The Boundary Lands

Chapter 11 - The Return Home (s. 27)

11.2 Army of Darkness

The party looks out grimly at the undead army spreading out before them. In all, they count 40 undead minions – assorted zombies and skeletons that don’t look like too much of a threat to the party or they’re well-trained allies. In addition, they can pick out some much more powerful undead – eight Dread Knights lurk amongst the unholy horde, well-armored and equipped with black blades that radiate necrotic energy. Finally, the undead’s leader, Uthrin, stands in the back of the force. Even from this distance, Erik and Invicto can tell he is not a ‘lich’ as Larindra described him, as he was not a powerful wizard in his former life. He is most likely a Deathlock, a powerful undead creature that is granted a number of magical necrotic powers by its master when raised.

Uthrin calls out to his troops, “Forward my minions! Find the heir to the Empire of Nerath and kill him! I will see the Empire ended once and for all tonight!”

In the castle as men hustle nervously to their posts, Sam cries out above the fray, “Queen Larindra, get into the castle and protect the heir at all costs! You three – protect her.” Three soldiers head into the inner castle complex with the Queen. They make their way through the initial hallways and rooms inside the castle, to hide as far back in the complex as they can get.

Battle Plans

The ancient castle is built into a small mountain, with an inner castle complex dug into the protective rock. The inner complex is only a shallow series of a few interconnected hallways and rooms. The castle features a small walled courtyard protruding from the mountain. With the mountain at its back, the castle is only approachable on three sides – the west wall, where the main gate is now crumbled into an open passage; the north wall, with only a narrow hole poked through the wall, two men abreast at most; and the south wall, which is almost entirely collapsed, leaving a gaping hole about 20 feet across.

As the undead army approaches, the party quickly debates their tactics. Between their own recruits and Sam’s followers they have 24 soldiers, in addition to Sam, Palloth, Brutus, Azaz, and Azad. They have six archers from Sam’s followers that Invicto orders up into the north and south towers. Erik and Invicto join them, Erik on the north tower, Invicto on the south.

The party arranges most of their melee fighters just behind the west wall and the south wall, which provide the largest openings into the courtyard. The Zaza orders Brutus to lead the small contingent guarding the south wall, while Invicto tells Azaz to stay with the troops behind the west wall. Aramil, The Zaza, and Sam make a strong line across the crumbled opening in the west wall where the main gate once stood. Aramil orders only a few soldiers to guard the passage in the north wall, led by Palloth.

Erik tells Azad and a retinue of six soldiers to hole up in the crumbling building standing in the middle of the courtyard. They are assigned to be the reserves – to shore up whichever wall is hit the hardest, or to chase any enemies that make it into the inner castle complex in an attempt to hunt down the queen.

As the undead horde approaches, The Zaza utters a few quick prayers to Melora before battle begins, blessing her weapon with her god’s radiant energy and summoning a divine shield around Aramil. The paladin’s Axe of Light seems to hum with anticipation, eager to put its blade to use against the army of undead.

With the catapults wheeled into position, the party can see the undead begin loading what looks like fiery balls of oil into them, not rocks. Aramil gives one last shout to the soldiers to stay spread out, so that a clustered group will not be devastated by a single catapult shot.

It Begins

Aramil, The Zaza, and Sam wait at the opening in the west wall for the undead to approach. One fleet-footed skeleton hustles ahead of his allies and charges Aramil. The veteran eladrin easily deflects the blow with his shield, and the Zaza’s Virtuous Shield prayer surges with radiant energy, crumbling the skeleton to dust. Eager for battle to be joined, the fighters step through the entryway to meet the enemy head on. The skilled warriors make quick work of three more undead minions. Two Dread Knights arrive a moment later, and prove a much graver threat as they cut through Sam’s and The Zaza’s defenses and draw blood with their black blades.

Erik summons a Flaming Sphere that incinerates a few zombie minions, and the archers in the towers begin raining down arrows, dropping several more of the undead. Invicto turns his attention to a large group of undead heading around his tower to approach the opening in the south wall. He unleashes his newly mastered curse, Ring of Pain, on the lead Dread Knight in the group. The undead warrior is quickly bloodied as its entire body is wracked by psychic energy.

