While the heroes were prepared to face their approaching enemies, the ghouls hadn’t yet come into sight.
One of the heroes, the monk from the Arbiter’s Guild, noticed a side path that led a bit deeper into the crystallized forest. Deciding that hiding from their opponents was preferable to giving their positions away and getting involved in a direct conflict, they quickly headed in that direction.
The path ended abruptly with a large flattened flower at its end. When the heroes stepped on it, they were surprised to suddenly find themselves standing on the ceiling looking at a place on the floor.
This place was very strange. Gravity seemed to pull from whatever direction it chose at times and though they were standing on what they had thought was the ceiling, it didn’t feel any different than it had when they were standing on the floor below.
The heroes did their best to hide behind whatever they could. Finally coming into the clearing where they had been moments before, one of them noticed the heroes’ presence. It began yelling in a language that could only have been demonic as it commenced a mad dash towards the flattened flower that seemed to act as a teleporter to the heroes current position.
Hiding option taken from them, the heroes prepared themselves for a fight.
The first dwarf had almost made it to the flower when the monk, who had yet to give his name, unleashed a flurry of arrows. Several of the bolts struck their target, but the dwarven ghoul didn’t even stumble as it reached the flower.
The ghoul was suddenly among them and Crim stuck, from out of nowhere, and hard, as the katana the guild had created him seemed to explode in flame as it connected with the ghoul’s flesh. It never saw the attack coming. When it turned to look at what had just hit it, the ninja had already vanished. Then the monk let loose with four more arrows, one of which ended up catching one of the gems in the ghoul’s head and destroying it. A scared-sounding voice of a victim rose up suddenly, and then vanished with the last of the gem.
Just as the ghoul was turning back from looking for what had hit it, it found Al’ev “Olive” Reldin had mid-tackle.
“Go for the gems!” Al’ev yelled as he struggled with the ghoul.
Al’ev was growing frustrated. He couldn’t believe that those he traveled with didn’t want to help those who had been taken. They had heard what the guard said. These were beings’ souls at stake. There was still a chance they could save them if only they’d just rip them from the ghoul’s head. It wasn’t that difficult. But apparently they all didn’t believe as he did. The itching began as he rolled around still struggling with the ghoul.
Velius rushed forward after the arrows had connected and managed to rip a gem from the ghoul’s head. It began cursing at Velius as it continued to struggle with Al’ev’s grip.
The second ghoul was suddenly among the heroes after Velius succeeded in pulling out the gem and, pulling out it’s dwarven war axe, it took a swing at the rogue, barely connecting and causing little more than a scratch on his skin.
More arrows flew from the monk’s bow and this time drilled into the second ghoul. Another ghostly voice cried out just as Al’ev managed to pull the last gem from the first ghoul’s head and the itching grew worse. Two souls never to see this world again…
Sindri Stribog, who had his goggles on while watching the battle play out, saw the form of a demonic imp break its way free from the now useless ghoul in Al’ev’s arms and attempt to posses Velius, but it seemed unable to get a grip on the rogue and resolved.
Al’ev had just stood up when the second ghoul took two more swings with its axe, both aimed at Velius, and he winced as there were two sickening noises he knew well to be the sound of metal meeting flesh. The rogue had not dodged these two attacks in the least, and the blood flowed from wounds on his head.
Crim struck the second ghoul with his sword and, once again, the sword seemed to flare up as it connected. Yet another gem shattered; this time a language that Al’ev didn’t recognize floated out.
Sindri did recognize the language, however, and just after Al’ev had tackled the second ghoul, the halfling rushed forward and brought his claws to bear. The halfling was unable to tear the last gem from the remaining ghoul’s head, however.
