Pathfinder 1E JollyDoc's Way Of The Wicked


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JollyDoc

Explorer
Labyrinth - 8 Abadius, 4718 - 9 Abadius, 4718

Beyond the hunting hall, the Ninth Knot found themselves at the entrance to a hedge maze. It was open to the sky and looked to be constructed of crude-cut field stones overgrown with moss, vines and flowers of a thousand sorts. There was something unnatural about the place....something that made it not seem quite real. The tiny motes of light that hovered in the air above the hedge only served to increase that otherworldly feel.

Katarina knelt in the dirt on the path, sniffing the air and feeling the soil.
"There are tracks here," she said after a moment. "Paw prints. Large dog or wolf I'd guess."
"I suppose we should follow them," Kelvin sighed, "unless anyone has a better idea."
They set off through the maze, Kat taking different turns and junctions seemingly at random as she kept her eyes on the packed earth.
"Kat...stop," Kelvin whispered after several minutes of this had passed.
Kat looked up at him, annoyed at the interruption, but then she saw the look of concern on his face and followed his gaze. One of the motes of light was moving towards them, flitting to and fro. When it was just a few feet above them, an eerie voice sounded in all of their heads.
'Say its name and this thing dies.'
Kelvin didn't hesitate.
"Secrecy," he replied.
The mote's light dimmed and it quickly drifted away.

Having no idea what the meaning of the strange riddle was, the companions continued following Kat's lead. They wandered for another hour or more before she stopped and threw up her hands.
"I feel like we've been here before," she said in exasperation. "I think we may be going in circles."
Before anyone else could respond, another of the motes drifted down from the trees.
'Say its name and this thing dies,' the voice repeated.
Kelvin opened his mouth to speak, but Kat motioned him quiet.
"Silence," she said.
The mote flared brightly, and abruptly the solid hedge in front of them parted, revealing a new path.

___________________________________________________________________

It was Katarina who first spotted the movement in the undergrowth on either side of the path. It was furtive and flitting, there one second and then gone the next. Before she could open her mouth to warn the others, a snarling, shaggy dog the size of a small horse suddenly appeared in front of them. Just as abruptly it vanished again, only to reappear a moment later slightly behind them. As it did, it opened its mouth and unleashed a bolt of electricity that set Lemmy jittering and dancing before it vanished again.
"Look to the hedge!" Kat cried out.
As the words no sooner left her mouth, a half-dozen more dogs, smaller than the first, appeared among the companions, blinking rapidly in and out of view as they darted back and forth, biting and yipping.

In an instant, it was pure chaos. Tardaesha, Roger and Grumblejack hacked everywhere with their swords, only to have their targets vanish from beneath them at the last second. Dakota plied her bow expertly, but more often than not her arrows struck nothing but dirt and wood. Kelvin managed to let loose a fireball, excluding his friends from the flames. All of the hounds howled and whined as their fur and backsides were scorched, but they still managed to avoid the brunt of the blast. Before he could cast again, the alpha appeared right next to him, jaws stretched wide. Kelvin threw his hands up, instinctively erecting a sphere of force between himself and the beast. The great hound snarled in frustration, then turned his attention to easier pray. Opening his mouth again, he let loose a deafening bark that rattled the insides of Grumblejack and Dorian.

Abruptly, the tide of the battle began to turn. Though the dogs were fast and gifted at avoiding the most devastating blows of their opponents, eventually their wounds began to take a toll, and one-by-one, they began to fall. Katarina managed to plunge a dagger into the throat of one just as it reappeared, while Lemmy shattered the bones of another with his earthen blast. Periodically the alpha would reappear, releasing another lightning bolt or shout, but he couldn't save his brood. As the last one fell beneath the Knot, the great hound howled in rage and sorrow and dove headlong into the midst of his foes. He whirled, snarling and snapping in all directions, momentarily keeping his enemies at bay, but he could only defend all flanks for so long. The last sight he saw were the descending blades of Grumblejack and Tardaesha.
"Ara Mathra!" he bayed with his last breath. "I have failed you, my Lord! The servants of Hell are coming!"

___________________________________________________________________

"They are coming," Sambethe sighed, rising to her feet.
Leaning heavily on her staff, she limped away from the large bonfire.
"It is inevitable," her companion replied, his voice as calm and implacable as ever.
"I fear we will not survive this day," Sambethe said. "I have foreseen it."
Her companion shrugged.
"Then that is our destiny," he said. "We are sworn to protect the Guardian Flame. Our sacrifice will provide the Lord-Abbot the time he needs to complete his task."
"Let us hope so, my friend," Sambethe sighed again and bowed her head.

