Part the fourteenth: Wherein a quick jaunt across the Outlands earns the party a friend
They awoke in the morning surprisingly refreshed. It seemed as though it would be difficult to sleep well in , but the oppressive air of indifference was the perfect catalyst to a good nights sleep - those who have no cares can rest easy. It felt like they had been in Hopeless for about a day but they had no real way of knowing, it could have been longer but it definitely didn't feel shorter.
The Spire and Torus
The lands outside of Hopeless were a rocky badlands, small hills and outcroppings covered in small to medium sized rocks over loose soil, and scattered, dry grasses that seemed to barely cling to life. The air was cleaner than Hopeless and the sky seemed to shine brighter, almost having the appearance of a sun lighting their way. There was little in the way of wild life as they travelled - they saw few animals, but the sky was filled with bird life and there was no shortage of insects to make their journey that little bit more uncomfortable. They travelled for the day, watching the light increase and then dwindle as the day grew old. Keeping track of time was difficult without any sun to provide guidance, but they were slowly learning to accept its absence and guessed time based on the light level.
They set up camp at a valley between two small hills in a depression seemingly made for camping. They set their watch and drifted off to sleep through their first night in the Outlands.
They set off the next day feeling better than they had in days, their minds clearer and spirits higher now they were a day clear of Hopeless, and their encounters on Oinos were just distant memories. The day was the same as the previous day, calm and warm.
Early in the afternoon they began descending down into a swampy region, the landscape marred by shallow pools and mud, with moss and sharp reedy grasses dominating the landscape. There was a noticeable increase in the insect life as well and they found themselves spending much of their time swatting at the multitude of biting insects that swarmed around them. As they continued to march, the mountains that had loomed before them in the badlands seemed to recede, offering a more expansive vista before them, an odd view given they were at a lower elevation than the previous day. The clear sky offered them a view of breath taking distance, it seemed as though they could see for miles with few large trees to block the expanse. Dominating this view was a thin, needle-like spire of rock. It stretched into the sky what must have been many miles for it was clearly a vast distance from the swamp they currently had to trudge through. The spire-like mountain was topped by a curious sight; a thick brown torus hovered above it as though the spire was a needle trying to pierce the eye of the torus. They could not see the base of this mountain from their current vantage so there was no way to tell its size, but it seemed as though the Outlands distorted distance anyway, so there was no way for them to know.
They marched for the remainder of the day under the gaze of the spire and torus, and fed the bugs that did not stop to admire the view with them.
Again, they awoke early in the morning, famished from the night before. Shadow Flame and Unagi sat preparing giant frogs legs for the parties morning meal, they roasted in slowly over a spit of their own creation. Late the previous evening they had been attacked in their swampy camp by low gurgling creatures with long sticky tongues. Three gigantic frogs, each sporting a foul gaseous breath, had attacked from darkness, using their tongues to lasso the party, trying to drag them into their enormous mouths. The fight was brief as the frogs were no match for the party, they were able to kill the beasts quickly, and gain the unexpected benefit of a delicious trail meal - a huge improvement over the dry and bland trail rations they had been used to eating during their overland journeys.
The early afternoon saw the landscape change yet again as they began slowly ascending from the mire of the swamplands onto a grassy hill. It seemed to appear from nowhere as one moment they were knee deep in stagnant water and the next they were clear of the bog walking the gentle slope of a winding path through knee high grass of vibrant green. The path continued from the top of the hill down into a shallow valley between two verdant hills topped with small copses of trees. Deciding not to go against the grain the party followed the path into the valley to be greeted by a warm breeze filled with the scent of spring. The insect life was also far less abundant with the swarms of gnats and mosquitoes replaced by butterflies and other large flying beetles.
A Khaasta Raider
Unagi, a huge smile of anticipation spread across his face, drew his new greensteel longsword and charged toward them in kind, roaring a deep battle cry as he swung his blade around him. Shadow Flame, Jean and Silvara began casting spells as more of the lizardmen appeared on the hilltop to their right, aiming longbows at them. They loosed the arrows, but not before the party got it's spells off; a small ball of fire grew in the hands of both Shadow Flame and Jean and they sent them flying off toward the charging lizardmen. The fireballs screeched past Unagi who had the presence of mind to duck as they flew past, and even though he didn't have to, he crouched down and shielded his face as they reached the lizardmen and exploded into flame. Seeing the fireballs careening toward them, several of the lizardmen broke free and dived for cover, but most were not so quick and perished in the inferno of the mages twin blasts. Unagi felt the power of Silvara's magic swell past him as he stood and continued his charge, his reflexes honed by the power of Selune's blessing. The arrows fired from the hillside found purchase on Jean, one of them digging into her arm as the fireball left her hand. She turned toward the lizardmen on the hill as Shadow Flame and Silvara both drew their weapons and followed after Unagi to join the lizardmen in combat.
Unagi swung his blade, smashing aside the spears of the two lizardmen directly in front of him, shoulder charging one of them to the ground as the melee was joined. The big man may have lost his memory but he hadn't forgotten how to fight and his long sword dug deep into the lizardman at his side. Several more of them arrived and he was quickly surrounded. Not even pausing to consider being outnumbered Unagi fought with speed and dexterity that surprised even himself. Several more lizardmen rushed past the battle that had Unagi at its centre, and ran to meet Shadow Flame and Silvara.
