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%

Richard Rawen

First Post
Most Definitely a "Huzzah!" Ya know I got to thinkin about it, with all the doom and gloom and darkness that these folks (all of them) have gone through, it just makes the few bright moments shine all the more brightly!
Good Stuff LB!
 

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Lazybones

Adventurer
Meanwhile, back on Occipitus...

* * * * *

Chapter 607

Graz’zt was gone.

A terrible quiet returned to the great hall. Arun fell to his knees in front of the iron throne, his body shaking. Dannel and Mole stood, a bit unsteady still from the aftereffects of the power of the Heart. Lok slumped to the ground, freed from the grip of the terror that Graz’zt had cast into his heart, replaced by an overwhelming weariness. Callendes lay where he had fallen, amazed to still be alive.

But for the others, there would be no respite. The Voice, torn asunder by the Prince’s black blade. Umbar, returned now to his natural size, lying in a pool of his own blood, his heart pierced by a deadly thrust. Beorna… Their gazes did not linger there, until Mole mercifully covered her head with a spare cloak.

Cal came forward. The others turned to him, all save Arun, who did not move, his head bowed in grief.

“It’s gone,” Cal said. “The dimensional lock on Occipitus.”

“So we can go home?” Mole asked.

Cal nodded.

“This was supposed to be the end,” Arun said, not lifting his head, his voice pitched low so that the others had to strain to hear. “It was supposed to end here.”

“Arun…” Dannel began.

“This was supposed to be over!” Arun shouted, his rage exploding out of him as he leapt up, his hammer springing into his hand. “It was supposed to be over here!”

The paladin lashed out, slamming his hammer into the throne. The iron buckled before the holy power of the blow. The companions could only watch as the paladin unleashed strike after strike, with all of his strength behind each impact. Within moments, all that was left of the throne was wreckage, until there was nothing left to destroy but a misshapen lump of metal. Arun sagged to the ground, his hammer falling from his fingers to clatter on the ground.

“We can raise them,” Cal said. “Umbar and Beorna…”

A faint tremor shook the chamber.

“Uh oh,” Mole said.

The tremor returned, building in strength. The floor began to shift beneath their feet, and a loud creaking of protesting iron sounded all around them as the movements of the Skull tormented its iron skin.

“What’s going on?” Dannel asked.

“This place,” Cal said. “It too was held together by the epic magic… it’s coming apart!”

Dannel helped Callendes to his feet, and turned toward the exit. But the iron plating surrounding the spiral stair was already beginning to buckle. “No time… we need to get out of here right now!” the elf cried.

“To me! With the lock broken, I can teleport us out of here!” Cal shouted.

“Not without them!” Arun said, gesturing toward the limp bodies of Umbar and Beorna. The noise around them was becoming defeaning, until even their shouts could barely be heard. One of the iron balors toppled over, crashing loudly upon the floor.

“I cannot take everyone!” Cal replied.

“The bag of holding!” Lok exclaimed as he rushed over to rejoin them, already holding the large cloth sack.

“Quickly!” Dannel urged, as Arun and Lok slid Umbar head-first into the bag. He barely fit, but once through the mouth of the sack he quickly vanished into the extra-dimensional space within. They turned to Beorna, but were nearly crushed as a large plate fell from the ceiling, smashing into the floor a few feet away.

“Never mind!” Cal shouted. “Hold her... I think I can get all of you! Mole, get back, join the circle!”

The gnome rejoined them, dragging Aludrial’s Shard behind her. She’d also grabbed a black gem that had emerged from the ruins of the throne when Arun had destroyed it; that prize vanished into a pocket as she reached the others, touching Lok just as Cal was summoning his magic.

“If this doesn’t work, we’re going to have a real big problem,” Dannel said, looking up as a massive segment of the ceiling buckled and began to collapse downward.

The air shimmered, and they disappeared just as thousands of pounds of metal came crashing down, obliterating the chamber.
 

Richard Rawen

First Post
Reeaaaallly like the way you handled that LB. I think it was great that you showed that big G Could be defeated and yet gave him the resources and power to Avoid that fate. You don't get to be a demon Prince by being careless or over-confident.

That said, I TOTALLY empathize with Arun!

thanks for an early update, will there be a Friday Cliffhanger?
 

Great final on Occipitus, LB. Although I don't think it's over until...well let's say, until either the companions or Graz'zt's rivals destroy what's left.

Also, I don't like this:
Lazybones said:
She’d also grabbed a black gem that had emerged from the ruins of the throne when Arun had destroyed it; that prize vanished into a pocket as she reached the others, touching Lok just as Cal was summoning his magic.
I have seen my share of evil, cursed or similarly destructive black gems... :]
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 608

The companions materialized on the open plain of Occipitus, with the cracked marble columns and crumbling walls of the celestial cathedral forming a backdrop behind them. Their gaze was drawn to the skull, which was continuing a general collapse, its iron skin sloughing off in great pieces that plummeted down to the ground below. Demons by the thousands were being crushed by those massive shards, and more were charging away in a blind, chaotic rush.

