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Return of the Spider Queen, Part 2
Posted on Wed, November 30, 2011 by LordCeb
Flint writes "A final confrontation awaits Aalas in the Fane of Tiamat, but the awakening of a powerful evil seems inevitable -- whether he wins or loses . . .


8 Coldeven 579

     We are to return to Vraath Keep when the Fane is defeated, Kat has told us. There I will be named Lord Vraath of the Witchwood and the others will be made my arms men. The fire-haired woman looks on it as more of a curse than a reward and I am inclined to agree. She too though, has promised her sword to me and so perhaps she views it less poorly than she says.

     Arianrhod meanwhile, seemingly broke before the dragons, the trials of our battle against the Red Hand finally getting to her. She swore vengeance for Thaddeus after the hobgoblins had fallen, though, and we set out for the Fane once the worst of our wounds had been tended to by Forwen’s prayers.

     The place was as we had left it, filled with the bodies of the slain, its floors stained with blood. We came to the circular chamber with the three-tiered platform at its centre and found it filled with hobgoblins, though thankfully none of the black-clad warriors had returned to the place. Two shamans stood on the top of the dais while five more surrounded it and all were chanting in their foul tongue. Around them all, four black wraiths swirled and there, amidst it all, at the feet of the two goblins on the dais, lay Thaddeus and the bodies of those we had slain when last we had attacked the chamber. One hobgoblin body was a dried husk while from the bodies of the other goblin and from Thaddeus’s form, wisps of shadow rose.

     The pulsating hemisphere in the ceiling seemed to throb with urgency and the spheres within each of the dragon’s jaws glowed shifted colours from white to red to green to black almost too quick for the eye to see. The horror of what the hobgoblins were doing struck me at once and for a moment they froze. The hobgoblins were seeking to turn my step-father into a wraith as he lay there. If we failed, he would become an undead creature and something we would have to slay if we came back to the Fane a third time. With the knowledge that we could not fail, I charged after Arianrhod, Ferzth and Kat who had reacted with more anger than shock at what they beheld.

     I started forward but by then, the hobgoblins were surging out of the chamber at the urging of the two shamans on the dais. One lashed at Kat with the staff it held and I lashed my sword at it while praying for Pholtus to shield the red-haired woman. Desperately, Arianrhod fought her way back down the entry passage toward me, bleeding from numerous wounds and behind her came Ferzth. One of the two shaman from the dais, marked by the dragon skull he wore, appeared in the entry to the passage and let forth a terrible keening wail that shook the walls and sent me reeling back down the passageway in turn.

     I saw Arianrhod fall to the blow of a lightning-wreathed staff from one of the other shamans but before I could get to her, the shaman close to me shouted something in its black tongue and hurled a wall of black magical force into me that threw me to the floor of the passageway. I scrambled to my feet and seeing that Forwen was scrambling to her knees close to Arianrhod, I turned back toward the troublesome hobgoblin that had hurled the spell. Rushing at it, I lashed my sword into its shoulder, slamming it into the passage wall. Before it could recover, Trellara drove her own sword through the goblin’s throat and then drew it out with a wet scraping sound. She winked at me and then nodded back toward the chamber where the rest of our enemies were.

     We started forward together, my beloved Trellara singing a healing song that restored life to Ferzth who had fallen amongst the throng. With a roar, the githzerai rose to his feet and lashed his sword into the belly of the hobgoblin in front of him, dropping it in a shower of blood. Another took its place and slammed its stave into his chest sending lightning coursing through him as he reeled backwards. Kat cut down another of the hobgoblins but a wraith took its place, barring our way forward. My sister fell backward from the main battle to allow Kat to take her place and all but collapsed into my arms, her clothes and armour charred black from the lightning blast of a staff. She managed to stand barely but as she did, two wraiths surged past us and behind us to cut off our retreat, forcing Trellara and I to turn back that way to face this new threat. I lashed my sword into a wraith while uttering a prayer to give us all strength and felt the blade cut into something insubstantial. The wraith screeched and then vanished from before my eyes. I reeled and found myself facing a hobgoblin who lashed out with his staff before I could react. It smashed into my forehead sending blasts of blinding pain through my eyes. I staggered back and as I did, I heard the hobgoblin shout and call crackling lightning to his weapon. The next blow stuck my breast plate before I could raise my shield and as arcs of pain lanced out across my body, a curtain of blackness descended across my eyes.

