With the Mind Flayer invasion thwarted (in this part of the world, at least), the Paragons look to Grimnar for their next target.
“I’m afraid I have not had time to do any research on the next tether. Galendin’s recalculations took much of the time between our last encounter and our meeting. So I only have the Inthurlian sigils he gave me.”
“That does not bode well,” Belisar raised one brow ridge. His slitted irises narrowed.
“Nevertheless, it is what we must do. My Astra Veloce will guide us to the tether once we are near.”
The artificer plunged his hand into his magic satchel and pulled out a plain iron ring like those he wore around his forearm, and then a mithril stylus. With practiced strokes he inscribed a set of runes around the ring, cerulean light flashing as the symbols scored into the metal. Baern marveled at the ease and speed with which his cousin enchanted the ring. What would take him an hour of dedicated work, Grimnar completed within a few minutes.
Ash and Belisar spent the time conferring quietly, possibly in prayer, and Klaw put his hand upon the lakes surface, his eyes unfocused. The shifter was even more quiet than usual. The strange crystalline creature that called herself Athelia hovered at the periphery, as if not quite sure that she were yet welcome in this small group who had grown so close in such a short time.
Tregan stalked the perimeter restlessly. His eyes sought every avenue of approach, apparently alert for potential enemies. In truth, it was merely the habit of years of training. His eyes were unfocused, turned inward on his inner turmoil.
He was still reeling from the sudden reversal. He’d spent years at Grimnar’s side. In a single day, those years had come to naught, when the newest Morack Clan Leader had seemingly betrayed everything Tregan stood for. Betrayed the entire Clan’s purpose. Tregan had not believed it. Oh he’d known of Baern’s fall from grace, all those years earlier. He’d never quite accepted the official story, but Baern never put forth a different version, and Grimnar was the son of the Clan leader. For the good of the clan, Tregan had accepted Grimnar’s tale. They all had. Twenty years is a long time, and memories fade .. even dwarven ones. Thorin’s son, for all his arrogance, his self-righteousness, had proved able enough to succeed his father in that time.
Tregan even came to call him his friend.
He was last to admit that his friend had stolen the Oathrod. Last to accept that Grimnar had done the unthinkable – opened the gates to the Whisperer’s Below.
Now he found himself one of the last to accept that Grimnar’s actions may have had a higher motive, after all. The last month had stripped him to the core of his being. As one of the Wardens of the Seals, Tregan’s entire life had been dedicated to a singular purpose : protecting the world from the influx of creatures that he knew would flow from beneath Morack Mountain should the Warden’s waiver in their defense.
The Oathrod had been the lynch pin of that defense. And Grimnar had stolen it.
Now “The Betrayer” was adamant that this act was but the first step of a grand plan to forever sever the world from any link to that reality.
If Grimnar had only confided in him…
He tried to convince himself that he would have stood by him in that. Then he bowed his head. He had to admit, Grimnar was right. He could not think of a time when he would have been receptive to the idea. Not a single moment when he would not have looked upon his old friend as having lost his mind. He could barely consider it even now, and he himself had assisted in the madness!
Tregan turned back to the camp and watched as his old friend finished the iron portal ring that would catapult them across the world to who knows where. Another secret Grimnar had kept all too well. He was truly a prodigy. But perhaps that too, was best left unspoken. Thorin would have wanted his son to remain firmly planted as the noble leader. If word got out that Grimnar preferred the company of forges and golems, doubt might have been cast on his ability to keep Morackhold united.
“The portal is ready when we are.” Grimnar grinned. With a nod from the others he tossed the ring to the ground at the shore of the lake and stepped through it. The motley crew of his former sworn enemies went through after him.
Tregan cast one final look around the lake, and followed them.
The cool evening lake breeze vanished. The air was still and dank and their steps were muffled in the darkness. If anything, it was even colder than the mountainside they’d just left. Baern held aloft his staff and brought forth a soft warm glow from the top of it. The light revealed a square chamber barely fifteen feet across. Large enough for the portal circle, but not much more. The walls were masoned from large stones fitted together so carefully that no mortar could be seen binding them. A single heavy wooden door stood in one wall.