“Looks like they haven’t figured out that they can teleport again yet,” Mole observed.

“They will,” Dannel said. He looked up at the sky, where knots of flying demons could be seen in scattered groups in every direction. “And they’ll know we’re here, in a moment or two.”

“I have one more teleport, and can take us to the Bastion,” Cal said. “Maybe Saureya can plane shift us back home…” The archmage silently cursed himself for not memorizing the spell himself; both Umbar and Beorna had possessed it, and he had not planned on a contingency when both of them had fallen, and yet he remained alive. He could gain it from his spellbook, given time, but time was likely something that was not going to be available to them in great quantities.

“If he’s still there,” Dannel returned. “If anything’s still there.”

“Even without Graz’zt, his legions remain a potent force,” Callendes said. The avariel had lost his bow in the battle, and with Dannel supporting him, he looked thin and frail.

“If they come at us, we’ll deal with them,” Lok said, tightening his grip on his axe. Coming from anyone else, the statement would have been bravado, but from the genasi it was a simple statement of fact.

“Look!” Mole shouted, drawing their attention back to the Skull.

White flashes erupted in the sky around the collapsing mountain. When those bursts faded, they revealed white-winged beings that shone with a golden radiance that was clearly visible even miles away. Their nature and intent was immediately obvious, as the newcomers and the demons started to exchange holy smites and unholy blights even as more of the flashes continued to disrupt the Occipitus sky.

“Celestials!” Dannel said. “Dozens of them…”

“But… who is bringing them? Did Saureya get a call for help out?”

Callendes shook his head. “No,” he said. “The Herald.”

A loud noise like an earthquake reached them, drawing their attention back to the mountain. Slowly, but picking up momentum as it progressed, half of the upper portion of the Skull broke away and slid down the ruined mountain’s face. As it fell clear, the pillar of burning fire within became visible as a bright flash that extended upwards into the sky. The pyre twisted and touched the dark clouds that had gathered around the dark presence of Graz’zt, and as the flames pierced that shroud, the darkness fell back. The sky above, streaked red with chaotic surges of energy just a short time before, was revealed as a golden dome that unleashed a soft pleasing radiance upon the plain below. As that light fell upon the fleeing demons, they grew disheartened, and fled cowering. There were dark flashes as those that could teleport realized that they could escape, and they vanished from the mass to seek shelter in the far corners of the plane.

Unfortunately for them, there was no place upon Occipitus where the gaze of the celestial host could not find them.

The companions watched in amazement as the demonic horde was routed, as the celestials, now numbering over a hundred that they could see, unleashed righteous destruction into their ranks.

“I don’t believe it,” Dannel said. “We did it… we won!”

“Heh, I never doubted it,” Mole said, with a wide grin.

But Arun did not smile, and his gaze did not shift from the ruins of the Iron Skull, his fists locked around the shaft of his warhammer.
 

Cool, it's amazing, Lazybones, with how little words you can give so much background to the world and the chase of Big G. Seems that although our friends are now powers in their own right, there are still always things that are bigger & stronger. If only for a while... ;)
 


Richard Rawen

First Post
Well, I'll admit a bit of fear yesterday as I tried and tried to access the update only to fail and fail ...
Then I see this update and my spirits lifted high!
Then I read this update and . . . Yikes! C'mon guys, it's just a big kitty!

Part of me is disappointed not to get to read your wonderful prose in describing each encounter as they chase the BBEG accross the cosmos, yet I have no doubt that we'll enjoy the final scenes as they unfold.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Here's the update from yesterday, postponed due to the board crash:

* * * * *

Chapter 609

The name of the world was Agamatheo, which in a now-dead language meant, “Orb of Beauty.”

If anyone alive had still spoken that tongue, they would have thought the name ironic, or at the very least tragically inappropriate. The world Agamatheo was mostly ocean, with only a few rocky spires where the tips of great mountain chains jutted out from the vast expanses of blue. Under those waves lay the ruins of civilizations, places where quiet and somber humanoids had lived out their lives in the way of most sentient races across the multiverse. That was before the waters had risen, as the world’s rising temperatures had melted the great sheets of ice that had perched atop the small continents that existed at its poles. The people of Agamatheo, while they lived upon the land, had been creatures of the sea, building their towns and cities upon the border of land and water, enjoying the many and diverse fruits of the great ocean of their world.

Now, nothing was left of that race, and little survived within the planet’s waters. The few things that remained were twisted and warped monstrosities, foul creatures that remained in the lowest depths, living in a state of constant and voracious hunger, with only each other to prey upon.

Great slicks traveled across the world upon the ocean currents, and where they went a great stench accompanied them, and nothing lived. Some of them burned as they moved, filling the sky with great plumes of black smoke. Violent storms covered the sky, blasting what few land masses remained, and churning the ocean into an angry froth as they crossed back and forth across this ruin of a world.

