An Ancient Evil
aking a quick wash from the barrel behind the house Kraag and the woodsman headed out, they decided that it was time for a change of scenery and headed for the Travellers Rest, a more upmarket establishment that where they had been previously. The inn was a two story way-station with a regular trade of coaches and merchants, the owner had even built a platform and steps in a nearby redwood for the occasional Dwarven airship. Entering into the spacious main room the two moved to a nearby booth and ordered ale and a serving of the roasted hogget turning on the spit at the end of the room. As they waited Kraag was asked to continue his tale. Before continuing Kraag replied “The next bit I’m a tad bit vague on laddie, you see I took a knock to the noggin while we were fighting and the next few days were a bit of a blur, I’ll do me best though…”
Our departure was a bit hurried and over the next few days some of the villagers were trained as airship sailors as and when Bentil could spare the time. We headed north and all was fine until a massive storm front welled up in front of us and with no small amount of dread we dived in through the massive thunderheads. The next hour were hell, the ship shook and trembled and was battered throughout. Bentil stayed at the wheel, calling out instructions and organising us and the crew to jury rig the sails as the storm took its toll, ripping lines free and parts off the hull below. At one point Kalieb had to tie a rope around his middle and dive over the side to fix the keel. Towards the end Julian cast fevered inquiry and had a horrific vision of Bentil being struck by lightning and the ship plummeting to the ground below. Hurrying forward he went to warn Bentil and get him to go below but found that Bentil had strapped himself to the wheel and would not move anyway. With a cry of “I will save you Bentil” Julian raised his axe high intending to cut Bentil free from the wheel, at that moment the lightning struck but at the raised head of the axe rather than the Dwarf a few feet away. An agonised Julian was thrown down to into a whimpering burnt heap behind the fearless sky captain. It was quite a while until he could stumble to the hold below, where I was trying to keep calm those taking shelter there, and ask for some healing help.
As the storm broke we could see our destination, a huge floating monolith of rock covered by roiling maelstrom of cloud; lightning striking down to four smaller obelisks chained like slaves to their master, the energy of the bolts feeding back and sickly green beams stuck up from the central spire feeding the storm above. The master tower was tethered to the ground by incredible chains, each link taller than a full grown man. As we drew closer shapes rose up from the windows in the tower and closed with us; bizarre men, each well-muscled and sporting wings of steel, leather and feathers. Both the wings and ominous tubes of green fluid somehow grafted onto them. They closed in rapidly with weapons at the ready.
A swarm descended, swooping in with spears thrusting out at those on the deck; rapidly we were surrounded and desperately fought for our lives, our swords slashing out to keep them at bay. A sudden cry from Bentil alerted us to a new danger, some of the gargoyles were below the ship attempting to destroy the keel sail and send the Lady Luck into the foliage below. Drawing inspiration from Kalieb’s act before, Azo tied a rope around his middle and leapt to the railing but on reaching it he froze for a few long seconds making sure that this really was the best plan. With a final shudder he dove out and swung under the ship, his sword reaching out and beheading one of the foes. We could hear him over the next few minutes as he leapt and swung about under the ship, fragments of war cries drifting up like snatches of a song from a drunken sailor, he was forcing the enemy away from the sail and being hit like a piñata. Eventually he drove them off and emerged bloodied and bruised but smiling like a maniac.
With enough of them wounded or down the rest withdrew but the ship had taken too much damage to remain aloft, Bentil called for us to grab the anchors and attempt to snag a tree and bring us down safely. Four of us threw out the hooks but only three managed to bite, the last ripped free and caused the ship to skew sideways and threatened to throw some from the deck. Settling the Lady Luck down Bentil went to inspect the damages and organised us all to make emergency repairs, while we did Julian, Watcher and Kalieb headed out to scout the path ahead. As they left we heard the distant sound of hunting horns.
They headed down and eventually found the trail the wagons that carried Chendra had used and proceeded to follow it towards the tower. A short time later the sound of hooves caused them to take cover and down the trail came three men clad in armour very like that of the gargoyles; all in black with split leather leggings and chests covered by crossed belts. Their heads were covered by leather masks that covered the entire face with holes left for the eyes, nose and mouth and a long sword ready to hand.
As the men reached the place where the elf and two men had taken cover the riders noticed the tracks in the path; immediately one turned and headed back to pass the word and the others cast about for more sign as they continued on. As soon as the third man was out of sight Kalieb sent a blast of sickly green fire into the second ones back and then the three managed to bring down the remaining rider. Stripping the mask off they found a face so pale it was obvious that the mask was never removed and as the head lolled sideways they saw they eyes were unnaturally cloudy and the tongue was missing from his mouth. Julian removed the man’s armour and as he finished the sounds of the hunting horns suddenly became louder and more urgent, without a backwards glance the trio fled back to the ship.
