Al-Qarin: Into the Desert (1-22-23)

:D :D :D

Well, I hope we don't have to wait too long to find out! ;)

Well, I think EN has the next few parts as a rough draft...unfortunately, he's going to be away for a few weeks - touring France, I beleive. I'll bug Galeman to post a map of the world in the meantime. That is, if people are interested, and if Galeman has some time to kill...
 

log in or register to remove this ad

The Axe

First Post
One vote for the map

Well, I think EN has the next few parts as a rough draft...unfortunately, he's going to be away for a few weeks - touring France, I beleive. I'll bug Galeman to post a map of the world in the meantime. That is, if people are interested, and if Galeman has some time to kill...

I'd like to see the map---bug him for us, eh. :)
 

Galeman

Explorer
A map, eh? As Taran and the rest should clearly know, mapping is not my forte. I will have to see if there is anything lying around that I'd be willing to share. Most of my maps are local and crudely drawn but what would seem to be a class of 4 year olds.
 

Since Galeman hasn't got around to posting a map yet, I'll try and describe the area we're in right now (given my track record on updates, I can't exactly criticize him - really, I don't even remember if we had ever had an 'official' map for the game, just sketches here and there. Gorak and I have played in the world before and have a pretty good idea of where everything is without a map, and the only map Shayla cares about is the battlemat, preferably with 4 or 5 enemies on it, nicely grouped in a 20 ft radius :cool:)

In the center of this 'kingdom' is a huge temperate forest (I don't recall there being any strong central authority in this part of the world - like the West it was just a loose collection of city-states, at least by the time we showed up). The forest is ringed by a diamond shaped road (wider on the east-west axis then on the north-south one), with a city on each of the east, north and west points. On the west point is 'Westgate' which guards the main pass through the mountains (the mountains run almost due north-south - this is the same pass we entered Malakai's caves from). On the north point of the diamond is Caer Morag and on the east point is a city called 'The Hub'. I don't recall if there was a city on the southern road, but if there was, it was razed by the Dwarves before we arrived in the East (there was a fairly important castle a few days south of Westgate as well, which was one of the first places to fall). From what I remember, the south was mostly empty grassland, populated by some barbarian tribes, but none of the campaigns ever really ventured down there).

Running east-west through the middle of the 'diamond' (and the forest) was a fairly large river - I believe it came out of the mountains north of Westgate (there was an important bridge just east of Westgate) and then turned east through the forest, passing to the south of Caer Morag and the Hub. North of Caer Morag was the bulk of the human settlements in this part of the world, small scattered towns and hamlets, mostly grassland with some smaller forests. A little further north is a band of coniferous forest that splits the grassland from the northern tundra (we skirted around the western edge of this forest, when we traveled from Martok down to Caer Morag).

At this point in the campaign, I think we were vaguely aware of another kingdom, east of the Hub (none of the characters have any sort of geography knowledge), connected by a land bridge (maybe 20-50 miles across - it never got so narrow that you could see the ocean on both sides at the same time. Might have been wider, I don't exactly recall).

Hopefully that's not too confusing - Galeman and Taran can correct me if I've got any of the details wrong. The next update is in progress but it'll be a little while before it's finished - it's a fairly important one, and I want to make sure I do it justice. :)
 
Last edited:

Galeman

Explorer
Just a few things there. "Westgate" is just a western interpretation of the western cities name, Drak'nor. The river that flows through the kingdom is known as the Saltrine and the wood is called the Brentwood.
 

Khalid, following Azarek's monosyllabic instructions, hastily assisted him into his armor. Having been at best, a mediocre student of own profession, the intricacies of the buckles and straps that distributed the massive weight of the armor completely baffled him. Unable to tolerate his nervous fumbling for long, Azarek finally pushed Khalid away and finished the task himself. Shayla followed Gorak out of the portal while Khalid gathered up his belongings. Dropping out of the portal right on Shayla's heels, he immediately pressed himself flat to the ground. He raised his head up and quickly glanced to the west, blinking in the morning light. A dust cloud of considerable size hovered over the road, heralding the imminent arrival of the military convoy. Startled by the proximity, Khalid hurriedly launched into his preparations, casting a spell then reaching out and touching Shayla on the shoulder. With barely a breath between, he drew out a scroll, frowning slightly as he spoke the final words of activation. Pilfered from the clutches of Ruwayd's captor, it was a spell he was unfamiliar with and had never had the chance to fully study, but given the circumstances he was willing to expend it. Again, he reached out and granted the magic to Shayla.

Gorak and Azarek were similarly involved, while Shayla kept a watch on the approaching Dwerro. Azarek was planting arrows point first in a semi-circle around himself within easy reach, while Gorak, kneeling in front of Khalid, growled out the words to a spell with his hands buried in the damp earth. Khalid searched around, picking out the markers Gorak had set the night before that indicated the boundaries of their first line of defense. Crawling up beside Gorak, Khalid completed the last of his defensive wards, and tried to flatten himself as low to the ground as he could. Azarek and Shayla mimicked him, their eyes on Gorak, who remained crouched, watching the road.

The seconds that followed felt like hours while they waited for Gorak's signal. Unable to clearly see the road through the grass, the sounds of the approaching Dwerro were more than enough to tear at Khalid's fragile courage. Through the rising din, his mind worked to make sense of the chaos; the grate of flexing armor, weapons clanking, the snorts and grunts of the boarish mounts, a knights raucous laugh, and above all, the measured beat of the infantry's march. Sweat slicked Khalid's palms and dripped down his face, and his mouth dried to the point he worried he would be unable to fulfill his role in the looming battle. Briefly, his spirits soared as he contemplated the possibility that Gorak too had lost his nerve and would let the caravan pass. He should have known better.

Gorak raked his hand across the earth, shouting words of power, and ripping open a shallow trench in the earth in front of him, that spread along the ground, parallel to the road. A vast, howling gale erupted from the elemental rift, flattening the grass around them, and stripping the battered hat from Khalid's head. Shayla rose up from the grass, not stopping as she stood, flying into the air under the power of Khalid's spell. Her blazing curls danced in the wind, like the flickering flames that played across her long, delicate fingers. Power resonating in her beautiful voice, she halted in the air, and leveled her hand at the Dwerro. In an instant, half a dozen of the mail clad infantry vanished in a ball of fire, the glowing remains of their armor and weapons clattering to the scorched earth.

The Dwerro reacted like the professional soldiers they were, scattering into the ditch on the other side of the road while the screams of their comrades still hung in the air. The four knights at the head of the column spurred their porcine mounts into a charge, and cut directly towards them, seeking to come around their left flank. From the rear of the troupe, the fur clad battleragers rolled to their right, drawing out wicked two handed axes as they ran. Clearly, they sought to encircle the ambushers, driving them against the line of infantry and the metal plated wagon. Just like Azarek and Gorak had predicted.

Both groups hit Gorak's defensive works at the same time; piercing squeals from the mounts mingled with the shouted curses of the skirmishers. The blades of grass in front of them had grown razor sharp and hard as steel at Gorak's urging. Invisible against the foliage, the magical trap shredded the soft under pad of the boars hooves and sliced through the soles of the Dwerro boots. The mounts bucked and reared, sending two of the knights tumbling to the ground. The others tried desperately to control their resisting mounts under Azarek's steady gaze as he drew back his bow. Loosing an arrow, one of the knights screamed out in pain as the arrow sunk deep into his upper thigh, between the plates of his armor.

Barely raising his head about the scant cover of the grass, Khalid called out the words to a spell, gesturing at the skirmishers on their right. Already wounded and hobbled by Gorak's trap, they were rendered practically immobile as a blinding explosion in their midst coated them with golden dust. On the other side of the road, the infantry tried to find cover from Shayla as they fitted bolts to their crossbows. Firing in unison, most of the volley of bolts was scattered by the force of the gale roaring in front of her. The sole bolt that made it through exploded in a shower of sparks as it impacted on the defensive spell Khalid had enacted from the scroll.

Shayla kept her attention on the infantry as Gorak raised his hands into the air, calling again on the fury of the elements. The grass on the opposite side of the road began to flail about, seizing hold of several of the Dwerro that were mustering to charge, and pinning them to the ground. Azarek reached for another arrow and fired, then cursed in anger as a knight's hastily raised shield deflected it. Seeing the knights whipping their mounts frantically, forcing them through knife-like grass, Khalid opened a gate over their heads, smothering them in noxious fumes and causing them to retch and gasp for air. Launching into another spell, Khalid's voice mingled with Gorak and Shayla's, spells rolling from their lips with barely a pause for breath between. Above, the rumble of thunder threatened from the clear sky at Gorak's call, while Shayla incinerated another group of the crossbowmen. A sharp report split the reverberated through the air as a stroke of lightening arced down from the sky and electrocuted a lagging berserker.

Inside the giant wagon, the drivers lashed at the massive pigs straining in their traces, urging them forward; straight into another of Gorak's traps. It proved barely effective however, as the huge beasts seemed unfazed by the thick mud the encountered. Oblivious to the noise and chaos around them, the boars plodded on, dragging the wagon through the mire, hardly slowing despite the enormous weight of their metal barding and the pull of the caravan. Their cover rolling away, and their formation broken by the savage attack, the remaining archers began to fire as quickly as each could reload. Reserving her more powerful spells, she eviscerating a cowering archer with a handful of shining magical discs. Foiled by the magic protecting Shayla, the archers turned their attention on Gorak. The wall of wind scattered most of the bolts, but not all and Gorak's bark-like armor failed him. He flinched aside as one dug a furrow in his leg, then staggered back as a bolt lodged in the thick muscles of his shoulder. Shrugging off the wound, he called down another blast of lightening, half blinding Khalid as it touched the feathered crest of a knights helm. Smoke boiled out from the cracks in his armor, as the Dwerro slid off his mount, tumbling to the earth to lie shaking and twitching at the feet of his mount.

