17th of Davor, 1329 Avard: Ta'Crae dropped into a determined jog, Rell in his arms, and continued pumping his legs with grim determination. His hawk, Phoenix, continued to range ahead of him, gliding slowly across the sky and letting him know the way ahead was relatively safe.
Behind him, the strange sight of Rell's inky-black disc followed, hovering several feet over the ground. The unconscious Zap lay on the pile of weapons and odds and ends they had found in the cave of the giants'. Behind the disc, Kaisumi limped resolutely on, favoring his left leg.
They jogged on, through the afternoon, the hot summer sun beating down on them. For Ta'Crae, as a desert elf, the sun was nothing new -- although the humidity, even on the side of the mountain, was rough. He also had to lead them up the sides of the small valley they were in, in order to insure that they were going away from the huge behir they had encountered.
When they reached the crest of the ridge, they could see out onto the Tikranor Plateau, and down to the Grand Maul Pass. The forested pass, if they could reach it, would let them reach the Kashin-Takanal road, and then move more quickly into Takanal. Ta'Crae still in the lead, they moved south along the ridge, the sun off to their right, and Mount Tessel looming steadly closer.
Kaisumi noticed the inky blackness of the disc Rell had conjured giving off vapors of the same black, as though a mist of shadows were flowing out of the disc. The mist was growing thicker, and flowing faster, though it never reached the ground.
The half-elf barely had time to think about it, before the disc evaporated into black mist, throwing Zap and all those weapons down upon the ground.
Ta'Crae numbly stopped, and turned around.
Kaisumi rushed forward to examine Zap, but found the warrior still alive and breathing. His chest was a mass of purple bruises, and his breathing was heavily labored. The half-elf guessed that perhaps half of the big man's ribs were broken, and the other half were perhaps cracked.
Ta'Crae muttered, "Might as well camp here."
The desert elf set Rell down, and then began camouflaging their position.
A great roc-hawke flew by them, a ballistae grasped in its claws. The hawke flew over the shoulder of the mountain, near where Grunden probably was.
Kaisumi shivered at the sight of the huge bird.
They went about camouflaging their camp with extra care, ensuring nothing would see them from the air, or catch their outline on the ridge.
Dinner was cold, and at night, the temperature plummetted as cooler air flowed down off of the snow-capped Mount Tessel and rose to meet them from the cooler Tikranor Plateau below the ridge.
Maroth, the gas giant, was out. Neither Kaisumi nor Ta'Crae could sleep. More roc-hawkes were seen once the sun set, though they were hard to make out in the darkness. Some of their flights seemed to be patrols.
Several marks after sunset, Rell aroused, somewhat confused. Once he batted aside the spiderwebs of his mind, he asked Agincoth for assistance, strength, and aid. A faint silver light spread from the priest, touching Zap.
There was a sudden popping sound, and Zap gasped in pain. The popping sound was his rib healing with an explosive retort. More pops followed, as more and more of his ribs healed violently, and the grating sound was that of his fractured ribs strengthening.
Kaisumi kept a hand on Zap's mouth to keep him silent, in case the roc-hawkes or any patrols heard. Finally, though, his ribs were all healed, and the faint silver glow faded.
After a long moment, they were able to converse. Zap seemed better, though still weak, as Rell assessed the situation.
Phoenix was wounded, and a huge centipede, perhaps two feet in length, lay on the rock beside the hawk as a warning, and as a prize. When the hawk roused at times during the night, she would tear strips off of the multi-legged creature, a native of the mountains. Phoenix's wound was minor, though Rell's healing extended even to the smallest member of their party.
Worried that their 'meat shield', Zap, was without armor, they thought briefly of using armor they'd found in the giants' cave for him, but Rell dismissed the idea. Using only his hands, he repairs the chainmail of the warrior's armor, a light silver glow emenating from under his hands as the links of the chainmail rewove and were made whole.
Zap was in awe. Rell did in a few moments, with his bare hands, what would have taken the warrior half a long day in the forge, if not longer. Using only his hands, again, Rell repaired Zap's leathers, which had been shredded by the huge behir's claws.
Seeing no other dangers, though, Zap could only go to sleep, exhausted though he still was. He fell asleep, though, with his hand-and-a-half sword beside him.