The largest of the remaining bits of dry land was a vast black spire that rose up out of the waves on the world’s southern hemisphere. It had no name; back in the old days of Agamatheo it had been a sacred place to the world’s inhabitants, but that reputation had fled when its current inhabitant had arrived here. The mountain was cold, barren rock, and nothing clung to it save for toxic black sludge and acrid crusts of minerals that burned bare skin. The highest point atop the mountain was a jagged spike that rose a thousand feet above the waves, overlooking a jutting bluff a mere few hundred feet high, perhaps a thousand yards square. Upon that rare bit of flat terrain stood a fortress of black rock.

The place was well-suited to the surroundings of Agamatheo, with stark, angular walls surrounding a trio of thick towers that formed a tight cluster within. The only openings were narrow slits in the walls and high upon the towers, all of which were sealed with heavy iron shutters, and a dark passage at ground level that was deeply recessed into the base of the wall, a dark mouth that seemed to radiate malevolence. No lights shone from the shuttered windows, no guards patrolled the walls or crenelated tops of the towers. The place seemed deserted, a lonely and eternal witness to the death of an entire world.

The empty solitude of the place was shattered as a portal opened in the air a few inches above the rough wind-swept surface of the bluff. Eight individuals stepped through the gate, which closed behind them.

“Dana?” Lok asked.

“He’s here, or he was when I opened the gate,” the priestess replied.

“He’s here,” Benzan said, almost in a whisper.

“Want me to go inside and take a quick look?” Mole asked.

“The entire fortress is warded against magical transportation,” Dana said. “Or I would have taken us directly to him myself.”

“If he knows we’re here, he may have already fled,” Dannel said.

They looked to Cal, who was already casting. The gnome had brought with him a short staff, perhaps four feet in length, which he placed before him on the rough black stone. The staff, which appeared to be crafted of a pale, gnarled wood, stood perfectly balanced as he withdrew his hands and wove them in a complex gesture before him.

The spell took almost a full minute. Finally, the gnome clapped his hands together, and sagged backward, almost falling before Lok gently caught him. “Are you all right?” the genasi asked.

“Sorry. I guess I’m still not used to these epic spells.” The wind gusted, and toppled the staff; as it fell it dissolved into a fine ash that formed a plume across the bluff, and then was gone.

“Will it hold him?” Arun asked.

“I don’t know. I think I got the entire perimeter. You were right about the wards, Dana; they are infused into the very fibre of this place.”

“It won’t help him,” the priestess said, leading them toward the dark opening that gaped before them.

Mole sidestepped to avoid a small puddle of black goop. “Ugh, this place stinks,” she said.

“Agamatheo was once a place of beauty and peace,” Dana said, her voice taking on a distant tone. “Another world destroyed by Graz’zt, just to satisfy the evil lusts of his corrupt ego.”

“It is in the nature of fiends,” Beorna said. “They destroy all that they touch.”

“It’s worse than Karoth,” Dannel said. “I thought that I would never see a sight more depressing than those corrupted trees, but this place, somehow… it’s more sad.”

“I miss Umbar, he’d have something pithy about ‘duty’ to say right about now,” Mole commented, as they drew near the entry. Dana slowed, letting the others fall in close behind her.

“Cauldron needs him more than we do,” Arun said. The paladin looked troubled.

During their absence upon Occipitus, the troubled city had befallen new woes that threatened the success of its rebuilding, and it needed strong leadership more than ever. None of those present questioned Arun’s commitment, or Beorna’s, to their quest. If anything, Arun had become all but obsessed with tracking down and destroying Graz’zt. But as the chase had continued across the planes, with the fallen prince leading them from one bolt-hole to the other, it had become obvious that Arun’s focus was masking a deeper weariness, or even a blossoming despair. After Graz’zt had escaped them in the sinister forest of Karoth, Arun had insisted that Umbar remain behind, to help those who were working to rebuild Cauldron. Beorna shared his concern as well; not only had the humanoid incursions from the Alamirs intensified, but there were reports that another access point to the Underdark had been opened near the city.

Umbar had not accepted the order gracefully, but ultimately a command from a Chosen had to be obeyed. As for Beorna… well, Mole’s comment that the argument between her and Arun could have been heard in Almraiven was not that far off.

“Well, let’s get this over with,” Dana said, starting toward the entry.

“Wait,” Benzan said. The companions froze, weapons and spells held in readiness.

“What?” Mole asked, after a long pause.

But then they heard it, a faint creaking that sounded deep within the bowels of the fortress. Fully alert, they waited for a long minute, but the noise faded and nothing emerged from within to menace them.

“All right, let’s go,” Arun said.

The dark tunnel was oppressive, the air thick with a musty dampness that clung to the bare stone walls. Fully thirty feet inside they encountered a set of huge doors of black metal, which stood slightly open. They creaked loudly as Lok pushed them wider, enough for them to pass into the space beyond.

“Not very good security,” Beorna said. “You are sure he’s here?”

“He had the power to block the spell, before, but I don’t know of anything that can send a false positive for a discern location,” Dana said.

“Again, he might have left when we arrived, leaving a trap for us,” Dannel said.

“If it’s a trap, we’ll find out soon enough,” Arun said, pushing past Lok into the chamber beyond the doors.

