The 8th of Vor, 1329 Avard: After a relaxing and refreshing night's sleep at the Temple of the Trees in Takanal, they were once again ready to tackle the question of how to protect Evelin Battachirus. Zap wanted to get him to Mount Lavanor, still, but thought that they should do so by going south to Rilan, and then back upriver to Kashin.
Ethos thought that the Bat would be safe there at the Temple of the Trees, but had a vague sense of foreboding. The night before, someone had engaged their pursuers, and the rocs, in supernatural combat. With good horses and a strong lead, their enemies could be only marks behind them -- or even closer. Working quickly, more horses were rounded up, and Father Tomalis agreed to watch over the Bat's books, notes, and a chest with close to ten-thousand ducats in it.
The Bat opened the chest and had hundreds of ducats distributed among the horses, the remounts, and the packs of those that would be going with him. Father Tomalis then turned the chest into a living, thick-bodied shrub that would serve him as a desk in his personal study inside the Temple of the Trees.
Leaving in a hurry, they rode out barely a mark after dawn for the ferry. Sirik rode behind Zap, with Xennith, Gabriel, the Bat, and Ethos on separate horses -- and remounts for all of them. The ferry took them across the Turan River to the other side, where the bank was built up and the road was good. On the west side of the Tulan, mules and oxen were used to drag the great barges upriver from Rilan. The party hoped to use that side of the river to travel as quickly as possible all the way.
Traffic on the Takanal-Rilan road was light, and the grains and foods provided by Father Tomalis and his wife were hearty and fortifying -- boosting their stamina and their endurance for the hard ride.
Towards mid-afternoon, though, they spied riders hard on their trail and coming fast.
Zap recognized the horses as being Chre war horses, imported from the distant Toomaran lands. The Chre horses would out run the party's horses. Their options were to try and ride on, duck into the forests to lose their pursuers, or to try and stay and fight. There was no doubt in anyone's minds that the riders were Marksmen.
Ethos gave them another option. He called upon Whalin's might in their hour of need, and asked the God of Compassion for a special gift. The elven missionary ordered all of them to stop, and quickly dismount. With the riders bearing down on them hard, the party was confused, but obeyed the missionary. Ethos began using strips of cloth to bind the eyes of his horse closed, and ordered all of them to do the same to their riding horses -- but not to the remounts.
Moments later, the remounts were galloping down the road, Gabriel's familiar -- a wolf named Ash -- hot on their heels.
The party, riding their horses, forced the mounts to step out onto the river, and they slowly crossed the Turan River's surface while fish darted beneath them.
They finally brought their mounts up onto the other bank, and then up into the woods. From the safety of the trees, they could see the Marksmen -- four of them with Chre remounts -- gallop on after the cloud of dust their remounts were making far down a bend in the river.
The Bat let out a sigh of relief, and they all seemed wide-eyed at what had just happened. Ethos shrugged it off, and they began a more leisurely journey south towards Rilan.
That night, they encamped well back into the woods, with Xennith up in a tree on watch, and Sirik the tomanth prowling the grounds.
In the morning, they reached the joining of the Turan River with the Galanus River -- and across that joining was the massive, snow-covered peak of Mount Rilan, easily visible in the morning light once they were out of the forest.
They traveled up the Galanus a bit to reach the ferry gong, only to find two of the King's Quarrels already there, waiting to cross over the Galanus as well.
The two parties kept a respectable distance and didn't intermingle, and the constant treachery and conspiracies that the Bat and the rest had been through left them watchful.
The ferry finally managed to arrive, and then move them back across the Galanus. Another mark's hard travel on the road put them into the town of Rilan. There, they headed straight for the Blue Tyven. The party hoped to find a ship to take them upriver to Lena, and was thinking baths, rest, and beer when they stepped into the commons room of the Blue Tyven.
One of the four Marksmen sitting at a table with his friends nearly choked on his beer when he saw the group he had been pursuing walk right into the commons room.
Neither party made overt moves, with so many dark elves about in the Blue Tyven, and so many witnesses. Xennith made right for the head dark elf, an effeminate male by the name of Levantith. Levantith, as a favor to a fellow dark elf, led the group further into the Blue Tyven, and then out the back side. Speaking quietly, the gay drow led them next door to the Silver Gauntlet.
At the Silver Gauntlet, one of a pair of elderly human twins responded favorably to Levantith's request for sanctuary for the party, and escorted them into a back room that had a huge circle on the floor. The party hesitated, fearful of the circle -- all save the Bat, who stepped into the circle and calmly stepped to the back of it, waiting for the others to join him. Following the Bat's lead, they all stepped into the circle, including one of the elderly twins.
The bottom dropped out of the world, and they all found themselves in a different room.
