Two bolts came from the coffin maker’s shop. Second story window. The Lions quickly formed a phalanx around their fallen lord. Tredora Goldenbrow spoke to him, softly and calmly, squeezing his hand. “Sylvana,” she said. “Your brother’s alive.”
The sniper was good. The second bolt had pierced an artery just above the heart. Brother Derny on his knees, applied pressure to the wound. His robes were heavy with blood and sweat, mixed with dirt. He looked grave, doing his best. Winnie hesitated. I said, “He’ll be okay, let’s go with the others.” But, we both knew our father was good as dead.
Garrock had raced ahead, springing and striding over the cobblestones, with Sylvana trailing, cursing she didn’t have Sherman. Meivyr pulled Winnie along. As I moved, I rummaged my pack for a smoke-stick. A dark cloud formed in our wake. Hopefully, it will grant some cover.
Skipping out of a side-street, a radiant face brightened our day. Her auburn hair always looked perfect (even at the end of all things.) It was Celiira Nesten, of course, who had come to help out with a song and a smile. “I could use a smile about now,” said Meivyr. “And a hug.”
Sylvana and Garrock lined up at the door, waiting for the rest of us. Solid, mahogany and hand-carved with skulls, the brazen face of Wee-Jas embossed as a door knocker. Sylvana put her shoulder into it, cracked it off the hinges.
The first floor was a showroom. Caskets, urns, headstones, and assorted burial products, including flowers. I had never been inside the place, but I imagine the paladin Zayn might have taken Winnie here after the cemetery on their first date. Some of the caskets, velvet-lined and billowy, looked cozy. For tender repose, if you know what I mean.
May I Help You…Die?
Hobgoblins stood up from behind coffins. Bare-chested with official tattoos of the Red Hand burned into their rippling muscles. We fought similar guys (once alive and once undead) at the Ghostlord’s. They twirled whips made of chains, spinning and stepping forward, over the elbow, under the armpit. Impressive show. A chain caught Sylvana around the sword arm. Twin robed priests – with mirror duplicates – entered from opposite doors; streams of lightning criss-crossed as they passed through Sylvana and Garrock. Yikes! A giant hornet appeared by the window next to me, and a large wolf savaged Meivyr, knocking her down. Not looking too good.
Winnie read from a scroll and made three with chains turn and run scared. One squeezed through a window, shrieking. Currgh tripped up one monk, who was prepared to stay and fight, and he started flailing kicks from his back. I tumbled behind the big wolf and stabbed from behind. Nice, dogie. Meivyr had a dagger out, and it was just enough distraction. I stabbed the wolf in the neck, dropping it.
Celiira dropped a cone of silence around the robed sorcerers. They shrugged, pulled out spears. But not for long, once the fighters sorted the real from the duplicates they had made of themselves. Pop! Pop! cleaving through a bouquet of balloons, but no pop just sickening silence.
Sylvana, Garrock, and Meivyr were badly wounded, but we found some healing potions on the hobgoblins. Celiira also healed Garrock. I took some antitoxin (thanks Garrock) as the giant wasp stung me. Winnie found some scrolls that might be useful: haste, fly, invisibility x 2.
Up the stairs, stomping. The sniper would be waiting for us. But, no one there. Hold on. I heard someone move near the window. I fired a shot which skipped out the window, over the head of the hobgoblin who had squeezed out the window, still running. Meiyvr attempted to detect the magical aura. Celiira said she had a spell to see invisibility, but she thought she should wait because she had a better spell to use against many foes, and instead healed up Meivyr. Garrock ran up the stairs and pushed past us to the window. He thought he heard someone move. A cloud of black smoke started to fill the room, near the window. Celiira said she was glad she didn’t waste the spell and healed Sylvana. Everyone inched closer, cornering the assassin. Currgh started sniffing and snapped at nothing but air. Garrock stabbed a spot — hit meat with his trident — but missed with short-sword.
A cloaked figure, heavily-armored appeared in the cloud as a morning star smacked Garrock in the face. “The Day of the Blood Sun has come!” As Lady Dagger had escaped, riding away into the woods, she had promised a greater day of slaughter.
