RECAP: A Team, 5-25-19 and 6-16-19

A double recap since I’m so far behind on recaps! Permalinks are here and here. Previous recap here.

The drake rider was l=wrenching himself up t o one elbow, and it was apparent that he’d been grievously injured. As Fflasheart and Ohm came running up, they could see this clearly. The rider was reaching weakly for his poignard (and failing), but despite the creature’s demonic heritage, one could not help but be moved to a sort of pity for it.

It’s alabaster skin was mottled with fresh, black bruises, the blood pooling gleefully. It’s black-mailed hands were twisted, several of it’s long fingers plainly broken. It’s bat-like wings were torn and bent underneath it, holed in several places where the membranes were rent.

It’s pure-black eyes darted about in desperation.

At first, Fflasheart was unsure what exactly this creature was. Demonic, certainly, but not the sort of demons they had recently seen. Those had been creatures of chaos, a riot of horror. This creature seemed almost… elegant? Almost gentlemanly. As the paladin and the dwarven veteran came running up, it coughed a bit of black blood onto it’s chin and gave up on the poignard. It knew it was outmatched, and it grimaced in pain and resignation.

” I say now, demonic chap,” said Fflasheart, a little out of breath from the run.”If you wish to leave here alive, you’ll answer out questions now.”

The creature bristled at first, but seemed to again remind itself of it’s predicament. Fflasheart cautioned it: “I am not joking. If you wish to spend one more minute on this plane, you’ll inform us where the hag is, and I will know if you are lying.”

Almost visibly, the creature capitulated, and spat a noxious wad of blood-fleck phlegm into the sand. “I have no love for that hag,” it said. “She called me from the Abyss to do her bidding.” It spat again, another thick wad of brackish fluid. “Spare me on this plane, paladin, and I’ll tell you what you need to know.”

“I swear it, Fflashheart said, Radiance twitching at his side. “And I am paladin, you know this to be true.”

“Feh. I can smell the stink of Iomedae on you.” Another cough. It wiped blood of it’s pale lips with the back of it’s hand. “Speak, and I will tell you what you need to know.”

“Where is the hag?”

“She’s hunting the heretic, three miles that way,” it said. “Jaronicka has got her cornered in the bell tower, but we can’t get close enough to it to enter. The succubus has discovered something there that provides her protection, keeps us from attacking. We’ve set up a perimeter around her, waiting for her to make a mistake, but so far she hasn’t.”

“What did she discover?” One of Fflasheart’s eyebrows rose most of an inch.

“I don’t know.” The creature shook it’s head. “If we knew that, we could take it from her, do something. It had to be something she found in the tower – it keeps us at bay, and we can’t pass through. How it protects her? I can only assume it’s due to her heretic stink, but whatever bargain she’s made, it’s disallowed us from getting near enough to strike. So, we’ve been waiting for her to make a mistake. Which she will.”

“What were your orders from the hag?”

Ach, that stupid hag,” it said. “Our orders were to attack the tower in which the heretic had hidden. The ground attack was rebuffed, some of us were killed.” It gestured south, toward it’s drake, which even now was circling back, over the pitched battle taking place a couple hundred feet away. “My friends and I are much better from the air than the ground, as you might imagine, so there was very little for us to do. We’ve been watching and waiting for any supplementary resources to come to the heretic’s aid. ” it essayed a sickly grin. “Which, it turns out, we were right to do, weren’t we?”

“Here’s the deal, and it is certainly the best that you will receive,” said Fflasheart, gesturing at the creature with his sword to emphasize the point. “You depart this place, never to return, and if I see you again, I will track you and slay you myself – and I know what that means to your kind, it will send you back to the Abyss for a century.”

“Can you break the enchantment he hag has set upon me?”

“I can think of one way to break it.” Fflashheart looked down at the tip of Radiance, then met the creature’s eyes again.

“Send me back to the abyss for a century? It’s tempting, believe me.” It’s empty eyes flicked from Fflasheart, to Ohm, then back again “I have no desire to stay in this place, and I have not been one for the fight in the Worldwound, for I am neither follower of Drekari or Baphomet. But the hag has called me from the abyss and I am bound to her.” It almost sighed.

