Journal Posts

Tag: mass_combat

Journey to the Last Sea Part 2: The Race Northwards Begins
Later that evening, as the sun was setting, Ushas summoned the heroes to meet with her at the Asticles estate. Looking out over Tyr from the balcony of the noble villa they could see the sun set, casting long shadows over the streets of the city-state even as it illuminated the brilliant, rainbow-hued ziggurat at the heart of the Free City. Ushas gestured for them to sit even as a servant brought a pitcher of chilled wine. “We have a problem,” she said without preamble. “The lore you recovered from Kalak's hidden library is remarkably complete...and somewhat disturbing. The transformation the sorcerer-kings are undergoing is, at its heart, defiling magic on a grand scale. Their change into a dragon does not draw upon the power locked within plants and living soil. No, this change can only be fueled by draining the life-force from other beings.”

She shook her head and continued. “But that is not the problem I mean. The transformation is as much a function of the Way, of psionic enchantment, as it is of arcane ritual. The sorcerer-kings are not just defilers but powerful practitioners of the Way, and such a change requires mastery of various psionic disciplines. I have come to the conclusion that my transformation will be similar, but will draw upon primal magic to fuel it rather than the life-force of others. What I cannot replicate is the psionic mastery needed.”

The sun was setting over Tyr.

She stood and turned to watch the sun set. “That may not prove as much of a barrier as we thought. When Kalak and the rest of his ilk began the process of changing, they had assistance in the form of an outside boost that enhanced their power and mastery of the Way. A unique psionic artifact called the Annulus was used to make the necessary psychic adjustments to enable their change. They found it in a city called Saragar, far to the north, by the shores of a great sea of water.”

Ushas turned to the heroes. “Saragar still exists. I heard tales while I stayed in the village of Freedom of ssurran merchants and traders who venture there. Some say that these are only stories and that no such place exists. Others swear they have seen items of metal and obsidian brought back from some place far beyond the known city-states. Through communion with the spirits of the natural world, I have determined Saragar is real. I would like you to accompany me to the north, to find this place, and use the Annulus that Kalak described so that I and those who follow in my footsteps can complete our change. Someday others will undergo this change as well, and what we learn will be of great benefit to them. With this knowledge I believe that one day we will see a force rise to equal the might of the sorcerer-kings, a force devoted to life and the preservation of the world rather than its defilement and subjugation. This must be accomplished soon. Nibenay is now the Child of Dark, and even now his plans are unfolding. Will you help me in this?”

Without hesitation, the heroes agreed. “I think anything is possible.” she said. “Even if the city no longer exists, the artifact should be there. You alone have the skill, the determination, and the ability to recover it, no matter what the truth of Saragar may be.” Come the dawn they would leave and begin the long journey to the north. But the night was far from over. As Chuka-Tet sat in the villa's courtyard meditating, the slightest of sounds – a cry cut short and the rasp of a blade – alerted him to the presence of danger. Springing up over the balcony and into the hall of the villa he saw a pair of strange humanoids near the entrance to the room where Ushas was staying. They were clad in long, black robes and their smooth, dark skin was stretched tight over their skulls. Each was bald and sported a rictus grin. Even more disturbing was the fact that they were completely eyeless. A ripple in the nearby indicated they were not alone. Chuka-Tet's cry of alarm roused the rest of the heroes, and all heared a familiar voice whispering in their minds. It wasToranda. “Fools...did you think my master would allow the Child of Light to live? Join us or join her in death.”

The heroes fought against the shadowy assassins and their confederate, a large centaur-like humanoid composed of rippling shadows that seemed to distort time around it. Though the gloom-shrouded assassins dashed in and out with blades of pure darkness, striking time and again, Gurthmore's axe and Chuka-Tet's staff kept them off balance as Sark blasted them with radiant lightning. Arshaka's words and songs kept the heroes on their feet even as the shadowy, immaterial humanoid froze them in time with icy rays. The mul barbarian's axe and the orc wizard's spells tore at its shadowy form, wounding it grievously. The creature vanished as space and time rippled around it, and the assassins followed after. But the damage had been done.