Baern put his hand on the nearest wall. It was biting cold, and he could hear a rushing wind just on the other side.
Grimnar was already staring at several lines of runes carved in the lintel above the door.
“Cousin, can you read this? It appears to be Draconic, but not in a dialect with which I’m familiar”. Absentmindedly, the artificer had one hand in his magic satchel, imagining some crafted solution to the simple translation problem in front of them, and searching for just the right item to solve it.
Baern stepped forward and held the light closer.
“One doesn’t see this grammatical construction very often. If I’m not mistaken, the last time this dialect was in common use was during the height of the Arkhosian empire.”
Belisar moved next to the wizard.
“My people have not been united under one banner in a thousand years. Has this building stood since then?”
“Probably.” Tregan grunted, as he surveyed the masonry.
“Welcome, Pilgrim.” Baern said.
The rest of them looked at him quizzically.
“That’s what it says.”
“Four lines of runes and it says ‘Welcome, Pilgrim’.. Are you sure?” said Tregan
“It’s a very formal, grammar.” the wizard shrugged.
Ash had spent this time studying the floor. The flagstones were even larger than the ones which made up the walls, and the portal circle was etched from some kind of silver metal directly into the top of a single large grey stone fully ten feet across. Where the floor met the walls, dust and grime were prevalent, but the portal area was much clearer.
“It may be Arkhosian, but it’s not lost.” He pointed out the scuffed tracks to the others.
Grimnar produced his Astra Veloce from the satchel. His fingers danced across the metal casing that protected the primordial crystal, and the brackets clicked and slid around the ball until they formed a single band around the center. The mithral needle suspended in the center of the crystal spun rapidly for a second, and then pointed at an angle above the edge of the wall.
“Looks like we’re going for a climb. Not much point waiting around here.” and he yanked on the door. With a bit of effort, the door swung inwards, and a wall of snow and ice slid into the chamber.
“What now, genius?” Baern yelled over the howl of the wind.
“Digging first. Then climbing, cousin.”
Baern clambered to the top of the drift. He couldn’t see more than thirty feet in the blizzard. The others kept to the shelter as he worked the magic to summon the phantom steeds. His hands shivered through the intricate ritual, and stumbled over the final phrases. The others joined him when he was done. They had lashed themselves together with heavy rope.
“Should we wait out the storm?” Klaw had suggested.
“A furious blizzard?” Belisar grinned in the merciless manner he had. “Might not the Winter Court be at work here?”
And that had been that. They would meet Winter head on.
Ash took the lead, his shifter-senses alert to the treacherous terrain in the low visibility. Grimnar was right behind him, calling out changes in direction if they veered from the straight line to their target. They took it slow and steady. More than once Ash felt the ground change beneath him in time to set their steps away from a crevasse breaking before him. “Which way now Grimnar?” he would call. “When in doubt, head up!” was the reply.Over an hour of this arduous crawl through the blizzard took it’s toll on all of them. Ash only had the robes of his Order to protect him, Even the shardmind seemed to be affected by the adverse conditions. The three dwarves were accustomed to winters on Morack Mountain, and fared the best of the group, but even they breathed a sigh of relief when the storm finally abated.
As the snowfall cleared, the mountain came into view.
Curving up and away to the right a ridge led up to meet the mountainside.
“Look… There.” Athelia pointed. Dotting the ridge were small piles of stone that stood out against the sky.
As they moved towards the path, Tregan looked back the way they’d come. The snowfall was deep, but he could still pick out several buildings clustered together. Only their roofs poked through the snow.
With the sky clearing, they picked up their pace. The Phantom Steeds were immune to the cold, and moved at a speed unmatched by any mortal horse. As they reached the first way marker, Baern paused. The stone was weathered beyond any recognition, but it was obviously not a natural outcropping, showing evidence of similar construction principles they’d found in the portal building.
The Astra Veloce pointed directly to the mountain top, and so they continued their journey.
Soon the ridge narrowed so that it was little wider than the path, and edged like a knife. Tregan would have preferred to have his boots on the solid ground. He’d spent more years trudging beneath the earth than borne on the back of another creature. Still, he reassured himself that the Phantom that bore him now was magically sure-footed.