Claws? Al’ev caught this sight and paused. He recognized right away what those were and was so surprised that the ghoul managed to break his grip. He snapped back to fight as the last gem shattered in another flurry of arrows. Al’ev slowly stood up and paced a little away from the group knowing that he was on the edge of losing control. These people had just knowingly destroyed the souls of innocents. In any other circumstance, he would have already attacked. These people? No! These were his friends! He couldn’t…
Al’ev caught the unmistakable sound of someone trying to sneak his way through the foliage somewhere beyond the group and paused. Then, preparing himself, he called out. “You know you’re not hiding from anyone. Come out!”
Two forms didn’t just emerge from the forest, they exploded. One shot past Al’ev before he could register what had happened. The second bowled him over and now was struggling with him. When he saw it was a human form, things started going hazy and the itching went from flaring to suddenly stopping.
The rest of the group watched as Captain Morgan collided with Al’ev, and a guard with Velius. They were in the middle of acting when they noticed Al’ev didn’t just appear to be struggling. If they looked closely, they would have seen several red scales showing up on the magus’s skin around the back of his neck and his arms.
The magus kicked out again, this time cursing in the language of the red dragons. Crim had never heard such vile things come from the usually calm half-elf. He rushed over and managed to grab the gem that Al’ev had liberated from the first ghoul.
It was a mistake. Captain Morgan saw this and let Al’ev go. He then tackled Crim and was beginning to struggle with him for the gem that he was going to give up anyway.
Velius, by this point, was struggling with the guard and had lost the gem to a quick grab attack. He wasn’t going to give up that easily though and attempted to steal it back. He received a flail to the face instead.
Seeing the situation deteriorate before her eyes, Desira decided to act. She cast a spell on Captain Morgan and suddenly the heavily-armored guard captain couldn’t move. She then turned to Velius and went to help him but instead the rogue started running around being chased by the guard and Desira who knew the rogue needed healing.
Al’ev was free to move by this point and he stood up. Crim watched in horror as the magus pulled out his sword and stalked towards a helpless Captain Morgan, rage clear in his eyes, red scales showing down the lengths of his arms almost to his hands.
The magus began to see what was in front of him again, but it was as though he were looking through one of those strange lensed items the scouts had used in the dwarven army. But the lens had a red tint to it. He saw his sword as it began to come down on Captain Morgan’s helpless form and managed to stop.
He had pulled himself out of the blood haze, and just in time. It was close though. He had almost crossed the line.
Shaking, he only now started hearing Crim as he was pleading with Al’ev to let the Captain live. His voice unsteady, he brought his sword to Captain Morgan’s neck and held it there.
Behind him, he heard Caramel play what would normally be a soothing song, but Al’ev didn’t even register it. Many members of the group did, however, and they all seemed to feel a little less on edge.
Al’ev looked over at Desira and said, “Let him go.”
The cleric seemed to consider this for a short time then released her holding spell and removed her hand from Captain Morgan’s neck after checking his pulse. Al’ev imagined she was just as ready to cast such a spell on himself as she was on anyone else. He silently thanked her for keeping watch. It wouldn’t take much to push him over the edge again. He wasn’t even sure he had been brought all the way back yet.
He began to question Captain Morgan and eventually became confident enough that the man wasn’t going to attack him again that he put his weapon away. Desira and Crim joined him in trying to glean whatever information they could and they learned much.
It seemed the Captain believed that he had been doing this all his life. It was clear to everyone he wasn’t exactly in his right mind.
They learned that he didn’t recall Crustakin Hold. He didn’t recognize any of the heroes who had helped fight for his home. They also learned of a being named Amara.
Captain Morgan claimed that it was this Amara, a goddess, whom he served. A deal had been made between his men and Amara to try and liberate the souls from the demons and those controlling them. When asked if Captain Morgan had seen Amara, he said he had not and that it was through a servant of Amara, one who looked a lot like a halfling, that the deal had originally been made.
The heroes learned that Morgan and his guardsman had been clearing out the area of the various camps surrounding a forge of sorts where the soul gems, wands, and other perversions were created. He claimed to have seen a pair of elves in the forge who seemed to be the ones responsible for creating everything. The captain was planning to attack that very day and, though he obviously didn’t trust the heroes, agreed to accept their help in investigating.