Azarek, still in a kneeling position, drew back his compound bow for another shot. Ignoring the crossbowmen, who where being systematically destroyed by Gorak and Shayla, Khalid returned his attention to the berserkers. Repeating the words to his last spell, Khalid tore open another gateway, drenching the flanking skirmishers in toxic fumes. Blinded and sickened, they staggered helplessly through Gorak's spell, streaming blood as the blade-like grass continued to pierce their feet. Khalid stuck his head up, and surveyed the battle quickly, for the first time beginning to hope they might actually prevail. The attackers on their flanks were incapacitated, and would be for some time. Gorak and Shayla were handling the crossbowmen while Azarek fired relentlessly at any target that was presented. Considering his next move, Khalid was about to launch into another spell when he caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye; the air shimmered and warped in an all too familiar way as a Dwerro unlike any Khalid had seen before materialized beside him. Clad in a gold embossed cuirass crossed with a crimson sash and cloak, the Dwerro's skin was as dark as Gorak's. The polished steel helm left the lower part of the warrior's face uncovered, and a long white mustache hung down almost to his belt. Khalid absorbed all of this in an instant, before focusing on the huge warhammer that was descending rapidly towards his head. The Dwerro's battlecry mingled with Khalid's shriek as he rolled out of the way. Blue sparks erupted from the ground as the hammer thudded into the earth in the spot where Khalid's head had been only a second before.

“Azarek! Gorak! Help me!” Khalid cried shamelessly as he struggled to get to his feet and away from the threat. In a scene straight out of one of his many nightmares, the implacable Dwerro advanced, milk white eyes narrowed in rage and hammer held high for another blow. Khalid knew it had been nothing more than luck that saved him from the first blow. The Dwerro would not miss again. Raising his hands in a futile attempt to ward off the inevitable, Khalid closed his eyes in anticipation of the end.

The clear ring of steel on steel split the air. Amazed to discover he was still alive, Khalid opened his eyes to find Azarek standing over him, shield raised protectively. Thwarted again, the Dwerro spat out a vile curse as Azarek drew his sword. Oblivious to the chaos around them, the two warriors circled warily, probing for a weakness.

Gorak, too pragmatic to be concerned with the niceties of a fair fight, glanced over his shoulder and broke the stalemate with the flick of his hand. A bolt of lightning flashed down and blasted the Dwerro, sending him reeling backwards. Azarek seized the advantage and lashed out, smashing a deep rent in the Dwerro's breastplate. Dazed and wounded, the Dwerro mumbled out a word of command through numb lips as he leveled a blow at Azarek. Stepping into the swing to steal the force of the blow, Azarek caught the hammer on his shield. Again blue sparks erupted with a thunderous detonation, but whatever the intended effect, Azarek's inhuman will shrugged it off.

Overhead, Shayla continued to rain down destruction on the cowering soldiers. Gesturing at the berserkers, she incinerated them in a blast of flame, briefly burning away the foul smoke that enveloped them. Khalid, freed from any immediate peril, took the opportunity to blind a pair of archers that had failed to put enough distance between themselves. Another bolt of lightening directed by Gorak eliminated one of the remaining knights and Shayla finished off the other with a jet of white hot flame.

Seeing few opponents remaining, Khalid looked to the caravan, rumbling away to the east. “Shayla!” he shouted above the howling wind. “We've got to stop, yes, stop the caravan! Kill one of the boars!” Finishing off the last of the archers with a stream of glittering darts, Shayla looked down and nodded, willing herself over the gale and after the wagon.

Gorak glanced up and shouted, “Wait damn you! Don't go alone!” but his words were lost in the roar of the wind. Turning to follow, a grunt from Azarek pulled him up short. The Dwerro warrior, hardier than he appeared, had shrugged off the initial assault, and was slowly gaining the advantage on Azarek. Limping slightly, Azarek raised his battered shield to deflect another blow, staggering backwards as the Dwerro's swing clipped the bottom and slammed into his ribs, crumpling the edge of his breastplate and driving it deep into his side. Reeling, Azarek's feeble counterattack was easily turned aside as the Dwerro pressured him relentlessly.

With a growl, Gorak spat out the words to a spell, his eyes still on Shayla. As his hand burst into flame, he flicked a glowing cinder directly into the face of the Dwerro. Only his hastily raised hands prevented the warrior from being blinded, as the searing flame burned his arms. Forced to fight two opponents, the Dwerro immediately went on the offensive, trying to best Azarek and even the odds. Backpedaling, Azarek took blow after blow on his shield, while Gorak stalked the warrior from behind, burning him badly each time he saw opening in the Dwerro's failing defenses. The Dwerro, recognizing the threat too late, turned and swung and Gorak, driven him backwards with a powerful blow from his hammer. Azarek leapt forward and swung with all his strength, smashing his sword into the Dwerro's helm. The metal crumpled and buckled beneath the force, like the Dwerro himself. He slide to the ground, hammer falling from nerveless fingers.

Not sparing a moment for the fallen foe, Gorak jumped into the air, his body blurring into the form of an eagle as he sought to catch up to Shayla. Hindered now by their defenses, Khalid and Azarek were forced to circle around, to avoid the trap. Shayla reached the wagon, and was about to fly past it to deal with the draft animals, when a hatch on the roof popped open and a Dwerro, holding a massive crossbow, emerged. Before Shayla could alter her course, the Dwerro aimed and fired.

For an instant, Khalid was sure the Dwerro had misfired. The bolt tumbled through the air well over her. Like Shayla, he recognized the danger too late, when the projectile burst and a weighted silken net dropped over her. Struggling frantically, Shayla thrust an arm through the bonds and screamed out words of power, her voice shrill and panicked. A sizzling line of flame skipped across the metal plates on the roof, narrowly missing the rope and the Dwerro holding it, who promptly vanished into the wagon, closing the hatch with a bang. In unison, a half dozen slots opened up on the sides of the behemoth and a volley of bolts soared into the air. A shower of sparks and debris exploded around Shayla as the bolts impacted on her magical shield. Khalid couldn't believe that the magic held. Until Shayla looked up, straight at him. Against her pale white skin, he could see blood streaming from the the terrible gash on the side of her face.

Khalid was close enough to hear the twang of the bows when the second volley flew out. This time, there were no sparks. Shayla stopped struggling, going limp as she slowly spiraled to the ground, still being dragged behind the caravan. Fear seizing his heart, Khalid ran heedlessly towards the wagon, while Gorak dived down from above and reverted back to his natural form. Bolts whizzed past, as Khalid reached him. Azarek, hindered by his clanking armor, ran past, still favoring his right leg. Holding his shield out he tried to offer cover while Gorak struggled to cut the rope. Seeing their assailants give up the pursuit, the Dwerro released the cord, hoping to leave their pursuers behind.

Gorak roared out the words to one of his most potent restorative spells, but when he touched her wounds, they didn't mend or close. Standing up, he grabbed hold of Azarek, who gasped, then stood up straighter, placing weight on his wounded leg. With murderous rage in his eyes, Gorak ran blindly after the caravan. Stunned as the realization of what had happened settled in, Khalid knew he couldn't abandon Gorak, and turned to follow. Azarek cursed, and struggled to keep up.

In the rear of the caravan, a ramp opened, falling with a crash to bounce and jump along behind. For a brief instant, they could see straight into the belly of the beast, before five armored Dwerro, with huge tower shields stomped out of the back, in perfect lockstep. The ramp was drawn up, and the Dwerro, each dressed in a thick coat of mail and carrying light spear, formed into a phalanx in the center of the road. Gorak slowed to consider the threat, but Khalid ran right past him. Unfortunately, for the Dwerro, their carefully planned positioning turned out to be a terrible mistake. Skidding to a halt, Khalid thrust out his hands and shouted out the words to a spell. A chaotic torrent of blinding color swirled around the Dwerro warriors, overwhelming their senses. Shields and spears dropped from nerveless fingers as the soldiers toppled over, rendered senseless from the magic.

Approaching the wagon, the grim reality of the situation became painfully evident. Bolts continued to sail past, coming dangerous close. “So whadda we gonna do wit this bitch when we catch er?” Azarek cursed, as he deflected a bolt harmlessly away with his shield. “Knock politely?”

“Khalid?” Gorak growled, trying to staunch the flow of blood from the wound in his shoulder. He was breathing heavily, and blood soaked his leather jerkin, dripping steadily into a growing pool at his feet.

Khalid wracked his brain for any possibility, any hope that might remain. But this time, there was no goblin fire oil; no scroll to bluff with; no wand to block the caravan's passage. “I have nothing left,” Khalid replied weakly. “My powers, yes, are exhausted.”

Gorak, hands clenched into fists, threw his head back and howled in rage at the uncaring sky. The three of them stood in the middle of the road, watching helplessly as the dust shrouded wagon trundled slowly away to the east. Tears of grief and frustration welled up in Khalid's eyes as the evidence of their failure rolled inexorably onwards to Caer Morag, while the price they had paid to achieve it lay unmoving on the ground behind.

* * * * * * * * * *​

Notes:
This was a great fight, despite the outcome. Shayla just made the mistake of assuming that, since I've been playing D&D for years, I actually know what I'm talking about (which is rarely the case). We should have been expecting some type of anti-wizard defense, but nobody was really expecting a net. Worse still, I remember watching Galeman roll - I think he critted her 4 or 5 times and went through something like 70 pts of protection from arrows, and about 25 hps in 2 or 3 rounds. At the end, I had no offensive spells left, after the color spray, and Gorak was around 1hp, with no cures left.

I also remember Galeman hinting that he didn't think we'd actually attack that many Dwerro :cool: and *something* that we did, tipped our hand and cost us the surprise round. We went first, but didn't get the surprise round - which meant Shayla was only able to get one fireball off before they all scattered. I think if we'd surprised them, we'd have probably won but it was still nice to see our plan work pretty much the way we expected it too. Except for the dying and the losing of course.
 
Last edited:

Owww!

