Employing the services of an advance unit of legionnaires from the approaching Kalamaran forces to draw the focus of the Krangi defense to its southern front, the Circle of Exarchs had attached themselves to the vanguard of the Kasite counter-offensive. They rushed forth from the city gate into the enemy ranks in a joint effort to dislodge the invading hobgoblins and turn them away once and for all. It was a bold plan, one interrupted by other events already in motion.
With their Human opponents thoroughly engaged, the evil Knights of the Black Pit called out to their compatriots, announcing that the trap had been set. Into the battle entered the invaders’ concealed allies, huge devils from the Nine Hells that had dispersed themselves across the field on the ethereal plane, and who shifted then onto the material. Capable of decimating entire squads at a time, the brutish devils needed to be slain quickly, a task that fell largely to the Circle..
Fireday, Eleventh of Harvest, 1044 Y.K.
Clear of enemies in their immediate vicinity following the demise of the greater pit fiend, the Exarchs hastened to bolster the men who fought beside them, rallying nearby troops and assembling new squads from the remnants of units scattered by the massive devils. Combat spellcasters along Bet Kasel’s wall quickly shifted their focus to target the creatures, while in the field Alamir orchestrated movements to create empty zones to draw the devils into, enabling siege weapon fire.
From the sky, Azravan continued his relentless assault on the huge beasts, a tactic that proved vastly more effective in light of the flightless nature of the Baatezu in question. He soon found himself joined by Rarnok, who by way of his magically enhanced strength, carried Stoat along for the ride. The Exarch of Bleslelna rained shafted wrath down upon the landlocked monsters, permitting the escape of those soldiers nearest his targets.
For his part, Maldus saw to the wounded, healing injuries and coordinating triage efforts where necessary. By the time the last of the devils fell, the momentum of the fighting was solidly in human hands, leaving the Krangi to begin executing the initial stages of an exit strategy. The humanoids transitioned their forces in as efficient a manner as they were capable of, allowing the Kasite/Kalamaran alliance to take the field after conducting a structured withdraw.
The first celebrations amongst Bet Kasel’s citizens began around the midday hour, as no hobgoblin counter maneuver came and word of their departure spread to the far corners of the city. Crowds gathered in the streets, and the Circle of Exarchs found themselves the center of attention, and the focal point for much praise and affection. Strangely absent was King Eresar II, who had returned to his keep with the highest ranking Kalamaran officers in tow.
While most of the freshly arrived legion had turned south to take up pursuit of the Krangi and continue the press back toward Norga-Krangrel, the lion’s share of the command structure and logistical units had remained in the capital. The city’s greens, which had only five days prior served as the battle site between the Party and the dreaded Black Dragon, now played host to the beginnings of a Kalamaran base camp. Suspicion within the Group of a territory plot by the eastern Emperor reached new levels, prompting the Exarchs to move to the King’s keep.
True to theory, Eresar II was located in a meeting with the legion’s commanders, pouring over maps and pages which were quickly covered as the Party arrived. The discussion being had was abruptly halted, and the Kasite King seemed somewhat sheepish in both his greeting to the Group and his explanation of intent to assist the overrun country of Korak next. If, as it now appeared, there were some scheme in the works, Ek’Kasel’s King was clearly involved.
Despite the apparent plotting taking place, the Circle had other matters to attend to. The Godspawn son of The Dark One was still operating freely, with three of his four Aspects still to be dealt with. Thus far only Undeath was contained, as Malice had disappeared during the Black Dragon battle and Torment was known to be traveling alongside Manfred’s offspring. If they hurried, the Circle might be able to swiftly conduct the ritual to separate Undeath from Gonjeyla Sarazi while the enemy was still reeling from the defeat in Ek’Kasel.
With that in mind, the Party bid farewell to Eresar II and his advisers, speaking of their need to inform Prince Sevlen of the Kasite victory over the hobgoblins of Norga-Krangrel. Whatever the Kalamaran intent, whatever Eresar’s intent, halting the plot of The Dark One was of far greater importance, and thus had to be given top priority. The matter of who ruled in Ek’Kasel, or even the whole of the Young Kingdoms had to come second.
Moments later, the Circle appeared in Cosolen, by way of teleportation magic. The familiar surroundings of Forberon’s shop of antiquities were a welcome sight, and the Group arranged to meet with the broker again after their meeting with His Highness. Sevlen was elated when told of the Krangi defeat, though distrusting of Eresar’s connection to the Kalamaran forces. If the Emperor were to bring the Young Kingdoms back into the Imperial fold, how long until The Vast attempted to expand across The Legasas again?
