08:00 – 08:20 - The temple squats amongst the blackened ruins of the nearby buildings, its once pristine walls scarred and ashen. Smoke rises from within its shattered central dome, and the gardens that once surrounded it lie torn and dead. The wide white-stone path that leads to the oaken double doors is lost beneath ash and rubble, the doors themselves hidden behind a barrier of crates and debris.
Realising that the front entrance is the worst way in, especially given what the diviner had told them about who is waiting beyond, the group decide to take a very different route. Moving a street away, they break into the sagging ruin of a warehouse, and after spending a moment getting their bearings, the warforged activates his belt, his arms becoming gloved in rock-chewing blades of force. Without hesitation, he begins to dig down into the ground, and soon the party are moving steadily along behind him as tunnels towards the sub-basement of the temple, and, with luck, the rogue Helldazzler.
08:40 – 08:50 – Having chewed through the foundations of several buildings, burst into the
unholy stench of the blood and filth choked sewers, and then adjusted their course, the group finally encounter the mortared brickwork of the temple's sub-basements. As they approach it however, all feel strange pressures moving across their spirits, and at once realise that more than just men wait beyond the wall.
After a moments whispered planning, the warforged strikes the stone, and with a deafening roar and snarl, the wall collapses inwards, revealing what appears to be a library. Several rows – end on to the group – of floor to ceiling hardwood shelves, stand in the medium sized chamber of stone, lit by the strange light of two floating, phantasmal nightmares, that drip and mewl either side of the chamber's other two inhabitants, all of whom stand at the opposite side of the chamber to the group.
The monsters are unlike anything anyone has seen before; billowy, ethereal things composed of pulsing, quivering tubes of pink, blue and purple flesh, mashed together to form a single, constantly writhing mass. At the end of the tubes open circular mouths, or pulsing orifices, from which shoot constant jets of silver, gold and purple fire. Others narrow down to form tentacles, each mottled with dark purple or blue spots.
Of the other two, it is immediately clear who is who. Siskeer is thin to the point of being skeletal; his flesh tight and sallow. He wears long, overly ornamented robes of dark blue and gold, the layered garment covered in fetishes, all of which seem to have a bird theme – feathers, claws, and ornithological skulls tied to length of sinew. Tattoos' cover his skin, depicting in golden ink symbols and words that each member of the group knows at an instinctive level are born of corruption and evil. Siskeer is sneering at the group, his pale blue eyes alive with madness.
“So, my old order has found me at last! Too late I am afraid to stop me from learning that which they hoped to keep from me. Brother? Show them the error of their ways whilst I beseech my Lord to aid our cause.”
As he says these, his voice a low shriek, he closes the cover of a large, steel bound tome set on a reading desk next to him, the Final Sun clearly visible in brass on the cover.
“Our book!” Growls Vladislav, his hands already crackling with power.
Count Vorgor stands almost as tall as the Veteran, and is easily his match in bulk. He wears archaic plate armour of the highest quality, the fine black metal of it decorated over every inch with carvings of eagles, wolves and daemons. He wears no helm, and has pale, cold features; a strong brow, dark eyes that hold the icy emptiness of a frost bound lake, and long black hair that matches his tangled, plaited black beard.
On one arm a heavy shield of steel decorated with a grim standard. In the other hand, a finely crafted axe of steel and dark wood.
There is no room for negotiations, and within heartbeat the battle is on.
The Veteran charges, hoping to blast through the Count who has stepped forwards to block access to his half-brother. He throws everything into a deadly blow that he knows can kill most men a hundred times over, and so is not prepared when Vorgor's own weapon, faster than seems possible, is raised and deflects all but a tiny portion of the blows' momentum. Veteran tries to smash the warrior again, but manages only to chip the carvings on his pauldrons as the axe once more sweeps his attack aside.
Llewellyn cartwheels into the chamber, and sends a silvery line of daggers blurring towards Vorgor, only to watch as, almost too fast to be real, the count raises his shield, and the magical weapons are scattered across the room.
Then, he strikes.
His axe weaves a blur, and the Veteran is not aware of how seriously wounded he is until all three blows have struck; his internal mechanisms exposed, his haemolymph pumping from exposed pipes of gristle and meat within him. Strength seems to leave him as he stumbles back under the blow, and he barely notices as the count strikes the Vyrleen with a blow that leaves him floored and bleeding.
Then the two weird monsters drift forwards, the temperature around the group quickly rising until it is agonising, even breathing becoming an exercise in torment. Despite the blistering temperatures, neither the books or the count seem inconvenienced, a cool skin of blue energy shielding them from the horror's fiery auras.
Both monsters drift like vapour towards the group, one on either side of the count, flickering and pulsing like strange, fleshy flames. Then, when they are some 15' away, they unleash paired blasts of dazzling, rainbow coloured fire at the party, the shock of it stealing breath, hair and hope as it strikes home. Screams of pain ring out, and the fumes of burning flesh and metal choke the air. Many continue to burn, the ghostly flames that cling to them feeding not only the corporeal fuel of their bodies and gear, but on their spiritual essences.
