” Eccial grunts his agreement with Mertat.
“That was to be expected” replies Abban. “As Magress explained to me, the good magic he has provided will resonate and blend with the evil in this room. But its power is such the power is unleashed, the two shall merge. The power from the device will overwhelm the dark, and by its merging will replace the evil with good.”
“A clever approach” ponders Mertat. “I pray it works.” Feeling unsure, but yet tendering faith in the work and research Abban and Kael provided in its development, and the craft of the enchanter, he nods his head in agreement. “Well, let’s be done with it. Shall we begin?”
Eccial does not agree, and yet finds it difficult to pinpoint his unease. Ignoring Eccial’s shaking of his head back and forth, Abban nods to Mertat and pulls from the chest the object of the spell, holding it up so all can see.
The device is actually a smooth glass orb, seemingly perfectly round with no imperfections. The glossy surface appears to have matched that of the wooden chest. Now that it has been brought out of the box, the orb begins to glow more intently.
Eccial is mumbling, clearly distressed at ill feelings. Moving over to Mertat, he squawks “No. Stop ‘dis.” Breathing heavily, he manages to continue “Bad thing. No.”
Mertat looks at Eccial with concern. This is unlike Eccial. Eccial rarely shows any fear, but there is something about the orb that is clearly causing him great distress. Holding his head in his hands, Mertat is shaking his head back and forth muttering “No No No” over and over again.
Looking at Abban, Mertat sees that he has begun the chants of the ceremony. Speaking words of a language unfamiliar to him, Abban has lifted the device over his head. The glowing of the orb has intensified, and has begun to rotate slowly in Abbans’ hands. Curious at the meaning of the incantation Abban is chanting, Mertat replaces his Helm of Comprehend Languages to try and understand the words.
With the helm, Mertat divines that the dialect is of an ancient language, but many of the words are unknown to him. The words seem to be calling the dead to life, or perhaps it is the lifting of souls from their rest – the helm’s interpretation is unclear and makes little sense to Mertat.
Abban feels the power of Magress’ enchantment flow through him and into the orb. As he continues the chant, the unknown words and sounds become more familiar as he repeats them, each word and phrase spoken more precisely. Magress has tutored him well in memorizing the words of the incantation, though the language is as unfamiliar to Abban as it is to Mertat even with the helm.
The globe begins to lift from his hands, spinning, raising high up into the room to just below the ceiling. The light casting off from the globe seems to pulse in tune with the chant, separating momentarily into two separate sources before merging again. Each time Abban completes the chant, the glow and pulse grow in intensity, bathing the entire room in an eerily bright orange glow. With each repeat of the chant, the separation of the glow into two lights lasts longer, glowing more intensely before reforming as a single source.
Everything in the room now seems to focus on the chant. Even the undead piles seem to have responded to the magical source, and seem to have focused their attention on the light as much as the party.
Aware that all of the party is now watching the globe as its power intensifies, Abban continues the words for one last and final time. Eccial begins to mutter louder as he feels something is gravely wrong with the enchantment. With a loud grunt, he charges at Abban and grabs at him. Not to be distracted at this most important of moments, Abban roughly shakes him off, pronouncing the final words loudly and clearly as though now the language was a natural extension of his knowledge.
Eccial grabs Abban once again, shouting “No No No.”
Frustrated, Abban pushes him away. Looking at Eccial, he scolds him “It is done. The ceremony is finished. The device is activated, and cannot be stopped. It had to be done, it was the only way to cleanse the temple.”
But Eccial continues to shout through his broken vocal cords “No No No. Evil. Bad.”
Mertat has been pondering the final words that Abban spoke in the ceremony, and suddenly understands the terrible error they have done. Looking quickly up, Mertat sees the panic now evident in Eccial, and knows that Eccial has also figured out the source of the magic.
With a final bright explosion of orange, the globe explodes two beams of light out from its depths and hurls them directly into separate piles of the stacked undead. The orange glow now surrounds both mounds, and they begin to roil with the intense light.
Thrown to the ground with the rest of the party, Mertat finally understands the betrayal. But much like Eccial, the awareness came too late to avert the disaster now forming before them. The bodies of the undead are now writhing together, growing, and forming two separate constructs of undead flesh, bones, and decay. Fully formed now, they surge forward. Intent on destroying the party, they will then add their flesh to its own to create an even greater monstrosity.