From the back lines of the enemy forces, Uthrin urges his troops onward, “Forward, into the castle! Find the heir and kill him!” Another Dread Knight approaches the west wall and skirts between Aramil and The Zaza, making its way just inside the courtyard where it finds Azaz waiting for it. The Dread Knight meets the nimble Jeweled Cities warrior head on, their swords ringing out as they clash.

Meanwhile, the catapults are loaded, and the great war machines snap forward, launching two flaming balls over the castle walls into the courtyard. Fortunately, one grossly overshoots, slamming into the stone mountainside in the back of the castle courtyard. The other lands inside the courtyard, near the south wall. A couple of the party’s recruits fall to the ground, screaming as they are burned alive, and the ground in the area is set ablaze. Invicto quickly directs the archers to use the exceptional range from their elven longbows to begin firing shots at the undead operating the catapults.

Erik’s New Trick

In the thick of battle just outside the main gate, Aramil looks to the north and sees a squadron of several undead minions along with three of the eight Dread Knights heading towards the narrow hole in the north wall. Realizing that in their tactical plans they left that section of the castle the least guarded, Aramil fears the worst if that group is able to make it through the north wall. The break in the wall is only a few quick steps from an entrance into the inner castle complex. Three terrifying Dread Knights and several skeletons and zombies could find their way to the Queen in less than a minute’s time, and the heir to the Empire of Nerath would surely meet a swift, grim end.

Aramil calls out to Erik on top of the north tower, pointing to the squadron of undead warriors. “You must stop them!” the warlord shouts, trusting that the wizard will have some magical trick up his sleeve.

Unfortunately, Erik doesn’t have any well-practiced spells to handle the situation. He could assault the group of undead with a few offensive spells, but he doubts he could finish off three Dread Knights before they made it into the castle. However, while relaxing comfortably back in Arastur, Erik’s had time to work on a new spell that would be perfect for the situation. He just hasn’t quite gotten all of the kinks out. The wizard gives it a shot and, fired up by the rush of adrenaline battle brings, as well as the new-found parental urge to protect his son, Erik blows through the arcane incantations flawlessly, and a Wall of Fire suddenly fills the narrow opening in the northern wall of the castle.

A skeletal minion bravely attempts to rush through the towering inferno and is instantly incinerated. The remaining undead warriors think better of braving the fiery passage, and slowly start making their way back around the northern wall to the main gate of the castle, pelted by archer fire the entire way. They turn the corner to find Erik’s Flaming Sphere waiting for them, as well as a Magma Beast the wizard has just summoned.

Aramil Leads the Troops

Back at the front lines, Aramil continues to use his tactical brilliance and deadly swordsmanship to lead his soldiers in the fight. It’s been years since the eladrin has had the chance to fight with his old comrade-in-arms, Sam, but after the first few blows are traded, Aramil and Sam fall into an easy rhythm. It feels like no time has passed at all, and Aramil and Sam set-up each other’s attacks effortlessly.

Eventually, the veteran warlord sees a perfect opportunity to use one of his most devastating maneuvers, a tactic he has coined ‘The Dangerous Leader’. He shouts to Azaz in the courtyard to keep his opponent engaged and motions one of the recruits into a flanking position on the Dread Knight in the entryway. Aramil calls out to Sam, and the female eladrin knows just what her old fighting partner means. She feints a lunge to distract Aramil’s target and covers him as he charges back into the entryway of the castle courtyard. The move is set-up flawlessly, and Aramil has a perfect shot at the Dread Knight’s unguarded backside. The warlord should be able to easily cleave the knight’s head from its shoulders…

But at the last moment Aramil’s feet get tangled in an undead corpse lying in his path. He stumbles towards his target, and is only able to land a glancing blow. Aramil curses himself in frustration as the Dread Knight turns its attention towards him. Though the move wasn’t executed flawlessly, Aramil’s leadership continues to push the troops onward. He shouts some Inspiring Words to The Zaza and Sam and they are able to shrug off the earlier blows they suffered from the black blades of the Dread Knights.

