Shackled City Epic: "Vengeance" (story concluded)

Who is your favorite character in "The Shackled City"?

  • Zenna

    Votes: 27 29.7%
  • Mole

    Votes: 17 18.7%
  • Arun

    Votes: 31 34.1%
  • Dannel

    Votes: 10 11.0%
  • Other (note in a post)

    Votes: 6 6.6%

Elemental

Explorer
Lazybones said:
We think alike, but I should note that I house-rule that a holy word can be automatically counterspelled by a blasphemy, as long as the combined CL of the blasphemers exceeds that of the holy... ah, worder. Same for word of chaos/dictum.

But spell-like abilities can't counterspell at all, unless that's another houserule.

That nitpick aside, I'm really enjoying this, especially the statues coming to life. And goodbye Alakast. A moment of silence, everyone.
 

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Lazybones

Adventurer
Elemental said:
But spell-like abilities can't counterspell at all, unless that's another houserule.
D'oh! Ah, well, maybe I was just bluffing with that earlier house rule comment... Yeah, that's it, classic misdirection! ;)

I prefer the way that the update turns out now, actually. :]

* * * * *

Chapter 600

Dana uttered a holy word.

The power of the blessed syllable blasted outward from the priestess. But none of the hezrous fell, although the spell should have struck them dead at once. At first Dana could not understand the failure of the magic, but then she saw the ugly, oozing scars that trailed black ichor down the sides of the demons’ heads.

The demons had been deliberately deafened, unable to hear the holy word, or anything else.

The succubus could hear perfectly, but was not fazed at all by the potency of the word, which did not bode well.

The succubus’s eyes glowed with an almost feral intensity as she regarded the priestess. “The Great Lord is quite familiar with your tactics, blessed of Selûne.” The way she said it, the appellation sounded like a slur. “Your fate was set the moment you decided to come for your little pet there.”

Something flashed in Dana’s eyes. “You are not the only one to know your enemy,” Dana said. She made a small gesture with her left hand.

There was a noise in the clearing behind her, accompanied by a slight rush of air as something filled that space. The succubus was the only one to have seen the other invisible figure that had come through the gate with Dana; a diminutive creature, smaller even than a Halfling, clad in a simple cloth tunic, carrying a hammer somewhat too large for him, tucked through his belt. The demoness had watched the creature intently, expecting some sort of surprise from it. But even she was not prepared for the little thing to suddenly grow to over twenty-five feet tall, putting it almost on eye-level with the demons atop the cliff. It became visible as it lifted a muscled hand and uttered a cry that shattered the mottled sky of Achaeron.

The titan Corumbos was ready for battle.

“Destroy them!” the demoness snarled, but her minions were already rushing to attack. Most of the hezrous leapt forward, several of them hurling chaos hammers and unholy blights at their foes. The energy surges unleashed confusing storms of energy that filled the clearing, but did little real damage against their heavily warded enemies.

Benzan lacked such protection, and while the hammer failed to affect him, the blight was enough to nearly do him in. But then the pain of his wounds suddenly fled, and he looked up to see Dana kneeling beside him. She had a sword in her hand, which she thrust into his.

“Can you fight?”

“You’d better believe it,” he said. Although getting up proved a bit more challenging that he’d expected, he was still on his feet when one of the hezrous leapt at him, reaching for him with its huge claws.

The clearing exploded into a chaotic melee as the demons and their enemies engaged with every spell and weapon they had at their disposal. The succubus tried to sunder the enchantment that had brought the titan here, but despite her considerable magical abilities, those paled before those of Dana. The titan completed his spell as the demons atop the bluff blasted him with arrows and energy beams. Two hezrous leapt onto his legs, tearing and clawing. But Corumbos was one of the Ancient Scions, an entity of surpassing power, and not likely to fall to the initial attack of a few demons.

Laertes Leonidas tried to charge the succubus, but was forced to defend himself as the fiendish hound, its matted hide covered in slashes from its encounter with the iron bush, leapt back into the fray. The werelion ripped his arm free of the hound’s jaws before it could get a solid grip, and in turn seized it around the throat, and twisted. The hound struggled and thrashed for a few moments, before a loud snap announced the end of that confrontation.

Several of the hezrous had hung back, watching for an attempt at escape. Likewise, the flying demons above had orders to remain vigilant, to maintain the anchors on Benzan and Dana lest they try to dispel the enchantments and flee.

But escape was not on Dana’s mind, as she unleashed her own magic upon their enemies. Demons all around her screamed as her inflict critical wounds spell tore into them. Three hezrous crowded forward and surged over her from the front and sides. As they pressed her, however, a glow that surrounded her like a halo began to brighten, building in intensity until the demons howled in pain. Two managed to hit her despite the holy aura, although both immediately fell back, blinded by the intensity of the light.

The succubus hit her with a spell, and Dana felt wracking pains erupt in her lower body, threatening her equilibrium. But the priestess had passed through trials of agony and terror to get to this point, and she merely ignored the pain, pushing it to the side like an unwelcome thought.

Stepping away from the hezrous attacking her, she turned to Benzan. Her husband was giving as good as he got with the hezrou he was fighting. The sword he had was a decent magical weapon she’d picked up in the household of Barrat Ghur, but with the align weapon she’d laid upon it shortly before opening the gate, it sliced open the demon’s flesh as effectively as a normal blade might that of your typical ogre or orc.

Thus far, she’d kept herself walled up within an iron wall of discipline. She could not let herself accept the reality of Benzan being right next to her, close enough to touch. If she did, the hard shell she had constructed around herself might break, and if that happened, then they would all be lost.

So she touched him, but only to deliver a spell.