“But, ” it continued. “… if you were to cast Dispel Magic, and release me from my servitude, well, that would do the job, and you have my word as a Abyssali that I would leave and never tarry here again.”

Ohm looked unimpressed, and smacked the head of his hammer into one gnarled hand. “The word of a demon? A waste of time.”

Fflashheart acted as if he hadn’t heard. “What of the templars, the Baphomatians?” 

“The Ivory Templars. Yes, I have heard of them.”

“Where is their lair? Their headquarters?”

“I know not,” the creature said. “Somewhere to the south, or so I’ve heard. The hag didn’t tell me, and I’m not sure she even knows.” It looked up. “So what do you say? Release me from my Binding, and see me no more? you have my word, after all.”

“Not yet,” Fflasheart said. “Make yourself useful before we fight the hag, and you’ll have your Dispel Magic before we attack her.”

It was the creature’s turn to raise an eyebrow, this and bone white. “In what sense would i need to be useful? How may I serve you, Paladin?” It smiled sardonically, still capable of wry humor despite it’s injuries.

Fflasheart looked discomfited. “Lead us to her, Sir Demon.”

The creature stared at Fflasheart for a long moment, then nodded. “May I stand, Paladin?” Fflasheart nodded back. Slowly the creature got to it’s feet. It picked up the remains of it’s bow, then threw it away, completely useless. It limped a few steps over to where it’s lance lay, already snapped in half. It picked it up, examined the business end, then broke it again, into a four-foot section that could be used as a hand weapon. Ohm stiffened, but instead of a weapon, the creature stuck the point in the ground, nestling the broken end in it’s armpit. With it’s off-hand, it placed two long fingers and whistled – not a loud whistle, but a whistle that echoed louder in their heads than in their ears.

In the distance, a drake screeched and wheeled.

“It’s still coming!” yelled Fletcher. Behind the Wind Wall, they all stood in various states of preparation. All watched as the drake rider descended and accelerated toward them.

“Be ready!” yelled Illendar, but almost too late. The drake rider slammed into the Wind Wall, his lance aimed square at Fletcher’s heart. In the next few moments, several things happened:

  • Farina stepped around the side of her Wind Wall and aimed her bow, but her foot careened off a rock and twisted into a small runnel. This put her off-balance, the arrow fled awry from the string, and she went down into the ruddy dirt.
  • The drake-rider hit the Wind Wall and was knocked sideways, straining the straps of it’s ornate saddle and struggling to keep his lance on target.
  • The drake-rider’s lance hit Fletcher, but not above the heart. Instead, it hit him high in the shoulder, spinning him around as the drake passed through the Wall.
  • Gato whipped his grandfather’s blade upward into the torso of the drake, ripping it open and eliciting a screech of dismay.
  • Fletcher lashed out with the hammer, wrapping it around the drake’s legs and letting go. The hammer dropped toward the ground like a stone seeking bedrock. It brought the drake to an abrupt halt, all of it’s kinetic energy driving into the ground. Reddish dust was slung forward as it crunched into the earth, the bones of one wing audibly snapping underneath.
  • The rider’s lance snapped into several matchsticked pieces and was wrenched out of his hand.
  • Lothar, eyes bright, called out Erastil’s name into the sky, and a bolt of divinely-inspired power pierced the sky and crunched into the now-immobile drake and it’s rider. The drake screeched in agony and tucked it’s head underneath it’s other wing, trying to escape the blinding light.

All this happened in the blink of an eye.

“Paladin, may I lean on your shoulder?”

The drake-rider’s face was very pale, almost translucent. Some of his wounds had healed of themselves (such was the nature of abyssals), but the damage done to it from the fall was still very much with it. It limped, and leaned heavily on it’s makeshift crutch. It’s breath wheezed in and out of it’s lung, and it winced even to speak. Fflashheart guessed that it had broken several ribs in the fall.

Fflasheart nodded, and let the creature brace itself against his arm. He was careful that it was not his sword-arm.

“Iomedean, you lot aren’t as terrible as our side makes you out to be,” it said. “We aren’t so different, neh? You take your orders, I take mine. Perhaps we enjoy our work in different manners…”

The creature’s eyes met Fflasheart’s, deep pools of pure blackness. They seemed to expand, and filled Fflasheart’s field of vision.