It was months ago while delving into Athuk that the party first encountered the Rakshasa. Having just defeated a small clan of trolls, the party had continued into a large cavern area. It was there that they encountered a large pack of wererats led by a huge Vrock demon.
But Mertat was all too familiar with Vrocks and their bearing, and knew there was a false image in place over its visage. In reality, it was a rakshasa, a creature out of eastern myths, who through enchantment had put in place an illusionary façade that Mertat had seen through.
Rakshasa were fierce beasts, usually covered in short dark reddish fur, glowing red eyes. Fond of tearing human flesh with their claw-like hands and fanged teeth, they yearned to feast and consume the blood of their victims. Masters of illusion, they could take on many shapes, and the one the group had encountered fooled all of them but Mertat.
But the Rakshasa knew his deception was uncovered, so he transported himself next to Mertat, grabbed him, and took him across the room to rend and devour his flesh. The rest of the party were beset upon the wererats and was able to fight through them, but not in time to save Mertat, who lay dead at the creatures feet.
The Rakshasa, still appearing in the guise of Vrock to the surviving members of the party next turned his attention onto Abban. But Sufi, the ratfolk alchemist who had traveled briefly with the group, suspected something amiss. Pulling forth one of his bombs which dispelled enchantments, he threw the bomb, and by its explosion revealed the Rakshasa in his true form.
Seeing the creature for what it was, Abban called to his gods to aid in smiting this foe, and swung his sword, cleaving deeply into the Rakshasa. Now greatly wounded, and seeking to preserve itself, the Rakshasa fled the combat. But in his escape, he had become a sworn enemy of the group. And in particular he was resolved on exacting vengeance upon Abban who had caused him such grievous wounds.
It is now that the Rakshasa has returned to exact its revenge. Once again the party had been fooled by the illusions, and had readily accepted the aid and friendship of the creature. But he had planned well, and now in his vengeance had convinced the party to unleash a great magic intent on destroying the party.
The signs were there. The silken fabric adorning the enchanter’s store could only be procured from the east. The strange sigils he would engrave upon the minor magic items he would sell. His foreign accent, exposing a clear far eastern tilt. All of these were clear signals betraying the land which is the source of the rakshasa legends. But most blatant of all was the fascination and attention bestowed upon his most sworn enemy, Abban.
Sometime later, Abban looks up to discover a bloodied Mertat kneeling over him, curing him with a restoration rod. Only flashes of the combat remain. Knocked to his knees, he remembers standing up and shouting orders for the party to attack, but they stared at him as if he was incomprehensible. Then the undead construct had crashed into him. He remembers a deafening sound that the things emitted, and the pain it had inflicted – reaching up, he feels a dried thin line of blood that had seeped from his ears.
He also remembers seeing Sever and Mertat grasped by the things, Sever managing to break free and then delivered some great critical blow upon the mass causing it to collapse. Eccial must have destroyed the other, but he can’t quite remember – did he help at all.
He remembers being hauled from the room, and then Sever re-entering the room to smash the glowing orange orb that was still spinning above the room. And now Mertat is kneeling over him.
“The orb was a trick, Abban” Mertat explains. “It caused you to be enfeebled. You weren’t too good at talking, as all of the words you were screaming came out in gibberish. That’s one language this helm of mine cannot comprehend.” Mertat explains how the party had been deceived by the rakshasa, and the danger the town was now in. Smashing his fists together, Abban is embarrassed and furious for falling for the trickery.
“The orb, in addition to creating the constructs, also cast a spell greatly affecting your intelligence, Abban. You were able to still fight the constructs to a reduced degree, and we’ve destroyed them totally. Sever has also just finished destroying the orb, so that it can no longer cast any more spells. We’ve healed up, and I was able to restore your intelligence. For now, it’s time to settle the score with Rakshasa once and for all.”
“Nec’ time, you listen, Ab-ban” Eccial scolds Abban. “I told – thing bad. You lis-ten.”
Nodding his head, Abban assures Eccial he will. But now, he agrees with Mertat – it is time to exact a bit of vengeance. Magress, or whatever the true name of the rakshasa was, was still in town. It was time to purge this foul thing and end his part of tale.
“We, ug, go” stammers Eccial. “Kill rak-ash-a.”
“No argument from me this time, my friend. Mertat, can you oblige and return us to town with your magic?”
“I can. One last time today. But I think that will be all that’s necessary, for I’m feeling there’s going to be a struggle once we arrive.”
