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Pathfinder 1E JollyDoc's Way Of The Wicked

JollyDoc

Explorer
7 Abadius, 4717 - 1 Calistril, 4717 - "How Did They Get In Here?"

Matthias Harkon was a fanatic, a fact that he was quite proud of. It was his fanaticism that had kept him doggedly on the trail over the last few months. A trail of clues and events that pointed to a vile conspiracy facing Talingarde. A trail that ended in Farholde. And what had he discovered in that small, backwater town? Why, that a great green glowing spire of stone had manifest in the forests beyond the city. Coincidence? Harkon thought not, which was why he now stood in the center of some blasphemous temple facing the followers of Asmodeus.

As Harkon smiled at his good fortune, the teleportation circle behind him flashed again. Turning, he nodded to Thomas who stepped clear of the circle to make way for the others. The young penitent's eyes darted all around, wary and harboring more than a little fear. Good, Harkon thought. He should fear...fear for his immortal soul if he did not rise to the occasion and hold to the pact he'd made to avoid being burned at the stake for his heresies.

"No," one of the Asmodeans spoke, his voice dripping with sarcasm that made Harkon want to ram the blade of Wytchbrand down his throat. "You are absolutely in the wrong place."
Kelvin clapped his hands together, arcane words upon his lips. When he pulled them apart again, a small ball of solid ice hovered between them. Thrusting his hands forward, he hurled the ice ball at the pair of trespassers. Thomas's eyes widened and he quickly dove for cover behind one of the nearby pillars. Harkon didn't even try. He held his flaming sword before him, confident that it and his faith would protect him. Neither did. The ice ball exploded in a blast of razor-like shards and numbing cold. Harkon was nearly blown off his feet. As it was, as the air cleared, he was bleeding heavily from dozens of wounds and his flesh was so pale it bordered on blue.
"Nice work," Katarina nodded to her brother. "I'll take it from here."
Thomas watched in horror and disbelief as the dark-haired woman abruptly vanished, and then reappeared right behind Harkon, a wicked-looking blade in her hand, which she promptly drew across the inquisitor's throat. Gurgling and drowning on his own blood, Matthias Harkon, inquisitor of Iomedae, died.

Thomas panicked. Where were the others? They should have been here by now! He leaped to one side as a fireball erupted nearby, narrowly evading the blast. A moment later, however, he felt the sting of a thousand wasps in his back as Kelvin sent a salvo of arcane missiles at him. He stumbled for cover, but then Kat was in front of him, slashing at his belly. Thomas jerked backwards, the blade tearing his tunic but not his flesh. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the circle in the middle of the floor glowing again. Thank Iomedae! He was saved!

When Brother Armand Vyte stepped out of the teleporter, his eyes went immediately to the fallen form of Harkon.
"No!" he cried.
Looking around, he finally noticed Thomas struggling to put some distance between himself and Katarina.
"Fight, you fool!" Vyte commanded. "Fight or I'll send you to Hell myself!"
Thomas, not knowing whom he feared more at that moment, stopped fleeing and instead whirled on Kat. Momentarily surprising her, his short sword managed to score a grazing blow across her ribs.
"Enough!" Kelvin snarled.
His hands flexed like claws as he spat the words to a spell. A circular wall of flame suddenly erupted from the floor, surrounding the teleportation circle and scorching both Thomas and Brother Vyte in the process.
"Yes, that will be quite enough!" Vyte shouted back, ignoring his smoldering vestments as he began to chant a prayer. Abruptly, a burst of blinding radiance emanated from the priest, dazzling Dorian and blinding Kelvin, while searing both of them with its heat.

At that very moment, within the engulfed circle, the ring flashed and a soldier dressed in full plate armor appeared. His tabard bore the heraldry of the Iomedaen inquisition, and he gripped a halberd in both hands. As he appeared, however, the flames from the fire wall licked at him, and he recoiled involuntarily. Kelvin, though unable to see, could hear the soldier's cry of alarm, and he quickly cast another spell, hurling a ball of crackling electricity in that direction. It exploded in a violent coruscation, and the resulting blast killed not only the soldier, but also Armand and Brother Vyte, who were both still standing too near the circle. Kelvin's vision slowly returned, clearing in fits and starts, just as the ring flared one last time, and two more soldiers appeared within the wall of flames. Almost casually, the young wizard tossed a fireball towards them, and snuffed out their lives in an instant.

_________________________________________________________

"What did you find out?" Kelvin asked.
"Knick-Knack communed with Nessus," Tardaesha replied, "and he was able to confirm that there is a fourth teleporter."
"A fact we'd already assumed," Kelvin nodded. "Dorian?"
His brother sat forward in his chair and steepled his fingers beneath his chin, an affectation he'd picked up from their father.
"Well, as you know," he began, "I tried to commune with the spirit of the inquisitor, but his will was too strong. I had better luck with the soldiers, but they really didn't know anything. Just following orders and such. However, the other one, Thomas, now he was a different story. Very forthcoming. He was apparently an unwilling ally of the inquisition, merely serving out a sentence to avoid being burned at the stake. He said that their group had arrived in Farholde after following a trail of vicious murders in small villages from Lake Tarik into the Scarden."
"Tiadora," Kelvin growled.
"My thoughts as well," Dorian agreed. "In any event, they came to Farholde upon hearing rumors that some creature or cult was stalking the streets attacking anyone who expressed an interest in the great green glowing spire that had manifested in the Caer Bryr. The inquisitor, Matthias Harkon, had then apparently visited the Abbey of Saint Cynthia-Celeste to have an audience with the abbess. By accessing the Abbey archives, he had found a full account of the Victor's raid upon the Horn, as well as one other thing: he also found information about the teleportation circles, including the fact that one of the circles was not actually inside the Horn, but in a nearby ruin."
"Did Thomas know the activation word?" Kelvin asked.
Dorian smiled. "Zen," he said.

_______________________________________________________________

The members of the Ninth Knot gathered around the teleportation circle in the temple in preparation to travel to the unknown location of the fourth circle. Dakota glanced up as Tardaesha entered the hall, and then did a double-take.
"What does Knick-Knack have in his mouth?" she asked, her eyes narrowed.
Tardaesha glanced back at the little cacodaemon hovering behind her shoulder.
"Oh that," she said. "That's just his wand."
"His wand?" Kelvin asked. "Why does he need a wand?"
"He's practicing," Tardaesha shrugged.
"For what?" Kelvin asked, his eyes narrowing as well.
"He can do magic now," 'Aesha said nonchalantly. "He says he's a sorcerer. He wanted a wand."
"But he doesn't have hands," Kelvin replied. "How can he even use it?"
Tardaesha shrugged again. "He holds it with his tail, I guess."
"It doesn't work like that," Kelvin shook his head in exasperation.
"I dunno," 'Aesha said. "It makes him happy."
Distracted by the wand-wielding daemon, Dakota finally noticed the robed figure that now stood behind her twin.
"Who is that!??" she cried, reaching for her bow.
Tardaesha glanced behind her again.
"Oh, that's Oddball," she said. "Say 'hello,' Oddball."
Draped in rags and hunched over on goat-like legs, the creature possessed a featureless face, save for a large eye ringed by fangs. It didn't so much speak as project its thoughts into the minds of the Knot.
"Hello," it said in a voice that grated the nerves like bone on bone.
Dakota winced, covering her ears.
"Where did it...he...come from?" she asked.
"I summoned him," Tardaesha said. "Just like I summoned Knick-Knack. Ordinarily, when I summon a new servant, my former one will return to its home plane, but Knick-Knack decided to stay, now that he's a sorcerer. He says he will serve me until he dies."
She smiled and patted the feral little fiend affectionately. Kelvin just sighed and turned back to the circle.
"Whenever you're ready, Dorian," he said.

_________________________________________________________________

The companions arrived in the midst of several ruined buildings, the circle glowing at their feet. In the distance, no more than a couple of miles away, the glowing Horn of Abaddon could be clearly seen.
"Destroy it," Kelvin said to Roger. "We can't have anymore surprises. Which reminds me: I think we need to pay a visit to Farholde. The White Ravens may have some explaining to do."

____________________________________________________________

"A messenger was sent," Elise Zadaria said in a bored tone. "What more could we do? If we could possibly send a magical message, we would, but whatever is happening in the Horn makes that impossible. You know that. The only thing that matters is that you survived and the mission continues."
"Yes, of course," Kelvin smiled humorlessly. "It pleases me to know that you are so concerned about our welfare."
"Why would I not be?" Elise asked. "After all, our goals are the same."
Kelvin wondered if that were actually true, but he held his tongue.
"Well, it's obvious we need a more efficient way to communicate," he said instead. "I propose that at dawn each morning, Trik use a spell of sending to contact Dorian, who will arrange to be outside the Horn the same time each day. Even if there is nothing to report, we will expect your message."
"Easy enough," Elise smiled. "We are at your service."

___________________________________________________________

Before the Ninth Knot departed Farholde, Dakota insisted that they first pay a visit to Baron Vandermir. The Baron was not exactly enthusiastic about receiving his uninvited guests, but receive them he did.
"I'm not sure it's a good idea for you to be here," he said. "What if you had been seen?"
Tardaesha tapped the iron circlet on her brow, causing her disguise as an Iomedaen nun to momentarily flicker.
"We are not completely stupid," she smiled. "Plus we let ourselves in through the tunnel beneath the hovel you set aside for us."
"And we won't be here long anyway," Dakota interrupted. "I have only a simple request."
The Baron looked suspicious. "Which would be...?"
Dakota gave him her most winning grin.
"I have an...associate. A young guardsman called Timeon. He once served as a squire at Balentyne, so he has soldiering experience. I would like you to find him a position with the garrison at Hamarhall."
"For what purpose?" Vandermir snapped.
"Because we need trustworthy eyes and ears there," Dakota replied. "That's all you need to know."
The Baron's face reddened momentarily, and he opened his mouth to speak, but then quickly closed it again when he saw Katarina fingering her knives.
"Very well," he said at length. "I will arrange it. Tell him to report for duty tomorrow."