Great fight, but a bummer of an outcome :.-(

EternalNewbie said:
I also remember Galeman hinting that he didn't think we'd actually attack that many Dwerro

:confused: But we're talking D&D PCs here ... turn down a fight? Never! :D

Looking forward to more.
 


Galeman

Explorer
Well, we just got back together for another epic game earlier in August. I know the story is running through Newb's mind, but he's struggling with an aspect of the next section. I suggest a continual bombardment of threats, insults and emasculating remarks until he posts.
 

Khalid picked his way carefully beneath the boughs of the great trees, the events of the previous day weighing heavily on his mind. Azarek and Gorak had taken out their anger on the unconscious Dwerro, offering them the same quarter offered human soldiers. Amidst the carnage, they were somewhat surprised to discover that the strange looking Dwerro had survived. Badly wounded, he apparently stayed conscious long enough to staunch the worst of his wounds, before lapsing into a coma. Stripped, bandaged and bound under Azarek's watch, they decided to keep him alive for questioning, assuming he was some sort of leader, or elite commando. After leading them safely into the woods, Gorak had shifted form and set off for Caer Morag to inform Nargamon of their failure.

He hadn't come out here to brood, he didn't have that luxury, but inevitably his thoughts turned to Shayla. Her death had brought the grim realities of their situation crashing down and while he grieved for her as deep as he grieved for his own parents when they passed, he knew that now, more than ever, he had to rely on his own strength to thwart his enemies. And therein lay the problem. His research hinted at power exponentially greater than he now wielded, but the only method of unlocking it required holding four complex formula in his mind at once. His only attempt to achieve that level of power had bordered on the catastrophic, and since then, he had struggled for weeks to simplify the spell, to no avail.

The situation had changed and the solution now lay within his grasp. He recognized the expanding boundaries of his ability, the fruit of the relentless honing in the face of powerful and determined foes. Forced to concentrate beyond reason, he had channeled more raw energy in yesterday's titanic struggle than ever before. The intricate arcane words rolled almost unceasingly from his tongue throughout the entire battle, and when they were finally turned away in defeat, his voice had been so hoarse from chanting, he could barely speak.

Khalid knew that the time had come to once again test the limits of his skill. Settling to his knees in the center of a sun dappled clearing, he took a deep breath and focused his thoughts inward. An image of Shayla, drifting down slowly through the air, shattered his calm. Sighing heavily, Khalid opened his eyes and took in the beauty around him. Everywhere, lush green trees swayed in the breeze, while a long butterfly danced and flitted between the shafts of golden sunlight streaming through the branches overhead. Had she been here, Shayla would have...well, probably been bored to tears. The thought brought a wry grin to his face.

Abandoning his work for a moment, he closed his eyes and slipped back into reverie. Memories of Shayla bubbled up from the turmoil in his mind. The first time he met her, standing in the doorway of his tiny hovel in Gem-Sharad. His smile broadened as he remembered the shock he felt at her appearance in Gorak's camp. The casual ease with which she abandoned her life of luxury to join two shiftless vagrants of questionable moral character had confounded him at first, until he got to know her. He'd met few other people for whom emotion and action were so intimately entwined. The fact that her temperament was as fiery as the magic she channeled was initially a source of chronic indigestion to him, but in time became one of her most endearing traits. No matter what lay before them, he had always counted on her, knowing that at his side was fury, power and courage that no enemy could match.

He allowed those pleasant thoughts to occupy his mind for several minutes, finding that the memory of the passion with which she had lived her brief time blunted the sharp edge of his grief somewhat. Relaxed, and at peace, he opened his eyes and returned his attention to the task at hand. Chanting a simple mantra, one taught to every lowly apprentice to help clear the mind and gauge distances, he emptied his mind of all distraction. Slipping into the strange spatial awareness that accompanied the chant, each leaf and twig leapt out at him in crisp relief. Slowly he let his eyes unfocus and the splendor of the tiny glade faded away. The first of the formulae leapt into his thoughts almost unbidden, followed quickly by the second. The threads of magic began to gather around him as he struggled to hold the weave, denying it the outlet it craved. The third formula was more difficult, and the variables began to slip away from him. Beads of sweat began to collect on his brow, rolling down his face and dampening his scraggy black beard. His breathing quickened as the formulas threatened run together, then evened out as he regained control. Never before had he held so many complex calculations in his thoughts for so long. Opening a magical conduit, shaping and controlling it took mere seconds to enact a spell. Minutes had passed and still he maintained his focus. Ever so slowly, he brought the fourth and final calculation into play.

It happened almost instantly. He felt a strange sense of exhilaration as the boundaries of his consciousness expanded. Power, heretofore unknown to him, coursed through his body. He could practically see reality shifting around him. The four formula settled easily in his mind and for once in his life, he did not need to struggle to control the magic, it flooded every inch of his body. For a brief instant, he understood how Shayla must have felt.

The thought shattered his concentration and the formula vanished from his mind. The magic evaporated from him, as quickly as it came. Disheartened, he groaned as he stood up slowly, muscles aching from resting so long in the same position. He turned to head back to their meager camp, then stopped. Something was different. With barely a thought, he reopened another conduit, easily drawing forth a small amount of power from the nether. Even without his focus, the magic remained, enveloping him, swirling through his mind and body. A flash of insight struck him, and for a brief moment his thoughts turned to Ruwayd. Settling into place like the tumblers of an opened lock, the solution to a problem he hadn't even considered came to him. Closing his eyes, he reached out into the void.

A second later, Azarek came crashing through the brush. His shirt was open, and his long black hair, was loose, mingled with his beard. It was clear that whatever he was doing, he had abandoned it in haste. He held his sword, point low as he scanned the forest. “Whut's going on! Y'alright?” Seeing no immediate danger, he glared at Khalid over the tips of his horns. “If this is some kinda joke...” he growled.

No joke. Just an experiment. Khalid replied.

Azarek's eyes widened. It was obvious he had understood, even though Khalid's lips had not moved. An evil grin replaced the look of surprise. “That's a neat trick.”

Indeed.*

* * * * * * * * * *​

Exhausted, Khalid returned to the camp to find that Gorak had returned from Caer Morag. All of the pride at the morning's successes vanished when he laid eyes on Shayla's unmoving form. Gorak had wound back the blanket, and was gently cleaning her face, wiping away the dried blood. He stopped and looked up as Khalid approached.

“Ah, you might have at least waited, yes, waited for me, before preparing her body,” he admonished.

“I did.” Gorak grunted. “This ain't the right place.”

“Indeed. I ventured, yes, ventured out into the forest this morning. I think perhaps I found a suitable, yes, suitable location.”

“Good.” He gently picked up her shrouded body. When Azarek, leaning against a tree and watching with undisguised curiosity, moved to follow, he growled. “You stay behind. This is personal.” Azarek's expression hardened, but with a glance at Khalid, who nodded, he shrugged and pulled a dagger from his boot, absently paring his nails as they left the clearing.

Khalid and Gorak walked in silence, each absorbed in their own thoughts. When the reached the clearing, Gorak looked around and grunted, “Yer right, this is perfect.” He sniffed at the air. “There's water nearby. I'll be back.”

“Ah, should I begin, to, ah, yes, should I do anything?” Khalid asked haltingly.

Gorak didn't break stride. “Nah. I'll be back in a bit,” he called back over his shoulder, before vanishing into the forest.

Khalid, feeling somewhat useless, picked up where Gorak left off. He brushed back her long auburn curls and was struck with how peaceful she looked. The thought brought tears to his eyes. In life, she had been anything but, and seeing her lying their, still and unmoving, bereft of the spirit and fire that had burned so brightly, overwhelmed him with sorrow. He barely noticed when Gorak returned. Slowly he shook off the grief that held him motionless.

Gorak walked around the clearing, digging out four polished braziers from his pack and setting them up in a diamond around the clearing. Khalid glanced up through the trees, trying to see the sun, and was surprised to find that several hours had passed. Blinking, he turned back to Gorak to find him laying out several smooth birch branches in a neat pile in the center of the braziers. Watching silently for a few moments, he finally spoke, “Ah, Gorak, are you sure a pyre is appropriate? I admit, I never discussed the topic with Shayla, but perhaps being buried here, in the forest, would be more in keeping with her heritage?”

“Let me do this my way Khalid,” he grumbled.

Respecting his wishes, Khalid withdrew slightly, and watched as he finished arranging the branches. Over top of them, Gorak laid down a carpet of grasses and vines. Somewhat bewildered, Khalid wracked his memory, trying to recall everything he knew about orcish funerary rights. Having made a habit of keeping as much distance as possible between himself and Gorak's kin, he didn't come up with much, but from what he'd seen so far led him to believe that more cutlery would be involved. Gorak continued his ritual in silence, not even acknowledging Khalid's increasingly restless presence. Digging into the soft earth with his bare hands, he covered the pile with dirt before sprinkling the contents of his waterskin on it. In all of his preparations, he paid no attention to her actual body, circling the mound several times before reaching into a pouch at his waist.

Khalid couldn't make out what he held in his hand, but the effect when he tossed it into the braziers was instantaneous. Smoke, heavy and acrid burst from the pots, swirling up into the clearing. A gust of wind blew a wisp of it into Khalid's face and he shied back instinctively, reaching to cover his nose but he found that it didn't burn his lungs as he would have expected. In fact, it was almost...invigorating. Apparently satisfied, Gorak shrugged off his tattered vest, stepped into the diamond and settled to his knees, facing slightly away from Khalid. Eyes closed and head bowed, he extended his arms outward. Slowly and rhythmically, his hands began to clench and unclench as the smoke continued to swirl from the braziers. The slight breeze in the air should have swept the glade clear, but strangely, the smoke seemed to have a life of its own, eddying and pooling around them.