Jean finished intoning the words to another spell, conjuring another ball of fire into her hands before sending it off toward the two lizardmen on the hill. They were drawing their arrows back as the fireball flew toward them, and neither had a chance. The small ball crackled as it sped toward them, and exploded as the ones before it when it was 5 feet from the lizardmen. They were both instantly incinerated, their charred and smoking bodies dropping to the ground, the arrows they had drawn only moments before now naught but cinders.
Ahead of Jean the combat raged as Shadow Flame and Silvara both joined melee with several of the lizardmen. While fierce and adept with their weapons the lizardmen were seriously outmatched by the party. Unagi already had one dead lizardman at his feet, and another grievously wounded, without taking a single hit in return. Shadow Flame's twin blades danced gracefully, both blocking incoming attacks and biting back with several solid hits as well, and Silvara's mace was effective in breaking the bones of her foes. For melee the lizardmen had abandoned their spears and drawn steel in the shape of longswords and scimitars, but even having their foe surrounded were unable to make any serious attacks against the party.
Jean had not been idle as the melee raged ahead of her, as from behind a shield of shimmering force she unleashed a sortie of magical missiles at the lizardmen engaged with Silvara. The priestess was capable as a fighter, but was grateful for the help as she was not quite as skilled as Shadow Flame who continued swing his longsword and dagger, killing his first lizardman of the combat. Unagi fought with a fury born of the frustration of too much idle time and had the 4 or 5 lizardmen surrounding him on their back foot. Two dead lizardmen now lay at his feet, and although one of them finally managed to pierce his defense and inflict a minor wound, he killed his third with a mighty swing that nearly sliced the creatures head in half. Jean sent another flurry of magic missiles into the melee of Silvara and Shadow Flame, and another lizardman, wounded from previous hits from Silvara, dropped dead. Silvara turned her attention to another lizardman, and between her mace and Shadow Flames longsword another lizardman dropped dead to the ground. Unagi screamed in pain as the scimitar of one of his foes smoothly slid in between the join of his armour and sliced his side, just below his ribs. His eyes red with fury, almost with a berserker rage, Unagi focused his attacks on the lizardman, exposing himself to attacks from his other foes as his rage fuelled a series of attacks that left the unfortunate lizardman with no legs to stand on, but writhing briefly on the ground before dying.
As Unagi felled the lizardman who had wounded him, a long deep bellow rolled across the valley - the sound of a longhorn being blown. At the sound of the horn the lizardmen stopped fighting and fled, turning without regard for opportunistic attacks from their foes. Unagi wasn't about to let the find end so quickly and began to give chase to the lizardmen.
"Nug! No!" Shadow Flame called after him, "let them go Nug, you don't know what's waiting hidden in the grass!"
Unagi ran a few more steps before throwing his head back and screaming in rage at the sky. He fell to his knees and clutched the wound at his side as Silvara ran to his aid. Jean Quickly arrived, joining Shadow Flame, and they walked quickly to Unagi to ensure he wasn't badly hurt. Silvara finished casting a spell of healing on Unagi as Jean and Shadow Flame joined them, and the wound at his side healed almost instantly; it wasn't a bad wound, Unagi's cry was one of frustration rather than pain. Unagi calmed down as the healing magic flowed through him and he lifted his head.
"Those things must have been those Khaasta the caravan guards were talking about. They weren't so bad," he smiled.
They all laughed as Shadow Flame said, "Nug you are a crazy man! I count four dead lizards back there with only a flesh wound inflicted on you."
"Feels like it's been too long since we've had a good fight. I hope those things come back for more."
"I think we can expect to see them again," said Jean.
"Yeah," agreed Shadow Flame, "that seemed like a....test, to see what we had, how we fought."
Silvara nodded her agreement as Unagi said, "makes sense, try and get a feel for your enemies. I guess we can expect them to try a bit harder next time." The gladiator stood, his wounds now mostly healed by Silvara's spell, and the four of them wasted no time continuing forward, only this time they were a little more alert to their surroundings.
It was well into the evening, and the party slept, as Shadow Flame kept watch. The quiet of the warm night was interrupted by the sounds of riders on horseback coming from up the road. It began quietly, from distance, but was gradually increasing in volume, and after a moment Shadow Flame realised the riders were heading their way. He swiftly moved to each party member and roused them; as they came to consciousness they needed no explanation as the sound of the approaching riders was now loud enough that all but the deafest of folk could hear them.
They gathered their weapons and moved outside of the radius of their campfire, preparing for any attack that may come. As the rider approached closely to the camp they could be heard reigning in their horses, and the approaching group came to a halt.
"Ho to the camp," a loud deep voice called out from the night.
The party did not answer, they were spread out far enough that they could not communicate in silence, and with each of them unsure how to proceed they said nothing for the time being.
"Greetings to the camp," came the voice again after a moment, "we wish to parley. You have nothing to fear from us, we wish simply to share your fire for the evening."
"I am Vaimish Crasad, Paladin of Heironeous and Lord of the Order of the Planes Militant, and these are my men, paladins and lords to a man," he signaled behind him to the half a dozen other men. "I would request that we share this camp with you, if for no better reason than mutual protection."
