The inferno that engulfed the small antechamber and blew out down both hallways scorched the stone to the melting point, and the air was hot enough to boil flesh in seconds.
Tesseract nodded to the stunned group as arcane shielding rose to meet the firestorm. A contingency, cast before they had descended into the depths of the citadel, it protected them all from harm, and the curse that came with it was deflected by the will of Akou-Taie, who chose to manifest himself at the moment the doors of the Temple were breached.
The horrifying chamber beyond the blackened doors would have made T’agan sick, had he not been distracted by the sight of six undead Drow warriors who were shambling forth, armed and enraged.
The scene exploded into action.
Rakasha was exalted to have finally had her prison unlocked, and she rushed towards the opening, allowing herself to manifest in the material world, knowing the terrifying sight of her would stun these fools long enough for her wail of lament to destroy them utterly.
Suddenly she was full of pain, knocked sideways and forced incorporeal again, her will rallying instantly and she turned to face a spirit light that made her cry out in pain and shield her face.
Akou-Taie stood over her, watching her cringe and weep, desolate and pitiful, and wondered if he should interfere, such a crux in the temporal tanglings of this world had ramifications he did not think he could unravel, unaided. He raised his harmonic again, and pondered, while, at a temporal speed thousands of times faster than he was experiencing, Klemgathed and T’agan were battling for their lives, trying to keep the four remaining drow from reaching Tesseract, who was having great fun slicing them up with Acid Arrows, and was actually laughing aloud as his friends risked death and won, again and again, trying to save his pathetic life, which he had pledged to throw away in this suicide run at the witch.
Fennick and T’agan were fighting well as a pair, slowly wearing the drow down with combined offensives and mutual defenses, allowing Dunk to work his craft, the old rogue looking like a killer twenty years younger, always on the move, always causing the maximum amount of mischief or pain as was possible as the situation allowed.
Another drow dropped under the assault, and Klem had a moment to reflect, where was the witch?
Tesseract signalled to Fennick that he was running low on spells and switched over to a crossbow, peppering the remaining drow with blessed bolts that he had T’agan prepare earlier. Dipdunk hamstrung another drow while the last two fell under the warriors’ assaults.
The Temple stood before them, in all its grotesque trappings, but there was no sign of the witch.
Fennick’s eye twitched. He was tired, and scared, and pissed off, but most importantly he was impulsive, the best of all human foibles, and he roared a challenge to the banshee-witch, cursing her name and her mother’s name and her people in language that most would consider impolite.
Akou-Taie rubbed a calloused thumb across his chin and nodded once. He turned away from Rakasha, who was still gibbering and mewling as the divine light racked her with surging, unending waves of sharp pain. As he returned to Sho-Nang, he lowered his harmonic and allowed Klemgathed to see him. He spoke to the monk as he passed him, in a low voice, “Under the fetch to Utu’l’uu” and returned to the sword, where he watched, but did not interfere as Rakasha found herself free of her tormentor and found her bodyguards slain, her temple befouled by heretics and she manifested in the middle of the Temple, above the altar-slab, and wailed her lament, her’s banshee’s dirge.
Akou-Taie’s boon met the song with a canceling harmonic that stunned the witch into silence, hovering in full view, before the equally stunned party.
A heartbeat passed.
Rakasha screeched and began stitching sigil after sigil into spellchains that Tesseract’s own weaving could not match, and soon his counterspelling faltered, but T’agan had taken up his own chant, prayers to Lodis for protection from evil and imploring his Lord for the power to return the witch to the labyrinths of the Abyssal planes. A divine burst rinsed the Temple in white-blue light, and many of the witch’s most sacred artifacts exploded, shrapnelling the room, but not deterring the relentless press of the blade-dance of Klemgathed, a one-handed ballet with Sho-Nang as partner, the holy blade tearing ribbons out of Rakasha, who shrieked and tried to escape into the lower harmonics, but the katana found her there as well, again and again, and she was forced to manifest on the prime harmonic, where Fennick and Dipdunk’s blades found her, without mercy, blessed with the prayers of T’agan, and driven by the murderous revenge-oaths taken in honor of Moonblood’s sacrifice.
Akou-Taie watched the party drive Rakasha into a mindless, swirling miasma of necrotic rage, and his opinion of Klemgathed went up, as he stepped the dance of death with Sho-Nang. Though it was his prison, he did not begrudge the blade its rightful respect. It’s heritage was certainly more honorable than his own! Beggar by birth, demi-god by accident, the truly ancient monk cracked a toothy grin as the final push destroyed the banshee’s form, severing its connection with the prime harmonic. He watched her energy flee to her phylactery, hidden in one of the now-tumbled side-altars. He waited to see if Klemgathed would act, if he would remember.