The elderly twin stepped out of the room to speak with a guardsman that was nearby, and then motioned them to follow the guardsman to their quarters. The party was at Lok Magius -- the seat of magic in all the free world, and the location of the Mages' Academy.
Ethos and Zap felt even more nervous than before -- for they had seen the fire-blasted shanty town near the ruins of Grunden. They wondered if the conspiracy reached as high as the Mages' Academy.
In a small wing of the fortress to magic, the guard showed them five rooms, two on each side of a hallway, and one towards the back. The Bat took the one in the back, and they all dropped off their saddlebags full of ducats there, though they held onto their packs full of wealth.
The guardsman was replaced with a powerful elven warrior, who had two longswords over both shoulders. One of the longswords was dedicated to Nabrol -- the Mad God of slaughter, chaos, and blood. No one asked too many questions of the intimidating figure, who introduced himself as Gundar.
Gundar was their escort, and would keep them all together while they were within Kok Magius -- to keep them out of trouble.
Again fearing a conspiracy, the party stayed together, though they differed on where they should go in the fortress, or whether they should just stay in their rooms and wait to see what happened.
Gundar had other ideas, and led them to the Hoard.
Thedlar was a huge barbarian dressed in furs, with a bare chest and massive arms as thick as Ethos' waist. The tall barbarian was in charge of the Hoard -- where the magical creations of the apprentices and journeyman mages were available for sale to the right individuals. Apparently, Levantith's word carried considerable weight.
The Bat indicated that as long as they were there, they should purchase what magical equipment and accoutrements as they could with their packs full of ducats.
Like kids in a candy store, the party quickly purchased magical items to suit their needs. Sirik and the Bat held back, neither really interested in using the arcane arts to defend themselves.
Once the shopping and amusing verbal abuse from Thedlar were done, Gundar escorted them back to their quarters. The group decided that the Bat would be safest at Lok Magius, despite the possibility of a mage in on the conspiracy, and so left Sirik there to guard Evelin -- with whom they left one of the cloaks of disguise.
Xennith, the Bat's agent, went with the rest of the group back to the teleportation circle within Lok Magius. From there, they were teleported back to the Silver Gauntlet. The twins acknowledged their return, and escorted them out.
Going up the back steps of Blue Tyven, they managed to get ahold of Levantith, who said that more of the 'rather stern and imposing -- but oh, so delectable' men had gathered. More of the Marksmen had come into the commons room.
Going out the back, they headed directly for the stables, saddled up their mounts, and galloped out of Rilan on the road south. Unknown to them, the Marksman that had been watching the stables had gone back into the commons to rouse his comrades -- and his masters.
The party ran out of road rather quickly, for the main muleteer road was on the opposite side of the river from them. Once again relying on Ethos' prayers, they bound the horses' eyes closed, and crossed the Galanus as quickly as they could.
Halfway across the river, the Marksmen caught up to them -- and with them were two distinct figures. One was an imposing man in full plate armor. The other was a slighter figure with a cowled robe that hid her features from sight. The cowled figure began a prayer to Olorin, the Sea Goddess.
Ethos was the only one able to take real action, as Gabriel had the reins of his horse, and all the others were doing their best to keep their horses 'walking on water' across the river. The missionary barely beat out the cleric to Olorin, silencing her with a prayer to Whalin -- even as arrows began to whistle by their ears, startling the horses.
Ethos called upon the river to rise up into mist, and the obscurements helped hide their hasty crossing of the river. On the other side, they pushed the horses for all they were worth, galloping away. Arrows continued to rain down around them, and one struck Zap full on his armor. Only the chain of his half-plate saved his life, though the impact of the big arrow would leave a hellacious bruise.
Once clear of the archers, they slowed their pace, and began using Gabriel to home in on the remounts they had left on that side of the river. The Marksmen had managed to catch two of the remounts, but Ash had the other four firmly in his control.
Their hard-but-fair pace continued into the night with Maroth rising some time after sunset. Their more leisurely pace was upset when they heard hoof beats behind them. Three of the Marksmen were galloping down the road right for them.
Hoping to escape detection, the group ran off into the forests, and sought what cover they could, camouflaging themselves quickly and putting the horses back behind huge forest giants.
The three Marksmen went galloping the group -- when Zap and Xennith took shots at them from behind. The Marksmen wheeled their mounts, and instead of engaging the group, began galloping their mounts back in the direction of their companions still some ways behind them.
Zap, Xennith, Ethos, and even Gabriel's wolven bolts managed to bring one of the Marksmen down. Xennith quickly frisked the body, and they remounted, ready to run again.
Instead of running, however, they quickly took their horses deeper into the old growth forests of Rakore. They went deep into the forest, waiting to see if they were followed, and hiding as best they could with the horses.