“It’s going to get real hot in a moment, love,” she said, then shouted, “INFERNUS!”

Corumbos heard the shouted word, and nodded. A streak of blackened char marred his tunic across the breast, and a half-dozen arrows jutted from his upper body, including one that had pierced his cheek. But the two rocs he had summoned had snared the flying demons and flown off with them, and the retriever listed perilously, two of its legs smashed in from a devastating blow from the titan’s massive hammer. The two archers he’d recognized as merely half-fiends, rather than truebloods, and the quickened chain lightning he’d hit them with had been more than payback for the arrows they’d shot him with. The hezrous tearing at his legs he had ignored; neither had managed to hurt him yet.

At Dana’s command, though, he summoned his magic, and called down a fire storm.

The succubus Brajia staggered back through the inferno, her earlier certainty shattered. Her demons were being torn apart, and Dana Ilgarten had been far from the easy prey she’d expected. In a part of her mind, she was already anticipating the terrors that her Master would inflict upon her for failure. While should could imagine her own failure, conceptualizing the defeat of Graz’zt, even with the example of the Disaster fresh in the minds of all who served the once-Argent Lord, was beyond her grasp. Such was the power of the being known as the Lord of Shadows to shape the realities of those around him.

But Brajia was not without resources. Even as he flesh began to crinkle from the raging flames all around her, she reached into her pouch and drew out a scroll. The parchment was flayed from the hide of a devil, but even so it almost immediately began to smoke as the heat hit it. But she only needed a few seconds to read the incantation scribed upon the scroll.

A shadowy form emerged through the flames. Brajia did not need to see her clearly to know it was Dana Ilgarten. She was untouched by the flames. A pair of nunchaku dangled from her right hand.

“Time to end this, demon.”

Brajia laughed, a cruel sound that changed as the spell took hold. Her body began to shift, her limbs contorting in unimaginable pain as the magic coursed through her. The spell that had been upon the scroll was similar to the transformation spell practiced by mages upon Faerûn, but this incantation had been born deep within the bowels of the Abyss, where incanters did not feel the need to spare the caster the price of invoking powers beyond their ken.

The flesh covering the succubus’s arms, legs, and back split open, revealing armored plates of chitin that oozed an ugly black slime. The bones of her hands grew and burst from her fingertips, forming jagged claws that formed razor-sharp blades at their ends. Her muscled swelled until the skin covering them began to snap under the strain. And her face… the once-beautiful face of Brajia, that became the monstrous visage of… something else.

As Dana Ilgarten looked up in horror at what her foe had become, the demon-thing started forward, logical thought replaced by a feral desire to taste the flesh and blood of the woman standing before it.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 601

As Graz’zt tormented his foes with promises of destruction, a tiny figure slid across the ground, coming up alongside Beorna. The dying templar’s struggles were growing weaker, and her entire left side was covered in the blood that continued to flow from the terrible wound in her shoulder.

Mole had a tiny vial in her hand, which she upended into the dwarf’s mouth. “I kept a little holdout for emergencies, don’t tell the others,” she whispered.

Graz’zt detected Mole, of course, but as he turned to deal with her an arrow caromed hard off his forehead. The shot had penetrated his unholy aura, and as the arrow clattered to the floor a few paces away—its head seemingly melted—a small gash could be seen trailing ichor from the good half of the demon’s face.

The demon snarled, as more arrows pinged off of his armored body. Callendes and Dannel were firing arrows as quickly as they could fit them to their strings, and while the avariel had yet to penetrate the Prince’s defenses, Dannel’s fiendbane bow gave his shots enough added potency to do at least some damage. A second arrow thudded into Graz’zt’s arm, penetrating a fraction of an inch through his tough hide.

The demon’s malevolent gaze shifted slightly. A gray beam erupted from the Heart of Axion, splashing over the body of one of the iron balors, the last one in the line of Graz’zt’s honor guard. The ray lasted only a fraction of a second, but the result was immediate, as the huge construct shuddered and came to life, its metallic body creaking as it turned and slowly, ponderously started toward the archers.

Beorna returned to consciousness, groaning as she tried to lever herself up. The wound in her shoulder had stopped bleeding, but it was clear that she was not far from death’s door.

“Heal yourself first,” Mole whispered. “You can’t face him now.”

But Beorna shook her head; she had no healing magic left to her, no spells at all, safe for a few weak orisons. Ignoring the gnome, she reached out and closed her hand upon the hilt of Aludrial’s Shard. She knew that Mole was right, but Duty held her in an iron grip as she pulled herself slowly up into a crouch.

A familiar roar sounded from the far side of the demon, as Arun returned to the fray. Behind him, the statues of Graz’zt’s harem lie in an unidentifiable wreckage. The paladin sported a few new wounds; some of the animated statues had jabbed him with sharp edges of metal left from sundered arms and legs. But that didn’t stop him from charging headlong at their enemy, sheer will driving him forward against seemingly impossible odds.

Graz’zt turned to meet him, but before either could strike, Beorna thrust Aludrial’s Shard deep into the demon’s back.

A scream of utter horror erupted from the demon as the blade sank a full foot into his body. As he stood there, transfixed, Arun leapt forward, with his hammer sweeping before him toward the center of the Prince’s head. Despite his horrible injury, Graz’zt managed to intercept the paladin’s swing with his blade, deflecting it. Graz’zt drove the sword down into Arun’s shield, hitting it hard enough to leave a deep dent in the metal. Arun grimaced as his arm absorbed the force of the impact, but he refused to give ground.

Another arrow sliced past the demon’s head, clipping his ear, but doing no real damage.