The room was roughly circular, with a very low ceiling around the edges that rose to a buttressed dome in the center maybe twenty feet above. Dark shafts penetrated the ceiling around the perimeter, from which a constant drip of moisture sounded. The floor was uneven, with dips and ridges forming a minature landscape that was slick with frequent puddles. The construction was all of huge stone blocks, slammed together with rough edges that the builders hadn’t bothered to trim. The only exit, other than the potential of the narrow shafts, was a recessed doorway opposite the entry. An iron portcullis had apparently once blocked that route, but now only rusted remnants of broken metal lay smashed on the floor.

“Creepy,” Mole said, summing up the feelings of the companions quite effectively.

The situation got a whole lot creepier a moment later, when a scraping sound drew their attention to the dark doorway.

“Something’s coming,” Arun said.

“Y’think?” Mole said, before she shimmered and vanished. Benzan, too, disappeared, as he cloaked himself in greater invisibility.

Communicating only with a few subtle gestures, the warriors spread out facing the doorway, while the spellcasters remained back in the cover of the entry. They had layered multiple wards upon the group prior to coming through Dana’s gate, but in anticipation of combat they quickly summoned a few more short-term magics, including a haste spell from Cal.

Dannel infused one of his arrows with a light spell and fired it into the shadowed archway.

The arrow embedded itself into the stone a short distance beyond the arch, its radiance revealing a broad staircase that descended as far as they could see. As the darkness receeded, it revealed the source of the noise they had detected.

It was a creature, formed roughly like a great cat, albeit one that stood six feet tall at the shoulder. Its body was covered with silvery-gray scales reminiscent of dragonhide, covering massive muscles that rippled under its hide as it moved. Its face was an expression of ferocity, dominated by huge jaws that trailed gobs of saliva that sizzled when they hit the damp floor. It moved with a sinuous grace, and by the way its claws clattered loudly on the floor with each step it took, it had to be incredibly heavy.

Revealed by the light, it appeared unconcerned as it slowly treaded forward toward them. Its stare was nothing short of malevolent, and it impossible to mistake the creature’s intent.

“Only one… we’ll take its charge, and strike from the flanks,” Arun said, lifting his hammer. The other warriors nodded.

“No… wait!” Dana cried, but before any of them could react, and creature opened its jaws wide, and unleashed an incredible roar.

The blast of sound reverberated out of the tunnel and resounded with incredible potency throughout the chamber. The very stones of the fortress shook, and each of the companions was staggered, stunned by the intensity of the sound.

None of them could react as the creature leapt forward. It seized Arun in its jaws, lifting the paladin from his feet as it jerked him to the left and right, its teeth crushing deeper into the metal plates covering his torso. Then it snapped its body suddenly around, releasing the dwarf and sending him flying across the room. Arun crashed into the wall with a loud crash of metal on stone, and then slumped to the ground, dazed.

The monstrous beast had already turned upon its next foe. Lok tried to bring up his shield to deflect it, but the creature merely brushed the feeble defense aside with a claw. It bore the genasi down, digging its claws into his shoulders, its weight driving the points through his armor. Lok could do nothing as the creature drew back, but only long enough to seize the genasi’s left leg in a solid bite. It snapped its head up and down, slamming the warrior into the ground once, twice, three times, before hurling him aside much as it had done Arun, launching him to the opposite side of the room to land in a heap.

Having taken down two of the group’s most powerful warriors in a matter of seconds, the creature fixed its attention on where Dannel, Dana, and Cal stood bewildered in the entryway, just inside the metal doors.
 

HugeOgre

First Post
Hmmm, that IS weird. Those posts werent there this morning when I read LB's post earlier. I wonder if the server is 12 hours off or something now?

Anyway, I just wanted to take the time before the server died again to suggest to you LB that you serialize and try to market your work on your next endeavor. I realize this storyhour was fraught with IP from WotC and possibly others, but I definitely believe the style and writing of your work is great, and perfect for syndication. This is the kind of content that brings people back to websites again and again, as demonstrated by the post and view counts of your story, even AFTER the crash.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the Shackled City Story Hour over these many past months. In a time when there is precious little besides news to read on a daily or even weekly basis, your storyhour is a true gem I've enjoyed over and over. To this end, Id really appreciate if you'd let me send you some money via paypal, or deposit something into your account here, or let me buy you a book to read. My way of saying thanks to you. For your efforts, it is money well earned, and I would encourage others who have enjoyed the story as much as I have to do so too. Writing and dedication like this needs to be encouraged and rewarded.

I look forward with some regret to the end.
 

Richard Rawen

First Post
HugeOgre said:
Hmmm, that IS weird. Those posts werent there this morning when I read LB's post earlier. I wonder if the server is 12 hours off or something now?

