13th Day of Meloramensis – Part II

Hogar’s Journal (Translated from Giant)

Year 781 of the founding of the City

13th Day of Meloramensis – Part II

Thunderspire Mountain – The Inner Sanctum

Minron lead us through the dark passageway and into a yellow marble clad room.  Floor, walls and ceiling were all encased in the smooth polished stone.  The walls rose twenty feet to a ceiling partially obscured by fine tendrils of smoke.  The wisps emanated from four large iron cauldrons sitting atop braziers in the corners of the chamber.  They threw out a dusky light that suffused the room with an almost golden glow.  The cauldrons were of a size that made one suspicious as to what exactly they were intended to cook; they could accommodate a man-sized creature most comfortably.  The percolation of whatever broth they contained was the only sound in the otherwise silent chamber.
            To the right a tall platform jutted out from an otherwise smooth wall.  In the centre of the platform there was a golden idol in the likeness of a cross-legged meditating kobold, doubtless some ancient prophet of the Platinum Dragon himself.  My attention was drawn away from the platform by the sound of my companions drawing their weapons in response to some threat on our left.
            The threat was in the form of a gnoll priest loitering behind a stone alter.  The man-dog’s matted green fur was speckled with light brown spots and about his shoulders hung a voluminous black leather cape that covered him from shoulders to feet.  Behind him were the two human slaves we had been searching for.  They were held motionless, suspended a few inches above the floor, within a circle of glowing runes etched into the marble.  To the gnoll’s right there loomed the ominous yet motionless figure of a bronze warder.
            The gnoll reacted to our presence by unfolding both hands from the recesses of his cloak to raise them over his head.  In doing so he revealed that what I had taken to be a leather cloak was in fact a pair of wings, similar in appearance to those of a bat but of adequate size for the creature before us.  In his right hand he held a golden mace which he brought down to crash into the alter with a sudden fierce movement.  The crack that sounded in response was beyond anything that could have been expected from such a collision.  The chamber filled with a cloud of blood red smoke and the smell of sulphur.  As the smoke cleared I could make out to the gnoll’s left the hulking form of a balgura demon flanked by two carnage demons.
            “I have been expecting you.”  The gnoll slurred through his canine maw. “I did wonder if our guardian had feasted on you as you were taking so long, however I am not surprised you got this far.  My name is Maldric Scarmaker and I have been observing you from afar for many days now.  You are an impressive band.  Nevertheless your efforts have been futile.” he turned to address his newly summoned demons, “dispatch them. “
            The screech of metal on metal heralded the awakening of the warder as he twisted his massive bronze head to focus his glowing red eyes on Minron.  His shoulders swivelled and his torso twisted as he swatted at the minotaur with a massive double bladed axe.  Minron managed to dodge out of the way only to find himself in the path of the rapidly advancing balgura.  he braced himself and met the charge on his shield, twisting at the point of impact Minron deflected the demon onwards and past him where he skidded to a confused halt.  The balgura was closely followed by the two carnage demons who gnashed and menaced the stalwart minotaur, drawing his attention away from the powerful balgura.  The balgura used this opportunity to approach Minron from behind.  As he raised a claw ready to deliver a devastating blow to the back of Minron’s head I hastily loosed an arrow that sunk satisfyingly deep into the demon’s armpit.  The creature twisted awkwardly in pain and shock and tried to wrench the shaft free with his other hand.
            An arrow to the balgura did not stop the rest of our enemies though.  As the carnage demons continued to swarm around Minron, Maldric raised his mace once again and pointed the tip of it at Minron.  A bolt of energy swept forth from the weapon and struck Minron in the chest.  At its impact the mighty minotaur doubled over with pain and sank to his knees.
            The carnage demons wasted no time in pressing home the attack against my vulnerable friend.  Eligos and Glen moved swiftly to his aid.  Eligos’ lightly scaled russet skin rippled and shook as she transformed into her ram-like form and charged into the balgura, knocking him backwards.  As quick as a flash she occupied the space where the demon had been and swung at him with her flail.  The spiked ball glanced off the creature’s thick hide and clanged loudly into the metal hide of the warder.
