Wrath of the Righteous

Book of the Fifth Crusade
Chapter 1

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It was a bright and sunny day in the crusader city of Kenebraes. Kenebraes had long stood vigilant against the demonic hordes crawling forth from the abyss known as the Worldwound in the fallen land of Sarkoris. A grand fortress called the Kite holds Kenebraes’ Wardstone.The Wardstones, so long as they are maintained, form a boundary that prevents the demons from running rampant over the world. It was Arodus(August) the 16th, the day of the Armasse festival. Here, the chivalric celebration is a welcome relief from the grinding loss and horror of the war. Today, a crowd stood by the facade of the city’s greatest cathedral, St. Clydwell’s, waiting for the opening ceremony to begin.

One among them, the human sorcerer called Tane, decided to try making conversation. “Hello, I…um…” Tane looked down to his fox familiar. Sadly, the fox’s charisma was all tied up in soft fur and nothing was left to start a conversation with strangers. As such, Tane just stood there awkwardly. A man wearing the skull of some predatory animal hesitantly turned to reply. A bipedal serpent the size of a dog hunched cautiously by his leg as a bat-lizard perched atop his head. “Hello.” In a tone not quite a question he added: “You are here for the knight’s ceremony as well.”The bat-lizard chirped curiously down at the fox as the serpent twitched its head to and fro, regarding the crowd with suspicion. Tane replied “Yes, I am here for the knight’s ceremony. A friend of mine was supposed to have a role this year, but… now he cannot. Tell me, how is it that you have two familiars? Does their cold-bloodedness allow the bond to use less arcane energy and this let you divide the flow among multiple animals?” An older elf carrying strange implements interjected as the masked man considered the question. “Actually, I believe they are two separate bonds. The larger creature, a Velociraptor, if I remember my zoological studies, is a reward for our druidic friend’s service to nature, and not a familiar at all. He must have learned some ritual to acquire the other one. A Rhamphorynchus, I think.” The elf may have continued if not for that a demonlike tiefling, who had by some twist of fate become a holy knight-paladin in the service of the noble church of Iomedae, nudged him as the ceremony began.

Lord Hulrun, ruler of Kenebraes, took the stand. He cleared his throat, but just as he was about to speak, a bright light shone from the west, as if the sun were rising from the wrong direction. Hulrun’s shadow fell huge and distorted across the cathedral’s facade. A moment later, the sound of a thunderous explosion ripped through the air and earth, along with a violent tremor.

To the west, the Kite had vanished. In its place, a brilliant plume of red fire, lightning, and smoke erupted into the heavens. A moment later, a powerful roar accompanied a welcome sight rising from the crowd-Kenabres’s greatest guardian, the ancient silver dragon Terendelev, who had until that moment been attending the opening ceremony disguised as a human.

Above, another form appeared, as nightmarish as the dragon was breathtaking. A humanoid shape three times the size of any man, with skin coated in fire and lightning, gripped a flaming sword and whip. The creature’s identity was immediately obvious: Khorramzadeh, the Storm King of the Worldwound, had come to Kenabres.

As the ground shook and disgorged demons into the streets, the dragon and the balor lord clashed above. The fight was over in a few harrowing moments, as the demon cut deep into Terendelev’s body, swooping down to strike the dragon and arresting her charge. A few more blows, and the titanic duo spiraled downward toward the crowd.

The sight of the dragon smashing into the facade of the Cathedral of St. Clydwell is one no witness would ever forget. At that moment, a titanic demon erupted at the far end of the plaza, reducing several buildings to ruins as it smashed into the world.

The rift it created shot across the plaza, angling away into darkness. Many were unable to escape. Even as they fell, the dragon noticed their plight. Though she saw death standing over her, she seized her final chance to save a few more souls. After she uttered a few arcane words and stretched out a bleeding talon, they felt her magic take hold of them, slowing their plummet into the darkness as if they were feathers falling into a pit. Yet the fall remained as inexorable, and as they drifted downward into the depths, the last thing they saw was the Storm King standing before the ancient silver dragon, his sword lashing out and cleaving full through her neck. As her severed head fell, the rift above slammed shut, and the light of the world above was gone.

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The survivors awoke in a cavern of smoke, rubble and pain. The four aforementioned were there and three others. The druid picked himself up and immediately began pulling rubble off his stunned creatures and helping them recover. The elf and the tiefling took stock of the situation and saw the other survivors as Tane recovered. His fox staggered over and he picked it up. Everyone had hazy memories and shell shock, and slowly recovered. There was also an elven wizard bleeding from the eyes, a human woman with a broken leg, and a mostly uninjured human nobleman who’s pomposity remained intact. There was also many corpses of those who had perished in the attack. On the far end of the cavern, a giant black widow twitched around, apparently feeding on the dead. The paladin checked on the wizard, finding that his eyes had been burnt out by taking a tendril of the balor’s whip to the eyes. He helped the wizard by stopping the bleeding and fashioning a makeshift blindfold. As he worked, the nobleman attempted to order him about with no real understanding of what to do. The nobleman got quiet when told about the spider. A makeshift leg splint and crutch was fashioned for the woman and introductions were quickly passed around. The masked man was Bendak (He also introduced his raptor as Hook and the pterodactyl as Swoop, named for obvious reasons), the paladin’s name was Wase, the elf was Gith-Fa-Rha-Ha, the wizard was Arava, the woman with the broken leg was Anevia, and the useless noble was Hogus Querm.