It might have been better if they could fly. Baern had made them fly once before. But when he’d asked, Baern had bombarded him with some arcane formulae he knew would make no sense to Tregan, then rode off looking a bit embarrassed.
The last vestige of the blizzard fluttered away, fleeing the gaze of the Sun staring down from it’s vantage above the eastern ranges.
Something on the mountain glinted under that gaze.
They soldiered on. The sun may have looked down on them, but it’s warmth did not reach them.
The way stones higher on the ridge were less dilapidated. Some gleamed in the sunlight, capped with some metal. On closer examination, the way stones had obviously once been covered in a sheath of platinum. On the top of the stone there were signs that something had been attached to the base, and had been hacked off in the distant past.
When they reached the larger mountain at the end of the ridge, the mystery was solved. The last several way stones were topped with small statues of dragons, all made of platinum.
“Platinum Dragons… Where is this tether anchored, Grimnar?” Baern asked.
“Ahh. Yes, you would be correct if you had guessed this is a Tether to the Dominion of Celestia, cousin.”
“Bahamut.” Baern shook his head.
“Could very well be something linked to him, given what we’ve seen so far, yes.”
“Great,” muttered the wizard.
The pass looked for all like a heavenly axe had cleft the mountain in twain, two crests on either side of the narrow path. Set in each rock face were carved images of Bahamut, his regal features inscrutable.
As they moved single file into the pass, Ash held up his hand.
“We’re not alone.”
The company halted their steeds instantly, and dismounted, loosening weapons.
“What did you see, brother?” Belisar moved to the front to join Ash, hunkering down.
“Building ahead. Maybe a temple. Some tents. No movement.” and he slid between the boulders into the pass to reconnoiter.
The dragonborn paladin returned to the others, without concern. The Raven Queen had chosen Ash to bring the touch of her Talons as silently as Death itself. And should the unthinkable happen, and the shifter got in over his head… The ring on his left hand was linked to it’s twin on Ash’s left hand. With a thought he would be able to tell if the Avenger was in trouble. In an emergency, either one could blink to the other’s side in an instant, although it would take the rings some time to recharge afterwards.
Once past the dragon carvings, the mountain’s walls curved around much like the caldera of long dead volcano. The path snaked across the floor of the canyon. On each side of the path, a half dozen large tents clustered close to the stairs of a grand temple rivaling in size any Ash had seen. Even in the shade of caldera walls, the white marble of the temple gleamed, it’s walls merging with the rock of the mountain at the rear.
Two doors, each over ten feet wide, reached up forty feet to the very lip of the roof of the temple. Each door was plated in gold, with reliefs of dragons in various poses, clearly visible even from this distance. The stairs to the temple themselves were nearly forty feet wide, and each one was more than a yard deep, so that they made a gentle slope to the promenade around the first floor of the temple. A third balustrade divided the steps into two parallel approaches. Each balustrade was punctuated with columns topped with large platinum statues of Bahamut. Ash imagined the Waystones leading up the ridge may once have looked much the same.
Wind whistled through the pass and up the mountain walls, shifting even the tied down leather entrances to the tents.
Ash moved with it, alighting next to the nearest tent, as if blown there. He closed his eyes, better to listen. He could hear the sounds of those inside, moving around, the normal sounds of a camp huddled against the weather. With no one yet outside after the recent storm, it was trivial for the avenger to approach the temple itself.
As he considered the best avenue to the temple, sounds from the camp cautioned him to take cover. One of the tents opened, and a man peered into the sky, perhaps assessing the weather.
“Not long now” he called back into his tent.
Ash kept still behind the heavy leather and waited. Sure enough another person poked out of a nearby tent. Soon the camp began stirring, as people from the various tents traded hellos and “how long do you think?” , and “About a half hour, I reckon.”
He could not loiter where he was without being discovered eventually, and so he quit the camp for the cover granted by the boulders tumbled down the caldera over the years. From rock to rock, he flit like a ghost. At the point where the temple wall joined the caldera wall, Ash flew up the rock and rolled onto the temple roof. The roof was square as he expected from his earlier survey. But in the center, hidden from below, was a shallow dome, also apparently of solid gold. Concentric rings circled the dome at various heights, and lines radiated from the center like some strange geometric flower.