The group of heroes plus Captain Morgan and his guard made their way to the forge. It was a large building that appeared to be made of the crystallized wood that was prevalent throughout this area of the cave. There appeared to be two main entrances and a side entrance. After a long discussion, during which the heroes learned Captain Morgan had no interest in saving any soul that wasn’t human, the heroes decided to go through the front entrance. No movement had been seen anywhere.
Their decision was also rushed when Sindri, who had his goggles on still, saw what could only be teleportation magic of some sort being used in a back corner of the building. Whatever was going on, it wasn’t going to be getting better until they got in there.
Al’ev and Morgan took the lead and the rest of the group followed as they made their way to the front doors. They were locked but only until Velius picked them open with little effort. Al’ev praised the rogue for his skill then opened the door and went in followed closely by Captain Morgan and the rest of the group.
They slowly made their way through the forge, ensuring all rooms were clear before continuing forward. Along the way they took anything they thought might be useful.
Eventually they had only one room left to explore. Al’ev stopped everyone with a hand signal as he began to hear chatting beyond the door. The talk was between several people. It took a moment for him to realize that he was hearing the red flight’s dialect of draconic. His heart froze when he heard who was talking beyond the door.
Brelzic was in that room. Al’ev almost rushed in to kill his father the second he heard that but, with one ear against the wall, he glanced back down the hall at all those following and knew that they’d all die if he did. He couldn’t risk it, yet.
“What is it?” Came the quiet voice of Harry.
“Red Dragons.” Al’ev answered.
He knew it was a mistake to say that just as he finished saying the sentence. It took a lot of effort to hold the dwarf back as he continued listening to what was happening inside the room some more. Information on what the enemy were doing would be critical in upcoming days. It was something the dwarves had explained to every soldier they trained. Without information on your enemy, your chances of success in whatever endeavor you were able to undertake against them were very slim.
So he put his ear back to door and heard more.
There sounded like four speakers in the room. Brelzic, a dragon named Azar who seemed to be the same red dragon who took the sword from Crim’s ninja master, Ozack and Trezdan. The last two turned out to be more of Brelzics sons.
They spoke of the red dragons and how they were using the dwarves as their own armies. These armies seemed to be created and in some cases led by Al’ev’s brothers, the sons of Brelzic. Azar seemed to seeking various artifacts. Among those mentioned were the sword he had taken from the ninja master and something about a phoenix. Al’ev thought he knew what that phoenix may be in reference to, but he’d have to talk with those who had actually been in the Library of the Phoenix to be certain. Eventually Azar left, saying he was off to search for the phoenix. Brelzic asked Ozack and Trezdan if they needed anything else, and they answered in the negative.
Brelzic said he was going to research more ways to use the soul stealing technology and then he was gone as well.
Al’ev looked back at Sindri who confirmed there had been a couple of uses of teleportation magic.
He then heard the chanting he only had heard in demon summoning and knew it was time. He warned them all and they took a few seconds to prepare. The group members cast various types of protection spells or prayed. Then they rushed in, Harry and Al’ev yelling, “For ”/campaign/flames-and-steel-the-chromatic-war/wikis/halar" class=“wiki-page-link”> Halar!"
The room was smaller than Al’ev had expected it would be. It was rectangular and obviously built for dwarves as, even though it was two stories, the ceiling was fairly low. Two staircases were in the room, one on each side, both of which lead to a ledge overlooking the first floor. Two dwarven ghouls were on each staircase. He had only seen them once in his time in dwarven lands, but the armor and weapons were those of the dwarven royal guard. It was some of the best to be ever be created.
The other major things of note in the room were the large demon who was in the middle of being summoned. It appeared as though he had nearly completely materialized by this point and Al’ev knew they’d have to act quickly or they’d be dealing with it as well. Next to the staircase and alongside it on the first floor was a pile of dwarven bodies. It was likely that these bodies were to be vessels for any summoned demons.
