Victory rarely comes easy, and it has never been easy for myself and my companions as we attempt to turn back the very Deathwind itself. And thus, when victory comes, it is only after much suffering, much struggle, much pain. Ah, but when it comes, victory is indeed sweet.
After regrouping following Aislynn’s to-do with the Dark Legion, we prepared to take back the Towers of Ceremoor. The Dark Legion would take one tower, and we would take the other. To get there, we would have to cross through the plague clouds and into the marshes around the towers. I was glad to have the gnome’s staff; though the area that it kept clear was none too large, it was enough that we could travel in formation. Still, bunched together and with low visibility, we were at a distinct disadvantage against the undead that awaited us.
It was therefore unsurprising, or at least as unsurprising as an ambush can be, when we were attacked. This time, the creatures were some kind of abominations that appeared humanoid, but with leathery wings of decaying flesh. Looking back upon it, I shudder to remember them, not due to their simple hideousness, but because of what they represent. Such creatures do not naturally exist; they are not simply reanimated corpses. These abominations were constructs, and the necromantic skill required to do such a thing is unsettling. At the time, however, my thoughts were more immediately focused on our survival, and though I might gain some insight from studying these horrors, I had no complaints when Hilde slashed them to bits.
Between having to stay tight around me and the unsure footing in the muck of the swamp, the battle proved to be difficult going. Beside the winged creatures, we also had some undead dogs to deal with, as well as a flaming, disembodied skull. The skull cackled madly, and its fire mastery caused some amount of problems with my non-Tiefling companions, but I found that my ray of frost, one of the very first I mastered under Meros, changed its tune considerably. Still, the tide of the battle refused to turn so easily; just when we seemed to have the upper hand, more undead erupted from the swamp below, no doubt the corpses of those who had fallen in the recent futile attempts to take back the tower. We had no such plans to join them, and so we fought back hard as we could. Hilde’s Valkyrie cleaved through their ranks, and Coronatum’s axe beheaded the mindless beasts that dared confront a Knight of Avandra. Myself, Aislynn and Lahktar tried to pace ourselves, not wanting to exhaust our willpower and mental focus before we even reached the tower, but we were anything but passive. When all but the skull laid wasted at our feet, it decided to retreat, no doubt to report to its master whatever weaknesses it may have observed. We tried to chase the skull down, but the swamp made it all but impossible to catch up with it. Hilde tried to hit it with her axes, but it was Lahktar, unbelievably, who was able to drop it with a psionic blast.
I’ve always felt that any sort of link with Lahktar is painful, much less a direct mind-to-mind one. I pity any creature that has Lahktar in its brain, undead or not.
We took a moment to catch our breaths, when out of the fog came a short, familiar figure. Coronatum and Aislynn prepared to strike, but the rest of us called them off. It was Beezra, the halfling swordmage, bounding up to us like no time had passed, like she hadn’t gone into hiding with Deftblade, as if it were old times. She said that she and Deftblade had been hired to help with the storming of the towers, which seemed suspicious, because Ironstone would had to have approved their services…and from the bounty on Deftblade’s head, I couldn’t imagine he would have simply not noticed, much less changed his mind. However, we were in no position to turn down an extra sword, especially one that we knew had been so effective in the past.
Hilde charged into the tower, only to find an empty room. The tower was decrepit, and it appeared that the Deathwind affected not only flora and fauna, but even structures…the tower had only been swallowed up within the year, and yet it looked as if it had been abandoned for a decade. The wood was rotting, and the stone was eroding. There was, however, a chest sitting in the middle of the floor that looked new and unaffected by the entropic powers of the Deathwind. Hilde walked up to the chest, ready to reclaim whatever was inside to assist our cause, when the damned thing came to life! We had walked into an ambush. Undead hobgoblins clambered down the inside of the tower walls, and more closed in from behind wielding chains. A flaming, headless skeleton came down the stairs, no doubt the other half of the head we had defeated earlier.
Lahktar, taking up the rear as is his custom, immediately began to get whipped by the chain-wielding zombies. When things settle down and we can talk for a moment, I may need to suggest a change to our usual tactical plan, and put him in the middle, where he is less of an easy target in a sneak attack. Unsurprisingly, the battered and bloodied bard retreated forward, into the castle. Aislynn was set on fire by the skeleton, but as a fellow Tiefling, she merely cackled madly and claimed “it tickles”. I cannot imagine that she thinks that these undead can actually comprehend a statement like that, so I am forced to believe that her comment was for our benefit, to instill fear, or perhaps a perverse respect, in us. She is a difficult one. She guards herself very closely, her history. She will not willingly show any weakness, or much beyond her own aggression. Her rage consumes her at times. But I will not deny her combat abilities. Her anger seems to make her strong, for now. But anger is easily exploitable, and I fear the day when someone with a thimble of cleverness does so.