Anyway, I just wanted to take the time before the server died again to suggest to you LB that you serialize and try to market your work on your next endeavor. I realize this storyhour was fraught with IP from WotC and possibly others, but I definitely believe the style and writing of your work is great, and perfect for syndication. This is the kind of content that brings people back to websites again and again, as demonstrated by the post and view counts of your story, even AFTER the crash.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the Shackled City Story Hour over these many past months. In a time when there is precious little besides news to read on a daily or even weekly basis, your storyhour is a true gem I've enjoyed over and over. To this end, Id really appreciate if you'd let me send you some money via paypal, or deposit something into your account here, or let me buy you a book to read. My way of saying thanks to you. For your efforts, it is money well earned, and I would encourage others who have enjoyed the story as much as I have to do so too. Writing and dedication like this needs to be encouraged and rewarded.

I look forward with some regret to the end.

I wholeheartedly agree with every point you have made HugeOgre.
By all means LB, please allow me to recompense you for what I openly tell friends is the best story I have read. I am both anticipating and dreading the conclusion.
Please also turn your next endeavor into a for-profit venture, I will be ready with my comensation for your worthy work.
M < > <
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Thanks guys, it means a lot to have such support.

While I'm not going to accept any compensation for this work due to the copyright issues involved (though I very much appreciate the sentiment!), I am already planning on a more generic non-WotC-setting serialized story (still in the fantasy genre) for my next project. Since finishing TSC I haven't been writing anything (mostly working on my NWN mods and reading Sagiro's excellent SH in its entirety in my inevitable downtime), but it's hard NOT to write, and I suspect I'll be pouring out updates again before too long.

Speaking of which... update tomorrow, and as for the nature of the beastie the group is currently facing, we'll find out more about it in the next update, but until then I'll give you a hint: ELH.
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Chapter 610

The creature coiled to leap, but before it could resume its deadly assault Beorna roared and laid into it from the side. She had returned Aludriel’s Shard to Saureya before leaving Occipitus, but her new blade, a bastard sword of solid adamantine, acquitted itself well as she slammed it into its flank. The hit, backed by the templar’s considerable strength, should have crippled it, but the sword merely opened a shallow gash in the monster’s thick hide.

And what was worse, it almost immediately started healing, the edges of the wound knitting shut almost as soon as it had been opened.

But Beorna had definitely gotten its attention, as it spun and launched itself at her.

“What in the hells is that thing?” Dannel said, as he shook his head to clear it. He fired an arrow at it, but even though the shot was nearly perfect, it glanced off of its armored skull without any apparent effect.

“It’s a sirrush!” Dana exclaimed, having guessed the identity of the being from the brief education she’d received on Sigil.

“What?” Dannel asked, as his second arrow duplicated the ineffectiveness of the first.

“Dragonstalker! The thing eats dragons for lunch, very tough, Very Big Trouble!” Cal said. The gnome hit it with a disintegrate empowered by his rod, but was not surprised when the beam dissolved on impact. “It’s got damned good spell resistance,” he announced, in case any of them had missed the obvious.

Arun and Lok had gotten back to their feet, somewhat the worse for wear from the nasty greeting they’d gotten from the sirrush. Their armor had been dented by the force of the creature’s bite, and Lok grimaced as he put weight back on his savaged leg. But neither warrior faltered, rushing immediately back in to reinforce Beorna, and rejoin the melee.

A small figure leapt out of the shadows and appeared suddenly atop the sirrush’s back. Mole rushed along its armored spine as if she’d been strolling along a country path, smoothly adjusting to its rapid movements as it attacked Beorna. A final skip took her up to the top of its skull; the gnome’s hand darted down, and she stabbed her rapier toward its eye.

The blade nicked the bony protrusion above its eye, doing no damage. The creature reared suddenly to knock the unwelcome passenger free, but Mole merely somersaulted backward, landing perfectly balanced once again upon its back.

Beorna lifted her sword to strike again, but the sirrush slammed its head back down, smashing her in the face with its heavy chin. Beorna staggered back, followed by the creature, which reared and slashed her with first its left claw, and then its right. It claws did not penetrate her adamantine armor, but the impacts clearly had an effect, crushing the heavy plates against her ribs. The last hit knocked her clear around, and she fell to one knee. Blood splattered on her breastplate as she met the thing’s terrible stare; the bash to her face had crushed in the front of her helmet, splitting her lip.

“Come on then, you bastard!” she snarled, lifting her sword.

Arun and Lok hit it from opposite sides, slamming their weapons hard into its body. Lok’s axe, even augmented by Dana’s greater magic weapon spell, could not penetrate its hide, but Arun managed a solid blow that overcame its resistances. The sirrush felt that one, but it kept its attention upon Beorna, who smote it across the breast, to little effect. She followed with a backhand that came up at its neck, but the creature’s armored torso formed a tight seal against its throat that protected it like a gorget. Her blow clanged harmlessly off that shielded joint. The sirrush exploited the attack by twisting its head around and biting down hard on the templar’s head. Her helmet, caught in its jaws, crunched as the adamantine buckled before its incredible strength. Beorna screamed as she was yanked off her feet, before the strap gave and she was torn free. Falling to the ground, blood pouring from several gashes in her head, she was almost decapitated by a claw stroke that still grazed her head, knocking her to the ground.