On the ledge were Al’ev’s brothers, Ozack and Trezdan. They appeared to be elven in nearly every way. There was one exception, however. Their skin was covered in the scales of the red flight. Ozack was mixing potions as Trezdan was chanting, clearly the one responsible for summoning the demon.
The last item of note was a strange mirror hanging on the wall by where they were. Al’ev knew they’d have to look at that later. But they had to finish up in here first.
Harry ran straight to the right-hand side staircase and immediately took a swing at the first ghoul in his way. It connected but didn’t appear to do any real damage beyond denting the armor.
Al’ev did consider incinerating the pile of dwarven corpses that lay on the ground, but he wasn’t certain of whether or not they’d contain gems in them. So he did the next best thing in his mind, he cast a pair of searing rays at his chanting brother. He had guessed it wouldn’t do much, but he was still not happy to see his attack do little more than destroy the clothing on his brother’s body. His kind, when they grew strong enough, became resistant and eventually completely immune to the effects of fire.
Arrows and lightning were not things his kind was immune to, as the monk and Sindri pointed out respectively, and Trezdan soon found himself the target of both. Al’ev saw both attacks hit and it appeared to stagger his brother a little, but he did not stop chanting.
Ozack recognized they were under attack by now and mixed a couple of potions.
Then, Al’ev stopped as he saw his brother stop chanting. The demon summoning was complete.
“Kill them all and earn your freedom!” His brother said and the demon dived into the pile of bodies.
That pile then formed up into a perversion of flesh forming a massive body made of multiple dwarven bodies. The body had two legs and a head and stood at least twenty feet tall. The body also had four claws extending from it. It made its move to the monk who it had deemed the biggest threat and attacked him. The attack connected and Al’ev knew that his brothers would have to wait. He was needed back over by the monk.
Dancing through his allies and friends to position himself next to the giant abomination and noting that there were no gems on any of the dwarven bodies, he put a lot of power into his swing. It connected, and hard. He had the giant’s attention now and he switched to a defensive stance ready to do what he could to not get hit.
Captain Morgan and his guard rushed the left staircase tackling the first ghoul over there and liberating a gem. They’d be fine on their own, Al’ev knew. They’d have to be, he could only be so many places at once.
He realized that this was a bigger problem than he thought when his brother who had summoned the demon cast another spell. A pit began to open up below his feet as well as Sindri and the monk. Al’ev quickly jumped to the side and turned to see Sindri and the monk were not as quick. He knew what lay at the bottom. It was an acid pit spell, one of the most hazardous types of pitfall spells he knew of. His brother was going to be a problem unless they did something quick.
But as he thought this, the abomination made its attacks. Many attacks. Al’ev moved faster than he had had to in a long time. He stopped the perversion’s slam with sheer magical power, blocked two claws, one with his magic shield and another with his sword even while he jumped over another claw and danced around the last.
He had his hands full. The others would have to do something about his brothers.
Sindri and the monk landed at the bottom of the sixty foot drop into the acid. It hurt and the monk didn’t appear to be conscious any longer. Sindri grabbed the monk and cast a fly spell on himself getting them out of the pit before the acid could do any serious harm to either of them. Getting the monk back to the floor and landing next to Desira, Sindri panted in pain. Desira rushed over and attempted to heal the damage that had been done. She didn’t get very long before another pit opened up below the three of them again.
Desira was quick. Al’ev absently wondered if her goddess, Desna, had pulled the cleric out of harm’s way herself. Sindri was okay too, as the halfling was still under the effects of the flight spell. But he was not quick enough to grab the monk who had still not regained consciousness. He fell, and the last anyone saw of him was a floating body deep in the pit of acid.