“… is it not so crazy,” those deep black eyes said. “… that we might be comrades, you and I?”

The words whispered around in Fflasheart’s mind. Was it not so crazy, indeed? Was it not so crazy not so crazy not so crazy so crazy so crazy socrazy socrazy socrazy crazycrazycrazycrazy…

Fflasheart shook his head in ugga-wugga fashion, clearing the power of the creatures Charm spell away like cogwebs before a broom. “Do that again, Sir Demon,” Fflasheart growled. “And I will consider it a personal attack, rendering our arrangement voided.”

The creature pulled back, looking almost sheepish. “My apologies, Iomedaen,” it said. “It is my nature.”

“Nature or no, it’ll be your doom,” Fflasheart cautioned. “Keep your word, and you and I will part ways peacefully. Do not, and I will send you the Abyss and hunt you there.”

“Understood, Iomedaen,” the creature said. “It won’t happen again.”

Fflasheart shrugged the creature off his shoulder, and they continued southward.

Now that the drake was grounded, it soon became surrounded. Arrows lanced into it; Lothar machine-gunned Force Fangs across the drake’s already-bleeding abdomen, and it bellowed in anguish.

The rider – blind, injured – struggled vainly against the harness that kept him tied to the dying drake. Fletcher, almost sadly, drew his hammer from around the drake’s leg, reversed it, and crushed it’s ribcage. It’s screech of pain turned into a gasping wheeze, and it’s blood drowned the sand below.

“Enough of this,” Ohm said. He drew back and laid two quick strikes across the rider’s head. It found the final buckle on the harness even as the blows struck home, and it staggered out of the harness into the surrounding foes. It may have fancied itself a bird of prey, but it found itself, at the end, surrounded by wolves.

There is a certain grim glee that infuses those who surround the weak, the injured. It transcends good or evil, chaos or law. It is a feral thing, atavistic and electric, and it is the rare sentient that can fight it down. “The gods gave us incisors for a reason,” the sages said. “Is it against their aim for us to use them?”

The rider staggered, wiping at his eyes with his newly freed hands, but he was disoriented, unarmed, half-blind. Defenseless. Fletcher timed the strike perfectly, and he swung his hammer expertly into it’s ribs. They cracked like embers snapping in a fire. Gato slashed opened it’s shoulder; Otto tore at it’s heels. Ohm gave it another hard hit across the side of it’s head, and it stumbled.

In the end, none could remember who it was that dealt the final blow.

“Do not fear or strike! We have an accord!” Fflasheart yelled as everyone approached the drake-rider, weapons out. “We have an accord!”

Storm landed next to the drake, which looked as injured as the demon who led it towards the rest of the party. The demon’s face was ashen, and the drake oozed thick blood from a dozen wounds, which Illendar recognized as Storm’s work. He smiled inwardly at his eidelon’s prowess.

Fflashheart explained the arrangement he’d made with the wounded drake-rider – help us attain the succubi’s redoubt, and we’d purge it of it’s summoners bind to the hag. Not all were pleased by this – some, like Ohm and Illendar, believed the perfidious Abyssal’s word was worthless, and said as much. Others, like Farina, sought simply to send the creature back to it’s home plane and be done with such frippery. Still others, like Lothar, wondered inwardly if it were even possible to purge the demon’s thaumaturgical chains, were it to make good on it’s side of the bargain.

But all conceded, albeit grudgingly, that garnering what information the creature had to give was worth keeping breathing, at least for now.

“You’ll escort us there and get us inside?” asked Illendar skeptically. He knew of demons and their promises from his days in Menzzoberranzan.

“I’ll escort you,” it promised. “But I get socmething in return – ask your paladin here.” It nodded at Fflasheart.

“What of the protections of the succubus?”

“I don’t know how she ensconced herself in that bell tower, or what enabled her to enact the forbidding barrier,” it said. “Behind it, she killed several, and kept the rest of us at bay. There are two kinds of barrier – one that prevents our weapons from reaching the tower, and another that prevents ourselves from approaching. We can’t lay an effective siege against her, because we can’t get close enough.”

“You’re atypical of the demons we’ve fought here in the Worldwound,” said Lothar quietly. “How did you come to be here?”