____________________________________________________

WEEK 13

"There ya go, mutts!" Lemmy chuckled, putting the bowls of raw meat down in front of the three hounds he'd purchased in Farholde. "My own special recipe. Eat up!"
The dogs eagerly went to the bowls and began inhaling the bloody meal noisily. Lemmy watched them with a bemused look on his face. After several moments, first one of the curs, then the other, and the other began to cough. Foam formed at the corners of their mouths and they started vomiting violently. Soon, all three of them collapsed to the floor, convulsing for several more minutes before going still.
"Sorry about that boys," Lemmy shook his head.
Kneeling before the statue of Vetra-Kali, he drew out a dagger and slashed each of the dogs' throats, letting the blood flow into the basin before the shrine. Then he waited. It didn't take long. The bodies began to twitch and jerk. Smoke rose in tendrils from their flesh until their fur was scorched black. An instant later, their eyes opened, and they blazed red. All three hounds leaped to their feet, growling and snarling, and when they opened their mouths, flames leaped from the backs of their throats.
"That's more like it!" Lemmy laughed. "Wait 'till Roger gets a look at you lot! He won't think his little pony's so damn fancy then!"

___________________________________________________________________


"Dread Masters," Zikomo gargled, bowing and scraping before the throne.
Kelvin's face was buried in his palm, only one eye showing as it peeked between his fingers. No wonder villains eventually went insane and murdered all of their followers.
"Yes, oracle?" He asked, barely managing to keep the venom out of his voice. "What has gone wrong this time?"
"As Your Omnipotence is aware," the boggard shaman replied, "ever since the Horn began glowing with the Light of the Father, more of my tribesman have been arriving each week, answering the divine call!"
"Yes," Kelvin nodded, "I am well aware, and we are grateful for your tribes' contributions."
"Well...," Zikomo paused for a moment before continuing, "no new recruits have arrived in the past two weeks. I fear something may have befallen them."
Kelvin knew where this was going.
"So let me make sure I understand." He asked anyway. "You want us to go and find out what has happened to your tribesmen?"
"The Dread Masters always see things so clearly!" Zikomo grinned.
"It actually may not be such a bad idea," Dorian whispered in Kelvin's ear. "Elise Zadaria did say she sent a messenger to warn us about the inquisition. Perhaps whatever is responsible for the missing boggards is to blame for that as well."
"Fine!" Kelvin threw up his hands. "Inform the others. We're going on another bug hunt."

_____________________________________________________________

When the Ninth left the Horn early the next morning, they looked less like a band of adventurers, and more like a royal hunting expedition. Roger rode mounted on the back of Carnitheria Rex, while Lemmy traipsed alongside, his trio of hellhounds ranging out before him at the end of long chain leads. Grumblejack strode beside Dorian, bedecked in shining plate armor emblazoned with the symbol of Asmodeus and carrying a mighty greatsword strapped to his back. Tardaesha, not to be outdone, kept her own minions close by as well. Knick-Knack floated happily near her shoulder, while Oddball drifted along in her wake.

Before long, the hellhounds began baying and growling, snuffling along the ground. Lemmy saw that they had found hoof tracks from a heavy horse in the moist earth. The tracks were not hard to follow, and eventually led to a grove of large evergreens. At the center of the grove, in a small clearing, stood a single large tree, with green, leafy vines looping down out of its branches. Abruptly, Carnitheria Rex halted in his tracks. Beside him, Dorian and Lemmy did the same, their faces slack and the hellhounds' leads loosening in the dwarf's grip. Even Knick-Knack ceased his endless bobbing, and simply drifted aimlessly in the air around Tardaesha's head.
"What...?" Roger was about to ask, but that's when things got really weird.

The tree suddenly uprooted itself from the soil and began walking slowly on its tendrils towards the companions. As it did so, one of its many vines coiled itself into a noose and then shot towards Roger, dropping over his head and then cinching tightly around his neck. The big half-orc was pulled bodily out of the saddle and held dangling in the air by the throat, his face going red and then purple.
"Let him go!" Dakota shouted in dismay. "He's mine!!"
She quickly drew her bow and let fly with two arrows. Both struck the trunk of the massive tree, but one of them managed to find a chink in its barky hide and sank in all the way to the fletchings. The tree groaned and shivered, but did not release its hold on Roger. Kelvin hurled a ball of lightning, but the spell just evaporated as it struck the tree.
"Oddball, you know what to do!" Tardaesha commanded.
The dev nodded its cloaked head, then grabbed his mistress by the hand. Both of them vanished in a flash of light, and then reappeared again right behind the hangman tree. Tardaesha already had her sword drawn, and as soon as her eyes cleared, she struck out, the blade biting into the tree trunk over and over again. The tree shivered violently again, and then with a long, low rumble, toppled over. Roger rolled free, gasping and clutching at this throat, his color gradually returning to normal.

Once Roger's wounds were tended, and the effects of the tree's hypnotic spores had worn off, the companions searched its grove thoroughly. For their efforts, they turned up many, many bones, several of them clearly boggard, as well as one clearly equine. Clutched in the hand of one humanoid skeleton, they found a satchel containing a missive from Elise Zadaria warning about a new incursion to the Horn. It seemed the mystery had been solved.

_______________________________________________________________

WEEK 14

A fiery preacher in Farholde named Ezekiel Hawthorn was stirring up trouble in the local churches. He preached a message of unity and resistance against the growing tide of darkness. His sermons specifically mentioned details about the Horn of Abaddon and the wicked deeds being perpetrated there. He spoke of Iomedae-given visions and omens of dark times to come. He even went so far as to advocate forming a militia to storm the Horn. When news of this reached the Ninth via the White Ravens' daily sending, it was obvious to all that this zealot had to go.

It was ultimately decided by the companions that they should let their minions within Farholde, the thugs and rakes of the Vandermir Orphanage, handle the preacher. It would be less conspicuous and not tip their hand too soon. The assassination was carried out with little difficulty, but it didn't have the effect that the Ninth had hoped for. Instead, the priest's death made him into a martyr among his followers, convincing them of the truth of his words. There would surely be repercussions...

________________________________________________________________

WEEK 15

Two significant events occurred that week. The first, and by far the less significant (unless you asked Roger) was that the anti-paladin finally managed to get his new pet, the dire tiger he'd named Scar, to obey his commands without trying to eat him or disembowel him.



The second event was when the 111th day of the Ritual arrived...the exact midpoint, which required a second sacrifice. This time Dorian did the honors. Sister Marta was brought from the holding cells, bloodied, beaten, but still unbowed, to the altar of Vetra-Kali. Dakota and Tardaesha stripped her of her habit, and tied her naked to the stone. As dawn broke, Dorian intoned the Cursing of the Light, and then cut Marta's heart from her chest and placed it in the bowl beside the statue where the first heart, black and shriveled, still beat, sustained by dark magic. A voice echoed throughout the Sanctum...the same alien and malevolent voice from the first prayer...
"Tezathra Vo! I see!"
The three eyes of Vetra-Kali flared with green light and the Horn trembled. Once again a great beacon of emerald fire erupted into the morning sky, and for the rest of the day the sun's rays were barely seen. That day, the sun failed, and Vetra-Kali's dominion drew nearer.
 

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JollyDoc

Explorer
1 Calistril, 4717 - 22 Calistril, 4717 - The Banner Verdant

WEEK 16

Tardaesha had warned the others that Knick-Knack was predicting an eminent attack within the next three days, and Kelvin had ordered everyone to barricade themselves in the upper level mediation hall for safety in numbers. This arrangement began to chafe at Dakota before the first day was out, and she complained bitterly and non-stop. The only ones who were not included in the extended sleep-over were Artephius, Knick-Knack and Carnetheria Rex. Dorian posted the golem in the lower level throne room, and the nightmare agreed to wait with the construct at Roger's request, while the little cacodaemon took up a position near the ceiling where he could keep an eye on things and report telepathically to his mistress.

Shortly after midnight on the second night of the vigil, a vision manifested in the lower temple. An angelic being with wings of glowing fire appeared out of nowhere, a sword of light gripped in its golden hands. Caritheria Rex's eyes went wide in terror as the celestial being stalked towards him. He reared on his back legs, pawing at the air furiously with his flaming hooves. It availed him not. The angel drew back its blade and then drove it straight through the nightmare's chest and heart. He fell to the floor in a heap, drew one last hitching breath, and expired. Knick-Knack bobbed unseen in the rafters, confused by what he'd just witnessed. He saw no angel. All had been quiet and peaceful until the nightmare had suddenly reared up and attacked thin air, then simply fallen down and died. He was still pondering this when he saw a shadow move within the deeper shadows of the temple.

'Mistress!' Knick-Knack's panicked voice pounded into Tardaesha's skull. 'Dark stallion is dead! Shadow of ashes here now! Come quick!'
Tardaesha shook her head in confusion.
"Something's wrong in the lower temple," she said to the others. "Knick-Knack says that Carnitheria Rex is down and there is something there with them."
Roger's eyes went wide with fear and anger. He didn't wait for orders, but ran for the teleportation circle and spoke the command word for the first-floor throne room.
"We'd better get after him," Tardaesha said. "Dakota, you're with me. Oddball?"
The dev nodded, and then gripped the sisters by their shoulders. His fanged eyeball glowed, and then all three of them vanished.

The throne room was in chaos as Tardaesha's vision cleared. Artephius stood in the center hurling bombs of electricity at something that looked like a whirling cloud of charred, screaming corpses.
"It's incorporeal!" Dakota shouted. "Those bombs won't stop it!"
She drew a pair of specially prepared arrows, salted with an alchemical mixture, from her quiver and fired them both at the ashen nightmare. The arrows struck true, impaling the horror as if it were flesh and blood, and it wailed inhumanly. A wave of black energy surged from it, and as it washed over the defenders, they all felt somnolence and fatigue momentarily overcome them before quickly passing...all except for Oddball. Tardaesha looked towards the dev when she heard snoring coming from behind her. Oddball lay crumpled on the floor, gurgling snorts coming from somewhere within his cowl as he slept. She turned back just as the cloud surged towards them. One of the corpses within its mass swiped a clawed hand at the anti-paladin, and where it touched her flesh, she began to burn with black fire. She screamed in agony, clutching her hands to her face as she sank to her knees. Above her, Knick-Knack hissed in fury, and sent a barrage of arcane missiles into the roiling cloud, which seemed to affect it just fine. It wailed again, and turned away from Tardaesha. Dakota was waiting. She put two more ghost-salted arrows in the creature, and with a final howl of damnation, it dissipated away into nothingness.