Cal knew that they were fast running out of options. He had tried to dispel the magical fear affecting Lok, but his spell had failed against the potency of the Prince’s magic. The demon was insanely powerful, and augmented by at least one artifact. With his arcane sight, Cal could see the true power of the artificial eye in the demon’s right socket, and he recognized the shifting suit of armor he wore as the former possession of the tiefling sorcerer that had participated in the assault upon the Bastion.

The archers continued their fire against Graz’zt, calmly shooting even as the animated statue drew close enough to strike. The statue creaked loudly as its massive sword came down at them. At the last instant Dannel leapt aside, and the weapon slammed hard into the iron floor, opening a six-foot gash in the plating. Callendes went the other way, falling back, flapping his wings to help give him clearance.

The balor loomed over Cal as it lifted its sword ponderously from the damaged floor, preparing to strike again.

Graz’zt stared down at Arun, who met that cold gaze through the slits of his helmet. Amusement flickered through the anger that shone in his one living eye.

“Say goodbye to your love, Arun Goldenshield.”

Arun’s eyes widened, and he lunged forward, his hammer coming down into the demon’s body. But while his shot connected, he could not stop the Prince from pivoting his upper body almost full around, his sword continuing where his torso had to stop. Beorna was still trying to thrust the Shard deeper into the demon’s back, and while she saw the swing coming, she could not get out of the way quickly enough.

“NO!” Arun screamed, as the blade of the Prince smote the templar on the side of her head, just above her left ear. Her head came apart in an explosion of blood and bone, and after hanging for a split second in lifeless animation, her body collapsed upon the cold iron floor of the chamber.
 

CrusadeDave

First Post
Lazybones said:
Chapter 601

Beorna was still trying to thrust the Shard deeper into the demon’s back, and while she saw the swing coming, she could not get out of the way quickly enough.

“NO!” Arun screamed, as the blade of the Prince smote the templar on the side of her head, just above her left ear. Her head came apart in an explosion of blood and bone, and after hanging for a split second in lifeless animation, her body collapsed upon the cold iron floor of the chamber.

If you cast spells from the Clerical list, you are marked. Dana Ilgarten, be prepared.

More! More! More!
 

HugeOgre

First Post
Must

HAVE

LazyBones

Story

FIXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXxxx

Its 6:38 PM, Central Time on Monday. Where is that story.

*gnaws arm in anticipation*
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Heh, when I didn't get any posts over the weekend, I began to think that I'd misjudged the emotional impact of that particular cliffhanger. Thanks for the feedback. :D

As for Dana, well...

* * * * *

Chapter 602

Benzan dove into the storm of fire, coughing as the acrid smoke burned his lungs. Around him, the iron undergrowth of the metal forest was melting into glistening pools, and the thick branches of the surrounding trees were beginning to soften and droop. Fortunately Dana’s protection from fire ward held, and he was not harmed by the raging flames of the titan’s fire storm.

The screams of the hezrous began to fade behind him. The demon he’d been fighting had been hit hard by the initial surge of flames, which had overwhelmed its fiendish resistances. One of the others had tried to grab him as he’d headed after Dana, but Laertes intercepted it, delivering a punishing blow to its side.

Corumbus finally released his magic, and the flames quickly died. The smoke remained, obscuring his view, but he was drawn forward by an ominous sound of something big moving ahead.

As he stumbled forward the haze parted, and he saw a creature of nightmare battling Dana.

The thing was humanoid in only the vaguest sense; armored plates covered its arms, legs, and torso, and sharp blades protruded from its fingers. Wings jutted from its back, but were obviously far too small to have any chance of lifting the huge thing aloft. It walked huddled forward, its spine bent at a sharp curve, but even so it had to stand at least ten feet tall. Its face was a horror, with thick ridges of protruding bone over its eyes and along the lines of its jaw, which spouted curved teeth that jutted out a good six inches or so from its face.

Dana was moving like a zephyr, avoiding the powerful but clumsy swings of the creature as she slammed it with her adamantine nunchaku. She still shone with the bright light of her holy aura, but that did not seem to faze the demon as it relentlessly dogged her evasive movements. She was wounded, he could see; bright red gashes showed in her left torso as she spun around and leapt over another vicious swing.

Benzan ran forward, a guttural cry sounding in his throat, his sword at the ready. The thing either did not detect him or did not care; it lunged at Dana, bringing one long arm down to block her path, its claws digging into the hard ground. The priestess darted back, but the fiend brought its other arm down behind her, giving her the choice of full-on retreat, or facing it head-on.

The priestess, dropping into a crouch, looked up at the monstrosity looming over her, her nunchaku swirling in one hand.

The other hand started to glow red.

The fiend lunged, its head darting down, its jaws opening wide.

Dana grinned, and leapt to meet it.

Its jaws snapped shut, closing hard… on empty air.

The fiend reared up, revealing Dana, the chain of her nunchaku looped over one of the teeth protruding from its jaw. Swinging around, she touched it with her other hand, unleashing her harm spell.

Tendrils of negative energy surged outward from her touch, opening vicious wounds in its throat and chest as the potency of the magic spread. The creature seemed to sag before the onslaught of power.

But then it abruptly snapped its head forward, sending Dana flying into the open air before it.

Benzan reached the demon, and slammed his sword hard into its knee. His stroke avoided the dense armor plates that protected its thigh and calf, but its hide was like boiled leather, and he barely managed to gash the skin covering the joint.