     I woke to the sound of Trellara singing close by and as I opened my eyes I saw her glance down at me as she nocked an arrow to her bow. Forwen lay next to me, bleeding from a wound in her chest and as I clambered to my feet, I reached out and touched a hand to her while uttering a healing prayer. The battle was going poorly with Arianrhod down again beyond the one remaining hobgoblin and the three wraiths that circled around it and Kat lying on the floor in front of them. Calling forth another prayer, I raised my sword arm and sent ribbons of radiant light forth from my hand to strike one of the wraiths. Trellara loosed an arrow into the creature then and with a screech it vanished from sight. Another wraith darted forward lashing out a shadowy claw at Trellara and striking her in the shoulder, spinning her into the wall. She looked pleadingly at me as she turned back toward me and then slumped to the floor.

     Forwen rose and drove the undead back with a blast of light that seared their shadowy forms while another blast of light tore into the remaining hobgoblin. Kiriel felled the creature with black lightning and together we chased the wraiths back into the round chamber. I got onto the dais first, lashing my blade into a wraith to drive it from sight and then we were alone in the chamber. Forwen tended to Arianrhod in the moments we had and then the wraiths returned in a howling fury.

     One appeared on the dais next to Ferzth and I, lashing out at the githzerai and dropping him to the stone. I leapt past my stepfather’s body and lashed my sword into the creature, a prayer on my lips. My blade glowed and in a burst of light, the wraith exploded into wisps of shadow. I enjoyed my triumph for only a moment though for on my right, another wrath appeared, lashing one of its shadowy claws into my chest. The black shadow seemed to pass into me and a paralyzing cold seized my heart. For a second  time, I sank into blackness.

     I woke with Arianrhod leaning over me. The ranger smiled and told me there was only one wraith left. I think I smiled back weakly, thoughts of the wraith’s touch too recent in my memory. Still, I rose to my feet with the others to wait for the wraith’s return while Kiriel tended to Trellara in the entry corridor. Kat and Forwen went to the elf maid’s aid, making me worry about how seriously the snow elf had been wounded. Finally, Forwen turned back to me and smiled, putting my mind at rest but then the wraith reappeared in the passageway and lashed a claw through my sister that dropped her beside Trellara. Kiriel hurled black lightning that seared past the creature and Arianrhod and I charged for all we were worth. When we reached the thing, I slashed my blade slashed over what passed for the creature’s head but Arianrhod struck it with one of her swords. Alas, the thing did not die and simply vanished again.

     It attacked Kat when it appeared for the last time and somehow, the warrior woman survived. She spun to face it and as she did, Kiriel hurled black lightning that finally, tore the wraith apart. We had saved my stepfather from undeath but it had nearly cost all of us our lives.

     Arianrhod found an enchanted sword beneath one of the two hobgoblin bodies on the dais and took it for her own while Kiriel investigated the shaft to the north, determined that it too was magical. Finally, the warlock decided that the shaft would levitate those who carried the right key up to a chamber above. Each of the dragon-skull wearing hobgoblins carried an iron rod and so, once we had tended to our wounds, we stepped into the bottom of the shaft together and sure enough, when we joined hands, we slowly ascended.

     We stepped out of the shaft onto the stone floor of a wide chamber lit by five brilliant geysers of crackling energy. Each of these sprays of liquescent light plumed from the upturned maws of five draconic heads, themselves emerging on long necks from the edge of a low platform in the centre of the room. The light gathered in the domed ceiling above, pooling in an upside down lake of glowing energy that rippled like water and periodically dripped long, stringy strands of thick light down on the ground below to flash and sizzle away instantly in a blast of acrid smoke. Strange, ghostly shapes seemed to writhe and dance in the light pool above – twisted nightmarish fiends and grinning dragons with great glowing eyes.

     The room itself was roughly oval, its walls inscribed from top to bottom with a scale-like pattern and arching upward gently, almost giving the chamber the appearance of being inside a gigantic dragon egg. The pool of light shimmered fifty feet above, and only twenty feet below that a five-foot wide balcony encircled most of the room’s perimeter. Five oval alcoves were arranged in the room’s walls at that level, and looming in each one was a magnificent stone statue of one of the five chromatic dragon kinds.

     Dominating the room, though, was a tall, blue-scaled dragonborn who stood at its centre and beside him stood a skeletal dragon seemingly made and animated from the bones of several of its kind. In front of four of the dragon statues stood a blue-scaled devil-like creature that I recognised as an abishai much as those we had slain when first we had come to the entrance chamber of the shrine.

     “I have been expecting you,” said the dragonborn then. “And I am grateful that you gave me time to finish the Ritual of Awakening. It only needs one final ingredient to finish it and that of course is blood. The Queen of Dragons ever demands sacrifice and I, Azarr Kul the Azure Prince am ever ready to deliver such sacrifices to her.”

