With the party of Crusaders ready to retrieve the Sword of Valor, they set out for Drezen with their company of 100 of the Queen's loyal paladins, their comrades from their adventure beneath Kenabres, and the three experts Queen Galfrey had assigned to assist them. They had been told to expect the journey to take a minimum of four and a half days. The Queen sent a runner to them before they left with a message advising them of the best route to follow: first to Vala's Gift, once the source of much of Kenabres' produce; then to Vilareth Ford and follow the West Sellen River to Drezen.
The Crusaders were soon reminded just how close Drezen lay to the Worldwound. The land grew barren and desolate as they headed away from Kenabres on their first day of travel. Asami and Jiro keenly felt the lack of green growing things. The fields and orchards that had once supplied Kenabres with food were scorched. Anevia and the other scouts returned to report that Vala's Gift had been destroyed by the fleeing demon army. The Crusaders of Kenabres found the small town a smoldering ruin. Despite its state, Horgus Gwerm recommended that they search the town for any supplies they could use, a suggestions some of the paladins found objectionable as they opposed taking anything from the dead. But they were persuaded to find the bodies of the dead and dig a mass grave to bury them. Burying the dead and searching the ruins took up much of the following day, and left Asami so weary that she had no strength to copy a new spell she had purchased before the departure from Kenabres.
While they were encamped at Vala's Gift, the young cleric Sosiel revealed an interest in landscape painting, though there was little enough of interest to paint in the desolate waste surrounding the destroyed village. Though Jiro sensed that Sosiel was as disheartened by the absence of plant life as Jiro himself, the young priest remained upbeat.
On the third day the small army set forth again toward Vilareth Ford. While they rode, Nurah told them tales of the hero for whom the ford was named. When Anevia returned from scouting the ford, she reported that the Crusader force that had guarded the ford had been overtaken by demonic forces and the fortified camp was now held by approximately 200 tieflings. The leadership of the Crusader army quickly gathered to plan an assault on the ford. It was decided that the paladins would split into two groups led by Irabeth to draw out the defenders, and while they fought the heroes would enter the fortified encampment to face whatever defenders remained.
Their plan worked and most of the tiefling defenders moved across the river to attack the paladins. With the population of the camp depleted, Asami and her comrades headed to the bridge over the river. But before they could approach it, two balls of fire hurtled out of he camp to engulf them in flames. Kirara managed to avoid the flames, but Asami was burned. She felt some of the burns heal almost immediately as Jiro's link to everyone absorbed some of the hurt they had suffered. Then they were peppered by crossbow bolts. Zosta charged across the bridge and disappeared beyond the rude fortification walls to attack an unseen tiefling. Sosiel strode across the bridge, and a moment later Aron jogged past him to take up a position in front of him, perhaps validating Jiro's belief that the two men were in a relationship. Runa and Jiro also went forward to the bridge, but Asami and Aegronius remained on the opposite bank along with Nurah.
Asami cast a spell to create a wall of wind in front of the camp, hoping to block the defenders' crossbow bolts, but a few moments after she cast it someone or something from inside the camp dispelled her magic. Runa crossed over the bridge and called on the blessings of Iomedae to grant those closest to her a sudden burst of speed, though this did not reach to where Asami stood. All of her comrades but Aegronius had entered the camp by this point and she could no longer see them. She had few spells in her arsenal that she could cast from such a distance, and none that would harm her enemies without being able to see them. She murmured to Kirara, "We must get closer," and sprinted across the bridge past Sosiel and Aron, who had stopped at the midpoint of the river. On reaching the other side she took cover behind a corner of the low wall around the camp and peered around the corner to see Runa and Jiro battling several tieflings and a small being that resembled a bipedal goat with flaming hooves. The occupants of the ford were not only tieflings.