But for now, she is a very impressive force to be reckoned with. She has one very disquieting trick, where she absorbs some spiritual energy from those who fall against her in battle. She then is able to store this energy, as a kind of battery, and woe betide any creature that attacks her after she has built up a significant charge. She unleashed one such attack, and it was unnerving. Screams of the dead echoed in the tower, and black tendrils of necrotic energy lashed out from her fingers.
There is a reason that even our allies don’t exactly feel completely at ease when around our group.
Meanwhile, the gnome’s staff spoke to me. Not literally, of course; it is an inanimate piece of wood. But it spoke to me in the dark corners of my mind, a gentle caress, a lover’s whisper. It told me that I could command the undead with this staff. A brief vision fluttered in my head, and for a moment I saw myself at the head of a terrible conquering army, the world prostrate at my feet. There was no time to for this thought to take root, as I was being attacked from many angles, but the vision had given me an insight. Focusing my will through the staff, I made a connection with the nearly blank slate of one of the chain-wielders. A wave of incredible hunger rolled through my mind, unreasoning, voracious, all-consuming hunger. It would be difficult to imprint anything on this kind of single-mindedness. But I focused that hunger against one of his fellow undead, and for a moment I controlled the zombie as sure as a puppeteer. But another wave of that hunger crashed, and I lost the connection. But here was a new trick of mine, and with practice, it could be a very powerful trick indeed.
Coranatum destroyed some of the undead assailants with a blast of holy lightning, while Hilde smashed the mimic chest to splinters. Beezra channeled her sword magics while Aislynn, Lahktar and I sniped the rest. Soon, only we remained standing. The chest must have, at one time, been a simple chest, as we found quite a bit of treasure in its innards. While the rest of the group celebrated our windfall, I worried. Again, the power it would take to creature such a horrid thing is not a power I would take likely. However, I kept my fears to myself, as there was no sense in worrying the rest of our band when our job here was not finished.
We ascended the stairs to the top of the tower. There was a makeshift bridge that spanned from the tower we climbed to the tower that the Dark Legion was supposed to take. However, through the sickly mist, we could see that the Dark Legion was bogged down in the swamps outside the tower, and that its defenders had decided to face the Legion head on. We would not be receiving any help in this battle. Atop the tower across the bridge, one of the Doom Sisters stood guard over a young elven woman, no doubt the missing ambassadora. Two large skeletal bodyguards blocked the way across the tower. Without hesitation, I shot a blast of arcane energy at one of the skeletons. It hit true, right in the abomination’s chest, staggering it off balance and down to the ground far below. It would have most likely killed a living creature, but being simply a skeletal conduit of necromantic energies, it got back up again, somehow continuing to move despite having several cracked bones.
Inspired by the quick start, the rest of the party prepared to charge forward and save the ambassadora. The skeleton still remaining on the bridge charged forward to attack our elusive swordmage, who was able to dodge with ease. Aislynn charged forward to meet the Doom Sister directly, two female conduits of rage crashing together. However, even as the advantage seemed
to swing our way, the Deathwind itself coalesced into solid forms, which attacked us immediately, shifting the momentum once again. The other skeleton, the one that had fallen, was elevated back atop the tower by these motes of Deathwind, and set about getting its revenge.
The bridge upon which Aislynn and the Doom Sister fought was makeshift, and began swaying with the back and forth attacks. Aislynn nearly toppled over the side, but caught herself; unfortunately, so did the Doom Sister. After clearing several motes out with a swirling blast of flame, I began to venture upon the bridge. Lahktar, bruised and bloodied by his tangles with the undead this day, tried to follow along, only to drop unconscious at the worst possible point, in the middle of the bridge. I fished into my cloak and found a potion of healing to give to him. The rest of the group finished off the skeletons while Hilde charged at the Doom Sister. She knocked her to the side of the bridge, and then with a mighty, cleaving blow, took the Sister’s head right off her neck. Her body faded to mist, and her head dropped ungraciously into the marshes below.
It was not easy, but it was victory. For once in this war, the Deathwind would be turned back. The cost was high; the entire party sported wounds in the attack, and were it not for my healing attentions, Lahktar might have bled out on that bridge. But it was victory, unambiguous victory, someone we found to be in short supply in this war. But there would be a price, as there always is. What happened with the ambassadora, and the sickness Beezra contracted from the foul air, I shall speak of in my next entry, for I wish to end this entry on a note of sweet, hard-earned success.