“Isn’t there always? Let’s go.”
Once again whisked away by the blessed prayers of Mertat, the group arrives back in town. The courtyard of the town is deserted, but there is a loud celebration coming from Bristleback’s. Though it is by now late into the evening, it is evident that most of the townsfolk must be in the tavern. Lights stream out from the windows, and singing and laughter abounds.
“What evil must this mean?” wonders Abban. Leading the rest of the party, they enter into the tavern to be meet by what appears to be every single person living in town. All the tables are packed, and music is coming from a group of villagers in the corner expending as much effort on their song as they are with their mugs.
On the far side of the tavern, though, is Magress. Dressed in fine silks as is his preference, he is engaged with a cordial conversation Bristleback. But as the party enters the tavern he turns his glaze at them and spreads a wicked smile.
Holding his hands up, Magress calls out for silence. As his voice slowly overwhelms the noise, the townsfolk begin to settle down and quiet somewhat.
“My good people” Magress calls out. “They have come back to us.” Pointing at the group of adventurers, and staring directly into the eyes of Abban, he continues “The party of noble adventurers who saved poor Emilily and her mother from the evil clutches of the dark wood. Come, let us greet them and bestow our thanks.”
The townsfolk now realize that the party has returned, and a great cheer arises to great them. Many of the folk nearest surge forward and soon surround the party, patting them on the back, bestowing their thanks while offering their services to the group, and calling to the barmaids for mugs of ale for the adventurers.
Abban and the rest of the party slowly labor through the masses of bodies towards Magress. Seeing their approach, he bends down and lifts a small child into his arms and then turns back towards Abban. He holds Emilily.
“Welcome back, mighty heroes” he continues “We’re having a party for you. Thanking you for your great success in saving the girl.” Turning and winking at the girl, Emilily smiles and gives Magress a hug. Now able to see above the fray, she now also sees the party, and eagerly begins to wave at Sabus.
“Momma” she calls. “There he is. There’s my brave Sabus.”
More cheers erupt from the crowd and the townsfolk begin to dance again as the music picks up on a friendly song. It is a hero’s welcome unlike any they have ever encountered. The recent mistrust the townsfolk held for the party just a short time ago is now long forgotten. They have achieved a great victory for the town by saving the girl and mother, and doubts they held are now dispersed.
But the party feels the evil before them. The townsfolk are blind to the reality of the evil force leading the celebration. If it should come to blows in the tavern, many of the townsfolk would be in grave danger.
“Let the child down so she can come to us” Abban speaks directly to Magress. The disguise now unmasked to the party, it is clear to Abban that before him is a greatly evil creature. Standing next to Abban, Sabus has a firm grasp on his wisp, barely containing his anger at his concern for Emilily.
“Why, she is quite happy to me with me, aren’t you, little girl?” Magress says. Emilily begins to squirm and complain. She is ecstatic to see Sabus, and is trying to get down from Magress’ arms to get to Sabus. But Magress holds firm, gently but firmly encircling the girl’s neck with one hand.
“One more step, paladin” he spits “and there will be one less child in this world.” The townsfolk are now too busy to pay the words any mind, turning back to their frivolity.
Sever and Mertat have dropped a bit behind Abban, and coyly consume potions, preparing for the expected battle. Sever goes invisible, but in the crowd and with the townsfolk senses dulled due to the drink, it goes unnoticed. Sever grabs Mertat by the arm, who shakes his head coarsely and whispers “Wait.”
Abban begins to move closer, and with a flick of his hand, Magress tosses a white gem into the air. Speaking a single word, the stone explodes into shards and a wave of magic surges through the room.
Blinking their eyes quickly, they see the foul trap that Magress had set for the party. Throughout the tavern, several of the townsfolk have been revealed as huge Vrock demons. Disguised as townsfolk, they had waiting for the summons of the master, and now turn on those nearest to them and begin to shred and tear at them with their sharp claws and beaks.
“Not Vrocks” moans Mertat. “Anything but Vrocks.” Sever understands Mertat’s pleas, as he has had to assist in bringing Mertat back to life more than once after encountering these demons.
Eccial, who had recently had his own sour encounter with Vrocks, and bearing the permanent scars upon his face of that encounter, lets out a garbled shout and charges at the nearest beast.