            There was no respite for the balgura as Glen, mounted upon Sid, charged in immediately in the wake of Eligos.  The boar’s tusks pierced the creatures shaggy hide and stuck in his flesh pinning him to Sid and leaving him perilously within reach of Glen’s Ugrosh.  Standing in his stirrups the dwarf made three savage swings with the axe, tearing great rents in the creatures throat and torso.  The beast dropped to the ground with a howl that slowly gurgled to silence, drowned in the demons flowing blood.
            The carnage demons took up the howl of their dieing companion and swarmed over curled up figure of Minron, savagely biting and clawing at any exposed area of flesh.  The mighty warrior sprang to his feet roaring something in a language I did not understand.  As he reached his full height a column of light shot down from the ceiling, a blessing from the Raven Queen.  Our foes seemed to wither in its presence.  They all toppled to the ground disoriented, even the mighty Warder.
            The effects of the light on the warder did not last long however, and the automaton’s retribution was terrible.  With a single swing of his massive axe he knocked Eligos and Minron to the ground.  A second swing crashed into Glen and Sid sending them skidding over the marble flagstones.  Finally it raised the axe over its head and brought it down in a vicious chop that would surely have been the end for the prone Minron.  Fortunately he was able to roll onto his back and raise his shield just as the blade came down.  The heavy blade crashed into the shield with such force that it left a large gash in its surface and sent it flying from the minotaur’s grip.  Relentless the warder raised its axe again to deliver another blow.  Glen roared as he urged Sid forward to try and stop the deadly blow, but before he could get there Maldric flicked a hand lazily in his direction.  Instantaneously the dwarf levitated from his saddle to float helplessly eight feet above the ground.  Not easily deterred he swung his ugrosh at the warder regardless.  It did little damage but was sufficient to distract the warder from slaughtering Minron.  Minron seized the opportunity to scramble to his feet.  He levelled his longsword at the warder and a bolt of lightning shot from the tip of the blade to strike it in the chest.  The warder staggered backwards under the force of the blast and began juddering uncontrollably.
            Suddenly Krevath appeared in the space where the warder had previously been.  He ran past the carnage demons, receiving a scratch or two for his troubles and straight at Maldric.  A bolt of energy shot from Krevath’s hands towards the gnoll but Krevath was able to step backwards and avoid it.  As he did to he produced a glass jar from somewhere about his person that was filled with some sort of black liquid.  He removed the stopper and poured the liquid on the ground.  The amount of liquid seemed endless, far more than could reasonably be contained within the jar.  Yet it continued to emerge, and as it hit the ground it coalesced into a four-legged apparition of a nightmarish hound.  I recognised it as a shadow beast.  The beast lashed at the sorcerer with ethereal claws that shredded his robes and scaled hide with ease.  Shocked by the savagery of the attack from this unexpected adversary Krevath retreated hastily back into the corridor.
            No sooner had the new boy fled than Rodney stepped forward to take his place.  Bolts of ice flew from his hands towards Maldric and his shadowy pet.  Both managed to avoid the projectiles easily enough but the mage followed up with wave of energy that pushed Maldric backwards.  The gnoll staggered back for several steps until he bumped into one of the bubbling cauldrons placing his hands on the rim to steady himself.  As he did so a large black tentacle shot forth from the receptacle and coiled itself about his torso.  Before Maldric had time to react the tentacle pulled him backwards and he pivoted over the lip of the cauldron to plunge into the bubbling black liquid within.  As he disappeared whatever magic was holding Glen up in the air dissipated and the dwarf fell to the ground with a thud.
            As this was happening Eligos moved to attack the two carnage demons.  A mighty swing of her flail struck both of them in the face killing the first of them instantly.  Instantaneously she whipped the ball and chain into a backswing that caused it to wrap around the second demon’s ankle.  Such was the force that the kobaldish-tiefling put into the swing that the unfortunate creature had his legs taken from under him and he crashed to the floor, landing alongside the freshly grounded Glen.  The dwarf quickly sprang to his feet and summarily removed the creatures head from his shoulders.
