“Stinks like Mankind..”
The rumbling voice of a Nari Ranger lingered in the air as the familiar scent of Renstake washed in from the tunnel beyond. Up ahead, the Whitewater gates cast a barred silhouette onto the dark cityscape. To either side of the locked portal stood Nachtkreed patrolmen, backs to the enemy and unprepared for the volley of arrows that stole their lives between heartbeats.
Aaaz took Commander Dietrich’s keys and opened the way for the army. The Nari headed north to the Nachtkreed barracks, led by Lord Andar Swift and Lalcha Sen, while Lychor disappeared into the night, bound for Arcanum Academy. The heroes steeled themselves for the inevitable conflict ahead and made for the Church of the Holy Embrace.
In the distance the first bellowing battlecries of the Nari signalled the ambush had begun. Caretaker Agven unlocked the great Gortwood doors to the cathedral and the adventurers crept into a silent nave, a haze of incense clouding the soft yellow candlelight within.
A cleric soon emerged from the south wing, ready to douse the candles and set the church to sleep for the night. Brother Bartlet was startled at the sight of the party but was quickly reassured by Agven’s presence. The two exchanged words and it was revealed that Agven’s imposter had taken residence in the church’s belfry since falling sick last week.
The belltower stood a hundred feet high and the wooden stairs within lined the walls for over twenty flights. Each creaking step brought the group closer to their target, the foul demon in liege with Sanbalat and Lady Margreeth. Wet, slavering sounds of feasting met them as they neared the belfry door, and Agven’s knocks were greeted with a guttural voice calling for more food. The Caretaker unlocked the door and, with Cale by his side, peered inside and into a glimpse of Hell.
In the centre of a room decorated with human entrails and bones lay a corpulent, festering Tanarri. The abomination looked in parts as an obese, hairless Nari, with an unhinged jaw and a protruding, pustulant tongue. A foulness hung in the air and was amplified by a deep, howling belch that spewed noxious fumes into the belfry, sending Cale, Agven, A’ari and Akura to their knees with nausea. Aaaz, Vetch and Umbar, still outside and just out of reach of the toxic tendrils, took a step back and sent forth a volley of attacks. The magician’s magic missiles struck true as ever, extinguishing themselves on the demon’s feculent flesh. Vetch cast forth a Bloodhound to similar effect while Umbar missed his target completely with a poorly aimed arrow.
A’ari and Akura dragged themselves from the belfry to cleaner air while Cale tried to shake off the nausea and meet the Rot Demon with his Gatesword. The Tanarri engaged the blade with his own massive scythe.
As the battle erupted, a familiar voice called from the base of the tower and Sanbalat began to climb the stairs, “You vermin have been nipping at my heels for long enough! This night I shall end you all!”. A’ari, collected his senses and unleashed the spell of Silence he had prepared to greet the Illusionist with. Sanbalat quickly understood his situation and retreated to the nave to try and dismiss the Satyr’s magics, which effectively rendered him impotent. Vetch readied a Shatterstone into his sling for Sanbalat’s reappearance.
Cale and Agven were again sundered by the demon’s stinking fumes, leaving Aaaz, Akura and A’ari to hold the abomination back. Aaaz reinforced his allies with enhancing magic while Akura fired his crossbow and A’ari hurled forth vials of holy water, which burst upon and burned the demon. Incensed by the scalding waters the Tanarri opened his dislocating jaw and vomited a spray of rot grubs onto the Satyr. As A’ari fell back, the grubs burrowing into his skin, Aaaz summoned a Shocking Grasptm and apologetically electrocuted his friend in the hope of killing the parasites. Thankfully the Wizard’s idea paid off, leaving a scorched Satyr riddled with grub corpses but no longer facing infestation.
Sanbalat returned to the base of the stairs soon after, sending two shadowy hell hounds up before him. Vetch unleashed his Shatterstone, collecting the Illusionist in a sparking explosion but only delaying his ascent momentarily. The Illusionist then began to phase in and out of vision as he walked up the stairs making the ranged assault from Aaaz and Akura that much more difficult.