The Marksmen found them again.
Ethos drew upon Whalin's grace and brought up a mist to obscure their intentions, as the remounts went one direction with Ash hot on their heels, while Ethos, Gabriel, Xennith, and Zap went another direction.
Again, the group waited, listening to their mounts go crashing away.
The Marksmen continued to follow them, on foot, apparently. Only three Marksmen were on their trail, but the huge warrior in plate and the cowled woman were almost upon them.
Xennith looked up, and saw an owl ghosting among the trees. The cowled woman apparently had a familiar, and was more than just a cleric of Olorin.
The Bat's agent, hoping to lure the Marksmen away from the rest of the party, ran off in one direction, even as Zap ran off in another direction to lure the Marksmen away from Ethos and Gabriel.
The Marksmen split to follow Zap, while the cowled woman turned her armored companion's attention in Xennith's direction.
Having had enough of running, Ethos let fly with a longbow strike against the armored giant.
The battle was enjoined.
Zap had to run back to defend Ethos and Gabriel, even as the Marksmen closed on Gabriel's howling wolven missiles. Xennith closed to engage with the cowled woman, even as she summoned a troll from beneath the forest floor. The troll seemed eerily familiar to Ethos and Zap, and gave both of them a fright as they realized it was the one that had killed them both.
The huge armored man rushed at them all, his only weapon apparently a bo-staff as thick as his forearms. He swept Ethos off his feet with the staff, even as he threw off either end of the staff to reveal a wicked double-bladed sword.
The Marksmen helped close on the battle, adding to the chaos in the dark of the red night.
Gabriel went down to the blades of the armored enemy, and one of the Marksmen began to drag him back from the battle, perhaps to take him as hostage or interrogate him.
Ethos, seeing the lumbering troll coming even as he battled the big man in plate, called upon Whalin's protection. The God of Compassion answered with a field that hindered anyone that was evil, and hedged out summoned creatures -- such as the troll.
The troll beat ineffectually at the field, even as Ethos and Zap saw the field slowing down the Marksmen and the lumbering man in plate. Meanwhile, Xennith sought to run to help Zap and Ethos -- only he turned his back upon the cowled woman just as she let loose a hellish bolt of bluish-green energy into the Agent's back.
Xennith went down, and she put a boot on his back. The Agent, unable to do more than twitch, shivered as she whispered down at him, "I'll have fun with you, later... I wonder how dark meat tastes?" She cackled, and went back to figuring out why her troll couldn't beat down the field around Ethos.
Ethos and Zap were hard-pressed. All of Zap's training at the War College was needed to keep him alive, shield one way and blade another, blade back, and angle in to take a blow, as Marksmen and the two-bladed swordsman fought him and Ethos. Despite being somewhat slowed by Ethos' god-granted field, the battle was fierce, and Ethos wield his twin maces as best he could, beating first at one Marksman, and then at the armored behemoth, always keeping the troll firmly hedged out.
Xennith was down, but not out. As the cowled woman roared in frustration at her sea troll's inability to get at Ethos, the Agent managed to sneak a sprig of peppermint leaves into his mouth. The three peppermint leaves were gifts from Father Tomalis -- a priest of Barith, whose wife was a priest of Whalin.
The cowled woman nearly landed on her back as Xennith flipped out from under her, and the battle between those two began in earnest. She whipped out a light mace and began to swing wildly at Xennith, even as the Agent's punching dagger slid off of her numerous protective fields, each glowing and flickering in the darkness.
Zap began to realize with horror that the two-bladed swordsman's armor was easily as enchanted as his own new armor -- and what was worse, the swordsman was, by himself, dangerous enough to kill them all. The third Marksman, having drug Gabriel far enough away, charged back into the battle, suddenly making it two-to-one odds against Ethos and the Wolf of Rahne.
Growing desperate, Zap called out to Rahne for aid. The sword he wielded was of his own construction. He had found it in the stores at Lok Magius -- already enchanted by an apprentice. The sword had been stolen when he was back at Kelerin's Manor, trussed up by the spider-mage's monsterous companions. Zap had figured the sword lost for all time, but was determined to find it again. He had searched in Kashin, and in Takanal, to see if the masterwork weapon -- forged for him by his father's master, Elkar Stormblade. The weapon had migrated to Lok Magius, and because it was an item forged by a master, it had proven suitable for enchantment by one of the journeymen mages. Rahne had already answered Zap's prayers, for her answer was in his hands.