The group decided to deal with the spider. The group questioned each other to see who had combat skills. Anevia would have liked a good scrap, but her ruined leg kept her out. Arava’s blindness also kept him from helping beyond simple bolstering magic. Querm was of course willing to supervise. Wase was already on the front line with his shield and sword, while Bendak readied a sickle and his raptor. Tane had pacifistic beliefs that prevented him from injuring others, but not from aiding allies. Gith-Fa-Rha-Ha repeatedly tried to dissuade the others from the madness of disturbing a giant spider, but reluctantly took up his bow. The only reply he got was Bendak boasting he had seen animals back home with feet bigger than the spider. The group approached and noticed something strange. The movement was not coming from the spider itself, but from something inside. Two giant maggots emerged from the spider carcass and rushed Wase.

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Wase battled the grubs with righteous anger and fiendish wrath combined. Bendak and the raptor charged and received faces full of partially digested spider for their trouble. Gith took a shot, and then stayed well back. In a moment the paladin slew both grubs one after the other. One took a postmortem shredding from a raptor that apparently did not appreciate being vomited upon. The group gathered together and began making plans. Gith began writing about the rubble and psychic significance of things. Querm was intrigued and made obvious attempts not to show it. Wase took charge of the survivors, though Querm insisted otherwise. Arava seemed like a soldier. When he realized Gith was a fellow elf, he began asking him questions about his combat experience and tactics that Gith replied to with his own odd questions about the history of the magical items Arava had. Gith was an occultist, a student of hidden knowledge. The caverns seemed to be mostly subterranean areas that had been underneath Kenebraes all along and exposed during the Storm King’s attack. A nearby tunnel was open, so the party decided to explore. Some of Terendelev’s scales had fallen into the cavern and Gith gathered them up. A while down the tunnel, a side passage opened up into some fallen wreckage. Gith stepped away from the group to see what he could learn and was attacked by two 3ft long cockroaches.

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Throwing up his hands in panic and unknowingly summoning some power he didn’t know he had, he drew forth some of the bones of one of his ancestors that he had been carrying around. In a moment, they grew and knitted together into a complete skeleton that clawed at the roaches. Tane aided by shoving one of the roaches away with a blast of summoned water as the raptor and paladin raced over. The raptor brought down an insect with a talon to the brain and a reptilian snarl. Bendak made it into the fight as Wase sliced several of the remaining roaches’ spiked, clawing legs off. The raptor leapt over the party to try to get in on the kill, but missed its chance to Bendak.

After the battle, Gith and Querm recognized the skeleton as the remains of Githarahe, a deceased relative of Gith of some repute in Kenebraes. Undead are violent, evil creatures but this one seemed helpful at least. Bendak asked the paladin if he would tolerate the skeleton’s existence. Wase thought carefully and said that he knew of no rule compelling him to destroy it. A strange position for a paladin to take, but Wase had never been much for the details of his religious studies. The party continued down the tunnel. Ten minutes after being summoned, Githarahe returned to his original state. While walking past some rocks, the raptor bristled. Bendak called her over, then followed the raptor closely after ordering it to hunt down the disturbance. It sniffed over the rocks and zeroed in on a crack when a pale cave viper slithered out, territorial and angry.

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Bendak immediately called the raptor back and began cautiously approaching the snake, making strange hissing and clicking sounds. The snake slowly backed down from a strike, uncoiled and reentered its den. Bendak turned to his companions and noticed their surprise. He explained that he was a saurian shaman, a friend and guardian of all the dinosaurs and other reptiles of the world, provided with the skills and magic needed to facilitate his duties. He did not however, have absolute power over them, and advised leaving quickly before the viper became impatient and returned to deliver a venomous bite.

Next the party found a huge, secret chamber awash with green light. A very practical looking stone temple dominated the view. A tiny pool of glowing water was just outside. A loud buzzing above called out the presence of a seven-foot fly, the adult version of the grubs seen before. “A Diptera Gigantus!” called out Gith, not so loud as to attract its attention. “I thought it was a giant rotfly, is it not?” replied Bendak. Gith and Wase prepared bows to deal with the threat. Gith drew his bow and unintentionally channeled his powers again, launching a suddenly huge arrow and nearly pinning the fly to the ceiling. Wase then put it out of its misery.

Wase approached the temple and looked at the insignia but was unable to identify it. With carefully chosen words he managed to get Querm to help, having picked up on that the noble was at least knowledgeable about some things. Querm proudly announced that it was a temple to Torag, the benevolent but relentless god of dwarves. Bendak used a spell to test the water, and found that it was blessed holy water. It was gathered up in a few bottles. Anevia said that her leg was hurting too much to continue and asked for rest. Querm suggested that she was slowing the group down and should be left behind. They quickly degenerated into a shouting match, Anevia accusing Querm of abandoning his faith and Querm accusing her of fraternizing with thieves. Tane and Bendak tried ineffectually to stop the argument, Tane with reason and Bendak by snapping at them to shut up and mutterings about survivalism. Wase salvaged the situation with the force of personality paladins are known for, convincing the two to drop the argument for now.

Gith saw that the temple had been abandoned for some time, but whoever had constructed it down in the tunnels had obviously built it to last. The combat capable survivors carefully entered the temple to see if it could serve as a campsite. Inside was a dwarven man kneeling on the floor. Wase sensed evil and Gith decided to preemptively fire arrows. The figure turned to reveal his undead face and attacked, barely injured by the arrows. It could have been much worse, but Tane knocked him on his back by conjuring a puddle of grease under his feet. The party surrounded him and tore into the undead, but nobody could really hurt it as it slashed its diseased claws about seeking purchase in living flesh. Wase called on his divine powers and managed to punch through his defenses. The undead dwarf survived this, only to be finished off by an otherwise minor blow from Bendak a moment later. The party rested and reconsecrated the temple overnight. They felt the act granted them Torag’s favor, a welcome comfort in the horrific situation.

Note:Gith-Fa-Rha-Ha would like to protest the shortening of his name to Gith. It is offensive.

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