Sam’s Last Stand

The three Dread Knights turned away from the hole in the north wall by Erik’s Wall of Fire finally arrive at the melee swarming in the main gate of the west wall. Sam is fighting valiantly just outside of the main gate, towards the north end of the wall, while The Zaza is on the south end of the wall. The three newly arrived Dread Knights quickly assess Sam’s veteran fighting skills, and realize she is the nearest significant threat. Rather than fan out amongst the troops, the three Dread Knights move to quickly surround Sam after she cuts down a zombie minion.

The Dread Knights tear into the veteran warrior, landing a number of sharp cuts with their black blades. Sam calls out to Aramil for help, and the warlord turns to see her set upon on all sides by the deadly Dread Knights. A wave of emotion crashes over the eladrin. Seeing Sam again has brought up a lot of old memories, and fighting alongside her hasn’t helped to quiet them, but the warlord is at peace with the fact that his heart belongs to Palloth now. Nonetheless, Aramil doesn’t want to see his old comrade cut down. He turns to charge back outside the gate to rush to Sam’s aid. As a veteran soldier, Aramil can tell that Sam should easily be able to hold off her opponents for at least the few seconds it will take for him to arrive and defend her.

Unfortunately, he does not account for the Deathlock, Uthrin. Uthrin has slowly made his way towards the melee and is in position now to see an opportunity capitalized on. He utters some dark arcane phrases, and brings down a ‘Call to Feast’ upon Sam. The Dread Knights surrounding her are suddenly infused with black, necrotic energy and they tear into the eladrin warrior with abandon. Their magically enhanced ferocity is too much for her defenses, and she feels the undead knights’ black blades slide through her rib cage again and again. She falls to the earth, lifeless before her head even hits the dirt.

The soldiers fighting in the castle are taken aback at the death of one of their leaders, and a black pall covers the courtyard. Aramil in particular is torn at witnessing the death of Sam, but knows there is no time to mourn the dead right now. He stares at Uthrin with hate in his eyes, wanting nothing more than to charge the Deathlock and begin cutting him to pieces.

However, even in his darkest hour, Aramil is coldly calculating. He knows that a battle with Uthrin would be long and protracted, and the Deathlock would likely have a number of tricks up his sleeve to escape Aramil’s offensive even if he did get the undead creature close to death. Meanwhile, his leadership would be sorely missed on the front lines, and the Dread Knights would likely cut their way into the castle courtyard, and onto the Queen and the heir to the Empire of Nerath. Stoically, Aramil steps back into the entryway and waits for the pack of Dread Knights to turn their attention to him.

The Zaza’s Radiant Wrath

Fortunately, even with the loss of Sam, Aramil is not alone on the front lines. The Zaza is able to help alleviate much of the pressure on the rest of her allies. Faced with fighting a Dread Knight herself, she brings down a Radiant Smite on it and the undead creature cringes at the holy energy imbued in the paladin’s axe. Seconds later, several undead minions move in to surround the dragonborn. She only smiles, seeing a perfect opportunity to unleash an Arc of Vengeance.

The divine attack will easily cleave through the weaker minions around her and use the power of her god to inflict pain on the Dread Knight for the rest of the battle whenever the creature injures someone else. The maneuver should prove to be a crucial tactical turning point to help neutralize the damage that at least one of the Dread Knights can dish out. However, the future tactical value of the maneuver is thrown out the window as The Zaza brings her axe around in a sweeping arc. She places the blow perfectly, and simply severs the Dread Knight’s head from its shoulders. The creature falls to the earth and the paladin lets out a cry of joy, praising her goddess Melora. The critical blow would not have been as deadly on a living opponent. She knows that the power of Melora’s blessing on her weapon turned the strike into a lethal one for her undead enemy.

Having freshly cleaved through all of the opponents surrounding her, The Zaza turns her attention to the rest of the battlefield and sees far too many enemies ignoring her. Unfortunately, Uthrin does not ignore her, and the Deathlock utters a ‘Grasp of the Grave’ curse upon the dragonborn. The paladin finds herself rooted in place by necrotic magic. She is at least able to turn and unleash her dragon breath into the entryway, carrying her magical divine sanction with it. A few more skeletons and zombies crumple to the earth in flames, and the Dread Knight in the entryway feels the paladin’s painful divine wrath when it takes another swing at Azaz. The Jeweled Cities fighter has held up well, but is clearly outmatched by the Dread Knight. Only Aramil’s inspiring leadership has kept him on his feet.