The shadowy assassins were sent by Nibenay, of course.

Rushing to her room, the heroes found Ushas lying on the floor of her bedchamber. The sorceress's skin was pale and clammy, and her eyes appeared to be clouding over with darkness. “The poison they is too strong. I will not survive long...unless...” She looked at them with feverish hope. “Find the Annulus! Bring it to me before the moons once again show these faces, and I may yet be saved.” She pointed out the window to the faces of the moons Ral and Guthay. Ral was full and green, while Guthay presented only half its amber light to the world below. Ushas began to glow with a weak radiance and rose into the air, her appearance blurring and changing as she assumed her true form. Her limbs became wings, like those of a butterfly, while her features elongated and became smooth. Her eyes became large and opalescent. “I can preserve my life, but only for a time. My transformation must be completed before another cycle of the moons passes. You must hurry, or all hope will be lost.” With that, the Child of Light's wings wrapped around her, forming a cocoon that slowly descended to the floor below.

There was no time to waste. With aid from Agis and Sadira – who promised to keep Ushas safe – the heroes departed Tyr with the dawn and arrived at Fort Iron just before sunset. Gurthmore readied his horde to leave and by the light of the next morning they were on the road to Urik. Not more than three days later they came within sight of the walls of the city-state. Wisely leaving his men out of sight and well away from the walls, Gurthmore, Arshaka, and Sark made their way towards Urik disguised as traveling merchants. Chuka-Tet was ahead of them, his primal magic masking his features. Passing through the Obsidian Gate and by the twin statues of the city's sorcerer-king, Hamanu, he found the city-state's Foreign Quarter. The ssurran merchants Ushas mentioned proved remarkably easy to find.

The caravansary in Urik was busy despite the early hour.

He spotted a small group of reptilian humanoids with sand-colored scales milling about in the yard of the nameless caravansary. They wore loose robes and had scarves tied around the long, horn-like crests that jutted back from their heads, possibly more out of convention than actual need for protection. A few of the ssurran merchants were loading a pack inix here, a few more were securing a wagon there, and a pair of them were supervising the whole scene. Oddly, they seemed to be taking their time and paying a great deal of attention to the comings and goings of the other travelers and merchants in the caravan yard, as if looking for something. Taking note of the heroes approach the taller of the pair turned and said, “Are you perhaps headed north? We are looking for drovers and guards, and no one here seems to be interested. While the journey will be long there are riches to be had. I am Hassh'nek and this is my second, Sess'kala. What do you say? Are you brave enough to venture beyond the city-states?”

Disposing with any pretense, the heroes told the ssurran merchant of their quest to find Saragar. The wily merchant nodded and said, “Yes, there are places far beyond the city-states. That is a place we venture to, though the journey is long and treacherous. Word has reached us that many caravans have disappeared, either slain by raiders or vanishing in the wastes. I hope you have many men to protect us.” Gurthmore revealed his identity, and the wide-eyed merchant made ready to depart the City of Lions with all due haste.

Crossing the desert and the badlands north of Urik with the mul's horde of former bandits, freed slaves, and mercenary nomads proved a challenge. The heroes aided them tirelessly, resting little over the next few days. Chuka-Tet scouted close by, while Rokkon ranged far and wide. Gurthmore moved among his men, helping move stubborn beasts and push wagons over challenging terrain. Sark flew on the winds, on the lookout for threats, while Arshaka helped lighten spirits and resolve disputes among the mul's barbaric followers. A column of dust on the horizon a few days out from the City of Lions indicated that they were not alone. Fearing attack in the night, they set camp early and prepared their defenses. Shortly after the sun went down, the camp came under attack.