____________________________________________________________________

"One to whom the mirror never lies...," the wispy mote asked its riddle.
"This is crap!" Lemmy bellowed. "Let's just blast the damn thing then cut our way through this cursed maze!"
"I don't think it works that way," Dorian said. "I think we have to play along with this particular game. In any case, this is an easy one. The answer is a blind man."
The mote winked once and then disappeared, revealing another opening in the hedge.

Beyond the new path lay an almost radiantly green patch of grass. It was not winter here, but perpetually spring, warmed by the radiant light of the Shining Lady. A group of four-legged creatures stood grazing in the center of the clearing. With draconic scales covering much of their bodies, the stag-like beings moved with awe-inspiring grace. They looked up, nostrils flaring as the Knot entered the clearing.
"Why do you defile these sacred fields?" one of them asked indignantly. "The stink of evil is upon you all! Does the great Ara Mathra know of your intrusion?"
"If he doesn't yet," Tardaesha grinned wickedly, "I'm sure he soon will, but rest assured my pretty ponies, it won't be you that tells him!"

The Knot descended upon the kirin with violent efficiency. The creatures tried to flee, taking to the air and hurling lightning bolts down upon their pursuers, but despite their speed, they could not fly faster than magic. Kelvin sent an explosion of acid among them, and as they struggled to recover from the blast, Tardaesha and Grumblejack overtook them. The Heavenly Herd were not natural warriors. They were peaceful creatures. The same could not be said of the Nessian Knot. The slaughter was absolute.

___________________________________________________________________

The mote hovered silently in air above the companions, patiently awaiting their answer.
"A wicked thing from which darkness flies," Dakota repeated. "That doesn't make any sense. Why would darkness flee from something wicked."
Kelvin snapped his fingers with a smile.
"That's it," he said. "It didn't say 'wicked.' It said 'wick'ed.'"
"That's what I said," Dakota replied.
"No," Kelvin shook his head, "wick'ed...like with a wick. The answer is a candle!"
The little orb of light pulsed once, then spoke again.
'The three at once where the answer lies.'
Then it abruptly vanished. No new path forward lay revealed, however.
"So now what?" Dakota asked no one in particular.
"Blast our way through!" Lemmy reiterated his earlier suggestion.
Kelvin glanced at the dwarf in annoyance.
"It's another riddle," he said. "The three at once...meaning the three answers: silence, a blind man, and a candle."
He thought for a moment, then said, "I have an idea. You're all going to have to trust me. All of you hold out your weapons."
The others looked dubious but complied nonetheless. Kelvin touched each one of them and spoke a short spell. As he did so, a weak flickering light, no brighter than a candle, appeared on the end of each.
"Now," he continued, "everyone close your eyes."
Skepticism again, but one-by-one the others did as he asked.
"Everyone be quiet," Kelvin said in a whispered voice. "Total silence."
Several long moments passed before he spoke again.
"Open your eyes."
The companions did so, and beheld a large glade before them that hadn't been there a moment before...and it wasn't empty.

__________________________________________________________________

A large bonfire burned in the center of the clearing and two figures stood before it. One was a powerfully-built, physically perfect specimen of humanity. He wore nothing but a loose robe and sash, and moved with inhuman grace and poise. Next to him was an impossibly beautiful young woman whose beauty was only marred by one lame and twisted leg. She was clad in armor and gripped a sword in one hand, looking almost angelic herself.
"I am Sambethe," the woman said, "Oracle of Iomedae. My companion is the Master of Serenity, head of Iomedae's Serene Order. Our Lord has decreed that we hold this glade and deny you further passage."
"Yeah, we met some of your type out in the valley," Grumblejack smirked at the monk. "If serene means dead, then they was pretty damn serene when we finished with'em!"
Nothing changed on the face of the large man, but there was a palpable shift in the air. The ogre leered at him, then hefted his huge blade.
"Lemme see if I can make you more serene too!"

Grumblejack closed the distance across the clearing in a half-dozen great strides. The Master of Serenity did not so much as twitch a muscle. When the ogre reached him, his sword swung in a wide arc across the man's belly. Cloth and skin parted and blood flowed freely, but no sign of pain showed upon his face. Instead he blurred into sudden movement, faster than Grumblejack could track him. He struck the ogre once behind a knee, and when the giant sagged, he followed up with a jab to the throat. Grumblejack gurgled, and that's when the monk hammered a fist into the middle of his sternum.