Pained and shocked, Ormid notices that the Veteran has been damaged beyond – or so he thinks – operation; his armour all but gone, turned to slag by the daemon fire, his inner flesh charred and boiling. However, he then notices that impossibly, the warforged still fights, and with expert practice, and despite his own agony, the master artificer weaves a spell to restore some of the warrior's body, as well as his own. He also awakens several enchantments upon Veteran's deadly blade, bringing its edge to an almost impossible sharpness, and imbuing it with dazzling, healing energies.
Arrows leap from Shadevia's bow, hurtling towards Vorgor. One finds its mark – lightly slicing the warlord's cheek, a thin line of blood knifing over its sharp angles – whilst the other ricochets harmlessly around the battle, embedding itself in a bookcase. Ferrous launches in to stand by his master, his form blurring as the fey runes in his armouring are awoken.
And then, once again, the world turns to agony. Siskeer has been working through the vile words of a most terrible sounding incantation, his body twitching and writhing with horrific, boneless gesticulations. Suddenly his spell is complete, and with a shriek, he throws a warping line of pinkish energy towards Vladislav. The Helldazzler is unable to get out of the way of the beam, and as it hits him, so his form begins to twists and shift, shrinking down into the form of something else...
Screaming with mad laughter, Siskeer quickly works another spell, and the frontline fighters are enveloped in more punishing flames of purple and gold, the warped daemon sorcery blazing across them in a withering wave. The Veteran is also afflicted by another dark spell, the organic parts of him suddenly growing with fecund and unnatural ferocity, bursting through his armouring and crushing vital components within.
Almost beaten already, the group realise that they may be facing foes beyond them.
And so unfolds the single most desperate battle of the parties' lives. Life hangs by the thinnest threads, and for one member of the group, it snaps forever; poor Ferrous, despite his shroud of fey magic, being simply overwhelmed by the fiery daemonic power of the floating fiends, and the whirling blades of the warlord. Wounded to the point of collapse, there is nothing the group can do in their own desperation to survive, to stop him burning to death, and then, beyond the hope of reconstruction.
The Veteran, normally able to stride untouched through battle, and able to strike down the mightiest of foes, finds himself battling someone who outclasses him. He struggles to land a blow on the Count, and in return is surgically dissected by the warlord's almost too perfect strikes and cunning counters. Were it not for the artificer – himself, barely conscious through most of the battle, his hair lost to the unholy flames, his skin a mass of blisters and weeping sores – he would have fallen, and indeed, spends most of the battle in a strange state of near death; wounded to the point where he is only able to function a the loss of most of his flexibility and strength.
Llewellyn almost dies several times, his usual tricks and tactics simply failing to keep him from the seeking flames and warping attacks of Siskeer and his conjurations, whilst Vladislav – once he has returned to his true form – seems cursed, his attacks failing to strike as often as not (though he does manage to score a stunning strike against the renegade mage with an explosive burst of force-bound fire, sending him hurtling back against the walls, the dull crack of bone carrying over the terrible din of battle).
For long moments it truly seems the group will die in that place, and Llewellyn and Shadevia (who has managed to avoid harm until the end when Vorgor manages to get within striking range of her, the warforged hurled by sorcery to the far side of the chamber), both consider cutting and running. However, somehow, the party manage to survive, always at the very brink of annihilation, and with agonising slowness, they close on the mage, and make him pay.
It is the Veteran, brutalised and acting on hard-wired instinct rather than any conscious stratagem, who manages to corner the shrieking and cursing mage, and then to split his face wide with his axe. When it happens, Siskeer's fall is almost a surprise to the group, their senses numbed and dulled by their proximity to death, the agony that wracks each one threatening to overwhelm them at any moment.
However, even as the fiery blade of the warforged's killing blow sweeps towards his head, Siskeer gives a manic grin, his eyes alight with mad joy.
“And so I become the gate!”
The fatal blow almost completely demolishes the apostate's head, and he slumps with a sigh against the walls of the chamber, arterial blood jetting thick and dark across the stonework.
“Nooooo! My brother!” Howls Vorgor, his blade continuing its terrible, deadly motion, “I shall destroy you a....”
His words catch in his throat as a wave of utter wrongness sweeps through the chamber, the air curdling with the touch of alien energies. With Siskeer's death, the fiery daemon (for only one remains, the other finally beaten back to the immaterium), has vanished, as have the spells guarding the bookshelves, all of which now burn with a fierce, growing flame. Beams of smoky, pinkish light stab outwards from the slain mage's body, casting obscene and simply wrong shadows across the chamber, and before the horrified group's eyes, Siskeer's body begins to melt and sag, his flesh becoming a boiling, writhing pool, the bones and entrails seeming to bulge and writhe within their sticky mass.
Realising that something even worse than the live mage and the warlord is about to enter their world, the group leap into action. Vorgor, spins to hack at Shadevia, almost killing her with three horrific wounds across her shoulder and head, before being is pushed back by a wave of force emitted by Ormid's armour. Meanwhile, ignoring the growing nightmare in the corner of the room, Llewellyn cartwheel's past the warlord's seeking blades, and grabs the steel bound tome, its weight almost dragging him to his knees.