Erik’s Flaming Sphere and Magma Beast continue to spread deadly flames amongst the undead horde, and many more minions fall to the ground. With the undead having abandoned all hope of entering through the north wall, Erik ceases the Wall of Fire spell. With the Flaming Sphere and Magma Beast on the battlefield, he simply doesn’t have the concentration to maintain all of his spells. Fortunately, the entrance in the north wall is out of sight of the undead now, so he is confident the spell has served its purpose. Back on the battlefield, the Magma Beast finally moves close to Uthrin, but the Deathlock turns to utter a curse upon the creature. It seems to be the same black spell Uthrin used on The Zaza, and the Magma Beast finds itself rooted in place, out of range to attack any enemies.

Uthrin Mixes Things Up

The Zaza eventually breaks through the dark magic restraining her in place and rejoins the melee. Despite the loss of Sam, the battle at the west wall seems under control, as The Zaza and Aramil continue to hold their ground at the main gate.

The battle at the south wall, however, goes poorly. Invicto continues to unleash attacks at the lead Dread Knight, and is able to drop the creature just as it arrives at the opening in the south wall. However, two more Dread Knights accompany it, along with a pack of undead minions. A catapult shot has already reduced the number of soldiers there, and Brutus finds his troops outnumbered by the group of undead. He makes a strong stand, but his soldiers are quickly cut down. Two undead minions along with two Dread Knights are left standing.

Brutus falls back towards the west wall, hoping to lure the creatures into the large melee at the main gate. But at the first opening, the Dread Knights gladly detach from battle and head towards an entrance to the inner castle complex, hungrily searching for the Queen and the heir to the Empire of Nerath.

Erik sees the situation going badly and calls down to Azad, who is still waiting with a small squad of reinforcements in a crumbling building in the middle of the courtyard. The wizard orders Azad into the inner castle complex, to head off the two Dread Knights and the two undead minions. Aramil sees the situation on the south wall as well, and he shouts for Palloth to help. The nimble rogue is able to quickly cover the ground in the castle courtyard and engage one of the Dread Knights, keeping it from leaving the courtyard. Invicto unleashes some eldritch pain on the other Dread Knight, and it suffers greatly from the warlock’s attacks. However, it somehow manages to survive the gnome’s arcane onslaught. The Dread Knight, barely clinging to life, makes it through a tunnel entrance in the back of the courtyard and into the inner castle complex, two undead minions alongside of it.

Just as the party is debating what to do about the undead creatures inside the castle complex, Uthrin turns their attention back to the melee in the courtyard. The Deathlock steps up and creates a Grave Dust Cloud to clog most of the entryway in the west wall. Azaz stumbles backwards out of the necrotic cloud, choking and trying to catch his breath. The Dread Knight standing in the middle of the entryway seems unaffected by the unholy spell.

At the same time, Uthrin waves a hand and casts a Shadow Jaunt upon the group of three Dread Knights outside the main gate that cut down Sam. The creatures move in a blur of shadow, passing through the entryway of the castle and reappearing just behind the south wall, near an entrance to the inner castle complex. What’s more, the fire set earlier by a flaming catapult shot that landed near the south wall has continued to spread, and now a large blaze, along with a magically created Grave Dust Cloud separates the front-line fighters, The Zaza and Aramil, from a pack of three Dread Knights, along with a fourth Dread Knight that Palloth has engaged, that are all near the south entrance to the inner castle complex.

Fortunately, the archers in the towers, inspired by the precision of Invicto’s lethal attacks, have been deadly accurate, and most of the minions have been finished off now. Moreover, the archers have managed to pick off the catapult operators, so the party does not need to worry about any more fiery explosions going off in the courtyard. Aramil and The Zaza can safely leave the front line behind to chase down the Dread Knights in the back of the courtyard. The difficulty, however, is in getting through the Grave Dust Cloud and the growing fire in the courtyard to get there.