“We – my fellow drake-riders and I – were given to the hag Jaronicka by our masters, in response to summoning for aid,” the demon explained. “We were to assist her in the capture of the heretic succubus. We never understood what the fuss was about – one heretic, in the grand scheme, means very little – but it was important to someone who had the influence to make it important to our masters. So the summons was answered. There are four – well, now three – of us. two are still at the villa, on air support duty, flying overwatch and scouting missions, that sort of thing.”

“It is not just drake riders that Jaronicka summoned, correct?” prompted Fflashheart.

“Not counting the dead? There is a creature of Deskari – I do not believe it was summoned, but rather was detailed from some existing Worldwound force,” it said. “It watches the front gate of the villa, in case the heretic has somehow called for aid. Then there are the grimslakes. They’re animals, vicious and stupid, but they make excellent guards. Nothing passes them without their notice, and what they notice they typically consume. They ward the open pits outside of the heretic’s tower, feeding on those that she has slain. Jaronicka tosses fresh meat in the courtyard to freshen their appetites.” The demon smiled. “You lot were meant for the grimslakes’ plate, you should know, had things gone differently here.” A pause. “In any event, they could easily impede your ability to approach the heretic’s tower, even if you can pass through her magical barriers.”

“I don’t see how it can escort us into the villa, with that drake on leash behind it,” Farina observed. “We should slay the mount .”

“Please, do not,” the demon said, holding up a mangled hand in supplication. “You may think her, and I, creatures of the pit. And you’d be correct. but she and I have worked together for many years – decades, even. I would not want to see her destroyed.” Farina’s bow, arrows at the ready, slowly lowered.

“Tell us about the hag,” said Fletcher.

“She is the strongest of us all,” the demon opined. “But… if you could get inside without her becoming aware, and get close.. that would be the best option. Better even than that would be to pass through the heretic’s prohibitions. Behind those protective wards? Jaronicka would have a difficult time.”

“Where would find her, this Jaronicka?”

“Unless she’s alerted your presence, she’ll be in the smaller tower in the north of the villa,” it said. “She spends a great deal of time there, communing with her masters. Be wary of her, for she is both intelligent and purposeful. She will see you not as the rescuers of her quarry, but cherries atop a desert she already means to eat.”

Illendar asked: “What about the bell tower? How can we get in?”

“It is smallish, as these things go,” said the demon. “It’s portals are sealed with stones, save for a few very narrow and well placed gaps, through which the heretic has been able to fire. She is quite handy with a bow, I must admit. All can clearly hear the tolling of the bell inside, which the heretic rings periodically for reasons we do not know. But we cannot see in. Her ward keep us out, and the grimslakes keep her in. Stalemate.”

“How close can your kind get?”

“Between forty and sixty feet – it is not uniform, these protections, not a wall but, perhaps, a sphere,” it answered. “Those of us from the Abyss cannot approach closer. The doors to the tower are closed as well, possibly locked or barred. But we can’t be sure, as none of us has gotten close enough to them to learn.”

Ohm’s look of skepticism deepened, and he hefted his hammer menacingly. “I’ve dealt with many demons,” he said, indicating without saying that the nature of his dealings with them included him hammer. “And in all that time, I have never known to be creatures of their word.”

The creature looked at him sympathetically. “See it from my point of view,” it said agreeably. “I have no desire to return to the Abyss, in planar chains for a hundred years, especially since I would spend the first twenty of those years explaining to my masters how I had failed in my charge.”

“As much as I don’t agree with the paladin’s bargain,” said Illendar. “… we have received good intelligence here, which in itself could warrant our forbearance.” He paused. “How close can we get, by air, to her before drawing a response?”

“A good question, and a tactical one,” nodded the demon. “It would depend on elevation and approach vector… perhaps a mile, a mile and a half, befire my kin would sortie and give chase. My comrades are attentive and, frankly, a little weary of the standoff. But know this: at best you could lure one from the villa, not both. Jaronicka would be alerted, and she would not allow both to give chase to a suspiciously approaching creature.”