From behind her Asami heard a splash and Aron cried out, "Sosiel!" She turned to look over her shoulder and saw that Sosiel had jumped or fallen into the river. A clearly panicked Aron threw down his sword and dove into the water fully armored. At that point Asami turned her attention back to what was happening to her friends. Jiro had summoned a weapon of force in the form of a katana to attack one of his opponents. Zosta had been burned by one of the goat-demons, which had boiling blood. Jiro shouted at the small demon, "The Fifth Crusade has come to reclaim this place!" The demon slashed at him with its fiery sword, then kicked him with a flaming hoof. His katana vanished as Asami's wall of wind had done.
Zosta struck down two tieflings, but two more took up flanking positions around her. Then Runa slew one of the tieflings facing her, causing the goat-demon to take a step back and vomit forth a quantity of burning hot blood! Asami drew out one of her wands and sent three missiles of force at the goat-creature.
Zosta ran across to another section of the camp nearby where several more tieflings and another of the small demons stood. All of them had set aside their crossbows for short swords. Zosta raced past three tieflings and vaulted over the wall to knock one of the demons to the ground and stamp on it. Two tieflings moved to surround Asami. Another of the goat-like demons spat blood on Asami, burning her again, though it was less harmful to her than it would have been had Sosiel not channeled Shelyn's healing power before he fell into the river.
Jiro had been sorely wounded by this point. Recognizing this, Runa granted him the ability to move more quickly than normal so that he could get away from his foes. Asami ignored the two tieflings threatening her while she cast a spell. One of her opponents struck her, but the injury did not prevent her from completing the spell. Thorns blossomed from her flesh. She punched the tiefling facing her and the thorns grew into into long vine tendrils that wrapped themselves around him. The entangled tieflings stepped back and Asami saw the telltale sign of magic behind him, which caused him to lose his footing and topple to the ground. She struck the second tiefling as well but the vines failed to entangle him.
While this was taking place, Aegronius had moved onto the bridge to go to the aid of Aron and Sosiel. Bohgong had also appeared and was somehow able to walk across the surface of the water to Aron. Aron had managed to catch hold of Sosiel before the current could carry him away, but as soon as he did so he began to clutch at his throat as though choking and lost his grip on Sosiel. With help from both Aegronius and Bohgong, Aron and an unconscious Sosiel were brought safely to shore on the far side of the river.
One of the goat-demons teleported away from Zosta, and a tiefling fled from her. Another tiefling joined the one attacking Asami. Jiro summoned another weapon, this time a tetsubo, and killed one of them. The tiefling who had been wrapped in vines and had fallen pulled the vines off and got to his feet, at which point Asami struck him again, this time hard enough to take his life. His comrade fled upon witnessing this, but as he began to run he suddenly burst into uncontrollable laughter and was unable to continue moving. Asami punched him and he joined his mate in death.
When Asami looked around for another enemy to attack, she saw that all of the tieflings and demons had fallen but for the demon that had teleported away. Runa had recognized that these were brimorak demons. One of the brimoraks had vanished after being slain, indicating that it had been summoned magically, perhaps by another brimorak. But it had left behind its small longsword. They found 100 gold pieces and several healing potions among the tieflings.
Irabeth soon arrived to report that he paladins had done well against the rest of the tieflings. She and Nurah then went in search of survivors of the demonic attack on the ford, finding a dozen wounded soldiers and their captain, Kamilo Dann. Because all of the soldiers were wounded, Captain Dann deemed it better for them to head for Kenabres rather than accompany the Crusaders to Drezen. She also reported that she and he other soldiers had overheard their captors talking about a larger force at Keeper's Canyon, which lay between the ford and Drezen. This led the Crusaders of Kenabres to realize that the brimorak who had teleported away would likely report them to its masters at the canyon. They would have to be prepared for a more difficult fight once they reached Keeper's Canyon. But at least everyone had survived this fight, and Sosiel would recover once one of his own restorative scrolls was used to heal him.
Next: part 21, Keeper's Canyon