The party looked at each other, curiosity playing in their eyes. Shadow Flame introduced himself, and then, one after another, so did the rest of the party. "We would be happy for you to share in our camp Vaimish," said Shadow Flame. They all knew they had little to fear from a paladin, even a tiefling such as Shadow Flame had nothing to be concerned about, tieflings were treated no differently than humans for the most part in the Planes (apart from the general mistrust), and as he had done nothing wrong in the eyes of these paladins he was not concerned.
"My thanks friend," replied Vaimish as he signalled to his men to begin preparing their camp, "we have had several run-ins with the Khaasta of late and it has taken a toll on both me and my men. As you can see," he said, turning his head toward where his men prepared their camp, "we have lost many good men.." There were nearly twice as many horses as there were riders, indicating that the paladin spoke true.
The party nodded to Vaimish to show their sympathy, and as the paladin turned to attend to his own preparations, they returned to their fire and sat to wait for him. After a few short minutes the men began setting up another fire which they then began to cook their meals over. Vaimish came across to join the party, it was clear he had something on his mind.
"As we rode this afternoon we came upon the site of a skirmish between a clearly capable band of warriors and some Khaasta, am I to assume you were those warriors?" he asked as he took a seat beside Jean around the parties fire.
"You are," replied Unagi with a big smile. "Lizards never stood chance. We've spent too long sitting around and talking of late, and they were the first foes we had faced in some time. It was a good fight...for us!"
Vaimish chuckled, "aye, it appeared so. We have been following the Khaasta for some time. Filthy lizards have been raiding far from their traditional grounds of late. I care not for the why of it, I care only for the fact that many innocents and many fine warriors have died because of it."
"They seem to cause a good deal of trouble," said Silvara, "there were folk in Hopeless talking of them, and we saw a caravan that had seen several attacks from them."
Vaimish paused at the mention of Hopeless but continued on without saying anything about that cursed burg, "it is not just these parts milady," he said, "they are a constant menace across the Outlands, no matter which way is spireward you can count on the Khaasta being around somewhere."
She nodded to him, "you mentioned you were following them?"
"Indeed we are," Vaimish continued, "as I said, they have been raiding deeper into the Outlands than usual lately. This has brought them to villages and small towns that normally do not have any trouble with them. They have destroyed some small villages, burnt them to the ground and taken what they wanted. Including slaves."
Jean looked up at the mention of slaves as she held no love for their kind, and even Unagi, who had no memory of his past life, felt in his heart a disgust for them.
"I see by your reaction you have strong feelings against those who take slaves," said Vaimish, Jean's grim expression more than enough answer for the paladin. The paladin thought for a moment before continuing, "as you can see, my men have been considerably reduced in numbers due to several small skirmishes with the lizardmen, and we are far from our full strength. We are currently tracking a large group of them that we know have quite a few slaves. Our intention was to take the fight to them, to free those held captive; even with our small number I feel we have a good chance, but...if you were inclined to provide us some aid then I feel our victory would be assured..." he let the question hang in the air.
Shadow Flame rolled his eyes and groaned inwardly. He was tired of dealing with slavers; he had no love of their kind, but equally he felt no moral drive to help those who had fallen prey to them. Seeing Shadow Flames reaction, Unagi quickly spoke, "indeed my good man, it is a worthy quest, but what would be in it for us?", he tried to get as positive a spin as possible on the situation for Shadow Flame.
"Well, we can't offer you much I'm afraid," said Vaimish, a little surprised that they would want a reward for such a noble goal. "We have several horses that no longer have masters, enough for one each for you all. They are strong and well trained in combat and would fetch a good price at market if that was your wish."
"I do not need payment," said Jean, "I will be happy to assist in freeing these folk, as long as the intention is to wipe these lizards from the face of the land?"
Vaimish smiled coldly, "it is milady."
Jean nodded, signalling her intention clearly.
"I will have to decline your offer," Shadow Flame interjected loudly. "We have our own somewhat urgent business to attend to my friend, and cannot help you on your quest."
Vaimish looked at the tiefling with some surprise, "your friends seem to think differently my good tiefling."
"My friends are thinking with their hearts and not with their heads it would seem. We have no need of your horses and we have not the time to aid you I'm afraid. We must get to Sigil as soon as possible and as such do not have time to help free some slaves."
"I intend to go with Vaimish," said Jean. Unagi nodded his agreement as did Silvara.
"I'm not surprised," Shadow Flame said with some frustration.
"Where are you travelling to?" asked Vaimish.
"Seop Nardis, along the river Ma'at," replied Silvara giving him a questioning look.
Vaimish nodded and turned to Shadow Flame, "our paths are one tiefling. The trail of the Khaasta leads in the same direction that you travel, we would not be slowing you down to any significant degree."
Shadow Flame ignored the paladin and spoke to the party, "look, no offense to any of you, but I am tired of chasing after every slaver we come across. It's like a magic word with you all - any mention of slavers sees you all running after them without any thought. This is not our fight, I am not happy about these peoples fate but neither have I any obligation to them. We have our own personal business to attend to, important business, and I do not see how we would be served by chasing these lizards down to free a bunch of people I've never met."
Silvara spoke first, "Flame, I see your view, to a certain point, but I feel it is my duty to help these people if I can. Selune would expect no less of me and neither would I feel I was being true to myself if I ignored their plight. I for one intend to provide what aid I can."