Lady Dagger was hard to hit, with all this smoke, and her armor. Sylvana swung with mighty strokes but missed. Meivyr used one of the scrolls to make us hasty. Winnie stepped up, but missed with her mace. The villain was surrounded, and I managed to move opposite Sylvana and pierce her armor with my rapier. Lady Dagger seemed to be enjoying this as though she had already won the day. “Blood, All the blood! I have seen it. The Lord of Brindol
- dead! Townspeaker Norro Wiston — dead! By Erythnul, I have seen it on this day!” Croakums stirred in Winnie’s pouch, going all gelatinous with extretement. Sylvana cut the Lady Dagger down, shut her up. Croakums released a long, lonely sigh.
Game Over, Mensch
Sellyria Starsinger spoke to Sylvana telepathically and said the leader of the horde was heading to the Cathedral with giants and armored ogres. Lars Urveth said, “Damn it, I’m pinned down in the marketplace. We have scores of wounded there and the clerics are just trying to keep them alive. Sylvana, get your team there. Stop them from getting to the cathedral! I’ll get there as soon as I can. Sellyria, spread the word, pull back forces where you can see to cover the other entrances to cathedral square.”
A dozen clerics attended the wounded, overflowing the temple steps, offering what they could: a spoon of water, bandage and gauze, a prayer for quick mercy. On this dark day, divine powers were quickly spent.
Kerden Jarmaath was not dead. He had been poisoned but thanks to the physical ministration of Tredora he would survive, though he was too weak to move or speak. He had been moved to within the cathedral. Tredora lowered her head. Our father was not so lucky. Brother Derny was with his body, offering prayers to Pelor. I gripped Winnie’s arm, expecting her to break down, and found my head on her shoulder. I sucked it in, to shed tears for one man would look stupid, in this scene of misery. Winnie, steely and determined, less shaken than me, raised me up. “Jack,” she said. “Roads go ever, ever on. Come on, brother.”
Erythnul sucks. Celiira spotted Malchor, carrying the body of Laurie. I saw Delora Zann, propping herself up against a wall. And the Teskerwills sisters, Kharra and Hurndahl. They looked better than most. Many of the Shining Axes had fallen, including Jarvis’ lady-friend, Gadraelin Earthgrip. The Red Hand sucks.
Soon the cavalry rode in, but not to save us. Captain Janaki of House Kaal Guard and Danella Teskerwill were with them. The dashing paladin of Wee-Jas, Zayn, was also alive — maybe he was disappointed. He nodded at us. All forces were falling back to the Cathedral square. The cleric formed a defensive perimeter around the wounded. We prepared. From the bag of holding, the final scrolls were drawn: fireball x two by Meiyvr while Winnie drew more healing: two cure moderate wounds and two cure critical wounds.
Waves of wounded came limping in. Kellin Shadowbanks, the halfling proprietor of the OBI — no idea he had stayed to fight — with our brother in law, Drathgar who looked quite weary but raised a fist, and an older halfling I didn’t know but he smelled familiar. The older halfling walked right up to us, with a worried face, and asked if we’d seen Junior. It was Jarvis Pickle, Jarvis’ papa. Of course, we had seen Junior. He was okay.
Our friend Stephan carried the limp body of Karl. The tall man looked sad. “High five,” he called. “Go get ’em, guys — for Karl.”
Climax (Precious and Few)
Horns blasted all around. Swarming and smelling blood, forces of the Red Hand spilled into the square from every corner, though they held back, awaiting orders. At their head, an impressive hobgoblin in red plate armor, no doubt crafted from dragon scale. “Destroy them at the Cathedral!” he screamed.
Bloody skirmishes surrounded us. Captain Lars fought with Lieutenant Arianne, Dorian and the Lions to the west, elves and dwarves fought side by side in the eastern side, out of the corner of my eye I spotted Killiar on Hodin. The cavalry with Janaki and Zayn filled gaps, while our back were guarded by the militia slingers and archers under the command of Soranna Anitah. Kellin Shadowbanks and Drathgar also represented Drellin’s Ferry. “For Douth!” shouted an old halfling, whirling a sling about.
We formed up in the middle of the square in the path of the temple, just the five of us.
