They could see the sky serpent off in the distance as Drakis examined the missive. His crew had been successful in tracking down the creature, so far it had not come close to shore and has posed no threat the people of the southern islands. The party informs Drakis of Madhuri, the Broken Shard, and the missive.
“This could explain it,” Drakis states turning to Boomer. “I have felt a wane in my power recently. I am unable to change out of this form. I’m sure the Broken Shard knew of my presence down here. They must be casting a ritual across the islands to prevent me from interfering with their plans.” He turns to the party, “This gives us a perfect opportunity to strike them all at once. You have proven yourself useful allies. I wish that you accompany Boomer and his crew to attack one of the strongholds.”
“As long as there’s a reward at the end of it, I’m in. Otherwise, we’ve done our part.” Delver explains.
“Not all of us share that sentiment,” Gauthak cuts in. “I would like to see this to the finish, reward or no. I do not back down from a fight.” Zeek and Ivan nod in agreement.
Delver pouts, “I guess I don’t really have a choice do I then?”
“Good, now that that’s settled,” Drakis flashes a bloodthirsty grin. “Prepare yourselves. We attack at dawn.”
As the sun broke above the fort, the guards were greeted by an early surprise. Thunderous cannons woke the occupants of the fort as Boomer’s crew, comprised of no more than 30 men along with the half giant, half elf, monk, and bird man, stormed their way to the fort’s front gates. Gauthak was first into battle, charging at one of the ogres that is serving to guard the fort’s entrance. His war hammer strikes home, but the ogre seems to shrug off the attack. Before the ogre can retaliate, Delver launches a massive fireball from the back lines. The explosion leaves the gate as nothing but a burning pile of ashes and flames lick at the ogres. Zeek follows up Delver’s attack with a missile of his own. A shimmering swirl of radiant light launches from the cleric’s talons and strikes the ogre engaged with Gauthak. The ogre topples over, dead.
The other ogre, seeing his companion felled by the tiny bird man, let’s out a howl of rage and charges at the bird. Zeek dodges the incoming attack. A fearsome roar comes from behind the smoking gate as a meaner, larger, far uglier ogre charges through the smoke, clubs swinging in both of its hands. It charges straight into Ivan. Even with his amazing reflexes, Ivan is no match for the brute force of the ogre and is sent sprawling as both clubs connect with him. Zeek, seeing his companion nearly killed outright begins to run to his aid. As Zeek turns, the remaining ogre sees his chance to finish off the bird man, but as his club comes careening towards the bird it is met by Gauthak’s war hammer. Gauthak parries the blow, throwing the ogre off balance and leaving itself exposed to the devastating blow as Gauthak retaliates and lands a killing blow to the ogre.
Ivan, barely clutching to life, tries to fend off the attacks of the larger ogre. As the ogre’s club comes crashing down on Ivan, Zeek is able to deflect the attack, engulfing Ivan in a shield of holy light. Delver, seeing an opening to attack the large ogre, launches two eldritch blasts at the ogre. They explode as they make contact and the ogre’s lifeless body crashes to the ground.
Ivan shoots a smile over to Zeek as he wipes the blood from his mouth, “Just in the nick of time. Thanks.”
Gauthak charges through the smoking gate into the court yard of the fort and is greeted by four cultists and their boss. They begin to overwhelm Gauthak with their attacks, forcing the half giant on the defensive. Ivan, recovered with the help of Zeek, launches himself into the battle. He lands a flying kick on of the cultist’s attacking Gauthak, sending him flying and freeing up some space for Gauthak to swing his war hammer. The cultist’s continue their assault on Gauthak and Ivan as Delver and Zeek join the fray. Emerging from the smoke, Delver launches two eldritch blasts at one of the cultists, who is disintegrated by the warlock’s blasts. The remaining cultist’s are quickly dispatched by the overwhelming force of the party.
As the smoke finally clears, most of the remaining cultists have either fled or surrendered to Boomer’s crew. The party searches out the remaining fort, finding a secret staircase in one of the back rooms.
“I sense dark magic down there,” Delver states. “I wonder if that’s where the ritual Drakis spoke of is taking place.”
“Only one way to find out,” Gauthak exclaims as he charges down the stairwell.
The stairwell opens into a dark, stone hallway. Red light flashes along the walls, its source yet to be revealed. The hallway spills into a cavern. The dank room is filled by the red glow. A set of stairs lead onto a stone ledge, on which a staff sits upright, dark energies swirling around it. Two hooded figures step forward.
“I see he have been found,” One mutters.
“Yes, but not to worry. They will be gone soon enough,” The other robed figure responds. Both wave their hands in the air. The ground in front of the ledge begins to open and two undead ogres wrench themselves from the earth. “Kill them.” The robed men commanded.