Feeling light headed from the smoke and mesmerized by the strange ceremony, Khalid couldn't have interrupted even if he had wanted to. A rumbling drone started low in Gorak's chest, building slowly as he turned his head to the sky. His unseeing gaze swept over Khalid, who was startled to see that his eyes had rolled back so only the whites were showing. The smoke overhead began to swirl into a vortex above them and the hair on the back of Khalid's neck rose as he felt power unlike any he had ever experienced gathering around them. Jets of flame erupted from the bronze braziers, leaping and dancing into the air. Khalid realized his heart was beating in time to Gorak's flexing hands and the throbbing litany. The sound of Gorak's voice became impossibly loud as the chant took on a life of its own, each word seemingly ripped from his throat. Head rolling on his shoulders, the muscles in his back rippled and bunched as Gorak surrendered himself to the magic. From the earth in front of him, a tiny shoot sprang up, grasping and searching as it slowly uncurled into the air. It was joined by another, and then a third as the ground in front of Gorak began to writhe. Buoyed by the surging plants, the willow branches appeared, jutting through the morass. In an instant, vines shot upwards, snaking around wood. The fires turned white hot and Khalid was forced to squint through the heat, while overhead the smoke boiled and churned in a whirling maelstrom.

Through the haze of smoke and throbbing chant, a thought struck Khalid and shattered his eerie calm. Impossible as it seemed, the strange plant rising up in front of Gorak almost resembled a hand. In a second, there was no doubt. The construct arched to the ground as though pulling itself free from the earth, and surging in time with Gorak's voice, a head and shoulders appeared. A sheen of mud flowed upwards over the branches as more vines and grasses wrapped themselves around the emerging skeletal frame.

Gorak arched backwards, muscles quivering as he struggled to raise his arms, mimicking the being in front of him. The words streaming from his mouth blurred into an incoherent roar and it seemed beyond belief that his lungs could contain that much breath. With a final surge, he jerked upright, bringing his hands together over his head. A sound like a thunderclap split the vale, sending Khalid sprawling backwards and snuffing out the flames. The shroud around Shayla's body collapsed as her body turned to dust. The creature in front of Gorak turned back its head as the smoke collected into a funnel cloud, rushing down. Silence, as oppressive as the roar of Gorak's chant, enveloped them.

Stunned and confused, Khalid clambered to his feet as Gorak pitched over, toppling one of the glowing braziers. Blinking in the sunlight that once again flooded the clearing, Khalid shook his head, trying to make sense of what lay before him. Curled in a tight ball on the earth, streaked with mud and leaves was the pale form of a woman. Naked and shivering, long black hair covered her face. Khalid refused to allow himself to hope, to believe, until she turned her face upward. It was Shayla, there was no doubt. And yet it wasn't. Her features were finer, cheekbones more pronounced. Her green eyes were now jet black and their alluring slant was now exotic, almost alien. Where she had been slight before, now she seemed almost frail.

Transfixed, Khalid shuffled forward hesitantly. “Ah, Gorak...” His whispered voice shattered the unearthly quiet in the glade. “What have you done?” Gorak's only response was a tortured wheeze, as he fought weakly to push himself upright. At the sound of his voice, Shayla's head jerked around towards him. Looking into her eyes, the faint hope that flared within him vanished, as she stared back without recognition. Then she began to scream.

* * * * * * * * * *​
Notes:
* Woot! Let the min-maxing begin! Nothing like a level in a front loaded prestige class to ratchet up your power level.
 
Last edited:


I'm guessing our good conjurer took a level in Mindbender?

He did indeed, much to Galeman's annoyance. And not even the Complete Arcane version (it wasn't out yet) - it was the old, even more frontloaded, Tome & Blood version where you got the skill points at first level too. I think it might have been easier to qualify for as well, but looking back over it, the updated class in the Complete Arcane is probably more powerful. Still, I took it pretty much just for the telepathy, and it's one of those "why not" prestige classes where you don't really have to give up anything to get something fairly powerful (which Galeman isn't a fan of, and I can see why). Although really, I don't think I've ever been clever enough to garner much of a tactical advantage with it and it did lead to a few interesting roleplaying encounters, so I don't feel too guilty about it.
 

Unable to gather his wits, Khalid stood dumbfounded by the scene before him. Gorak lay face down in the dirt, unmoving and possibly unconscious, while Shayla, naked and shivering, huddled on the ground, screaming. Shaking his head, a single thought pierced through his confusion. He had to help Shayla. Stumbling to her side, he dropped to his knees on the muddy ground and took off his tattered cloak. Shayla didn't struggle, or even react as he draped it around her naked form and pulled her close. She just continued to stare straight through him, emitting a keening wail that chilled his blood, her eyes focused on unseen terrors.

“Shayla,” he whispered hoarsely, his voice overcome with emotion. “Shayla, my friend!” Still she continued to scream, his words having no effect. Placing his hands gently on either side of her face, he forced her to look at him and spoke again, more forcefully. “Shayla! It's all right. Please come back to me.” Her gaze settled on him, but there was no spark of recognition in her dark green eyes. Taking a deep breath, he reached out. Shayla! You are safe now. I am with you.

Shayla blinked once, looking at Khalid as though seeing him for the first time. “Khalid?” she whispered, before collapsing against him, burying her face in the crook of his neck. Wracked with sobs, Khalid held her silently, awkwardly stroking her matted black hair. He held her for several minutes, until she regained her composure. As she pulled away from him, her tear stained eyes caught sight of Gorak, now struggling to get to his feet, muscles trembling with exhaustion. The weariness that dragged on his features vanished as he turned to Shayla and Khalid. He gave her a broad grin. “Welcome back darling. Miss me?” he growled, staggering to his feet and joining them.

Shayla answered by seizing him by the waist and dragging him back down to ground in a fierce hug. The three of them sat silently for a while, oblivious to their surroundings, simply revelling in a bond they had thought broken. After a while, Shayla leaned back and, recovering some semblance of her former self, smiled slightly. “I bet I look absolutely terrible.”

Gorak threw a sidelong glance at Khalid, who shook his head slightly while he gnawed nervously on his lower lip. Sighing heavily, Gorak rumbled, “About that...”

“Do I have a scar?” Shayla gasped, hands flying up to her face.

“Uh, not exactly,” Gorak replied, emptying his water skin into a small bowl from his pack and handing it to her.

“What did you do to me?” she asked quietly, staring at her reflection in the still water. Carefully, as though she didn't quite believe her eyes, she ran her fingers over the line of her cheekbones and over the tips of her ears, brushing her jet black hair aside.

“Ah, Gorak reclaimed your spirit and returned it to the mortal realm. You were dead.” Khalid answered, his words tinged with no small amount of awe.

Shayla frowned. “I know that, Khalid. I lived through that bit...or didn't, actually, but I remember. But why like this.”

“Honestly, I dunno,” Gorak rumbled. “Maybe its the influence of this forest or maybe that's just the way yer supposed to be. After a while, the ritual just takes on a life of its own.” He frowned at the absurdity of the statement. “Well, you know what I mean.”

Staring at the water for a while, Shayla studied her new features in silence, before raising the bowl to her lips and drinking deeply. Rising slowly to her feet, she said, “I think I'd like to get dressed now and then maybe rest for a bit. Looking down, she offered them a wan smile. “Well, at least you brought me back skinnier.”

With Khalid leading the way and Gorak steadying Shayla by the arm, they made their way back to camp. Azarek stood up and sheathed his sword as Khalid approached. “That sounded like a helluva funeral,” he growled. “I know she were yer friend and all Khalid, but really, wailing like a women ain't no way to pay yer...” he trailed off in disbelief as Shayla stepped out from behind Khalid.

“The look on your pretty little face almost made that whole ordeal worthwhile,” Shayla said with a tired little smirk, offering a glimpse of her old self. “Khalid, if you wouldn't mind.” She waved her hand in the air.

“Ah, yes, certainly.” With a few words and a gesture he opened a portal.

Azarek stared at her while she climbed up the rope and vanished. “That yer handy work?” he grunted at Gorak, who nodded. “Well ain't that sumtin. I jes gotta say, when I firs laid eyes on you sorry lot, I thought that oracle was batshit crazy sending me ta you. But after that,” he flashed them an evil grin, “well, maybe he weren't crazy after all.”

“Yeah, well, I'm ecstatic for you,” Gorak rumbled. “But right now, we've got something else to take care of.”

“What's that?”

“Him,” Gorak grunted, pointing at the unconscious Dwerro.

“Ah, yes, Gorak, perhaps you should rest for a while.”

“I don't got that luxury. We've gotta meet Nargamon outside the city, about a day from here. We'll let Shayla get a few hours sleep and then we gotta move. In the meantime, let's find out what he knows. Get him up.”

Azarek's grin broadened. Walking over to the bound Dwerro, he hauled their captive to his feet, rousing him with a vicious backhand. Slamming the strange Dwerro against a tree, Azarek drove his fist into the barely conscious Dwerro's face.

Somewhat surprised by the sudden brutality, Khalid intervened. “Ah, shouldn't we ask him some questions first?”

“Jus setting the tone of the conversation,” Azarek replied, drawing back for another blow.

Gorak stepped forward before he could deliver, hooking his arm and shoving him back. “That's enough. If you send him into the underworld, I'm gonna send you after him to bring him back.” Turning to the Dwerro, he growled, “You understand me?” The Dwerro stared at him blankly. “What can you tell us about those devices.” The Dwerro's only response was to spit out a mouthful of blood on his boot.

“Great,” Azarek rasped. “Now whut?”

“Not so fast,” Khalid said, studying the Dwerro carefully. “I think perhaps, yes, perhaps he does understand us. He just needs to be properly, yes, properly motivated.”

“Excellent,” Azarek growled with a grin. “My turn agin.”

“Ah, that is not exactly what I meant. We are not asking the right questions are we, my friend,” Khalid said, addressing the Dwerro. “What can you tell us about Martok?”

The effect on the Dwerro was immediate. His eyes flashed open, burning with a strange hunger as he stared at Khalid. “What you know of Martok?” he replied haltingly in the Western tongue.

“Ah, so you are indeed a child of Martok?” Khalid asked, ignoring the Dwerro's question.

“We all child of Martok. He just like us more than others.”