“There are not so many of us,” the demon continued, warming a bit to the subject. “Two of my fellows, the gate guardian, the grimslakes and Jaronicka – that is it, really. if you are able to section them off and, by stealth, kill them quickly, you would have an advantage. Shear off Jaronicka’s servants, and you would be able to concentrate your efforts on her after. Do you have any Invisibility? No? Then I would consider a provocative diversion, were it me. A feint attack from the north, while the real attack comes at the main gate from the south. Or… if you can take out Jaronicka quickly, the rest will abandon the fight – certainly the drake-riders, as we have been summoned here. Perhaps the insect as well.”

This idea seemed to resonate, and the began to discuss among themselves strategies and possible options for the attack. Lothar and Illendar discussed the arcane ramifications of Dispelling the summoner’s binding on the demon, and the discussion was intense enough that no one noticed the demon backing slowly away from the group, it’s drake’s harness in it’s hand. It was almost 20 feet away before Fflasheart looked up.

“I apologize, Iomedaen,” it said with a smile, as it’s hand reached up to touch the rough, scaled skin of the drake. “But as I explained before, it is my nature.” And with that, both rider and drake disappeared, Teleporting away to whatever safety it thought it could find.

“The word of a demon is written in water,” said Fflashheart sadly. “I ought to have known.”

“It’s a creature of lies, but I suspect that it was telling the truth about some of it,” said Illendar. “There was no mistaking it’s antipathy for the hag. Let’s send Storm, high overhead, to see if we can confirm some of the other intelligence that the demon gave us.”

Not a dragon

Storm flew cautiously, carefully, high above the villa, never acting provocatively and always keeping the sun behind her. It worked: the drake-riders saw nothing, and Storm returned to the group, three miles distant from the villa, to share with them what she’d found. In large part, she confirmed what the demon had told them: a large ruined villa with two towers, one large, one smaller. The periodic sound of bells. Two drakes and riders, copies of the ones they’d defeated. A portcullis gate, with an anteroom (although she saw no demon there). A courtyard bracketing the larger tower, filled with bones and bodies. The occasional bent and syphilitic tree. Stone outer walls between eight and ten feet high, between five and eight feet think. Once, surely, this would have been a formidable structure.

Storm also noticed one thing that the demon had omitted – perhaps, had not even known. On the eastern wall, near the perch of one of the drake riders, was a small landing. About eight feet off the ground, perhaps five feet across, it was partially obscured by a misshapen tree and one highly interesting feature: set of narrow stairs, going down directly into the grimslake-infested courtyard. Potentially… leading down last the Arueshalae’s protective barrier. If they could somehow reach that landing unseen, they might be able to reach the succubus without alerting the demons within.

But they also had to admit that the likelihood was that Jaronicka was on alert. She’d sent the drake riders out to kill or capture them, after all. Random encounters this deep in the Worldwound are rare, and the drake riders had overflown them more than once. They knew they weren’t rival demons, also angling for the heretic prize. It was then that the hag authorized her air corps to attack.

As talk turned to the party’s ability (now moot) to break the drake rider’s binds, the subject of Bardos came again to the forefront. Baru was sure he was yet alive, south of them, but reminded the party that they had passed some line, in which Bardos stopped being south and west of them, and started being south and east. All yet suspected that Bardos was still the prisoner of the Ivory Temple, and this rescue attempt was in large part instigated by the fact that Arunshalae knew precisely where the templar headquarters was located. That fact still motivated them, now 60 miles deep into the Worldwound.

Over time, a plan was laid: Storm would draw off one of the drake riders (all acknowledged that a stealthy approach was more or less impossible, for several reasons), while the rest would hid in ambush using a spell that Farina knew, called Sylvan Hideaway. If a drake rider gave chase to Storm, it could be brought close to the Hideaway and, with luck, brought to ground. “In the air, they are quite dangerous,” observed Illendar. “But once we have them on the ground, we can hurt them badly.” Storm had knocked a rider loose from it’s harness once, and could do so again. Fletcher’s hammer was particularly good and bringing winging drakes to crashing to earth, should they be foolish enough to come into range.

The party approached as near as they might while remaining reasonably certain they were unseen from the villa. Once as close as they dared, Illendar whispered a few encouraging words to Storm, and off it flew. The rest of the party prepared their ambush.Farina created the Hideaway; others cast buffs and sharpened their weapons, especially arrows. A brief discussion of who might serve as bait took place, with Fflashheart being the top choice. Radiance’s glow would be an irresistible provocation, all agreed.

