The Boundary Lands

Chapter 13 - The Battle of Arastur (s. 31)

13.2 The Wail of the Dead

Saviors of Arastur
by Mujeh Stomdrik, Bard of the Guildhouse of Ellendor

Deep in the boughs of the city,
The heroes tread through the dark,
Tracking the source of the plague
To its black, infested heart.
Down into lightless sewers
The Zaza followed her pray
‘Til, caught where two tunnels cross,
Joined its allies and joined the fray.
Two lurking in the river of filth,
Abominations from beyond farthest stars,
Where horror and madness dwell
Worse than the nightmares of ours.
Flanked by followers of the dark cult,
Whose curses could strike men blind,
The mouthers gibbered their words of madness,
Wrecking and dazing the heroes’ minds.

But these foes were not easily cowed,
And charged into the breach.
The dark cultists quickly backed away,
Speaking their spells out of reach.
Aramil had seen these tactics before,
His skills were up to the test.
Leaping mouthers and river of sewage,
Before a cultist his feet came to rest.
Bringing his sword down as he landed,
The eladrin delivered a painful blow.
The priest screamed in fear and pain,
And his cowardice was shown.

Invicto and Erik were ready as well,
Fires arcane burned ‘round the mouthers.
Soon they sank beneath the sewer’s surface,
And the cultists trembled at the heroes’ power.
Drawing on all of their dark magic,
One desperately cursed The Zaza blind,
And tried to escape past the warrior
But the paladin’s mettle proved too divine.
Her sight restored by Melora,
The dragonborn’s axe bit into the priest.
The vile man screamed in pain,
Tumbling to the ground at The Zaza’s feet.

Soon only one follower of the cult remained,
And, as the weak are prone to do,
Began pleading for his life
Promising, “I can save you!
An undead army comes,
And no hope can you hold.
But I can take you through their lines,
For this my life is sold.”
The party scoffed at the weasel’s words
Knowing their trust they could not grant.
Seeing his just-deserved death was near,
The cultist quickened his rant.
“My magic can teleport you away,
There is an arcane circle near!
You won’t have to meet the army,
You’ll have nothing to fear!”
The party tired of his false promises.
They drew their blades and ended his life.
Seeing the chamber of which the cultist spoke,
Into the dark they thrust their light.

The dark priest’s words held some truth,
As in the chamber the heroes found
Arcane runes, and forbidden symbols
Etched and carved in stone ground.
After inspecting the magic circle,
The heroes quickly moved to scuff its lines
So that none could come into the city,
To attack Arastur from inside.
Just at that moment the circle came alight
And three skeletal giants appeared.
Their strength was that of ten men.
Their grasp froze a man’s heart with fear.
Yet our heroes proved their better,
And the giants were soon laid low,
Erik scuffed the arcane circle,
But felt there was more to know.

The wizard called upon his magic,
To ask a corpse his questions three,
The cultist, pulled from beyond the grave,
Answered first, “Where does this portal lead?”
“To the master’s castle,”
The corpse spoke simply its reply.
And Erik followed with the question,
“What guards it on the other side?”
The cultist’s corpse with hollow voice,
Yawned and spoke again,
“On the other side await several
Of the master’s undead minions.”
Finally, the wizard asked
“What are your master’s plans?”
The corpse spoke with certainty
The horror of any man,
“To conquer the world in darkness,
Bringing an end to all life.
Leaving only the eternal undead
To roam a world that knows no light.”

The heroes took their leave
Of the sewers’ defeated beasts.
Climbing out the well they came,
They were greeted by a priest.
The wilden Voland of Melora,
Patiently awaited their return.
And was pleased at the news they bore,
The disease had now been spurned.
Aramil was sure to pause and
To Voland strongly remind,
What they do is for the Empire.
In it, all should find their pride.
The warlord’s usual way with words
Left him a tad bit shy,
But he refused to let Voland leave
Without feeling exceptionally inspired.
Aramil drew upon his Lucky Charm,
Whose magic is renowned.
Life and limb the amulet can save,
Or strike an enemy down.
But the warlord knew that loyalty,
Was worth more than edge in battle.
So he imbued his words with magical weight,
Inspiring Voland with his prattle.

The heroes returned to the city’s palace
And told General Bane of their brave deeds.
They were happy to find their valor
Had indeed cured the town’s disease.
Soldiers were rising and returning to arms
And the forces would be in good stead
When they faced the seething army
Of relentless, evil undead.

Prepared to Die

The Zaza offers praise to Melora that the disease has been cured, and the party is pleased to see that the victim’s symptoms are disappearing almost instantaneously. As the polyps are destroyed by losing their psychic connection to their host gibbering mothers, the psychic energy’s assaulting their victims completely dissipate, and they are returned almost to full health. The soldiers afflicted by the disease may feel a little weak and tired, but they will certainly be ready for battle.