T’agan’s chanting dropped into silence as the banshee was destroyed. Everyone was dripping with sweat and their eyes were wide with the horrors they had seen, the horrors that surrounded them.
Fennick and Dunk high-fived, and actually smiled, as if their work was done! He scowled and barked, “The witch is not destroyed! Quickly! We must find her phylactery! Before she re-forms!”
The others scrambled amid the half-shattered wreckage on the floor, searching the myriad small altars covered in gore, weird devices with sharp jagged blades, odd-decoration-disguised-as-torture-device, and bits of necrotic tat. T’agan stopped to sense the presence of evil, hoping Rakasha’s hiding place would shine like a beacon to his heightened impressions. Klem spoke up, “Under the fetch to Utu’l’uu” and T’agan snapped his head up, the spell fizzled, and said “Utu’l’uu? That’s a cult of Abohar devoted to the mutilation of animals and an offshoot experiments with the mixing of human and animal bodies.”
Klem yelled to the others, “Look for something weird, animals and people all mixed up. Hurry!”
Dípdunk said, “Something weird, aye, sure, that’s a bloody toddle, that is!” and T’agan only scowled and started again to ask Lodis for his aid in finding where the witch was hiding
Klem knew the fetch when he saw it. It was monstrous in a way that made his stomach flip over. He reached out with the tip of Sho-Nang and knocked it aside. Beneath it was gold amulet, studded with gemstones and the burnish and beauty of its age was of the kind that only a dwarf could appreciate, even one who had repudiated his heritage and turned his back on grubbing in the ground for shiny bits.
Without looking up, he raised his voice. “I’ve found it. Here.” He stepped back as T’agan strode over to him, followed by the others. The brillix hung in the destroyed doorway, its constant crooning providing a strangely soothing backdrop to the horrors of the temple proper.
T’agan told the others what he knew of a banshee’s phylactery. He had never encountered one in the field, and in fact his knowledge of spirits in general was broad at best, but even he knew that this thing must be destroyed, but not without precautions. T’agan prayed for protection, and was granted protection for not only his allies, but for himself as well. He nodded at the others. “Do it.” Fennick surged forward, curses already on his lips, but Tesseract pushed him back. “No,” he said, “We do this together.” Fennick stared a minute, then nodded, and unsheathed Moonblood’s blade, now strapped to his back, and passed it into Tesseract’s hands.
When her Resting Place was smashed, the Drow witch Rakasha, whole and enfleshed in her sub-harmonic realm, was ripped once more into pure spirit, and this time hurt far worse than the first time. She howled and cursed the children of Gemseed, of Stricken, of the Mistmire and the Dwarves, the Ten Ramas of Akbar, and her mother, for losing the war against the p’a’tah’kk in the first place.
As she was dragged back into the Abyss, she realized she should have said yes to the creepy old necromancer after all. She cursed his name too, for good measure.
Okotarg looked up from the new specimen, wrist-to-elbow in dripping gore, and smiled. Stitching up a fresh limb, he started up a jaunty whistle, that caused his Mongrelmen to howl and wail in dissonance.
When the phylactery was destroyed by a group blade attack, T’agan could have sworn he felt the witch’s harmonic being pulled past him, and he turned his head in curiosity, right at the moment that the Abyssal Portal shimmered into visibility. He shouted in surprise and shoved the others back. They only had a moment to view it in its entirety – a liquid, amorphic pool of platinum with a dancing black and white-blue flame at its center, the blob’s circumference ringed with black runes, written in Abyssal smoke, floating on the body of the liquid itself. T’agan was versed in all the Infernal tongues, and he knew this to be a True Gate, one that led to the empire of the Unpronouncable Atrocity, and what he knew to be 5d coordinates, but one that his Order had never deciphered. He swallowed hard and his mind scrambled for options. He needed help, and of the kind far above his station. This was a Gate.
The moment Rakasha’s harmonic crossed the Gate’s threshold, her malicious will lost its hold on the entirety of her domain and the castle, all its outbuildings and stables, and the very water of the swamp itself turned, at once, into thick black smoke that caused the party to immediately begin coughing and gasping for air, mucus and tears pouring from them as they choked.
In a moment, the smoke was gone. A dawning day met them at the top of a hill, the curves and lines of the once-drowned land undulated outwards before them. The land was still ruined, the blackened and mossy shrubs and trees clung, ridiculously, onto soggy and greyish mud-hills. It appeared to Dipdunk’s eyes like a great muddy bucket had been kicked over and left to rot and smell in the sun, when the rising sun caught his attention and he watched its light slowly reveal the tops of a sight long forgotten in the Shremsing fields.