In the time it took to clear his eyes, a Vrock has moved between Abban and the Rakshasa. Realizing he has little time before a foul fate may befall Emilily, Abban strikes out at the Vrock. The Vrock tries to dodge and maneuver past Abban, but in so doing unwisely exposes his side to Abban. Abban swings his sword and cuts deeply into the beast, felling it with one stroke.
Looking down in amazement, Abban is stunned at his success. One blow of the sword, no matter how well struck, should kill a demon such as this. But then the deception is displayed. A shimmer twinkles around the Vrock, and the image fades, revealing a villager now gutted by the paladin. Abban hears a cry from his gods, and he realizes the deception. The enchanter, the foul rakshasa, has cast an illusion spell making this and perhaps other villages appear as Vrocks. And it has created panic in the tavern.
Scanning the room quickly and assessing the threats, he sees several Vrocks savagely attacking and rending at villagers, who are desperately struggling to flee the tavern. Abban is all too familiar with the attacks of the Vrock, and these clearly are such.
Some other Vrocks are scrambling along with the villagers towards the doors, trying to escape. Likely these are villagers made into an illusion. The villagers scream as these Vrocks rush towards the door themselves, and several are being trampled underfoot in the panic causing a pandemonium where moments before all had been peace and joviality.
But a few of the Vrocks have stopped and have begun their death chant. Abban has seen this as well. It will take only a short time, and once those Vrocks have completed their chants, they will explode in a fury and kill any villager nearby, and do great damage and harm to the party.
“Beware the illusion” Abban calls out. “Some of the Vrocks are villagers beguiled by magic.”
Hearing laughter above the terrorized cries of the townsfolk, Abban looks and sees Magress. He has shed the likeness of the human enchanter Magress, and has revealed himself to all as Rakshasa. Emilily now realizes she is held by a foul creature, and begins to bravely kick out at the beast while crying out “Save me, Sabus!”
But Sabus is now confronted with a true Vrock of his own, who is trying to viciously claw and bit at the halfling. Eccial joins with Sabus to team up on this demon. Sabus attempts to use his whip to trip the beast to the ground. In the confined quarters, it is difficult, but he finds some success. As the beast lays helpless and prone, Eccial strides in to the attack to kill the foul creatures.
“Shall we go?” Mertat asks. Feeling an invisible tug at his arm, Mertat transports Sever and himself to both sides of the Rakshasa, and they immediately fall in to the attack. But they find it difficult to harm the creature. Taking care not to hit Emilily, who the Rakshasa is using as a shield, the few blows that do land are seemingly absorbed into the body and find little purchase.
But Abban has now made his way to the Rakshasa, calling out “I nearly killed you once, foul one. Taste my blade for a final time.”
With a flurry of attacks, Abban delivers a series of blows that cut deeply into the Rakshasa. Taken aback at the success Abban has once again found against him, the Rakshasa understands he has lost the advantage. Though there is confusion all about in the tavern, he has become the focus of the party’s assault. Holding tightly to Emilily, he whispers a word and vanishes.
Stopping his swing in midair, Mertat looks quickly about. “He has not gone far” Mertat pronounces. “The magic he used could take him only a short distance.”
“There’s only one place he could have gone” Abban states. Turning towards the door, he sees a small opening through the crowd and charges through the mayhem towards the enchanter’s store across the village, calling out “Mertat, two are chanting!”
Mertat realizes the danger they all are in if the Vrocks complete their chant, and decides quickly. “Go with him, Sever. I’ve a debt to settle with these Vrocks.”
Seeing the two Vrocks nearing the end of their chant, Sever nods and races after Abban. Mertat than charges directly at the two chanting Vrocks. Crashing into the pair, he grabs a firm hold on both and then dimension doors away. Three hundred paces. Instantly transported. Directly up. Into the air. Above the fog. The two Vrocks are transported, with Mertat in tow.
By now, most of the villagers, at least those still alive, have fled the tavern. One last Vrock charges at the remaining party members, but is quickly dispatched by Eccial after Sabus trips the thing to the ground. The pair then run outside into the square to find the rest of their now separated party.
All around, villagers are running and trying to hide. A couple are in the form of Vrocks – but they have no interest in attacking, only running as well, with one trying to climb and hide under a row of bushes, with little success. Those are clearly still under the illusion, and it appears that no other true Vrocks are about.
