Seekers of the Ashen Crown week 42: In The Depth A Light Will Grow

Quickly moving away from the ledge that had claimed his fellow Deathsgate adventurer, the Talentan maskweaver Malcanus reached into his pouch and pulled out a handful of small bones.  Scattering them across the ground, he began to summon a spirit of nature to his aid, and as mist rose from the bones, it took the form of a swarm of bats. At Malcanus’ command, they flew up into the air, surrounding Demise’s head as her arms remained bound by Jak’s grappling hook far above the lava pool.

Having had the presence of mind to secure the pieces of the Ashen Crown, Ivello recalled that one of the relics – Murkoorak’s Orb – wielded some sort of destructive power, and he attempted to turn it against Demise.  Tendrils of green energy unlike anything he’d ever seen flew out of the orb and surrounded the necromancer, singeing the ends of her hair.  Tangled in a rope, surrounded by bats, and now feeling a taste of her own medicine, Demise let out a frustrated shriek that Kayde took as his cue.  Reaching into his robes, he produced a knife and flung it at the necromancer, but the friendly swarm of bats proved to be a hindrance as the knife lost its velocity cutting through them and fell into the lava without finding its target.  A few feet from Kayde, with his back to the ledge, Aruget took a swing at the nearest zombie and threw it off-balance before following up with a good shove that sent it to its death.  With the immediate threat of zombies cleared from the altar and the bridge, Aruget saw that Demise was still in the air and took cover behind a large outcropping of rock as he considered his next move.

On the opposite side of the bridge and staring down a massive horde of zombies alone, the shifter barbarian Minyu weighed her own options and retreated to bring herself back to back with Razu, taking up a defensive stance as she moved to avoid the zombie’s frantic claws.  Having felt his strength start to drain as a result of one of Demise’s foul spells, Jak handed the rope binding her off to Razu and took aim with his trusty crossbow.  Well-practiced and familiar with the motions, he loaded a bolt, cocked it, and pulled the trigger…and watched the bolt shatter as it was released from the string. While the warforged monk Watcher joined the defensive huddle with Razu, Minyu, and Jak to keep the zombies from crossing the bridge, Razu braced the rope around her forearm and shouted to anyone who could hear her that she would hold the line – just kill the witch!  Inspired by Razu’s bravery, the unwitting hireling Drakan – who had originally been employed by Tik, and strong-armed into the party’s service when the former was captured – ran forward to join her, throwing his axe at the lone zombie who hadn’t yet joined the horde and splitting its skull open. 

Still holding herself magically aloft over the lava, though tangled up in Jak’s grappling hook and surrounded by bats, Demise began to propel herself wildly through the air, zig-zagging across the pool in an attempt to break free. The rope began to whip off of Razu’s arm, burning her as it went, but she managed to free herself and release it before she could be pulled to her death. Now with her full range of motion and no distractions, she turned around and laid into the zombies surrounding Jak and Watcher, chopping one to pieces and staggering another.

From his position near the altar, as vestigial crackles of energy faded around Murkoorak’s Orb, Ivello felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and he turned around to see a black, wispy spirit with glowing red eyes emerge from the ground and begin to take the form of a hobgoblin.  He immediately identified it as a wraith: a creature born of evil and darkness.  He suspected that it had been here in the Forge for a very long time, and knew that if he was caught by its touch, it would drain his life from him – and if it killed him, he would himself rise as one of those creatures.  He also recalled that wraiths were weak to sunlight, but what good was that knowledge when he was trapped deep below the Cogs?  As the wraith lunged at him and he took a quick step back, a second one emerged from the ground on the other side of the altar behind Aruget.

While Watcher continued slamming his massive metal fists into the zombie horde, pushing back the first line of attackers, Jak cut down two more and turned around to face Demise.  Transforming back into his own face and jeering about how her minions were no match for him, and neither was she, his taunts quickly trailed off as he realized that Demise didn’t seem to be able to hear him at a distance and over the bubbling roar of the lava pool…or perhaps she just didn’t care.  Freed from her bonds at last and out for blood, she flew towards Ivello and spoke some unintelligible words as a black energy that looked like a corruption of Ivello’s lightning tendrils flew from her fingers.  Unable to duck out of the way, Ivello staggered backwards as the bolts slammed into and around him…and suddenly, his world went dark.  He couldn’t see.  Hearing his friend cry out, Aruget sprung into action.  The holy symbol tattooed on his forearm began to glow as he called forth Dol Arrah’s light on the wraiths flanking him and Ivello.  The wraiths hissed and recoiled, but held their ground.  Still blinded, but able to reorient himself in the direction Demise’s attack had come from, Ivello fought fire with fire and unleashed his own lightning at the necromancer.  As it crackled around her, seeming to be absorbed by some kind of magical force, Ivello blinked hard and gave his head a shake as he found his vision beginning to clear.  As Dol Arrah’s light continued to fill the air surrounding him and Aruget, the wraiths could no longer bear it and began to flee, but the paladin wasn’t prepared to let them leave so easily.  Though one of them evaded his axe, he caught the other one square across its incorporeal body.  Feeling a strange, muddy sort of resistance as he dragged his axe through the wraith, it shrieked and dissipated, falling to his attack.