Bane offers to put any of the party’s ‘loved ones’ who couldn’t help in the battle on a ship anchored in harbor. Bane explains that most people who had a ship have fled the city at this point, but he kept one ship in harbor with orders to flee with some of the women and children if things start going poorly in the battle. The party thanks Bane for his offer, but informs him that they’ll have to speak with their friends to decide which ones may want to take refuge on the ship. Aramil mentions gathering the party’s recruits, but Bane assures Aramil that he already spoke with a halfling soldier named Gravi – all of the party’s recruits have already enlisted to help defend the city and are stationed along the walls.

The party heads back to their house to check on their friends that were stricken by the disease, Palloth, Azaz, and Azad. They are elated to find that they all survived. The gods of fortune surely offered a chance that any one of them might perish, but it seems fate was on the party’s side. The party greets them warmly, along with Old Breddy and Lucinda. They update their friends on the situation and assure them all that they can take passage on the ship if they want, or they’re welcome to stay and fight.

All of them insist on staying to fight. Even Old Breddy is eager to join the battle, “Aye, I can direct the action pretty well. Especially with all these young lads fightin’, they might need it. But, I wouldn’t do much good on the front line.”

The party knows Lucinda has been studiously keeping up with her military training, but they aren’t sure if the young girl is ready for battle. They debate the matter for a time, and eventually turn to ask Lucinda if she wants to fight. The girl responds, “Yeah, let me fight!”

Old Breddy speaks up, “She’s a good shot now. Put a bow in her hands, and she could do some damage up on the wall. But if something got near her…”

The Zaza turns to Lucinda and asks in a somber voice, “Lucinda, are you ready to die?”

Aramil, Invicto, and Erik all cry out, “What!?!” giving The Zaza astonished looks.

The dragonborn spreads her hands innocently, “She’s got to be ready for that if she fights. It’s nature’s way.”

Lucinda eyes the party nervously, but eventually musters her courage to say, “Yes… Yes, I’m ready.”

The party knows if they don’t make a stand here and now, there may not be much hope for the world anyway, so they agree to let Lucinda stay and fight. Erik asks, “Who should she fight with? Us? The Zaza? Old Breddy?”

Old Breddy speaks up again, “Have her fight with me, I’ll keep her safe. I can’t be on the front lines anyway, so I’ll look to keep me and her out of the thick of the action.”

All Aboard

The party debates what to do with Queen Larindra and Marin, the heir to the Empire of Nerath. They consider putting them on board the ship, but lean towards putting them under protective guard at the city hall complex. In the end, Aramil decides that the party should come clean with Bane about the heir’s identity, suspecting that the general will be sympathetic to the cause. The party heads back to the city hall complex with the Queen and the heir. Emperor Essran originally insisted Queen Larindra keep the title of ‘Queen’ to fit in better with the traditional communities of the Boundary Lands, but the party realizes that such political concerns are probably no longer relevant. They decide it would be proper to start calling Queen Larindra, ‘Empress’.

On the way back to city hall, Erik checks in with Lock who has been studying the strange magical carafe the party retrieved from the temple community in the mountains of the Northern Ice Sheet. Lock is eager to tell Erik about a number of interesting properties he has discovered. “The carafe has a variety of incredibly unique characteristics. When put under intense heat, the metal actually turns very cold! I think if it was placed in a well-designed contraption fed by a fire, it could actually be used to preserve meat that could be placed on the carafe’s cold surface. I’m considering some experiments with an assortment of meats – mutton, venison-”

Erik quickly interrupts, “Just figure out what’s inside of it and what it does.”

Lock nods eagerly, “Oh right, of course. I’m not sure what it’s supposed to do yet, but I’ll get on that!”

Back at the city hall complex, Aramil introduces Empress Larindra and the heir to Bane, telling the new general of Arastur their true identity. Bane is shocked at first, but he eventually bows deeply to Larindra, “It is my honor to meet you.” He turns to Aramil and breaks into a broad grin, “Well, that coward Lord Prumoral fled the city, so we could use some real leadership. Let’s beat back this army and start a new day for the Empire!”

Aramil raises the issue of the Empress’s security, and Bane insists that he will assign a special detail to her and put her on board the ship. Bane does not want to risk the heir’s life if the battle goes poorly, so he wants the Empress and her son to be prepared to flee the city if need be.

The party then spends the rest of the afternoon helping Bane and his lieutenants plan the defense of the city. Scouts report that the army is arriving earlier than expected and should be at the city gates by nightfall. The force is believed to be massive, at least a few thousand. The undead will outnumber Arastur’s soldiers at least three to one, if not more.

