Mateus was outside, sitting on a tombstone and watching the door expectantly. One of his men had seen them enter, and had even seen one wander out and back in a few times, but by the time Mateus had arrived no one was inside; just those infernal doors. It was a nice enough night, but the situation made the wait miserable; there was little that could be going on inside the tomb that he would weigh as more important than his task at hand. He looked up at the tiny sliver of a moon hanging in the southern sky, starkly white against the purple of the nebula there.
A figure emerged from the tomb and Mateus sprang to his feet. He was three strides closer before he realized it was that Amatharn woman. Behind her the shadow of the tomb door ejected the others. “Anton is under attack,” he said as he drew closer. There was no use beating about the bush. “The Exarch is ready to send some help, and has requested you.” Mateus detected how weary they were, saw a hard days’ travel and work on their faces. But they would have to do; he knew that his group was not up for the rumours he had heard, and this group, as much as he disliked them, were the best hope his hometown had.
“Mateus!” Finneus said, offering a handshake. “The exarch, you say? He a friend of yours?”
Mateus was not quite sure how to respond to Finneus: he was a likable fellow who seemed to be on your side, no matter which side you were on. “‘Friend’ would be too great an honor for me. But there is no time for arguing over definitions; an army of warforged is upon Anton.”
Gwen’s eyes narrowed. The dwarf was a menace, and she knew he had to be dealt with, but now he was hitting her adopted home. She grabbed Mateus and spun him around, then began forward at a brisk pace. “The exarch is at the Cathedral, yes?”
“Y- yes,” Mateus stuttered. He had expected the mercenaries to ask for something.
Demasthenes stood in the great hall of the catedral, the moonlight filtering through the stained glass and rippling bits of color across his huge form. He smiled when the party entered, and it was as if the sun was there in the room. He gestured to the bench closest to him, “Please, I wish to know that you are the right people to send.” Everyone sat. No one said anything for a moment.
“Right people?” Finneus asked. “You sent poor little Mateus here out to a cemetery in the middle of the night on the hopes we might be the right people, and now we’re interviewing for the position?”
Demasthenes waited patiently, then turned his sunlight-bright smile to Mateus. “Mateus is a good man who did as he was bid. He speaks highly of your… abilities.”
Gwen did not catch the distinction being made. She was fuming that this being wasn’t letting her get to the task at hand. “What exactly do you want us to prove here before we can go help the people who need helping?”
Demasthenes bent down to look at her closer. “Gwen, correct? I understand your frustrations. But it takes a lot of power to transport people across the world. I must know that you are the right ones to send. Tell me of yourself.”
Gwen eyed him. “I have served militaries and I have served communities. I help those in need.”
“A good start,” Demasthenes grinned, illuminating the room. They told him of their adventures in Anton and the wider world beyond, of their quest to stop the Mist and their experience with Derick and his warforged army. After a few minutes Demasthenes turned, grabbed onto the air, and tore a hole in the world. Light spilled everywhere, and the shadow of the exarch motioned them inside. “You are the right ones. Go.”
They shielded their eyes and stumbled forward, and as each passed into the portal they felt the solid ground beneath them disappear, and then they clambered forward for a moment before finding cobblestones again. They stood in a square in the Elf Quarter, a tall temple to one side. And then the portal behind them closed, and they stood in the dark, nearly blinded by the contrast.
Slowly the street lights became clear, as did a number of small fires in the city beyond. But then a new darkness appeared; a square of pitch black not fifty feet away rolled open, and a chill wind blew out of it. Then a human form tumbled out, tucked into a roll, planted itself on the ground and pivoted back toward the dark portal. Four tall rods were strapped to his back and he looked to have been beaten to within an inch of his life, but Bluce stood ready, and when the two pale-skinned Shadar-kai lept out of the darkness Bluce twirled and kicked one to the ground, then leapt over him and away from the other.
“Bluce!” Finneus called, “Y’re a rare one indeed to have leapt into the Shadowfell and come back out again; you must tell us the story once we’ve dispatched your friends, here.” Bluce almost managed not to smile, but seeing his old friends gave him strength.
The portal cracked and howled, and then a Shadar-kai witch ran out, the darkness and cold following in her wake like a cowl. “Thief!” she called, claw-length fingernails gripping the air in Bluce’s direction. “You’ll not be taking my things and getting away with it!” Withervine stepped forward and threw a sack of seeds at her. Darkness and cold and witch all came to a sudden stop.
Amatharn was racing toward Bluce, who was still looking spent. She drew forth her sword and sliced through a few of them. Gwen stood nearby channeling the forces of the world into every blow. For his part, Bluce ran past Finneus and planted one of the rods into the ground, then turned to give one to the bard, “All four must be up. Make a square.”
The battle raged on with the rods going up one at a time. The witch was struck down after the third went up, and the last of the Shadar-kai broke and ran soon after. As soon as they passed through, the dark portal cracked and dissolved. All eyes turned to Bluce. He was not used to doing the talking, but knew that he had little time and much to say. “The ghost of my master Shihan led me to Relic. Relic had these rods, and Shihan said we must channel our energy into a jewel while between the rods. But I have no jewel, and Relic and I were separated when the Shadar-kai attacked. We need the jewel; Shihan said that this will save Anton.”
Gwen reached atop the nearest rod and tapped the glass sphere set there. The bubbly green liquid inside sloshed about. “These are the same design as the ones Surina left in Jil’s Crater.” Bluce merely shrugged; he didn’t know who Surina was or which crater was being spoken of.
A small raven spiraled down, transforming into Withervine at the last moment. “Channel power quickly; a battalion of warforged will be here any minute.” And just as the words escaped his lips the first of them turned the corner, saw them, and charged.
Amatharn sang a battle hymn at the jewel, then ran to meet the assault. Behind her came a pair of cyclones whirling power from the jewel. Gwen followed after, the two women keeping the onslaught at bay while Withervine moved to protect their flank. Bluce made sure the rods were positioned and then began a flank of his own while Finneus stood in the center of the ritual square, speaking softly to the jewel of creation songs and Jil and knights errant. The jewel flashed and shields appeared around the rods, then lighting lashed out at the warforged. When Bluce found himself surrounded Finneus passed the jewel to Withervine, who rubbed some rare earths from his pockets onto the facets, which conjured forth a tremor that knocked half the opposing forces to the ground.
But when Gwen fell back and splashed a tincture on the jewel all hell broke loose. Light poured out of the little gem and a wind knocked everyone back. Dust and cloud issued forth, and then a huge figure rose, his face impossible to see through all the wind. He lifted a blade above his head, gave a command in some long-forgotten tongue, and out of the jewel ran thousands of spirits, running in every direction and carrying or destroying the warforged as they passed. The dust and wind swirled everywhere, and then just as suddenly swirled back into the jewel, the light swallowing into itself and collapsing to a pinprick, and the jewel clattered quitely as it hit the cobblestones.
Far above, Derick’s airship turned, opened her throttles, and flew away.
- Where did Relic go when he got split up from Bluce?
- Why did the Shader-kai have the rods? What were they going to use them for?
- Did Surina have a jewel when she tried to summon in Jil’s Crater? If so, where did it go?
- What was that ghost army?