Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wrath of the Righteous, part 15: Finding the Fragment

May 21, 2017

Character level: 5th

The group of Crusaders were all weary and depleted of magic by this point, but no one suggested leaving the Gray Garrison for another night. There was too much at stake. While Asami drank a healing potion and Runa took out a wand to heal more of her own injuries, Jiro took several of the mongrelfolk with him to make sure no more enemies waited in the five rooms on the garrison's second floor. Zosta walked into the long room from which the winged creature had emerged, finding a long table and the bodies of several people, both cultists and ordinary citizens of Kenabres, whose hearts had all been torn out. Asami also saw this disconcerting sight when she followed Zosta. There was a map of Mendev on the table.

Jiro returned to report that he had seen no enemies, so the group members decided to investigate all of the rooms for any clues or useful items. Runa and her mongrelman companion trailed along at the rear of the group, as she felt weak and sick in the aftermath of her near-death experience and could hardly move in her heavy armor.

The party found that the demon cultists had destroyed what they could not use. A barracks room held several overturned cots and an empty lockbox. Across the hallway lay a room with a hexagonal table strewn with texts and tomes about geography, history, and military tactics, including information on Mendevian troop movements both past and future.

At the end of the hallway in the room where Zosta had fought one of the demon-creatures they found evidence that it had once been a library, but all of the books it had contained had been burned to ash except for a few that lay on a small table. One of these could not be read by anyone present. Next to the library was a room containing several empty bird cages and writing materials, indicating that message birds had probably been housed there, but the evidence suggested that no birds had occupied the room for some time. In one corner lay a small closet enclosing a window through which the birds could be released. After a brief look around the aerie, the party members searched for another secret room like the armory they had found downstairs on the previous day, but they discovered no evidence of such a space on the second floor.

When all of the other rooms had been examined, only one room that hadn't been opened during the fight with the defenders remained. The door proved to be securely locked. Jiro attempted unsuccessfully to pick the lock, then used his magic chime. But the door remained stubbornly barred against them. Asami suggested that Jiro speak to the spirits as he had done at the weaponsmith's shop a few days earlier, but Jiro responded that the spirits would avoid a place where so much blood had been spilled. He tried putting out a bowl of milk for the spirits anyway, but the milk instantly soured. Asami then put her hands on the door and asked the wood to give way, without success. Finally Aegronius took out his greataxe and began chopping at it, with little success until Jiro reminded him that his adamantine morningstar might be more effective, and he began to bash at the door with the morningstar, sending splinters of wood flying. Zosta then picked up the axe Aegronius had dropped and joined him in attacking the door.

Working together the two of them soon chopped a hole through the door, through which they saw what appeared to be a zombie.They finished destroyed the door and as the last bits of wood were destroyed they could all see five zombies inside the room. The zombies had already gathered around the doorway, attracted by the noise. The one closest to the doorway hit Zosta in the face. Zosta dropped the axe and kicked the zombie's legs out from under it, then stomped on it twice. The zombie disintegrated into a cloud of dust. Jiro touched a second zombie with a curative spell and it also turned to dust.

Irabeth walked unheedingly through the cloud of zombie dust and went inside the room. Two of the zombies attacked her as she passed them. Runa stepped over to Zosta and used her wand to heal the damage the zombie had done, while Asami used her own wand to send three missiles at one of the zombies. Zosta knocked down another zombie and pummeled it into particles, and her mongrelman comrade shot another zombie with an arrow that hit so precisely it knocked the onyx powering the zombie out of its body. Irabeth grabbed the remaining zombie and pushed it away from the others, as she had recognized the zombies as a variety known as plague zombies that could cause disease, and she knew that when the zombies disintegrated their dust could infect anyone who breathed it in. Zosta had already begun to cough after inhaling a mouthful when she destroyed her latest zombie opponent.

Aegronius exchanged the morningstar for his preferred weapon, his ranseur, and ran into the room to chop the last zombie into two pieces. Irabeth, whose divine blessings made her immune to diseases, inhaled the zombie dust and spat dismissively. She then explained that they were plague zombies and told Zosta what to expect: symptoms would not appear for a day or two, she would begin to experience weakness, and if she died of the disease she herself would transform into a plague zombie. Zosta was relieved that she wouldn't become ill immediately.

With the zombies destroyed, the Crusaders could look around the room. It held an ascending staircase in one corner, and against one wall stood a large alabaster basin, which was currently filled with bloody entrails. Along the edge of the basin were images of knights around a sun. Asami realized that the basin was sacred to Iomedae and that it was ordinarily full of enchanted water. Looking at the state of the basin, Aegronius asked, "Should we destroy it?" Asami answered, "No, we must cleanse it."