Shadow Flame started to argue with her, but Jean quickly spoke up, "I too intend to aid these folk. I do not expect you to understand Flame, but I must do what I can. I admit to having no particular need to help these people, but I will not abide slavery, and I will go with Vaimish for no reason other than to kill the Khaasta. The slavers chose their path and I will make them pay for such."
Frustrated, Shadow Flame raised his voice, "predictable to the last. Very well, I will go, but only so as not to split us up. But I will tell you, this is the last time I will do so. Next time I will walk."
They nodded their understanding. "I too feel that I must do something Shadow Flame," said Unagi, "but I do understand your view. I remember little of what has gone before, but from what Jean and Silvara have told me it feels right that I must help. I do not feel morally obligated to help these people, but I do feel personally obligated to kill these lizards. Besides, I think we really could use these horses," he smiled.
"I said fine, I'll come along," Shadow Flame replied shortly.
Vaimish, who had sat quietly by while they discussed the matter openly, finally spoke, "then I assume the matter is settled?" They each nodded, except Shadow Flame who continued to ignore the paladin. "I must admit, I do not care for your reasons," Vaimish said, "but am in no position to argue any moral point. I'm sure you realise I do this because I feel it is the right thing to do, and I find your selfish reasons...distasteful," he said mainly to Shadow Flame, but he chose his words carefully, to hide his swelling anger, "but I need your help, and is the nature of these Outlands, I will take what help I can. So I thank you all, even you tiefling."
"You are welcome," Shadow Flame replied sarcastically.
Vaimish stood, "then I shall take my meal and retire for the night. You may all sleep, my men will take watch." He turned and walked over to the small campfire his men had made without further word.
The party turned in as well, each of them keeping their own counsel in the tension of the night.
They all felt better as they awoke and made small talk amoung themselves as they ate. Vaimish and his men kept to themselves until it was time to ride out. The paladins took the lead, riding back to the path the party had been following the previous day. They picked up the trail of the Khaasta easily; the lizardmen were not concerned with hiding their presence, and even the paladins had little trouble following them. Silvara took the time to inspect the trail as they discovered it and found that there were indeed a large number of Khaasta, as Vaimish had claimed. She also found the tracks of two large caravans which further back the paladins claim, as such caravans were undoubtedly for transporting their captives. Since she was clearly the best tracker by far in the group, Silvara took the lead during the day, stopping every now and then to inspect the trail to try and determine how far ahead the Khaasta were.
They rode for the entire day, fast enough to catch the Khaasta who were no doubt slowed by the fact of their captives. As the light dwindled Silvara pulled the group to a halt, dismounted and began to search over the ground for clues. They all watched on patiently as she scouted around, finally coming back to the group to tell them what she had found.
"I would say they are less than an hour ahead of us," she said. "My advice would be for you all to wait here while I scout up ahead to be sure. We cannot risk a rear guard being alerted to our presence."
"Milady, I would assume they are already alerted to our presence," said Vaimish, "they have been sending back parties to harry is for several days, and you yourselves have encountered such a party."
"That is true," replied Silvara, "but I have not seen any sign that any such group has been sent back this day. These lizards are clearly not concerned with masking their movements - the trail is very easy to follow. I do not believe they are watching their back, so to speak."
"I can use magic to scout up ahead," offered Jean, "I could walk right up to them and they would not even know I was there."
Silvara nodded, "that is a good idea. I would propose that the two of us scout ahead, and when I see that we are only a short way from them, you can go in cloaked in your spells to get the lay of the land."
Jean smiled widely, "great! Sounds like a plan." Neither of them asked if Shadow Flame was prepared to use his skill at silent and invisible movement to scout with them, he was making a point of not involving himself.
As Vaimish and his men all agreed with Silvara and Jean's idea, the two of them moved ahead and were quickly out of sight of the main group in moments.
Silvara and Jean moved ahead quickly, Silvara's keen eye and heightened sense of smell guiding her swiftly along the Khaasta trail. She knew they were getting close as she could smell the stinking lizards, the scent increasing the closer they got. Her first guess was a little bit out as they were only a little more than half an hour behind the group. As they continued Silvara found no evidence that a vanguard or raiding party had broken off from the main group, so she was confident they were dealing with the entirety of the Khaasta raiding party. After a few more minutes of quickly moving ahead Silvara put her hand on Jean's shoulder to stop her.
"I'd say they are less than a thousand feet in front of us Jean. I think now would be a good time for you to cast some spells." Jean smiled in anticipation and began quietly casting her first spell. Silvara noticed nothing different as jean completed the first incantation, but did not say anything as the mage began to immediately cast a second spell. This one did have a noticeable effect at Jean disappeared at the end of the casting.
"Be back in a minute," she whispered to Silvara before taking off and flying forward in the direction indicated earlier by Silvara. She flew up over the tree line of the light forest they had tracked the Khaasta into, and scouted the ground under her. Though the light was diminishing rapidly but she had little trouble in spotting the band of Khaasta who had set up camp only a few hundred feet ahead of where Silvara had stopped. Jean swooped down over the camp and alighted on one of the two caravans that Silvara had guessed were there. The two caravans were really mobile prisons as they were little more than cells on wheels, and they had been stopped at the edge of the Khaasta camp. Four giant lizards, the beasts of burden of the Khaasta, were simply tied to the caravans, their heavy bridles lay on the ground beside them. A large group of Khaasta had set up a camp ground around a large fire about 50 feet from the caravans. There were about thirty of the lizardmen sitting around eating from a large cauldron filled with a thick yellowish paste, and settling in to sleep. Several guards were stationed in a perimeter around the campgrounds, and Jean watched as they idled about slowly, watching out into the darkness for any signs of intruders. Not wanting to outstay her welcome, or her spells, Jean spent only a short time getting the lay of the land before flying off back to Silvara.
