Bracing for the coming storm
Druidic magic stilled the restive autumn sky, driving away the clouds and stilling wayward breezes. In the dry, still air, the tang of powerful magic hung in the air like a grudge, thick and poisonous.
The party gathered to discuss strategy, and began casting their best fortification and protection spells. Sefu persuaded the druids to enter into its mental link, and they conferred with the druids to coordinate strategy. Invisible and shielded, Sefu flew far above the battlefield, both to coordinate forces and to stay out of danger as much as possible. Invisibility, flight, and protection from evil were passed around liberally.
Gux watched the flow of energies from the gathering ritual, looking for a weak point. On his word, the Windless Ring launched a salvo of spells and arrows at the ritualists, while the druids assaulted the earthenworks, covering it with brambles and miring it in muck. As several of the ritualists sunk into the mire, they turned the soil solid again, binding their feet.
While the druids worked more quietly and indirectly, the party made great show of its sudden presence, in hopes of luring out the hiding forces on the bluff. They heard a barked command from the hills, followed by a hail of arrows that filled the air with the drone of an enraged hornet’s nest. One shot grazed Edane’s thigh, and another hit Feordin’s hand. Even Sefu, far above the fray, was caught in the flurry of arrows. Still, their defenses held.
Another shout from the bluff sent shadows shuffling down the hills. Anatheron shielded the party in a warm swath of daylight, and Manudhar moved to the edge of the glow to take the battle to the shadows. The sound of rushing, slavering footsoldiers surged from the top of the bluff, and Sender, Gux, and Sefu could all see scores of ghouls, ghasts, and other cadaverous forms tumbling over the archers to run down the hills.
In the span of seconds, a smudge of darkness coalesced above the ritualists, spreading clouds that quickly filled the visible sky. Winds wipped up leaves and dirt, even as the druids summoned a treant and several massive earth elementals to disrupt the ritualists. Feordin heard the tinny sound of a spectral voice intoning a bardic chant from within the ritual circle, so Gux and Edane leveled their best transdimensional attacks into the circle. Sender, meanwhile, dropped a defenestrating sphere in the midst of the circle, where the ritualists were sacrificing the fresh-slain bodies of Hem Dokka-Qar’s priests in a mockery of his core veneration rite. The magic of the sphere tossed the bodies into the air, much to the horror of the ritualists. They continued their chant, but the full force of their rite could no longer be brought to bear.
Rain lashed down from the heavens, coarse with the sting of sleet. Another shout from the bluff brought another hail of arrows. At druid’s beckon, giant centipedes and worms surged from the ground, and lightning lanced from the heavens to strike the ritual circle. While the druids focused on the ritualists, the party turned its attention to the forces in the bluff. While the wizards tossed fire and ice into the hills, Edane flew out to see who was issuing orders.
The sky tore open with a mighty thunderclap, and a lion’s claws slipped through the breach. Hem Dokka-Qar, Hunter of the Heavens, burst forth in rage and fury. Twenty feet tall, his centaur form blended the mighty torso of a bugbear with a lion’s forepaws and a gazelle’s aft. Seven-foot-long gazelle horns crowned his head, wreathed with a lion’s regal mane. He roared a curse upon the ritualists, and grabbed bolts of lightning with both hands to throw at them. Where the bolts fell, the wet ground exploded in steam and mud.
As soon as he appeared, most of the ritualists turned to focus their attention on him, leveling new weapons and making cutting attacks at the god. Perhaps bolstered by the completed portions of their ritual, their salvos struck true, and spatters of the god’s blood sluiced across the battlefield.
Meanwhile, the Windless Ring systematically focused area attacks on sections of the bluff, decimating the archers one company at a time. Edane found the one issuing orders, a particularly tough-looking troll. She also observed that trolls appeared to lead the archers as a whole – an uncanny development for such a typically savage lot.
Manudhar ran into the shadows and destroyed many of them with his god’s righteous fury. Then he ran up the hill, inciting dozens of undead footsoldiers to pile onto him. Again, a blast of glory turned them to ash. Anatheron cast more light on the scene, highlighting the ritualists and many of the bluffside combatants. Shegger Gork and Feordin joined Edane on the bluff, looking for trolls to slaughter. Sender, Gux, and Gâshek rained deadly area spells from above, while they and Sefu scrambled to move out of the way of the god’s wrath.
One druid, closing in to attack a ritualist, felt the full blast of one of Hem Dokka-Qar’s lightning bolts. The left side of her body exploded in a shower of gore, and her tattered remains slumped to the sodden earth. Sefu’s preparations sprung into effect, catching the fleeting soul and restoring the druid to life the moment after her breath had left her body. At the same moment Shegger beheaded the troll that had been issuing orders. Other trolls remained to direct their soldiers, but the tide seemed to have turned.
One of the ritualists threw a gleaming ring at the god, and it sliced off his black-clawed hand. The man-sized hunk of steaming, twitching flesh fell to the earth with a crash. Arcs of electricity flickered and popped all around it for several seconds as it flexed and groped, then fell still.
Sender noticed a silent figure gesturing commands from the bluff: a massive armored man, eight feet of imposing blackened metal. Gux moved in for a closer look, and recognized the golem-like figure they had found in the White Jackal’s tomb – which had disappeared from the tomb shortly after their initial discovery.
As they continued to clear out the bluff combatants, Gux and Gâshek saw a ghost carrying (or guiding) a spark of energy. It looked much like the spark that Sender had found. The ghost appeared to be pushing the spark from the battle site toward the golem/ general. Gux disrupted the ghost with a transdimensional spell, and left Edane to try to catch the slippery spark.
The bluff dissolved into chaos as a landslide liquefied a quarter of the hillside. The remaining troll lieutenants retreated around their general, who appeared to be casting a spell. Gux recognized it as planeshift, leaving him just enough time to make a few quick calculations and throw off a single spell before they slipped away, but which? He remembered that the “golem” didn’t have the right kind of construction for a normal animating presence, nor would it fit a summoned elemental the likes of which could propel the Eyetalon. But maybe a ghost – a deceased soul projecting into the material plane from the Shadowlands… he cast dismissal.
The general and his troll lieutenants were already phasing out of the material plane, but the dismissal struck true, and the golem-body slumped inert even as the trolls and their otherworldly leader slipped into the planar mists.
When the party stopped to survey the damage, they found the druids in tatters, another of their number having fallen to circumstances that Sefu’s powers could not remedy. Hem Dokka-Qar had suffered great damage, almost destroying his strongest avatar. But when a druid’s tornado carried away the last of the ritualists, the god clawed his way into the Shadowlands to pursue them there. The druid hierophant said, “let us be quick and quit this place; the Hunter of the Heavens is a churlish god, and not one to suffer embarrassment lightly. He will likely hunt us all now, for we have seen him in a moment of weakness. Do not expect him to be grateful.”
Shegger Gork sniffed and scratched at a spot on his arm where the god’s blood had struck him. Tawny hair grew from the spot. “Bet he can track us now, too. Blood calls to blood.”
The hierophant nodded, “But perhaps we can do something with his hand, and the remains of his followers here. One of us, and some allies, will stay here to make an offering to him. Hopefully he will return to the scene, see the gesture, and decide that some of us need not die to soothe his shame.”