Waiting for Battle

Bane assigns the party to start the battle on top of the massive tower built over the main gates of Arastur. He knows they are veteran soldiers, likely much more skilled than anyone else in the city. He asks them to look out for any weak spots along the wall where the undead start overrunning the city’s forces and to lend aid. The party’s friends and recruits, including Palloth, Old Breddy, and Lucinda, are all spread out along the walls, a little further away from the heaviest action.

Rikus and some of the other good-aligned priests commence the ritual using the holy iron circle artifact the party recovered from the ice trolls’ cave. Five radiant warriors of pure light appear among the city’s troops, ready to at least bring some devastating offensive power to bear against the undead. As expected, the army arrives as night falls.

Along with it, a light drizzle begins falling from the sky, giving the evening a damp, draining, and depressing feel. In stoic horror, the city’s forces look out on the massive army of undead arrayed before them. Skeletons, zombies, wraiths, ghouls, and more hunger for the blood of the living, staring up at the soldiers of Arastur with penetrating, soulless eyes. The city’s soldiers know there is no possibility of waiting out this siege. These forces know no discomfort, need no food or water, have no homes or families they may long for. They will keep coming, wave after wave, until they are all defeated or the city is overrun.

There are clearly some intelligent undead amongst the army. The forces are somewhat organized, and they carefully spread out to surround the town and to begin assaulting it on all sides. Catapults and siege towers are brought up, and as the battle begins the city’s outnumbered forces are clearly hard pressed.

Death From Above

However, the more distressing concern comes not from the ground forces below but from the sky above. A massive, terrifying beast flies out of the shadows of the night sky. It appears to be a young, fully grown dragon, but only the skeleton of the creature remains. A red, unholy light glows in the hollow eye sockets of the undead abomination.

Erik utters in awe, “A Dracolich!”

The undead dragon easily flies over the walls of Arastur, shrugging off a few half-hearted arrows directed its way. The creature heads directly into the heart of the city. Its gaping maws open to spill out its shadowy, necrotic breath into the city streets. Squads of reserve soldiers and citizens running supplies to the city’s walls, are caught in the streets and begin fleeing in terror. Many fall prey to the dark cloud of the dragon’s breath, and their life drains from their body as they tumble to the ground.

As the party helplessly watches the devastation, a runner comes up the stairs of the tower. They can tell by his white robes that he is an acolyte from the Library of Sages. The young man runs up to Erik and hands him the silver carafe along with a note from Lock. Erik quickly scans the note,

Dear friends,

Initially I also thought that the silver carafe contained a spirit of some kind inside of it. However, by performing some inventive arcane experiments to align the energies of the carafe with a summoning circle in the library, I could tell that the necrotic bindings of the artifact-

Erik skims over the lengthy descriptions of Lock’s experiments.

Thus, the purpose of the carafe is to emit a piercing scream known as the ‘wail of the dead’. This scream causes an irresistible compulsion in undead to come to the carafe. Any undead within the area that can hear the scream, which should be a pretty large radius, will be undeniably compelled to try to reach the carafe. The scream is also very painful and damaging to any living creatures that hear it, but it should not be lethal… I think.

Erik looks up and can see the dracolich’s path will soon bring it to the one ship anchored in harbor. The vessel is loaded with most of the women and children remaining in the city, along with Empress Larindra and the heir of Nerath. Erik doesn’t hesitate to yank the stopper free from the carafe.

A hideous wailing assaults the party’s ears, and they clutch their heads in pain. A few archers on the tower top with the party, novices to battle and hardship, cannot withstand the onslaught of necrotic energy and they keel over dead. Every party member is wracked with necrotic energy, but they manage to survive. The party looks at Erik confusedly, and he quickly explains the artifact’s purpose.

The party looks out on the undead forces and can quickly see that the carafe’s power is working. The undead forces abandon their organized assault and begin mindlessly pressing against the main gate, trying to reach the carafe. This proves a huge tactical advantage for Arastur’s forces. The undead abandon their formations, and their catapults, and throw themselves against the most well-defended portion of the city. Arastur’s soldiers are confused at first, but quickly respond to the undead’s tactics. They easily reinforce the main gate and the surrounding walls, repelling the few siege towers there and raining arrows and hot oil into the jumbled mass of enemy forces.

The Dracolich

The carafe’s power clearly takes hold of the dracolich as well. The creature banks across the night sky and turns towards the tower. With the power of flight, it has no issues reaching the carafe, and the party. Aramil quickly calls out to Erik to throw him the carafe and the wizard doesn’t hesitate to comply. Erik and Invicto then fan out to opposite sides of the tower, while The Zaza and Aramil wait on the far side of the tower for the Dracolich to arrive. In a matter of seconds, the creature lands on the tower top and battle is joined.

