Chronicles of Khaldun: Crux of Eternity

Truth or Consequences, Part 10

Godsday, Needfest 4, 553 CY (51 AN): The Battle of Scandshar

The change is abrupt as Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Peren, and Torinn leave Sigil with Bono and the Shield Guardian in tow — the air is cold, and the cosmopolitan sounds of Sigil abruptly die as the Shields of the Sorrowfell arrive in an alley next to The Plum Blossom Inn in Scandshar. The sky is darkened by storm clouds, ominously hanging high above, and reflecting the dying sun to cast everything in a hellish, red glow. Carrion birds pinwheel high above central Scandshar as ash dances in the air, coating everything in a dusting of macabre snow. If the Shields lost track of the date, tinsel, holly, and candles still decorate the streets, reminding everyone that it’s the Winter Solstice. Whatever happened, everyone would have been celebrating in the public squares.

The assembled party is dimly aware of screams in the distance, echoing between the buildings, but Peren says the screams are the wrong way. There is a silence toward city center, a terrible psychic weight that drags the Shields in that direction. Every time they glance towards Parliament, they feel the urge to stop, to lie on the ground and die.

They jog through city streets, nearly desolate save for the occasional corpse brought low by stab wounds and crossbow bolts. There is a brief moment of gallows humor when Bosabrieln receives a sending via sending stone from Barnabus Sleet, informing them they have two hours to hide before he turns their heads into the city guard for the bounty. Bosabrieln responds with, “Fucking look outside. Get your ass to Scandshar, while there’s still time.” Bosabrieln recounts Sleet’s message to the others, a problem that seemed very important an hour ago.

They travel several blocks before a flash of heat washes over them, revealing a white-bearded dwarf appears in the street, clad in resplendent dwarven plate, carrying a runic shield and ornate warhammer. He is Torugar, the exarch of Moradin whom the Shields rescued in Flamefall Tower. “You saved my life once,” he says, “Figured I’d return the favor. The gods haven’t abandoned you yet.”

There is no time to stop, so they talk on the run. He thinks everyone was played, part of the dark elves’ shell game that started when the Broken Chain stole the first piece of the divine engine. There have been so many near-misses lately, so many almost-apocalyptic events that the drow were hoping this would get lost in the shuffle, hidden from the gods’ eyes. They were clearly right. He asks the question, “I bet Scandshar could field a single million-gold bounty, but two? Who do you think paid the balance on that bounty, anyway, kept you on the run?”

They can clearly see the dome of the Parliament building when they start to perceive the sounds and smells of engagement: shouts, the clashing of blades, the ozone of spell discharge, the coppery smell of blood. Underneath, a low dirge in the guttural Elvish of the drow. A moment later and they arrive close enough to hear two familiar voices resolve above the din — Gloomblight Spellweaver, desperately intoning syllables of power while Vianibrar sings Elvish battle hymns in the midst of combat.

Seconds before the Shields hit Parliament Square, there are two sharp incantations and most of the sounds of battle abruptly end. Only Gloomblight’s chanting continues, as do the exertions of a small contingent of warriors in combat. The Shields run into the square to find the advancing press of the invaders. At their head, strange and awful and beautiful, is a mostly-nude dark elf woman, clad only in sheer black veils and silver jewelry, a cruel black dagger resting in her hand. To gaze upon her is to know the source of the awful cacophony in everyone’s heads, telling them to submit, to serve the dark elves or die, and perhaps even both at once. Bosabrieln recognizes her awful majesty as that of Kiaransalee incarnate, the drow goddess of death, slavery, and vengeance. She is flanked by two hazy, indistinct figures — perhaps vaguely humanoid — and four massive robed skeletons, each approaching twelve feet tall and with long, apelike arms ending in savage, scythe-like claws, the latter being boneclaws like those fought in Acererak’s tower in the distant past. By Kiaransalee’s side is a robed skeleton, eyes glowing red, a few scraps of blackened skin clinging to slender, delicate bones: the lich the Shields first encountered in the giants’ tomb. Trailing behind is a giant skeleton, the last of those raised in the giants’ tomb. Of the four death giants previously encountered in Stronmaus’ tomb, there is no sign.