He nudged Fennick and pointed with his chin, and the ranger looked with him, and the others noticed too, as the dawn dramatically unveiled the shape of a standing circle of stones. One of the Great Llanyr of the Canathane. It had been swallowed up by the swamp waters, its power lost from the great network of power-circles all over Drexlor. When it was touched by the sun, its connection was regained, and the circle of mammoth stones surged with energy, charging like a battery, and when it was full, it heard the desperate cry of the land, and it released that energy in a healing surge that restored the land back to health, reshaping the actual terrain to match its contours before Rakasha’s malice warped it out of true. Seedlings of native plants and flowers exploded in the strangest shower known to date, as storm clouds gathered over eastern Gemseed, the land once known as the Shremsing Fields was reseeded and watered in by the brief rain shower that followed. The clouds parted and the Great Llanyr bestowed one last gift to the land, and a pulse of radiant energy blanketed the land.
Muckskull-the-Foul drew a breath and opened his eyes in a grassy field alongside a stream. He bellow of relief at finding himself free of Rakasha’s will echoed across the hills, and he pulled his wings hard, getting the hell away from Gemseed, and here he vanishes from this tale forever.
The fog giant, Unlub-the-Mad retreated to his seaside cavern, laid aside all weapons of war, and began his tapasya.
The bodies of thousands of soldiers, explorers, monster-hunters, glory seekers, the mad, the religious, and the unlucky suddenly found themselves alive once again, and in a great crowd on the hills of Shremsing.
The village of Stricken literally fell apart, as the villagers realized Rakasha had been defeated. They knocked the walls over and celebrated in the streets, but when the Risen were reborn into life, they fell silent as the tomb and watched with brimming eyes as loved ones and friends were suddenly home again, some had died only metres from the wall.
Moonblood found Fennick and all was well.
The Mistmire were reluctant to let Klemgathed leave. It didn’t seem natural, not wanting to celebrate, but Klem was insistent, the Empire was looking for him, and he needed to leave, now. This miracle they just witnessed would draw the eyes and soldiers of Rega like flies to a corpse. Dipdunk started to argue politics, insisting Rega would flood the land with elves and strip the lands from the natives, just as they did everywhere, and when Tesseract countered with the usual line-of-reasoning about the rights belonging to the winners, Klem just laughed and clapped Fennick on the shoulder. “You will be missed. But I must go.”
Dunk and Tesseract fell silent at this, but said nothing. T’agan looked like a lost child. He clearly wanted to go with Klem, but hadn’t been formally invited, and would never be so ungracious, but the Mistmire also had expressed the pleasure of his company back to their camps, to watch how swamp people became whatever-the-hell-was-there-now people (this drew a great laugh), and he had grown to respect and admire the hearty folk of the ‘Mire.
Klemgathed, walking away, ostensibly north, towards the coast, said to T’agan over his shoulder, “You coming or what?” and T’agan beamed, knowing his path was clear, and bowed his farewells to the Mistmire. He ran to catch up with Klem. The monk nodded at him and smiled, a rare one, and said, “You said you wanted to kill the witch. We did. Now, you wanna help me kill her boss?”
T’agan just stared at him, and Klem continued. “I’m heading to the Fortress of Haliakala Library, to find out all I can on him. I’m going to cut his head off just like he had Master Wei’s head cut off. If you want to help me, then I’d really appreciate it.”
Klem knew this was as many words as he’d said in T’agan’s presence to date, and he almost laughed to see the paladin’s reaction to this. Master Wei had told him that a “silver sword will open the gates, and a silver’s oath will reveal the Void.”
Klemgathed knew that the paladin would pledge his sword to his cause. He knew that he and T’agan would ride the long road together and that the holy warrior would die so that Klem could have his shot at the Enemy. When T’agan, later that day, knelt on one-knee and humbly asked Klemgathed if he would have him as his Shield Guardian, a lifelong devotion, the monk looked T’agan right in the eye and said, “Yes.”
At that moment, the good intentions that had lifted Klem from his miasma of doubt and depression that had followed after the death of his Master and the destruction of the monastery, fell short of the lofty rage that had elevated it.
The noble goodness in Klem soured to neutral selfishness, and there the monk would remain, locked his obsession to destroy Okotarg, until T’agan did, indeed, die in battle, his mind cracked by the Void, but was restored again, by the will of the Gods, far in the future from this moment, by the Wish of Klemgathed Shalecott, who regretted his friend’s sacrifice in the end, and gave up the power of the Djinn’s promise to restore him. That moment begins the second arc of these histories, called by bards, “The Tale of the Evening Spear”. That saga chronicles the adventures of Baron Klemgathed Shalecott and his armies as they vow to destroy the fiend, Pindar-the-Mad, a once-colleague of the now-dead Okotarg, and Pindar’s terrifying weapon, the Soul Cannon – capable of wiping out entire cities at once!
The Flight of the Dawn Arrow is not finished, however, this was just one small arc that continued for 5 years.
If you are interested in “what happens next”, read on.