     The dragonborn breathed lightning then that threatened to throw us back into the shaft from which we had emerged. He strode forward before we could recover and lashed out at me with the huge bastard sword he wielded. Somehow I raised my shield and parried the blow but its strength smashed my shield back into my body and threw me back a step. One of the abishai hurled a lightning bolt that struck near Trellara, throwing her back toward the shaft and another struck to my right, sending my sister reeling. Kat and Arianrhod leapt onto the dais behind the dragonborn and as they did, I pushed forward, lashing my blade into the leg of the Azure Prince. He snarled at me and then ducked as Kiriel sent a black blast of magic toward him.

     Azarr Kul retreated then but not because we had frightened him. Rather, he withdrew to gain advantage, spinning around to attack Kat. He lashed his sword into her hip and as she spun away, bleeding, he slashed the blade back in from the other side to cross her belly. Still Kat twisted around the blue-scaled dragonborn and lashed her blade across his back before he could react. I heard another lightning bolt strike to my right and then two struck the ground close to me, almost hurling me from my feet. I managed, despite the attacks from the abishai to slash my blade above the dragonborn’s and into the creature’s should while uttering a prayer of strength. Behind me, unknown to me at the time, my prayer saved my sister’s life but I wondered at the time whether it would save mine. Azarr Kul turned on me in a fury then, lashing his blade into my shield and then shattering the cheek guard of my helm as he furiously tried to drive me back.

     Forwen in turn came to my aid with her own healing prayer and as she did, Kat drew the attention of Azarr Kul away from me by attacking him from behind. The dragonborn still managed to turn to meet my blade with his but then Kiriel called forth dark tendrils from the creature’s flesh that drew another roar of agony from him. He lashed out at me again, bringing his sword down onto my left shoulder and shattering the bone there. I staggered, barely managing to hold my shield and again he twisted away from me to attack Kat.

     Again, Forwen healed me but no sooner had she done so than another lightning bolt struck near my feet and almost threw me to the ground. I leapt toward the dragonborn with what seemed to be the last of my strength and lashed my blade into his side sending him spinning toward Kat. Wounded as he was, he still spun around the red-haired woman and lashed his sword across the back of her legs. She fell to her knees and he slammed the pommel of his sword into the back of her head, sending her sprawling. Kat somehow rolled to her feet and dodged the killing blow as the dragonborn brought his sword down. The blade struck only the stone floor and she twisted around behind him to lash her sword across the bottom of his back. He staggered forward and Arianrhod and I charged at him, her from the left and I from the left. Still he held us at bay before twisting again around to his right and slashing his sword into the top of Kat’s back. With a gasp, the red-haired woman fell to her knees and then collapsed on the floor of the chamber.

     Dimly, I remember a lightning bolt striking near me and felling Arianrhod almost driving all hope from me. That was until I saw Ferzth on the ledge above the dragonborn and heard a boom of thunder as his blade struck one of the abishai. Forwen seared the abishai with divine fire and it fell before the githzerai reached it. I roared my own defiance and lashed out at the dragonborn. He parried my blade but still it cut into the top of his knee and he sank to the floor on the other one. Whipping my blade around, I slashed it into the side of his head and he pitched over onto the floor of the dais. It was as I knelt to heal Arianrhod that I saw the blood and heard the roaring from the pool of light above me.

     We all decided to flee then without speaking word to one another, Ferzth clambering down from the balcony as quickly as he dared. We carried Kat and Kiriel to the shaft and as we started to gently drift downward, from the pool of light burst a huge black dragon.

     “Where is Tiamat?” I heard Azarr Kul cursing. “Where is the Queen of Dragons?”

     I saw him slump to the floor in death just as we dropped below the level of the floor leaving the newly arrived, or perhaps new-born, black wyrm as lord of the Fane. I pitied the one remaining abishai in that moment for surely whoever Tiamat had sent would be unforgiving of any survivors on the blood soaked battlefield we had left behind.

"
 
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Re: Return of the Spider Queen, Part 2 (Score: 1)
by Mystic-Scholar on Fri, December 09, 2011
(User Info | Send a Message) http://mysticscholar.blogspot.com/
The writing continues to improve, though you would benefit from a little more careful proof reading.

But as the story progresses, it still leaves me greatly dissatisfied with the 4e gaming system which -- as you explained to me -- is the system that you are presently using.

Still, I'm looking forward to reading more about Aalas though, so keep it coming!




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