The demon, focused on Dana, ignored him. Its jaws split open wide, the flaps of its cheeks folding back, revealing an opening large enough to swallow a human skull. Dana reached the apogee of her flight and began to fall…

Three long tentacles shot out from that dark opening of the fiend’s jaws. Each terminated in a small sucking maw surrounded by several inch-long fangs the color of ashes. Dana tried to shift in mid-fall, but could not avoid being impaled by two of them, which stabbed into her body. The last twined around her ankle, yanking her roughly upward, her feet lifting above her head as it turned her upside down.

Dana screamed as currents of black energy trailed from Dana into the creature, as it sucked life energy from her. She tried to break free, but her movements were feeble, and she failed to untangle herself from the iron grip of the suckers digging into her torso.

Benzan hacked again at its knee, desperation adding strength to his swing. The blow cut deeper into the joint, releasing a jet of steaming ichor, but the damage was not enough to cause it to lose its footing. It swept its arm around, hitting him hard in the gut with its elbow. The tiefling went flying, his sword clattering from his grasp as he landed hard on his back.

Looking up, his vision was filled by the sight of Dana, dangling from the monster’s grasp, her life fueling its dark strength.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 603

Arun screamed and swung his hammer with all his strength at the demon prince. The powerful blow was poorly aimed, however, and Graz’zt scale armor seemed to gather to meet at the point of impact. The head of the hammer glanced harmlessly away, doing no damage.

Graz’zt, meanwhile, returned with a backswing that easily penetrated the paladin’s guard, the head of the weapon crunching solidly into Arun’s arm. The plate protecting the limb buckled, and Arun was knocked sideways, nearly losing his grasp on his hammer. The sizzle of burning flesh filled the air as the acid coating the demon’s blade fed eagerly on the dwarf’s arm and neck where it had splattered.

“You are pathetic,” the demon said. “You are so easily manipulated, it is barely worth the effort it takes.”

Arun let out a ragged growl that did not sound like anything a normal creature would make. His broken shield fell from his grip, and he brought the hammer up to strike again, telegraphing his intent.

Graz’zt almost casually brought up his blade to block.

At the last instant, Arun shifted, and brought the head of the hammer down onto the sword, just above the hilt. A flash of energies erupted, accompanied by a spray of acid and a sound like the cracking of the world. The two combatants fell apart, and when the glow faded, Graz’zt was revealed holding only the hilt of his shattered sword.

A loud clang filled the room as the rest of the blade clattered noisily upon the cavern floor a few feet away.

“I do not need a sword to put you down, dwarf!” the demon hissed. It came at him in a sudden rush, its claws growing and thickening until they formed long black tendrils that hung at its sides. The Prince’s hiss, like Arun’s earlier growl, was something basic and bestial as he lashed out at Arun. The black claws pierced his armor as though the shining mithral was woven lamé, digging deep into his flesh, drawing out blood and life in equal portions. Arun was staggered; no mortal, not even the divine champion of Moradin, could have taken that assault and not faltered.

The rest of the companions were in little position to intervene. Callendes went down hard as the balor statue’s backswing clipped one of his wings, the jagged metal that represented a flaming sword snapping the bones and tearing half of the wing clear off him. The statue walked with a slight limp, where Cal had blasted it with a disintegrate, but the thing—construct, animated object, fiend, whatever!—had apparently resisted the bulk of the effect, for the spell had only vaporized a small portion of the leg where Cal had hit it. The statue ignored the invisible archmage, focusing upon the archers. While slow, the thing had a reach equivalent to a real balor, and it used it effectively as it swung its huge weapon at the nimble elves.

Dannel had darted back out of its way, but as he saw Callendes go down, he immediately spun and ran back toward it, firing as he went. Several cracks already spread across its chest where the arcane archer had scored hits, but the damage did not appear to impair the animated monstrosity.

“Dannel, the leg!” Cal urged.

The elf saw immediately what the gnome had indicated; at the point where the golem-thing had been blasted with Cal’s disintegrate, its limb had been shorn until only a concave band of metal supported its weight.

The song filled him as he drew and fired. The corrosive arrows he’d taken from the guards below slammed with precision into that weak point. The statue lifted the leg ponderously as it stepped forward to deliver a finishing blow to Callendes, but as its full weight settled upon the damaged limb, it snapped with a loud crack. The iron balor started to fall, but as it went down, it lunged forward in a last attempt to take at least one foe with it.

Callendes, crawling away, put on a last burst of speed, and darted out from under a smashing blow that again cracked the iron floor with the force of it.

This time, however, the sword was not wrenched free.

As soon as he saw that the avariel was clear, Dannel spun back to Graz’zt. He called upon the power of his quiver, and an arrow popped out, ready to be fitted to his bow. Almost reflexively, he checked within, where the ends of arrows within the extradimensional space could be tallied with a glance.

Only three missiles greeted his query.

Three shots left.

Arun felt his strength draining from him as Graz’zt dug his black claws deeper into his body. But then the dwarf’s expression hardened, and Arun pulled himself up, staring into the hateful eye of the Prince.

“You have strength,” the demon said. “I like that… it means you will be of that much more use to me when you finally break.”

“I may break, demon, but I will never yield,” Arun said. But as Graz’zt probed deeper, the black tendrils twisting inside the paladin’s body, a scream was torn from him.

But then Graz’zt stiffened, and his claws were yanked out of the dwarf’s body as his body arched. Behind him, Mole had taken up Aludrial’s Shard, and dragged the heavy blade across Graz’zt’s hamstrings. In the diminutive hands of the gnome the sword did not cripple the demon lord as had been her intent, but the sneak attack had nevertheless provided a slight opening for the beleagured paladin.

Before Graz’zt could recover, Arun brought his hammer up in a sudden motion that struck the demon at the base of his ribs. The blow straightened the demon, but it did not knock him off his feet.