Some three years after the events in these chronicles. Klemgathed and T’agan travel to Haliakala, the Fortress Library (that old fantasy staple), and research the Life and Times of Okotarg Ok (pronounced “ehk”). They find out very little before being approached by a scholar claiming to be a friend of Tohloth Wayfinder’s, Klemgathed’s strange benefactor/crazy elf mage who-set-Klem-on-the-run-from-the-Empire-and-then-disappeared.
Klem and T’agan meet with this group, and the wayward Tohloth, who gives a LOT of exposition about What’s Going On. The find out that Okotarg isn’t just a bad guy from a thousand years ago who is evil.
They learn that Okotarg is building an army of millions of undead to destroy Drexlor. He is also using the Force of Unmaking to do it. The Force is half of the Force of Shaping, a prime power of the now-destroyed Allfather, Zendaya. The Force of Unmaking is a necrotic artifact of unsurpassed power and in Okotarg’s hands, the world does not stand a chance. Klemgathed is then stunned to learn that he himself is caught up in this tangle of power and history.
This secret group, dedicated to keeping alive all that Rega would suppress, had a silver elf as one of its members. The silver elves of Jetta are the oldest race on Drexlor, and highly secretive about their society and practices. They harbor no ill will towards any race, but their agendas will not be suborned, and they take their security very seriously. The group member is a traitor, and one that would not be handled lightly if any other silver elf knew. He tells Klem something that he does not want to believe.
So the silver elf shows him proof instead. Strike teams from Jetta always record their missions on memory stones, small magic items that record images and sound in a local area. The elf shows Klemgathed a transmission from a memory stone that stuns him into a silence that he doesn’t break for weeks.
The aftermath of the assault on Master Wei’s monastery, bodies lie everywhere. Master Wei’s headless body is clear as the image-taker moves towards it across the battlefield that was once a garden.
Klemgathed sees himself running out of the ruins, towards Master Wei, distraught and yelling. He does not see the Strike Team, has eyes only for his mentor, his friend. The Strike Team Commander issues a rapid command to subdue the Dwarven teenager.
One of the soldiers squats next to Klem’s unconscious form and pulls the arm of his tunic away, revealing a hairy shoulder and arm. The shoulder on his left arm, the missing one. The soldier makes a strange shape with his fingers and pushes the flesh on Klem’s shoulder. A section of flesh suddenly lights up from within and then becomes translucent and Klemgathed sees the soldier try to reach into his shoulder! He tries again and again, with different finger shapes, but he gets more and more frustrated as he is denied. Klem can see, from the glowing object within, that its some sort of yellowish-round object about the size of a walnut.
His surprise is cut short by his shock and horror as the Commander barks an order and the soldiers then stretch out his left arm and cut it off at the shoulder!
The wound is instantly healed by the Team’s cleric, and another soldier leans over Klem and begins whispering in Arcan, quickly knitting spell-chains over his sleeping head.
The Team then teleports out, leaving Klem still unconscious on the ground. The transmission ends.
Klem is beyond enraged at the deception. The elves wanted something hidden in his body and just took it and then altered his memories so he never remembered being any other way. He was born with two arms! All those memories. False? It made him curse and fume and plan many bloody paybacks for what they had taken from him. He vowed to make the Jettans pay.
Toholoth told him what the Jettans were after. What exactly was hidden in his shoulder. It should have been obvious, but Klemgathed was stunned into silence. What was hidden was the Force of Making. The other half of the Force of Shaping, and the only object that could negate the awesome power of the Force of Unmaking. It had come to Tohloth decades past, but he had been forced to hide it when the Empire came for him. His old adventuring partner, Master Wei, agreed to hide it, and apparently he hid it in a place that few would look – the body of Klem. The Jettans wanted it, but for what, Tohloth did not know.
As small compensation, Tohloth, inventor-mage-extraordinaire, presented Klemgathed with a mechanical arm, that had a few tricks up its copper-plated sleeve. Klem graciously accepted, and arranged with Tohloth to charter an airship to get himself and T’agan out of Tazuria before the Empire figured out they were on their home turf. They planned on heading to Ashaaria, to the Shining City of Akbar, where T’agan hoped to bring Klem’s knowledge to the Holy Ramas and talk about collaboration.
Okotarg, however, had other ideas. Klem had found out a little too much about him from his sneaky friends. The airship would be allowed to take Klem and his bodyguard away from Tazuria. The necromancer called upon a favor and the King Elemental, Tempzzt’ok’k’shhHH’boom gathered his full power into a single stormhead and blanketed the sky with his awesome power.
But that’s a tale for another day…
Well that’s it, friends. I hope you have enjoyed this arc of The Flight of the Dawn Arrow. It was a blast writing it, and playing it, and seeing my mate, Ben, take Klemgathed to places neither one of us expected. Thanks for reading!