Fortunately, Aramil is not lacking for mobility. He easily fey steps through Uthrin’s Grave Dust Cloud, then charges around the blazing fire in the middle of the courtyard, engaging two of the Dread Knights. Brutus steps up to rejoin the melee by the south wall, and presses the one Dread Knight not occupied by Aramil and Palloth. The warriors are grave enough of a threat to command the Dread Knights’ attention, and it seems the party has temporarily prevented any more enemies from making their way into the castle complex. They can only hope that Azad and his pack of soldiers can handle the three undead creatures that did make it in…

Invicto Ruins Uthrin’s Day

The Zaza is not nearly as mobile as Aramil, so she decides to simply bring the undead to her. She moves back into the entryway of the west wall, narrowly squeezing by Uthrin’s Grave Dust Cloud. The fire in the courtyard still separates her from the undead, but the paladin couldn’t be more pleased with the situation. The Zaza senses a feeling of complete exultation from her Axe of Light, and the artifact is rimmed with radiant energy. She unleashes its power to call all of the nearby undead to her.

Two of the Dread Knights somehow manage to resist the Axe’s power, but the others stumble helplessly towards The Zaza. Two of the undead warriors walk right into the blazing fire in the middle of the courtyard, setting themselves aflame as they trudge towards the paladin. As soon as they arrive, the dragonborn wheels back her axe and deals a devastating blow to one of the Dread Knights, knocking it right back into the fire it just came through. The searing heat and radiant power of The Zaza’s axe is far too much for the undead creature to take, and it falls to the earth in a burning heap.

Uthrin is tired of playing games with these veteran adventurers. The Deathlock realizes he can no longer carefully aid his troops from afar with various tricks and spells. He will need to wade into the thick of the melee to show these foolhardy heroes what dark magic he is truly capable of. More importantly, he has some black spells that can drain the life from his opponents and restore it to his Dread Knights. He’ll simply have to close into the melee to use them.

Uthrin confidently steps forward, ready to turn the tide of battle back to the forces of undeath. The Deathlock is shocked to suddenly feel himself struck by a powerful magical curse. He looks up to see Invicto grinning at him from the south tower. Uthrin thrashes helplessly as he finds himself lifted off the ground and suspended five feet in the air, unable to move. He watches as several more of his Dread Knights are cut down by the party, decisively turning the battle in the party’s favor.

In particular, Aramil sets up a devastating series of attacks, triggered by Palloth turning and running away from the Dread Knight in front of her. This seems to create an opening, and the Dread Knight lunges, but Aramil steps into the blow and returns a jarring hit to the Dread Knight. Just before the Dread Knight’s black sword cuts into Aramil’s shoulder, however, The Zaza summons her divine power to perform a Knightly Intercession, magically drawing the Dread Knight to her. Once again, the dragonborn drags another creature through the spreading flames in the courtyard, and the undead warrior howls at the searing heat. Confused by this maddening series of maneuvers, the Dread Knight’s blow finally cuts weakly into The Zaza’s tough hide, as she swings her axe at the undead warrior in retaliation.

Uthrin is finally released from the painful hold of Invicto’s curse, and the Deathlock quickly steps into the entryway of the castle, looking to turn the tide of battle, but he is clearly too late. All around him his Dread Knights are falling under the party’s swords and spells. Uthrin sees one Dread Knight that has managed to break away from the melee after Palloth stepped back from the fighting near the south wall. The undead warrior is quickly making its way across the courtyard toward the entrance into the inner castle complex near the north wall.

Aramil shouts to Palloth and Azaz to chase down the Dread Knight before it can reach Queen Larindra, but, as they turn to pursue, Uthrin utters a curse upon Palloth and the half-elf finds herself rooted in place halfway across the courtyard. Azaz manages to quickly run out of Uthrin’s sight, however, chasing the Dread Knight back into the castle complex. Invicto and Erik unleash a volley of spells upon Uthrin, and the Deathlock doubles over in pain.

Alone now on the battlefield, Uthrin can see that the day is not his. He can only hope that the few undead warriors who made it into the castle complex will find a way to get to the heir and kill him before reinforcements arrive. Uthrin calls out, “Count your fortunes for now, for soon I will have my vengeance! I will see the Empire of Nerath finished!” With that, the undead Deathlock changes into a whirl of dark shadows and lifts off into the night sky.