Seeing the priestess sitting where she left her, Jean floated down quietly behind Selune and tried to surprise her.
"What did you find Jean?" Silvara asked before the sorceress could try anything.
"Aww," Jean pouted.
"I could smell you coming a mile away," Silvara said winking to the invisible mage. "You really need a bath Jean."
Jean chuckled quietly, "let's get going. They are only a few hundred feet ahead of us, and I'd like to strike while my spells are still active."
Silvara nodded before quickly moving back the way they had come to the main group.
Jean knelt on the ground as the party and the Knights of the Planes Militant huddled around her. Grabbing a stick from the ground she began drawing the layout of the camp and describing where the slaves and the Khaasta were, as they all watched on as the stick seemed to move of its own accord as, Jean, still invisible, moved it through the dirt. When she had finished they all stood for a moment thinking about how to approach the Khaasta camp.
"I have an idea," said Jean, a mischievous tone in her voice.
They all looked through her expectantly, but she said nothing and, most likely smiling to herself, let the anticipation build. Shadow Flame was the first to bite.
"Well, out with woman!" he said jokingly. The sooner this was done, the sooner they could get back on track.
Jean let out a short playful laugh and began to describe her plan, "if we act quickly enough my spells will still be in effect. This means I can fly in and land on one of the caravans. While I do this, you all move into a close attack position, shouldn't be too hard, especially for you Flame. Now, since the lizards are all camped in a big bunch around the fire I should be able to toast most of them with a fireball. Any that live should be easy pickings - that just leaves the 8 or so perimeter guards which I figure you guys should have no trouble bringing down."
Everyone nodded and murmured approvingly. "Nice one Jean," said Shadow Flame, "I can only see one problem. No offense Vaimish, but you and your mean aren't particularly well set for stealth. Between your armour," he looked at Unagi as he pointed that out, "and your horses, the lizards will hear you coming for miles."
Vaimish nodded, "true enough tiefling, we are not the sneaking kind. What do you have in mind?"
"Well, I think it is best if the three of us," he motioned to Unagi and Silvara, "get as close as we can, and you hold off about a thousand yards. I trust you can get that close with reasonable silence?"
Vaimish nodded, "that will not be a problem."
"Nug, you're not the sneakiest man around, so I think Silvara should use a silence spell to get you there unnoticed. I'll move in quietly and take out a couple o the guards which should make an opening for the paladins so they can charge into the camp unhindered."
"Very good," agreed Vaimish, "we can cover a thousand yards in short order. The one unanswered question is, how do we coordinate all this?"
"You charge in when you hear the fireball go off, it'll be pretty loud," offered Jean.
Vaimish nodded, "good call. But how will you know when to let off the fireball?"
Shadow Flame answered quickly, "you leave that to me paladin, I will let Jean know when to cut loose."
Vaimish looked questioningly at Shadow Flame but did not press the point, "fair enough tiefling, I will trust you on this since you seem prepared to help even though you have no want to do so. I trust your loyalty to your friends will be enough." He turned to his men, "mount up men, we leave immediately. Milady," he said, looking to Silvara, "please lead the way."
The knights mounted up as the party secured their new horses nearby so they could continue on foot.
They all reached the point where Silvara had waited for Jean when Silvara stopped them.
"Vaimish, you and your men wait here," Silvara whispered. The Khaasta camp is straight ahead, less than a thousand yards. You will have no trouble finding it if you charge straight ahead." Vaimish nodded. "Flame I'll let you find your own way since you can see in the dark anyway. I'll take Nug and head off to the east and wait to hear Jean's fireball. Jean, you go now."
"Jean, follow me for a second before you leave," said Shadow Flame.
"Right, everyone go now," said Silvara to the rest of them before beginning to speak the words of her silence spell.
Shadow Flame crept forward cautiously, cloaked in darkness, his senses heightened and alert. Up ahead he saw the heat haze that marked the presence of a khaasta guard, and slowed his pace so as to make no sound. He moved up to within thirty feet of the lizardman and stopped as he saw it pause and turn to look in his direction. The khaasta peered intently in his direction, and after a moment, lifted it's spear forward and began slowly walking in Shadow Flames direction. Mentally cursing himself, the tiefling began to move slowly back, trying to put a little distance between himself and the lizardman who seemed alert to his presence. Moving back swiftly, but silently, he hoped if the lizardman found nothing untoward he could maintain the element of surprise. The khaasta guard did not abandon his search however, and continued advancing in Shadow Flames direction. He considered his options for a moment; he could continuing trying to evade the guard, or he could attack. He had managed to bring the khaasta a short way out of his patrol area, and if he struck quickly and decisively he might be able to kill it before it could alert it's companions.