Rell began quietly sorting all of the equipment from the giants' cave into three piles, though it made no sense to Kaisumi. The first time he tried to reach for something, Rell growled, warning him off.
One of the items, an amulet that had come from the figure hanging upside-down in the cave, Rell held up in the dim red light of Maroth. "It's cursed. Don't put it on," he explained tersely. He muttered, "I'm keeping it, though. Never know when you'll run into someone you don't like..."
Rell stayed up for another two marks fiddling with the equipment, before going back to sleep. Ta'Crae volunteered to stay up the rest of the night, also giving Kaisumi a chance to sleep.
In the twilight before dawn, though, Ta'Crae nudged Kaisumi and Rell awake.
A firm hand to keep both silent convinced them of the danger. The desert elf merely pointed.
Flights of roc-hawkes went by. Four. Five. Two. Another two. All had great masses of equipment in their claws, and rounded the shoulder of the mountain in the red light. One flight of four roc-hawkes held onto chains, the four of them carrying a cage.
Ta'Crae squinted into the darkness, trying to make it out. Rell laid a hand on him, and a faint silver light glowed from beneath the priest's hand. Ta'Crae's vision leapt out across the distance. Inside of the great cage were anklosaurs: dinosaurs the width of two horses, built low to the ground, with a clubbed tail and an armored back that was incredibly strong. Mounted into the shells of the anklosaur armor were ballistae mountings.
"By the gods... They're bringing in siege weapons!"
Another roc-hawke flew by, a great horned minotaur lizard in its claws. The lizard -- perhaps forty feet in length -- was not food, but a mount. One roc-hawke flew with a cage that had a sand-shark in it!
It became obvious to all of them that either the Doom had called in some serious firepower, or something worse was happening.
Rell needed an hour to study his holy book, and refused to budge before then. He also needed the light from his rod, whether they liked it or not, but a thick blanket -- or two -- hid him from sight by the flying creatures above.
Ta'Crae counted perhaps twenty or thirty roc-hawkes. And after they would alight around where Grunden had been, they would take off, down to the pass, usually carrying equipment. It was obvious that they were fortifying the Grand Maul Pass.
As soon as the sun peeked over the horizon, Rell thought he saw a huge dust cloud on the horizon to the far east. It was quickly lost in the heat-shimmer off the plateau, and he ignored it, tired as he was.
Zap continued to sleep, but Kaisumi awoke refreshed. He and Rell decided to stay awake, while Ta'Crae rested, and Zap continued to recover.
After several marks, while Rell worked with the items and equipment, they roused Zap and Ta'Crae.
The desert elf awoke with a start, and started choking. Every hair on his body was over six inches in length, from the hairs in his nose to his eyebrows, and what little body hair he had. Even his knuckles had long protrusions of hair. He looked at his hands in confusion and fear.
Rell muttered, "Teach you to burn off my eyebrows."
Ta'Crae stared blankly at the priest.
The priest muttered, "It'll go away in a few hours. Next time, don't throw alchemists' fire on oil, or when I'm that close to it," and pointed at his missing eyebrows.
Zap, a furball by nature, just laughed.
When they were ready, they expectantly looked at Rell to conjure up his inky black disc again.
Instead, he pointed at a nearby boulder with both his hands, and spread his hands wide. As he did so, the boulder parted down the middle like liquid rock.
The boulder expanded until it was two halves of a hollow sphere, and then Rell turned to them expectantly. "Well? Put all that in there!"
Not long after, all of the equipment and items that they had not taken for themselves, were placed into the hollowed boulder. Awe suffused the rest of them, as Rell closed up the boulder, and then sagged it artistically such that it was larger than it had been before, but indistinguishable from any other boulder on the mountainside.
Time was of the essence, and they had no time to meddle with the floating disc, Rell explained. The rest of the party agreed.
They moved out at a fair pace, moving south, and hoping to get through the Grand Maul Pass as quickly as possible, avoid patrols, and warn Takanal, before the pass was completely fortified.
Several times, patrols of coyotes with the reptilian kobolds mounted on them almost caught the party. Ta'Crae, ranging ahead and with Phoenix to guide him, easily avoided the majority of the patrols.
Unfortunately, a roc-hawke patrolling overhead spotted them, and it cried out to alert its rider.