By this point, Harry had defeated the first of the dwarves on the right side of the room. On the left side Captain Morgan and his guard had liberated all the gems off the first one there. Captian Morgan and his guard had moved onto the next and were already plucking gems from that one’s head.
Ozack chugged a potion and appear to grow much more muscular.
Desira was visibly upset. She had seen another ally fall under her watch. Al’ev knew how she was feeling but he had to focus. He did watch her long enough to see her cast a strange, oddly aggressive spell, for her. A glowing star knife appeared and floated off to attack a dwarf with no visible hand on it. Only Desira’s motions showed how it was being controlled. He marked that ability down in the back of his mind with a bit of admiration and then made his next move.
The abomination was still standing and as Harry felled the first ghoul, Al’ev jumped by Harry and over the staircase to position himself behind the demon-infested corpses. He then punched the beast hard with a magic induced attack. It was an attack that was meant to push an opponent back with great force, but the beast wobbled a little but managed to hold its ground. It still looked to have taken a lot of damage from the attack however, and Al’ev prepared himself for another flurry of blows.
The beast attacked him with even more fury than the first time. Al’ev had to use a lot of his magical power to hold off the onslaught of blows. He erected a magical barrier to enhance his defenses and stopped the second slam. Then came the claws. He managed to flat out dodge only one. The rest were only held off by the now fluctuating magical barrier. His luck was running out and he needed to get to his brother before he cast another spell at his friends.
Trezdan was laughing and taunting the heroes in red draconic, but he suddenly went silent. In between dodges Al’ev saw why. Somehow Crim had managed to sneak all the way up to the red dragon and had struck him hard. His Katana burst into flame yet again. This time the fire seemed to work, but only because the sword had already carved its way through the half-dragon’s scales that covered his head when it had activated.
“Damn…you… Kill…them…” Trezdan was dead.
Ozack was furious. “BROTHER!” He drank another potion and grew even more muscular. Then he pulled out a massive hammer and took several swings at Crim. But the clever ninja had created clones of himself. The clones started disappearing with each swing and Al’ev knew it was only a matter of time before one of those swings found its target.
But before it did, Sindri, who was up near the ceiling, cast a lightning bolt at Ozack. This appeared to seriously damage Al’ev’s other brother. But even in his pain he still was swinging.
Al’ev made his move then, taking another swing at the Abomination that was in front of him and grinning in satisfaction as it was a solid hit. He wasn’t done though; he cast another spell he had been wanting to use for quite some time at Ozack. The buff half-dragon didn’t see it coming, and couldn’t. The attack was invisible. A line of force pierced through his shoulder and then dragged Al’ev up to the second floor in front of his brother.
“Brother.” Al’ev said through gritted teeth in draconic.
Caramel let an arrow fly at the abomination. It didn’t quite work as well as she had hoped, however. The arrow’s electrical component discharged on the abomination’s shell, the arrow was deflected… straight into the back of Al’ev’s shoulder. There was no way the Magus could have seen it coming.
Al’ev winced and pulled the arrow out of his shoulder, noting who it likely came from. He’d have to give her a hard time for this later, but there was still work to do.
Ozack looked like he was about to react to Al’ev’s appearance when Crim knocked him unconscious from behind. Al’ev almost missed when he passed over his own head.
The ninja was getting good.
Before it could react to Al’ev no longer being in front of it again, the abomination was felled by Sindri’s magical might.
The halfling was getting good.
The corpses once again fell to a pile on the ground and Sindri with his goggles on could again see the demon that had originally dived into the pile. It appeared to try and posses Desira.
It was as though Desna herself had smacked the demon down for trying as it just couldn’t get close enough to the cleric to even get a decent grip on her. It dissolved and the threat it represented went with it.
Captain Morgan and his guard had finished with the last ghoul on the left side of the staircase by pulling out the last of its gems. They started making their way to the only remaining enemy in the room whom Harry had just tackled.