Shadow Flame grit his teeth and whispered harshly, "go imp, now!", and drew his new greensteel longsword and dagger. He felt the slight wind of the imps wings flap as the creature flew past his head, and quickly leapt from the shadows at the lizard. As alert as the khaasta was it did not see Shadow Flame coming, and made a belated attempt to deflect his blades, but the tiefling was already through it's defenses, his blades biting into the lizards spongy flesh. It was not enough to kill it, and the khaasta roared in pain - a sound similar to a cow bellowing. Shadow Flame heard several loud calls in response and he knew he had been made; there was nothing left to do but take the fight to the khaasta and hope the others made their move.
"Cast now mistress," Ixxizigut whispered as he hovered over the caravan. He could not see Jean, but knew the sorceress was there. "Master has been discovered, cast now before the filthy lizards awake."
Jean needed no further prompting and began intoning the words that would evoke a fireball from nothing. A nearby khaasta guard heard her words and let out a loud call of it's own, but it was too late for the bulk of the lizards who were laid out next to each other by the fire sleeping. As Jean pronounced the final word of her spell she popped into view, her invisibility dispelled by her casting, and hurled the small red ball in her hands toward the sleeping khaasta who were just beginning to stir in response to the calls of the guards. The fireball swelled as it hurtled toward the centre of the camp, and it hit the still sleeping khaasta with devastating force; still sleeping and just beginning to rouse, the lizardmen had no chance to escape the flames, and smell of roasted flesh soon engulfed the campsite.
Silvara and Unagi sat silently, still blanketed in Silvara's silence spell when they saw the fireball burst into flame in the camp centre. Unagi stood from their cover and began to charge toward the camp. Silvara stopped him with a hand on his shoulder as she silently dispelled her magic so she could cast a different spell. She spoke the words of the new spell, imploring Selune to provide her divine aid to herself and Unagi, and as the spell took effect they both felt the magic surge through them, sharpening their focus. Unagi nodded his thanks, and together they ran into the camp, drawing several of the perimeter guard to the sound of Unagi's war cry.
The sound of the fireball rumbled through the lightly wooded grasslands that marked the location of Vaimish and his men. As the sound rolled past them the paladin lowered the visor of his helm and lowered his lance. Leaning back in his saddle and pulling on the reins, his horse reared onto it's back legs, and kicked the air in front of it.
"By Heironeous!" Vaimish roared.
"Heironeous!" his men echoed as one.
The six paladins began their charge toward the camp.
Three khaasta surrounded Shadow Flame, who, with mirror images shifting around him, danced between the lunges of the khaasta spears. He was not wounded, his illusory images providing a distraction to the khaasta who could not decide which was the real Shadow Flame, but at the same time he had not inflicted any injury beyond the killing the blow to the first khaasta who had alerted it's brethren. Dodging a well aimed spear thrust from a lizard who had managed to pick the right Shadow Flame, the tiefling saw that another khaasta guard was coming across to lend it's friends some help. Shadow Flame focused - his spell would not last much longer, and he could not fight four khaasta by himself. He picked one of the lizardmen and delivered a series of punishing attacks, opening several long gashes in the creature. He was going to make the most of the cover provided by his magic.
The khaasta that had been hit by the fireball had struggled to their feet. As injured as they were they still managed to grab weapons, and began running over toward the caravans where Unagi and Silvara had run into the camp. They could also see Jean standing atop the caravan, the words of another spell playing across her lips. Several of the lizards had grabbed bows and were firing arrows toward Jean, but she had had time to raise some protective magics of her own, and all of the missiles either missed or deflected off her shield magics. Not so fortunate was the khaasta who took the full brunt of the magic missiles she had summoned, and coupled with the burns from the fireball, it fell dead as they crashed into it's body.
Unagi had already killed one khaasta guard, a devastating combination of blows from his greensteel longsword putting it down before it could retaliate. Three other khaasta surrounded him, and several more rushed toward him, as he again heavily damaged one of his foes. Silvara was having a good time of it as well - she was not the warrior that Unagi was, but she was skilled. Her chainmail took hits that would otherwise have been fatal, and returned in kind to khaasta who were not as well protected as her, the crack of bones under her mace the reward for a well timed blow.
Jean began casting another spell, her vantage point atop the caravan providing an excellent view of the campsite so she could choose the most effective targets. The khaasta were still in disarray, and though many had rallied and ran toward Silvara and Unagi, several of them were still slowly making their way across the camp, clearly badly injured from her fireball. These were her new targets as a streak of sickly green acid flew from her hands and struck one of them full force on it's neck. The khaasta screamed for several seconds, clawing at the acid to try and scrape it off before it toppled dead to the ground. A lizard standing beside watched it die, and then turned to continue toward Unagi. It stopped quickly though as it's hand shot quickly to it's neck. Ixxizigut appeared next to it, his tail still embedded in the khaasta's neck. The lizardman fell forward dead, and the imp looked around the camp for a second before disappearing again.
Changing his earlier tactic, Shadow Flame was now spreading his attacks amoung his foes, diving and weaving between them trying to create maximum confusion as the images from his spell wove through and around his body. The khaasta were growing frustrated and it manifested in their attacks as they became sloppy, providing Shadow Flame with small openings that he took swift advantage of, and several of them wore the wounds to testify to his skill.
