More Hard Choices
The group could hear the shuffling of Yarnath’s forces outside the door, but there were no other sounds or indications of what might be going on. Deciding that, while they could try to find the other exit from the cave system, they couldn’t in good conscience leave Castri to a horrible fate, assuming that he was still out there.
Vinara used her primal magic to bolster Gwyn’s health, having been severely wounded during the previous fights while searching for the Tree of Life. Kevlor focused on his body and spirit, channeling the Way and preparing for a deadly fight. When they were as prepared as possible, Morg and Kelvor opened the door and rushed out into the dazzling sunlight.
The forces of Yarnath were prepared for an attack, but their spokesman addressed the charging mul and human. “Yarnath has read the prophetic signs. We know that you retrieved a seed from a primordial tree of life in these ruins. Hand it over or die.” Not wanting to have such a powerful object in the hands of the defiler as well as not trusting his forces to let them live, they pressed the attack.
The forces of Yarnath set up an effective line with the zombies and mummies screening the two defilers and a legion of skeletons. Morg, Merric and Kelvor attempted to break through the line with Vinara, Chai-Tak and Gwyn provided support. Their previous combats had left them all exhausted and they quickly were worn down in the prolonged fight.
The Soul Collector
All around the party was the fury and chaos of battle. Blood from numerous cuts was streaming down their armor. Suddenly, all sound stopped. Everything that had been a blur of motion moments ago, including the party, was locked in place. Somehow they were still aware of their surroundings and the passage of time.
An unearthly, metallic message echoed in each of their minds;
“Your flesh unwinds. Soon, your projection will pass across the barrier to this side. You will not be able to protect the life seed. Your quest need not end this way. I offer my protection to you, if you desire it. There is a price. Do you accept it?”
Kelvor wondered what the price would be. In response to his thought, the voice spoke to each of them again;
“My covenant with you would be this: My shadow will reside near your flesh. When projections are unbound from the flesh, I will be there to collect them. In return, I will confound your enemies so that you might go away from this place. This covenant will bind you for three cycles.”
Morg was concerned about what harm might befall those that accepted, as this situation was similar to the one described in Avor Firesworn’s writings. Once again the voice spoke to each of them;
“No direct harm will accrue to you from my shadow’s presence. Indeed, when it rides upon you, you will have less reason to fear the son of air, but more fear for air’s daughters.”
Unsure as to the exact meaning of the voice’s words, there was some hesitancy, but knowing the dire situation, all of the party felt they had little choice but to hope for the best and accept the entities offer. Once they made up their minds, it spoke once again;
“The covenant is bound, the the ether resumes its flow.”
Time began to flow normally once again, but many of the heroes foes remained frozen, including the two spell casters and the large salt golem. The heroes felt the intensity of the sun lessen slightly, no doubt a result of the “shadow” they had associated themselves with. Despite a number of their foes being incapacitated, the rest of the fight was fought tooth and nail. Their resources exhausted, Merric was knock unconscious, Vinara and Kelvor were barely able to stand and Morg was knocked down and began to be eaten by one of the zombies.
Eventually the group was able to defeat the last of their foes, but only with moments to spare. Vinara was to stabilize Merric and they searched the bodies of their foes. Gwyn claimed the spellbook and staff from the defiler but there was little else besides a few days worth of supplies. Within the nearby rocks, they found the bodies of the three missing thri-kreen, all having signs of being beaten and burned.
Vinara located some tracks which appeared to be several humanoids, some wearing boots and others apparently barefoot. She spotted on the northern horizon a few figures just disappearing over a sand dune. Beyond that she saw some movement, perhaps the citadel of Yarnath.
They retreated back into the caverns for a much needed rest before heading out after Castri. They all agreed that rescuing him and preventing Yarnath from having both pieces of the Crown, was of the utmost importance. Vinara was able to summon enough strength, aided by Gwyn and Kelvor, to revive Morg, although he spoke cryptically of a gray land where he felt as if he was beginning to dissolve.