            Perhaps emboldened by the death of the carnage demons, Krevath reappeared to fire two more magical bolts of energy at the shadow demon.  He missed.  Twice.  I sighed at his incompetence before sending an arrow into the depths of the shadowy creature.  The arrow disappeared silently into the void that was the beast’s torso.  The creature glanced briefly at the location where the arrow had disappeared before turning to regard me.  After the briefest second the shadow melted into the flagstones to be seen no more.
            A loud clang and a crunch returned our attention to the warder.  Slowly he brought his juddering under control.  Steam shot from its nostrils as it once again fixed its red stare upon Minron.  The bronze hulk lumbered at the minotaur and swatted him aside with a sweep of its axe.  Before it could follow up and strike Minron again Eligos bounded across the room to slam into the warder with her ram’s horns.  The force of the attack was enough to spin the warder around and send it crashing to the ground.  It tried to rise immediately to its feet but collapsed under its own significant weight.  Its cause was further harmed as Eligos flail smashed into its back.  One of the spikes pierced its metal hide and a great geyser of smoke shot out from the creatures hellish interior.
            Through this pillar of steam I saw first one clawed hand and then another, rise from the depths of Maldric’s cauldron to grasp the edge.  Slowly, with a great effort, he hauled himself from the murky black depths to emerge from the pot and stand once again on the marble floor.  Unspeakable black ooze dripped from every inch of his body to form dark pools on the pale marble flagstones.  His green fur had been singed almost completely from his body leaving only isolated tufts of green fur sprouting from raw scalded flesh.
            “You will pay for that.” he growled at Rodney.
            “Oh look, wings has rejoined the party.”  Glen exclaimed with mock joy.
            The dwarf savagely chopped his ugrosh into the exposed neck of the prone warder before charging at Maldric and impaling him on the spear-tipped end of the weapon.  The gnoll roared in pain and frustration.  He retaliated with a hefty smack to the dwarf’s head with his mace that left Glen visibly dazed.  He made to crack the dwarf again but before he could do so my arrow took him in the throat.  The strike sent him tumbling backwards into the cauldron once again, this time never to emerge.
            “It seems I must do everything myself.” A voice sounded from behind us.
            I turned just in time to see a portal close behind the slender figure of an aged human male who stood next to the golden idol atop the raised platform.  His oiled long hair was slate grey and gathered at the nape of his neck.  A neat beard of the same shade clung to his gaunt cheeks.  He was dressed in the same red robes as the mages of the Seven Pillared Hall and carried a wooden staff.  He did not have to announce himself, he could be no other than Paldemar, the rogue mage from the hall.
            Before anyone could adjust to the presence of a new threat in the room a bolt of lightning shot from the tip of his staff to strike Eligos in the chest.  Upon striking it forked in two different directions to strike me and Minron as well.  Every part of me tensed and contorted at the impact and all consciousness was given over to the white heat of pain.  Paldemar did not even allow time for the pain to subside before launching a second attack.  He raised his staff above his head with both hands as he muttered some arcane words of power.  A spark of energy fizzed and crackled in the centre of the room.  At first it was no larger than a hen’s egg but quickly it grew big enough to swallow a man.  A broiling, swirling sphere of electric blue energy.  Small jagged charges danced over the surface of the sphere until it became to big to contain its own power.  It ruptured into a cascade of lightning bolts that streaked out towards us.  One of the deadly forks struck me in the chest and hurled me across the room.
            Dazed I rolled onto my knees as a hacking cough overcame me.  I could taste iron on the back of my tongue and feel the slow viscous seep of blood from my ears and nose.  I tried to rise but found that I lacked the strength.  A gentle hand was placed on the back of my head.  I twisted to see the figure of Minron crouched next to me, just as bloodied as I.
            “That mage must die ranger.” he said.  “Please see it done before he sends more of us to join Vic.”