Nearby, Sambethe began casting a spell, but when Kelvin hurled a barrage of arcane bolts into her, the magic died on her lips. Drawing herself up, she prepared to cast again, but Roger charged her. She tried to dodge, but her twisted leg hampered her. Roger cut across her back as she turned away. She grunted but continued moving towards the great bonfire. Roger pursued, striking her again, the force of his blow knocking her completely into the flames.

"Well that was easy," Kelvin smiled. "Now to deal with her little friend...,"
Before he could complete that thought, the Master of Serenity came leaping through the bonfire, and as he landed on the far side his terrible belly wound had sealed itself shut. Kelvin's eyes went wide and he stumbled back, but the monk was lightning-fast and he was on the wizard in a flash. He grabbed Kelvin, pinning his arms to his side and then began to squeeze. That was when Sambethe abruptly rose out of the flames, her wounds completely healed. She opened her mouth and spoke a single word, but its power reverberated across the clearing, striking Roger and Katarina blind, while also deafening Grumblejack as well as rooting the ogre to the spot, paralyzing him.

Though Grumblejack was unable to move, that did not mean he was without options. Since his fiendish transformation, the ogre had gained magical abilities which, unlike Kelvin's spells, did not require him to speak nor gesture about. All he had to do was concentrate. Though no mental giant, Grumblejack was no slouch when it came to common sense. The bonfire in the midst of the clearing looked an awful lot like the one they'd found on the mountain of the phoenix. Could be that it was another one of the eternal flames they were supposed to put out, and doing so might just distract the monk and the oracle long enough for his friends to finish them off. Focusing on the flames, Grumblejack concentrated, summoning his dark magic. A moment later a greasy black miasma settled over the bonfire, snuffing it out in an instant. The effect was instantaneous. The ground trembled slightly and the sky darkened and then turned dark and red almost as blood. Somewhere in the distance there was the sound of breaking glass.

Grumblejack was correct. The extinguishing of the guardian flame got the attention of both Sambethe and the Master of Serenity. The monk released Kelvin, but as he did so his hands moved in a blur, striking the wizard about the head, chest and abdomen no less than six times. Fortunately, Kelvin had had the foresight to place a protective spell upon him before he'd entered the clearing, rendering his skin as hard as stone. He shook off the worst of the assault, though he still felt sore and bruised. The Master then turned away and stalked towards Grumblejack. As he moved, Lemmy blasted him with a barrage of rocks and debris, but the monk didn't seem fazed despite bleeding from a dozen different places. Roger and Tardaesha made to intercept the Master, but then Sambethe unleashed a blast of radiant energy which washed over the Knot, momentarily stunning them. Tardaesha whirled back towards the oracle and rushed at her, whipping her sword over her head before bringing it down on Sambethe's shoulder. She grunted in pain and staggered back, but not before uttering another Holy Word. Tardaesha's vision went black, as did Katarina's and Lemmy's.

Dorian was far enough away from the accursed oracle that he was not affected by her blasphemous spell, but the same could not be said for her when it came to his own magic. He cast the opposite of the divine smite she'd unleashed on his friends a moment before, and the unholy blight washed over both her and the monk. To his delight and relief, Sambethe collapsed, unconscious. As it happened, the oracle was standing near to Katarina when she fell, and though blind, Kat still heard the sound. She spun on her heel and plunged her daggers in that direction, managing to drive them both into Sambethe's chest. From across the clearing the Master of Serenity watched impassively. Then, almost casually, he reached up with both hands, grabbed Grumblejack on either side of his head, and snapped his neck.
"No!" Dorian cried as his cohort fell.
The monk turned towards him, but then Roger came lunging across the battlefield. Before the Master could raise his hands to ward off the half-orc, Roger had thrust his sword up beneath the man's breast bone and twisted it. No sign of pain nor distress shown on the face of the monk. Instead he smiled peacefully and closed his eyes for the last time.
 

Damn it has been a long time since checking in and what do I find? Not one but two new (at least for me) JollyDoc & Co. story hours? This is like birthday and christmas in one day !!!

Short post for now...must catch up! ;)
 




JollyDoc

Explorer
9 Abadius, 4718 - 10 Abadius, 4718 - The Cathedral of Iomedae Made Manifest

"We're staying here for the night," Kelvin announced to the others.
The companions were still recovering from their battle with the Master of Serenity and the oracle, Sambethe, while Dorian knelt over Grumblejack's unmoving form.
"I can bring him back," the priest said quietly. "We abandoned him once. I won't do it again, but I will have to wait until morning when I can pray for the miracle I need."
"Not to worry, little brother," Kelvin clapped him on the shoulder. "I will erect a magical shelter about us. It should shield us all from any prying eyes through the night. This close to that accursed church, I don't want to take any chances."

