Cycles of Shadow

Ezekiel's Perspective - The Beast and the Hound

Dubiously, I swallowed the mysterious red gem I’d been given, as the rest of the party did the same. They were instantly revitalizing! A relief after yet another near death experience. I Wish I had time study these bizarre gems; or to study the corpses of these things we were fighting. Their blood seems to evaporate when it touches air. How infuriating. But Costa argued that we needed to go on the offensive immediately- a sentiment the rest of the party shared.

Costa guided us through the tunnels until we exited a cave and found ourselves on the mountainside outside of town. Now we had to get to the mine; and thwart our enemies’ evil scheme… whatever that might be.

Costa’s plan seemed simple enough. Whilst the sun was still down: sneak through the forest, back into New Deepstone; skirt the perimeter of the town; avoid the sentries; scale the cliff to the higher region of the town; stealth through the woods: and we would reach the mine undetected. Unfortunately, there was a slight snag.

*

The fifteen-foot, palisade wall. The dwarves looked up at it like others might look at a Venerable Red Dragon of the Old Age. Kathra with dread and Adrik with a sort of crazed determination he usually reserves for… I don’t know: Displacer Beasts? While Elrik kindly refrained from roaring Bahamut’s Name, we set out overcoming this obstacle.

To be fair, both Rane and myself had recently honed our magic for such a task. Muttering an incantation- I began to levitate up the height of the palisade. Only to find Rane suddenly appear standing on a branch of a tree that had carelessly been allowed to grow near the wall. Rane began to lower a rope for the others- when Adrik growled, cracked his knuckles and charged the tree. The rest of us watched in disbelief as he wrapped his arms around the trunk and… shimmied up the tree, and at an alarming speed. With a proud grin to Rane, he helped lower the rope. I believed he might still have been drunk at the time.

Next stoically climbed Elrik, with assistance from the rope. Then it was Kathra’s turn. Adrik and Elrik tried to assist her but she appeared to have some difficulty, sliding back down the trunk. She glared up and the bravest of us dared not laugh. As subtly as possible, I decided to cast a spell to aid her. Our combined effort paid off. Well, dwarves aren’t made for climbing trees. Finally, came Cael Kennyr. He made use of only the rope to easily climb, sort of spider like. Then he simply disappeared into the tree foliage; I peered up into the branches, but couldn’t spot him. That elf: useful, but a little unnerving.

I hovered over the wall, as the party began to drop over the palisade. I offered to try aid Elrik, but he simply looked at me expressionlessly. Then swan dived off the tree. I cringed at the impact, but not even a grunt could be heard from the cleric. Kathra, seemed less keen to copy this feat, clinging to the branch she tried to slide along and then use the rope to lower herself down. The snapping noise of the branch unfortunately echoed through the forest, as plummeted down to the ground. Actually, right on top of Elrik. That got a groan out of him. My brother, lowered his face into his palm. I turned to try speak to Cael Kennyr, when a form blurred past me, causing me to almost cry out. Looping the now untied rope around another branch, he slid down to the ground, landing without a noise.

Grumbling, I descended using my spell. I hadn’t even noticed Costa climbing over- as we crouched in a circle- he agreed with us, to sneak along the perimeter of the town to the cliff that divides Deepstone.

*

Getting through the town was little trouble, but the cliff was a different matter. I had expended my levitation spell! I would have to climb a rope. Physically. With my arms. Rane once again teleported to gain height. Standing atop the nearest roof to the cliff. With a running leap to the rock face, he began to easily climb. My much-loved brother proceeded to lower a rope for the rest of us.

Eagerly, stepped forward Adrik once more. I could not believe how effortlessly the drunk found climbing. As before, Elrik was next to climb. In his heavier armour, he had a reasonable degree of difficulty, but made it up. I was keen to get this over with, but Rane appeared and started hand signalling for me to send the archer up the cliff- and quickly. Cael Kennyr, rapidly scaled the cliff, and disappeared out of sight. Keen to know what was happening, I used a magically assisted jump to gain some height, but still had some gruelling climbing to do. I seemed to recall a more reusable, flight-granting spell in my grimoire- must look into it.

At the top, the party was peering into the darkness, as Cael Kennyr reappeared dragging the corpse of one of those shadow creatures, clearly a patrolling sentry. An arrow was punched through each eye. Searching the corpse- while Cael Kennyr retrieved his arrows- we found some well-cut, precious gems. We believe they will be worth quite a bit of gold.

This time Kathra seemed to find it an easy climb- dwarven affinity with stone coming into effect maybe. Costa had no trouble either. Only sneaking through the woods remained. The mine was in reach.

*

As it happens, I despise trying to sneak through the wilderness, even with our imbued dark-vision. And how was I supposed to know what kind of birds were appropriate, when trying to magically cover our approach. The disdainful look Cael Kennyr gave me! With hindsight, it seems blatantly obvious that we were never going to be the stealthiest band in a forest. My clothing kept snagging, and my staff kept clunking off branches. I felt sorry for the armoured Elrik and Kathra- did we truly expect them to remain unheard? However, in terms of clumsiness, their efforts paled compared to Adrik. Perhaps the revitalising gem had rapidly accelerated his alcohol withdrawal? All in all, it hardly seemed to matter when that elf couldn’t contain himself and started to snicker at our blundering. When we finally stumbled out of the woods, a variety of those shadow-monsters stood staring at us. I had hardly the energy to care.