“NOW!”

The hammer came down, slamming into the Prince’s left leg just above the knee. The blow landed with a solid thwack, but the limb held.

“YOU!”

Arun snapped the hammer up, driving it into Graz’zt gut. The fiend’s armor absorbed part of the strength of the blow, but as the holy energies of the weapon blasted through the Prince, he grimaced slightly.

“DIE!”

Arun all but screamed the last word, as he whipped the hammer around in a short arc that culminated in the demon’s face. Graz’zt’s head was knocked around, by the force of the blow, and he actually staggered back a step. When he turned back to face the paladin, the demon’s face was further marred by a trail of blood from the corner of his mouth, and a gap in his smile where several teeth had been jarred free.

“Your anger is delicious, paladin. But like everything else, ultimately futile.”

Arun roared and leapt forward with the hammer coming up yet again. But before the dwarf’s first step could land upon the floor, the Heart of Axion came to life.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl.

A gray radiance exploded from the gem in the demon’s eye socket. It seemed somehow… alive, the shining glow overlaid with what seemed like wisps of spirit that twisted in protest as the light drove them outward. They expanded outward and took on cohesive form, forming sinuous cables that connected the Prince and his foes as they plunged into the bodies of Arun and Mole. The dwarf and the gnome stiffened and screamed, paralyzed by the touch of that raw power. The gray tentacles flexed and pulsed with energy that flowed from the bodies of the two adventurers, through the Heart, and then out into the body of the Prince. As those pulses flared out through Graz’zt, enveloping him with an echo of that gray shining light, his wounds began to knit shut. The demon lifted his head and shouted in exhultation as the power of another epic spell filled him, the cost paid by the life force of his son, trapped in the Heart of Axion.

Or now, perhaps, the Heart of Athux.

The radiance, fueled by the energy stolen from Mole and Arun, continued to spread. It found Lok, cowering behind the throne. It found Dannel, even as the elf fired one of his last arrows. It continued to spread, its light dominating the great vaulted hall, forming a hemisphere centered on the Master of this place.

And within that sphere, Graz’zt laughed, as the doom of Occipitus was sealed.
 
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Richard Rawen

First Post
holding my breath

Mimic said:
This is so good I don't even know what to say. I can't wait to see what happens.

Echoes Mimic . . .

ok, it's 10 hours later, I've been thinking about this update all day long and . . .
I realised I'm awaiting the Real cliffhanger.

All weekend I'll suffer after the last words are posted tonight...

But I Still Want It!
 
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Lazybones

Adventurer
Heh, I can barely see (my eyes are dialated, and I have the screen blown up so that this text box about fills it), but I can cut and paste, so here's the Friday update-slash-cliffhanger:

Oh, and we'll see what happens with Mr. G on Monday. :p

* * * * *

Chapter 604

The titan Corumbos felt a piercing chill spread through his chest as another beam from the retriever penetrated the last lingering remnants of fire and stabbed into him. The insectoid construct seemed to have grasped through whatever weird intellect that it possessed that he was not vulnerable to fire, so it was focusing exclusively on cold blasts as it skittered back and forth across the cliff top on its damaged limbs. The titan had extended the area of both fire storms to include the top of the cliff, but the thing had backed away and had managed to avoid being snared in the second.

The half-fiend archers, on the other hand… Well, there wasn’t much left of them; a second quickened chain lightning on top of the two fire storms had converted them into greasy smears on the iron stones.

The two flying fiends had likewise never come back; one could hope that the rocs had enjoyed their repast in the brief moments before they returned to their plane of origin.

The titan had taken his own share of abuse, however. The hezrous clinging to his legs had sank their vicious teeth into the muscles at the backs of his knees, inflicting painful wounds even despite his considerable resistance to physical damage. Both had survived the fire storms, and a third kept harassing him with unholy blights that kept popping up around his head, doggedly trying to penetrate his spell resistance.

But first, the retriever.

The titan raised a hand into a fist, and with a white flash a shaft of cracking energy formed, poised to hurl. Corumbos threw the javelin with unerring accuracy, piercing the spidery construct through, knocking it backwards into an ungainly heap.

With that threat taken care of, he turned to the little demons worrying at his legs. One of them was working at the lower parts of his half-plate armor, trying to get to something vulnerable.

With a grimace of distaste, Corumbos slammed the head of his gargantuan warhammer down into its skull.

The second one looked up just in time to get swatted like an annoying fly.

Another blight exploded around the titan’s head.

Annoyed, the titan started to look for the last demon. While he’d taken a good amount of punishment, they weren’t a match for him, not really.

But they were keeping him busy.

Benzan pulled himself to his feet, fighting a sudden surge of disorientation that threatened to pull him back down to the ground. But the sight of Dana, caught in agony in the grasp of the giant fiend’s tentacles, gave him the strength he needed to overcome that weakness. He bent to recover the sword Dana had brought him, and staggered toward the monster’s flank.

Dana could feel her life energy ebbing from her body, drained along with her blood by the tentacles that pierced her. Most of her higher-order spells were gone, depleted in the battle or in the preparations she’d undertaken before opening the gate. Each day for the last tenday she’d begun with the same ritual, trying to determine Benzan’s location through powerful divinations, including discern location. Just a few minutes ago, she’d finally succeeded, getting a positive lock on his presence here, upon one of the floating cubes of Achaeron. It had taken all of her will not to immediately open the gate and charge through at that instant. But she’d learned much about Graz’zt from her interrogations of Barrat Ghur, and so she forced herself to be deliberate, casting spells for almost a full minute, culminating in one gate through which she’d called Corumbos, before opening a second directly to Benzan’s location.