Al’ev looked down at his unconscious brother’s form and contemplated for a few quick moments on interrogating him then decided against it. He knew very well what the half-dragon was capable of. Instead he brought his sword down on his neck and ended his life.
“Sleep now, brother. Perhaps in your next life you’ll chose sides with a bit more wisdom.”
Al’ev stared down at the form then back to the mirror as Sindri floated over to the railing before it.
“These runes.” He said, pointing out the strange writing around the edges.
“They are keyed to evil.” Al’ev noted.
“It’s meant for creating portals… so only creatures of evil can use it.” Sindri observed.
“We should destroy it.” Al’ev suggested and Sindri nodded. They pulled it off the wall and Sindri threw it into the disappearing pits of acid.
It was a bit after that when they noticed a new form stood in entrance to the room.
It turned out to be the halfling servant of Amara. This halfling had the scales of a black dragon, however, and Al’ev knew this was their chance to get another dragon flight on their side.
He wasn’t ready for what the servant said, though.
“Amara knows of your quest. She will aid you if you agree to help return her things,” he said.
The group asked the servant several questions, gleaning as much information as they could. They learned that Amara was a black dragon and that there were others with her as well. They learned that she was not happy with the red dragon flight for taking the dwarven people from her as they were “her things.” Everything in these mountains seemed to be “her things.”
Al’ev was wary. This black dragon treated people just like the red dragons did. She was only going to help them because she wanted the dwarves back in her possession. He was even more wary after the servant asked if they knew where the mirror was.
Sindri and Al’ev knew that it was keyed for the use of evil. Why would these dragons want it?
Still, the enemy of my enemy… Al’ev thought.
He asked questions about where they were massing armies and what this Phoenix Azar was after might be, confirming that it was likely the trove of knowledge in the Library of the Phoenix. Desira asked what gods they worshiped but didn’t get much of an answer.
The servant insisted that Amara would know when they needed her assistance and would show up only then. He then prepared a portal back to Trinity after the heroes mentioned they needed to head back to the guild and figure out their next move.
Before they left, Sindri agreed to the deal that had been presented to them and shook the servant’s hand. When he released Sindri’s hand, the shape of a dragon’s head in black was marked on his palm. Al’ev knew something was wrong with that, he’d have to research that when they got out of here as well as discuss a few other matters relating to dragons with the young halfling.
They had visited all of the dragon flights and the lines were starting to become more clear. Satisfied with the information they had obtained, but dulled by the loss of another companion, one by one the heroes went through the portal. Captain Morgan and his guard followed and they found themselves at the entrance of the Guild of Arbiters.
They walked in and didn’t see what they usually saw. There was a man sitting on the front desk playing with a knife as he read a note. On the floor beside the desk lay Trevor. He wasn’t moving.
Al’ev drew his sword and immediately asked the man to explain himself.
Though he wasn’t willing to give his name just yet, the man said he had arrived to find the place like this. Trevor had already been knocked out. Desira went over to Trevor and confirmed that the guild’s runner was still alive.
Finally willing to believe that the man wasn’t a threat, Al’ev again put his weapon away and asked where Groatal was.
“I’d like to know that myself. Perhaps this letter will explain something to you.”
It was a ransom note. Goat had been kidnapped. They were supposed to go to the indicated location and hand over someone named “Whikebain.”
When Al’ev mentioned that name out loud, it became instantly apparent whom the note was referring to as she grew very nervous and suddenly wanted to be anywhere but there.
“Caramel… do you know anything about this?”
And so the heroes learned that Whikebain was her name. They had at lot to discuss about how to act.
One thing was clear in Al’ev’s mind as they all debated what to do next. Goat had to be rescued, and fast.
What his friends didn’t know was that they were all in very grave danger, not just Caramel. Goat personally held Al’ev’s Arbiter’s Tome. Whoever saw that would know everything Al’ev did. Everything his allies did. In the right hands, this war could be ended before it ever escalated.
They’d have to hurry…