He scurried to the lip to watch the camp come to life. As he waited there, the sun crested the lip of the caldera and its rays touched upon the roof and the dome behind him. Warm light began to fill the entire mountain, and a few minutes later a great rumbling came from beneath him.
The dome split apart long the lines inscribed, and each leaf slowly opened, the segments along each circle retreating one into the other until only the base of the leaves was left, yawning open to receive the blessing of the sun.
He slid along the cool marble roof and hazarded a glance down into the temple.
A platinum pillar pointed towards the sky above from the center of a shallow basin, a mirror of the dome above it. The chamber below was perfectly cubical, forty feet high, and the same on each side. Dragonborn in regalia adorned with the symbol of Bahamut moved ceremoniously through the chamber, each one tending a large mirror so that the light reflected from the leaves of the dome was captured and cast about the temple. From the front of the temple, two of them returned from opening the front doors, and the first of the people outside entered.
A human in platemail embossed with a platinum dragon came forward to meet with the first group. A middle aged man dressed in lavish furs knelt before the plated priest, and gestured behind him. Ash couldn’t hear their words, but soon four strapping men entered the temple carrying a huge coffer suspended between them on bowing wooden rods. With some difficulty they lowered the chest to the floor and the priest moved to inspect it. The bearers lifted the lid and Ash was nearly blinded by the glittering jewels and coins it contained.
He beckoned towards the back of the temple, and Ash heard more rumbling and two large doors, these made of stone, but otherwise the same as those at the front of the temple, swung slowly open.
Four dragonborn priests entered, carrying a wooden platform between them. On the platform, braced upright, was a shield of ancient construction with Bahamuts emblem blazoned on it’s face.
They placed the litter atop the pillar, and holes appeared in it’s surface, from which clear water poured in great gouts that soon filled the shallow basin.
The human led the noble into the water, and he pushed him bodily beneath the surface. Sodden, but apparently pleased, the noble emerged, and was led through a small door near the rear of the temple.
The next group approached : a small group of people led an ailing elderly man to the priest. A much smaller chest was proffered. The priest seemed to examine it critically, and then he pointed towards the door of the temple. The young man leading the group fell to his knees, begging to be reconsidered, and the priest paused. Then he pulled the young man to his feet and nodded. More words were exchanged, and they seemed to come to some sort of agreement.
Dragonborn approached the group. Two of them helped the old man towards the pool, and two others led away a young boy, who followed them with a bewildered expression on his face, not comprehending his new fate.
The palsied old man emerged from the pool with renewed vigor, and he was led away through the same door. The noble then emerged, no longer in his soaked noble regalia, but clad only in a coarsely woven robe.
Ash considered returning to his companions, but the next group entered the temple, dragging a man on a travois. With nothing more than hope in their eyes, they appealed to the priest for aid.
The priest cocked his head to one side quizzically. He asked them something, and they shook their heads, eyes on the floor. The priest put his arm around the main supplicant, and took him aside, and after a short conversation, the group left, their bedridden friend still strapped to the travois.
Ash slipped down the outside of the temple and made his way back to his friends to report.
“They are priests of Bahamut. Might we parley with them?” Belisar wondered.
“They aren’t like any priests of Bahamut I know. " Baern frowned. “One of their primary tenets is to protect the weak.”
“They could be a much older cult, from the Arkhosian empire.” Athelia suggested.
“Hmmm, I suppose so. It is said the Arkhosians were forsaken by the Gods in their war with Bael-Turath. Maybe this is why.”
“I don’t think we have enough information to judge.” said Belisar.
“Did you see anything which might be the Tether?” Grimnar asked, focused as always on his quest.
“There’s a great platinum pillar that points to the heavens. That could be it.”
“Besides, " Tregan turned to Belisar. "What are we going to say? ‘Please, sir, can we come in and smash your relic, destroy your source of income, and probably your entire purpose for existence? We promise it’s for the greater good. honestly.’ "
“You .. have a point.” the paladin grunted.
