Storms over Kelerak, Part III - Page 6 - Myth-Weavers


Storms over Kelerak, Part III

   
Haha! Keeping me in suspense here I see.

Absolute chaos reigned within the chamber, and Bukki shuddered at the thought of it. Nonetheless, the little kobold knew his duty and steeled himself to peer back around the door, darting back to avoid being decapitated as it was slammed shut again by a mostly-dismembered ghoul.

Struggling against the weight, he forced the door open again, took a second to stab his dagger into the eyes of the still-twitching undead (just in case!) and tried to work out what was happening. He could see easily enough that these were the four adventurers he had spied upon earlier in the day, but he felt sure that he would have remembered this being part of their plan.

He could see the furfoot female grappling with an imp, the devil compensating for its body`s lack of strength with fiendish resilience and a sharp-tipped tail that lashed at its foe`s eyes, forcing her to split her efforts. Just beyond, tearing into the rest of the twisted ghouls emerging from an even darker room than this, was the red-skinned giantess. She was using her bare hands, for her sword blade had been shattered and only the hilt was still lashed to her wrist. At her feet lay both the shards and the battered, empty remains of heavy knightly mail, no doubt having been brought been to life to end these intruders.

The Zelish half-elf was valiantly, but futilely struggling to close with HIM. Barely-real horrors whirled through the air between the two, the paladin fending off their agonising assault with increasing difficulty as their icy touch slowed his muscles and peeled whole strips of flesh from his bones. These were mighty magics indeed, some brought forth by HIS will alone, others by long mastery of unspeakable tools and rituals. Witnessing this, Bukki knew that HE was truly invincible.

Yet there remained one that was unaccounted for. The little kobold crept further into the chamber, instinctively avoiding the black portal in the opposite wall, searching for the hairless midget - and there he was! Bound by sorcery, tethered to the flagstones with fiery chains that dealt pain without harm, fighting against the trap that had captured him. Something was strange about how he fought though. It looked like he was trying to reach something at his feet, rather than to break free.

Curiosity peaking, Bukki sneaked closer and saw that this was indeed the case. There was a book lying there, just out of his reach, radiating evil as palpably as the emanations of oblivion from that terrible portal. Bukki glanced up and his eyes met with those of the trapped creature. Desperation shone there, and wild hope, but very little fear.

Without knowing quite why he did it, Bukki darted forward and grabbed the evil book, hating the feel of it, but enduring for the sake of the tribe, and for the sake of the great debt it might never be able to repay. A coldness settled into the little kobold. For a moment, when he understood the source of the chill, his courage nearly failed him. But he withstood the soul-numbing terror and straightened his back, holding his head high to gaze into the eyes of the nightmare, of HE.

Afej the Black`s full attention was now on the little kobold that had dared to lay hands on his grimoire. He had nearly begun to exert himself in the destruction of the arrogant fools that had intruded here, but despite having an almost commendable resilience, they were on the predictable verge of annihilation. The lich held out his hand, silently demanding that his possession be returned to him.

The kobold was slightly too close to the portal for his liking, even though there was absolutely no danger at all from that quarter...

"Book - magic - focus - destroy!"

...as the imprisoned wizard battled through his pain to deliver his message, for there could be no other way to break the unimaginably powerful enchantments at the lich`s command...

"Please - help - cannot - alone!"

...and now the Zelish half-elf saw what Bukki held and cried out wordlessly, a plea for aid that Bukki understood perfectly...

"There - portal - throw - in!"

...and HE visibly came to the same realisation, and a spell that could not be withstood by any who were present grew in HIS undead hands...

"Quick - now - must - else - lost!"

...and so Bukki knew then what he had to do, and how he could help to repay the unpayable debt of the tribe, and maybe even save the lives of those who were allied to its greatest hero, whose name he had overheard the half-elf speak as the one who had taught him the Dark Speech.

"Glory to Tamarrik," Bukki said simply, and clutched the book to his chest as he jumped into the portal.

The fifth irritant of the evening proved to be the final straw. Rebellion in the garrison, an adventurer incursion, Marchosias interrupting his scheme, losing that grimoire of quite irreplaceable value...all these paled to insignificance next to the pale figure that glowed greenly, barely able to stand yet somehow mustering the strength to do so, before his controlled portal to one of the Hells.

Afej the Black had come close to being weakened by this chain of events. Far too many of his most exciting projects, and more than a few of his favourite spells, had their roots in the knowledge imparted by the grimoire, the loss of which he estimated would set him back a century at least. Nonetheless, this was a lesson he intended to take to (his long-dusted) heart - he had been too reliant upon a single tool, too confident in using it to accelerate his triumph. And now look at what he had to deal with!

Ignoring the remaining mortals as the insignificances they were, Afej instead turned his malevolence upon the trembling man whose realm he had seized so long ago. Centuries of agony had left Harald Thodricsson a shell of his former self, but the deathless, true master of Dessingrove remained a force of nature.