It wasn’t long before Storm could be seen in the distance, moving toward them swiftly with a drake rider on her tail. As she approached the ambush point, Storm wheeled and came to an abrupt landing next to Fflasheart, ensuring that the drake rider would see them both and attempt a flyby attack against the paladin. Despite Storm actions, which would seem to indicate a trap, the drake rider continued to come forward. Perhaps he was tempted by the potential for a rare prize, perhaps it was simple ego and boredom, but despite the oddness of the eidolon’s behavior the rider kept coming, aiming it’s lance directly at Fflasheart’s heart. At the point of strike, the drake rider would be perhaps ten feet off the ground.

the killzone

The drake rider entered the killzone at speed, lance out and low to the earth. The drake’s wings buffeted the ground and blew up gouts of reddish dust to for a choking cloud behind it, but it was clear that the rider meat to skewer Fflasheart like an olive.

And then Lothar cast Chain of Perdition. A force-chain ten feet long and festooned with hooks, it reached up t entangle the swiftly moving drake. It flung itself up to wrap around the drake’s wing, but at the last instant it twitched it’s wing out of the way.

Realizing they’d flown into an ambush but committed to the attack, the drake rider ducked underneath the Chain but could not alter it’s direction now. The rider pulled hard to the left, trying desperately to gain altitude and escape the now-apparent trap.

Several things, again, happened nearly contemporaneously:

  • The drake rider thrust it’s lance at storm and missed, as the drake pulled the weapon off it’s target.
  • Gato shot an arrow and struck the drake eliciting a squawk.
  • Fflasheart swung Radiance with a shout, laying a long slash across the beast’s abdomen.
  • Lothar schooled the DM on the rules of Flyby Attack, ruining the DM’s previous tactical plan and risking a power-armor Cthulhu attack.
  • Storm crouched down, times the wing-flaps, then leaped up to grab the rider and dragged him off the other side, changing the path of the drake again. twisting the flight angle back towards the east. Both Storm and the rider landed heavily on the ground, with Storm on top of him.
  • Ohm fired Illendar’s crossbow and missed badly, throwing it to the ground at Illendar’s feet and invoking Torag’s sweaty balls in a curse.
  • Farina opened up on the drake and her arrows hit home, the shafts sprouting from the drake’s guts as if by magic.
  • Everyone in the Hideaway began dodging out of the way of the incoming drake.
  • Fletcher leaped out of the Hideaway, his anchoring hammer whirling dangerously. The hammer cracked into the drake’s left leg and dragged it to the ground in a huge cloud of dust.
  • The drake’s forward motion ploughed right into Fflasheart and knocked him off his feet.
  • Gato shoots an arrow into the now grievously injured and screeching drake.
  • Lothar’s Chain slithered over to the rider to try and entangle it, but Storm couldn’t get out of the way to allow access to the rider.

Fflasheart got to his feet and slashed at the drake, who cringed and shied away from the blow. It did it no good, however, and Fflasheart’s sword opened a wide slash, exposing it’s guts and loosing them out onto the sand. The drake craned it’s neck around to try and bite Fflasheart with it’s last breathes, but Ohm reached out with his hammer and bashed the creature in the head. The drake’s screech became a low moan, and Fletcher (now bare-handed) Arcane Struck the creature into it’s now open abdomen, burying his gauntlet deep into the creature’s jaw. It fell backward, it’s serpentine eyes rolling back into it’s head, and Fflasheart stabbed into it’s guts to finish it off.

Storm attempted to pin the rider, but it squirmed away, even going so far to throw a wild punch at Storm (which it easily dodged). Fletcher climbed out of the Hideaway, a look of grim determination on his face. He drew his immense sword, walked calmly over to the prone drake rider, and plunged the blade into the demon’s shoulder. It’s former grunts of exertion turned into screams of pain and rage, and Fletcher gave the blade a small twist.

Ohm followed Fletcher, with similar mien. He attempted to bring his hammer crashing down onto the rider’s face, but a last moment shift under Storm’s pinning arms forced the hammer onto his chest, driving his breath out with a whoosh.