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Against The Odds (5)

19 Jul
Against The Odds (5)

The Mistmire piled out of the long canoe, pulling T’agan and Klemgathed from the vessel with exhortations, all rules of silence forgotten, as they scrambled onto a boggy outcrop, mostly rocky and bare, a spindly swamp oak sapling the lone cover as the long, terrifying shadow of Muckskull-the-Foul fell across them. It’s roar shook the swamp lands, and even the now-undead Fog Giant King Unlub the Hungry looked up from his roasting-Lizardmen dinner and peered southward into the mists.

T’agan was kneeling and chanting aloud in Aqaba, his head down, his sword drawn and tip-down in the muck, one hand on the pommel, one arm extended, hand up, palm out, beseeching Lodis to bless and sanctify this tiny island from evil, and to watch over and protect their hearts and minds from its corrupting influences.

The muckfighters, Fennick and Moonblood, were in an archer’s battle stance, arrow-tips sighted on the nightmarish creature, unbelievably huge, stooping like a hawk towards them, and they fired as one, four fast volleys, straight towards the creatures maw and eyes, peppering them, and then Muckskull was upon them, legs like massive oaks that ended in talons that a full-sized horse could have stood under freely, and to the dragon’s surprise, it bounced off a shell of Divine will that T’agan had humbly asked for from the Oathbinder, Lodis. Muckskull screeched in frustration and its wing-wind as it pulled for altitude tumbled the entire group onto their backsides, Klem ending in the fetid waters of the swamp itself and as he scrambled out the seductive whispering of Rakasha’s lusty entreaties screamed loud and close in his mind, and he cried out in fear, but the fear in her words, and her frustration came through to him, and he recited a mantra to clear his mind and pushed her away. For the moment.

This emboldened him and as he saw Muckskull bank and turn for another pass, he knew that the witch feared her final death, and if this was her gatekeeper, then Klemgathed Shalecott was up for the challenge. He queried Tesseract’s arcana, asking if Flight was possible, and the mage’s eyes lit up and he grinned a rare smile and quickly sketched the construct and spoke the triggering harmonic, and Klem lifted into the air, the monk laughing aloud and the others gawped for a moment, before Dipdunk shouted, “Punch ‘im in the nose, ya mad bastard! And you lot, throw everything you got at ‘im before he decides to give us a faceful of breath weapon!”

Tesseract begins to Weave. As the dragon comes at them, he manages to give the Muckfighters Bull Strength, and they laugh aloud and drop their rigs, pulling long blades and Fennick makes a step with his hand and squats, preparing Moonblood for a short flight of his own. Dipdunk was watching everywhere except at the dragon, watching for attacks from the swamp, surely the old bitch wasn’t going to just let them fight a legendary dragon without some sort of treachery? He stood by T’agan’s kneeling form, and vowed to protect this man as long as he could, a vow he had promised to never give to any man again, not after the life he had led, never again, but this was no ordinary day. They had to win this fight or he was never going home again. The old rogue stood a little taller, and he kept a keen eye on the foggy bogs.

 

Muckskull was pissed. He was in full flight now, determined to hose the tiny island with a sheet of acid and eliminate his Master’s enemies in one strong attack. The shield had startled him, and hurt as well, the divine energy making his talons itch, as pieces of them flaked off as he hurtled at the weakling humans clinging to their tiny rock. Suddenly something flew past his vision, large even for a bird, and with one eye, quickly tracked it and saw a tiny dwarf flying straight at him! It made a blurring motion with its hands and pain exploded through the ancient dragon’s skull. Muckskull howled and suddenly back-stalled, slowing his progress and he started to fall towards the black waters of the swamp.
Moonblood, at the top of his generous leap, rammed his long sword up to the hilt in Muckskull’s lower torso, the greasy, purple-mottled flesh came away and fatty slabs, and ichor the color of waste poured over the warriors hands, and he cursed as he fell back towards the island, his sword and arms dripping.

Klemgathed was relentless. Like an angry wasp, he stayed close to the dragon’s head and pummeled it with rapid melees of punches and kicks, the monk’s power was considerable, the nature of Master Wei’s training, and his punishment began to take a toll on the humongous beast and he drove it to earth, a few hundred metres from the rest of the party. Its massive body splashed up foul swamp water and drenched Klem from head to toe as he fell with the dragon, his Fly spell worn off at last.