Jiro summoned his invisible servant to remove the offal, and Runa repeatedly conjured water to rinse the basin. When it was full of clean water, the water glowed and shimmered and something appeared in it, showing everyone close enough to view it a scene of a different room with torches in two alcoves, which was also occupied by a minotaur whose blood-red hide and glowing eyes indicated it had fiendish blood. The view moved to a second room adjoining the minotaur's location, where a woman wielding a scythe stood next to a sturdy cage holding a glowing white stone. Then the view descended a staircase and showed the Crusaders standing next to the alabaster basin. After this vision vanished everyone turned to look at the stairs in the corner of the room.

As they realized they would have to climb up and fight the minotaur to reach the Wardstone fragment, they heard the blast of a horn from above them. They knew the minotaur was waiting for them. Everyone began to climb the stairs. Aegronius went first and entered the room to face the minotaur, who immediately struck him a harsh blow. Zosta darted past Asami, who was ahead of her, and avoided the minotaur to get behind him, though her presence didn't seem to provide the usual advantage. Runa took a potion from her pouch and handed it to Irabeth, for she felt too weakened to be of much use in combat against the minotaur and she knew the potion would grant the paladin additional protection.

The minotaur appeared to be focusing its attacks on Aegronius in much the same way that Irabeth could focus on a foe. The beast had a huge axe. Aegronius dropped his ranseur in favor of his own great axe, and Jiro stepped up behind him to lend his healing energy to both Aegronius and Zosta. The minotaur struck them both, rendering Jiro's healing almost useless, and Aegronius collapsed. The minotaur then gored him despite the fact that he was lying unconscious on the ground.

Asami could see none of this. She could only hear the grunts of the minotaur and the clash of weapons. Kirara whispered in her ear, "Don't go up there. It smells bad," which Asami knew meant that there was something evil in the room upstairs. While Asami tried to decide what to do, Runa moved into the room to pour a potion into Aegronius' unresisting mouth, which revived him. Jiro raised his staff, prepared to strike the minotaur after reassuring himself that Aegronius would not die just yet.

Asami murmured to Kirara, "I cannot just wait here," and climbed up the stairs to the entrance of the room. To her surprise, Kirara exclaimed, "I'll run interference!" and leaped out of her pack, darting past the minotaur, who swung at her but missed the little white cat. Kirara came to a stop beside Zosta. This distraction allowed Asami to avoid being the minotaur's next target when she stood in the doorway. Asami pointed her wand at the minotaur and the three missiles struck the creature, though they didn't appear to do it much hurt.

Irabeth drank the potion Runa had given her and entered the room, taking up a position near Zosta. The minotaur swung at Zosta, dealing her a terrible blow that caused her to spin and fall. Kirara barely avoided having Zosta land on top of her. Runa gave more healing to Aegronius, which restored him enough to move, but he was now as weak and sick as Runa, and could not stand up without risking another attack from the minotaur. Instead he struck at its leg while still lying on the floor. At the same time Jiro hit the minotaur with his staff, which he had enhanced with magic, and the minotaur slumped to the ground. Bohgong, who had been beside Asami on the stair, raced into the room and jumped on Zosta. A moment later she regained her feet and the white monkey retreated to the safety of Jiro's pack.

Jiro mentioned that he thought the nose ring worn by the minotaur might be magical, and Asami cast a spell to determine that it was indeed magical, as was the musical horn the minotaur carried. There was no time to examine them further so she picked them up and joined her friends at the door to the next room where the fragment awaited them.

A second time they found the door securely locked. This time Jiro used his chime immediately. After four or five attempts, the lock finally clicked open, and the chime disintegrated, depleted of magic. As soon as the door opened they saw the woman from the vision in the basin, holding a ball of flames in her hand that she hurled at them. Slowed by their weakened condition, Aegronius and Runa were burned worse than the rest of the group. The woman then chanted another spell, and Asami saw a hellish vision overlay the contents of the room. Her knees trembled with fear and despair, but she did not run. Her eyes remained on the cage's contents, the glowing white stone, which stood on a pedestal beneath a domed ceiling. Aegronius said to her, "Let's take the stone while the rest take her," and she nodded in agreement.

Zosta moved to face the woman, knocking her to he floor and punching her in the face, but the blow did less damage than she expected. Irabeth moved toward the cage. Jiro ran around behind it to join Zosta in attacking the woman. Though she still lay on the floor the woman returned Zosta's attack viciously, doing her serious harm. Asami waited for Aegronius to shamble toward the cage, but then decided instead of following at his restricted pace she would use her wand to strike the cage. Her missiles did mar it, but the damage was minor. Meanwhile Runa used a wand that Jiro had given her to summon a tetsubo of force to attack the prone woman. While the tetsubo attacked, Runa cast a spell on Aegronius to increase the damage done by his morningstar, which he had brought out again. Jiro abandoned preparing to strike the woman if she tried to cast another spell and instead healed Zosta. This left the woman free to speak the words of a spell Asami recognized, as she had found it in the spellbook that had appeared unexpectedly in her room at Defender's Heart. A wave of blood flowed out from the corner of the room next to the woman, shoving the demon worshipper against the cage. It pushed Irabeth, Zosta, and Jiro away, and knocked Jiro, Runa, and Aegronius off their feet. Asami was spared because she was still outside the room.