But now, it seemed as though all her preparations had been for naught; the creature that had been created from the succubus was incredibly strong, and she lacked the power to defeat it.

That wayward thought caused her to snarl, and all doubts disappeared as she drew a new and intense focus.

Summoning the power of Selûne, maintaining her concentration through a supreme effort of will, she grabbed one of the tentacles holding her and unleashed an inflict critical wounds into it. The twisting appendage turned black and withered, leaving a tattered remnant that drooped from the creature’s jaws. The tentacle around her ankle tightened its grip in response, and as the other attached to her body continued to drain her, weakness began to creep over her like a warm exhaustion.

No! her mind screamed, as she refused to give in to that soft and deadly call. With a cry of pain she grabbed the edges of the tentacle piercing her side and tore it free. Blood—her blood—sprayed out from the terrible wound, and the long pincers slashed at her hands, already trying to reestablish the connection she’d broken.

Before she could attempt another escape, however, the creature lifted its arms and closed both hands around her, crushing her body, its claws digging into her flesh. Dana tried to summon the power of Selûne, but that pure source of energy seemed to be on the far side of a vast haze of pain that clouded her consciousness. She knew she was diminished, drained by the demon’s touch, but there seemed to be nothing she could do to stop it.

Benzan was thinking the same thing, as he came up behind the demon. He knew that he would have only one chance to strike; from the force of the glancing blow he’d taken before, the demon could tear him to pieces in a few seconds. The sword felt heavy and alien in his hand, and his reflexes felt awkward; after all the time he’d spent in the “care” of Graz’zt’s minions, he felt like a child taking its first steps.

But then he caught sight of the humanoid lion that had been at Dana’s side earlier. The were-creature was covered in blood, but rushed forward at the demon with a clear purpose, its claws poised to strike.

The demon saw him too, and transferring Dana to its left claw, it slashed down at the lyncanthrope with its right. The werelion leapt forward, absorbing a pair of long slashes down its back as it darted under its arm and came up directly before it. The creature did not hesitate, letting its momentum carrying directly into the demon, leaping up onto its chest, tearing and slashing with both its fore and hind claws.

The demon, however, was more heavily armored than the most splendidly outfitted knight, and the werelion’s violent assault merely dug gashes into the hard chitinous plates that covered its torso in a thick belt. The demon drew its right claw back in, seizing the werelion around the neck, tearing it off of its body. Dana tried to use the distraction to break free again, but her movements were growing feeble, and all she could do was pound uselessly against the thick fingers that held her pinned.

But the werelion’s sacrifice had bought Benzan a second’s opening, and he used it to good advantage as he rushed up behind the fiend. He unleashed a furious yell that invoked all of the rage and frustration that had built up during his torment, slamming the sword to the hilt into the gap in the creature’s armor at the base of its spine that he’d marked.

The demon jerked up, and as its body straightened its vertebrae locked around the blade of the sword, tearing it from Benzan’s grasp. It lurched forward, a terrible scream exploding from its jaws. Laertes and Dana went flying as it released them suddenly. The creature fumbled about like a drunken man, as its body tried to adjust to the reality of its nearly severed spine. Finally, however, it stumbled and toppled over onto a half-melted tree that had sagged almost to the ground. One final hiss was torn from it, as it fell limp, impaled upon the iron branches.

Benzan managed to make it to where Dana had fallen, and he all but collapsed at her side. “Dana! Dana!” He dragged her into his arms. The priestess was pale and limp, and he started to dig in one of the pouches at her belt for a healing draught when she groaned.

“Stop shaking me so,” she said. He looked to see her conscious, if still woozy.

“Gods, that was crazy,” he said, as relief flooded into him. He opened his mouth to say… what? He was literally overwhelmed, and a dark, nagging whisper continued to menace at the edges of his thoughts, insisting that this could be yet another trick of Graz’zt’s, to further break down who he was, to do to him what had been done to Delem, those years ago.

But now, with Dana in his arms, he didn’t care. He tried to say that, but his wife stopped him with a hand raised to his lips.

“We’re not safe here,” she said, her face taking on a look of intense concentration as she fought through the fog brought on by the battering she’d taken. Finally she uttered words of power, and a flush of life reappeared in her skin as she restored herself.

“Help me up,” she said.

“Dana…”

She silenced him with a raised hand. “First we get out of here. Are you badly injured?” When he shook his head, she healed herself, and all of her wounds instantly closed.

The werelion had gotten to his feet, likewise somewhat the worse for wear, and it now came over to join them. “Are you all right?” she asked him.

“I’ve been better,” the creature said, his voice—human, even somewhat cultured—sounding odd to Benzan coming from its bestial mouth. “And you would be Benzan, I presume?” he said, offering a claw to the tiefling.

Somewhat bewildered, Benzan shook it.

The werelion grasped his forearm. His grip was like iron, although he was careful not to scratch Benzan with his claws. But he did not release the tiefling, and after a moment Benzan began to feel a sudden sense of unease.

He turned to look at Dana, surprised to see a fearsome intensity in her eyes. “Dana, what…”

He never got a chance to finish his question, as Dana unleashed a blast of white fire directly into his face.
 



HugeOgre

First Post
Neverwinter Knight said:
Bet he didn't see that coming! :]

I know I didnt. In fact, Im not entirely sure whether big B got it in the face or the lycanthrope did. Maybe my reading was sloppy, but I thought it was the lycanthrope who got his head ripped off, and I was thinking HE was the imposter, but the way LB wrote it it sounds like Benzan just got lit up. Where oh where is Monday? Oh wait, that RAT BA#$@#%% is moving back to the other thread.