__________________________________________________________

"What...what was that??" Roger asked.
He was still in shock as he stared down at Carnetheria Rex, a single tear trickling down his cheek.
"Dorian spoke with Ezra about it," Kelvin replied. "The wraith told him that during the Victor's assault on the Horn, a dozen cultists were killed simultaneously in a fireball explosion. They were burned to ashes and fused into a charred mass. They were not interred. Every year since then, their spirits arise as that...thing, and rampage through the Horn for a single night, seeking to destroy anything living. It has never been much of an issue since the mountain has remained largely unpopulated...until now."
"And he never thought to warn us about this!?" Roger raged.
"He didn't think it was important, since the nightmare had never troubled him," Kelvin sighed.
Roger's face flushed, but he said nothing further. He turned and left the temple. Later that night, he had several boggards drag the nightmare outside, where he'd erected a funeral pyre. He cremated the stallion in a solemn ceremony attended by none but himself.

_____________________________________________________________

WEEK 17

Two reports came in from Farholde that week. The first was from Timeon. He had begun his duties at Hamarhall, and was settling in nicely. He'd been watching the Lord Commander closely, as he'd been ordered to by Dakota, and he was pleased to inform her that Sir Darian was growing increasingly restless with the rumors surrounding the Horn. He was virtually champing at the bit to go investigate himself.

The second missive, this one from the White Ravens, informed the Ninth that a low-level gang war had erupted between the toughs of the Vandermir Orphanage and a Drownington-based crime ring calling themselves Thatcher's Crew. Bergill Mott, headmaster of the orphanage, had requested assistance. Kelvin's decision was fast and ruthless...wipe them out! The Ninth elected to handle this task in person, and in a brutal midnight raid, executed every last member of Thatcher's Crew. Their minions were duly impressed.

___________________________________________________________

Roger sat near the opening of the Horn's second level, absently scratching Scar between the ears. The big tiger purred contentedly, but Roger could sense a tenseness to the beast.
"What's wrong, old boy?" he asked, not expecting an answer.
Scar turned his one good eye to his master and growled low, and in the cadence of that rumble, Roger thought he could make out a single word...revenge...

_______________________________________________________

WEEK 18

"Knick-Knack says that we're going to be attacked this week," Tardaesha reported to the others. "It will come from the caves."
"Then that's where we'll position ourselves for the week," Kelvin said.
"Again??" Dakota whined. "We have to just hang around in the same place again? It's boring!!"
"You'll have the boggards to entertain you," Tardaesha smiled, "and Roger will be there as well."
Dakota actually blushed.

As it turned out, Kelvin sent all the boggards, along with Zikomo, to the upper levels for their own safety. The Ninth, along with Grumblejack, Knick-Knack, Oddball and Lemmy's three hounds, took up residence in the empty village...and waited.

____________________________________________________________

Fineas Greenhold held up one hand for quiet while he closed his eyes and focused. After a moment, the little gnome nodded and smiled.
"Right where he said it would be," he whispered and pointed towards the jagged maw that marked the opening of the caverns beneath the Horn. "An alarm spell has been strung across the entrance."
"Bah!" Angus Madthorn snarled. "Let'em know we're comin'! I'd welcome a straight-up brawl to all this skulkin' around!"
Fineas ignored the dwarf. He was used to the barbarian's bluster.
"Just wait a moment," he said, "and I'll have it disabled in a jiffy."
He focused again and saw the strands of magic that held the spell together in his mind's eye. Weaving his own counter-spell, he carefully untied them.
"There now," he said, dusting off his hands dramatically, "all clear."

He, Angus and the other members of the Banner Verdant made their way cautiously into the caves. Their source had informed them that there might be a couple of dozen boggards waiting for them, as well as the dread masters of the Horn themselves. Fineas shivered a little at the thought of that, especially when he recalled what their newest member had told them of the last time she'd faced the villains. He glanced over at the dark-skinned woman.
"Beautiful!" he sighed to himself.
"Mind your business," Vethia Dora said sharply. "This is no time for childish games. Besides, I still don't trust that one."
This again. Fineas knew that the elven ranger still did not believe that Calliaste Shanda was not a drow, a dark elf, even though the lillend had revealed her true form to them when she'd come to them offering her assistance upon learning of their planned journey to the Horn. Fineas ignored Vethia's xenophobia. Instead he pointed towards the southeastern wall of the otherwise bare cavern the group now stood in.
"The old priest said that's where we'd find the secret door," he said.
He moved to examine the featureless stone, and after a moment, he dug his fingers into a tiny, almost invisible crack. He turned to his friends, grinning broadly, and indicated the spiral staircase that now stood revealed behind the hidden portal.

_____________________________________________________________

'Intruders!' Hexor's mental shout blasted into the heads of each member of the Ninth.
"What?" Kelvin asked aloud and mentally. "Where? How?"
'They came up the staircase from the caverns!' Hexor bellowed. 'They are trying to reach the sanctum!'
"Stop them, even if it costs your your lives!" Kelvin shrieked. "We're on our way!"
Without hesitating, the wizard grabbed Lemmy, who was the closest, opened a dimensional door and pulled them both through. A moment later, they appeared in the spiral stair, about a dozen paces from the top. They could hear the sounds of combat coming from above, as well as the deafening roar of some great beast. Cautiously, Lemmy crept to the top.

What the dwarf saw when he peered over the lip of the stairwell left him uncharacteristically speechless. Hexor was besieged on all sides. Lemmy could see a ridiculous looking gnome tossing spells at the daemon while an angry-looking dwarf took swipes at him with a greataxe. On the far side of the room an elf woman with a bow was putting arrows into his back. All of this paled in comparison, however, to what had immediately gotten Lemmy's attention. Towering above Hexor was a dinosaur! Lemmy had seen pictures of them before, but nothing compared to real life! He thought this particular one was called a gigantasaurus rex or some such. Whatever its name, Hexor seemed to be having a tough time with it. Suddenly a light flashed in the room, and Vexor appeared.
'That ought to even the odds,' Lemmy thought to himself.
But that was when he noticed the snake-tailed woman on the opposite side of the dinosaur.

Brunhild Sturmdottir reveled in the animalistic abandon of the form she currently wore. The druidess didn't often get the opportunity to set her wild side free, but at least this day, she did not have to hold back. The demonic creature raked at her with its claws, but her thick, reptilian hide barely felt the blow. She let loose an ear-splitting roar and prepared to charge the brute, but then a flash of motion caught her eye. A figure had crept out of the stairwell from which she and her companions had ascended. It was a dwarf. Curious. Before she could determine if he was friend or foe, however, one of his hands turned into a metallic lance, which he promptly ran thru both Vethia and Caliaste.

Another flash of light appeared in the center of the room as Oddball stepped thru anothe portal with Tardaesha, Dakota and Knick-Knack close behind. Caliaste saw them immediately, and her eyes flashed with hatred as she began to sing. Though her voice was beautiful, her song was deadly. A burst of pure sound washed over the foursome, buffeting them with its force, and leaving Knick-Knack stunned on the floor. Dakota reeled, but she still saw Angus Madthorn charging towards her, his axe raised high. Unable to bring her bow to bear, she thrust a hand palm out at the dwarf and spoke a swift prayer. Immediately, Madthorn froze in his tracks, held in place by some invisible force.

Hexor and Vexor stood back-to-back in the center of the chamber, trying to keep an eye on all of the combatants scrambling about. As several of their assailants regrouped to coordinate a charge, Hexor saw his chance. Opening his ape-like maw, he spewed electricity down upon Angus, Vethia and Caliaste. The energy washed over the lillend like bath water, but it left deep burns in the flesh of the ranger and the dwarf. Angus roared in anger and agony as he shook free of Dakota's spell. Vethia, her hair still smoking, pivoted on one foot just as Roger rushed towards the towering Brunhild, and put an arrow right between his shoulder blades. She smiled when she saw him stumble, and that's when she saw the wizard emerge from the stairwell. Too late, as it turned out.

Kelvin threw out both of his hands and loosed a small seed that quickly blossomed into a powerful blast of caustic acid. The spray caught all of the intruders within its radius, and left the elf woman a smoking corpse on the floor in its aftermath. Even the damnable lillend's skin boiled, but only for a moment. In the next instant, Lemmy literally flayed the flesh from her bones with a withering blast of metallic shards that ripped through her body like razor blades.
"Stop it!" Fineas Greenhold abruptly shouted, and to both his amazement and Lemmy's, the dwarf did just that.
"Cease your attacks on us, friend," the gnome said, panting with exertion. "We are not your enemies."
"Not my enemies," Lemmy nodded.
Even as he spoke these words, Brunhild loomed over Tardaesha and clamped her jaws down completely over the anti-paladin, then lifted her into the air, shaking her back and forth like a rag doll. As the dinosaur threw back her head to swallow her prey whole, Vexor unleashed his own breath weapon and roasted Brunhild alive. Tardaesha dropped heavily to the floor, bleeding profusely, but she was not out of it yet. She had landed right behind the talkative little gnome, and with the last of her strength, she drove her sword through his back, ceasing his prattling once and for all.
"Proud of yerself, are ya, bitch?" a voice growled from behind her. "That were my friend ya just kilt, so it's only fittin' that you join him!"
Angus Madthorn swung his axe in a broad arc, and buried its head in Tardaesha's spine. She slumped forward with a groan and a sigh, and didn't move again.
"And that were my friend!" Lemmy shouted.
Angus whirled towards him, just in time to catch a face full of metal blast.