They planned, and so as not to be disturbed, Grimnar used the infamous Rope Trick to make them a temporary refuge from prying eyes.
When night fell, they emerged, sneaking to the nearest wall of the temple. The roof and doors were closed for the night, but they’d planned for that.
Baern scaled the sheer marble wall with ease, using some magic bracers that Grimnar whipped up on the spot. Once settled under the eaves, he placed his hands on one of the crystal windows that dotted the walls only at this height. Concentrating, he rapidly shrunk the window to a tenth it’s normal size, plucking it from the frame before it toppled. He searched inside for signs of a guard, then waved to the others lurking behind the boulders. They ran forward as he opened an arcane gate between the caldera floor and the temple floor, and then he pushed himself through the window opening. His staff caught on the frame. The scraping it made, he thought would surely give him away, but no one came to investigate. Gingerly he adjusted the leather loops and joined the others in the temple.
Grimnar pointed his Astra Veloce at the pillar in the center of the room.
“No. That’s not it.” he said, as the needle steadily pointed towards the rear of the temple.
“Was there something else that stood out?” he asked Ash.
“A shield. Placed on the pillar. "
“Hmm- could be a relic of some ancient connection with Bahamut.. such a thing could definitely accrete a tether to Celestia over time.”
He looked down the length of the needle at the huge doors.
“Those doors look as heavy and loud as the front doors.” Tregan whispered.
“Side doors.” Ash pointed, “Look well oiled.” and he moved off to investigate.
The first corridor seemed to branch into antechambers for receiving the healed supplicants. On further consideration, he decided to explore the other door. Probably the supplicants chambers would be secured against the rest of the temple to discourage wandering.
After a brief reconnaissance, they proceeded deeper into the mountainside.
“Someone’s having a good time.” Tregan smiled. It wasn’t as raucous as a Dwarven Ale Tasting night, but there was some celebration going on deeper into the temple.
Ash scouted ahead, past the somewhat austere sleeping quarters, till he discovered the room on the other side of those second set of great doors. It was filled with treasures “donated” to the temple over the centuries. Through the center of the room, platinum scroll work edged a path from the large doors to a smaller set on the other side.
The Astra Veloce continued to point in that direction.
Ash moved to listen at the door, and Athelia did likewise, her own senses were highly attuned to the minds of others.
Baern closed his eyes and let his mind clear, opening it to any arcane energies that might flow through the area. His eyes opened, blind to the world, pupils and irises both glowing silver as he scanned the area. Magic pervaded the room, each treasure sealed with a spell of preservation and alarm. Several of the items were enchanted in their own right, including a strange painting that has aspects of illusion and scrying. Beyond the doors he could feel a much more powerful field of force.
The light faded and his vision returned to normal.
“I’d hazard the shield is on the other side of those doors.”
Ash held his hand up for quiet and whispered. “So is at least one armored guard.”
Grimnar was gazing at the painting.
“Have you seen this?”
“What is it, Grimnar?” Baern’s frustration at his cousin was barely contained. After all these years it was as if Grimnar had no clue of the injury he’d done him. The artificer continued to treat him as if they were still on the best of terms. As if all their efforts to stop him were merely misguided annoyances and now that they were working together, they were all friends again.
It was infuriating.
It made him wonder though, if Grimnar just didn’t understand people at all. It would explain a lot.
“This painting.. Watch.” and the painting changed. Instead of the simple pastoral scene it had shown a second before, it now depicted a forge powered by magma.
“That’s my forge!” he whispered excitedly.
Baern stared intently at the painting and it suddenly changed to show the room they stood in, showing each of them clearly preparing to enter the next room.
“Hmm — better fix that before we leave,” Grimnar nudged him. Baern almost punched him in the nose.
With a bit of concentration, the scene changed again.
A plate armor shoulder obscured the lower right half of the frame, but the rest of the room was clear. A raised dais dominated the center of the room, bearing the wooden litter that held the shield. Arcs of lightning, frozen in time, encased the shield in a deadly lattice, projected from the crystal heads of the four pylons that encircled the dais.
“Only the one guard.. that’s encouraging.” Athelia added. Baern nodded and turned to Grimnar.