“So you can lead us into the mountain?” Khalid pressed.

“Yes! Yes! I take you, show you Martok. We all go together. Grovel at his feet. Bask in glory. Free me. I take you!” the Dwerro replied, straining at his bonds. Flecks of bloody saliva dripped from his lips as his eyes darted over each of them, seeking some sign of agreement.

Frowning, Gorak indicated that they should withdraw with jerk of his head. When they were some distance away, he growled, “Well, that certainly changed his attitude. Bit too enthusiastic for my liking though. That can't be a good sign.”

Stroking his beard thoughtfully, Khalid considered what he had learnt. “Ah, yes, quite. He did seem sincere however. He may very well be our best, yes, best hope of gaining access to the citadel. And by dangling the prospect of a return to his homeland before him, it is possible that we can persuade him to part with information of a more immediately useful nature.”

They allowed Shayla to rest for several hours, before Gorak roused her. They quickly dismantled their tiny camp and set out for Caer Morag. When it became clear that they were not going to release him and head north, the Dwerro became sullen and obstinate, hindering their progress at every opportunity and even Azarek's encouragement wasn't enough to goad him along. Worse still, the road was now swarming with Dwerro patrols, forcing them deeper into the woods and making riding impossible. Finally, tired of half dragging the Dwerro through the forest, Khalid summoned a horse and they threw him over the saddle, tying him down securely and handing the reins to Azarek. As they picked their way through the forest, Khalid joined Gorak in the lead. After walking for a while in silence, Khalid finally broached the subject that had been weighing heavily on his mind since the ritual in the clearing. “Ah, Gorak,” he began, “if it is not too soon, I would like to discuss with you the events of the day past.”

“We have discussed it Khalid,” Gorak growled. “A dozen times or more in the years that I've known ya. It ain't my fault ya don't listen.”“Ah, yes, quite,” Khalid muttered, chastised. “But if you would indulge me, I would enjoy the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the particulars. Even beyond the limits of my power, I could not, yes, not conceive of such a feat”

“Particulars?” Gorak grunted. “The power ain't rooted in the ritual. The power comes from the connection between all things. You use formula and calculation to seize hold of the arcane flow, bending it your will and forcing it to alter the world around you. Priests and holymen are the same.” Seeing Khalid about to protest, he silenced him with a glare. “What I mean is that they use incantations and prayers to beg the gods to bring their power to bear on the mortal realm.”

“I don't see how that's the same at all.” Khalid complained.

“You want to hear the explanation or not?” Gorak growled. When Khalid nodded, he continued. “My strength comes from within, from following the bonds that join together the earth and stone, leaf and branch, blood and bone, spirit and soul. All things are one, Khalid.”

Khalid considered his words, pairing them with his own knowledge and what little he knew of religion. “You speak of gods,” he countered. “Do you claim that we mere mortals are cast from the same mold as the likes of them?”

“More so than you might think.”

“Indeed? How then do you explain their influence.”

“Oh, I'll grant you that they're a bit smarter than us, but all they're really doing is diverting souls with the clever illusion of an afterlife so they can hoard that energy for themselves, rather than letting it return to where it belongs.”

“So you do not hold them to be immortal? Creators of all we behold, as the various priests would have us believe.”

Gorak chuckled. “If that were true, the world would have been created a dozen times over. A dung beetle lives his life amid a pile of sh*t, and thinks himself lord of a mighty kingdom. In time, he dies and and his home becomes dirt. Like the trees of this forest will. Or the walls of Caer Morag.”

“Yes, quite.” Khalid muttered.

“Man. God. It don't matter. Everything eventually returns from where it came. And sometimes, if yer lucky, you come back again.”

“So then perhaps the absence of the gods is the natural course of things. Perhaps they are simply dieing.”

“Maybe,” Gorak grunted. “The thought had crossed my mind, but it just don't feel right. One or two, maybe, but all of them, at the same time? And it's more than that, I can feel it in the earth and in the water. Everything is...fading.”

“Surely, you aren't suggesting that this situation imperils all of creation? I would have thought it a bit more, shall we say durable, than that.”

“Look, I ain't got no proof of any of this, but I know what I feel. Think of it this way. Take a man's leg off at the knee, and he'll probably live. Take it off at the hip and he'll probably bleed to death or die of infection. That's what this feels like to me. A whole lot of things went wrong all at once. And now, the rot is spreading.”

“So what then, is the cure?”

“Buggered if I know,” Gorak rumbled. “But none of that don't mean anything if we don't get clear of this damned war.” He stopped and scanned the trees briefly. “We gotta be close now. I'm gonna go take a look around. Stay put.” Stretching out his arms, Gorak's form dissolved into that of an eagle and he took to the sky.

Khalid, Shayla and Azarek settled down to wait in the fading light of late afternoon. Seeing an opportunity to earn some goodwill from their captive, Khalid suggested, “Ah, perhaps we should let him down.” He nodded toward the bound Dwerro.

“Whut fer?” Azarek replied with a scowl. “Jus so he can have another chance to boot me in the tenders like last time?”

“Ah, still...” Khalid pressed.

“Ya want him down, ya git him offa thar yerself. Then ya can put him right back on thar when yer feathered friend gets back.”

Knowing that there was little chance of changing Azarek's mind, Khalid drew his cloak around is shoulders and sat down on the grass beneath the spreading branches of an oak tree, close to Shayla, to wait for Gorak's return. The minutes dragged by, with only the sounds of the forest to break the monotony, since it was abundantly clear that neither Shayla or Azarek had any interest in conversation. After what seemed like eternity but in reality was less than an hour, Gorak swooped down out of the trees and shifted back into his natural form in front of them.

“Found him. Let's go,” was all he said, before leading them deeper into the woods. The gloom beneath the trees began to deepen into night as they headed toward their rendezvous with Nargamon. They were now far enough away from the road to feel safe enough to illuminate their path, which Khalid took care of with a gesture.

Soon after, a familiar if not particularly pleasant voice hissed, “Put that out.”

“Ain't no Dwerro around here, wizard,” Azarek retorted. “'Cept this sorry sack.” He gave the captive Dwerro a cuff on the side of the head.

“It is not the Dwerro I fear,” Nargamon replied. “I told you there are things within this forest that will not tolerate our presence.” Cupping his hand over the light, Khalid allowed just enough illumination so they could see one another. Nargamon regarded each of them in turn, lingering on Shayla a brief instant longer than the rest. She had availed herself of one of the many magical trinkets they'd acquired on the journey, a magical earring that served to alter the appearance of its wearer. None of them really had use for it before, save when Shayla tired of her wardrobe, but now she used it to adopt her old appearance. The magic was weak however, and didn't truly mimic her previous form completely, but in the dim light it either fooled Nargamon or he didn't care enough to comment. “So you failed,” he continued. It wasn't a question as much as a statement.

“We ain't licked yet,” Gorak growled. “I've got an idea or two left that might work.” Khalid glanced at him in surprise. He'd mentioned nothing of any other plan to deal with the canon.

“Oh, no doubt,” Nargamon replied snidely. “Intrepid heroes that you are.” He turned his attention to their prisoner. “And this is the only benefit from your little excursion? Has he provided you with anything useful?”

“Ah, yes, quite, although nothing which will help us defend Caer Morag.”

“Bah. You dragged me out here for this?” Nargamon spat. “I should be in Caer Morag, preparing the defence of my tower.”

“You mean looting everything that ain't nailed down and getting the hell outta there,” Gorak growled.

Nargamon shrugged, not even bothering to deny the charge. “At least the Dwerro won't get their grubby little hands on it.”

“Yeah well, I told you, I got one more plan, but there ain't enough time now for us to get back to the city. That's why I need you.”

“I can't take you all.”

“Just me,” Gorak replied. “And him.” he pointed at the Dwerro. “I might need him. And I'm tired of him trying to get loose and cut our throats.”

“If he resists, I may not be able to bring him.”

“He ain't gonna be a problem.” Gorak growled. “Are you?” he asked the Dwerro, pulling out his gag. “Cuz after we finish up here, we're all gonna take a little trip to see Martok.”

The Dwerro, suspicious at first, nodded eagerly at the mention of Martok. “Yes, Martok. I go. We go.”

“Ah, Gorak, are you sure about this?” Khalid asked, his voice betraying his concern.

“Don't worry Khalid.” Gorak replied. “You know me,” he said with a wicked grin. “I ain't gonna do anything rash.” Then he turned serious again. “I see only one more shot at this and we can't get to the city fast enough travelling like this. I gotta go. You three just keep moving toward the city. Stay in the forest and skirt the army on the south edge. After I'm done, I'll fly out into the forest....”

“And we'll find you,” Khalid finished for him, pulling the tiny voodoo doll Halaal had given to Gormo from the rucksack, and tucking it into his robes.

“Ayup.”

“Are you sure this is the only way?” Shayla asked quietly, breaking her long silence.

“I am, darling. Look after these two fools while I'm gone.”

“Let's go,” he growled, walking over to Nargamon.

Pulling back the sleeves of his robes, Nargamon placed one hand on Gorak's shoulder and another on the Dwerro's head. Closing his eyes, he uttered a single word, and the three of them vanished.

The three of them stood there in silence for a moment, disheartened by Gorak's departure, until Khalid finally spoke. “Ah, well, it is probably best to heed Nargamon's warning and not risk attracting attention by moving through the woods at night. I will prepare our shelter and we will leave as soon as the morning light permits.

They ate a cheerless meal in the grey expanse of Khalid's magic before turning in. Rising early in the morning, they broke camp quickly and set off for Caer Morag. Without Gorak to lead them, they decided to risk moving into the lighter forest closer to the road, rather than chance becoming lost in the heavier brush. While they walked, Khalid surreptitiously watched Shayla from the corner of his eye. After a while, it became apparent that he didn't need to hide his scrutiny, since she was paying scant attention to him and everything else, save her next step. She hadn't bothered to evoke the magic of the earring in the morning, and walked with her head bowed, long black hair hiding her elven features. There was no question that she had changed in more ways than just physical; she'd been wounded before, badly, and always seemed to bounce back with remarkable resilience, a testament to her fiery will. But this time was different. She was more withdrawn now, speaking only when questioned directly, and quickly pulling back as soon as she was left alone. He knew it was only a few days since her experience, yet he feared to allow her to slip to deeply into herself, especially now that Gorak was gone.