Once everyone's wounds had been tended, Kelvin cast his spell, creating an opaque dome that could accommodate them all. They could pass freely in and out of it, but no one could see inside where it was dimly lit and comfortably warm. As darkness fell, clouds began to form overhead, ominous and full, with flashes of lightning leaping among them and dull thunder rumbling from within. When the rain came, it fell in sleeting sheets, but none penetrated the little hut. Still, something about the storm made Kelvin uneasy.
"Did you hear that?" he asked after a particularly strong peal of thunder rolled across the sky.
"Thunder?" Lemmy paused in his drinking. "How could we not? Damn noise'll be keepin' me up all night!"
"No," Kelvin shook his head. "After that. For a moment I thought I heard a cry on the wind."
"You're jumping at shadows, brother," Tardeasha laughed. "All of this self-righteous sanctimony in which we find ourselves immersed is finally getting to you."
Kelvin let the jibe pass, but he knew he wouldn't be sleeping well either.

It was just past midnight when lightning struck the ground just outside the shelter, followed by a thunderclap so loud that the earth beneath them shook. Everyone jumped to their feet in an instant, startled out of restless slumber. The wind howled around the hut, and that's when they all heard the deafening, high-pitched shriek. The opaque plane of the dome was suddenly rent asunder as a bird the size of an elephant swooped through the top of it. Talons extended, it seized Timeon, who had rushed to Dakota's side, and disappeared through the far side of the hut. Kelvin sent a razor-sharp shard of flaming ice after it as Dakota shrieked in despair. A moment later, however, a second bird landed just inside the perimeter of the dome. Mounted on its back was a giant, fully twenty-feet in height, with violet skin and flowing white hair.
"How could anyone so tiny manage such vast acts of evil?" the giant bellowed. "No matter. After you've had a taste of my lightning you'll rue the day you turned to such deviltry! Ara Mathra was wise to call upon me. My flocks will deal with your minions back in Sanctum while I put an end to your miserable lives!"
He raised his hands above his head and electricity crackled between his fingers. Thrusting his hands forward, he sent the lightning leaping among the Ninth Knot, sizzling and burning each of them in turn. Tardaesha, her hair still standing on end, drew her sword and rushed the giant, but he swung an enormous sword that had been strapped across his back and smashed it into her while she was still over a dozen paces away. She bounced back to her feet and charged again, blood streaming from a large gash across her forehead. She ducked beneath another of the giant's swings, then thrust her own sword into his belly.

Kelvin glanced up towards where Timeon was being carried aloft, then back to where Tardaesha fought for her life. He made his decision in an instant. He flung his hands out and another flaming shard of ice lanced towards the storm giant, impaling his chest. The young mage followed this up with a fireball so powerful that it immolated the giant's roc mount before it could even think about taking wing. As the giant staggered backwards under the barrage, Roger rushed in behind him and swung his sword across both of the giant's hamstrings. With a groan, the behemoth collapsed like a fallen oak to the ground, his eyes closing as he lost consciousness. Roger drew himself up and caught his breath for a moment. That was when he heard a voice speak inside his head.
'Give him to me,' it said in cold Infernal.
The anti-paladin knew the voice of his patron instantly, and he didn't hesitate. He raised his sword again and drove it through the giant's heart.

Dakota's priorities were different. She watched as the other roc carried Timeon higher and higher.
"He belongs to me!" Dakota screamed.
She raised her bow and let fly a volley of arrows. Each of them struck true, one through the bird's eye, one through its throat and one through its breast. It shrieked, opening its claws reflexively as it spiraled out of the sky. Timeon began to fall.
"No!" Dakota cried
A moment later, however, Timeon floated gently downwards. Dakota turned and looked wide-eyed at Kelvin.
"I don't know what you see in that boy," her brother shook his head. "Yet how can I deny you, little sister?"

The clouds began to break apart and scatter, letting the light of the full moon shine down once more. As the last of them fled, more high-pitched shrieks sounded from on high. The companions looked upwards, prepared for another attack. They saw a flock of two dozen creatures winging towards them. They looked like eagle-headed horses...hippogriffs! They began to circle over their heads, faster and faster until finally a bolt of crimson lightning struck the flock from the clear sky. As it did so, their feathers turned black as midnight, and their eyes became blood-red. Horns grew from their skull and their claws became even more hooked and spiked. The taint of Hell was upon them. Roger looked up and smiled.
"You are welcome, my Lord," he said, bowing his head.

_________________________________________________________________

Grumblejack opened his eyes and then grinned up at Dorian.
"What'd I miss, Boss?" he asked groggily.
"Not much," the priest shrugged, "just a storm giant and his pet rocs attacking."
"Whew!" Grumblejack said, climbing unsteadily to his feet. "Is that all? At least that means you still left me a few angels to kill."

