The drakerider was pinned under Storm’s claws, nailed to the ground as surely as a oak. His mount twitched slightly and bled out not 15 feet away, it’s serpents eyes now forever open and sightless. But the rider squirmed and fought, it’s natural strength surprising even Storm, and enhanced by the increasing desperation.
The drakerider said nothing traditionally intelligible – what words he emitted were more monosyllabic grunts, fractions of Abyssal oaths and cures, throttled by Storm’s bulk.
The members of the Fellowship of Unwilling Participants circled the man, who writhed on his back in the dust. Each looked for opportunities to deliver blows to the demon, stabbed or struck between Storm’s ophidian limbs, drawing blood and blackening the creature’s pale skin. Reddish dust rose in response to the provocations of their boots, these men and woman of the Armies of Light. And the red of the Worldwound’s soil was mirrored by a red light in their eyes, a crimson glee that rose like bile in each throat. The creature’s black blood ran freely from a dozen wounds but still it struggled, and that made that red light brighter. It intensified it, focused it… made it grow. It lit the air that flared nostrils, furrowed brows, and drew lips back from teeth in a rictus of a grin. Those men and women standing over the pinned demon came from a variety of races – man, dwarf, elf – and from all points of the compass, but one thing they shared, at this moment, besides the crimson, murderous light in their eyes, was their bared incisors.
They danced around the demon for a few more seconds, until Fletcher stepped forward, the point of his sword turned downward. “I’m done with this,” he murmured. “Enough.” And without ceremony, he plunged the blade into the creature’s chest. It strained at the metal, it’s coal black eyes wide, then it let out a long, grotesque sigh and was finally still.
The mission – draw out the drakeriders and destroy them – was successful, but the ruse would not work again, and as they cleaned their blades and gulped water from their skins, the talk turned to next steps. There was still a drakerider at the villa, along with an unknown number of potential assailants; the walls were still three-quarters for a mile off, and there would be no mistaking their party’s intent. Jaronicka was surely roused to their aims, now.
The conversation went on for a long while, longer than was probably prudent, but the plan slowly came together.
Walk toward the walls of the villa, and aim for the small terrace, of which they all held hope remained undiscovered;
Send Storm to the southwest, to draw the attention of the remaining drakerider and strike when the time was right, to cause maximum disruption;
Send Siggy to the tower in which Arushalae was barricaded, either to land on it an serve as a spy, or possibly enter it and contact the succubus.
It was a good plan, they agreed, and girding themselves to cross the wasteland, Illendar sent Storm and Lothar send Siggy into the sky. Storm ascended high looped off to the south, soon become a black speck against the clear sky. Siggy, the smaller and faster flyer, spend off silently, heading straight for the villa.
Only perhaps a minute later, however, Lothar stopped and put a hand to his head with a stifled scream. “What’s wrong, man?” asked Fflasheart. “Are you well?”
“Something… with Siggy,” Lothar said, as he straightened. “He didn’t make it to the tower, He struck something. The barrier she told Illendar about, I think.”
“Is he all right?” asked Farina, concerned.
Lothar took a deep breath and looked to the west. “He’s badly hurt, but he’s alive.”
Then, it was Illendar’s turn to flinch, his own dark hands coming up to bury themselves in his thick, bone-white hair. “What? Storm too??” asked Farina.
“No, it’s the succubus,” said Illendar.
What have you done? What was that? A pause. DO NOT SEND YOUR CREATURES TO ME, DROW!
“We are close and trying to infiltrate the compound,” Illendar said. “We found out about the safe zone you have created, and were trying to get to that to make a stand. Is there a way we can get in?”
I would have to drop the Forbiddance, which I will not do, Aursalae said. They are waiting for you, I can see them. The hag is watching you from afar. She knows you’re coming.
“Is our ruse working? “Is my eidolon distracting them?”
No one is looking southwest; they are all focusing their attentions to the east. Jaronicka is on the battlements watching you through a spyglass.
She has not sortied the remaining drake rider. The cricket-demon is bringing something out of Jaronicka’s tower and giving it to the drakerider – large gourds, or bottles of some kind. They are heavy, and they are treating them very gingerly.