Prince Sevlen concluded the meeting shortly thereafter, pledging to consult with his father, Archmage Welren before making any further decisions. In the interim, the Party was free to resume their plans to locate the original remains of Gonjeyla Sarazi and conduct the soul separation ritual. Alamir retrieved the now assembled material components before exhibiting a bit of charity by purchasing a divination protection amulet for Cosdrelita the Bard.
Rarnok joined in on the good will gesture, procuring a lavishly expensive lap harp of exquisite craftsmanship to replace the mundane wooden instrument the cohort had carried since first being hired. Elsewhere, Stoat placed an order for specially enchanted boots while listening to the daily scrying report on tracker Holcrel from Dokari. In an unexpected update, the elven illusion announced that the Party’s agent had evidently been killed, his corpse laying within a dark cave. With his last assignment being that of backtracking Undeath’s previous whereabouts, perhaps the man had run afoul one of her accomplices?
Homeday, Twelfth of Harvest, 1044 Y.K.
With all available knowledge pointing toward the black citadel seen on the plane of shadows at Cunvden as the most probable location for the original remains of Gonjeyla Sarazi and the party of heroes converted into the dark Aspects, the Circle traveled to the coastal town that served as seat of Duke Ilthan’s holdings by way of magic, stopping only long enough to cast a handful of augmentation spells and to cloak themselves from undead before crossing the planar threshold.
As before, the looming shadow fortress stood at the center of the town’s planar equivalent, with hordes of ghosts, wraiths and other undead swarming about and above the ebony spires. Being hidden from the senses of these lesser damned, the Circle moved into the structure’s main entrance, searching the stronghold for any sign of the slain heroes or the fabled Void Mother Hanadrel Rolendar – reputedly left alive and imprisoned to bear witness to Manfred’s victory.
Scouring the entirety of the cursed place over a number of hours, the Group could find no sign of the fallen heroes or of Hanadrel. A small selection of relevant tomes on shadow and spirit magic were deemed potentially useful and were collected for later perusal. The Party stood ready to wrap up their search when a noise caught Maldus’ ears. Outside, just beyond the walls of the citadel proper, large skeletons could be seen dragging chained spirits toward a squat fortified structure.
Resembling a barracks or perhaps a prison, the destination of the captive undead was a walled compound, guarded by a garrison of Dread Wraiths, Nightwalkers and other greater damned. Being more intelligent, these new guardians would not be bested by a simple concealment spell. However, such protection also indicated the location’s importance, flagging it as a likely candidate for that which the Circle had traveled to find.
Advancing with purpose, the Circle attempted no surprise or deception, instead racing toward the guardian undead at top speed. Rarnok and Alamir arrived first, charging into the belly of the proverbial beast. In reaction, a line of Dread Wraiths flew from atop the battlements toward the Group, a move that was met by a Chain Lightning spell from Azravan. As Stoat tumbled past a towering Nightwalker into flanking position, Maldus too tried for widespread damage, casting a Mass Heal in the ranks of the unliving defenders.
Though massively damaging to the Dread Wraiths, the magic was resisted by the more potent Nightwalkers, who responded with Unholy Blights, Cones of Cold and Hold Person spells. Another of the creatures disarmed Rarnok, grasping the blade of his sword and wrenching it from the gnome’s hands. The Exarch of the Fate Scribe was not to be so easily turned away however, as he lept upward, grabbing onto the weapon’s handle and allowing his weight to pull it from the undead’s grip, slashing into its fingers in the process.
A pair of the wraiths engaged Maldus then, swiping at him with their incorporeal appendages. The Exarch of Selandi maintained his position, damaging them with his healing magic. Being nearly destroyed from two onslaughts of divine magic, the creatures withdrew from the Exarch Cleric. Stoat meanwhile, held strong despite receiving multiple blows from the imposing Nightwalker he battled. Being cloaked with Greater Invisibility, Azravan lined up his targets carefully, maximizing the output of his area of attack spells.
Steadily, the undead fell before the might of the Circle of Exarchs, with the less powerful Dread Wraiths succumbing first, then a nightwalker, and a second. From the sky a pair of Nightwings descended to reinforce the line, but fared little better. The first was destroyed almost immediately, leaving the second to flee the scene – most probably to return with more undead later. Undeterred, Alamir pressed the attack, charging ferociously at the few remaining damned.
Slashing through the final Dread Wraith mid-charge, the Exarch of Brovadol made his move on the last defending Nightwakler. Stoat and Azravan joined in on the attack, while Rarnok confidently surveyed the path ahead, and the gear left behind by the unliving destroyed in the fighting. Outnumbered and outmatched, the last defender was slain quickly, leaving the Circle of Exarchs free to venture deeper into the fortified compound…