From the clearing, a winding set of narrow stairs led up the side of the mountain to the grand facade of the Cathedral of Iomedae Made Manifest. These were the legendary thousand steps that each prospective priest of Iomedae in the Order of Saint Marcarius had to climb. The grand facade itself was a baroque wonder of the world. It had not been carved by mortal hands, but instead by archons who adorned it with the iconography of a thousand martyrs and saints. The life-like figures all bowed in obeisance before the great and glorious undying light of Iomedae. The entrance appeared unguarded as the Knot approached. Fortunately for them, Kelvin had armed himself that morning with a spell capable of seeing the unseen. He raised one hand to stop the others.
"There are three individuals waiting up there," he whispered. "Angels all, and they're carrying flaming swords."
"Then by all means, let's not keep them waiting any longer," Tardaesha smiled.
"Wait!" Kelvin shouted, but it was too late.
Tardaesha was already on the move, and the others were following her lead, but Kelvin had seen the angels casting spells, and he knew exactly what they were doing. He tried to interrupt one of them by loosing magic missiles in its direction, but his spell fizzled before it ever touched the angel. The celestials were highly resistant to magic.

Tardaesha, Katarina and Roger rushed up the last of the stairs just as the three angels appeared. As Tardaesha raised her sword to strike the nearest one, she suddenly felt all of the protective magical wards she normally carried upon her just...vanish. Even her enchanted blade felt heavier in her hands. It was as if magic had stopped working altogether. That fact didn't seem to bother the angel as it slammed one gauntleted fist into her chest. She reeled backwards and could see that Roger and Kat were having the same problems. Though the angels did not seem to be able to use their own magic either, their sheer physical might was still impressive.
"Fall back!" Tardaesha shouted.
As she did so, however, she heard the twang of bowstrings behind her. Several arrows pierced the breastplates of the angels and the accursed creatures cried out in pain. Tardaesha turned and saw Dakota and Timeon standing behind her. Their bows seemed to have retained their magical properties. That's when it hit her. Whatever was blocking her own enchantments must have a limited area of effect.
"Keep firing!" she cried.
Dakota and Timeon were only to happy to oblige. As they continued to pepper the angels, Grumblejack joined Tardaesha and Roger. The trio were still formidable, even without their magic, and with Katarina's stealthy maneuvering behind the celestials, striking and retreating, it didn't take long for them to fall, along with their anti-magic field.

_____________________________________________________________

Roger pushed open the doors of the cathedral to reveal a great open hall covered in frescoes that depicted countless saints in Iomedae's service. The ceiling rose high overhead, ending in ornately vaulted panels adorned with art that could only be called masterpiece. It showed Iomedae as the light of the sun, the wrath of the fire and the warmth of a mother's love. It expressed more eloquently than a library full of books on theology the true meaning of what it meant to worship and revere the great goddess of light and life. The members of the Nessian Knot were not impressed. They were actually disappointed that the entirety of the cathedral was made of worked stone, which would make it that much more difficult to burn to the ground. They were, however, unsurprised to see that the entrance was not unguarded.

A half-dozen legion archons, similar to those the Knot had encountered on the docks, stood arrayed before them, barring passage deeper into the cathedral.
"Zealots," Kelvin sighed. "They can be so tedious."
He and Dorian proceeded to unleash twin fireballs upon the celestial guardians, while Lemmy started blasting earth and stone at them. Roger, Tardaesha, and Grumblejack waded in as Dakota and Timeon provided ranged support, and Katarina darted into the shadows, only to reappear behind the angels, ready to strike at their unprotected flanks.
________________________________________________________________

Taranea of the Ghaele, known as the Emissary in White, heard the sounds of conflict outside her door. She had originally come to the Cathedral of Iomedae Made Manifest to consult with Ara Mathra about the rising influence of Asmodeus and his minions in Talingarde. It had been her hope that something could be done before it was too late, but before she could even speak with the deva, the Vale of Valtaerna had been attacked. Taranea had been specifically ordered not to interfere in that conflict by the great lords of the azata. Still, to ignore the slaughter that had transpired had pained her greatly. She could have left days ago, but instead she had remained, waiting, unsure of what to do if the enemy got this far. She had been pacing her room, anxious to disobey her orders, when the fighting broke out literally on her doorstep. She knew what she had to do.