Even here, at the unbirthed locus of a necrotic empire, he commanded the relentless power of the living world. His bonds broken now, weakened by the loss of the grimoire that had held the venomous secrets which had crippled him, the Eternal Baron felt the overwhelming urge to lie down and do nothing, so weary and in such pain was he. Instead, he reached out his hands, and fixed his blood-weeping eyes upon the lich, and invoked the vengeance of the Children of Bunga Proudfoot.

A thin tendril of life poked through the flagstones of the keep. As the true baron grasped it, the faltering vine grew thick and strong, the unmistakable leaves of mistletoe sprouting at its ends and hardening to cruel blades of adamantine strength. So armed, Harald lurched towards his hated foe, as gracelessly as a zombie, yet a thousandfold more purpose.

In response, Ajef the Black made a single curt gesture and spoke a single sharp syllable that seemed almost insulting for the spell produced. The air itself around the lich visibly grew heavy, perhaps even wholly solid, and then blew outwards in a devastating sphere of force. Everything bar the lich was hurled aside by hurricane winds and battered by hailstones the size of a human fist.

Thunder roared out from the unleashed storm so that only its fury could be heard, even through the very walls of Carn Marrot and down into the town of Dessingrove itself, where soldiers and citizens alike cowered in fear. The land itself quivered in memory of the ancient magic, not seen in the mortal world since the death of Keler himself. Only a wizard as powerful as Afej could even hope to cast such a spell, and even his vast will strained to keep it relatively contained. He knew better than to risk the Storm of Keler spiralling out of control and allowed the magic to begin fading away.

Afej scarcely noticed the adventurers collecting themselves after this onslaught, or Marchosias trying to extricate himself from a pile of hail, or even the alchemical flames bursting from his devastated laboratory at his back, where the largest of the insects that had presumed upon him screamed in joyous pain amid the inferno. None of that mattered, when compared to the insult of Baron Thodricsson daring to attempt revenge, and even now returning to his feet with enraging alacrity for one supposedly so drained of vitality.

I shall make my very existence into your chains this time, Afej promised his nemesis. I shall render your body an empty house of pain, and adorn my phylactery with your discorporated soul, so that you are bound for so long as I remain. Which shall be eternity.

The lich drew a blade out of thin air, crafted from raw magical force, and advanced wrathfully on the walking insult that sullied his - and it was his, he had earned it, through force and cunning and intellect and superiority - domain. Both of the undying claimants to the baronial seat of Dessingrove knew this would be a short conflict, with only one possible outcome. But of the two of them, it would be Harald, even with his mind again crumbling into tortured madness, that saw what might come of this in long years yet undreamed-of.

And even as his valiant, doomed efforts were brought low, he could see these forerunners of Ajef`s inevitable destruction make their escape - then even the last of them, scorched and seared more horribly than any living thing should have to endure, the hilt of a broken sword partially melted into her wrist, stumbling haltingly from the inferno that she had remained in to ensure the destruction of all that the lich had been working on within.

Harald released his grip on the mistletoe glaive, breathing one more plea to the spirits which had allowed him use of such power. Its energies trembled in the instant before dissolution, before his final request was answered. As the weapon withered away, a small fragment of the magic that had grown it wrapped around the molten hilt of the adventurer`s destroyed sword. A poor substitute, perhaps, but one worthy enough for consideration.

I love it. If I’m right, you’re setting up at the Lords of the West were able to take out Afej. So cool.

Yup, thank you for noticing! I'm not 100% on what year(s) these adventures are set in, and I think it's probably best to keep it ambiguous both in and out of universe. What we know for sure is that it is a little while after the Liberation has begun...and that's about it. Like I said earlier - our heroes here are really just the maintenance crew, stopping things from getting any worse than they already are. The Lords of the West would still have been able to beat Afej without their setup work, obviously, but it does make the job a little easier, even if he has beefed up certain areas of his defences as a result of their attempt. May have even saved on the need for a Resurrection spell. Not exactly a heavy price at the Lords' level and capabilities, but even so...imagine word of the proof spreading that the Lords ARE able to killed, even temporarily. A boost to Wintervale morale like that could certainly not be good for them.

And, as a bonus, allows me to give Harald one last hurrah before sticking him into a position that ensures only after Afej is permanently dead can he be brought back to rule his barony; ie. after any players complete the adventure, regardless of edition. Besides, I could hardly resist using a Storm of Vengeance knock-off for the lich really starting to lose his patience, considering the name of this little series and all!

I've just got the epilogue to write up now, then I'll get it all sent off to you asap.

The LoTW defeated Afej a few days after the 11th of Belos, 8171 F.R.

Can't wait to get the finished product for this month's update!