“How long will it take to do .. what you need to do?”
The artificer looked at him directly.
“It might take a while. I cannot guarantee it will be quiet, either.”
“Would it be quicker, " Baern paused, dreading the answer, “with the Oathrod?”
“Duerents mace would allow me to focus my will more .. precisely. It could act as a conduit for additional power. If I were to have assistance from the ritualists in the group, I might be able to complete the ritual in as little as half a minute, give or take.”
The wizard looked to his companions. They would follow his lead on this, he knew. Certainly, when it came time to debate a course of action, he could count on each of them having a strong opinion. But when it came to questions of the magical arts, his was the last word.
“Then lets do it. Quickly and quietly.” He handed the Oathrod to Grimnar.
“If we can get it done before the party is over, they may never know what transpired here. "
“Dark Lady, willing, " Belisar added.
Baern motioned to the others to take up positions on either side of the doors. His camouflage ritual would blend their outlines into the background, so long as they didn’t move. Even Athelia and Grimnar, who weren’t exactly inducted into their tactics, took up position instinctively.
He started with a lure – a simple cantrip to produce some smoke from beneath the door. It didn’t take long for the guard to investigate. The hapless dragonborn was too slow to react. As he stepped into the dark gallery, his large halberd still at ease in one of his hands, six separate foes focused on him. He never stood a chance. With a muffled blow to the back of the head, the guard toppled to the floor, and they dragged him into the gallery chamber and hid his unconscious body behind a suit of armor. He didn’t even have time to call out.
Although the ruckus was brief, Athelia made a chopping motion near her neck and pointed at one of the doors. The sound of the revelry had stuttered momentarily, so they moved to take up position at the exits of the Shield chamber. Klaw summoned the spirit of the stalking panther to block off one, and Ash moved toward the other. Belisar and Tregan closed the double doors to the chamber, while Grimnar, Athelia and Baern all moved to the dais.
Grimnar examined the arcing pylons with great interest. From his own magic backpack, Baern produced a mystic tome, and holding his staff in one hand, the tome opened apparently of it’s own accord to a well worn page near the middle. Intoning the spell from it, Baern stepped towards the nearest pylons and with the final syllable, the pylons darkened and sputtered and died. Grimnar seemed almost disappointed. He took the long handled mace known as Duerent’s Oathrod and began a long circle around the outside of the dais, dragging the flanged head along the floor. In it’s wake a perfect double circle appeared, the space between the concentric rings filling with sparking runes.
Athelia, Klaw and Baern entered the circle as Grimnar sealed it. The artificer sped through the ritual. He’d internalized it months ago, and each time the movements required had become easier, almost a part of him. His muscles ached with the task of performing them so quickly. An untutored observer may not realize how precise they were, or recognize the strain on his body. Baern could see it though. When his cousin paused and stretched out his hand to those assisting him, Baern knew what to do – he grabbed Athelia and Klaw and the three of them breathed deeply out into the space between them, and Grimnar pulled on that essence, linking them together. Each of them felt drained just from that one breath. Klaw fell to his knees, and nearly passed out. Baern leaned heavily on his staff.
Grimnar coughed up blood on to the shield.
But he did not stop. Legs quivering, the relentless dwarf, spurred on by that strange seed of monomania inside him, sped up the ritual, pouring even more of his own soul into it.
The circle lit up and flashed with red and amber, the runes blazing.
Someone pressed on those double doors.
Tregan and Belisar held them closed. Lacking any sort of bar, the two of them had only their brawn and their tenacity to hold them fast. The push was repeated with a boom, as whoever sought ingress pounded on them with growing fervor. Tregan dug in low to the ground, and refused to budge. There were few forces that could move a dwarf against his will, and fewer still that could bowl over a Warden.
Belisar, on the other door, was not so fortunate. With two Dragonborn at least his size at work, the paladin could not hold, and the door swung wide, and he was forced back. These guards wore plate and bore halberds as their unconscious mate had. Following on their heels was the human Ash had seen dispensing the powers of the shield that morning.
“Surround them!” he cried. “No! Stop the dwarf!” he called when he saw what Grimnar was doing.