_______________________________________________________________

Kelvin watched the carnage with a smile upon his face. The so-called angels were no match for his friends and kinsmen. They would grind the servants of Iomedae beneath their heels at every turn, and that prospect made him exceedingly happy. He was still lost in his thoughts when a flicker of movement caught his eye. A door had somehow been opened on the other side of the hall, and Kelvin saw a beautiful woman, clad all in white, fly from the room on great feathered wings. The others paid her no heed, and Kelvin realized that was because she was invisible. As the new arrival hovered over the melee and prepared to cast a spell, Kelvin hurled a magic missile barrage her way...only to see them simply vanish before they got within ten feet of her. Cursing himself for forgetting the damnable aura more powerful angels surrounded themselves with, he followed up his attack with a blindingly fast spear of cold ice. The angel screamed and recoiled as the spear pierced her belly. Everyone on both sides of the conflict looked up at once at the sound of the disembodied cry. Then a pair of slashes opened across Dorian's chest as Taranea appeared, her greatsword dripping blood from where it had gashed the priest. Taranea glared at Kelvin, her own golden blood pouring down her tabard. She rushed at him, sword upraised. In a panic, Kelvin hurriedly erected an impenetrable force field around himself. Taranea slammed into it, driving the air from her lungs. She hammered at the barrier in rage, but it would not yield. A snarl on her lips, she turned back to the battle....only to see that everyone of the archons was down. She bowed her head against her blade and prayed for forgiveness to Iomedae for her failure. As the servants of Asmodeus closed upon her, she had time to think that perhaps she should have just followed her orders
 

JollyDoc

Explorer
10 Abadius, 4718 - Ghost Martyrs

A search of the quarters of the Emissary in White by Katarina turned up several exquisite gowns of gossamer and silk, along with jewelry wrought from fey amber. Hidden beneath the clothing, Kat also found a hand-written missive from someone named Brigit of the Brijindine addressed to Taranea. It was short and to the point, expressing concerns about Asmodeus' agents in Talingarde.
"You don't know the half of it," Kat chuckled to herself

Another door off the foyer had a truly amazing lock on it, but to Kat's surprise, it hung open, almost as if the occupant had left in too much of a hurry to latch it back. The room itself appeared to be the bedchamber of an important member of the church hierarchy thought it was unoccupied. The only thing of interest that Kat came upon was a family bible sitting on a writing desk. She flipped through it, trying to see if contained any hidden coins, but what actually fell out was a small journal. She took it to Kelvin, as she knew he always wanted to read any little scrap they came across. Kat always thought how stupid it was for their enemies to keep journals or diaries. It was almost like they actually wanted their plots and schemings to be discovered. Kelvin perused the diary for several minutes, and then he smiled broadly.

"With the death of the Phoenix," he read aloud, "the blessed Ara Mathra has retreated to the Holiest of Holies and has called forth a conflagration no mortal nor devil nor even an angel can cross. I know some of the men believe that this reveals him a coward. But I know the truth. He must survive or all is lost. If even one of the three sacred flames survives, then all can be rekindled. The Order of St. Macarius will weather this storm and emerge all the stronger for it. No one suffers more than he. I see this. He agonizes that he must remain here and guard the Undying Flame. Cowardice? Hah! Who amongst us is strong enough to do what he does now? It would be base anger that drives him to slay the evil-doers that assault us. Instead he has taken the victory from them. They cannot win. The slaughter of Saintsbridge has earned them nothing but damnation. Only a saint could pierce the flame! I've tarried here too long. I must return to my prayers. Soon the ghost-martyrs will rise and I will take back Valtaerna. Beware you sons and daughters of darkness! I, Earnan MacCathlain, come for you!"
Kat just shrugged when Kelvin finished reading. Stupid do-gooders. Always the architects of their own destruction.

_____________________________________________________________

Just off the foyer, Katarina found two small shrines, one devoted to Iomedae's aspect of the comforter and healer, and the other to her aspect of the great warrior and leader of Talingarde. Both of these were quickly and utterly defiled by her friends.

A flickering light could be seen emanating from the far end of the main hall that led from the foyer. The companions made their way towards it cautiously, and found the source to be a wall of flames that burned furiously and blocked the way forward. The heat from it was so intense that none of them could approach within twenty feet without being scorched. There was no way past, through or around it.
"This must be the conflagration that the abbott referred to in his diary," Dorian remarked.
" 'Only a saint could pierce the flame,' " Kelvin mused. "Now what could that mean?"