The beast drops on to the tower in front of Aramil and The Zaza and rakes at the warriors with its skeletal claws. Aramil quickly responds by fey stepping to the backside of the dragon, and he and The Zaza flank the beast from opposite sides. Perhaps more importantly, they leave the creature unable to use its breath weapon on more than one of them. Unfortunately, as the battle rages, the party finds the carafe’s compulsion does not make the dragon mindless or unintelligent. It is fully capable of fighting against the party and using all of its tricks and powers. It simply must stay near the carafe as it does so.

The party has some devastating answers to the dragon’s attacks, though. The creature attempts to slide sideways to capture both Aramil and The Zaza in its breath, but Invicto utters an Infernal Moon Curse on the dragon and immobilizes the creature in place. It still has its deadly claws at its disposal, but The Zaza calls upon the most powerful magic her Axe of Light can offer and strikes the dragon with Searing Light. The undead creature is struck blind and it roars in pain as it is infused with radiant energy. It flails blindly at The Zaza with its claws, but has little effect on the well-armored paladin.

Erik summons a Wall of Fire across the dracolich, and the creature is engulfed in flame. It howls in frustration, as just as Invicto’s immobilizing curse expires, The Zaza lands a tactical blow that pins the dracolich in place. The dragon locks the paladin in an unholy mesmerizing gaze, and The Zaza finds herself dazed. Choosing to focus her scattered mental energies on continuing to attack the dragon or to back away from it and the scorching Wall of Fire, the selfless paladin endures brutal punishment to keep the dracolich’s attention on her.

Having blessed her weapon earlier, The Zaza truly unleashes a torrent of radiant pain upon the undead dragon with her Axe of Light. The dracolich lashes out at Aramil with some of its attacks, but The Zaza’s Divine Challenge punishes the dracolich with searing radiant energy. The divine retribution is particularly painful to the undead creature, and it sorely thinks twice about ignoring The Zaza with anymore of its attacks.

Aramil draws on much of his healing resources to keep The Zaza on her feet, but with the dracolich focusing most of its attacks on her, and the paladin enduring searing burns from standing next to Erik’s Wall of Fire, the paladin eventually begins to lose her grip on consciousness. Aramil quickly runs across the tower top, trying to draw the beast away with the carafe. The dracolich is compelled to turn and follow Aramil, but, before leaving The Zaza behind, the beast fixes her with another mesmerizing gaze. The psychic pain is too much for the paladin and she finally falls to the ground.

The dragon rushes up to Aramil and breathes a cloud of dark shadows, leaving the eladrin barely clinging to life. Aramil is still fighting off the effects of the nightmarish wail emitting from the carafe, and necrotic and psychic magical energies continue to sear his body. Finally, with the dracolich towering over him, raking at him with its claws, the eladrin manages to shrug off the effects of the dragon’s breath as well as the demonic howl of the carafe.

Trying to focus on the battle, Aramil realizes that only a shred of strength separates him from death’s doorstep. He looks down desperately at the carafe still in his hands, knowing it is drawing the dracolich to him. The warlord knows he is hanging on to consciousness by a thread and cannot endure another round of attacks from the dracolich.

On One Knee

The eladrin hurls the carafe across the tower top. The artifact passes through the wall of fire and clatters onto the stone floor on the other side of the roaring magical inferno. The dracolich stares at Aramil angrily and unleashes its mesmerizing gaze on the eladrin. His brain is wracked by psychic energy, and he goes down to one knee. Dim blackness begins to cloud his vision and he feels unconsciousness overtaking him, knowing that the dragon’s last attack was too much for him.

However, just as the eladrin begins fading from the world around him he sees Erik summon a flaming sphere next to the bloodied and ravaged dracolich. As the creature is compelled to seek out the carafe, it plunges back into the Wall of Fire and is seared by arcane fire on all sides. It is finally too much for the undead monstrosity. It succumbs to its wounds and tumbles lifelessly to the floor of the tower top.

Aramil feels renewed vigor at seeing the dragon’s demise and he remains on one knee for a minute to regather his strength, managing to stave off unconsciousness. Invicto calmly approaches and asks, “Are you on one knee to propose to the dragon?”

Aramil takes the gnome’s smirking question in stride and rises to his feet. While the party battled the dracolich on the tower top, the fighting below has gone well. With the unholy horde fruitlessly clambering to reach the magical carafe, Arastur’s forces have been able to decimate the undead’s numbers, especially with the help of the five radiant warriors projected by the priests. Though the fighting still rages, the city will clearly win the day.

By dawn, the battle is about at an end, and General Bane joins the party on the tower. With a sly grin, he unfurls a wide canvas attached to a long wooden pole. “I managed to scrounge this up,” he says as he raises the flag into the morning sky. Waving it back and forth, the city’s forces let out a resounding cheer at the sight. The party gazes proudly upon the symbol of the Empire of Nerath emblazoned on the flag.

Comments

f_hayek

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.