Decisions, Straight to the heart of the problem, January 30

 

Despite Snow mostly convincing the party to return to the ranch and try to track down survivors, Leaf pressed for a more rapid resolution. He wanted to know how Dolmen could be sure that it was possible to track the pygmies after so long. Dolmen said that the tracks were gone long ago, but as long as they lived near enough, the land itself would remember them, and thus he could find them.

Leaf asked him to see if that was the case and he borrowed Moon Circle’s broken crossbow bolt and began a ritual that seemed to involve drawing a map in the dirt and several symbols that looked more like scribbles than the ones wizards used.

Snow decided at the same time to dowse out whether or not they would be better prepared to handle the pygmies if they got more information from survivors instead of going straight to the pygmy camp. Her pendulum was rocking straight up and down, showing that the question could not be answered "yes or no". Suddenly, she screamed, fell to the ground, and coughed up blood. She rocked back onto her heels and swiftly healed herself. Winter seemed worried and threatened to stop her from doing that again. Leaf and Spoon laughed and made comments about it happening every time.

Dolmen’s ritual ended shortly thereafter and he stood up and pointed in the direction of a faint breeze saying, "210 miles". Which was farther than he thought he could track them. Leaf asked why he wasn’t harmed as Snow had been and he said, "I wasn’t doing the work. There’s a big storm in the hills now and a river’s banks collapsed in on itself." Snow was worried about the land being damaged and he mentioned that a natural storm would have done worse, besides, the land seems to have burned out their defenses as toward the end there was no opposition to the ritual.

So Snow tried a new divination, not mere dowsing, but her silent prayer of communion. She asked, "If we go straight to this village, can we end the pygmy raids?"

"You can storm the village, but the threat lies below."

"Can we end the threat below the village?"

"You can defeat the guardians, but you cannot close the door." Snow, new for a certainty that this answer included whatever might happen when or if they used the crystal Storm Lord’s seneschal gave them.

"Are there any dangers besides Pygmies and Undead?"

"The Pygmies you can handle, there are no undead."

"If we kill the guardians, can we block or seal the door?"

"Not in the manner you mean."

"What would be required?"

"They would have to be imprisoned"

"Who are they?"

As she asked that last question, she was again struck by those she tried to spy upon. Her whole body was lit up by purple lightning throwing her flat on her back. The she started spewing bolts from her hands, eyes, and mouth as she screamed, arched her back and nearly lifted herself off the ground. Everyone took cover as this went on for some time and anyone near her was struck as well. At one point, Winter stepped up and drove her maul into the ground flooding the area with healing magic to assist Snow. Shortly afterward the attack ended.

Snow got an answer to her question, but was not sure if it could be trusted or not: "The pygmy’s masters".

There followed more discussion about the value of what was learned. Winter mentioned that she was bored at the ranch and didn’t feel like going back. Leaf was confident that if they can defeat the guards, that would be enough. The Storm Lord would just have to pick up the slack, as long as it didn’t put them into his debt. So they decided to head out to the pygmy village. Dolmen mentioned that he knew how to walk the faerie roads. Moon Circle asked if they could travel that way, the others all said they didn’t mind. Snow was a bit concerned with the lingering traces of taint from the Farplane in her aura after being struck by the unnatural lightning, but since she wasn’t the one opening the road or warding it, she figured it wasn’t worth waiting a half hour for her to prepare the ritual to cleanse herself.

Dolmen opened a faerie road, still using the broken crossbow bolt to sketch symbols in the ground. As he did the sky darkened, the rain eased up, it got colder, the trees all withered and died, and a wind blew the village into ancient ruins covered in dead vines. the sun set, the clouds raced away to the east, and a half-moon showed dimply in a starless sky. One, bright trail led through the Dark off in the direction Dolmen had originally pointed.

Leaf pulled out his feybane sword, and toyed with it, noting that here in the dark several of the gems in its hilt were dimly shining with a metallic silvery glow.

They saw many creatures, in particular hordes of the large tree-scorpion-like things, but these were larger than a riding raptor. It didn’t appear as if they could see onto the trail. Spoon and Leaf spotted a dark fey watching them from behind a tree, and Leaf flashed his invisible sword its direction. The creature vanished.