Hravek Kharn spotted us. “Them!” he shouted. “The wyrmlord slayers! They are MINE! Keep the others off us.” A handful of armored ogres with morning-stars, hill giants with clubs — one bearing the standard of the Red Hand, and a pair of robed figures made up Kharn’s personal bodyguard.
Answering the wyrmlord’s challenge, Sylvana broke out ahead, with her great-sword the dragon’s bane, calling out. “For Brindol!” Cheers erupted among the ranks of defenders. Garrock came pounding after, roaring as loud as he could muster. From all around voices shouted, “The Lion! The Lion!” Meiyvr followed and read from a scroll, casting a spell to make haste, everyone except Celiira. She said, “No worries, my dear. That spell gives me wrinkles.” The bard wielded Lady’s Dagger’s morning-star to happily join the fight. Winnie also read from a scroll. Fharlanghan’s staff appeared, whacked one of the robed figures, a spell-caster no doubt. I followed Winnie’s lead and struck the sorceress with an arrow.
Annoyed that she couldn’t retaliate against us, she spoke to her master. “What can I do, wyrmlord?” He replied, “Call a flame strike on all the wounded weak humans.” She gleefully pulled out a scroll and began casting. All those people, exposed in the open, scores would be killed in seconds. I couldn’t bear it, too much today.
But just as the area above the wounded was igniting in flames, it fizzed out. A hill giant club brained the spell caster. She was knocked out. Kharn didn’t seem to mind; he had another lover, though she was nowhere to be seen, likely up to no good.
The beaming giant looked our way and gave us all two large thumbs up. “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m having a great time!” That giant talked like a giant, but they way he smiled and jaunted looked familiar. It was Jarvis! The other hill giant not to be left out of the fun whacked the Jarvis giant silly. “Hey, your breath smells like penis — kobold penis,” Jarvis said. (Meivyr said, “And you would know, how?”) The hill giant didn’t take kindly to the insult and knocked the other giant out. Good save, Jarvis, taking one for the helpless and injured! Too bad, no one will ever know the truth. Brindol will probably erect a statue for that hill giant.
Wyrmlord Hravek Kharn recognized Sylvana, as an undisciplined hill giant closed in on her, but whiffed with his club. “The dragon-bane! She is MINE!” Raising a heavy pick, he called upon his god. “Tiamat, favor me this day!” and walked into the air all high and mighty-like.
Ogres chucked spears at Garrock as the mascot was clearly within bounds. Meivyr then did a wonderful thing. She touched me, using her magic to turn me greater than invisible. Unseen, I closed ranks to within striking distance of Kharn, drawing my bow. Celiira and Winnie moved up, spreading out. I think Celiira meant to use her confusing spell, but Jarvis’ trick made her reluctant to affect an ally, so she started to sing.
Sylvana had no qualms about thrusting her sword into the giant’s thigh, puncturing a vein. Kharn saw that, changed his mind, and decided to delegate. “Destroy them all!” He seered Sylvana with light, but it only bronzed her skin. Ogres rushed at Sylvana with morning-stars, as Garrock moved to flank the giant. Garrock missed — too hasty — but the ogre hit. Meiyvr pulled out a scroll and placed a fireball near the leader. Kharn was injured but laughed it off “Fireball? How boring and predictable, is that the best you can do?” Sounded a bit like Jarvis, but nah, I thought.
The hill giant took a clumsy swipe at Sylvana. Winnie charged forward, waving the giant bane mace like a maniac, and fell the giant with one glorious smashing stroke. Just then two glowering apes appeared. Winnie was smitten goodly, but Garrock was just gashed.
Just as I decide to aim for Kharn’s large forehead, a flash of lightning hurled past me, connecting with Sylvana and Garrock. Ouch!
And there she was, Kharn’s other woman, the robed sorceress. She had made duplicates of herself, mirroring her glee at the hurt to my friends. I figured thanks to Meiyvr’s hasty spell, I had three shots, and it would only take one to kill her. But, a carnival game with the bobbing duplicates. I took my stance, nocked an arrow and put an arrow through a throat. Took the prize. The witch fell without a word. I turned and fired two arrows at Kharn. Two good hits: under the armpit and in the groin. Fuck yeah, I won’t lie. It felt good. Kharn was pissed off. He ordered his guard to find me. Two ogres started sniffing around. They looked intelligent. One took a guess and just missed me with the morning-star, while the other was looking through me, gripping his morning-star, waiting to knock me out as the next arrow was loosed.