*

There were a number of guards at the mine entrance. I keenly noted the lumbering, bulky shadow beings at the back. Particularly when their forms began to writhe and merge together. From the four hulks were created two huge beasts. One coalesced into the form of a massive, red-eyed shadow hound. The other- I realised with dread- resembled a Displacer Beast, as lashing tentacles emerged from its back. This was confirmed when it phased out of existence. At the vanguard, approached what appeared to be the leader, flanked by two other shadow beings. I sensed its power, as a lashing vortex of magical energy began to swirl in its hands.

Winded as I was, I proved quickest to react to the approaching enemies. By completely fumbling a spell: resulting in unrefined moats of light arching through the night sky. Quite counter-productive to our attempts not to draw attention. Then the hound was upon us- its roar seemed to shake the air, a crushing weight fell on our minds. Only Elrik resisted: by roaring straight back at it. A few of us nearly blacked out there; if not for the roar being reduced to a yelp as Adrik’s boot connected with it hound’s snout, sending it sprawling. During this respite, Cael Kennyr darted back amongst the trees, each of his arrows hitting their mark as the hound squirmed.

The advancing shadow creatures then charged- dark arms morphing into shimmering blades- only to be blocked by Rane and Kathra. My brother once again threw himself into the fight, by teleporting amongst the enemy, lashing out with his blade. Elrik, Kathra and Costa join this brawl, as the enemy is thrown off balance.

Then a presence appeared behind me. I spun, raising my staff to block a lashing tenctacle, but its wicked barbs still dug into my flesh. The sound of my scream distorted to the others as the Displacer Beast teleported me away. I found myself caught squarely between the Beast and the rising Hound. Trying not to panic, I distracted the Beast with an illusionary spell, and then tactically fled the monsters. With a wave of my staff a prepared magical command activated: Sleep. A veil of magic fell on the two monsters and they struggle to remain conscious. The spell seems to have affected the Beast more than the Hound. For the latter shook its head and lunged for new prey. But before its fangs could close around Elrik’s throat, it was teleported away, finding itself instead being struck by Rane’s sword. Meanwhile, Adrik rushed the Beast. Its shimmering movements seemed to confuse him, however, and he nearly drove his axe into his own foot.

In the darkness, the entire party appeared to have trouble striking the elusive shadow beings. Even the massive Hound seems capable of disappearing into the night. Vicious combat ensued. Elrik roaring to his dragon god beside a silent Rane. They land brutal wounds, but none seem capable of dispatching these creatures. The lead shadow creature’s magical vortex lashed out at the party- but our clerics’ divine connection protected us. From the rest of the battle Adrik and the Beast become further separated, as a lashing tentacle teleports them further away.

But then Adrik received a respite- and a perfect opening! To dispatch the Beast in a single blow! My spell took effect, as the Displacer Beast collapsed into unconsciousness. Laughing with glee, Adrik brought his axe crashing down, to split the Beast’s head in two. Only to find- in his eagerness- that he had cleanly cut the Beast’s ear off and driven his axe into the soil. The Beast awoke hissing. Sighing, Adrik didn’t even try to dodge the lashing tentacle that struck him.

I had little time to lament his blunder, however, as the monstrous hound appeared behind me. Pain erupted in my leg, as its fangs tore into my thigh. As the agony overcame me- and the Hound dragged me into the night- I found myself beginning to regret my sojourn from the Mage Tower. Rane then managed to draw the Hound’s attention; as it flung me aside like a rag doll and charged my brother. Even amongst the chaotic battle, Kathra managed to bestow her healing upon me. My wounded leg sealed up, but I found myself unable to cast effectively.

Despite the overwhelming aggression against him, Rane managed to finally dispatch one of the shadow men, hacking into its head. However, this left him open to the Hound’s bite. The Hound tried to slam Rane into a nearby tool shed, but the swordmage’s warding thwarted this attack. Pin-point archery from Cael Kennyr was all that abated the Hound’s ferocity.

Meanwhile, Adrik- who would bravely face any man in combat- seemed poorly matched against the Displacer Beast’s thrashing tentacles, as he received many injuries. Luck, more that anything, saw his axe connect. Gaining an opening, Adrik raised his weapon to finally finish the Beast. But he then wailed in frustration, as Cael Kennyr’s arrow punched through the roof of the Beast’s mouth. In death, it broke apart into the two corpses’ of its origin. Which an enraged Adrik proceeded to hack apart.

Another enemy fell, when a cunning teleport enabled Rane to slice the second shadow man in half at the waist. With only the vortex wielder and the vicious Hound remaining, all focus was on the red-eyed monster. However, the monstrous creature endured blow after blow- and things looked grim when it overpowered Rane. It was then that Costa succeeded in running through the last shadow man, with his sword.

Realising the implications, I tried to cry a warning, whilst throwing myself to the ground. But it was too late. As the controller died, the magical vortex violently lost coherence. I saw the resulting explosion hit everything in the battle. The party was blasted away, Cael Kennyr was catapulted into the trees. Fortunately, this proved to be the magical vortex explosion that broke the Shadow Hound’s back- and the dead shadow hulks that constituted its form sprawled across the ground. And so ended the fight.

*

The forest fell silent as we tried to pick ourselves up after that brutal encounter. It was time to enter the mine.

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Hubris

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