The others launched the canoe, T’agan up and with them, his eyes slightly glazed from his long devotions, and they rocketed towards Muckskull who was thrashing around, his tail knocking trees over and splashing water and knocking rocks around, and they were forced to slow, and wait for a chance.

Klem stayed on the body of Muckskull himself, subjecting the dragon to a physical beating not recommended to anything mortal, cracking the spine of the old beast one bone at a time, and crippling one of the dragon’s wings just as the rest of the party dashed across the final space and spilled out onto a substantially larger island, grassy and once-thick with trees, most of them crushed and splintered now, creating a very hazardous environment for all concerned.

Tesseract held the others back and called for Klem to shelter himself as he sketched the construct that would allow him to release five times the energy than he normally would, a risk that would most certainly knock the mage out, if not outright stop his heart from the sheer burn of that much energy transferring through his harmonic, but he was tired of war, and this was a moment that deserved such a sacrifice, and he smiled and his hands came up, ready to draw the final sigil and he spoke the triggering lyric and his fingers twitched and a ball of fire formed between his hand and suddenly swelled, out of control, to the size of a horse and the others staggered back and Tesseract shouted as the Fireball roared towards the crippled dragon and the explosion blinded everyone, except the witch Rakasha, and she howled in defiance as her consort Makabi dropped his head as Muckskull’s death dropped the link.

She raised spectral clawed fingers and chanted, and the waters in the swamp began to boil.

Klemgathed, dripping water and muddy from his life-saving plunge off the burning dragon, came around the smoldering carcass and saw the other gathered around Tesseract, who was down.

T’agan was kneeling beside him and as Klem ran up to them, the paladin smiled as the mage opened his eyes, and T’agan pulled Tesseract to his feet, and the muckfighters gave a cheer, and then they all noticed it. The boiling waters.

The Mistmire exploded into action, they herded Klem and T’agan into the canoe and they pushed off into the roiling waters, and the air was cold, no heat drove these disturbances, and Dipdunk was shitting himself, predicting doom and death and lamenting his own lost life in ever-more filthy and graphic terms while the others paddled like madmen, trying to make it to the ‘Mire’s shelter, an illusory-hidden shelter only a few kilometers from where Muckskull found them. They raced for it as the waters finally settled around them. The boiling stopped. The frogs and insects started singing again. The eerie calm unnerved all of them and once or twice Fennick or Moonblood let off a stray arrow at nothing, paranoia coloring their actions.

The banshee-witch had decided to wait. To make certain of her victory, she would allow them to hide in their pitiful cave. They would never leave it alive. Why chase them when she could simply bottle them up? She moved her Risen under the waters, massing a group that would stay hidden until called.

When the group found the ‘Mire’s hidden camp, none of them trusted the situation. The swamp felt like it was holding its breath and they were no fools. They had deduced the witch’s intentions and they did not stop, they could not stop, they only had one plan, the same plan they started with. The only plan that was available to them. Go at Rakasha as fast as they can. Tesseract managed to reform the shielding illusion, the one magick that she could not pierce with her malice, and they shot away into the swamps, the witch howling with rage and frustration.

She sent groups of Risen blindly in all directions, and commanded the birds and creatures to stop their natural lifecycles and hunt for the intruders.

They were in full silence mode again. They paddled north into the Bogs of Sorrow. Straight at Rakasha’s castle. Against all odds the party avoids all detection, Tesseract’s stamina being augmented daily by T’agan’s prayers and the muckfighters use all their combined skills of a lifetime surviving in this cursed place to avoid all the Risen that are searching for them. It wasn’t too hard, the witch was sending them in large, massed groups, sometimes up to one-hundred of them, and they were not silent. Perhaps manipulating them all individually was beyond her, Klem pondered (to his DM), and thanked Kalan, The Fickle for smiling upon them.

After four days, just after noon, the unmistakable silhouettes of man-made shapes loomed out of the mists, and the tops of Rakasha’s castle could be seen by the astonished party. They slowed and silently drifted for many minutes towards it, the mists thinning as they beached on a rocky shore, the crumbling ramparts before them, and the massive monstrosity of the architecture made T’agan blanch in fear. It exuded pain and lament. It was as if the very walls themselves were crying out at a pitch too soft to fully hear. Every one felt it, and they all grimaced, suddenly beset with headaches, and Tesseract’s illusion collapsed.