Giving that contingent a wide berth are three other dark elves, taking up the low funerary dirge previously heard by the assembled party. One is the wizard whom they previous encountered in the giants’ tomb, the one who teleported the death giants to safety after spending much of the battle blind. The other two are the surviving Lolth priestesses, armed with swords and shields, currently engaged in combat with a wounded yet still-nimble light-haired dwarf: Moridal Delhig, Vianibrar’s old friend, fighting a losing battle against the two priestesses.

Only one other figure still stands before the throng, a strange flickering shadow whose left arm blazes forth with crackling runes of power, wreathed in flame and frost. It is only by the voice, intoning spells, that he is recognizable as Gloomblight Spellweaver. The wrappings binding his arm are gone, although the blaze seems to consume him even as it reaches out to hungrily devour the others.

As for the defenders’ companions, four dwarf warriors clad in the livery of Khuragzar lie dead in the street, cut by cruel blades and devastated by punishing spells. Near the deific avatar are the arms and armor of two more dwarves, surrounded by a nimbus of grayish dust. Their collective gazes finally settle upon a fine brocade coat fluttering in the wind, ash drifting out of the sleeves and neck as it settles atop an elven rapier and an ornate harp, with no further sign of the elf who once owned them.

As the Shields and their allies prepare to leap into the fray, there is a shuddering from Bosabrieln’s pack as a rainbow-colored light suffuses the area. A hulking hobgoblin, proud in battle and clad in burnished armor, appears in their midst, coalescing from the light of the snailstone. He looks familiar, although the Shields cannot immediately place why. Without hesitation, he draws his longsword and begins barking orders.

As the Shields rush into the fray, the two ghosts sweep forward to antagonize Gloomblight Spellweaver as Moridal retreats from combat, falling back on the Shields’ position. Six dark elf assassins pop up from their positions atop the roofs, firing poisoned crossbow bolts into the fray, although their attempt is thwarted from an eerie sensation among the Shields, a momentary awareness of the impending assault emanating from Moridal’s shortsword. The goddess herself steps forward, intoning syllables of power and pointing at Torinn as her ritualist does the same. He feels his heart stutter from the potent necromantic energies they wield, but he refuses to drop. He sends his Shield Guardian forward to attack the goddess, but its fists do nothing to her. The dark elf priestesses move, attempting to bind Bezaldooz, and although one of their prayers is unraveled by a counterspell, the other strikes home, holding Bezaldooz fast. The four boneclaws wade into the fray, teleporting through shadows to take up offensive positions across the battlefield. Peren blows the horn of Valhalla, summoning over a dozen warrior spirits into battle, as he hits the goddess with a flyby attack and runs to a defensive position behind the stage set up in front of the Parliament building. The hobgoblin warlord — now fully revealed as Ashurta, the warlord whose tomb they investigated several months ago — shouts orders, trying to keep everyone alert and tactically aware. The berserkers wade into the fray, taking positions against assassin, wizard, and god alike. Bosabrieln tries to fall back to a more defensible position, intoning Elvish war ballads and confounding several of his foes, as Gloomblight teleports to safety away from the press of ghosts and skeletons attempting to destroy him. Bonatos is obliterated by the goddess’ aura, flaking into a grayish dust, and Bezaldooz shakes free of the paralysis just in time for the lich to intone a single syllable and slay the gnome wizard outright — Bezaldooz’s lifeless body crumples to the ground, only for Torugar to utter a prayer to Moradin and return the gnome to the land of the living. A giant skeleton, still clad in stolen grave goods from the giants’ tomb, runs into the thick of battle and conjures an electrical storm around itself, shocking many present (including its own allies). Torinn wades into combat against the goddess Kiaransalee, his axe biting deeply into her flesh.