            The touch of his hand grew warm as he channelled the healing power of the Raven Queen into me.  Reinvigorated I stood and drew back an arrow.  Paldemar was too busy surveying the prone figures of my comrades to pay too much attention to me.  I loosed the arrow and it struck home just under the left hand side of his ribcage.  That got his attention all-right.  The mage huffed as the arrow drove the air from his lungs and looked at me in surprise.  Then he vanished.  One moment he was there the next… nothing.  I sent a speculative arrow in the direction of where he had been but it did nothing more than clatter harmlessly into the wall.
            The warder, steam billowing from the hole in his torso clambered rather unsteadily to its feet and swiped at Eligos with its axe.  Eligos tried to roll away but could not avoid a glancing blow.  The movement of the warder seemed to animate Rodney.  Having also been knocked to the ground by Paldemar’s attack he rose to his knees and thrust two hands towards the top of the raised platform.  The spectre of a Ram’s head tore itself free of the mage’s body and streaked to the top of the platform.  There was a burst of magical energy and suddenly Paldemar reappeared as he tumbled from the platform to land heavily on the floor below.
            “Your trinket gives you away Paldemar.” Rodney said.  “Kill the mage and the minotaur will fall.” he called to us.
            Eligos took up the task immediately and charged into Paldemar before he could stand.  With blood pouring from his chest and head Paldemar managed to gain his feet and release a burst of energy that sent Eligos and Minron flying.  Glen tried to retaliate but was unable to connect with his ugrosh, Krevath joined in with more success.
            As we gathered around Paldemar to try and bring an end to this confrontation the warder resumed its attack, this time targeting Rodney who was now isolated from the rest of us.  As the blade of its large double bladed axe arced inexorably towards the mage Minron threw himself at Rodney and managed to push him out of harm’s way.  Sadly he could not manage such safety for himself.  The blade struck him in the centre of his breastplate with full force.  The minotaur was lifted bodily from the floor to fly through the air until he struck the far wall and collapsed to the ground, where he moved no more.
            Rodney unleashed a magical bolt at the lurching steaming contraption as he backed away, out of reach of its flailing axe.  “Kill Paldemar.” He called to us “and this thing will stop”.
            I sunk two arrows into the red robes of Paldemar as Glen stabbed him with his ugrosh.  Paldemar was beginning to look weak.  That he attacked Eligos by hitting her with his staff rather than some sort of spell spoke volumes as to hit state.  In a panic he squeezed himself back into the corner of the room.  As his back hit the marble he reached inside his tunic and yanked an amulet free from his neck.  Raising the trinket high over his head he screamed, “Protect me, protect your master.” At the warder.
            The warder responded by turning from Rodney and careering towards those harassing his master.  He raised his axe, ready to unleash it in an arc that would sweep Glen, Krevath and Eligos from before Paldemar.  But I was too quick.  My first arrow embedded itself in Paldemar’s wrist causing him to drop the amulet to the ground.  As soon as the necklace left his grip the warder froze where it stood.  As he turned to survey his wounded wrist my second arrow sunk into his temple killing the rogue mage before he so much as hit the ground.
            They were all dead.  A soft his mingled with the steady simmering of the cauldrons as steam continued to escape from the now inanimate warder.  As Eligos and I moved to revive Minron Rodney searched Paldemar’s corpse and Krevath retrieved Marldric’s jar from where it had fallen to the floor.  Somehow it was still full of dark liquid.
            “So what now?”  Krevath asked after Minron had come around and sat on the floor rubbing his head.
            “Well we free them for a start.” Glen said, indicating the still trapped humans.  “Then I suppose we take his corpse back to mages and see what sort of reward is on offer.”
            “We need to collect Vic and give him a proper funeral.”  I added.
            “And then we need to find some way to return me to normal.” Chimed in Eligos.
            “It’s a long walk back to the Hall.” I said. “We’d better get started.”
            “There’s no need.” Rodney looked up from flicking through a book that he had found on Paldemar. “If I’m reading this correctly then it’s a portal spell.  I can teleport us there.”

            The mage is preparing the incantation now.  Personally I think I’d rather walk.

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