_________________________________________________________

From the journal of Fineas Greenhold:

"What an interesting development today. We were approached by a so-called holy man full of talk about visions and angels and so forth. He claimed these spirits had driven him to stop the wickedness going on in the Horn, and to rally us to our 'destiny.' Mentioned us almost by name, the angels did! I'm flattered."
"He delivered us his pitch and then gave to us an immense pile of information, including maps, names and so much more. Really, he did everything but give the keys to the front door."
"Of course I don't accept such gifts without a fair degree of skepticism. I had Vethia trail the 'holy man,' and our fears turned out to be justified. She saw this angel-speaker slip into a side alley and transform back into a dark-haired and much younger human."
"My tracker followed the human through the streets of Farholde, and saw the young man rendezvous with a strange, white-haired woman with a white raven on her shoulder. He called her 'Z.'"
"They didn't say much to each other. All he said was, 'It is done. The Ninth is finished.' I am unsure exactly what that means, but clearly we are being used in some sort of double-cross between various factions of the cult that occupies the Horn. Ah, evil-doers. They never change."
"So, they want us to be their assassins, eh? Well, it's a job we don't mind doing. We'll be cautious about this information, obviously, but I think it's likely to pan out. They wouldn't want their dupes to fail after all, would they? Of course, when we're done, I think we'll pay the 'holy man' a little visit as well. Vethia is pretty sure the woman in white must be staying in the nearby inn, The Auld Briarhall in Auld'Irey."
"What a piece of work is my elven tracker! She tracked a shapechanger through almost a half mile of city, managed to eavesdrop on a private, guarded conversation, and reported back without even a ripple of trouble. Hah! Remind me to give that girl an almost even share of the treasure!"
"Tomorrow we attack the Horn with our new friend, Calliaste. She has also confirmed much of the information that we have, and is anxious for some payback. I can feel it in my bones. This is the big one! After this, I just know that our wee little band will never be the same."

________________________________________________________________

'What are your orders, Master?' Dorian's message to Thorn ended.
There was no immediate response. Instead, moments later there was a flash of fire and brimstone. Standing on the ledge in front of Dorian were a pair beautiful, winged women. They would have looked almost angelic if not for the dark stains on their wings, and the bows of flame they gripped in their hands.
"We are Tisaera and Melinoe," the pair spoke in unison. "We are the furies of Thorn. The Knot Hibernal is declared broken. In accordance with the Pact of Thorns, the traitors are released. They are no longer bound in service nor do they enjoy protection. Make them suffer for their treachery and then return to the work at hand. Bring to the Master the daemon's gift!"
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
22 Calistril, 4717 - 22 Gozran, 4717 - Talons Of Treachery

The following morning, Dorian did not go outside the Horn to receive Trik's daily sending. Instead, the members of the Nessian Knot spent most of the rest of the day traveling cross-country back to Farholde. They arrived near dusk and made their way to the Auld'Irey district, where they quickly staked out a location in a narrow alley just across from the Auld Briarhall inn. At Tardaesha's command, Knick-Knack flickered out of sight and then darted across the street where he waited patiently for the next patron to exit the inn. When the door opened, he slipped inside unseen.

'I finds them, Mistress!' the little daemon's voice hissed into Tardaesha's mind. "They in back of big room, drinking lots and laughing lots.'
"A little victory celebration, I imagine," 'Aesha spoke aloud. 'Watch them closely, my love,' she sent her thoughts back to Knick-Knack. 'When they retire for the evening, see what rooms they enter and then report back to me.'

It was well past midnight when Knick-Knack contacted Tardaesha again.
'They go upstairs now,' he said. 'Two rooms. White-hair lady and big elf go one, twinsies go other.'
"That's our cue," Tardaesha smiled at her companions.
Dorian closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them again.
"They're coming," he said.
Seconds later, in a burst of sulfurous smoke, the two furies appeared in the alley behind them.
"Wait here for my signal," Dorian told them.
The eyes of the infernal sisters blazed, and they nodded solemnly.

The door to the inn opened, and a familiar white-haired woman entered from the street, accompanied by her two strange men and a dwarf.
"My lady??" the innkeep asked, confusion on his face. "Your pardon, but I could have sworn I just saw you and yours heading upstairs not ten minutes ago."
"Yes," Tardaesha smiled, her face that of Elise Zadaria's thanks to her circlet, "I had to go back out to meet my friends here. They will be staying with us awhile. By chance, could I have the spare keys to our rooms so they may come and go?"
The innkeeper eyed the strangers, then shrugged.
"As you wish, Missus," he replied, and handed over the keys.

The four of them made their way quietly up the stairs and down the hall to the room Knick-Knack had indicated belonged to Elise. They paused outside the door, and Dorian bowed his head.
'Now,' he sent his thoughts out into the street.
Within seconds there was a 'whumph' of imploding air on the other side of both doors, followed by gasps of surprise.
"The Knot Hibernal is declared broken!" the voices of the furies intoned, one from behind each door. "Cardinal Thorn has decreed that you pay the traitor's price!"
Knick-Knack, the key gripped in his prehensile tail, unlocked the door to Elise's room, and Dorian kicked it open. Kelvin stepped past him and hurled a glob of sizzling acid into the center of the room. It exploded, and Elise Zadaria screamed as much of her flesh began to dissolve beneath the caustic liquid. Tardaesha rushed into the room and drove her blade through the witch's belly, ceasing her shrill screams of agony. Elise fell to the floor, bleeding heavily but still breathing. Lemmy remedied that a moment later when his fist became a metal blade and he impaled her to the floor.

Tardaesha rushed Dostan before the giant half-elf could go for his sword. She swung her own blade with all her strength, slicing across first his chest, and then across his belly with her backswing. Her bellowed and reeled backwards, Knick-Knack driving him away from his mistress with a peppering of magic missiles. Before he could regain his balance, Lemmy stepped between the barbarian and Tardaesha, and sent a blast of metal shards ripping through him. Dostan moaned and staggered but did not go down. Blood streaming from dozens of wounds, he still managed to take one ponderous step towards his sword belt. That was when Melinoe put two flaming arrows through his heart.

Next door, in the room of the twins Trik and Trak, Tisaera fired her bow calmly and accurately at the ranger as he struggled to find cover behind a wardrobe. Three arrows took him through his thigh, shoulder and right hand.
"Please!" Trik begged, shielding his brother with his own body. "We have not broken our vows! It is the 9th that is guilty of betrayal, not us!"
"Funny," Kelvin said, stepping into the room behind the erinyes, "that's news to me."
Kelvin!" Trik shouted in desperation. "I don't know what's going on here! Elise told us that Thorn had ordered your elimination for your failures at the Horn, but then why are his furies with you? Did the witch lie??"
Kelvin just sneered.
"Either you are a liar, or a fool," he said. "Both flaws are punishable by death!"
By this time, Tisaeara had closed the distance with the twins and drawn a wicked-looking sword from her belt. Trik had managed to get to his bow, and he stepped out from behind the wardrobe to fire, but the erinyes was too close. She batted his bow aside, slashing his arm in the process, then drove the blade through his belly. The ranger groaned as his eyes fluttered closed and he slid limply to the floor. Light flashed in the room as Melinoe appeared next to her sister. Trik frantically conjured a wall of whirling multi-colored lights around the furies, attempting to blind them so that he might try to escape. They both shot him anyway. Wounded, he backed away and wove a prayer of sanctuary about him. It didn't help. The fiends saw through the ruse and continued to fire arrows into him at point-blank range until he stopped moving altogether.

By this time, the other guests had started opening their doors and peering out into the hallway.
"You'll get those noggins back inside if ya wanna keep'em!" Lemmy growled.
One-by-one, the doors hastily closed. Back in the room formerly shared by Trik and Trak, Tardaesha sent out a mental call to Oddball. A moment later, the dev appeared.
"Get the bodies outside of town," 'Aesha commanded. "We'll meet you in the forest."
"Just a moment," Melinoe said, stepping in front of the daemon.
She reached down and pulled the iron circlets from the brows of the brothers.
"Cardinal Thorn has commanded that his tokens be returned to him."
Tardaesha nodded and told Oddball to collect the others.

A short time later, after Oddball and the furies had departed, the members of the 9th knot hastily made their exit from the inn...just as a squad of city guard entered the courtyard.
"What's going on in there?" the sergeant demanded.
"Nothing," Tardaesha shrugged and smiled sweetly. "We heard a disturbance from the back alley and we were just on our way to investigate."
The watchman's eyes drank in Tardaesha's attributes and he grinned lewdly at her.
"You'd best leave that sort of thing to the professionals, little lady," he said. "Don't want you getting hurt."
'Aesha batted her eyes at him demurely.
"Whatever you say, officer."
The guards hurried around the back of the inn, and once they were out of sight, the 9th Knot vanished into the night.

__________________________________________________________

Trak Rakburn was the sole survivor of the White Ravens, and it didn't take Dakota long to torture the details of Elise Zadaria's plan out of him. She was furious at being assigned to assist the 9th rather than be sent to find the Horn herself. She determined early on that it would be she who ultimately delivered the Tears of Achlys to Cardinal Thorn, and so she had bided her time, waiting for a suitable group of patsies to do her dirty work for her. She thought she had found that in the Banner Verdant. With her inside information, they would kill the Nessian Knot, and then she and the 7th would take the Horn and complete the mission. But her ambition did not end there. She hoped to continue to rise in power until she could get close the Thorn himself. Then she would destroy him and take control of the Nine Knots. When Talingarde was finally conquered, it would not be ruled by the followers of Asmodeus, but by the cult of Endless Winter, with Elise herself as the Witch Queen. Ah, the best laid plans...

______________________________________________________________


WEEK 19

"Dread Masters," Zikomo's familiar refrain sounded.
Kelvin didn't even bother to answer. He just glared malevolently at the oracle.
"A warrior has come seeking an audience," Zikomo continued, oblivious.
From behind the shaman, an obsequious boggard shuffled forward, wringing his webbed hands together.
"Me Five-Croaks," he gurgled, refusing to make eye contact with Kelvin. "Hunting bad. Tribe much suffering. Enemies of Dread Masters very dangerous. Need food. More good weapons."
"I see," Kelvin replied dryly. "And how much would these extra resources cost?"
Five-Croaks produced a rumpled piece of parchment from his belt pouch and passed it to Zikomo, who passed it to Kelvin. The mage read over it silently for a moment and then glanced up.
"Three-thousand five-hundred gold coins," he said.
Five-Croaks made no reply. He just trembled quietly. Several long moments of silence passed.
"Agreed," Kelvin said at last. "Your people will be resupplied."
Five-Croaks finally looked up, a broad grin on his grotesque face.
"However," Kelvin continued, and the boggard's face froze, "I can't just have you people traipsing up here whenever you like making expensive demands. No, that sort of thing needs to be discouraged."
He casually flicked one finger, and Five-Croaks erupted into flames. Within moments, he was reduced to ash and charred bone.
"Take him back to the tribe," Kelvin instructed Zikomo. "Let them know of the benevolence of their masters...and their wrath."