There is a swift rush of air as one of the boneclaws’ jaws cracks, its head snapping back — the muscular form of Barnabus Sleet appears in the midst of the battle, and with his voice strange and swift from the lingering effects of a haste spell, he asks, “Who needs punching?” Bosabrieln and Torinn both shout, “The goddess!” as Sleet gets to work, raining blows on the boneclaw and Kiaransalee faster than the eye can track. With the last strike to each, he sends electricity surging through them, blasting them back thirty feet. The boneclaw is sent sprawling into the square while Kiaransalee is blasted through a tent and into the corner of a building, her body hitting with enough force to splinter the wood. The ghosts and boneclaws swarm Sleet as Moridal and the berserkers enter into the fray with the dark elf assassins. The goddess herself again moves to menace the Shields, but Torinn and the Shield Guardian again move to meet her. The drow priestesses are beset by berserkers and attempting to grapple with the lingering effects of Bosabrieln’s glamour, a confusion that renders them largely ineffective for the remainder of the battle. Bezaldooz stands, moves out of the goddess’ enervating aura, and prepares to invoke a meteor swarm — only to be hit with so many counterspells that the spell never materializes. The boneclaws begin carving at berserkers with their bony claws, while one or two of them move through shadows to better positions, with one attempting to close Gloomblight’s escape. Peren rushes into melee with the dark elf lich, retreating before the wretched spellcaster can do too much injury to him, while Ashurta and the berserkers move against drow priestesses and assassins. Bosabrieln ensorcells the drow ritualist with a power word stun, and the drow lich responds in kind, freezing Bosabrieln in place with another blasphemous word. Gloomblight sends the boneclaw before him to sleep by invoking eyebite, and teeters on the brink of unconsciousness as his cursed arm nearly devours him. Torugar invokes prayers while Torinn wades into battle with Kiaransalee. Although she is mighty, the bleak goddess has been slowly worn beneath an onslaught of spells, punches, and blades. Torinn’s axe cleaves deeply, and she discorporates, her dagger and jewelry and silks falling to the ground.

The horrible psychic weight fades. Within a few seconds, the clouds begin to break.

Although the fight is still desperate, the tide definitively turns. Sleet continues his press against boneclaws and ghosts while Ashurta and the berserkers continue to wear away at the dark elf assassins. One, apparently the leader, slinks away to Gloomblight’s position, dropping out of nowhere and slitting his throat. He falls, dead before he hits the ground. The Shield Guardian and Torinn move into combat against the lich, while Peren again tries hit-and-run tactics. The lich uses another power word stun on Peren to freeze him in place, but the distraction allows Bezaldooz to finally fling a fireball into the fray. The drow assassin attempts to flee the berserkers chasing her, trying to make her way to the stunned Peren. A boneclaw similarly grabs a berserker and teleports to Peren’s location. Torugar flings his hammer at the lich, scattering its bones across the square before they crumble to dust and disappear.

With the goddess and lich discorporated, the drow and their allies swiftly begin to fall. The stunned ritualist is surrounded by berserkers and cleaved apart, the confused priestesses are slain by Ashurta and berserkers, the assassins in harlequin masks are killed by berserkers, and two the boneclaws are discorporated by magic and blades. Sleet punches the ghosts off this plane of existence before destroying the boneclaw menacing him. The assassin attempting to reach Peren is overwhelmed by berserkers and magic before she makes it there.

Finally, the field is still. Only one boneclaw remains, asleep near Gloomblight’s corpse, and the Shields surround it and destroy it. Torugar prays to revivify Gloomblight, and the assembled party helps rebind his blazing arm. As the clouds part and the setting sun again shines over Scandshar, Ashurta, Barnabus, Bezaldooz, Bosabrieln, Gloomblight, Moridal, Peren, the Shield Guardian, Torinn, and Torugar survey the damage before moving into the city to pacify any remaining drow legions and assassins within.