Sunday, July 30, 2017

[Pathfinder] Wrath of the Righteous, part 21: Keeper's Canyon

In the aftermath of the battle at Vilareth Ford, the queen's paladins refused to bury the remains of the dead tieflings, declaring them unworthy of burial. Jiro objected, saying that if the bodies were left unburied they might rise as evil spirits. Runa offered to say a prayer over them to set their souls to rest, to which the paladins grudgingly agreed and gathered all the corpses in one place to make that possible. Searching the bodies and the fortified camp at the ford garnered the Crusader army very little, only a few rations, a small amount o gold, and a few healing potions.

The Crusaders set up their own encampment by the ford and remained overnight so that everyone could recuperate from their injuries and Aron and Sosiel could recover from their plunge into the river. Sosiel reported that he had heard a voice in his head telling him to jump in the water.

On the previous night Asami had been unable to concentrate enough to scribe any spells in her spellbook or write any new scrolls, but this night she was able to copy the scroll she had purchased into her book. She also talked to Aravashnial about what spells he might have access to that he was willing to share with her.

The journey to the canyon was expected to take another day. As the Crusaders proceeded west the land they passed through grew ever more barren and desolate, which took a toll on the army's morale. The army camped again the following evening a half day's travel from the entrance to Keeper's Canyon. While walking through the camp that evening Zosta and Asami happened to observe that the paladins were grumbling about something, though neither of the women could discern what precisely they were complaining about. They mentioned this to Runa and Irabeth. Irabeth then called on the leaders of the five squadrons to come to the command tent so they could be questioned about the state of the men. Only one of the squad leaders, Loughlin, mentioned having noticed any discontent among his men, though he dismissed it as the ordinary complaints of soldiers on the march. When Irabeth dismissed the other leaders, she asked Loughlin and another man named Tomas to remain behind. Jiro and Asami had been present up to this point, but when the other squad leaders were dismissed they departed. Runa and Zosta remained to find out what Irabeth wanted to discuss with Loughlin and Tomas.

Irabeth gave Tomas a brief, peremptory recommendation and then let him leave, which led Runa to realize that Irabeth had only asked him to stay so Loughlin wouldn't feel singled out. Irabeth, Runa, and Zosta then questioned him. Before reporting the grumbling to Irabeth, Zosta had taken a closer look at the paladins and thought that she had identified the man who was responsible, a man named Arles Jhestander who served in Loughlin's squadron. Loughlin admitted that he had heard most of the complaints coming from Arles, who seemed always to be predicting failure and telling the other men that they could never win. Once this was revealed, Irabeth sent him to bring Arles back to the command tent. While Loughlin was gone, Runa quickly donned her priestly vestments so she could act in the role of the small army's chaplain.

Arles proved to be a seasoned Crusader, one who had served in many battles. The group in the command tent met him seated so that he wouldn't feel he was being interrogated or punished. When first questioned about his complaints he tried to pass them off as nothing of concern, but as the others chatted  with him further, Loughlin suddenly asked him, "When did you lose your faith?"

Arles initially refused to admit that he had lost faith in Iomedae, but Runa was able to gently draw him out until he confessed that Loughlin was correct. Runa and Zosta both gave him encouragement, Zosta telling him that he could still follow his calling to fight the demons even without his special relationship to Iomedae, and Runa offering whatever help she could give as a priestess to finding his way back to his faith. When he left the command tent his mood seemed improved.

Early the next morning Anevia and the other scouts went ahead to see what awaited the army in Keeper's Canyon. Runa put on her vestments and performed a service in the name of Iomedae to encourage the paladins, and both she and Zosta thought that Arles Jhestander received it well.

Jiro, meanwhile, had awakened to discover that his trousers had been shortened during the night, and someone or something had left a bowl of soured milk in place of his usual offering to the kami. Before Runa's service, he sat down to adjust the hem of his pants.

When the scouts returned to report, Anevia told her companions that they had seen a number of familiar lesser demons ahead, though she couldn't recall what sort of demons they were. After she described them as vaguely porcine, the others realized that she referred to dretches, which they had encountered together while making their way through the caverns beneath Kenabres. There was also another force of tieflings. It was decided that the paladins would deal with the tieflings while the army's leaders went forward to face the dretches.