______________________________________________________________

WEEK 20

The Abbess Temperance Avigail of Saint Cynthia-Celeste grew ever more concerned. Through divinations and prayers, she had become certain that a foul ritual was happening within the Horn of Abaddon, and she was unsure if her sisters would have strength enough to stop it. She had heard no report from Inquisitor Harkon in some time, and Sister Marta was still missing, not to mention the many good people who had died in Farholde in recent weeks. She readied a dispatch to be sent by ship to Matharyn, requesting official aid from the Church of Iomedae. She only prayed that assistance would come before it was too late...

WEEK 21

News reached the Horn via the minions of the Ninth Knot that a crime wave had gripped Farholde. With the Duke gone, as well as most of the soldiers, there were not enough guardsmen to keep the peace. All proceeded according to plan.

WEEK 22

A message arrived via courier from Baron Vandermir. An associate of his, a noblewoman named Lady Shalyn Marsten, had requested a covert meeting with the members of the 9th Knot. Intrigued, Kelvin and the others agreed, and the tete-a-tete happened the following night. Lady Marsten, as it turned out, was a very savvy business-woman, and when the crime wave broke out, she saw an opportunity to eliminate several of her most bothersome rivals. She proposed an arrangement with the Nessians: see the to the quiet assassination of these individuals, and she would provide 1,000 gold coins per head. It was a generous arrangement, but Kelvin negotiated for a further twenty percent discount for the Knot in any of her business establishments, while Lemmy was able to arrange for his new and improved libation, Lemmy's Hard Lemonade, to be distributed at those same establishments. The deal was sealed in blood...

WEEk 23

Shocking news arrived from Farholde. Baron Vandermir's manor had been attacked and burned to the ground by, of all things, an enormous silver-scaled dragon! The Baron's body had not been found, and no one had seen nor heard from him since.

WEEK 25

"Are you sure about this?" Kelvin asked.
"Timeon was sure when he contacted me," Dakota smirked, "and he knows better than to mislead me."
"Knick-Knack confirmed that we will be assailed this week as well," Tardaesha added.
"Well then," Kelvin clapped his hands together, "this is cause for celebration! Sir Valin Darian, Heir to the Victor himself, is coming to us! We'd best prepare for our guests."

________________________________________________________________

For almost six months, Sir Valin Darian had been in agony. He knew in his heart and soul that something wicked was unfolding at the Horn of Abaddon, and yet his duty bound him to sit by and do nothing. Now, however, things had changed. Seven knights of the Alerion, old companions of Valin's, had recently arrived in Farholde, and finally he could bear it no longer. He had appointed his most capable lieutenant to defend the Hamarhall, and then he and his knights had ridden out for the Horn. They would trample whatever foulness had accumulated there, no matter what.

Their plan really had not evolved beyond that, and when the knights arrived at the Horn, they simply rode their steeds up the steep trail to the opening that led into the first level of the mountain. Unfortunately for them, they did not hear the silent alarm they tripped that alerted Kelvin of their arrival. By the time they reached the first major intersection of the winding corridors, they found the way blocked by Artephius. The rest of the Nessian Knot was arrayed behind him.
"Surrender!" Valin called as he reined his stallion to a rearing halt.
"You mean to surrender to us?" Kelvin called back. "Very well then. We accept!"
"This is your only chance," Valin growled. "Renounce your black vows and return with us to await judgment!"
In response, Lemmy hurled a blast of metal and stone towards the knight commander. As if born to the saddle, Valin wheeled his steed Marquesa to one side, pressing her body up against one wall as the barrage passed harmlessly by.
"You'll have to do better than that, foul miscreant!" Valin called, laughing.
"Artephius," Dorian said flatly. "Kill them all, but spare the leader."
"By your command," the golem intoned.
He cocked back one arm and flung a crackling bomb of electricity towards the knights. It missed the bulk of them, but when it hit the wall behind them, tendrils of current splashed on several of them and their mounts, causing the horses to squeal in pain and panic. A moment later, Marquesa whinnied shrilly and bucked beneath Valin. Struggling to get her under control, he looked down and saw a black-fletched arrow protruding from her flank. He looked up with hatred in his eyes and saw a darkly beautiful blonde woman kneeling with a bow in her hands. She blew him a sultry kiss.

Sir Valin had had enough. He lowered his lance and urged Marquesa into a gallop. He'd covered half the distance to the Asmodeans when suddenly he felt his mount shudder beneath him as her front hooves splayed out wide and her back legs slipped out from under her, sitting her haunches hard upon the ground. Valin looked down and saw the flagstones all around were coated in a layer of thick, black grease.
"Halt!" he called over his shoulder to the knights, who were preparing to follow his charge.
"Flanking maneuver!" he commanded.
The knights wheeled their horses about and began trotting down a side passage, looking for a path around to approach their enemies from the rear. Before Valin could turn back towards the devil-worshipers, Marquesa squealed in pain again. When he turned, he saw the last flicker of a what looked like a flight of fiery missiles strike his trusty steed. Floating in the air no more than a dozen feet away was a grinning ball of what looked like nothing but gnashing teeth. A woman was also moving quickly towards him, the identical twin of the one who'd shot Marquesa. She stepped nimbly across the greased floor and had closed to him before he was able to drop his lance and ready his shield. Tardaesha struck the knight commander, calling upon Asmodeus' vengeance to smite him. Sir Valin was nearly thrown from his saddle by the impact of the blow.

The knights of the Alerion rounded a far corner of the narrow hallway, and then the lead rider drew his horse up sharply. A lone figure stood at the far end of the passage, electricity crackling around his upraised hands.
"Fall back!" the knight shouted, but it was already too late.
Kelvin released the magic and the lightning ball hurtled down the corridor, detonating with an ear-splitting explosion as it struck the knights. Men wailed and horses screamed as electricity coursed through them, and when its light flared then extinguished, it left only smoking corpses in its wake.

As Sir Valin struggled to regain his balance and free his sword, Marquesa reared and sank her teeth into Tardaesha's shoulder. The anti-paladin hissed in pain and recoiled, and that's when Sir Valin brought his sword down across her back...hard! Tardaesha stumbled, but still managed to bring her own blade back around in a back-handed blow, landing the flat across Valin's temple. He reeled again, and then Knick-Knack sent another magic missile barrage flying at him. The knight fell backwards from the saddle and struck the floor with terrific force, where he lay stricken and unconscious.
"Now, little pony," Tardaesha snarled, turning towards Marquesa, "I've always wanted to know what horse tastes like!"
 

SolitonMan

Explorer
Awesome update! I didn't think the 7th would go down like such punks, but I guess with all the firepower of the 9th it was inevitable.

Great story, thanks for sharing JD! :)
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
Thanks! The 7th got taken by surprise, so they really didn't have a chance to flex their muscles. Good planning by our "heroes."
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
22 Gozran, 4717 - 9 Sarenith, 4717 - Five Days To Darkness

Forty-seven days. That was all the time remaining until the ritual to recall Vetra-Kali would be complete. At Kelvin's urging, and much to Dakota's displeasure, the Nessian Knot decided they were not going to take any more chances with invaders disrupting the proceedings. The best solution seemed to be to barricade themselves, along with all of their servants and minions, on the third level of the Horn. Lemmy blasted the spiral staircase leading from the second level to rubble, while Dorian shaped the stone surrounding the archway that led to the outside balcony into one continuous piece, blocking the opening completely. They were sealed in.

A week passed. Dakota grew ever more restless. She had never been fond of staying in one place for any period of time, and the boredom and tedium threatened to turn her positively homicidal. Finally, late one night, just as she was ready to start practicing her torture skills on some of the boggards, a dull BOOM sounded from beyond the archway that Dorian had plugged.
"Trouble," Tardaesha said as she came into the entry hall.
"About time!" Dakota whooped.
"And that's not all," Kelvin replied. "An alarm just sounded from the level below us. The assault is coming from two fronts. Is Knick-Knack still in the sanctuary?"
"Yes," Tardaesha nodded. "I just told him to use the Eye of Vigilance."
She paused for a moment, head cocked as if listening.
"He says its a large creature," she said at length. "It has three heads. One looks like a green-scaled dragon, another like a lion, and the third like a metallic bull. It also has wings."
"Sounds like a gorgimera," Kelvin said solemnly. "Stupid brutes usually bent on destruction. Zikomo! Go and find Ezra!"

The boggard oracle scuttled off and then returned a few minutes later. Rising through the floor behind him came the dread wraith followed by his three lesser minions. Ezra gestured towards the wall, and the smaller wraiths drifted through it. When they emerged on the platform beyond, the hulking gorgimera drew back in alarm. As one, the trio reached out and touched the beast, and it squealed in agony as it felt its very life essence being drained away. It leaped backwards, beating its wings furiously to take to the air. After it had flown several yards away, its draconic maw gaped wide and spewed a jet of bilious fluid across the undead. Though their forms were incorporeal, the acid still burned them and they withdrew hastily back inside the Horn. Ezra's pallid face darkened in rage as he flew through the wall himself and into the night sky beyond. The gorgimera, still hovering cautiously, unsure whether or not to resume its assault on the wall, was taken by surprise. Ezra closed the distance rapidly and seized the beast by the throat of its dragon head. Already weakened, it struggled to stay aloft as its soul was rapidly siphoned. Within seconds it was no more than a withered husk which Ezra cast aside carelessly. He returned silently inside the Horn, gathered his brethren, and disappeared through the floor once more.

_______________________________________________________________


"I'm tired of waiting around," Katarina announced. "I'm going downstairs to look around for any more trouble."
"Yeah, I'm needin' to stretch my legs too," Lemmy growled, rising to follow her.
"The whole point of this was to stay together so we couldn't be picked off," Kelvin objected.
"Scar and I will go with them," Roger said, patting the big tiger affectionately. "We won't be long, and we'll contact Hexor if we run into any trouble."
The four of them went to the teleportation circle and promptly vanished.