Zap threw his shield arm out behind him as a counter-balance, as he whirled his enchanted blade across. The huge armored man with the two-bladed sword leapt back, thinking the attack against him, and the Marksmen, seeing an opening, advanced. The strike went right where it was intended -- its magically enchanted edge, sharper than any blade should be, cutting through skin, flesh, bone, and cartilage in one stroke. The head of a Marksman flew off into the night, warm red blood splashing onto everyone.
Ethos, desperately holding his own in the fight, whistled as shrilly and as loudly as he could.
Xennith spun and whirled away from the evil cleric's attacks, even as she advanced. Whenever she would back down from Xennith's attacks, it was her that sped backwards. The Agent knew he was lucky, for she was nearly out of faith and power and prayers and whatever else it was that powered clerics and sorcerers. His luck ran out as the cowled woman summoned her troll back towards her to defend herself against Xennith.
Ethos' whistle was answered as Speedy, Shadow, and the other horses sped in out of the darkness.
Ash leapt to the aid of the group, but was cut down by one of the Marksmen. There was no time for anything save leaping onto the saddles and withdrawing as quickly as they could, as the horses went thundering by.
Xennith sprinted away from his battle with the cowled woman, and leapt up onto Shadow. Wheeling the horse about, he helped guide Zap and his mount right back to the cowled woman -- and Gabriel's nearby, still form.
The Agent leapt out of the saddle at the cowled woman, even as Zap rode by her with a great strike from his weapon. Her fields began to falter, arcs of blue light snapping and hissing around her in the night.
Zap dismounted contemptuously, and with a mighty underhanded stroke, split her up the middle, throwing her into the air with an arc of blood. The big man in full plate screamed through the forest, "T'SORAH!"
As the armored behemoth prepared to charge at them on foot, a fast strike from Zap's crossbow shafted into the man's throat, taking him down.
The troll shrieked, dissipating in a torturous cry.
The Marksmen, however, were not done. Arrows sang out of the night, impacting on trees nearby, and sailing right by their ears.
Zap tossed Gabriel over one horse's saddle, as Xennith mounted up. Ethos urged them to hurry, seeing the behemoth in armor getting back up -- beaten, but not broken, and infuriated at the death of his beloved.
Ethos saw in the dim light that cowled woman had been an elf, and in a brief flash of white light from the missionary of Whalin, he saw that her skin was blue.
Arrows continued to whiz around them, and one shattered on Zap's plate, nearly staggering the exhausted soldier out of his saddle.
They grabbed the reins forcefully, and ran their horses through the forest at night. They felt that being thrown from a horse and killed as it rolled over was preferable to staying behind to face the armored juggernaut and his Marksmen.
As they fled the battle, Xennith told them who the juggernaut had been, as 'T'Sorah' had called him: Doom. That had been the Doom.
* * *
The next morning saw them staggering into the Temple of the Trees in Takanal -- beaten, bloodied, and almost broken. Gabriel's wounds were so grievous that not even Father Tomalis, the temple, and his wife would be enough to heal him. Ethos was the most powerful priest of Whalin for hundreds of miles in every direction, and he would be needed to keep Gabriel alive -- especially since the young sorcerer had lost his familiar that night, as well.
Zap and Xennith bandaged their wounds as best they could, preparing to move out again.
Their outlook was bleak, and questions abounded.
Was it a coincidence that he was the same size as Sir Karl Brynx, and had a similar suit of armor? If Sir Karl was the Doom, then who else was involved? Was the Bat safe at Lok Magius? Who was the blue elf?
Worse... If all that salt from the mines near Grunden was going to be used to prepare foods for an Army, as the Bat suspected from all of the food thefts in Kashin, then could they already be poised to strike secretly at Kashin? How much time did they have before the Doom's works destroyed Kashin, or all of Rakore?
Zap strapped his armor back on, even as Xennith pillaged peppermint leaves from Mother Thia's garden. They still had a lot of work to do.
-so ends the 12th of Davor, 1329 Avard.
They did really well. Sam got in on this, and we all crowded back into my room again. I really need somewhere with a decent table, so that I can use a DM-screen. It's bad when the players keep peeking at my notes, seeing how many more Hit Points the Doom has left, or which Marksman is more wounded. On the other hand, I broke them a couple of times, because I was keeping track of their Hit Points -- right there on the same sheet as the Doom's Hit Points -- but they weren't paying attention to how little they had left. So it worked both ways, the knuckle-heads.
This was our going-away present for Ramon. He'll be leaving us this coming Thursday, and heading on to bigger and better things at Fort Hood, Texas. We wish him the best of luck.
Story-wise, while I felt bad about Gabriel going down so quickly, it does tie Ethos up at the Temple of the Trees. I'll let Gabriel have Ash back, as a more magical and less material familiar, and then we'll see what kind of trouble he gets into in a few weeks, when he's recovered from his wounds.