“Not so fast,” shouts Delver. He steps forward and before the robed men can react, Delver launches a fireball through the air. As the fireball hurtles towards the robed men it explodes in a flash of red and orange. The blast sends the robed figures tumbling backwards and engulfs one of the ogres in its flames. From behind Delver Zeek launches his own radiant bolt towards the now flaming zombie ogre. As the holy energy connects with the ogre it lets out a pitiful wail as it bursts into ashes, consumed by the warlock’s fire and cleric’s holy energy. One of the robed figures regains his feet, swatting at the flames singing his robes. He turns in time to see Gauthak charging up the stairs. With a quick incantation from the robed man, Gauthak is halted in his tracks.
“I can’t move!” He yells as the remaining zombie ogre shambles towards him. The room is lit by flashes of different colored lights as the spell casters hurl spells at one another.
Ivan rushes to the aid of his half giant friend, intercepting the ogre before it can reach Gauthak. He engages the undead creature, darting back and forth to avoid the ogre’s uncoordinated swings and trying to find a weak point on the creature with his strikes. His martial training proves to not be as useful against the zombie. With no critical points to strike, the ogre soon has Ivan on the defensive. Gauthak, seeing the monk in danger, summons all his mental will to break the invisible chains that are preventing him from moving. He leaps from the stairs, war hammer swinging above his head, and comes crashing down on the zombie. As Gauthak gets up to turn his attention to the spell casters, he sees one final bolt of holy light from Zeek strike down the last standing enemy.
The party examines the staff, which seems central to the dark energy swirling around the room.
“It’s plugging a hole, sealing the dark energies. If we remove it the energy will probably dissipate.” Zeek suggests.
“Stand back,” commands Delver. From below the ledge, Delver clasps his hand together like he would to remove the staff. Using his magical power he begins to lift the staff from its pedestal the ledge. As the staff breaks free the room is engulfed in a torrent of dark energy pouring out of the pedestal. Dark bolts are launched in every direction and as they make contact with the stone floors they burst into dark skeletal figures. With a shriek, one of the skeletons charges at Delver.
“Skeletons!” He shouts, as he blasts the charging skeleton into a pile of bones. “It’s a good thing we have this cleric!”
“I don’t really deal with the dead,” Zeek rebuts as he smashes his mace into another of the skeletons.
“But you’re a cleric!” Delver continues as he dodges the next skeleton’s swing, “That’s kind of your thing!”
“It doesn’t matter at this point,” Gauthak yells as he charges up the stairs, laying waste to a group of skeletons in front of him. “Just more for me to crush!”
Dark energy continues to pour from the pedestal, summoning a continual stream of skeletal figures. As the group continues to fend off the skeleton’s attacks, the dark energy begins to coalesce into a single, shadowy form. The shadow glides across the ledge, directing its attention toward Ivan. As Ivan stares into the glowing red eyes of the shadowy figure he begins to recall his days as a soldier and their attack on the peaceful village. He can feel all the pain and fright that the people felt as his troop torched their livelihood. Ivan stood there, petrified by the events.
“Ivan!” Gauthak screams at the paralyzed monk. “Ivan, what are you doing? I need your help!” The skeleton’s sword slashed across Gauthak’s chest, opening a fierce wound. The shadowy figure, seeing it’s opening on the half giant, turned and dug it’s long, sharp claws into Gauthak’s back. The half giant let out a howl of pain as the skeleton plunged his sword though Gauthak’s stomach. The half giant topples over on the ledge, his life slowly bleeding out of him.
Ivan watches in horror as his companion is felled by the skeletons. The shambling bones turn their attention to Ivan, raising their swords to strike him down just as they had Gauthak. As the swords swing down to strike the monk down, a blast of energy sores over his shoulder and blasts the skeletons apart.
“Don’t just stand there!” Delver yells at him, hands smoking from the eldritch blasts he just let loose. “Do something!”
Ivan, finally wrapping his head around what was happening, break free of his daze and turns his attention to the shadowy figure.
“Never again…” He mutters to himself as he launches toward the shadowy figure. As Ivan swings his quarter staff through the shadowy figure it lets out a ghastly scream of pain. Ivan follows up with a relentless assault of kicks and punches. By the end of Ivan’s attack the shadowy figure is no more. The torrent calms and the dark energy seems to dissipate along with the figure.
Zeek rushes up the stairs to where Gauthak lies. Exhausted from the battle through the stronghold, Zeek uses the last of his holy energy to heal Gauthak’s wounds.
“That was a close one,” Zeek says to the half giant as he helps him to his feet.
Ivan stumbles over to Gauthak, hanging his head in shame. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened. I should have been able to help you. That thing…whatever it was…it got in my head. I froze in fear.”
Gauthak clasps the monk on his shoulder, “It happens to the best of us. Plus it’ll take more than that to kill me.” The half giant grinned. Their work done in the ritual room, the group makes its way back upstairs to see what Boomer and his crew have been up to.