Sylvana took out the hill giant, slicing off his leg, and stepped five feet to gash the other one. Kharn was suddenly quiet, looked worried; he shot a cone of cold at the fighters. The ogres were clever, and two more came over to seek me out. One hit me hard, I saw stars. Another missed, but barely. They had an idea where I was, but I already knew what I had to do. Three good shots should do it, but it’s likely I might not survive.
Just then, as I nocked an arrow, a shadow of color smocked me. Meiyvr! I snapped my eyes shut. Pulsing color shrouded my face like a kaleidoscopic hood. Spots , streaks, bright, wavy. Slowly, opening my eyes, I could plainly see I had a clear shot. The ogres had blank looks with lax morning-stars, and Kharn looked bedazzled. A juicy target. One arrow for Kharn — he fell to the ground in a heap, and I put two more in an ogre. Jack Wiston putting down enemies like Jarmaath.
The sole remaining hill giant, dropping the banner of the Red Hand, fled for the gates. The ogres were more loyal. Gaining his senses, one rushed over to the wyrmlord, pulling out a potion, and pouring it into his mouth. From his bloody lips, a weak laugh.
The battle continued, with defenders taking the offense, as hobgoblins broke ranks.
Garrock ignored the ape, who took a swipe, and as he headed over to finish off Kharn before he could be revived. Before the Lion-man could run him through, the villain laughed weakly and spouted something. Garrock brought down his trident to silence him. Sylvana took out the ogre who had aided his master.
The defenders of the city roared in unison, a terrifying sound. Ragged, they pursued their enemies with rage. And we all stood in the middle.
The ape who had been summoned was still here. He looked around, a little unsure, but he had nowhere to run. He was living in the moment. Meiyvr was standing there, meeting Celiira’s gaze as she sang a song of victory. Dead to rights, she was. The ape charged from behind, with savage claw, claw and vicious bite. Seeing this, Celiira lost her song. But, an invisible hand intervened with the point of a rapier. “One thing about living in Brindol I just can’t stomach; all these damn goblins.” And there in the flesh stood her longtime guardian, Rillor Paln.
A Small Victory
Along came Jarvis, his body jostled a bit, by the running weasel darting and turning underfoot. “Brilliant!” the wizard squeaked. “Just brilliant, amazing fireball. Did you see that giant? Yeah, that was me. Magic Jar, very useful spell.” No one seemed to be paying him much attention. (No one even made the obvious joke, but I will now: magic pickle jar.) “Somebody, little help, unstrap me, please!” Garrock obliged. Jarvis was off to look for Senior.
The story was spreading among the city. The beautiful sorcerer, Meiyvr, had taken down Hravek Kharn with color and light. I know her, they all said. She worked at the Laughing Manticore. Dazzler and the Lion finished him off. No mercy, he roared.
From the wyrmlord and his personal guard, we gathered many useful items: including the beautiful red plate armor fashioned from dragon scale. At the temple, the leaders gathered as the defenders mopped up. Tredora Goldenbrow praised us for our quick action in taking down Kharn, for many lives had been saved. Sadly, Eldremma Axenhaft, who was well known to Meiyvr, had fallen on the field.
Afterglow: Debriefing, Debunking
The leaders met in a room in the cathedral. Brindol’s defenders had won a great victory against all odds. But, it didn’t feel that way. Weariness, sadness. Dawn would never come it seemed. Many lives were lost this day. Little to celebrate. And there was much work yet to be done.
Tredora opened the meeting with a brief prayer, then announced that Garrock had foreboding news.
The Lion-man repeated the wyrmlord’s dying words. “You think you’ve won. But my death and every soul here will bring the true victory. You can’t stop it. You can’t find the High Wyrmlord Azarr Kul and even if you knew where he was you would never get there in time. The gate will open. Tiamat will rise!” He added, “The bloody bastard was fucking laughing at us.” It may have just been an empty boast, but it did explain a lot.
Winnie understood the significance, drawing upon her knowledge of the planes. She explained how the entire invasion, all the death and destruction, the burning of the Elsir Vale was a means to an end. Negative energy is a powerful component, and with the right conduit, it could open a planar doorway.