GRRRR
 

Richard Rawen

First Post
HugeOgre said:
. . . Where oh where is Monday? Oh wait, that RAT BA#$@#%% is moving back to the other thread.

GRRRR

ya know that LB is a serious RB.
the thing is, I was really not all that interested in the Benzan/Dana romantic drama thingy. Don't get me wrong, I want to see it resolved, but the story arc with the Final Showdown with the Demon Prince and the whole future of whole group (minus Dana and Benzan) was mightily overshadowing the consistantly miserable Benzan.

Then you had to go and make it interesting... strike that, intriguing...

sheesh
 


Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 605

Within a storm of power, Graz’zt exalted.

Cal watched in horror as the expanding radiance engulfed each of his friends, paralyzing them, drawing their life energy along the insubstantial but very real links that connected them to the demon prince.

He had a dispel left, but he recognized the magic being wrought as an epic spell, and knew that his own paltry powers would have no chance against it. If only his patron had seen fit to include a disjunction in the blue book, then he might had a tiny fraction of probability…

Unless

There had been one more spell in that book, an incantation of the highest valence, the summit of magical power that few mortal mages ever met. That spell now burned in his memory, taken in anticipation of this confrontation. But while he could possibly save one of his companions with it, what would that gain? There was nowhere left for them to escape to, no place they could run to hide from the dark lord of Occipitus.

But then, he looked deeper.

Callendes, lying on the ground, his ruined wing hanging over him in a bloody mess, stiffened and screamed as the wash of the epic spell caught him. Cal was now the last, and the gray radiance continued to expand, a last tendril of energy already creeping outward to engulf him as well. That sphere filled his vision, with the Prince just a dark blotch deep within.

There was no time left.

Cal cast the spell.

The spell vanished into the maelstrom. It was drawn to the Heart of Axion, the currents of magical power vanishing into the tiny gray orb, which flickered with the life of a miniature sun trapped within.

Cal sagged as the strain of the casting left him drained, and he stumbled back, falling upon his backside. He could only look at the light that expanded over him, promising oblivion.

But then, the power of the Heart flickered.

For Cal had cast his spell not at Graz’zt, but at the Heart itself. A spell that was the culmination of all of his years of study and craft, a spell of the highest arcane valence.

Freedom.

The epic surges around Graz’zt exploded outward in a new violence, but now they were wild, uncontrolled. The Prince screamed as several of the gray tendrils pierced his body, cutting swathes through the very core of his being. A gray fire surged from the Heart, which blazed now with an unrestricted fury and intensity, like a smoldering fire that had suddenly found a cache of fresh fuel.

The surviving companions were hurled back as the connection between them and the demon was suddenly and traumatically sundered. They rolled to a stop in an expansive ring around the Prince, whose screams grew as he clawed at the raging inferno burning within his eye socket. The skin around that opening began to melt and run, the ruined flesh abused once more by the intensity of a greater power. Graz’zt began to rise, drawn up by the flows of power, which grew more insistent and substantial as the entity within the Heart escaped the bonds that had held it captive.

And then, all at once, the glow, the surrounding power surge, it all just abruptly vanished. Graz’zt fell back, and something fell from a bloody claw, plummeting toward the ground.

The Heart of Axion struck the iron floor, and shattered.

Arun was the first to stand. Reaching down, he picked up his hammer, the heavy head sliding on the floor as he slowly started toward the crippled demon.

But before he could reach Graz’zt, the Prince stumbled back, falling into the embrace of his throne. The demon drew aside the iron seat, and manipulated something in the hollow space beneath.

Arun brought up his hammer, and charged.

Graz’zt turned, and hissed something, a sound that bubbled between the ruined hole that had been his mouth. The flesh covering the right side of his face had melted, dripping in long trailing bulbs that occasionally parted to reveal the white skull beneath. There was no way he could have still lived, had he been a mortal creature. His other eye was thick with a milky film, but somehow he still sensed the approach of danger. A dark opening appeared in the air beside the throne, which the demon hurled himself through, vanishing from view. Arun rushed forward, apparently intent on pursuit regardless of where their foe fled, but just before he reached it, the portal slid shut and dissolved.

Graz’zt was gone.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Regarding Graz’zt: I used the version in the Book of Vile Darkness as a starting point, with some modifications. I gave him the same DR as Adimarchus; i.e. 15/good and cold iron. Beorna and Arun could do full damage when they hit, but everyone else almost needed a crit to do anything more than token damage. He was weakened somewhat from epic casting and his fracas with Athux; draining Malad’s life force brought him almost back to full strength, but he still had 5 negative levels when this encounter took place. He did not have his magical shield; this was lost in the destruction of Zelatar, and I bumped his natural AC bonus down a few points. This was more than compensated for by the addition of Synesyx, which in addition to its intelligence is a suit of +5 morphic light fortification scale mail.

Finally, the Heart of Axion was obviously a major artifact in its own right. In addition to possessing the power of a rod of absorption and a gem of seeing, it provided a constant mind blank effect and could fuel the casting of epic spells, as we saw in the story.

So Graz’zt ended up being a pretty tough hombre in the end, even diminished as he was. As he appeared here, I would have put him around CR 25. His AC was in the low 40s even without his unholy aura, and even with the negative levels factored in he could still muster 4 attacks per round that were almost guaranteed at least 3 hits against any of the companions. Basically, anything that faced a full attack from him was in serious trouble.
 

Wow, Lazybones, wow. Freedom - this time it's us that didn't see it coming. Once again your plot twists leave us in awe !!!

But that guy still sort of lives, so it's not over, yet. Really looking forward to your next updates!
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Thanks, NWK!