The Rot Demon, now in furious melee with the Scourge Knight, hoisted Cale into the wall with an arc of his scythe. As he lay crumpled and still retching from the stink, Agven finally gathered his senses long enough to unleash a spell. Around the demon great flames licked and burned, searing the Tanarri but also weakening the wooden floor of the belfry. A’ari now summoned the strength of his own god, Mathuin, and tried to exorcise the demon, shouting holy scripture at the beast until it began to tremble in fear.
Aaaz recognised the fast approaching hell hounds as merely illusions but Vetch could not un-see the snarling creatures and met them with a quivering pickaxe. Together the Geomancer and the Wizard fended off the shadowy hounds while above them the creaking timbers of the belfry floor gave way.
The Tanarri plunged through the belltower, frantically grabbing at the surrounding staircases and eventually stopping itself some 40ft below the belfry. Still terrified by the Mathuin priest, it hauled itself onto the stairs only to flee into the nave of the cathedral.
Cale was able to keep himself from falling through the belfry floor but Agven, weak with age and exhaustion, could not hold on. He plummeted down the tower. A’ari instinctively hurled himself at the old Caretaker, trying to catch him with enough inertia to send them both onto a staircase platform, but a poorly judged leap resulted in him trailing the old priest into the abyss.
Cale skirted the broken, burning floor of the belfry and ran to help Vetch and Aaaz against the Hell Hounds while Akura, furious with his cursed luck on the crossbow, swung down the staircase to confront Sanbalat toe-to-toe. Aaaz had been knocking his illusionary hound about quite effectively, realising the visions could barely harm him, but Vetch was utterly convinced of the Hell Hounds’ credibility and had the fang-marks to prove it. Cale stepped into the Kobold’s place and hacked at the hounds with his Gatesword but Sanbalat, seeing the threat of the formidable Knight, cast forth lashing tentacles to attack.
A’ari’s attempts to slow his descent proved fruitless, despite the fortifying magics sent down from Aaaz. As the air whipped passed he heard the gentle, calm voice of Agven in prayer and all of a sudden their fall slowed, leaving them both hovering merely 3 feet from the stone floor. Sighting the cowering demon hidden amongst the pews in the adjoining nave, the clerics exchanged a smile and prepared to finish off the Tanarri.
Then a third strike from Sanbalat’s writhing, disembodied tentacles brought Cale down, and a cry from Aaaz stopped A’ari in his tracks. Knowing his friends needed him he returned to the belltower and sprinted up the stairs.
Aaaz ignored the last remaining hound, leaving Vetch to deal with it as he quickly poured a curative potion into the fallen knight’s mouth, but still Cale was unconscious. Springing and bounding along and across the staircases came A’ari, and in moments he knelt beside his comrade and infused new life into the Knight.
Meanwhile, Akura had met face to face with the Illusionist but had been subdued with Sanbalat’s charming words. The Asura believed it was in his best interests to protect his new friend from harm. As he stood, axes drawn and ready to defend, Sanbalat turned and collapsed the belltower entrance to seal the tower from Agven and his clerics. Cale, still waking from his reverie, was the only one to see that the collapse at the base of the tower was merely another illusion.
Cale drew himself up and slew the last Hell Hound. The others lined-up Sanbalat in their sights and let loose with a volley of projectiles.
The Illusionist gasped and fell as bolts pierced his body. Akura turned to see his fallen leader broken and bloody, and whispering into the platinum ring on his right hand. “My Lady, My Love” he rasped forth between dying breaths, before shimmering and disappearing into thin air.
With Sanbalat’s escape the illusionary rockfall similarly disappeared, revealing a gaggle of slack-jawed clerics at the belltower entrance. The Curatic monks moved in on Agven’s word and healed the adventurers while they shook off the adrenalin and discussed their next move. The demon had been dealt with but the sounds of distant fighting still rang out across Renstake and the heroes work was not done.
Agven’s clerics were organised into pairs and dispersed into the city to calm the locals. The heroes then made for the now burning garrison of the Nachtkreed to see how the Nari fared. As they neared on the guardhouse they saw the victorious rangers emerging and Lalcha Sen and Lord Swift were soon in their company.