Meanwhile the rest of us had spent the few short hours they were away repairing and preparing the ship for flight once more and when they returned we took off immediately and just in time, as we lifted a few arrows followed our passage. A hasty discussion led to us flying over the pursuers’ forces and dropping us off closer to the tower. Bentil then continued on with the villagers and headed back to Garra’s village, he was to return in about twenty days.
Meanwhile we continued on, late in the day the sound of the men returning let us find shelter and after they passed we followed, into the night we kept going until Watcher detected temporary encampment ahead. As dawn broke he saw a tall elf emerge from a tent and in an ancient elvish language told the “Aran M’Therrin”, which roughly translates as Indoctrinated, to return to camp. When he returned and shared the news Cassandra remembered that the elven Over Empire had kept humans as slaves or cattle.
Our group followed the trail of the men to a gatehouse that was erected on a cliff, embedded below was one of the chains that tethered the floating tower to the ground. We cautiously approached the gatehouse finding a portcullis preventing us from entering what seemed to be an empty building. We forced our way in and after checking the place out we were left with two options, try and climb the mighty chain or step through a shimmering portal built into an obsidian surround. We decided to attempt the portal and upon stepping through found ourselves on a ramp in a washed out and faded version of the world; a few of us recognised it as the umbra. We climbed the ramp and found another portal which led back to the normal world. It was set in the corner of a huge chamber, three stories high, which had a large hole in the middle through which the green beams of energy regularly rose, a viewing platform projected out from one wall high above us. As we walked around the room to the only door and elven woman walked out and as she began to speak Templar let fly a shaft from his bow. It splintered harmlessly on some energy shield and as we hurried to the exit her voice followed us <saying>
Entering the tem meter wide corridor, that appeared to be the hollowed out walls of the great tower, we found it packed with supplies. We followed it around and for three levels found no signs of life; the two higher levels were filled with rack upon rack of weapons and armour from around the world. We took a few minutes to equip ourselves and continued onwards and upwards. The fourth floor was slightly smaller than the previous ones and the air was drier. We followed the corridor around and found a central room that was full of Aran M’Therrin, all unmoving and staring at the centre of the chamber where the beams were passing through. Cassandra cast an illusion that let us move past the door and on to the next set of stairs. This level was revealed as the mess for the soldiers below, simple tables and seats with bowls for food and pipes that emptied the food into black troughs. We moved on to the floor above.
Once more the corridors shortened as the tower narrowed. The air of this level had a strange tang to it and when we moved to the door to the central chamber we were greeted with the sight of four metal tables, on in each corner of the room. On three lay withered husks of men with pipes and tubes attached, looking strangely emptied, on the fourth a small figure was merely strapped down, we had found Chendra at last. Suspended above her and one husk were metal monstrosities, six foot wide and nine high, armoured and shaped like horribly deformed men.
We hurried over to Chendra’s unconscious form and Azo, Julian and Cassandra began freeing her but as they did one of the humanoid golems stirred and lowered itself to the floor and began to lumber towards us. As it closed its eyes seemed to lock onto Azo’s dwarven form and made a beeline for him ignoring the others of us that had set to meet the charge.
It bulled its way through, ignoring Kalieb’s ineffectual spear thrust and my new mace shattered on its knee. Templar swung himself onto its back, holding desperately onto the chains that protected the green bulbs that augmented its life and hid sharp spikes designed to prevent just such a manoeuvre.
The next few moments were spent with us attempting to damage the armoured hulk as it swung at Azo but failed to penetrate his skilled defence. Kalieb cast fell fire that left a score mark and Templar managed to smash one bulb. Azo smashed at its knees but the damage immediately began to repair. Cassandra began leading the still numb Chendra away and looking across the room saw the elven woman standing in the doorway for a moment before she turned and strode away. Seeing his damage was being negated Azo unleashed a massive blow into the things knee crumpling the armour and leaving it almost immobile but again the damage began to fade.
The Golem then screamed at the dwarf with such force that it was almost physical and it was only with his stout will that Azo did not freeze in place. Kalieb once more unleashed his spell this time fusing the knee that Azo had damaged. Seizing the opportunity I slid in and struck the weakened knee with both boots causing the golem to slowly topple over the edge of the central hole, as it fell Templar lunged for the lip and managed to catch it as beside him the golem managed to prevent its fall with the fingers of one hand clawing onto the edge of the shaft.
Finally Julian managed to overcome his terror and darted forward swinging madly at the terrible fingers in front of him, his fear lending strength as he hacked them off and finished what the rest of us had done, the golem falling into the green light and vanishing in an instant. He then stood grasping the head of the axe as he caught his breath from his momentary exertion. As he did Chendra shuddered and a curious phase escaped her lips:
As cities under a perfect sun
So shall the light consume itself
Till under glooms rule the Blood-born arise
And cities fall to a perfect night.