After separating from the paladins, the six companions, along with Aron, Sosiel, and Nurah, approached the ruins of the town that had once stood in the canyon and observed half a dozen dretches partially hidden among the remains. Asami recalled that dretches could create clouds of poisonous gas, which she and her friends had found very difficult to overcome during their previous encounter with such lesser demons. Fortunately dretches could only do this once each day. She also knew that they were resistance to harm from acid, cold, or fire, and they were not especially vulnerable to any kind of harm. Prepared to combat the gas, she began to summon a small air elemental to aid her friends.

At the same time, Jiro initiated an aura surrounding himself that would give his companions the ability to ignore the poisonous cloud, but only if they remained very close to him. While Asami continued casting her spell, Runa summoned the power of Iomedae to blind one of the dretches and wound two others. Another dretch surrounded the group with its cloud of gas, but it didn't affect them due to Jiro's aura. It did, however, mean that the dretches couldn't see the group of people within the cloud, nor could the Crusaders see their enemies.

When Asami's air elemental appeared, it arrived in between where the dretches stood and where the Crusaders were hidden within the cloud. It immediately attacked one of the dretches, but failed to harm it. With the cloud in the way, no one could see that this elemental strangely appeared to be made of wood.

Jiro told his companions, "Stay close to me," and everyone stepped forward, moving slowly so that Nurah and the heavily-armored members of the group would not be left behind. Nurah had begun to sing an inspiring song that made them all feel more courageous. Jiro heard the sound of someone speaking the words of a spell, and spied another creature beyond the dretches. Asami's summoned elemental suddenly fled farther into the canyon. Asami then paused for a moment to cast another spell, this time creating a whirling sphere of wind that she thrust at the spellcaster. She was unable to tell if the enemy mage was harmed by the sphere's attack.At the same moment, Zosta suddenly abandoned the fight and ran back toward where the paladins faced the tieflings.

Nurah began to flicker from place to place, having cast a spell on herself that would make her difficult to attack. Runa then sent out another blinding light, depriving two more dretches temporarily of sight. Jiro's tetsubo of force appeared to attack the enemy spellcaster, which Jiro identified as an incubus. Sosiel moved beside Aron to cast a spell of protection against evil creatures on him.

The incubus backed away from Asami's sphere of wind and began making spellcasting gestures. Two of the dretches charged Asami, one managing to bite her though not seriously. Asami had begin to call the sphere toward her to combat the dretches, but then she noticed that several dretches were standing in a line between her and the incubus. She summoned a bolt of lightning from her wooden sword and sent it through the demons toward the incubus. All three of the dretches in its path exploded when struck by the bolt but the incubus appeared unharmed.

One of the dretches that Runa had blinded lost its footing and fell on its back, flailing its legs in the air like an overturned tortoise. Aron and Runa each slew a dretch, Runa lending Aron one of Iomedae's blessings that gave him strength. Jiro directed his floating tetsubo to strike at the incubus again.

The incubus flew toward the group, slashing at Runa with his sword as it passed. Jiro granted Runa another attack so that she could strike back at the creature. It then landed beside Asami. He stabbed at her three times, inflicting two vicious wounds on her left arm and opening up the big vein in her right leg. She fainted immediately from blood loss. One of the dretches that was close by moved forward to bite at her prone form but despite her state the bite didn't connect. Sosiel and Runa attacked the dretches and Runa slew the one that was trying to bite Asami. Jiro's tetsubo hit the incubus twice.

Sosiel moved to Asami's side and cast a spell to heal some of her injuries. A dretch attacked her again, directed by the incubus. Runa also summoned healing magic to treat Asami. Jiro swung his morningstar into the incubus' chest leaving a noticeable wound. The incubus glared at him, hen looked at Asami, who had recovered consciousness. "I'll see you again," he said, just before teleporting away.

Three dretches remained, still attacking the Crusaders as they had been commanded by the incubus. Asami moved her sphere to send the nearest one tumbling a short distance away. Zosta suddenly returned and charged the dretch, slaying it with a single well-placed kick. When the spell that compelled her to leave wore off, she had turned around and headed immediately back to join her friends.

Aron and Runa killed the last two dretches, one of them the dretch that had been blinded and fallen over. It had recovered in time to die on a blade. When all the foes were dispatched or gone, the Crusaders turned away from the ruins and went to rejoin the paladins.

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