The newly reformed allies exchanged information but Cale’s attention was drawn to the western docks, where trader vessels could be seen moving out to sea. Aaaz sent his familiar, Snowl, to investigate, fearing perhaps that Lady Margreeth was either escaping or worse, had an armed flotilla readied. The owl flew through the crisp night air and caught sight of Stormbreaker, Baron Wolhem’s galleon, hauling anchor and preparing to launch from within the stronghold walls.
Knowing they had scant moments to catch Lady Margreeth, and convinced that Sanbalat had teleported to her side, the party rallied ideas on how to catch the fleeing villains. Eriam’s name was mentioned and the heroes agreed she was their best chance… She was a friend, a friend with a ship.. and now they just had to find her! Remembering she frequented the dive-bar Keelhauled the group ran for the slums. Outside of the closed tavern a couple of straggling drunkards were more than obliging (once Cale snarled at them a few times) to offer what knowledge they had of Eriam. She’d been here earlier drinking but was now loading her cutter, Cat o’Ninetails and moving offshore until things settled down in town.
A’ari and Cale sprinted for the docks and were first at Cat o’Ninetails’ gangplank. The Satyr charged up to Captain Eriam on her beckoning and hurriedly explained the situation. Eriam was reluctant to send her ship and her crew unarmed against the Baron’s galleon, but found a bargaining chip in her former-lover, and now prisoner of Renstake, Rune Gulbrand. Only when Cale had given his oath to free Rune was Eriam willing to help pursue Margreeth. The party hastily boarded Eriam’s ship and scurried below decks, all the while with a pair of Curatic clerics in tow on Agven’s command.
Vetch took out his telescope and spied The Stormbreaker through a porthole window, noticing it was short on crew and struggling to get up to speed on the black waters of Mastbreak Bay. Cat o’Ninetails quickly drew on the galleon and after weathering a brief and poorly executed attack from The Stormbreaker, were close enough for the heroes to hurl grappling hooks across and board the galleon.
Cale, A’ari and Umbar were first aboard and surveyed a terribly undermanned deck. Only a few men were crewing the ship and all were too occupied with The Stormbreaker to even notice the trio of armed intruders. Margreeth’s bodyguard, Mute, was well aware of the attack however, and accompanied by two Nachtkreed he emerged from the main hatch and charged.
Aaaz, Vetch and Akura were still hauling themselves up the galleon’s hull as their comrades bore the first attacks. Mute moved in on Cale and their magical blades clashed as the two adversaries took stock of one another. The Nachtkreed divided and ran to A’ari and Umbar to similarly square-off.
Mute couldn’t find his way through Cale’s sure-handed defence, the Gatesword parrying almost every stroke of the infamous warrior then cutting ribbons through his armour. The second wave of heroes quickly boarded and leapt in to flank the enemies.
A collection of dumbstruck crewmen slowly arced around the skirmish, uncertain of whether to intercept a fight that was well beyond their means. A dazzling display of magic above their heads sent them cowering, and from the decks bannister Aaaz couldn’t help but grin smugly.
The Nachtkreed guards were struggling, as was Mute, against superior numbers and superior ability. As Cale tore another slice across the chest of his opponent, a female voice cried through the night, “We Yield! Enough blood has spilled this night!”.
Lady Margreeth stood at the hatch with Sanbalat leaning heavily on her and still bleeding through hastily applied bandages. Mute handed his blade to Cale and returned to his Lady’s side and the villainous trio were bound and gagged. Umbar wanted no mercy for the three and saw to end them then and there with the same vengeful spirit that overcame him at the cemetery, but this time Cale was ready and stood before the captives. Margreeth, Sanbalat and Mute would all face the justice of Renstake, not that of Seyoke or Kyalassi or anywhere else.
Eriam sent her first mate aboard to commandeer The Stormbreaker and together the ships returned to the docks, granting time for the six heroes to gather their thoughts. Though exhausted, so much more work needed to be done to ensure Renstake’s future! As the company discussed their plans it was evident that the moment to reflect on their successes was passing by almost unnoticed.
The Gate slowly opened on the horizon, casting back the dark but bringing little warmth to Renstake. Acrid smoke still billowed from the city’s guardhouse and the Stronghold lay bare. Nachtkreed bodies stuck with Nari arrows lay in the streets. Clerics tried to spread calm amongst the disoriented locals, but rumour, fear and hate travel so much more swiftly than solace.