There is also no sign of Sever or Abban. But as they scan the area, coming from the fog and above, Sabus begins to hear sounds of combat. Screechings of Vrocks, the flapping of wings, and the loud curses from what could only be Mertat. Sabus looks up, pointing to Eccial as the sounds approach earthward. As they stand looking up, a window on the top floor of the tavern crashes open. Out from the window a huge, bearded man wearing quickly donned, and poorly fitted, studded leather armor steps out onto the roof.
Wielding wildly a huge club, they hear the voice of Bristleback call out from the spectacle “Come on, you demons! No one can invade the peace of my tavern without my say. Come and feel bite of Barbara the Barbarian.” Swinging the club madly over his head, he looks up, hearing the same sounds as Sabus.
Sabus has never seen Bristleback like this before. No normal tavern is he. There’s a tale to be told about this one, Sabus quickly muses. But enraged, Odo continues to thrust Barbara about into the air as he awaits the falling sounds.
Soon, the shouting and screeching from above materialize. Two Vrocks are quickly flying about Mertat, darting in and attempting to bite him and slash at him with their claws. Mertat, who having quickly quaffed a potion of flying, is himself is darting about while using his long pole to keep the Vrocks at bay. By the many wounds evident, Mertat has been wounded many times over. But he is still swinging with effect. Twice have Vrocks taken his life in combat – they will not so easily be able to add a third to that total.
As the swirling mid-air combat continues to fall and approaches the tavern, suddenly Odo leaps out with a yell and lands on the back of one of the Vrocks who had flown too near the enraged barbarian. Instantly, the Vrock begins to tumble erratically and quickly smashes into the ground. Odo rolls himself free, then turns and swings his great Barbara at the stunned Vrock. Connecting with a solid thunk, the head of the Vrock is sent spinning crazily away to thud thickly against the wall of the tavern, leaving the quivering headless demon to flap its death throes in the dust of the street.
Mertat has also landed, as well as the second Vrock who tries to finish off the cleric who had disturbed their master’s plans so. But Eccial and Sabus quickly move in. Once again, a Vrock is no match for the well swung crack of Sabus’ whip, and it is ensnared and tripped to the ground. Lying helpless, Eccial shows no mercy and sends the creature back to the abyss.
The last Vrock now killed, a slightly calmer Odo walks over and helps Mertat to his feet. And patting his club, Barbara, declares “I hate demons in my bar!”
Charging across the dusty square of the village, Sever soon catches up to Abban who is running towards the shop of the enchanter. Seeing it just ahead, Sever calls for a stop.
“We’ve seen enough little tricks for today. Let’s play one of our own, shall we?” Sever reaches into a pouch at his side, and produces a small wooden box. Flipping it open, he reaches in and pulls out a small marble-sized gem, brown and dull in color. Tossing it towards the building, Sever calls out “Serve me.”
The gem lands in the dirt, and it suddenly erupts with a shower of earth, clogs tossed high up into the air. This is not the first time Abban has seen this trick. Soon, a huge earthen creature has arisen from the ground, stocky melded legs supporting a thick frame towering over ten feet tall. Great clubbed fists rise into the air, and the creature turns to Sever awaiting his command.
“Destroy that door!” Sever directs, pointing at the Rakshasa’ building.
The creature turns towards, and strides to the door and slams both fists into it, sending the door smashing inward from its hinges to crash broken into the center of the room. But at that instant, a huge pulse wave of fire streaks down at the spot of the elemental. The Rakshasa has indeed another trick to play, and this one is a trap of fire laid upon the door to incinerate any who dared approach. The fire causes some damage to Sever’s creation, but earth is not overly affected by the burn. They were wise to use the earth servant to open the door.
The way now clear, Abban quickly enters the room. Sever, quickly consuming another potion to turn himself invisible, enters as well and moves off to the side of Abban.
The room, which just a day before had been filled with curtains of silk and beads of glass, containing shelves and displays of the many magical wares for sale, was now barren. The entire store was stripped clean. But across the room, with his back against the wall next to the rear exit door, stands Rakshasa, holding a squirming Emilily tightly in its paws.
Pushing a dagger against her throat, the girl stops moving, and the Rakshasa speaks “No time for games this time, Abban. I gave you one chance to save the life of the girl, and you chose revenge instead. How will your gods feel that you would be so willing to trade the life of this helpless creature just to slay your enemy?”
Standing there for a moment, Abban knows he is trapped. His gods had just rebuked him for killing the villager in the tavern. True, the villager was under the illusion of a Vrock, but that mattered not. Deceived by a trick, the death was a mistake that Abban would not willingly chose, but the gods dealt in results. The villager was dead by the sword of a paladin, and a price of atonement must be paid. They would be furious indeed if he then allowed death to visit upon this little child.