* * * * *

Chapter 606

Benzan tried to pull away, to dodge, to evade, but with the werelion holding him fast, the creature’s own strength far outweighing his own, there was nothing he could do.

The white fire did not burn, but it pierced him with a chill that plunged down to the core of his bones. He would have fallen, had not the lyncanthrope continued to hold him firmly.

And then it was gone, although it took a few more seconds for him to be able to see clearly through the brilliant afterimage of light that blazed across his vision. The werelion released him, and as he did Benzan could see that a soft white glow lingered around him, replacing the ugly green nimbus of the dimensional anchor.

Dana was there, the aftereffects of the spell on his vision giving her a white halo as well. Or was she glowing too? He could not be certain, but he thought he saw relief in her eyes, shrouded within a hard exterior that she kept carefully neutral.

“Why?” Benzan asked.

“I’m sorry. We… I... had to be sure. The moonfire reveals all falsehoods; I’m sure I don’t have to explain further, given our foe.”

Benzan nodded, but a lingering twinge of disquiet lingered. Clearly he hadn’t been the only one changed during his captivity; Dana was like a dagger, its hard steel edge barely constrained in its sheath. He wondered what had happened to her, what had happened to all of his friends, in the time that had passed since he’d been taken. For that matter, how long had that been? His own mental processes had become a jumble, and he knew enough to understand that the process of being tortured had likely stolen a good part of his reason, his sanity. At times, it felt as though it had been mere days that he’d been in Graz’zt’s fortress, but seconds later, it seemed like it had been his entire life, with the memories of what had come before just vague outlines.

“Come on, let’s get back to Corumbos,” she said, leading them back toward the clearing, the werelion at her side. Benzan followed.

The clearing was still shrouded in haze, lingering wisps of smoke from the fire storms clinging to the ground. Globs of melted iron that had been part of the foliage of the cube formed a rough hemicircle around the blasted interior, where the bodies of demons lay splayed in scorched and bloody poses.

The titan was there, waiting for them. Corumbos had returned to a smaller form, only slightly taller than Benzan, a perfect human ideal with features chiseled and defined. His half-plate was gone, replaced with a flowing white tunic, and despite having been in a violent clash just a few moments ago, there was not a spot of blood or gore upon him. He still bore his hammer, though, the oversized weapon at rest in his right hand.

“Is it done?” he asked, his voice melodious.

“It is done,” Dana said. “Open the gate to the Prime as I specified, and then our compact is concluded.”

The titan nodded and gestured, summoning a swirl of magic that even Benzan, with his limited magical abilities, could see like a beacon. Corumbos directed that magic into a tight wedge that sundered the barrier that separated worlds, opening another gate.

Without further comment, Dana took his hand and led him through, followed by the werelion. Benzan glanced back to see the titan already casting again, and then the gate closed, revealing a blank wall behind it.

He turned around and stared in amazement. They were in a vast, open chamber, beneath an ivory dome that reached its apex nearly eighty feet above them. Huge pillars of white marble rose up to support the dome, the space between them filled with huge open windows that let in soft natural moonlight, or arched corridors that led to additional wings of the building.

The place looked somehow familiar to him, but he could not identify what it was.

His attention was distracted as he saw that the great chamber was occupied. A dozen figures, men and women of several races, clad in silver robes, looked startled to see them—understandable, Benzan thought. A few cast spells, surrounding themselves with pale auras or summoning globes of glowing white light around the intruders. As Dana threw back her cowl and stepped forward, Benzan could see that her appearance had an equally dramatic effect upon them.

“Dana Ilgarten!” an elven man exclaimed. “What are you… I mean, why are…”

“Benefis, rouse the High Priest at once, and have him gather the Court of Stars in this chamber. I want a dimensional lock on the temple sanctuary, and magical shielding on each of us.” Almost as an aside to herself, looking at the shafts of pale moonlight that shone through the high windows, she added, “Highmoon would be better, but I guess we’ll take what we can get of the Lady’s blessing.”

The elf was just standing there, his mouth drooping open. “Well, did you hear me?” Dana exclaimed. “At once!”

The elf turned and ran, followed by the other acolytes. Benzan had finally realized where they were, as his eyes drifted up to see the sigil etched into the dome above, a glowing design in silver that shone brightly in the reflected moonlight.

They were in the Moontemple, in Iriaebor, Dana’s city of origin. In the Western Heartlands, in Faerûn, on the world Abeir-Toril.

Home. Just the thought of it almost overwhelmed him.

Dana did not turn back to him. The werelion walked a short distance away.

Benzan did not know what to do. The woman standing before him was like another person, one he had never met. She lacked the soft warmth he remembered of his wife, replaced by an iron shell of cold, emotionless purpose. He remembered how hard she had taken the loss of Delem, and the thought that he might have been the reason for that change broke something deep inside him.

“I had to do it,” she said, as if responding to his thoughts. “I had to focus on one goal, one thing alone, and drive out all else. I would have gone insane, otherwise.”

“Dana…”

“All that matters is that I got you out,” she said. “You’re safe, and…” She trailed off, and Benzan could see that her body was shaking.

Suddenly, none of it mattered. None of the torments, the anguish, the wall that had been driven between them by that terrible tragedy. He took her into his arms, just holding her.

“It’ll be all right,” he said, and for the first time in a long time, it felt true.

“Oh, Benzan!” she cried, the tears bursting out of her, as the shields and defenses she’d painstaking built around her loss and grief came crashing down. Benzan found himself crying too, and with each tear it felt as though a part of the stain clouding his soul was washed away.

She turned into his embrace, and held him there in the soft moonlight, under the silver dome.
 


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