When the sun hit its zenith, Khalid suggested a brief rest. Sitting down on the grass next to Shayla, beneath the branches of an ancient oak tree, he began to rummage through his pack for something to eat. Pulling out a strip of dried jerky, he bit off half of it and then offered the rest to Shayla when he saw that she had simply dropped her pack beside her, and was staring off into the distance. At his gesture, she blinked and seemed to notice him, taking the food with a half-hearted smile, and taking a small bite.

“Ah, are you alright Shayla?” Khalid asked finally.

“I don't know,” she replied quietly.

“Perhaps it would help to talk about it? Yes, quite.”

“I don't really remember much.” She took a deep breath. “Not clearly, anyhow. I remember the fight well enough. I remember pain and then falling. But after that...after that it's like a nightmare, that I can't quite remember.”

“If it is too much for you to bear, you do not have to continue.”

She shook her head. “It might be important, but it's hard. I can't picture where I was or what was around me, but I can still feel it.” A shudder wracked her slight form. “The...wrongness of it. Like I wanted...no, had to go someplace else, but no matter what I did, I couldn't get there. And I know I wasn't alone. I could feel the others around me, moving, brushing up against me. All of them screaming without any voices.” Tears began to roll down her cheeks and Khalid reached out, putting his arm around her shoulder. “Then the next thing I remember, I'm sitting on the ground and you're holding me. And now I'm back and I can feel the sunlight again and smell the forest and it's good...but everything is just a little bit different. A little bit off.” She held up her hand and stared at it as though it belonged to a stranger, turning it over and slowly curling her fingers.

Unsure of what to say, Khalid simply held her for a while longer, until the sense of urgency returned and they were forced to set out again. They travelled as quickly as they could, but the rough terrain and frequent patrols hampered their pace.

In the afternoon, they risked moving a little ways out of the forest, to try and judge their proximity to the city. “Ah, yes, we should be extremely cautious now...” he began, when the ground suddenly rumbled beneath his feet, strong enough to cause him to lose his footing.

“What tha bloodly hell was that?” Azarek growled, whipping his sword out of his sheath and glaring around at the trees.

A sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Khalid replied, “Maybe we should risk moving to the tree line.”
They changed course and headed north to the edge of the forest, moving at a quick jog with Azarek in the lead. With a curse, he pulled up suddenly, causing Khalid to almost crash into him.

“Ah, what is it,” Khalid asked then his jaw dropped open as he stared through the thinning trees, out over the plains.

“Is that...” Shayla started softly, then trailed off.

“Yes.”

Before them, far off in the distance, lay the city of Caer Morag, surrounded by the massive Dwerro army. At its centre, a huge plume of dust and smoke was slowly settling to the ground, the last traces of Nargamon's tower. The glittering ranks of Dwerro infantry rushed into formation, marshaling for the attack. Then a sound like distant thunder rolled over them. Once, twice and then a third time.

“Oh no,” Shayla whispered as the Dwerro bombards began their deadly work on the walls, sounding the death knell of the city. Unvoiced, a single question weighed heavily on all of them as they watched the beginning of the end of Caer Morag. Where was Gorak?
 
Last edited:



Just a role-playing aside, if anyone's interested:

Obviously, Shayla's player was pretty miffed that her charcter died. Fortunately we just got enough XP to level to 7th which gave us access to 4th level spells and thus reincarnate. Since this was pretty much her first campaign, she didn't realize we'd be able to bring her back and she was relieved - until we told her she was going to lose a level and she might come back as a bugbear... or troglodyte!
Galeman allowed her to use her character points to influence the dice roll. I think she was allowed to slide her result up or down the reincarnate table at a cost of 1 character point/percentage (expensive).
Anyways, her roll was great. She rolled a human (I think), but Galeman wouldn't let her keep it since he "didn't witness the roll". On her re-roll, she rolled an elf, which in my opinion makes for a better story anyways!
Her character is pretty upset about what she experienced when she died; but I'm pretty sure she's actually mourning the loss of fireball ;)
 

Guillaume

Julie and I miss her
Back in the day, I started reading this story hour at the very begining. I really enjoyed it and when the updating stopped being regular, I just drifted away. A couple months ago, I noticed that post were being made in this thread. At the time, I did not have the time to reread the story. So I filed the story hour away for a latter date. This weekend, I took the time to read it and I am glad I did. I'm looking forward for next month's update. Keep up the good work.

I promise not to sing this time. :)
 

So, I got sitting down with my toddlers crayons, and I came up with a map...I just have to figure out how to post it...

taranthewanderer-albums-al-karin-picture822-al-qarin-map.jpg
 
Last edited:

Updated the map after speaking with EN. I forgot a few areas north of Caer Morag that are important later...I might have to increase the font...lemme know if you can't read it...
 
Last edited:

Gorak staggered, slipping away from Nargamon's grasp as a wave of vertigo washed over him. “It always feel like that?” he grunted, blinking in the clear white light of the tower's study, his mind trying to make sense of the instantaneous change in surroundings.

“I hope I didn't upset your delicate constitution,” Nargamon snapped, making a show of wiping his hands on his filthy robes.

“I think I'll fly next time,” Gorak grumbled, ignoring the barb.

“That suits me just fine,” Nargamon said. Relenting a bit, he continued, “The feeling passes quickly. You get used to it after a while.” His complexion, even paler than usual, belied the truth of his words.

“You got someplace secure to stow him,” Gorak asked, pointing at the supine Dwerro, who was peering around Nargamon's study with an interest that was immediately disconcerting.

“Yes, yes,” Nargamon muttered, shuffling across the room to his enormous desk. Flipping closed the covers of several open books, he searched around fruitlessly for a few moments, before shoving aside a stack of parchment and picking up a small hand bell. He waved it twice, seemingly unconcerned that it made no discernible sound.

Leaving the bound Dwerro on the floor, Gorak walked over to the large map on the wall. As he moved, he noticed a series of carvings etched into the stone floor, in a circular pattern, similar, but not identical to the markings they'd discovered in Shalazar. Not really in the mood for a wizardly lecture, he dismissed it from his thoughts and turned to the task at hand, studying the positions of the Dwerro army on the enchanted parchment.

“Don't look like they've moved around much,”

“There's no need. Yet.” Nargamon pointed out. “The bombards have not arrived I suspect.”

A knock on the door interrupted them. At Nargamon's invitation, one of his apprentices entered, a young man, barely old enough to shave. With all of the tact of a drill sergeant, Nargamon issued orders. “Take our guest to the empty room on the third level, and lock him up securely in the summoning chamber. Then find Kaleb and send him up here, with the Captain of the Guard's briefing report for the day. And see if one of the other apprentices will volunteer for tonight.”

“Of course, master,” the apprentice replied, bowing low as walked over to the Dwerro. Hauling him roughly to his feet he propelled him with a shove toward the staircase.

“And Victor,” Nargamon called after him. “I understand about your mother and father, but don't seek to assuage your grief with vengeance. Not tonight anyhow,” he added, with a pointed look at the Dwerro.

“I wasn't going to,” Victor protested, but the slow flush that crept up his cheeks betrayed him.

“Of course not. You are dismissed.”

Gorak snorted. “He wouldn't have been able to hurt that little bastard. He's a tough nut to crack.”

“It's not the Dwerro I'm concerned about. I can't afford to lose any more apprentices, even the stupid ones, and Victor doesn't have the stomach for proper torture. That Dwerro'd be out of his bonds and have his throat cut before he knew what was happening.”

A few minutes later, Kaleb appeared with a sheaf of parchment. Nodding to Gorak, he bowed to Nargamon as he handed over the documents. “The Captain reports nothing of any major import today. Two men killed from a collapsing building, but no contact with the Dwerro. Fifteen more men are off the roster, suffering from dysentery, and the food rations are going to have to be cut again, if we want to last the month. The duty commander reported all clear from the wall half an hour ago, and things seem pretty quite on the line.”

“Yes, yes,” Nargamon muttered absently, skimming over the parchment. Tossing it aside, he looked at Gorak. “So, no time like the present. Let's get this great plan of yours into action. What do you need?”

Yawning prodigiously, Gorak grumbled, “Place ta sleep, for starters. It's been a helluva day, and I need to commune before I'll be ready.”

“Ah, what service I must have done to the lost gods, that they shower me with heroes such as these,” Nargamon replied causticly, rolling his eyes. “Well, I wouldn't want to delay nap time. Maybe afterwards, we can discuss lifting the siege. Kaleb, show Gorak to the sleeping chambers.” Another apprentice entered before they left, a middle aged man, who had the look of a farmer or labourer, more so than a wizard.

“Master,” he said gruffly, with barely a glance to Gorak. “Victor told me you needed a volunteer for this evening.”

“Indeed, and you drew the short straw did you? Hold up a minute you two, you can help put Kautter to bed.” Gorak was about to reply but Nargamon didn't give him a chance, continuing without pause. “Very well then.” Nargamon gestured at a chair. “Let's get it done.” Nargamon muttered a few arcane words as the man sat down, then placed his hand on the apprentice's forehead. Instantly, the man slumped over, snoring loudly. Looking immediately refreshed, Nargamon dismissed them with a few final commands for Kaleb. “Get him downstairs and show Gorak to an empty room. I need to continue the preparations, which will require some things from the library, so find me a runner and then get some sleep.”

Seizing the unconscious man by the belt and slinging his limp arms over their shoulders, they hauled him to his feet. As they carted him down the stairs, Gorak asked, “What's all that about.”

“A most fortunate discovery of Nargamon's; a simple spell he came across quite early after his arrival. It allows him to steal the sleep from another so he himself does not require rest.”