“NOOOOO!” Howls Vorgor, his rage taking his sanity.
Where Siskeer's bubbling remains coil and tremble, something utterly vile is struggling into the physical plane, wearing his dissolved form like a womb. A pale talon, like that of a hunting bird, rips through the gelatinous filth, wreathed in tongues of gold and indigo flame, and a sickly sweet smell fills the room; dizzying and exotic, pregnant with death and terrible, wicked power. Llewellyn takes a serious wound to his shoulder as he tries to skip past Vorgor, and almost falls, skidding to his knees, before being dragged to his feet by the artificer, and shoved towards the tunnel's mouth. Vladislav grabs the book as the rogue passes him, and hurls a bolt of flame at the warlord, Vorgor deflecting it with ease.
“The apostate is dead, and I have the book. Let's get the hell out of here!” He screams.
No one argues, though Veteran points his blade at Vorgor, and solemnly growls, “We have unfinished business you and I!”
Leaping past Ormid, who's armour prevents the Warlord from following them, the group scramble into the tunnel. Behind them, the mewling and shrieking is increasing in volume, and they can see Vorgor falling to his knees, clearly broken by the sight of whatever now grows from his brother's remains.
Ormid, his eyes shut against the nightmare in the corner, backs away from Vorgor, stumbling, almost spent, into the mouth of the tunnel. As he goes, so he sees a terrible, beautiful light fill the chamber beyond, and all feel a ghastly shock of alien energy pulsing like spoiled lightning through the fabric of the world. Vorgor seems to suddenly awaken from his fugue, and raises his weapon, his face a mask of sickened horror.
“Brother? No! At what...?”
His words are lost as something that is somewhere between talon and tentacle swipes the tunnels' mouth, and brings the roof crashing down, plunging the party into darkness.
08:51 – 08:56 – They run with the stumbling, drunken gait of dead men, the sour sweat of terror and utter exhaustion thick upon them. Darkness hovers always at the edge of their vision as they go, and everyone knows that if they allow themselves to dwell on the severity of their wounds for an instant, Azrael will seek them out. For now, it is only the maddening, impossible fact that they have somehow survived that keeps them going, their steps shaky with adrenaline and complete and utter exhaustion.
Emerging into the warehouse, they can hear terrible, animal screams booming from the temple. Weird pink light plays through the high windows in beams, the shadows it casts filthy and warped. Stumbling out into the morning, none can help but look back at the temple, where they see Siskeer Hatewrought, Greater Daemon, emerge from the central dome in a shower of pulverised stone and glass – a huge humanoid vulture like thing, hung about with blasphemous pennants and icons of chaos, relucent with grotesque pink and violet flames. It shrieks into the skies, and lightning jags down around it, bathing it in coruscating lines of electrical fire. Then it spreads huge wings, smashing the temple around it to ruin, a cloud of dust and smoke rising to hide the nightmare from the party.
They do not tarry, and run for the harbour and the submarine.
09:08 – A trail of blood leads from the warehouse to the submarine, a trail left by the survivors of the battle that claimed Ferrous. As they approach their vessel, they pass a terrified band of would be thieves, who had sought to plunder its riches, but met with the ghaerduun spectre instead.
09:09 – Scrambling onto the riveted hull of the Glorious Brick, the group dare a look back towards the city, and spy, there, amongst the lowering smoke clouds and lightning flecked storm clouds, the Daemon flying upwards, a tail of unholy fire in its wake. And at the same time, a figure, still proud and full of strength despite his physical and mental wounds, stumbles towards the group from the shadowy streets, axe raised – Count Vorgor. For a moment it looks like Veteran may charge him, his hunger for revenge and for a cure to his wounded ego almost overwhelming his common sense. However, Ormid places a hand on his shoulder, and with a gasp whispers, “not now friend. Not now.”
09:11 – safely sealed within the Brick, the group run to the front screens. Vorgor has almost reached the edge of the docks, and it seems is going to jump onto the vessel, to tear open the hatch and slay all within. A shiver runs through the party as Yirlantir manifests amongst them, his face set in a wry smile.
“You know,” he begins drily, “we still have one last Implosion round left. I mean, it could be considered a waste, but, this angry man is still within range of the weapons...”
He trails off, seeing the savage gleam in the Veteran's cracked and dirtied eye lenses.
09:30 – The Glorious Brick sinks into the soot and debris choked waters of the port, leaving a tiny, super dense speck of material on the docks – the mortal remains of one Count Vorgor Khebletzi, crushed by a ghaerduun test weapon into their new, minute form.
As they slip into the cold embrace of the sea, and before they let the fire of anger and adrenaline give way to the crushing pain and weakness of their wounds and loss, Veteran turns to Vladislav, and in a voice that leave no question as to his seriousness states, “Your order owe me a dog Hellldazzler.”