The sirrush’s momentum carried it forward, and it stomped on her back with another claw, crushing her with its weight.

“Aaaah!” she screamed, blood spraying from her mouth upon the black stone floor.

Arun, driven to fury by watching Beorna’s decimation, unleashed a furious full attack upon the sirrush. As order’s wrath filled him with righteous power, he slammed his hammer down into it in a flurry of powerful blows. Only one really hurt it, but that one was a critical hit that shivered a rib. The sirrush snarled in pain, and turned from Beorna to surge at the paladin once again. Its movement almost, but not quite, dislodged Mole, who was still trying to find a vulnerable spot for her rapier. An arrow glanced off its head, scratching it, but Dannel’s effort failed to divert it. A clang rang off its hind quarters as something bounced off its hide, but that too did not distract it from its foe.

A shimmering in the air solidified into a trio of avorals, who turned at once to Dana.

“Distract the sirrush, but ware its attacks,” she ordered. “All others are allies; heal them if you can.”

With a joint cry of assent, the three outsiders leapt into the air. They started blasting the creature with magic missiles, but none of them penetrated the sirrush’s spell resistance.

The sirrush descended upon Arun like an avalanche. The dwarf raised his shield, but the sirrush’s jaws closed on it, crushing it as if it was a piece of bark, rather than a slab of magical steel. Only the fact that the straps gave way saved the paladin from losing his arm along with the shield. As he tore free from its grasp, he lifted his hammer to strike it in the head. But before the blow landed, the creature’s left foreclaw came down hard on his left knee.

Arun screamed as his leg twisted, and he went down hard. The creature clipped him with its other claw, driving him down. Arun fought to hold on to consciousness with his leg bent under him at an angle that hurt just to look at.

Cal felt a momentary thrill of anticipation as his magic penetrated the creature’s spell resistance. But he could feel his baleful polymorph run up against a solid wall.

Damn, the thing has the fortitude of a god! he thought, trying to think of a way he could affect the creature.

The sirrush seemed to be gloating as its wedge-shaped head loomed over the broken body of its adversary. But before it could finish Arun, Lok drove into it from the flank, smashing it under the chin with his shield in a gesture that did not harm it, but which drew its attention. Just in case that wasn’t enough, the genasi followed that with an uppercut with his axe that did manage to cut a small notch in the side of its jaw. A sharp tooth, jarred loose from the impact, went flying, but the creature still had an ample supply of those to spare. It was continuing to regenerate. Although it had taken a serious amount of punishment from the attacks that had penetrated its armored hide thus far, the thing seemed little fazed by its wounds.

The genasi’s attack had the desired effect, drawing the creature’s attention away from the crippled paladin. But even as he established a defensive stance, the creature lifted its head, and opened its jaws to unleash another stunning roar.

A roar that none of them could withstand.
 


Elemental

Explorer
Nowhere to run for Graz'zt. I'm curious about why the story didn't end with the liberation of Occitipus, but I'm sure I'm going to enjoy finding out. :)
 

Richard Rawen

First Post
Gah, that thing is devastating! Hopefully Dana has been cooking up some major mojo during all these quiet rounds... eats Dragons for lunch... sheesh!

As for the liberation of the demi-plane, that seemed well in hand with the influx of celestials at the end. I'm guessing that the Travellers/Heroes had a score to settle that would have ended with either 'G' hunting them down at their weakest moments individually - Or - this relentless, ruthless, tireless pursuit to destroy a Demon Prince.

What choice did they have, yet, what a concept, when you stop to think about it... hunting a Demon Prince.
Right now they have their hands more than full, I have to wonder if Graz'zt will strike at them as well, while they are weakened and distracted.
If he's even there!

btw LB, I started reading my kids a story this weekend, it begins with the chance meeting of four Travellers at a crossroads where only three trails are blazed . . .
The posse is preparing to enter the Woods and the kids are really looking forward to AFTER July 4th (They go to their Mother's for tonight and tomorrow) for the story to resume! =-)
Thanks again for a great - Epicly <sp?> great - tale!
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Elemental said:
Nowhere to run for Graz'zt. I'm curious about why the story didn't end with the liberation of Occitipus, but I'm sure I'm going to enjoy finding out. :)
I thought about ending it there, but I went this way in an attempt to resolve the story in a different way (with a twist, naturally). I think it works, but I look forward to reading your comments at the end. As Richard alluded to in his post, the battle for Occipitus was part of a greater struggle, while the mission now is... personal.

Richard Rawen said:
btw LB, I started reading my kids a story this weekend, it begins with the chance meeting of four Travellers at a crossroads where only three trails are blazed . . .
The posse is preparing to enter the Woods and the kids are really looking forward to AFTER July 4th (They go to their Mother's for tonight and tomorrow) for the story to resume! =-)
Wow, glad you are all enjoying the story! I still have a fond spot for the Travelers. :D

P.S. I've put together a no-frills PDF of the entire Shackled City story. I'll post it somewhere once I finish here. 1479 pages... :eek:

* * * * *

Chapter 611

The sirrush prepared to roar again, but as it lifted its head Dana was already moving. “Dannel!” she yelled, causing the elf to hesitate as he drew another arrow to his cheek. The elf held his shot, glancing at her sidelong as she came up to him.