Tredora agreed, “There may even be a way to use the energy to open a permanent gateway, but Azarr Kul would need to complete the ritual soon.”
Silence. Everyone turned their eyes to Sylvana Jarmaath. “What should we do now?”
Verassa Kaal swept in from the shadows with Captain Janaki at her side. “I wouldn’t except Sylvana to know. And I wouldn’t hold it against her. Hasn’t she already done more than her share? It’s time for others to step up to the challenge. Seeing as Lord Jarmaath is out of commission, Brindol needs a strong, experienced leader to oversee our people through this difficult transition.” Too humble to say it, but she was the obvious choice.
Tredora said, “Lady Kaal, you are mistaken. Lord Jarmaath isn’t dead, just severely poisoned.”
Lady Kaal smiled. “Where is he then at this very important meeting? Is he conscious? Can he stand? Can he speak? The people need —”
“I assure you. Tomorrow, after some divine healing Kerden will be fully capable.”
Lady Kaal was about to open her mouth to say something crass that Jarvis was probably thinking, but someone butted in. “Lady Kaal, where were you during the siege? Holed up in your hideout, no doubt, polishing your coins and framing your ledgers?” It was me, Jack Wiston.
“If not for the House Kaal Guard, this city would have fallen —”
“You mean the guard we had to pay you to aid in the defense of the city, with gold from our own pockets. Meiyvr signed over the deed to the Manticore to you as part of the bargain — "
“In troubled times, we all have to make sacrifices — "
“But, my lady, what have you ever sacrificed?” I paused for emphasis. “You have sacrificed — nothing!” This was Jack Wiston’s finest moment, and he was visible, at least everyone seemed to be looking at me, none with smiles. Wish my dad were here to see it, though he would be shaking his head, frowning.
Lady Kaal said, “Well, we will see about that. Janaki, let’s go.”
Captain Janaki said, “I quit,” and Lady Kaal walked away in a huff.
The Scrying Game
Zayn, the paladin of Wee-Jas, said to Winnie. "Excuse me, Winnie Wiston. There’s something I should have told you. Van Trask mentioned his brother, that he had gone in search of the Red Hand’s headquarters.
High Mourner Mhiram offered use of a scrying mirror.
“Jarvis,” I said. “You know a lot about scrying. I remember you were talking about that spell when we were staying at an inn.” (I didn’t add: Meivyr and Celiira were sharing a room.)
Jarvis blushed, too modest. “Errr, yes, it’s quite simple really, especially if you have met the person or a personal object.”
Tredora said, “Perhaps, even if we knew where to go, could we get there in time?”
Winnie said with some rest, she thought Fharlanghan could help. But, she could only bring along a two additional passengers. But, she felt confident she could travel a great distance in seconds.
Of course, I said to my sister. “I’m going with you.”
Sylvana? It became clear to Sylvana she will be needed at her brother’s side. In his weakened condition, physically and politically, he will need her in Brindol as a show of strength, particularly toward the ambitious Lady Kaal.
Garrock said, “Oh, hell — it’s either you lot or the Ghostlord. I’ll take my chances with the Wiston twins.”
Though the horde had been broken and fled the city, there were still many pockets of hobgoblins, ogres, and other nasty creatures throughout the Vale that needed to be hunted down. Celiira Neston volunteered to lead that hunt and Meiyvr will of course be at her side, along with Kiliar Arrowswift and Trellara Nightshadow of the Tiri-Kitor, and the Lions of Brindol Lt. Arianne and (now Lt.) Dorian.
Always Slippery when Mind
In the square, I noticed Dorian and Arianne consumed in a long embrace. I thought about Harry, who was dead, and Miha Serani, who was my weakness. Even though I knew better, I was a little disappointed not having seen her during the siege. I longed to hear that voice in my head, calling out my name. I longed. I longed. Could she see me know, if only she were scrying on me? She knew me well enough — and the armor — she stole my armor. Well, I hoped she was, because she would see how awesome I could be.
Well, I knew she was out there. Hooked up with the High Wyrmlord Azarr Kul or dashed by Errol Trask. If we find either, we may find her. I would kill them both if necessary.