Illendar turned to the group. “It looks like they’re strapping up the last drakerider with some sort of bombs.” Then the drow’s eyes turned inward. “Storm,” he whispered. “I need you to get to the compound as quick as you can. Engage the last remaining rider if he comes toward us.”
I’m a half a mile out, southwest of the villa, replied Storm. Shall I attack now or delay my strike until it’s in the air?
“Engage once the drake is away from the battlements,: whispered Illendar. “No earlier.” Illendar then returned to Arushalae. “Can my eidolon conduct a hit and run attack? Does he have time?”
The drakerider is almost loaded, came the silky response. He’ll be leaving soon with his gourds.
“Storm, prepare your attack!”
Far in the distance, from high in the southwest, those with elvish eyes could barely see a fast-moving black creature spin and begin dropping rapidly, it’s wings folded in and it’s long neck rigid and extended outward like an arrow. It was headed straight for the villa. At the same time, a large winged creature came up out of the villa, gaining altitude quickly then leveling off and flying towards the approaching party.
“That’s the one with the bombs,” Illendar said matter-of-factly.
“Spread out, everyone,” said Ohm. “It’ll be looking to catch us clumped together, where whatever is in those bombs can do the most harm.”
“Iomedae, I ask for very little,” said Fflasheart. But this would be a good time to be looking out for your dedicated servant.”
The party continued grimly toward the villa. Above it, however, it became clear that the drake rider had spotted Storm and was preparing to meet her attack. The rider had a long bow of black wood in his hand, and the drake’s barbed tail flicked angrily behind it like a cat’s. The demon fired, but missed Storm, the arrow flying into nothingness.
Storm hit the drakerider like a cannonball, focusing all the kinetic energy she’d built up in her dive to a point just the other side of his chest. Both rider and drake lurched violently to the side, and at least one of the straps o the drake’s harness snapped completely,
Storm rolled an attack roll and the drakerider rolled a reflex save to see what could happen…
… and the drakerider was thrown completely free of his harness, five hundred feet in the air, with storm passing over the drake as it continued onward. The demon had wings, but five hundred feet is not so very high, so it was ruled that if the falling time was one round or more (six seconds), the demon had a chance to unfurl his wings and try to slow his fall before hitting the ground.
The drakerider hit the dusty ground with a sickening thud (unheard by everyone except, briefly, the drakerider himself), bounced about twelve feet back into the air, then came to rest on the ground in a broken pile. Black blood seeped from it’s crushed body.
Now riderless but still festooned with large gourd-like bombs, the now riderless rift drake began to descend swiftly toward the advancing party. Drakes are animals, not without intelligence but certainly incapable of conducting sophisticated bombing runs without expert guidance, and the descent probably meant that it was going to try and bring to bear it’s natural attacks – teeth and tail, unknowingly also bringing with it whatever incendiaries that Jaronicka had laden it with.
Still advancing rapidly toward the villa itself, Farina and Otto led the rest of the party across the reddish sand. Atop the eastern battlement, however, a swirling black smoke was erecting what looked to be… a gallows? Farina slowed for a moment to get a better look, but her initial impression was right – as she approached, she saw a black smoke, whirling around a gallows, testing and tightening the nooses of six humanoids with hands tied behind them, perched precariously atop wooden buckets at the end of the battlement.
“Lothar!” Farina called out, knowing that of all her comrades, the Erastilian priest from the northlands be the likeliest to know anything about hags and their ways. “Do you see a black smoke on the villa battlements? Could that be Jaronicka?”
“Hags can take many forms!” Lothar yelled back. “They can take the forms of animals, or smokes, or creatures of fire or ice. They are tricksters and lay traps for all manner of men and beasts.”
Even as she watched, the smoke split into two, with the newest smoke slithering over to the opposite side of the gallows. One wisp of black snaked out, pushed a bucket off the battlement,sending one of the noosed humanoids down with a jerk.
“Traako,” Farina said in elvish. But her eyes were torn from the executions atop the battlement to the northern end of the compound, where an enormous insect had emerged. Horse-sized and moving swiftly on it’s panoply of scuttling, chitinous legs, it bore a scorpion’s sting and pair of diaphanous sets of wings, scissoring against each other but not enough to bore the creature aloft…