Mountains loomed ever larger as they traveled on, seeming to be much steeper and taller than in the human realms. A series of birds called loudly for 20 minutes, then only an owl called on and off for nearly an hour. A swarm of large humanoid forms, some with wings, all with horns, riding on black pterodactyls with fanged bird skulls for heads flew past, maybe 40 miles in the distance, then all dove downward as if attacking something on the ground, vanishing behind a mountain ridge. Several storms tossed lightning but no thunder among the peaks in the far distance, but it stayed cold and clear where they walked.

Suddenly the path ended in a deep sinkhole. Everyone was discussing if they wanted to appear inside the village or at its edge, when Dolmen pointed into the sinkhole. Leaf and Spoon were looking for a single object. Snow and Winter saw what he was pointing out: A pair of eyes, slit like a reptiles, ten feet apart from each other. Ahead of the eyes, a series of crocodile-like teeth, barely reflected the moon’s faint light. Snow asked what it might be, Winter named it a fey dragon. Leaf finally spotted it, and grinned. Despite Winter’s warning, which stands to date as the only time she has ever suggested caution, he glared at it and gestured violently.

The eyes narrowed and the beast roared. Dolmen swiftly returned them to the material plane, but not quite fast enough as the beast vomited forth black energy that tore through the shadow road’s warding and struck everyone. The little angel fell to the ground dim, Snow and Wispy collapsed but remained conscious, while the rest managed to avoid the worst of the blast, though all but Leaf were struck with a curse. They appeared standing in front of a 15-foot-tall stone wall and realized that they were looking at the village’s wall. Clearly it was not originally of pygmy make.

They tried to talk in whispers to avoid alerting guards, when Dolmen started backing away and pointing his big crossbow at nothing visible they could see. Then all started to feel it: the dragon was approaching them hoping to find a weakness in the wall between worlds that it could attack them again. They all retreated into the woods, Snow picked up the little angel and magically transferred the healing from a potion to it. It began glowing a little brighter and then teleported away, they knew not where.

Once they were far enough back that they couldn’t see the wall, Snow erected a warding circle to contain the magical aura they were about to generate and she and Winter began healing everyone and simultaneously chiding Leaf. He laughed it off and said that they were too cautious and should appreciate the fact that they got to see such a thing and live.

After they were all restored, Snow blessed them, and they returned to the wall. They saw two warped guards who seemed to be looking along the wall, and not out into the woods. Each wore a round helm with a small porthole to view out of attached to a thick iron collar. A tube came out of the collar and plugged into a wide copper belt that looked like the sort laborers used to protect their backs when moving heavy loads. Their legs were armored in metal reinforced leather, and their hands were covered in clawed gauntlets. Their skin was a sickly gray, and they were enormously muscled. Bolts and screws were driven into them all over. But they stood at opposite sides of a raised platform on the wall, some 20 feet apart, looking in opposite directions down the wall. More guards were in a similarly immobile pose farther down the wall in both directions.

The village itself was nearly circular, with all the buildings but one built directly into the outer wall. Each of them was a half-circle on the inside of the wall only and had a flat top only 3 or 4 feet higher than the top of the 15-foot wall. Two of them, near the gate on the far side of the village, were completely round and two-stories taller than the wall. The whole thing was made of stone, clearly dragon spawn construction. But Pygmies had made it their home for a while, as evidenced by the skulls mounted everywhere, leather hangings made from skinned humans held up on poles, weapons and so forth on all the inner walls. The center of town was dominated by a 100-foot-tall temple, with 4 symmetrical sets of stairs leading very, very steeply up. The top was a flat platform with tall, slightly arched monoliths. From their vantage point, they couldn’t see whether or not anything was on the platform.

The group decided that taking them out and going over the wall into the village was a better idea than trying to use the main gate. Wispy and Winter (with a spell from Snow) flew up to the ledge behind the one on the left, while Leaf used his boots to walk up the wall behind the one on the right. Dolmen took aim at Leaf’s and Moon circle aimed at Winter’s. On queue Both struck, Winter smashing hers flying forward, bouncing it off the wall and down 20-feet to the floor below. Leaf rammed his blade into the back of the creature before him feeling a shock as if driving it into a tree. Avenger and Snow hesitated for a moment as Dolmen fired and a green acid cloud enveloped the creature. Then they flanked it and both struck viciously. It pitched over and fell lifeless to the ground. Wispy and the little angel followed Winter’s and assaulted it with blasts of air and rays of holy light. Moon Circle, not able to see it any more, summoned the powers of his black tentacles out of the wall near where it fell, they picked it up as it tried to rise and slammed it against the stone violently, twice, breaking it. Spoon cautiously leapt to the top of the platform and watched the town for any sign of defenders. Despite having a clear view of the fight (it was nearly silent), two of the other guards father down the wall made no sign of movement. The rest of the village seemed deserted and silent.