“Don’t miss,” she said, touching the end of the arrow, and uttering a spell.

A globe of silence enveloped them, but quickly disappeared as Dannel fired his arrow. Perhaps it was luck, or perhaps the elf had drawn deep into another reservoir of skill, for this arrow pierced the sirrush’s hide, stabbing into the flesh of its back just behind its armored neck. The creature’s jaws stretched open, but nothing came out, just a silent roar that failed to penetrate the bubble of Dana’s magic.

“Well, that shut it up, but how in the hells are we going to stop that thing?” Dannel asked.

“We have to overwhelm it, just mangle it faster than it can regenerate,” Cal said. “With our spells of little use, we’re going to have to support the warriors, and hope they can bring it down.”

But with two of the warriors down, that looked to be a difficult prospect. Arun, at least, was still conscious, although he could not stand with his broken leg. The paladin, blocked from reaching Beorna by the bulk of the creature, dragged himself away from the sirrush’s reach before he used his lay on hands power to heal some of the injuries he’d suffered. Arun grimaced as he straightened he mangled leg to let the healing magic restore the crippled joint.

Lok faced the creature’s full fury as it unleashed another full attack upon him. The potency of the assault was not diminished by the fact that it was utterly silent; if anything, to those watching the blows that fell upon the genasi seemed more powerful than before. But Lok stood his ground, tearing free from a bite that snagged his shoulder, absorbing punishing rakes that added more damage to the heavy armor covering his body. Somehow, when it was over the genasi held his stance, although his armor was covered with streaks of his own blood, and a thin trail of red ran down his left leg from a deep puncture somewhere beneath his torso plates.

A wise combatant would have withdrawn at that point, but Lok knew that while he could not withstand another full attack, his friends were likely to die if he backed down. So he stood his ground, and took the attack to the monster, hacking at its legs with his axe. The thundering power of the weapon would not function within the silence, but the edge was sharp enough, and within a few seconds Lok was not the only one trailing blood.

Mole, still holding court upon the creature’s spine, ran forward again to the bony ridge of its neck. But her rapier was in its sheath, and instead of trying another futile attack, as she leapt up over its head, she whipped something out from her bag of holding. It was a heavy cloak, which she swept across the creature’s eyes, using it as an anchor as she swung beneath its head, catching the far end and holding on, keeping it taut.

Her lips moved soundlessly as she shouted something clever, a bit miffed that the silence kept her friends from fully appreciating the maneuver.

Under normal circumstances, the sirrush would not have been inconvenienced in the slightest by being blinded; its senses, honed by hunting dragons many times its size, were incredibly sharp. But the silence neutralized its keen hearing, and there was a musty, earthy smell that infused the cloak, making it difficult for the creature to sort out the distinct odors of its enemies.

Snarling silently, the sirrush darted forward, snapping its head to the left and right, trying to dislodge its unwelcome passenger. Mole held on, swinging up to avoid a claw that tried to knock her free. One of the avorals swung down and raked at the creature’s back, but its claws might as well have been scratching the stone floor for all the effect they had upon it. Another landed beside Beorna, and tended to the fallen templar. Lok slammed it again with his axe as it passed him, but while he added another gash to its tally, the wounds it had taken were clearly not especially serious.

And it continued to regenerate.

Dana, just outside of the bubble of silence, cast a mass heal. At once the wounds of the companions knit shut, and the vitality lost to the creature’s claws and bite was instantly restored. Beorna recovered her sword and charged, while Arun, his savaged leg now mostly intact, came at the creature from the opposite side.

The sirrush dropped its head solidly on the floor before it. Mole swung around, avoiding getting pinned, still holding onto the flapping ends of the cloak. But the effort was made moot a moment later as it pulled its claws down over its armored face, shredding the garment. Mole fell free and tried to somersault backwards away from it, but the creature swept its head sideways, butting her solidly and knocking her roughly across the room. She landed on the far side of the chamber, flipping at the last instant to land on her feet, grimacing where a cracked rib throbbed in her side.

The creature’s gyrations had failed to dislodge the silenced arrow stuck in its neck, and once again no sound followed as the warriors charged into the distracted creature. Arun, Lok, and Beorna, reenergized by Dana’s potent spell, laid into it with a violent fury of attacks. The paladin pounded it with his hammer, while on the far side of it Beorna’s adamantine blade cut gouges in its scaled body. Lok, meanwhile, continued to hew at its legs with its axe. Dannel’s arrows continued to zip into it, until a small forest of feathered shafts jutted from its back.

Cal focused his arcane power and reached out with his magic. Using one of the newer secrets of arcane lore that he had discovered, he extended that link between himself and Arun, laying a displacement ward upon him without having to touch the paladin. Once again, such a mundane ruse would not normally have fooled such a canny hunter, but with its hearing obscured, its claws passed harmlessly through the false image raised by the spell.