They piled out of the canoe, weapons drawn, battle formation, fully expecting to be rushed from the shadowy archways of the huge citadel ruins. But no mad rush of enemies boiled from the old castle. Only the sound of a single armor-clad warrior rang through the air, clangly metal-on-stone and whomever he was, he was large, and heavy, and Tesseract near-completed a full barrage of Magic Missiles, when an enormous warrior walked out of the shadow of the bailey and onto the shoreline. His helmet was split and crooked and his armor, once fine plate-and-chain battle armor, was rusted and dilapidated. An oversized bastard sword was casually leaning on one shoulder, dried blood and rust caking the thick blade.

The party all looked at one another and braced for a rough fight. It lasted far longer than it should have. The Tool of Rakasha inflicted some heavy damage to the group. T’agan was nearly dead, run through the middle by the warrior’s wicked blade, and the rest were badly wounded, the sole exception being Dipdunk, who used Klem’s tactic on the dragon on the massive warrior. The Tool of Rakasha never saw him, but felt every sting of his blade, and the old rogue himself finished the Tool off, plunging his long daggers into the bastard’s kidneys twice each, before kicking off and watching the formidable foe drop.

At that moment the words of Okotarg, spoken in ancient Gandaharian, with intent, and powered by will, added their harmonic to the immediate area, and the powerful magics did two things that the vexed Necromancer did not intend. The harmonic energies resonated with the Fate Blade that was strapped to Klem’s back, and the powerful spirit inside, the monk Akou-Taie, was able to manifest a physical form outside the prison of the katana known as Sho-Nang.

The second unintended consequence was a harmonic dissonance that shattered the powerful illusion that protected the amulet that housed Rakasha’s cursed aatma, her true essence. Many other minor magics that were scattered around the castle itself, through the witch’s machinations or remnants from other assailants, also collapsed, and a nearby connection to several small demi-planes was temporarily disrupted, but the party never knew anything about these events having any connection to Okotarg, and neither did the old enemy. Rakasha’s death ultimately hurt Okotarg, not helped him. A large part of his plan to destroy Gemseed hinged on seizing the power of the Risen for himself, through Rakasha. Once she was enslaved to the Force of Unmaking, then he had a very powerful new toy to add to his vast collection already assembled and hidden throughout Gemseed.

When Akou-Taie materialized, he gained access to a large portion of his arcane access that had been removed while in spirit form and imprisoned in the dissonance-cage of the blade, Sho-Nang.

He owed a great deal to Klemgathed, for the dwarf had promised a true oath, overseen by T’agan himself, that he would help lift Akou-Taie’s curse and help him destroy Shao Ti, the demon raksasha who first uttered the curse that plagued him.

The old monk used his arcane access to reopen his divine connection to the sleeping dragon-dreamform that dwelled beneath the Kingdom of Clu, and with his devotion and humble apologies for his absence, gently prodded the dangerous being awake, beseeching it for aid and begging its forgiveness for his neglect. The gambit paid off and the Akou-Taie felt the connection in his mind reopen and the overwhelming feeling of life rushed over him, and he touched each member of the group that was wounded, T’agan first, who had, at that point, actually died, but was reborn and the others were healed, their wounds and fatigued vanished, and Akou-Taie bowed to Klem, who bowed back, and Akou-Taie said “Whatever freed me is ending, the note is dying away, and I must return to the sword. I can give you one more boon, but choose quickly!” Klem, grateful for his life and the life of his companions, thought rapidly and then asked for them all to be protected against the deathly wail of the banshee.

The fading monk smiled and it was done. When Akou-Taie had vanished, the others turned to Tesseract, who was now fully refreshed, as they all were, who began casting, when Klem heard something strange from one of the castle’s outbuildings, a ramshackle stable of tumbled stone.

Dipdunk prodded him in the ribs and hissed at him, “We need to move! Come on!”

The party ran for the main bailey and gatehouse, and a strange tubular creature, thousands of tiny openings all over its body, a weird whistling lowing from it, slithered through the ruins behind them, drawn by the new sounds and the sun started to dip into the muddy horizon, the lamp dimming and finally going out, as the party found themselves in the labyrinthine ruins and the banshee’s lair was somewhere below them, in the deepening dark.

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