With no way forward, Kat ducked into the last two rooms they could access off the hall. One appeared to be nothing more than a preparatory chamber for processions and ceremonies, but the other proved to be quite interesting. It was another shrine, but not one dedicated to Iomedae. Instead, it honored Saint Macarius, before whom the worship of Iomedae was unknown in Talingarde. It was he who spread the light to every corner of the isle. It was also he who converted Darius to the worship of Iomedae, and thus changed the island's destiny. But there was more to the shrine than just a biography. The reliquary also contained artifacts from the life of the saint, including his walking stick, his sash, his phylactery and his holy book. Kat scooped all of these into a sack, and then paused to spit on the shrine before taking her leave.

______________________________________________________________

With the great wall of flames barring their way forward, the Knot had no option but to take one of the spiral staircases from the foyer down into the bowels of the cathedral. They found themselves in an empty room adorned with murals showing a procession of priests carrying the blessed dead to be interred in ossuaries. There was an inscription hidden amongst the engravings, written in Celestial.
"In our darkest hour, the martyrs shall answer the tears of the blessed," Dorian read. "Hmm. I wonder if this is some reference to the 'ghost-martyrs' mentioned in the abbott's diary. I, for one, am not anxious to see the results of whatever it is he is up to."

Across a hallway from the landing was an open archway. Above it was a number 2. The room beyond it was filled with bones.
"An ossuary," Dorian explained. "The abbott's diary said something about needing the bones of a saint to pass the flames. I guess here is as good a place to start looking as any."
As the companions set about sifting through the bones, looking for any signs that would mark one as saintly, none of them noticed as the temperature in the room began to drop.
"Thou art forbidden in these catacombs," a hollow voice abruptly intoned from behind them. "Depart or face our wrath."
The group turned and saw three ghostly knights hovering in the air above the bones, each wielding a great sword.
"Is that a fact?" Tardaesha asked with a lovely smile on her face. "We don't take kindly to being ordered around by talking corpses."
"You were warned," the ghost martyr replied.

The knights drifted forward, reaching out towards Roger and Tardaesha, who moved to intercept them. The hands of the ghosts passed effortlessly through the armor of the warriors, their corrupting touch searing the vulnerable flesh beneath. Tardaesha and Roger fought back, but their own weapons passed through the incorporeal bodies of the knights. Still, the undead soldiers seemed to feel the effects of the blows, as they would reel away, their forms looking a bit more ragged. The tide quickly turned when Dakota and Timeon opened fire with their bows, using arrows dusted with ghost salt. The shafts pierced the spirits as if they were still made of flesh and blood, and the battle was over in moments.

___________________________________________________________________

After their encounter with the ghost martyrs, the Knot decided to avoid searching any other ossuaries they came across in the catacombs. They did discover a large shrine, however, that commemorated all of those who had sacrificed themselves for the ideals of Saint Macarius, as well as the life of the order's founder and first martyr, Saint Macarius himself. The shrine contained a small marble statue of Saint Macarius, dressed in a traveller's robe with a plain wooden holy symbol. He was clearly a militant cleric, as he was depicted carrying a mace and there was evidence of chainmail beneath his robes. Every inch of the shrine was adorned by bas reliefs showing the deeds of the Saint and how he discovered the Vale of Valtaerna and became the first priest to solve the riddle of the sacred flames.

Macarius came to the Vale drawn there by the whispered words of an angel of Iomedae. He found the Vale uninhabited by men but illuminated by a strange light atop a mountain. He climbed the Mountain of the Phoenix and faced the great fiery beast itself without fear. He pledged that he and his followers would forever guard the sacred vale. Thus did he appease the Guardian Flame. Macarius then found the way through the labyrinth and placed his hand in the Beneficent Flame whereupon he was restored from some unnamed affliction...a thorn of the flesh. Macarius pledged that he would share his gift of healing with all in need. Thus did he appease the Beneficent Flame. He found the undying flame in a cave beyond the labyrinth. There he communed with the angel Ara Mathra. The angel asked him the true test, and he answered it honestly and correctly. He pledged that his Order would bind its fate to the Flame Undying, and Ara Mathra became his teacher. Saint Macarius established the order and lived a life full of great deeds. He died a martyr and was interred in the cathedral, where he still awaited his chance to again serve.

None of this drivel made an impression on the Knot. Roger smashed the statue to rubble before they continued their search. Beyond the shrine was a chamber stacked with old records and carefully catalogued books and scrolls. A great open tome sat upon a pedestal in the center of the room, which Dakota and Kat approached with interest. It appeared to be a list of all of those who had been interred over the years. All of those who received such an honor had to have cast at least three divine spells from Iomedae in their lifetime.
"Hmph," Dakota snorted. "I cast that many spells before taking my morning piss!"
She casually flipped over the pedestal, dumping the book on the floor. No sooner had it fallen, than three of the ghostly knights rose up from the floor.
"Ugh!" Dak groaned. "Can't you boys take a joke?"
The ghosts, apparently, could not. They issued no warning this time. They charged silently into the trespassers and defilers, swinging their ephemeral blades and reaching out with their spectral hands. Still, their efforts ultimately amounted to naught. The 9th Knot quickly managed to overwhelm and destroy them...at least temporarily. Dakota lowered her bow and then glanced down at the book she'd tossed aside.
"Just for that," she said, reaching for it, "I'm keeping this."