Jiro was made ill by the foul blood. Aegronius tried to stand again but slipped and fell. Asami fired more missiles at the cage, and Irabeth began slamming the sword Radiance into it with great force. Jiro managed after two attempts to get back on his feet, but Runa gave up on this and crawled toward the cage, barely able to overcome her disgust at the blood on the floor.

The woman tried to touch Zosta when Zosta returned to stand over her, but Jiro had cast a spell of protection on her before ascending the stairs and the attempt failed. Zosta decided to grab the woman and hold her so she could cast no more spells. She and the woman struggled, the woman repeatedly pulling free of Zosta's grip only to be grabbed again a moment later. Aegronius got up and moved to the cage with his morningstar ready as Runa again granted him Iomedae's divine power. The blood had vanished, and Asami walked over to stand between Aegronius and Jiro, drawing the rod Quednys had given her from her pack and holding it at the ready. When the woman glimpsed her holding it, she shouted, "No! No! You don't know what it will do!"

The woman again tried to touch Zosta when she got her hand free, and though Jiro hit her with his staff he couldn't prevent her from cursing Zosta, which left her struggling even more to hold on to the woman. Aegronius began to smash at the cage with his morningstar. This caused the woman to scream in rage and try casting another spell, but she failed to protect herself from being held by Zosta and thus expended the magic without effect. Irabeth became frustrated by how little damage her sword was doing to the cage and picked up Aegronius great axe to swing at the metal bars, which ran both horizontally and vertically and were too close together for Asami to insert the rod between them. Asami waited for her comrades to break open the cage, taking care not to hold her wand too close to the rod lest its magic be drained and the rod rendered useless.

Aegronius struck the cage a mighty blow and it flew open. At that moment, the woman on the floor managed to cast a spell, not at Zosta but at Asami. Asami was seized with fear and ran out of the room, desperate to escape. She heard Jiro shout, "Stop her! Don't let her get past!" The mongrelfolk, who were at the head of the stairs still, caught hold of Asami as she tried to run past them and barred her from fleeing down the stairs. Jiro came up behind her and took the rod from her hand as she struggled with them.

While Asami was still trying to flee, a wave of golden energy rushed out of the room when Jiro touched the rod to the stone, accompanied by the sound of angelic beings singing. Then thousands of razor-sharp shards of crystal shot out from the shattered Wardstone fragment, shredding the demon-worshipper, who had already been rendered unconscious by a blow from Irabeth. The shards did not touch the Crusaders or their faithful mongrelfolk comrades. As the golden energy touched them, everyone but Irabeth and the mongrelfolk began to glow with the same radiance. They felt all of their wounds heal and every weakness or sickness or terror affecting them fade. All of the spells Asami had expended that day were restored to her mind, and she knew that she could use her splintered spear again just as if she had rested overnight.

Then her mind entered a dream-like state. She saw visions that she understood to be the history of the Wardstone. She knew what year each scene occurred during, and the names of all the people and beings she witnessed even if she had never seen them before. She observed thousands of demons being destroyed and others fleeing as a wave of power flowed out from the other Wardstones still linked to the shattered fragment, in a last burst of energy before all of the Wardstones became inert. Her vision showed her the witch Areelu Vorlesh planning a vindictive strike against Asami and her friends for foiling her plans. She watched the Wardstone being made by celestial beings, saw a young Lord Hulruun having witches executed before it at the start of the Fifth Crusade, saw the demonic Storm King defeated and nearly slain by the dragon Telendrev at the beginning of the Fourth Crusade, watched Irabeth fighting the traitor Staunton Vane beside the Stone before Vane summoned a flying creature and fled. She saw the creature called Minago putting the stone in this very room, where the woman used a powerful spell granted by Minago to create the cage around it. She also saw a vision of something that would now never come to pass, when Vorlesh planned to corrupt the stone and use it transform all of the Crusaders into part of her demonic invasion force. As this vision came to and end, everyone present, including Irabeth, saw Vorlesh using the nahyndrian crystal. Then all of them saw babau demons appear inside the room with them, and they knew this was not a vision. The Wardstones were no more, and they would have to be ready to use their restored magic and strength to fight again.

Next: Part 16, Victory and Loss

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