Unagi and Silvara stood side by side as the khaasta continued to swarm around them. Abandoning her small mace, Silvara had conjured a long, pale glowing blade from a small moonstone she had cast a spell over. The shimmering blade swung cleanly through the khaasta, a much more effective weapon against their leathery hide than her mace had been. Several Khaasta lay dead at their feet, but there was still no shortage of the lizards to fill in the places of the fallen, and although many of them bore the burns of the fireball, they were still able to wield their spears and swords effectively. Both of them had several minor wounds where the lizardmen had managed to get by their defences just by the fact of superior numbers, but neither had been hit with anything that required healing magic.
Shadow Flame smiled as he heard the rumble of half a dozen horses storm past him not fifty feet away. The khaasta fighting him turned to try and see what was causing the noise and the momentary shift of attention allowed Shadow Flame to slide his longsword deep into the side of the lizard in front of him. The khaasta coughed out a few sounds that may have been words before it fell lifelessly to the ground.
The subtle thundering rumble spread across the camp growing quickly in intensity. Battle cries echoed across the camp as the seven paladins burst from the darkness, the khaasta turning as one to see what was causing the commotion. Lances lowered they plowed into the mass of fire injured khaasta who were cheering their compatriots on with low sibilant words, waiting their turn. Several of them died before they could move, long lances skewering them, driven by the force of racing war horses. Dropping their lances, each of the paladins drew longswords and began swinging at the khaasta who had presence of mind enough to attack them. Vaimish pulled a long two handed sword from his back, and guiding his mount with his knees, swung the huge blade with practiced ease, killing another of the khaasta before his lance had even come to rest upon the ground.
Unagi acknowledged the paladins skill with a raised eyebrow and laughed at the khaasta who stood momentarily unsure of this swing in the battle, providing him a clean opportunity to drive his longsword home, killing another of them. Likewise, Silvara's moonblade, humming with divine energy, split the spear of the lizard in front of her in two before following through and almost severing it's head from it's body. They both pressed their advantage, forcing the khaasta back toward the melee surrounding the paladins.
Jean threw another acid bolt across the camp striking the chest of a lizard who had continued to fire arrows at her from the open ground near the campfire. The lizards face contorted with pain, but it did not scream, simply firing another arrow at her. This time her protective magic did not provide and help and the arrow bit deeply into her shoulder ruining the spell she was already half way though casting. She dropped to one knee and snapped the shaft of the arrow just above her skin, and began the words to another spell. The acid from the bolt she had just fired continued to eat into the flesh of the khaasta, and now it did begin to cry out in pain, firing the arrow it had knocked wildly out into the night.
One of the paladins, sword swinging gracefully from the back of his horse, had maneuvered a little too close to one of the giant lizards that were still tied to the caravans. Forgotten in the chaos of the battle the lizard opened it's huge maw and bit down hard on the hind leg of the horse, breaking it instantly. The horses whinnied loudly, it's eyes rolling back in it's head as it fell to the ground. Surprised by the fall the paladin did not have time to react and his leg was pinned under the horse as it hit the ground. This was all the opening the khaasta needed, and two of them swiftly plunged their spears into the paladin, ending his life. Vaimish saw the paladin fall and with a howl of rage he leapt from his horse, landing besides the two khaasta, cleaning severing the head of one of them. The other gave a cursory attempt at defending itself but the paladin was fast, even under the wight of his armour and blade, and sliced the khaasta open, leaving it to squirm on the ground for several seconds before dying.
With the battle a little more spread out, Unagi was able to fight more effectively, and had managed to kill another of the khaasta as Vaimish was doing the same. However, his attacks had over extended his reach, and though they were no match for him one on one, the khaasta still surrounded the gladiator. Two brutal attacks from the lizards flanking him knocked the big man to the ground, blood flowing freely over his face from the wound opened by the flat of a khaasta battle axe. Briefly stunned by the force of the attack Unagi left himself open to another hit from the khaasta, the spear sliding neatly between his armour and biting deep into his side. The pain of the attack gave the gladiator clarity enough to grab the spear, preventing the khaasta from pulling it out, and exposing it to an attack from his longsword. The blade slid effortlessly into the creatures throat and out the back, severing it's spine and killing instantly. One of the other khaasta, seeking to take advantage of the gladiators prone position did not notice Silvara run up behind it, exposing herself to attack in the process. Shaking off the heavy blow of the khaasta behind her she swung her moonblade in an overhead arc, splitting the khaasta's head open in a shower of blood and brain. Seeing the lizardman chasing Silvara as she went to Unagi's aid, Vaimish interceded. The khaasta tried to ignore him and run past to press it's attack on Silvara but the paladin was too fast - two arcing swings of his giant sword saw the khaasta fall dead to the ground before it could raise it's blade in defence. Nodding her thanks to the paladin Silvara turned to face Unagi and began intoning the words to a healing spell.
A burst of magic missiles screeched out from Jean's outstretched hand, sweeping across the campsite to strike the khaasta who was still squirming in pain as the acid seeped through it's leathery skin. Striking home with unerring accuracy, the missiles pummeled the khaasta who fell dead under their assault. Turning her attention back to the main melee Jean saw Ixxizigut pop into view again, his tail buried in the neck of another khaasta who simply gurgled briefly before dropping dead. Surveying the battlefield briefly, the little imp smiled to itself as it spotted it next victim and disappeared from site.