The party grimly watches Uthrin fade into the shadows of the night, then turns its attention back to the castle complex. They begin rushing inside, hoping they aren’t too late to help the Queen. One badly injured Dread Knight and two undead minions have entered the inner castle complex through the south entrance, while one lone Dread Knight managed to make it through the north entrance, Azaz close on its heels.

The End of the Empire

Inside the castle complex, one Dread Knight, barely clinging to life after enduring an onslaught of magical attacks from Invicto, and two undead minions make their way through the south entrance. At the end of a short hallway, they see a T-intersection. The passageway to the right opens into a large room. The passageway to the left leads to another hallway, and coming around the corner from that hallway is Azad and his retinue of six soldiers. The Dread Knight charges the pack of soldiers, bringing one zombie minion along with it. However, the Dread Knight motions the other undead minion, a skeleton, into the large hall on the right. With the Dread Knight covering the skeleton’s escape, the undead minion is able to quickly rush deeper into the castle complex.

The skeleton heads out of another passageway connected to the large room it entered. Turning a corner in the hallway, the skeleton finds a series of narrow connected rooms. All of the wooden doorways in the ancient castle rotted away long ago, and the skeleton has a clear view down through all of the rooms. It spies the Queen, protectively holding a babe to her chest, in one of the rooms, not more than 40 feet away. The skeleton’s empty eyes focus an unholy stare on the Queen, and it charges, its rusty blade poised to strike.

The soldiers assigned to guard the Queen in the back of the castle complex are some of the newest recruits, and the terror of the undead horde has them unnerved. The guards forget Aramil’s training and fail to form a strong line across the hallway they are in. Bunched up aimlessly around the queen, they leave an opening for the skeleton to attack Queen Larindra. The undead warrior has a clear shot at the Queen, and its unholy blade is not likely to miss her cowering form.

Even if the heir to the Empire of Nerath lives on, without Queen Larindra to affirm the babe’s heritage, the party will have a hard time rallying political forces behind an unrecognizable baby they simply claim to be the heir to the Empire. The loss of Queen Larindra would be just as devastating as the loss of the heir himself to the party’s political aspirations. It seems that Queen Larindra’s fate, and the Empire of Nerath’s fate, is sealed as the skeleton charges in for the kill.

Hooray for Gravi!

Although the fresh recruits may not have arranged themselves well tactically, they can still swing a sword. The lead recruit facing the skeleton as it charges in to attack the Queen is a young halfling, Gravi. Gravi signed up to join Aramil back in the Jeweled Cities, and has been eager for some real action ever since. He’s a likable character, if not the most skilled swordsman among the recruits. He has always insisted that his strong heart is his greatest asset and that his bravery will make up for any lack of skill he might have. It seems he has a chance to prove it.

As the skeleton charges, it leaves itself open for a blow from Gravi and the halfling boldly steps up to take a swing. The other soldiers in the room would later say they saw Gravi close his eyes as he desperately swung at the skeleton, but the halfling swears this isn’t true. Either way, the blow somehow connects, and just as the skeleton is about to bring its sword down upon Queen Larindra, it crumples into a pile of bones.

An Encore for Gravi!

After the first foray into the room by an undead attacker, the recruits arrange themselves a little better. Gravi and another soldier step forward to put some space between themselves and the Queen, forming a defensive line across the room. The third recruit stands guard on the opposite side of the Queen, in case any undead come into the complex from the north entrance.

Back in the front hallway near the south entrance, the Dread Knight manages to fend off Azad’s attacks. Two of Azad’s soldiers are cut down, while the Dread Knight’s minion zombie is finished off as well. The Dread Knight slowly backs into the large room adjoining the front hallway, trying to follow the path of the skeleton minion, but Azad and his soldiers keep the Dread Knight hard pressed as the fight rages on in the grand hall.

Unfortunately, the open space in the large room affords the Dread Knight a risky opportunity. Compelled onward by Uthrin’s unholy command, the creature takes on an amazing gambit. It recklessly breaks away from the fighting, running around the edge of Azad’s wall of soldiers. Weakend from Invicto’s earlier attacks, a single blow would assuredly finish off the undead warrior. Every fighter in the room gets an easy, open swing at the Dread Knight, including Azad, but somehow, fortune is on the side of evil. The creature is able to dodge or turn aside every blow.