Ten minutes later, Knick-Knack's voice piped up in Tardaesha's head.
'Mistress!' he said excitedly. 'I sees something! Little floating lights! They invisible! Moving closer to friends down below!'
"Trouble," Tardaesha told the others. "Dakota, Oddball, with me! Kelvin, have Hexor warn Roger. Something's stalking them!"

_____________________________________________________________

"That was Hexor," Roger said, bringing his companions to a halt. "We're not alone down here."
No sooner had the words left his mouth than a flash of light sizzled out of the darkness, and a jarring bolt of energy struck him, coruscating across his armor in electric tendrils. Katarina whirled and saw that they were surrounded by four bobbing globes of eerie, green light. She whipped a dagger from her belt and hurled it at one of the orbs, not really expecting much. To her surprise, the knife stuck in the light as if it had hit a solid object, and she heard a high-pitched keening cry of pain. Roger managed to pull himself together and stop jittering long enough to channel the power of Asmodeus through his holy symbol, sending out a wave of dark magic that washed over all of the wytch lights. They all trembled and shrilled as the energy struck them.
"Hands off my boyfriend!" came a cry from the darkness, followed by a volley of arrows.
Two black-feathered shafts impaled one of the lights and it promptly dimmed then vanished. Dakota stepped out of the shadows, closely followed by Tardaesha. The three remaining orbs were undeterred. As one they unleashed electric jolts into Roger, and he danced like a puppet on a string. Almost by reflex, he channeled again, and the creatures recoiled once more. Then Kat leaped at one and drove another of her knives into it, causing it to wink out of existence. Dakota brought her bow up fired two arrows into each of the last pair, destroying them as well.

_________________________________________________________________

Despite the two simultaneous and seemingly random attacks, the next month at the Horn passed quietly. Dorian inferred that the gorgimera and the will-o-wisps had been drawn to the mountain by the ever-increasing power emanating from it as the ritual neared its climax. Whatever the case, whether there were no more monsters in the area or whether they were too afraid, there were no more attacks.

During that interval, Katarina decided to pay a visit to Farholde. She wanted to touch base with the Ninth's contacts in the city and see if there was any information worth following up on. Her informants were able to tell her that the rumor in the underworld was that the dragon that had destroyed Baron Vandermir's mansion may have spent some time in the city disguised as a human. In this way it may have uncovered the Baron's involvement with events at the Horn. Kat also heard that the disappearance of Sir Valin had served to discourage any further concerted attempt to the assault the Horn.

_________________________________________________________________

Five days before the end of the ritual, the temple was wracked by a tremendous earthquake. The ground itself seemed to rebel against the blasphemy being perpetrated in the Sanctum. Within the Sanctum there was a horrific ear-splitting scream, and for a moment a shadowy apparition manifested over the silver seal. It reached out six clawed hands and grasped at the seal, scratching and clawing. The seal was gouged and marred, and the echo of unholy laughter was heard as the apparition faded away. Vetra-Kali was close at hand.

Throughout the upper levels of the Horn, stone and masonry collapsed, and many boggards, as well as Zikomo, Oddball and Lemmy's hell hounds were injured by the debris. The entire west wing of Lemmy's Death's Head Tavern broke off and fell down the side of the mountain. On the first level of the Horn, the basin of the great fountain cracked, spilling hundreds of gallons of water throughout the courtyard. On the second level, several rooms collapsed completely, making them inaccessible and ruining several of the pit traps the Ninth had so painstakingly restored. The third level also suffered severe structural damage, with several archways and internal walls collapsing. In one chamber an entire exterior wall caved in and fell to the valley below, creating a new entrance into the Horn. Finally, in the cell block, all of the cell doors sprang open in unison, releasing Sir Valin, one of his Alerion knights, and Trak Rackborn. Fortunately, they all remained shackled.

"Kill them," Kelvin said, indicating Trak and the knight. "Nothing and no one is going to interfere with the completion of this ritual! Zikomo, have your warriors bring Sir Valin to the Sanctum, then assemble all of your people there. It's going to be our home for the next five days."
The boggards rushed to comply, while Tardaesha and Dakota calmly and efficiently slit the throats of the two prisoners. Once all the members of the 9th Knot and their minions had gone up the spiral staircase to the Sanctum above, Kelvin ordered Hexor to remain below. The daemon would serve as rear guard and early warning system.

____________________________________________________________

Midnight. All of the torches inside the Horn momentarily flickered, while outside, the green fire that surrounded the mountain briefly sputtered. Roger straightened from where he'd been leaning against a wall passing the time of his watch shift. He sensed something. A flash of white light suddenly burst in the air at the center of the Sanctum. When it cleared, a figure hovered there. Great feathers swept back from the fierce bird-man's brow, and long, clawed hands grew from the end of his wings.
"You have come to the wrong place, agathion!" Roger's voice boomed as he drew his blade. "The light of Iomedae does not shine here! Leave now while you still can!"
For a moment the avoral's features grew uncertain, but then his eyes went steely once more. He spread his wings wide and shrieked like a raptor diving at its prey. Many of the boggards quailed at the sound and scuttled for the spiral stairs. Even Katarina looked shaken, her mouth slack and her eyes wide. Then Ezra Thrice-Damned rose from the floor like liquid shadow. The angel did not falter. Instead he thrust one finger towards the wraith and a salvo of pure white force missiles slammed into Ezra. He howled inhumanly and recoiled.
"I am Brastius Star-Feather!" the avoral cried. "The evil you do here has not gone unnoticed! I am but the first to arrive, but I shall make certain that your foulness does not spread!"

By this time, Ezra's spawn had joined their master, and one of them flew towards the celestial. It reached out and grabbed Brastius' wrist. Hissing at the vileness, Brastius jerked his arm away, glaring at the black handprint burned into his flesh. A moment later unholy power washed over him as Roger channeled Asmodeus' power. Brastius folded his wings around his body and abruptly vanished, only to reappear a second later beside the altar of Vetra-Kali. Knick-Knack, who'd been cowering behind the shrine, shrieked and started to fly away, but the avoral raked him with his talon-like claws. The little cacodaemon wailed and flew drunkenly into a wall, bounced off and fell to the floor stunned. Brastius turned back to the shrine, and came face-to-face with Kelvin.
"It won't be that easy," the wizard smiled, snapping his fingers and erecting an emergency sphere of force about himself and Sir Valin, who was chained to the altar.
Alas, Kelvin's mistake was in thinking that the knight was Brastius's target. Instead the avoral calmly reached out and plucked one of Vetra-Kali's eyes from its socket in the statue. Then he tapped it against the force shield and smiled grimly back at Kelvin.

Brastius began to move away from the altar, but then a pair of Ezra's wraiths emerged from the floor beneath him and grabbed at his legs. He looked down in surprise, and that's when Vexor charged into him, head down, and bowled him backwards into the shrine, threatening to overturn the massive statue. Brastius struggled to disentangle himself from the big daemon, only to find all three of the smaller wraiths surrounding him and reaching for him, their touch deathly cold. An arrow took the avoral through one shoulder as Dakota's bow twanged, and then a metallic hand wrapped around his neck from behind when Artephius moved in close. As his airway threatened to collapse, Brastius gathered his breath to cast one last spell to open a dimensional portal allowing him to escape. He never got the chance. Lemmy blasted a whole clean through his chest with fist-sized chunks of earth and stone.

___________________________________________________________________

Deep within the catacombs of the Horn, the uncontrolled magic that continued to build high above in the Sanctum permeated and saturated a long-simmering pool of mud. Suddenly the morass exploded upwards in a great geyser, coalescing into a massive, semi-humanoid form. The newly-created elemental gazed around its new environment for a moment, and then looked up towards the ceiling. Somewhere above it could sense powerful energy. It could feed on such energy and grow even stronger. It sank its tendrils into the loose sand at its feet and began to glide through it as easy as if were water, searching for a way out.

___________________________________________________________

"From now on, unless they are in use, I'm keeping these with me," Kelvin said, pocketing the three eyes of Vetra-Kali."
"Do you think it's wise for one person to have all three?" Roger asked.
Kelvin turned, starting to respond when a massive pounding sounded from across the Sanctum on the other side of the wall Dorian had created to block ingress from the outside. A moment later the wall simply imploded, and clinging to the side of the mountain outside was what appeared to be a huge humanoid creature made entirely of mud.

Ezra and his wraiths reacted in an instant, but as they approached the breach, the first rays of down broke over the horizon. The undead creatures immediately shrank back into the shadows, afraid of the killing light.
"Artephius! Kill!" Dorian commanded his automaton.
The golem lurched to life and plucked a glowing ball of electricity from its belly. Cocking one hand back, it hurled the bomb right into the center of the viscous elemental. As it exploded, both Knick-Knack and Kelvin loosed a fusillade of magic missiles into the elemental as well. It roared and pitched forward into the Sanctum, but as it struggled to regain its bearings, Ezra pounced. The dread wraith latched onto the creature and did not let go until it was a withered husk that crumbled away into dust.
 

R-Hero

Explorer
I loved the "Knick-Knack is a sorcerer" sidebar. The companions of the group are getting more colorful.

Knick Knack, Oddball...
Scar?? Dire Tiger for an anti paladin...Big Alice is not amused!!
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
I loved the "Knick-Knack is a sorcerer" sidebar. The companions of the group are getting more colorful.

Knick Knack, Oddball...
Scar?? Dire Tiger for an anti paladin...Big Alice is not amused!!



If paladins are Bama fans, it just stands to reason that anti-paladins would be Auburn fans
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
THE LAST PRAYER - 9 Sarenith, 4717 - 14 Sarenith, 4717

Sunset, day 218 of the ritual.

"Well I'll be damned," Kelvin murmured from where he stood near the altar, peering into the Eye of Vigilance.
"Eventually," Tardaesha smiled, "as will the rest of us, I'm sure."
Kelvin ignored her.
"It seems we have a visitor down at the lower entrance," he said. "Send Oddball down to fetch him, won't you sister?"
Tardaesha looked confused and slightly annoyed, but still snapped her fingers at her minion.
"Go," she sniped. "See who's there and bring them back up here. Don't dawdle!"