Savage howls split the night and shouts of alarm could be heard all over the camp. Emerging from their tents and wagons, the heroes saw a horde of gnolls charge down a shallow rise to the west. A huge figure borne on a litter crafted from bones and hides borne by a dozen cackling gnolls was at the head of the savage raiders. A monstrous voice bellowed, “Blood and slaughter await! Feast on their flesh! Slake your thirst on their blood! Death to all!” Rising from its primitive conveyance, an ape-like figure with stunted wings, massive tusks, and piggish features threw its head back and roared as dark purple lightning danced and crackled across its claws.

A horrid nalfeshnee demon led the gnoll horde.

Gurthmore wasted no time and charged the beast with his axe high, shouting to his men as he did. Three massive blows staggered the demon, driving it back, but it did not die. A savage backhand knocked the mul gladiator prone and the huge demon tore at him with its claws and blasted him with black lightning. Arshaka, Chuka-Tet, and Sark held off the advancing gnolls, allowing the men at their backs to rally. Gurthmnore rose with fury in his eyes, and dispatched the demon with aid from Sark's magic. The demonic shaman leading the gnolls fled as the savage humanoids' morale broke. A terrible toll of death had been dealt to the feral creatures, and Gurthmore lost only a few dozen men out of his nearly two-thousand-strong horde in the process. Cleaning up the carnage in the wake of the battle, they managed to recover several huge wagons pulled by mekillots, supplies, metal goods and weapons, and other valuables looted from caravans in recent weeks. By morning, the horde was on the march north once more.

Two more days passed, and as Chuka-Tet tended to the injured, the footsore, and those suffering from sun-sickness, Gurthmore went among the men and kept them in line with an iron hand. Flush as they were with victory, he wanted the men sharp, not indulging in their spoils as they would have in the days when they were mere bandits. Arshaka remained among the men, encouraging good spirits and mediating what disputes arose over the sharing of loot. Rokkon remained far ahead, scouting trails, as Sark scanned the horizon. He could sense a great disruption ahead, as if swaths of defiled land lay ahead. He did not know what could cause desolation on such a scale, but he knew that it had driven bands of humanoids south to seek release and sustenance. They would likely find more, not less, roving bands in the very near future.

The orc wizard's assumption proved prophetic. As the horde marched up a narrow gorge that was once the bed of a mighty river in a past age, a screaming horde of tareks fell upon them. War cries could be heard from all around them as the heroes took point in the narrow, rocky gorge. The horde of tareks charged forward, sliding down the steep, gravel-strewn slope. A cacophony of growls and snarls and a roaring bellow reveaedl a greater threat. A huge humanoid with an armored carapace carrying a great, stone maul lead a pair of lean, vicious reptiles on rawhide leashes. It lumbered past the shattered remains of a bridge that once spanned this now-dry waterway. It was a braxat! The huge humanoid let the leash go, and the pair of slavering dagorrans growled and charged, vanishing from sight as they ran.

This is a braxat. Are we afraid yet?

But Gurthmore was faster, and met the creature after hal-climbing, half-leaping up the rocky slope. He sent it tumbling down the slope with a mighty blow from his axe, no doubt knocking the now-invisible dagorrans prone in a shower of rock and debris. Sark and Chuka-Tet blasted the onrushing tareks with freezing winds, befuddled them with illusions, and sent many to their deaths. Arshaka called upon the magic of his music, rallying the men and beating back the horde. Gurthmore went toe-to-toe with the braxat, trading mighty blows. The creature seemed unimpressed, and slammed the mul to the dirt time and again. It even picked him up and swung him at Sark twice, sending the orc wizard sprawling as the huge barbarian slammed into him. The wizard unleashed a terrible spell, disintegrating the braxat in part, and the mul finished it off with an axe-blow that clove its skull. The dagorrans were subdued. It looked like Gurthmore would have new hunting hounds! And the tareks were routed at last. Despite the loss of nearly a hundred men, the horde had stood strong. They recovered a great deal of loot, including many wagons and slaves. The slaves were freed, and apart from a dozen or so who decided to their chances in the desert, the rest joined the horde as warriors or camp followers.

Victory had been theirs again. The horde pressed on, full of hope and confidence. How that would have changed if they knew the horror that awaited them....
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