10:18 – 10:30: “Step aside angel.” Growls the Veteran, adopting a hostile stance, the air shimmering in the heat “That monster has terrorised Kadash for long enough. It dies today.”
The four warriors accompanying the aenochian – three dressed in heavy mail, bearing broadswords inscribed with holy prayers, the last wearing long dark robes, which also bear faintly shining heavenly runes – prepare to attack. The aenochian regards the warforged with luminous, silver eyes, his perfect, sharp features set in a scowl. A quiet aura of power emanates from him, and Ormid can taste the energies gathering about him as he readies himself for battle.
“No golem,” He spits, “it will not, for should the dracane be killed, you will awaken a calamity that will have all in the cities praying for the Blue Lord's return. You seek to defeat evil, but will instead become instruments of its rise.”
In the distance, from the ruins behind them, the mournful howls of gnarrak begin to fill the air, a cloud of dust smudging the air above their glowing mass.
“Hold Veteran, Llewellyn.” Says Ormid with a gesture of his huge artifice arm, “What do you mean we would become instruments of evil's rise? How can the death of an evil dracane ever be seen as an aid to the powers of darkness?”
The half-blood's eyes remain locked with the warforged's, but he replies, his voice lethally calm.
“The Sealed Rune are an ancient order charged with ensuring that the vilest of liches, daemons and other elder evils remain trapped in their prisons, and all across this plane we watch, ready to strike at those who would help them return.”
“Enough fool!” Snaps the Veteran, “Tell us what you meant, or prepare to be cut down.”
“Yeah!” Adds Llewellyn, spinning his mace in lazy circles, each swing raising a low moan.
The warriors seem about ready to strike, but the aenochian raises his hands to hold them back.
“A lich was slain here in ancient times, and before his phylactery could be recovered and destroyed, it was stolen away by his followers and placed within a vault the undead horror had built in preparation for his demise. Shielded from scrying sorceries and designed to help bring about the undead's return, it took us time to locate it.
“However, locate it we did, and quickly we realised that it was designed to act as a beacon to Dracane.”
“Why,” Wonders the artificer aloud “would it want to do that?”
Relaxing only slightly, the aenochian continues. “We believe that the trigger for this Lich's return is the death of a Dracane within the halls he built.”
Ormid frowns, “But that makes no sense. Liches normally just possess the nearest available corpse and mould it into their own form. Why all this elaborate and prone to interruption additional work? Why would they specify such particular circumstances?”
“Our order believes that the Lich seeks some kind of apotheosis, and the life force of an old dracane seems to be the trigger to awaken whatever dire machinery would allow this. This is why these ruins call out to them, and drive those that comel to madness.”
Nodding, the rogue fills in the gaps.
“So, the dracani are summoned here, driven crazy, and then start to attack everyone. Sooner or later, someone gets annoyed, comes here, kills the things and...”
“...And the Lich becomes a demi-god.” Finishes the aenochian.
“In theory.” Growls Veteran.
The atmosphere, which was starting to relax becomes tense once more.
“You would bring about an apocalypse by slaying this wyrm. You would remove one evil, only to place something a thousand times worse in its place. We, and the rest of our order cannot and shall not allow this. Turn around, we have no desire to slay you, but slay you we sha...”
“Hang on, hang on!” Shouts Ormid suddenly, an idea forming. “What if we were to incapacitate and bind the Blue Lord, instead of kill him? Would the Lich's plan still work?”
More howling in the ruins, and a low rumble that thrums through the heat haze, shaking the sand around the group, making it hiss softly. Above the ruins, the cloud of dust billows and grows.
“My Lord.” Snarls one of the watchers, pointing at the cloud, “It seems these outlanders have stirred up the Taint Claws.”
The aenochian, who has until this point been so sure of himself however seems suddenly unsure. He raises a hand to his companion to silence them, and speaks to himself, seeming to chew the words as if trying their taste.
“Binding the dracane? Keeping it alive and in residence? That...that....could possibly work.”
“You see!” Laughs Ormid, “We can still go on, help Kadash and keep the Lich, err, a-sleep?”
“It could work.” Agrees the aenochian smiling, “However, how do I know you and yours have the skill to merely incapacitate Exaxedreithion?”
Suddenly, from the ruined cities lower wards appears the source of all the noise and dust; almost fifty Gnarrak, charging towards them, hell bent on ripping them to pieces. They are a monstrous collection of mangy, filthy beasts; humanoid, but possessing the heads, fur and claws of rabid hyena's. Some run on two legs like humans, whilst other are bent forwards, running, it seems on all fours. They snarl and snap, drool swinging in filthy ropes from their frothing jaws, their desire to kill plain to see. Despite their apparent savagery, they all wear armour – mostly dusty mail, or cracked leather. They also all bear weapons; heavy bladed khopesh, deadly bows of polished bone and sinew, and heavy flails of ancient bronze and steel – though nature has given them lethal weapons of their own; vicious yellow teeth and hooked claws. They gibber and howl as they charge, and deep within the clouds of dust, three other somethings lumber brokenly behind, emitting their own warped barks and howls – things that dwarf even the largest of the gnarrak.
“Fight with us angel, and see how we handle ourselves.” Yells the Veteran, turning to face the unruly ranks of horrors that charge towards them, the first of many filthy arrows of bone and sinew thudding into the sand besides him. “If you survive, you may find that your opinion of us has changed...”
“Indeed.” Comes the reply, a wry smile appearing on the aenochian's pale face, “My name is Ie'Ierremmon, let us see what you and yours are made of...”
10:31 – 10:50: Within moments the group are engulfed in a storm of ripping, screaming horror. Enemies almost without number charge them, seeming to appear like phantoms from the choking clouds of dust. The initial formation the party form with their new allies holds for mere seconds, quickly folding under the sheer weight of numbers. Ormid manages to slow the main force down significantly by summoning a thrashing zone of ripping cables, but soon enemies are skirting around the group's flanks and attacking from behind.
Arrows rain almost constantly on the group, inflicting terrible wounds, and only the frothing healing elixirs of the artificer and Ie'Ierremon's healing prayers stop the party from falling – and then, only just. The battle rages for almost five minutes, though to the group it feels like an eternity, and on more than one occasion it seems that all is lost. However, somehow, they turn the tide of vicious monsters back, almost thirty of the things lying dead and broken in the scorching sands, abandoned by their yowling, retreating brethren at the battle's end. No one, not even the aenochian has escaped unhurt. All bear terrible wounds, have several arrows sticking out from them, and have rips and dents in their armour. All bleed and sweat and (apart from the Veteran and Ferrous) pant in the dry, blazing heat.
But they live, and their enemies are – incredibly – vanquished.
10:50 – 18:00: The group withdraw from the agonising heat and brightness of the morning into the drafty embrace of the slumping palace's halls. There they tend to their wounds (and Ormid amongst others struggles with the infections left by the filthy gnarrak's cursed bites and weapons), sleep, eat and wait for the day to end.
During this time, they talk about how they can subdue, rather than kill Exaxedreithion, and it is agreed that the Sealed Rune warriors will wait here whilst the group go about their business – fresh and ready to attack should they fail to contain the dracane, or worse, kill it.
18:30: Somewhat rested, though aching from their battle earlier, the group wearily gather. Taking the lead, one of the warriors shows them to a long flight of steps, which drop away sharply into dusty blackness.
“Down there you will find the entrance to the dracane's lair. It is the way its servants use, and will be guarded by them. Take care, and good luck. Also, please, do not change your mind. Potent though you may be, you would not last long against the thing that stirs beneath the Blue Lord's lair. Neither, for that matter, would we. Goods speed.”