Less than a minute later Oddball returned, a filthy and thoroughly disheveled individual by his side. The figure looked up, his eyes bloodshot. His hair was long and straggly, and his beard looked as if it had not been trimmed in weeks. His clothing, though perhaps once fine, now hung in ragged tatters about his thin frame.
"You!" He pointed one boney finger at Kelvin. "This is all your fault!"
Kelvin blinked, uncertainty on his face. That voice was...familiar.
"Baron?" He said. "Is that you?"
"Of course it's me!" Baron Vandermir spat. "Though I'm sure you're surprised to see me! You likely thought me dead!"
"As a matter of fact," Kelvin shrugged. "That tends to happen when one's home is demolished by a dragon."
"A dragon who's wrath you brought down upon me!" Vandermir shrieked.
"How did you come to that conclusion?" Kelvin asked cooly.
"With...this!" The Baron threw up his hands and turned about, indicating the Sanctum and the Horn itself. "All of this! I warned you, didn't I? I told you to be discreet lest you attract undue attention! But no! That is not your way, is it? Everything must be so dramatic! It was only a matter of time before the Iomedaens linked me to you!"
Lemmy pointed a finger directly into Vandermir's face.
"You got a smart mouth!" He growled. "You talk too much. Loose lips sink ships and all that. I say we just kill you now and tie up any odds and ends."
Vandermir blanched and took an involuntary step backwards.
"Now Lemmy," Dakota chided, "look at the poor man. He's desperate. The least we can do is offer him sanctuary. He might still have his uses."
"I tend to agree," Kelvin said. "But know this, Baron: your plight is of your own making. You knew full well what you were getting into. I'll hear no more of it if you plan on remaining here. The Ritual is nearly at an end. After it's conclusion we will be out of your hair and about our business."
Vandermir was silent and glowering for a moment.
"Fine," he said at length. "You have my gratitude for your...hospitality."
He bowed slightly then turned stiffly and walked away.

________________________________________________________________

Vetra-Kali was not the only being barred from entering the world. The powerful magic of the ritual could be useful to liberate any number of others banned from the light. On midnight of the 219th day of the ritual, from the corners of reality, six minions of just such a creature emerged into the Sanctum. They did not come to save Talingarde, but instead to slay anyone involved in conjuring the transdimensional rift, and then see that when the portal opened, it was not Vetra-Kali who emerged, but their own dark master, trapped in the black spaces between the stars for eons.

The creatures were gaunt, long-limbed quadrupeds with huge, soulless eyes and toothy maws, and they moved with a predatory grace as they stepped from the shadows of the corners of the Sanctum. One of them opened its jaws wide and exhaled a cloud of dense fog which enveloped the altar. Two more of them locked eyes on Hexor and Oddball, and then thin green rays lanced from them, surrounding the two daemons in an emerald shimmer. Instinctively they knew that their dimension-hopping abilities had been neutralized.

The members of the 9th Knot and their minions, though taken by surprise, did not hesitate to leap to the defense of the Sanctum. The other-dimensional hounds, however, where not so easy to engage. Seemingly at will, they would retreat into a corner of the chamber and disappear, only to reappear an instant later from another corner. Even when engaged directly, their milky-eyed gaze would literally rip the flesh from their assailants. The hounds steadily advanced towards the altar, but Kelvin managed to erect a force shield around it, wary since the avoral's assault. By a process of attrition and overwhelming numbers, however, the creatures were taken down one by one. They did not go quietly, nor without taking their own toll. As Kelvin looked about the chamber in the aftermath, he saw no less than six boggards lying dead on the floor, as well as one of Lemmy's three hellhounds. And there were still four days to go...

____________________________________________________________

The following morning the dragon attacked...

Argossarian was a young, idealistic silver dragon who had long dwelt in the north, hunting monsters and bugbears. For decades he had been a self-appointed champion of nobility and virtue. His shadow was the last thing that countless bugbears and bandits had seen. In recent times, however, had had been troubled by what he had heard from his agents in the south. The flash of green light from the long-forsaken Horn of Abaddon had been the last straw. He had immediately set out for Farholde, but when he had arrived he could never have imagined how bad things had gotten. The city was gripped by fear. Would-be heroes were dying with their throats cut. Anyone who had dared to venture to the Horn had never come back. Argossarian knew there had to be a connection in town, and for months he had secretly searched for it. He finally thought he'd found the answer in Baron Arkov Vandermir. Imagine his surprise when, while ransacking the Baron's ruined manor, he had discovered the man's journal.
"What are they doing out there?" the journal had read. "Can they really be rebuilding the Sons of the Pale Horseman? Are they really that mad?"
Argossarian was horrified.

The silver dragon was 80 years old, born in the year of the Victor's raid upon the Horn. His mother, the mighty wyrm Antharia Regina, had weaned him on tales of the Sons' wickedness and the Victor's heroics. Could it really be that some fragment of their cult had survived and was struggling to return the daemon prince Vetra-Kali Eats-The-Eyes to reality? Argossarian knew that his moment had come. He would attack the Horn of Abaddon. He did not know what he would find there, but whatever dwelt in that cursed place he would destroy.

________________________________________________________________

The exterior wall of the Sanctum exploded inward behind the force of Argossarian's tail.
"Defend the altar!" Kelvin shouted as he hurled a fireball through the hole.
The spell exploded, engulfing the mighty dragon, but as the flames dissipated, Argossarian was unscathed, his innate resistance to magic sloughing off the attack.
"Stop him!" Kelvin commanded Hexor and Vexor.
The twin daemons rushed towards the opening, closely followed by Lemmy's hounds. As they reached the hole, however, the dragon exhaled a cloying cloud of green vapor over them. It seemed to have no visible effect on the daemons, but one of the hellhounds keeled over, paralyzed. Enraged, Argossarian landed heavily on the lip of the opening, driving Hexor and Vexor back. He felt a sudden sharp stab of pain as Dakota put an arrow in his shoulder, but with a snarl he ripped the shaft out with his teeth. When he turned back towards the den of evil, he saw a single individual approaching fast. It was a dark-haired human woman sheathed in armor from head to toe. She clutched a glowing sword in one hand while the other gripped a pentacle medallion that hung from her neck. Argossarian reared up and prepared to rip her apart limb from limb, but the woman was a split-second faster. Tardaesha darted inside the dragon's reach and thrust her blade upwards with all her might, summoning the power of Asmodeus to smite her foe down. The dragon screamed in agony as black fire exploded around him. Tardaesha withdrew her blade and then slashed twice more in diagonal sweeps, opening up horrible wounds in the silver-scaled hide. Argossarian was in shock. He'd never endured such agony, and he realized with horrible certainty that he was about to die. How could this have happened? How could he have so terribly underestimated these foes? Worst of all, what would happen now that he would no longer be able to protect the world from them? These were his last thoughts as he tumbled backwards out of the hole and plummeted towards the base of the Horn.
Tardaesha turned, wiping her blade on her tabard.
"Knick-Knack," the said calmly, "be a dear and go collect that dragon's soul for me, would you?"

______________________________________________________________

Day 221 - Sunset Ritual

"Dread Masters," Zikomo's familiar refrain called out.
"This is not a good time!" Kelvin growled from where he stood before the altar watching Dorian perform the evening prayers.
"This is...important," Zikomo persisted.
Tardaesha, who'd been standing beside Kelvin, turned towards the oracle. That was when she noticed that behind Zikomo stood the entirety of the Bane-Wog tribe.
"I have learned there may be traitors among you," Zikomo said.
"What?" Tardaesha asked, perplexed. "What are you talking about? Who would betray us?"
"What do the Dread Masters plan to do with the Horn when the ritual is complete?" Zikomo asked, ignoring Tardaesha's question.
'Aesha's brow furrowed in confusion.
"What are you rambling about?" She demanded. "I don't give a rat's ass what happens to this armpit when we are done here!"
Zikomo turned to his tribesman and raised his arms over his head.
"Do you see, my children!? It is as I foretold! They care nothing for Father Dagon! They will do their heretic god's will, and then leave our home in ruins! The time has come! Our time is now! We will reclaim what is ours!"
As one, all two-dozen of the assembled boggards croaked in unison, the noise deafening in the confines of the Sanctum. So unnerving was the cacophony that many of those assembled, including Katarina, Grumblejack, Knick-Knack, Oddball, as well as Roger's tiger and Lemmy's hellhounds, were struck with terror at the sound.

"You treasonous toad!" Tardaesha shrieked.
She leaped towards Zikomo, her sword out in a flash. Before the boggard could react, the anti-paladin has slashed his throat then impaled him through the heart. He fell to the ground in a gurgling heap. Behind her, Dakota followed her twin's lead, kneeling and firing arrows into the mass of boggards at will. Dorian, still in the midst of his prayers, paused and sighed in exasperation.
"Artephius!" He commanded. "Deal with this interruption!"
"As you wish, my master," the golem bowed.
With a mechanical whine of gears, Artephius palmed a glowing orb of electricity and hurled it into the midst of the boggards. It exploded, bathing most of them in coursing current.

"Ezra?" Kelvin asked, noticing the dread wraith and his minions hovering silently at the edge of the melee.
Ezra turned towards the wizard and nodded once.
"Yes," he intoned. "You are correct. It is time. My servants and I will complete the ritual once you and yours are no more. It will be I who greets Vetra-Kali upon his return, and I who will once more serve as high priest of the Horn of Abaddon."
At a gesture from him, the lesser wraiths swarmed at the still cowering Katarina, grabbing and tearing at her with their incorporeal talons. She screamed in fear and agony, then ran shrieking from the Sanctum.
"Well this complicates things," Kelvin muttered. "Hexor, Vexor, are you still loyal?"
The daemons' eyes glowed with hatred, but with clenched jaws they both nodded.
"We are yours to command as long as you hold the amulets," Hexor said.
"Good," Kelvin nodded, "then handle those wraiths!"