________________________________________________________________

The companions bypassed several more ossuaries before pausing before one in particular. It wasn't the ossuary itself that drew their attention, but rather an archway on the far side that was filled with white mist, obscuring whatever lay beyond. Dorian raised his hands to his mouth and puffed out his cheeks to blow out his breath while uttering a prayer. A strong gust of wind flowed across the room and parted the mists, revealing a spartan room. Seated in the center of it was what appeared to be a little girl. She turned her head to stare at the intruders, revealing her eyes to be white orbs without pupils. As she rose to her feet, a trio of ghost martyrs appeared around her. At a gesture from her, they flew towards the companions.

Two of the spectral knights closed on Dorian, reaching their hands through his chest, causing his heart to momentarily seize. The young girl strode into the ossuary, opened her mouth, and spoke one word. As she uttered it, her form morphed and changed into that of a brazen-skinned, six-winged angel wielding a flaming sword. This was She-Forever-Silent, consort of Ara Mathra. In better times, she would have been in his company, but since the calamity of Saintsbridge and invasion of the Vale, he had sequestered himself in the Holy of Holies. He waited for something, though she was not sure what. Even the jovial Earnan MacCathlain, whose endless stories she used to sit and listen to, had fled into the hidden part of the lower level, trying desperately to call up the dead. She was now alone and, as she had ever been, silent. She had considered leaving, but something kept her from it. So she remained, waiting for something to occur. With every passing day, however, and every defeat she began to suspect that nothing could be done. She felt the phoenix die and the two sacred flames extinguish. She knew what tragedies had been inflicted upon the Vale and its people, and she as resolved to avenge it. The power of her spoken word rippled across the ossuary and struck blind her enemies . The time for vengeance had arrived.

Roger and Tardaesha still fought, despite their blindness. Their intensive martial training had taught them not to rely overly on any single one of their senses. They listened to the sounds around them, felt subtle shifts in the air nearby, and even smelled the sickeningly sweet cloy that emanated from the angel. As the ghost martyrs engaged them, the anti-paladins struck in coordinated unison, obliterating one of the knights in and instant. Dakota, too, had trained blindfolded on many occasions, and could easily shoot a dove on the wing from fifty yards away. She turned and fired towards where she'd last seen the angel, and was satisfied to hear a grunt of pain in that direction.

Dorian fled blindly from the chamber, his injuries weakening him. Grumblejack saw his friend's retreat, the ogre's fiendish heritage having rendered him resistant to the angel's assault. He turned to follow Dorian, seeing one of the ghosts pursuing the priest. He caught the specter just before it reached out to siphon Dorian's life, perhaps for the last time. With a roar of rage, Grumblejack slashed his huge blade completely down the center of the ghost, and it dissipated with a low groan.

Gradually the vision of the other companions of the Knot began to clear...just in time for She-Forever-Silent to engulf them all in a column of holy fire. Tardaesha gritted her teeth agains the pain and struck out as another of the ghost's rushed towards her. The martyr dissolved as her sword passed through it. Next to her, Dakota kept firing at the angel, trying to keep the celestial bitch distracted and off-balance. It worked. Too late, the angel saw Grumblejack rushing towards her. Before she could react, the big ogre seized her in a rib-crushing bear hug. Though she grimaced in pain, no sound came from her throat. Instead she lifted one hand and slammed her fist into the side of Grumblejack's head. He grunted, but held his grip.
"This way, boy!" Lemmy called out.
Grumblejack looked and saw the dwarf pointing his direction. Nodding, he spun, putting the angel between himself and Lemmy. Lemmy opened his palm and sent a blast of rock and metal into her back, ripping the golden flesh in a dozen places. She writhed in agony, but she couldn't free herself from the ogre's crushing grip. Roger and Kat charged her simultaneously and buried their blades into her again and again until she finally slumped, unmoving, forever silent.


​​
 

carborundum

Adventurer
Slow and steady, wiping away the stains of light :)

My guys face the final challenge this week, before the final summoning of Vetra-Kali. Sir Thingy the paladin and his entourage - their old Savage Tide characters, summoned to assist :)
 

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