The Dread Knight leaves the soldiers behind, charging deeper into the complex. Turning a corner, the creature spies Queen Larindra with an infant babe in her arms. There are only two lowly recruits nervously standing between the Dread Knight and the Queen.

Larindra backs away in terror, as she sees the Dread Knight’s hollow eyes fixate on her. The undead creature clearly seems intent on charging her and slaying the babe in her arms. The Dread Knight rushes along one edge of the wall attempting to skirt by the two intervening soldiers. The undead warrior passes right by the halfling Gravi, and the new recruit’s bravery is tested again. Luckily, somehow, Gravi bravely manages to shoulder the undead creature into the wall, bringing it to a halt just short of the Queen. The Dread Knight is only a few feet from Larindra, and the heir to the Empire of Nerath. It slashes out with its black sword, and the Queen turns her back to the blow, protectively cradling the infant babe to her chest. The Dread Knight’s blade cuts the air only inches in front of Larindra’s huddled form.

The other recruit next to Gravi quickly moves protectively between the Queen and the Dread Knight. The undead warrior turns in frustration to the soldiers blocking its path and cuts down the other recruit with ease. But the moment’s hesitation is just enough to save the Queen’s life. Azad and his remaining four soldiers come streaming into the room on the Dread Knight’s heels. Azad shouts at the Queen to get behind them, and numbly Larindra stumbles to her feet and moves behind Azad and his retinue of soldiers. The Dread Knight turns to find the Queen, and the heir to the Empire of Nerath, now safely behind a wall of six soldiers spanning the width of the narrow room.

Just then, the Dread Knight entering the castle complex from the north entrance comes into the room, Azaz close on its heels. Fortunately, the Queen is now safely behind the wall of soldiers, and both of the Dread Knights find themselves unable to reach her. Azaz and Azad give each other a quick nod, glad to finally be fighting together again in this battle. The Dread Knights are formidable opponents, but in their weakened state, they are no match for the fighting duo from the Jeweled Cities. The undead warriors go down quickly, with Gravi delivering the final blow to the last Dread Knight just as the party arrives.

The Battle Is Won, but the War Has Just Begun

The party sighs in relief, knowing that disaster was only narrowly averted. All in all they are very pleased with how the battle went. Outnumbered almost two-to-one, they only lost eight of their 24 soldiers, in addition to Sam. They all congratulate each other on a job well done, though Aramil saves the kindest words for Erik.

“What was that spell you used on the north wall?” the eladrin asks.

“Wall of Fire. It’s a new one,” Erik responds.

“Well, that was the key to the whole battle. If that first group had gotten through the north wall, it all would’ve been over. That spell definitely saved the day.” Aramil pats Erik on the shoulder and moves on to survey the surviving soldiers and assess the wounded. As he leaves, Aramil could swear that Erik’s eyebrows have taken on a reddish hue.

Erik nods in appreciation at his friend’s words and looks down thankfully upon his son, resting quietly now in Queen Larindra’s arms. Sadly, the wizard knows he must keep his distance, and not do anything to suggest his connection to the child. But, immense joy wells up inside him, knowing he was able to keep his son safe.

Aramil assures the survivors amongst Sam’s followers that he intends to carry on her mission. The warlord delivers a simple, but inspiring line, “If you would see the Empire of Nerath restored, then follow me now as you followed Sam.” The soldiers are in a somber mood after seeing their leader slain in battle, but they saw how Aramil and the rest of the party fought against the hordes of undead. They know that if anyone can defeat this undead plague and restore order to the world, it is this group of heroes. They all solemnly pledge their service to the party.

After burying the dead, a brief service is held for the fallen soldiers. Palloth offers her sympathy to Aramil for Sam’s loss. Though her jealousy was no secret, the half-elf does not wish to see Aramil in pain, and she knows Sam was an important part of the eladrin’s life. Aramil is sad to see Sam laid to rest in the earth. But there is another thought in his head. One that wracks him with guilt, though he still can’t help but think it: with the odds they faced, death was a certainty for some on their side, and he is glad it was Sam that died rather than Palloth.

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