Hexor opened his jaws and breathed a torrent of lightning on Ezra's minions. They scattered like leaves from the assault, while Ezra himself flew quickly towards the altar.
Kelvin saw him coming and instantaneously erected a sphere of force around the statue and the eyes. Rage blazed in Ezra's own eyes as he rounded on the wizard, but then his attention was drawn away by Tardaesha closing in from behind. He spun and thrust his hand towards the anti-paladin's chest. She pivoted just in time and it only passed through her shoulder. Still, the pain was incredible. She recoiled momentarily, but then charged in again, her blade slashing into the tattered robes of the wraith.

Lemmy was the only one holding the line against the horde of boggards. As they charged him, he manifested a ten-foot long spear of metal that impaled a half-dozen of the warriors. A moment later the entire mob was engulfed in an explosion of acid. When the spray cleared, all that was left of the Bane-Wogs were smoking and pitted bones. Lemmy looked back at Kelvin.
"I had'em!" He sneered.
"No doubt," Kelvin said, "but we'd be better served if you were dealing with the other wraiths."

Baron Vandermir watched the chaos unfolding around him from the deep shadows in a far corner of the Sanctum. Indecision tore at him as he gazed about in disbelief. Finally, he made up his mind. He dipped his hand into a pouch on his belt and scooped out a pinch of fine powder. He tossed it into the air and as it settled over him, he vanished.

Dakota drew her special arrows from her quiver, the ones she'd coated with ghost salt. As the wraiths began to swarm around Lemmy and Tardaesha, she begin letting her shafts fly. The undead screeched when the arrows pierced them as if they were flesh and blood. Then Vexor was there, breathing lightning onto the wraiths. As they fell back, Lemmy managed to impale one them with another metal spear, as well as Ezra. With a final, inhuman howl, Ezra Thrice-Damned vanished from the world forever. His remaining minions followed him shortly after on the point of Tardaesha's sword and Dakota's arrows.

Lemmy's heightened senses, acutely attuned to the ground beneath his feet, detected the slight tremor of a footstep behind him a fraction of a second too late. Vandermir reached out and touched the back of the dwarf's head, an incantation on his lips. Lemmy's thoughts grew fuzzy. He couldn't concentrate, couldn't focus. He looked around, and found it hard to remember where he was and what he was doing there. Had there been a fight? Another footstep behind him. Reacting purely on instinct, he whirled and sent a blast of rubble at nothing, but he heard a grunt of pain from nearby. A moment later he saw a large figure closing in...Gummy Bear? Was that his name? The ogre had a big sword, and he slammed it down on the empty floor behind Lemmy. Another groan of pain. Then a voice starting chanting nearby, and Lemmy turned around. He saw a man in red robes raise his hands above his head. He felt like he should know that man, but wasn't sure if he was supposed to kill him or not. The wizard finished his spell and sparkling dust filtered down all around Lemmy. It settled on someone he hadn't seen a moment earlier...a cowering, whining little whelp of a man.
"You betrayed Asmodeus!" Vandermir cried. "You never intended to serve him! You planned on returning the Pale Horseman to power all along!"
The little man then pointed a skinny finger at the other wizard and shot rays of fire at him. The other wizard...maybe he was Lemmy's friend after all...danced back, batting frantically at his flaming robes. Nearby, a mechanical construct of some sort clanked forward. It held an orb of crackling electricity in one hand, and then it threw the ball at the whiny man. When it struck him he jerked and twitched like a marionette for a moment, and then he fell to the floor and didn't move any more.
"I find your lack of faith disturbing," another robed man said. Dory? Was that his name?
Lemmy just shrugged, reached for his belt flask and then wandered off to a corner to sip his lemonade.

____________________________________________________________

Ritual Day 222...Sunrise

The Sanctum was much quieter and far less crowded without the constant croaking of the boggards. Lemmy's mind had been restored by Dorian, and all of the corpses had been tossed out of the hole in the wall left by Argossarian. Lemmy had then set about repairing the breach. It didn't seem worth it to him, seeing as all of this nonsense would be wrapped up by midnight, but it made Kelvin feel better. He had just finished placing the last stone when a flash of light drew his attention to the center of the room.
"Now what?" He grumbled.

As the light faded, four figures stood revealed. Foremost among them was a tall, broad-shouldered man clad in full plate armor and bearing a large shield emblazoned with the symbol of Iomedae. Next to him stood an older man, tonsured, and wearing a breastplate. He held a wood shield, and around his neck hung a partially burned wooden symbol of Iomedae. Behind these two was a bald, bearded individual wearing dark robes and with a hawk perched on one shoulder. Last was a wild-haired, wild-eyed bear of a man, also wearing breastplate, and gripping a viciously serrated greatsword in both hands.
"I am Sir Richard Thomasson Havelyn," the leader announced, "son of Lord Thomas Havelyn who gave his life at the battle of Balentyne. My comrades are Brother Carthus Donnagin, brother to Father Althus Donnagin, Erik "the Falconer" Varning, cousin of Captain Ryan Varning, and Meinhard Mott, brother of Captain Franz Mott."
"That's Mad Meinhard to you curs!" the big man growled.
"We are the Sons of Balentyne!" Sir Richard shouted. "It was I who exposed the assassination attempt against King Markadian, and from those would-be murderers I learned of the nefarious plot against Balentyne! Alas that I arrived too late to save my father! Still, my journey was not in vain. It was not difficult to follow your trail of murder to Farholde, and it didn't take much more effort to learn of your plan to return the daemon Vetra-Kali from exile, though I cannot guess as to why worshipers of Asmodeus would do such a thing. Furthermore, I do not care. All that is important is that we shall stop you from completing your foul ritual, and avenge or kinsmen in the process!"

No one spoke for several moments, nor was any other sound heard save for the low growling of Lemmy's hounds. Then, with deliberate slowness and intent, Dakota raised her bow and put two arrows into Erik Varning's chest. The wizard looked down for a moment in disbelief, but before he could do more than gawp at his predicament, Dorian hurled a fireball into the midst of the Sons. No sooner had it detonated than Kelvin followed it up with an explosive ball of razor-sharp ice shards, and then Lemmy's pets added their fire breath to the mix. When the smoke and mist cleared, Varning lay unconscious on the floor. A moment later Sir Richard went down beneath Artephius' bombs, and Mad Meinhardt followed when Lemmy pulverized his skull with a kinetic blast of fist-sized rocks. Only Brother Donnagin remained. He stood stupefied and reeling from his many wounds, staring about him in disbelief. He opened his mouth to speak, but that's when Scar seized him from behind by the neck. The dire tiger shook the old priest like a rag doll until he was no longer moving, then carried his meal somewhere he could enjoy it in peace.

"Poor fools," Roger said, shaking his head. "To come all this way just to die. So much for vengeance."
That was when Sir Richard's body simply vanished.

__________________________________________________________

Midnight

Sir Valin Darian's corpse still lay upon the altar where Dorian had performed the final sacrifice during the Call Across the Void at sunset. All the members of the Ninth Knot stood gathered around the silver seal, silent and expectant. Without warning, the seal abruptly shattered, spraying the companions with shards of silver that burned their skin like molten lava. In its place was a swirling gateway into eternal night. From somewhere within the portal echoed a familiar voice, as alien and malevolent as ever.
"I am," it said, and then Vetra-Kali himself emerged.

He was a black-winged nightmare, tall and gaunt, looming over the mortals before him. His legs bent backwards like those of a goat, ending in cloven hooves. Six arms sprouted from his pale torso, three of them gripping wicked daggers that dripped with corruption. His head was skull-like, topped by a singe crooked horn, and three eyeless sockets stared out at nothing.
"My eyes," the daemon cried. "Where are my eyes?"
"We have them," Tardaesha answered.
"Give them to me!" Vetra-Kali screeched.
"We shall," replied the anti-paladin, "but first you must swear not to harm any worshiper of Asmodeus present."
Vetra-Kali growled and snarled for a moment, but then nodded his head.
Tardaesha carefully placed the Eye of Vigilance in the daemon's outstretched hand. Vetra-Kali popped the gem into his mouth, and a moment later it appeared, glowing green with malevolence in the center socket. With an inhuman shriek, Vetra-Kali flew over the heads of the companions and landed like a bird of prey upon the back of Scar, the dire tiger.
"No!" Roger shouted, reaching for his blade.
It took both Dakota and Lemmy to restrain him as the daemon prince ripped out the tiger's throat and bathed himself in Scar's blood.
"You did that on purpose!" Roger snarled at Tardaesha.
She stood open-mouthed, realizing the error of her wording.
"I...I didn't," she stammered.
"I won't forget this!" Roger hissed.
"It is good," Vetra-Kali cawed in his high-pitched carrion-bird voice, "to be home!"
He turned back towards the others and stalked forward, casually reaching out to snap the necks of both of Lemmy's remaining two hellhounds as he came. It was Roger's turn to hold back the dwarf.
"For the second of your eyes," Kelvin said, holding up the Eye of Hatred, "we require the Tears of Achlys."
"My gift to the world?" Vetra-Kali cocked his head. "You wish it? Do you swear that you will see it dispersed among the mortals?"
"That is our plan," Kelvin nodded.
Vetra-Kali cackled in delight, and then opened one hand. In its palm was a crystal vial of deep ebony. Kelvin took it cautiously, reverently, while simultaneously handing over the second eye. Vetra-Kali consumed it as well, and then his right eye socket illuminated.
"For the last eye," Dorian said, displaying the Withering Eye, "we demand that you make those of us in this room immune to the Tears."
The daemon considered for a moment, and then nodded.
"Granted," he said.
Dorian gave over the eye for Vetra-Kali to consume. With all three sockets glowing, he turned to regard the silent forms of Hexor and Vexor.
"Return to me the true names of my minions," Vetra-Kali said quietly.
"No!" Dakota snapped. "They are ours to command. That wasn't part of the bargain."
"Very well," Vetra-kali smiled.
He turned to the ceustodaemons and opened his mouth. A cloud of corpse-bloated, biting back flies emerged, swarming around the pair. They screamed, flailing about as the insects burrowed into their flesh. As they struggled, Vetra-Kali rushed at them and slashed each of their throats with his knives.
"I believe our dealings have come to and end," he said to the companions.
 


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