Filling with outrage, Abban is furious that this foul creature has caused so much mayhem. Its hatred was deep indeed to pursue revenge through such extreme measures only to exact suffering upon Abban. No matter what happened, Abban was certain the creature intended death for the girl, a last cruel act designed to torment him, and to curse him and separate him further from his gods.
But Abban would not allow such to occur. His faith was strong. He could sense Sever standing just off to his side, waiting for Abban to decide. Gripping the hilt of his sword tightly, Abban cries out “NO!”
Swiftly bringing the sword behind him, Abban swings it around and throws his blade at the creature. The eyes of the Rakshasa grow large for only an instant before the sword slices into him. The sword was expertly aimed, and thrown with such force to strike and cut into the beast just below its shoulder on the arm with which it is holding Emilily. Striking true, the blade cleaves cleanly through flesh and bone, severing the limb neatly from the beast.
With a scream of pain, the Rakshasa stumbles back against the wall, stunned and momentarily stricken by the sudden onslaught. Seizing the opportunity, Sever calls out a command “Protect the girl.” The earth elemental understands. It surges forward, scooping up Emilily who is now lying on the ground with the severed arm of the Rakshasa laying beneath her. Turning away, the elemental burrows to the corner of the building. With his back pointing towards the enemy, the girl is well protected by its massive bulk.
Sever then charges forward and takes the opportunity with the Rakshasa distracted to land an invisible strike. Screaming in pain, the beast recoils away from Sever, and tries to stumble towards the rear exit of the building. But Abban is not finished with him yet.
Rushing forward himself, Abban stoops down to grasp his sword lying on the ground. Then leaping into the air, he spins his body in a circle, swinging the cutting edge around, bringing it with full force upon the neck of the Rakshasa. The blade once more travels cleanly through the beast, and the head stays balanced upon the shoulders of the creature, eyes bulging out in a startled stare.
Abban lands on the ground lightly before the Rakshasa, one knee upon the ground and the other spread straight before him. His back to the beast, with his blade tucked neatly under his arm, Abban stands, then strides out from the room without a single glance back.
The Rakshasa still stands, but is motionless. Sever reaches out with his mace, and gives a gentle push to its body. It comes crumbling down to the ground, its head rolling away to the side. With a grimace, Sever also turns towards the door, and calls for the elemental to bring the girl outside. There is no need for a life as young as hers to be inflicted with yet another visceral memory. She will need many healing nights with her loving family to erase the terrors of the past few days.
As they emerge from the enchanter’s workshop, they meet the other party members coming towards them. Eccial and Sabus lead the way, moving warily, anticipating and expected another unforeseen adventure. Kael has also found his way back with the group, having arrived just in time to capture and dispatch a few of the henchmen who had served the Rakshasa, and who had been trying to flee the town. Kael ensured they would not go elsewhere in the service of evil.
And even Odo Bristleback is there, with his great club slung over his shoulder. He was assisting Mertat forward, moving gently from his wounds after his struggle with the Vrocks.
Gathering together, there is no time for greetings, for through the gate of the village stride a multitude of creatures. The gates had been left askew as the villagers had fled for their lives, and it has allowed these strangers to enter unhindered and uninvited.
They are of various shapes and sizes, some as large as a troll, others man-sized, while others are of a tiny stature no larger than a hand, flitting about with tiny translucent wings spread out behind them from their torsos. But all are robed in dark cloth, and in silence they spread out in an arc before the group.
One of the group, of a shorter stature, steps forward. Pulling back the hood of her robe, she exposes the face of a halfling. Though lithe of frame, her heritage is betrayed by her thick curly dark hair, tied tightly back beneath a circlet bearing a brilliant blue gem on its peak. She raises her palm outwards towards the party.
Abban watches the procession, first with alarm, then with fascination. As the halfling reveals herself, he hears Sabus beside him give a gasp. Looking quickly at Sabus, he sees him staring at the girl as at a precious gift long lost, but now recovered.
The girl speaks out “You must cease. If you do one more thing, all will be the end.”
Everyone is still for a minute, as the groups glower at each other. Then Sabus throws the whip he had been holding to the ground and rushes forward.
“Sister” he cries. The speaker sees Sabus running to her, and holds out her arms in greeting, as the siblings are at long last re-united.