“I can see where that would be useful,” Gorak grumbled, shifting his weight to get a better hold on his burden.

“Definitely. It allowed him to spend countless hours in the library, devising ways to protect the city.”

“No doubt,” Gorak rumbled, suspecting that more than simple altruism drove Nargamon.

“It's not without drawbacks however,” Kaleb continued, breathing heavily as he struggled to keep up with Gorak and not send the sleeping apprentice tumbling down the stairs. “It requires a willing subject and without true rest, it becomes impossible to commit the complex arcane formula to memory, so it cannot be used indefinitely.”

A few minutes later, they arrived at the base of the tower where the sleeping chambers were located. After heaving the sleeping Kautter onto a bed, Kaleb directed Gorak to an empty room. Exhausted, he shrugged off his pack and collapsed on the bed, not bothering to undress. He slept long and deeply, despite being inside, having not really rested since the battle two days before.

He awoke the following day, stiff from his long slumber, but feeling immeasurably better. In the windowless room, he couldn't see the sun to tell the time of day, but his own internal sense told him it was well past noon. Sticking his head out the door, he accosted a passing apprentice. “Where's Nargamon?” he asked gruffly.

“How should I know?” the apprentice replied disdainfully.

“Go find him and tell him I wanna talk to him.”

“I don't take orders from the likes of you. Maybe if I see him, I'll pass along the message,” the man retorted.

Seizing the man by the front of his robes, Gorak jerked him forward, so close his tusks were practically gouging him. “Don't think of it of it as an order,” he growled. “Consider it a friendly suggestion in the interest of your well being.” He released the man with a shove, sending him stumbling backwards. Returning to his room, Gorak knelt down and cleared his mind of all distractions, seeking strength from the ebb and flow of the world around him. Some time later, a tentative knock on the door broke his calm and brought his foul mood back. Rising to his feet, he opened the door to find the sullen apprentice standing outside.

“Nargamon's at the top of the tower, in the observatory. He says to meet him up there.”

Brushing past the man without a word, Gorak took the steps two at a time. Despite his hardened physique, by the time he reached the landing at the top, he was breathing heavily and slick with sweat. Grabbing hold of an iron rung embedded in the wall, he climbed up the short ladder and pushed open the trapdoor above him.

The observatory was a simple, nondescript circular room roughly twenty feet across with a single window adorning the north wall. Nargamon was seated at a small writing desk, surrounded by books and strange mechanical devices whose purpose was unknown to Gorak. It barely seemed to warrant the name, but considering that Khalid never spent any time looking at anything other than books, maybe it did, Gorak thought to himself.

Nargamon looked up from the device in his hands. “So, now do you want to tell me what your brilliant plan is, oh great saviour?” he asked, not even making an attempt at pleasantries.

“Sure,” Gorak grunted. “When those cannons arrive, I'm gonna fly out there and rust the barrels. If they try to fire them after that, they'll simply blow apart.”

Nargamon blinked. “You're going to fly out there.” He pointed toward the window. “Into the middle of the entire Dwerro army.” He paused dramatically. “Land beside their most potent weapons.” Gorak grunted. “And cast a spell?”

“Ayup.”

“That's a terrible plan.”

“Don't you think I know that?” Gorak growled through clenched teeth. “We tried the good plan already, and you saw how that worked out. We don't have a lot of options left if we're going to save this city and all these people. And besides,” he sneered contemporaneously. “At least its better then hiding behind the walls of this tower, getting ready to run.”

“Before you go getting all high and mighty, you'd better take a look at this.” Nargamon picked up a spy glass from among the many artifacts on the desk and handed it to him. With a word, the grey stone walls became as transparent as glass, offering a sweeping panoramic of the city and the army that surrounded it.

Gorak raised the bronze tube to his eye and scanned the troops below. In their midst, at intervals around the west and north side of the city, Dwerro soldiers were swarming around five structures that hadn't been there the day before. With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, he kept searching, finally seeing the remains of the caravan, now stripped down and mostly dismantled.

“Damn it,” Gorak swore. “I wasn't expecting them to get here that quick. This is gonna be harder then I thought.”

“Indeed. I suspect there are dead pigs littering the road from here to Draknor.”

“Five buildings,” Gorak spat. “Clever bastards. Now even if I can figure a way to get close enough, I gotta avoid the decoys.” Peering through the spyglass again, he studied the wooden fortifications. As he watched, a crow, circling over one of the buildings swooped low, trying to land on the roof. Instantly the air was filled with crossbow bolts, as the Dwerro sentries took aim and fired. The dead bird plummeted to the ground. Gorak let loose a litany of vile epitaphs.

“Now what?” Nargamon asked, not even bothering to look up.

“They're on ta me,” Gorak growled. “One of the survivors musta seen me shift and now they're using any bird that comes within a hunnerd feet of those buildings for target practise.

“So, what will you do?” Nargamon asked.

“Gotta try,” Gorak grunted in reply. “If I can get to just one of them, it might buy some time.”

“Suit yourself.”

Unwilling to concede to Nargamon's pervasive pessimism, Gorak left the observatory and headed back down to the courtyard. On his way out, he passed Kaleb, returning from some errand in the city.

Braver than most, Kaleb chanced Gorak's foul expression with a passing greeting. “Headed out to scout the army?” he asked.

“I'm gonna do more than scout 'em, if I get the chance,” Gorak growled, not breaking stride.

Kaleb turned and fell into step beside him. “While Nargamon may not show you any gratitude for your presence here, your efforts have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated,” he offered. “Good luck, with whatever you have planned.”

“I'll need a damn sight more than luck to do anything useful out there,” Gorak muttered.

“Well, it's not much, but there are a few things I could do to aid you.” He stopped, and cast a spell, touching Gorak lightly on the shoulder as he finished. “In the unlikely event the Dwerro have magical concealment at their disposal, that should reveal any hidden foes.”

Gorak grunted, “Speaking of magical concealment, Khalid knows this spell...”

“Invisibility? A staple for any wizard, I assure you. But I doubt I have the ability to maintain the spell long enough to allow you to complete your task.”

“I can move pretty quick,” Gorak rumbled. “When I have to. Come with me.”

They left the tower courtyard and pushed through the huddled mass of refugees camped near the tower. In time, they came to the ring of outer defences near the city wall, where tired soldiers, almost as miserable and wretched as the people they protected, waited for the next assault to begin. Weary beyond even curiosity, the men ignored them as soon as it became clear that no new orders were forthcoming from the pair. Stopping at the base of the wall Gorak searched the sky above the army, among the kites and crows that circled endlessly overhead. He located a suitable candidate, and studied it closely for several minutes. Satisfied, he grunted, “Alright. Do your thing.”

“You are aware of the other limitations of the dweomer?” When Gorak nodded, he launched into the spell, while Gorak shifted form, mimicking the form of a huge vulture As he took flight, Kaleb called after him, “Start counting. When you reach two hundred and fifty, you'd best be out of bow range of any Dwerro.”

Surging into the air under the strength of his large wings, Gorak raced for the nearest building. Silently counting off the passing seconds, he fought through the slow burn of unused muscles in his chest. As he hurtled through the air, a flicker of motion caught his eye, at the edge of his vision. He craned his long neck around, searching the sky, but whatever it was, it was gone. Dismissing it as a case of overactive paranoia, he cursed himself for wasting precious seconds. Flying over the heads of the Dwerro troops, he closed in on his target with somewhere shy of a minute left on Kaleb's spell. Flaring out his wings, he glided down to the roof of the building, perching above the barred double doors. A few of the more astute Dwerro sentries glanced around at the faint sound, but, seeing nothing, turned back to the city walls. Drifting to the ground, Gorak quickly circled the structure, becoming more infuriated with each passing second. It became immediately clear that the Dwerro had carefully planned and constructed the defences with all of their considerable engineering skill. The doors were tightly sealed, with barely a crack beneath them. The planks of the walls had been sunk into the ground, and thick hide had been stretched across them, to fireproof them and seal the gaps around the roof. The few windows that had been cut into the frame were covered with a fine steel mesh and shuttered from inside, so he couldn't see what lay beyond. He could hear Dwerro moving around through the tiny opening, but still had no idea if one of the cannons housed in this building. It must have been dreadfully unpleasant inside, judging from the heat that vented out from the windows, but it probably made the Dwerro feel right at home, in the sweltering darkness.

As the seconds of Kaleb's spell ticked away, Gorak finally had to admit his plan was hopeless. Even if he could find an opening big enough to slip through, he didn't have the strength to shift his form enough times to get inside and then escape, even if he could survive long enough to complete his casting. To try and get close to the bombard would be nothing short of suicide. His only remaining hope was to wait until the cannons were unveiled, and the final assault commenced.

Thwarted, Gorak turned back to lend his strength to the defence of the city. Flying over the walls, he spent a few minutes inspecting the meagre fortifications, trying to decide where best to direct his efforts. As he circled, a nagging doubt began to worm its way into his thoughts. Finally, unable to ignore it any longer, he banked sharply and flew toward the centre of the town, heading toward the tower. Not willing to risk blundering into any of the tower's warding spells, he landed outside and reverted back to his own form.

Immediately, he knew something was wrong. The gates to the courtyard were ajar and no guards were in sight. Drawing out his cudgel, he moved quickly through the grounds and approached the tower. His fears were confirmed when he saw the stout oaken door shattered on its hinges, and smeared with blood. And even though he was expecting trouble, he was completely unprepared for what happened next.

Out of the darkness of the tower, materialized was what, at first glance, appeared to be a woman. Long black hair, glistening with an oily sheen, hung down to her waist, framing her voluptuous figure. Her chalk white skin was marred by a thin band of scales that crossed beneath her naked breasts, over the taut muscles of her stomach and wound around her shapely legs before vanishing into the fur of her cloven hooves. Her features would have been beautiful, if they were not twisted with unholy cruelty. Two tiny ivory white horns with crimson tips emerged from her forehead, just above her brow. Like Vestalt, her eyes were blood red orbs, bereft of pupil. Shifting the burden she carried in her arms, she stopped and regarded him with a look of utter contempt.