But the others were prepared for discovery. Athelia stepped forward to the edge of the circle. Focusing her alien mind on the oncoming guards she unleashed a blast of pure thought. All three fell stunned, allowing Tregan to move to engage them without fear of meeting their halberds on the way. Belisar took up the flank.
Ash kept to the shadows near one of the two side doors. Curiosity overcame him and he yanked one open to steal a glance beyond. Three dragonborn seated at a banquet table turned, and began to rise. He quickly shut the door. Baern pointed at the door with his staff, and a cluster of chains flew from the tip , forming a large man-like shape, to fill the doorway.
The other side door burst open, and a large dragonborn wielding a falchion barreled into the room, right into the jaws of Klaws stalking panther. Unable to pass through the menacing apparition, he slashed at it furiously, but to no effect. His blade passed through it without harm.
“How long?” Belisar called over the clash of blades.
Baern took a look at Grimnar, who had gone pale, but gritted his teeth through the pain. "Mere moments, cousin, " he grinned.
“Not long!” the wizard called back as he threw a bolt of black lightning into the chest of an advancing dragonborn and flung him backwards into the gallery.
Athelia held her own staff aloft and pointed at the two stunned guards, lifting one into the air, and then the other, and hurling them bodily at their human leader. All three landed beside their companion in the gallery, senseless on the floor.
Tears of blood coursed down the artificers face. He stumbled, and for a second, feared he had lost the threads of the ritual. Damn it, he didn’t have time to start it over… He hardened his resolve. Now was not the time to let the world down, Grimnar! Now was the time to save it!
The Oathrod was so heavy, but he raised it over his head, the final words of the severing ritual on his blood caked lips.
And he struck.
The adamantine head struck the center of the shield and there was a bright flash of white. Everything stopped.
And then the rush of blood to their ears as the report of the sundered Shield echoed around the small chamber. But their eyes remained as if they had stared at the Sun too long. Ash staggered through the room, seeking the rest of his fellows, forsaking his place by the door. His wild grace kept him from stumbling. Belisar and Tregan were forced to use their weapons like a cane to guide their steps, seeking out the dais and following Baern’s voice as he called to them .. “To me!”
Grimnar clutched the Oathrod in one hand as he slid the last of his iron portal rings from his forearm and threw it to the floor.
As their vision returned, the human cleric bore down upon them again, livid with a righteous anger.
A shadow passed over them, causing friend and foe alike to pause and look up.
Near the ceiling, wings fully outstretched as if to embrace them all, a silver dragon hovered. As they plunged into Grimnar’s portal, they heard it’s sonorous boom..
“Who has defiled Kututha’s Shield, The Shield of the Exarch?”
Though the human’s face was contorted in rage and fear, they could not tell if he feared his own failure, or the arrival of justice for his own crimes.
Grimnar’s sanctum had seen better days.
He hadn’t even had time to tidy up since Jasen, Martin, and their friends had tossed it over looking for him.
Right now, he didn’t care.
His normally sturdy legs buckled before he reached the bed. He would have lain there on the floor, but did not think it seemly, and so clambered up using only his arms. His eyes had stopped bleeding, but it still came up from his lungs until he could not help but cough it out or risk choking to death.
But it didn’t matter. He had done it. He had liberated Ardanthor from the Far Realm.
He thought about that again.
Actually, he’d had quite a bit of help this time. Grimnar had to admit, he could not have done it alone. Not in the end.
“We did it, didn’t we?” he whispered.
“What do you mean?” Belisar asked, and Grimnar blinked.. had they all been there, all along, watching as he got onto the bed? He couldn’t remember.
“We did it.. saved Ardanthor.”
“I’m reserving judgement on that, " said the paladin .
“That was the last tether.. and now .. it’s done!”
“There’s still the matter of our little chat with Galendin.” Baern added.
Grimnar laid back upon the pillow. He was so tired. But yes, he had promised to lead them to Galendin. And he had a few questions of his own he’d like to ask the reclusive Wizard of the Bright Tower. He tried to sit up.
“Of course, cousin. Of course. We can leave whenever you’re .. " Grimnar was unconscious before he could finish the sentence.