The rider circled the great hawke, and then went to set down in a nearby clearing. Three of the four orcs aboard it clambered down, and set out at a loping pace for where they had seen the party.
Ta'Crae, who had seen the danger, sped back towards the party. He had to take a longer route, as the orcs took pot-shots at him.
Rell, seeing the situation, reached out through Agincoth and let one of the orcs see everything that Agincoth knew. Light blazed out from behind the orc's eyes, even as he tried to cover it with his hands.
Zap popped up from behind a boulder with his heavy crossbow ready, and let one of the orcs have it. The bolt skidded off the leather armor without penetrating it, as it had been a poorly aimed shot, but the other orcs got the message.
The other two took their temorarily blinded comrade with them, as they quickly withdrew in the direction of the roc-hawke.
Kaisumi led the way, heading away from the orcs at a fast pace. The race was on.
The roc-hawke, instead of going after reinforcements, simply hovered several hundred feet over the party as they zigged and zagged through the forests. Other roc-hawks flew in, and the coyote-mounted patrols got closer and closer to the party.
They were slowly being hemmed in, no matter how they tried to run or hide.
Ta'Crae mentioned that, because of the orc's war with the Srik, they had become something of a militant race. Surrender might be possible.
Rell, taking that as a cue, tried something else, instead. He called out to the orcs in their own tongue, and began translating several prayers to Agincoth in the orcish tongue, under his breath, even as he called to her power to modify his voice. The words he used, he used in combination with reaching into the minds of the rest of the party, asking them for advice, and striking onto ideas as only Agincoth could translate the universe for him.
The priest called out to the orcs and told them in a sort of orcish sing-song that they were hunting for the killers of Doom Rex's wife! They said that they had almost caught them, and that they were interfering in the Doom's business.
The hypnotic effect of his voice, coupled with Agincoth's power, let him sway the orcs.
Rell was afraid the effect would fail when Zap stepped forward, scowling down at the orc leader and growling something in the common tongue. "Tell him that we have a mission to accomplish."
The orc leader, though, took the intimidating figure to be someone akin to the Doom, and awaited no translation, Agincoth's power blazing through his ears and his mind.
The orc leader, who identified himself as Drausk, ordered them to mount up. The party was split up, each to a roc-hawke, with the rider in front, and two more orcs behind them. The rocs took to the sky, giving the party the most exhilirating ride of their lives.
Drausk, using hand signals, had the four rocs spread out, and start a search pattern. Rell, seated in front of Drausk, used Agincoth's power to speak over the wind to Drausk, and ask for a lower search pattern.
The orc signalled the driver, and then the others, and they all dropped down closer to the tree-tops below, all of them searching for those who would dare to kill the wife of Doom Rex.
Ta'Crae's sharp eyes spotted something, and he pointed down below. On one of the old roads from Grunden down to the pass, there was a figure mounted a-horseback, with a spare horse behind him. They moved at an incredible clip, running at a dead sprint towards Grunden from the pass.
Drausk sent two of his roc-hawkes towards a clearing not far away, and then once those two had dismounted save their drivers, ordered his and Ta'Crae's down into the clearing. There, they all dismounted, surrounded by orcs, and advanced to the roadway to await whomever it was on such fast horses.
The rider, his black, tattered cloak out behind him, pulled sharply on the reins. He had black hair so long it reached the saddle, and he brushed it aside angrily.
He yelled, "What is this? Why do you-"
Rell had seen the man somewhere before, but could not remember where, even as the man swept his eyes unseeing over Rell, and settled them on Zap's face.
The man stood up in the saddle, pointing at Zap, and yelled, "You! YOU KILLED THE DOOM'S WIFE!"
Drausk and his orcs instantly turned on the party, for they apparently knew the man with the long black hair quite well.
Two and even three orcs at a time piled on all of the party save Rell, who managed to shield himself with Agincoth's faith. Zap, Ta'Crae, and even Kaisumi went down beneath pummelling fists as the orcs dog-piled on top of them all, forcing their weapons from their grips.
Drausk tried to fire his bowstring at Rell, but was so angry at having been taken in that he snapped his own bowstring drawing it too far back.
The man with the long black hair leapt out of the saddle, and turned invisible. Rell realized that he was a mage of fair power, and that things were suddenly going from worse to badly worse.