“Stand aside, Orcling.” she hissed. “I will brook no interference with my task.”

Gorak struggled to fight down the unnatural lust that seized him, even through fear that had his heart hammering in his chest. He knew he was facing an opponent beyond his measure. His mind raced as he considered his options. Focusing on the burden in the creatures hands, he realized what she had come for. He slowly started to raise his hand, the words of a spell on his lips.

Recognizing his intent, a pair of huge leathery bat like wings unfurled from the succubus' back, and closed around her protectively, shielding the unconscious son of Martok she carried. “Raise your hand against me and you will grovel at my feet and beg for death before I finish with you. Your time is up mortal. Stand aside or die.”

With a curse,Gorak abandoned the spell, and grudgingly moved back out of the devil's way. The succubus shifted the wounded Dwerro in her arms, and walked past Gorak without sparing him another glance. She stepped over the twisted metal of the ruined portal, and flexed her legs, springing high into the air. The huge bat wings sliced through the air, driving her high up into the clouds and out of sight.

Exhaling slowly, Gorak watched her leave, then walked up the steps to the tower door, kicking aside the wreckage. The scene that greeted him inside was the stuff of nightmares. Blood coated the walls of the entrance, and he had to step past the bodies of the two guards that usually stood outside. One looked as though he had been flayed alive, but not before he'd disembowel the other with his sword. Beyond, two apprentices were locked in a death's embrace. Gorak recognized one of them as the boy, Victor. His hands were wrapped around the other man's neck, having managed to strangle him before the dagger buried in his stomach ended his life. Glancing down one of the long hallways on the main level that housed the sleeping quarters, Gorak called out, “Anybody alive in here?”

At the end of the hallway, a door creaked open slightly, and Kaleb poked his head out. “Gorak!” he practically sobbed in relief. “Is that thing gone?”

“Yeah,” he grunted in reply. “She got what she came fer. Where's Nargamon?”

“I don't know,” Kaleb said shakily, as he approached Gorak, eyes darting nervously around. The blood drained from his face as he walked into the main hall. “I was in my chamber sleeping when she showed up. I opened the door and saw one of the guards being...being killed.” He shuddered. “She walked right past, to the stairs, like she knew what she was looking for. She glanced at me, and I could feel her, in my thoughts, beckoning me to join her, to serve her, and for a moment, I almost did. But then somebody screamed and it broke the trance. I barricaded myself in my room while the others...” he trailed off. “After a while, the screaming stopped, but I just couldn't bring myself to leave.”

“Smart move,” Gorak growled. “You couldn't do anything out here but die.”

“After it got quiet, I heard some explosions from up in the tower. If Nargamon's anywhere, he'll be up there.”

“Let's go then.” Without waiting to see if Kaleb followed, Gorak took the stairs two at a time. At the second level, he stepped over the body of what looked to be Kautter, but since the corpse was missing its head, he couldn't really be sure. On the landing of the third level, where the Dwerro had been kept, the door had been torn asunder and the bodies of two more guards were piled on top of one another in a bloody mess of limbs and entrails. Without pause, Gorak headed up past the library on the floor level, to Nargamon's study on the fifth. The door to his room was intact, and tightly barred. The runes around the edges of the frame were glowing slightly. “Nargamon,” Gorak yelled, not willing to risk banging on the door. “You still alive in there?”

“Gorak? Is that you?” Nargamon called out weakly.

“Yah. Open up the door.”

“How do I know you're not bewitched by that devil?” Nargamon challenged.

“You don't. But that bitch is gone and if you don't open up this door, I'ma gonna use Kaleb to bash it down and come in anyhow.” Gorak growled, ignoring the squawk of protest from Kaleb. Behind the door, Nargamon muttered an arcane word and the runes slowly faded. Gorak raised the latch and walked in.

Nargamon was curled up on the floor, propped against the leg of his desk, clutching at his stomach. His robes were shredded from shoulder to hip, and stained red with his blood. His face was ashen grey and he was breathing in short, sharp gasps. Gorak knelt beside him and pulled away his hands away from the wound. Holding Nargamon by the shoulder, he muttered the words to a spell, and plunged his other hand into the wound, eliciting a harsh grunt of pain. As the magic took effect, Nargamon's breathing evened out, and colour returned to his face. Standing up slowly, he leaned heavily on the desk for support.

“So she got what she came for then?” Nargamon asked.

Gorak nodded. “The Dwerro.”

“And my apprentices?”

“Dead. Guards too. Except for Kaleb here. How'd she get inside?”

“I don't have mastery over all of the tower's defensive spells. By the time I realized what was going on, she was halfway up the stairs. I was not prepared to fight a creature like that.”

“Now what?” Gorak growled.

“Kaleb and I are leaving. I don't care what you do. Flee, or stay here and die with the rest of the city. I have done all that I can but the outcome was never truly in doubt. Although, thanks to your efforts, it came a little sooner than I was expecting. I strongly suggest you leave the tower however, as I have no intention of allowing it to fall into the hands of the Dwerro.”

“So that's it then?” Gorak growled, still struggling against the obvious truth in Nargamon's words.

“The siege of Caer Morag is over. You would do well to accept that and move on. Now, if you'll excuse us, we have to finish gathering up what we need.” Turning away from Gorak, he picked up a piece of parchment of the desk and handed it to Kaleb. “Go to the library, and find these tomes, then meet me in the observatory.

Frustrated and despondent, Gorak stomped out of the room and down the stairs, heading for the city walls. The panic down on the street was almost a palpable thing now, swirling around the huddled mobs like a foul wind. Fighting through the milling crowds, he approached the western wall, and climbed up on top of a nearby building, to get a better look. Along its length, he could see soldiers, gripping weapons tightly, pointing out into the field. If Gorak had hoped to find more courage among the guards, he was sorely disappointed. From their vantage point, they could see the beginning of the end.

Out in the field, the Dwerro bombards had been assembled and were slowly being dragged into position behind teams of huge pigs, struggling under the massive weight as they churned through the muddy fields. Hundreds of Dwerro, marching in lockstep beside, kept a wary vigil on the city and the sky. The siege engines were manoeuvred into a low hill, well beyond bow range and the draft animals were unhitched as Dwerro artillery men began to load the first of the devices.

Gorak saw the flash of fire and cloud of smoke an instant before the huge iron ball slammed into the wall, in an explosion of dust and rock. Leaping down from the rooftop, he ran past the dazed soldiers near the impact, and up to the wall. It was buckled dangerously inwards, the huge stones shifted and fractured from the force. Placing his hands on the wall, Gorak muttered a few words, and the stone began to flow together, the cracks disappearing under his touch. In a few seconds, the wall was repair, straightened and strengthened under the power of his magic. A few nearby guards gave a half hearted cheer when they saw what he was doing. Gorak almost allowed himself to hope for a second that they could prove Nargamon wrong.

But the Dwerro engineers, having found the range with the first shot, quickly extinguished that brief spark. Almost in unison, the three cannons fired. The first shot clipped the top of a wall, and in an instant, half a dozen soldiers vanished an a fiery blast of iron and stone. The second shot demolished a weakened guard tower, anchoring a section of the wall, and the third hit right beside it, sending stone shards flying into the stunned guards and opening an enormous breech in the wall, fifty feet from where Gorak was standing. Shaking his head to clear the confusion, Gorak stumbled away from the site of the damage. Through the shattered gap in the wall, he could see the Dwerro preparing another volley, as the clans formed up for the attack. Gorak was finally forced to confront the fact that nothing he could do, would stop the inevitable.

In a grim punctuation to the thought, in the centre of the city, Nargamon's tower vanished in a deafening roar of fire and stone, that sent debris raining down over the city. With a heavy sigh, Gorak shifted his form and took to the air, while below, a few dozen soldiers watched him fly away, the same expression of hopelessness and fear mirrored on every face.


* * * * * * * * * *​

“Anything?” Shayla asked, her voice heavy with concern.

Khalid held up the tiny voodoo doll and concentrated. Having never really used it before, he wasn't sure what to expect. “Ah, yes, perhaps.”

“That thing work if'n he's dead?” Azarek muttered curiously.

Shayla shot him a look filled with venom, while Khalid grimaced. He was wondering the same thing himself. “Ah, yes, well, I'm not exactly certain.” He held the doll up a little higher and tried to sharpen the image of Gorak he held in his mind. “It seems to be directing me toward the city. Yes, quite.”

“Maybe it points to the biggest piece of him,” Azarek mused sagely.

“Enough,” Shayla cursed, punching him in the arm.

“Ah, yes, wait, it seems to be moving now.” Khalid said with relief, as an enormous weight seemed to lift from his shoulders. “Yes, quite. He's definitely on the move.”

They turned around and headed back into the forest, following the magical pull of the voodoo doll. In a little less then an hour, the found Gorak sitting on the ground beside a small stream, his chest bare and dripping with water as he washed the dust and grime away.

Shayla practically flew into his arms. Burying her face in his muscled shoulder, she whispered, “We were so worried. We thought you were dead.”

“Indeed,” Khalid added.

“You should know by know it takes more than a Dwerro army to do me in,” he rumbled with a tired smile.

“So jus whut in the hell happened in there?” Azarek rasped curiously.

“We can talk about it as we move,” Gorak rumbled. “The Dwerro are gonna be busy for the next little while, and we should use that time to put a little distance between us and them.

Following Gorak's lead, they moved along the edge of the forest, parallel to the city. The inexorable thunder of the Dwerro bombards dogged their steps, heralding the end of the months long siege. As night fell, they emerged from the trees, and stood in silence for a few minutes, watching the sooty orange glow of the funeral pyre that was Caer Morag spread across the horizon. Unable to do anything but mourn the pour souls trapped within, they turned they backs upon the city and once again set their feet upon the road.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top