Winter sensed deep evil below her, so she flew down into the village proper and kicked open the door to the platform beneath them. Then she used her powers to stomp the three pygmies inside the room sending them flying against three different walls. One, dressed in fine white robes with a bald head and no tattoos whimpered and hid beneath a desk. Two others, both looking like warriors with many scars, but grossly distorted stomachs and with knotted blue ropes bulging beneath their skin made inhuman clacking and hissing noises as they rose. Leaf ran down the wall into the room and spitted one of the two. The second rose, grabbed a halberd of the table near where it had been punted, and leapt at Winter. She batted it out of the air and into a wall where it lay crumpled.

Snow and her entourage moved toward the next platform to the left while she examined the magical aura of a huge monolith near the center of the strangely silent town. Spoon jumped down behind them and opened a door to that second platform, discovering a store room. Moon Circle and Dolmen began to climb up the wall to the platform. Winter and Leaf were just looking around the room they found themselves in (an alchemist’s lab) when the two corpses burst and the ropy blue bulges turned out to be wickedly clawed tentacles reaching out of the corpses for them. Both were viciously struck and grabbed, but the tentacles were too small to bind them effectively. Winter hammered hers and pounded it into pulp. Leaf slashed at his recovering his poise and preparing for a deadly follow-up. But his responded first and drove two claws deep into his abdomen just under his diaphragm.

Spoon, accompanied by the little angel, discovered that the inside of the store room held food and other miscellaneous goods from the raided villages. Snow identified the magic on the pillar as linked to the guards, but neither animating nor controlling them. She theorized that it might be strengthening them, but decided to keep looking. Dolmen and Moon Circle dropped down from the tower.

The cowering pygmy screamed in fear and ran for the door. This took him right past Winter who hammered him from behind and sent him flying where he lay in a crumpled heap outside, just near Dolmen. Then she turned and struck the creature engaged with Leaf, killing it as well. They quickly glanced around the room, noticing that it held a desk and hammock, a book shelf and scroll case that seemed to have been used to fuel a fire rather than for research, and a workbench where the two warriors had been assembling alchemical crossbow bolts of a particularly violent nature. They had several flasks of a blue-green fluid and a basked of knobby, pink and purple crystals. Each grabbed a crystal and then they walked out. Moon Circle examined one of the two downed guardians, while they talked Snow into healing Leaf. Dolmen hustled everyone inside the store room before that happened. Inside they found that Spoon had discovered a single tentacle, with a spike at the tip, one third of a mouth and a vicious temper. She chopped it in half and presented the halves to Snow and Winter. They urged her to drop them, which she did. Snow healed Leaf as best she could, but was unable to completely restore the damage the poison had caused. Moon Circle snuck in as Winter and Leaf were showing him and Snow the crystals. Each bore an engraving of ten dashed nearly, but not quite forming a circle with two very long triangles crossed inside. Winter recognized it as the sign of a well-known demon, named Hex-Dek. This foul creature, she told them, had several cults scattered across the world. It was known as "The" demon of technology, and wherever its servants were found they had torture chambers where prisoners were used to test new weapons. A rare few of Hex-Dek’s cult leadership were linked to the realms of madness, which partly explained the forms of energy the group had encountered. But she did not know of them regularly using abominations, as his cult usually used demons of some sort. Snow, however, assured them that the tentacled creatures were abominations and not fiends. His cult was not known to have any particular goals of its own, they worked as mercenaries and arms dealers to others. The leaders were usually insane craftsmen who just wanted to invent better and better ways to kill living beings.

Moon Circle presented them with one of the copper belts off of a guard, showing that it had bolts and crystals on the inside that were normally driven into the body to fix the belt in place. Some deep enough to kill a living human who tried to wear it. On the inside of the belt, the symbol of Hex-Dek had been engraved.

Dolmen snuck back out and hid the corpses of their enemies into the room beneath the first platform while they discussed what to do next in the relative safety of the store room.

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About GavinRuneblade

I'm a gamer. Currently in Star Trek Online. RIP City of Heroes, I'll never forget you. Check out www.thecaperadio.com they rock.
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