He reached down deeply within himself, and asked Agincoth to show him the path into the Void. There, he found a great cold, and quickly drew it up from beneath the earth itself.
A huge, hulking centipede rose up out of the earth, its body nearly as large as the huge behir's from the day before. The icy construct of magic and power turned its attention to the melee, and let out a blast of icy cold that shattered three of the orcs.
Its black-ice cold was so great that even Zap began to shiver as rivulets of liquid air spilled down around the construct.
The rocs, unfortunately, thought the centipede looked tasty. Their riders, both of whom hadn't been paying enough attention, were left behind as their roc-hawkes sped rapidly through the sparse trees on the mountainside towards the oddly tasty-looking giant centipede.
Rell, seeing the previously invisible mage stick his head out from behind a tree and try a magical attack, sent the icy construct to attack the mage.
Zap, with the orcs that had taken him down shattered into a thousand pieces, picked up his enchanted blade. The orcs were in trouble.
One head went flying, and another reeled back with blood spraying, as the warrior waded into the battle.
The power of his attacks and the ruthlessness of his bloodlust almost cut through Kaisumi before the warrior checked himself, and turned onto the orcs holding down Ta'Crae.
Drausk restrung his bow with a spare, and fired as best he could at Rell. The priest, though, had powerful defensive prayers and even arcane powers defending him, and a black shield of ebon shadows glanced the arrows harmlessly away.
Rell rushed to aid Kaisumi, letting his construct of ice follow his previous instructions: destroy the mage.
The roc-hawkes had other ideas, though, and leapt onto the creature. Fully as big as it was, the roc-hawkes were largers, and the two of them tore the construct to pieces, ignoring the chill touch of it. The rocs peered at the pieces of the construct curiously, as though they could not fathom how it had shattered.
Drausk, sensing his position, raced towards the rocs. He leapt up onto one of the dangling tethers, and climbed up onto a saddle. From there, he directed his roc-hawke to attack.
The mage appeared once again, as he dropped a powerful arcane spell down on the party, orcs-be-damned. Most of the orcs had already been chopped down by Zap, anyway.
One remained, though, and he fired a shot deeply into Kaisumi's back, before going down beneath Zap's sword.
Kaisumi cried out in pain, before dropping to the ground. Rell rushed to help the fallen half-elf, even as the enemy mage appeared.
The man with the long black hair pushed out a ball of super-heated air from himself, and the ball rushed forward, exploding in a concussion of heat and air right on top of the party.
Zap managed to stay on his feet, and though deafened, realized that the mage was still a concern. He charged at the mage, murder in his eyes.
Rell managed to get over to Kaisumi, and ripped the arrow out of his back, even as Agincoth's healing energies flowed into the half-elf.
It was then that the roc-hawke landed on Rell, pinning him to the dirt road with its greatsword-sized talons. The huge bird shifted its weight on top of Rell, breaking him, before grasping at him with its beak.
Ta'Crae watched in horror as the great bird swallowed the priest whole.
Seeing no other way, the desert elf turned and fled.
Zap, seeing the same problems, turned and fled, as well.
The great roc-hawke turned its beak down to pick up Kaisumi, ignoring Zap and Ta'Crae running away.
The enemy mage, though, was not yet done. He leapt up onto his mount, and spurred it on at those incredible speeds.
Within moments he had caught up to the running Zap, who turned reversed his attack straight for the mage.
The mage dropped out of the saddle and turned invisible. Zap ignored the mage, and leapt up into the saddle, spurring it on!
The horses' pace could only be described as phenomenal, and the big warrior knew they had to be magically enhanced. He heard Ta'Crae yell at him from farther off the road, and he pulled on the reins long enough for the desert elf to leap up onto the mage's spare horse, before they both galloped off.
The full speed of the horses was so great that not even the roc-hawkes could match them, and the two fled for their lives, tears on their faces for two comrades left behind.
So is the 18th of Davor, 1329.
Ron said they were living on borrowed time, anyway, since they shouldn't have survived the giants, the behir, or anything else.
I prefer to think that they could have just gone the other way, or something, but... Damn!
Ah, well. Ron and Ian talked with me, and they didn't hold any grudges. Worse, they wanted to plan to have a set of twins join the campaign...