The sirrush was starting to show the effects of its wounds, now, as the three warriors launched full attacks into the creature from all sides. The sirrush still had a lot of fight left in it; as Beorna scored a critical hit upon its flank, it suddenly spun around and unleashed a devastating series of attacks upon her, driving her back. But a moment later the templar’s wounds closed again, as Dana channeled another mass cure into them.

The sirrush seemed to be possessed by a furious rage as it focused on Beorna, pressing its attack. The dwarf held her ground, hewing at the creature’s armored head with her sword. Her blows glanced off its thick hide without effect, but her efforts still paid off as her allies punished the increasingly savaged hunter. Arun drove his hammer into it, one two-handed overhand strike after another, while Lok had laid one of its hind legs nearly bare, with its ruined scales oozing blood. Even Mole got back into the fray, darting under its hindquarters, and stabbing her rapier into a slightly more tender spot.

The sirrush started to flail about it almost blindly, still scoring hits on its tormentors, but failing to overcome any of its foes. With a final stroke of his axe Lok took off the leg he’d been working on, and the creature staggered and fell. Still it attacked, trying to seize the genasi in its jaws. But Lok tore free as Arun brought his hammer down onto its spine. They didn’t need to hear the crack to know that the blow had done serious damage; the creature quivered and began to spasm.

Dana approached the creature from behind, her hand glowing red. She touched it and unleashed a harm spell. The potent magic failed to overcome its spell resistance, but it increasingly appeared that this was unnecessary. Dannel, too, had approached to almost point-blank range, and now was sending one arrow after another into a gap where a scale had been torn away from its body.

With her face covered in her own blood, a fearsome look etched upon her features, Beorna stepped up. The creature sensed her and started to turn to face her, sweeping out a claw. The claw gashed her armored belly, but she ignored the blow as she lifted the sword high above her head, and brought it down into the center of its face. The blow did not appear to penetrate, but the creature’s body shuddered once, a mighty tremble that shook it like an earthquake, and then it slumped down to the ground, defeated.
 


Neurotic

I plan on living forever. Or die trying.
Finally !!!!

After almost six months of reading first shackled city, then travelers when they appeared and then againg this I must say WOW! Just WOW. <bows reverently>

Thank you for your effort, I look forward to the grand finale.

I hope your books wont be too long before publishing so we can enjoy more of your stories.

Cheers
 

Lazybones

Adventurer
Thanks for posting, Neurotic! I am glad you're enjoying the story.

NWK: I agree, I think that silence is one of those spells that you always keep in your repertoire, no matter how high in level you are.

* * * * *

Chapter 612

The companions did not let down their guard, nor did they assume the fact of their victory until Arun had wrenched the creature’s head aside, exposing enough of its neck to allow Lok to hew the head from its body. Only then did they relax—or more accurately, all but collapsed.

Arun found the silenced arrow and plucked it, tossing it aside. “By the fire of the Forge!” he exclaimed, leaning up against the creature’s flank as he fought for breath. “That thing could take a beating!”

“And dish it out, as well,” Lok said, wiping blood from his face with an old rag.

“What in all the Hells was that?” Beorna said, likewise slumping back against the wall. The warriors looked like they had been hurled into a grinder, with the plates of their armor bent and punctured.

“It was a sirrush,” Cal explained. “They are hunters… their favorite prey is dragons, which they take down in packs.”

“Wonderful,” Beorna said.

“Let’s just hope that there aren’t any more of them,” Dannel said. “It was almost invulnerable to magic, and only Dana’s quick thinking kept us from being stunned again by its roar.”

Benzan became visible as his greater invisibility faded, a look of disgust on his face as he hurled his sword to the ground with a clatter. “Damned useless,” he said. “I may as well have stayed home, for all that I added to that fight.”

“We can do without your whining, tiefling,” Beorna said. “We all knew when we agreed to continue this chase that there would be things that tested us.”

Benzan’s eyes narrowed, but Dana interrupted them. “Benzan… we’re here, in the now… we need to come together, against this threat.” Her voice was soft, cool, and she fixed the full force of her presence upon him, like a hunter trying to calm an angry beast.

For a moment the tiefling looked about to respond in fury, but then his shoulders slumped, and his eyes admitted defeat. “I am sorry,” he said. “We had better get going, before the Prince sends another one of those after us.”

As he turned, Cal and Dana exchanged a glance. Dana had done her best to ease her husband’s return from captivity, but they had all experienced enough of Graz’zt’s “hospitality” to know that Benzan’s suffering would not soon ease. With Dana’s blessing, Cal was working on a spell that would selectively blot out Benzan’s memory, allowing him to move ahead with his life without forever dwelling under the shadow of what had been done to him. It might be the only solution, Cal thought, but for now, they had to press ahead.

“Ah… sorry about your cloak, Mole,” Dannel said, as he offered her the shredded remnant of the garment.

The gnome shrugged. “S’okay… It was Umbar’s, anyway. I never remembered to give it back to him.” She grinned, as the companions formed up and headed warily into the dark exit, and the stairs that descended deeper into the fortress.
 

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