Back in the huddle on the other side of the cavern, Razu continued her assault on the zombies, slicing through the only one who’d survived going toe to toe with Watcher.  Engraged, Minyu tore through two more as Drakan scored another good hit, cleaning up after her.  Keeping a safe distance, Malcanus reached into his pouch and pulled out a flash pellet, tossing it into the remaining horde where it exploded in a blinding light.  Driven into a frenzy and unable to see, one of the zombies charged at Razu from the back of the pack, but met a quick death before it could reach her as Watcher’s fist punched straight through its chest.  The rest of the horde continued to swarm them, but their blind swings were easily avoided.  Cutting down two more undead, Jak was confident that the Deathsgate adventures could hold their own against those that remained, and he extracted himself from the melee and moved back towards the bridge to take another go at Demise with his crossbow – but not before he saw Watcher shear a zombie’s head clear off with a powerful uppercut.  

A few steps ahead of Jak, Kayde plucked one of the gems off his necklace of firebolts, but throwing such an insubstantial little stone so far proved difficult, and it fell into the lava without finding its mark.  Undeterred, Kayde continued moving across the bridge to join Aruget, and in stark contrast to Dol Arrah’s light the dragonmark on his neck began to emit a dark, swirling energy as he raised his arm and pointed at Demise.  Shadows flowed out of his mark, down his shoulder, along his outstretched arm, and straight for the airborne necromancer.  Though Kayde was more powerful than he sometimes appeared, Demise’s power was stronger, and she sneered at his attempts as she shrugged off the shadow’s ill effects.  Emboldened, she quickly swung around to face another blast from Murkoorak’s Orb, catching the impact on one of her bracers.  Veering off to the side and flying down to become level with Ivello, she extended her hands, and shadows began to emerge from the ground around him.  Caught between some large rocks and the ledge, Ivello was unable to escape the shadows’ grabbing, scraping claws, and they dug deep into his flesh.

As Demise gained some height and flew back out over the lava once again, Aruget was determined to finish things.  The Tiger’s Blade flew from his hand, slashing deep across her body and returning to him before a second pass with it came up short.  Clasping her hands across the wound, her face contorted into surprise that was quickly replaced by rage.  “Damn you all to Khyber” she shouted, as she flew across the lava and disappeared into a tunnel.  Unable to prevent Demise from fleeing, but eager to pursue her, Malcanus summoned another bat and sent it on a chase.  Through the bat’s eyes, he saw her enter the tunnels that led back to the antechamber and – eventually – the surface, but she quickly outpaced the bat, and it soon lost sight of her.

As the final zombies fell to the hands of the Deathsgate adventurers, the party stared at the tunnel in stunned silence.  They had faced Demise on her own turf, suffered only minor casualties, and had all the pieces of the Ashen Crown in their possession at last.  Jak’s thoughts swirled within him.  He’d done it.  He’d done what the Dark Lanterns had asked of him.  All he had to do was return to the surface, retrieve Tik and Thom, make his way back to the Citadel with the Crown and traitor in hand, and then – at long last – he could be whole again. 

Though cautious of their victory since Demise remained at large, Jak found himself claiming permission to feel something that he had kept carefully locked down ever since Tik’s betrayal in Graywall.  For the first time in what felt like too long, he began to hope.

Behind the Scenes

  • Question of the week: What was your worst or hardest romantic breakup? You can get your bottom dollar that there were immediate and unsolicited remarks about Korbus (who is in fact nowhere close to being on this scale, since her and Jak were never technically a couple, and thus have never technically broken up. 😀 ).
  • Malcanus drew a joker to kick off the session…and drew the bottom initiative on the final round, thus ending the session as well. A very fun bookend that I’ve never seen before, either with PCs or NPCS.
  • Jak’s crossbow bolt shattering was the first and, amazingly, only crit fail of the night. Really surprising considering how many actors were on the field, and how many actions they all had on top of that between a large collection of regular rerolls, free rerolls, multi-actions, and Frenzy attacks.
  • Ivello: “Are those zombies still alive?” Kayde: “That’s a philosophical question.”
  • We almost had her. Kayde almost had an insta-kill on Demise. I’m not 100% sure what the official power was underneath the trappings of his Mark of Shadow, but having rolled two raises on it would have caused Demise to be Stunned, which would have caused her to become abruptly unable to fly, which would have sent her to a swift and fiery death. Unfortunately, it was an opposed roll, and the GM spent all five of his bennies in order to beat it on the last try. The villain managing to escape when they no longer think they can win the fight is a very classic pulp trope, and we are playing a very pulp game, so it’s not out of line, but it’s still a bit of a bummer – I want to see her go down! Also, I can guarantee you that Kayde would have had an epic one-liner to drop as she fell and burnt, and Ivello tells me he was sitting on one as well. Alas, those epic one-liners are lost, like tears in the rain. Time to (not) die.
  • Wow. We did it. We faced down Demise at last, retrieved all the pieces of the Ashen Crown, and the entire party survived. And yeah, there’s the spectre (pun intended) of her return looming over our heads, but for now, I’m feeling pretty darn good and extremely anxious to get Jak back to the Citadel and see what happens next! The next few weeks are probably going to feature some pretty intense roleplaying, and I’m here for it.

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