EPILOGUE

It is an inarguable truth that, given enough time, even the quietest place will one day become a hub of frenzied activity. Now granted, few would make the claim that this region of Kelerak, just beyond Dessingrove on the scarce-trod road to Fort Sont in Kale, was the sort of place where 'nothing ever happened'. It had seen its fair share, and on this morning shall one more drama play out upon its stage.

First to appear, a stumbling quartet of heroes - or at least, the closest thing to such in these dark times - who have clearly been bested by a foe too great for them. One, an old man whose limbs tremble with remembered pain, must be carried by his leader, but Brokk is light and Aidan is not so wounded himself that he struggles to lift his friend. A second, hunched and lurching, is smaller than she ought to be, for Embla stayed in the fires long after she ought to have left. By her side, Isolde supports her as best she is able, knowing full well that she cannot hope to hold up her immense friend, and that the sole weak potion of healing she had had in her possession had barely done anything to the burns.

"I will live," Embla had sworn anyway, and this must be enough for them.

Now come the pursuers, the gibbering hordes led by a cruel master seeking to absolve himself of his mistake, the mistake that allowed his prey to come within swordsreach of his almighty overlord. That no harm could have come from this is an irrelevance, for it is the insult that must be repaid, not any threat, and Overseer Gevan counted himself lucky indeed to have been given this chance at redemption.

"Bring them back or do not return", the lich had commanded him, and he would obey.

Dawn approaches. It is not enough to hide the campfire just beyond the crossroads. The tall and straight-backed figure seated there is familiar to the heroes. His robes were patterned strangely, a whorled staff by his side, and a wild mop of greying hair bursting free of his hood. As they draw closer, the proof of his identity is revealed with the expression of demented joy on his face, and his eyes that have been sewn shut for many a decade. It has been months since last they met, but none who knew him could possibly forget him.

Between gales of laughter, the blind oracle Tarsus applauds the wearied four that approach him, and though he says not a word, indicates the road they should now take: the most open, easterly one, without any cover. They do not argue, or pause to speak otherwise. There is nothing they can say that he does not already know, and they are grateful that he has placed himself here to help them one more time.

Not two minutes behind them now, the hunting party of Ajef the Black appears at the campsite. Gevan is inclined to take his time with the old man seated there, infuriated by his crazed laughter, but being both blind and mad means that this would be nothing but wasted time. When the old man pauses in his cackling long enough to point down the easterly road, saying that their enemies had travelled that path, Gevan scoffs at the emptiness he sees upon it and turns his men around towards the north, leading into the forest.

Just after the last of the hunters vanishes between the trees, any who stood by the camp would have clearly seen four exhausted adventurers making their way up a hill, emerging at that precise moment from the hollow in which they had been hidden, unaware of the closeness of their pursuers. Some miles to go and the border with Kale would be first under their feet, then behind them, and a relative safety would descend upon them.

Yet this is not the end. For though it may take centuries or longer to come, justice is inevitable, and be it in this life or the next, will find its prey. A greater shadow looms up from its lesser brethren amid the confusion of early dawn in a thick forest. It seizes the rearmost of Gevan`s troops, silently, undetected. Then it does so again and again, until one nervous soldier happens to look around for reassurance. This one has time enough to scream at his death, and then they all scatter, Gevan himself showing some semblance of wisdom by fleeing back the way he came, hoping to reach the safety of the crazed old man and his fire.

Now hunters become the hunted, by she who was here long before any of them, before even their supreme lord took up residence in Carn Marrot, when she was one part of three. Now she was more even than this, one part of seven, for life grew in her belly, and soon she would have the scent of a mother. Her bond-mate was digging out their den now, but she did not mind his absence. She can destroy these intruders all by herself. Two-feet meat is not the best, but there is so much of it here that it does not matter.

She is fleet of paw, strong of jaw, and unlike any other dire wolf that ever roamed this part of the world. Half-memories of a two-feet dream, of strange thoughts no wolf has ever had, linger in her head. She sees the dead and knows that one is missing. She pursues and catches him in open ground. It is not a swift end, for this two-feet is in a harder shell than the others, and she must tear some of his meat loose first to get to his vitals. As she eats him alive, she keeps a wary ear watching the burning branches and the ancient two-feet next to it.

She knows him, in a way. Even masked by smoke-scent, his smell is that of the wilderness, not of two-feet. It is confusing, but she understands that he is part of her world. Not part of the pack, for he is not wolf, but close enough so that he is not prey either. She followed his strange scent many moons past. He led her to this food-rich place, to her bond-mate, to the cubs in her belly. She knows that because of him, she is where she is now.

Now, changed, greater than before, she is certainly intelligent enough to know gratitude.

THUS ENDS THE THIRD AND FINAL PART OF "Storms Over Kelerak".

Hope you enjoyed it!

Awesome! Can't wait to publish it.







 

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