Unagi stood and moved across to where Vaimish was fighting four or five khaasta by himself. It did not appear as though he needed his help, but the big man was damned if he was going to let the paladin have all the fun. He put himself at the paladins back and engaged three of the khaasta, swinging a little stiffly as his wounds slowly healed from Silvara's spell.
The paladins moved themselves to the outside of Vaimish and Unagi, boxing the khaasta in. There was no help for them, but the lizards did not give up, they knew they could expect no quarter from their foes. One of them hissed out a series of what must have been commands, for the next attack was coordinated much better than any of the previous ones the lizardmen had pressed. Four of them hurled their spears at a paladin protecting the direction of the campfire. Taken completely by surprise by the attack, the paladin could not dodge all of them, and two of them hit hard, both piercing his armour and lodging deeply in his chest. The paladin slid slowly from his mount, and landed, already dead, on the ground. The reaming khaasta tried to push through the horse, to make a run for it, but there was no help for them. The paladins horse was well trained and did not move for them, and with their backs to their attackers they were quickly cut down by Vaimish and Unagi with the help of the remaining paladins.
Jean floated down from the caravan to Silvara who was happy to use her magic to heal the wound caused by the arrow. Unagi however was still keen for battle, and he was well aware that none of them had seen Shadow Flame in the fight. Fearing the worst, the big man immediately ran off toward the direction he knew Shadow Flame would have been coming from. He called out the tieflings name as he ran across the campsite, pulling up only a second later as Shadow Flame walked out of the darkness into the light provided by the still burning campfire. The tiefling had several minor wounds from his fight, but did not appear to be badly injured. He raised his hand in greeting to Unagi as walked across, smiling broadly, he looked like he could easily handle another five khaasta on his own.
They took stock of the situation; all the khaasta were dead, two paladins were dead and one of them very badly injured, and none of the captives were hurt. Silvara used the last of her healing magic upon the wounded paladin, and although he would not be walking anywhere in a hurry, he was going to live. Vaimish smashed open the door to the prison caravan containing the khaasta captives and began talking to them. The party watched on, not wanting to interfere, as one of the captives marked himself as their leader - maybe a village elder or similar person. Several of the captive men came forward and claimed weapons from the fallen khaasta, and it was clear to the party that they would be able to defend themselves on their return journey.
With the captives seen to, Vaimish came over to the party to give his thanks.
"My...friends," he seemed a little surprised at the honest designation, "you have proven yourselves capable warriors this evening, and I will see to it that folk will hear your names and of your deeds. I thank you for your assistance." He offered his hand to everyone in the party and they all took it, one after another.
"I trust you will be OK returning these folk to their homes?" asked Silvara.
Vaimish nodded, "several of them can wield a sword which will help, and we are still five in number," he said referring to the paladins. He did not speak of those who had fallen. "We will return to where your horses are tied and set up camp there. You will of course be most welcome to join us."
Exhausted from the fight the party happily agreed, and along with those whose freedom they had fought for that night, returned to set up camp.
"Once again my friends, I thank you for your help," said Vaimish as the party prepared to take their leave of the paladin and his men. They had woken early and spent some time talking with the men and women they had freed. It was a good feeling seeing the faces of those who not a day ago expected to meet their ends at the hands of the khaasta or to be sold into slavery for the rest of their lives.
"When I am not out doing the work of Heironeous or the Order I can usually be found in Excelsior. If you find yourselves out that way please come and pay us a visit, you will be most welcome by all in town."
They all thanked the paladin and said their goodbyes, and not being ones for long farewells, they rode off, leaving the paladins and their charges to the Outlands and their fate.
The day was warm with a gentle, cooling breeze blowing as the party descended from the wooded foothills toward a flat verdant expanse through which cut a wide flat river. Tall thin trees crowned with sweeping spiky leaves grew out of low green shrubs and hedges along the river, and they all felt better than they had in some time under the pleasing warmth of the sun. The landscape did not change over the rest of the day, and as the light waned in the empty sky they set up camp, and slept peacefully for the night.
Early in the afternoon the party found themselves approaching a small town of squat buildings made of thick whitish mud. The general traffic along their path had been steadily increasing throughout the day as folk, mostly dark skinned humans with thick black hair, went about their business; merchants dressed in long off-white cloth robes lead camels laden with food, farmers and workers toiled in fields of green, guards armed with spears and short swords patrolled the roads, and large groups of men worked clearing ground around the city for more farms or fields to grow food. Apart from normal friendly greetings given by passers by, they were left to themselves, and each felt quite relaxed and at home in this unlikely place, as different from the Western Heartlands as they could imagine.
The town of Seop Nardis was very open, with most buildings being utilitarian against the openness of the landscape. Mostly square structures, most likely made of thick mud found along the river side, they were clearly designed to be cool in the heat and warm in the face of a cold wind. The centre of Seop Nardis was a little more extravagant, with taller buildings, their roofs held up by long fat columns adorned with carvingsa of animal-headed humans.
The folk in town were happy to help the party and, after selling the horses they got from Vaimish, they found their way to the Library of Lesser Light without any major problems. The librarian had set up a minor business selling pieces of ancient parchment that planewalkers would need to use the portal set into the frame of the door in the back of his office. Finding themselves five gold pieces lighter, they held the parchment out before them and stepped though the pale blue light of the portal into Sigil.
They stepped out of the other side of the portal, its light still lingering in front of their eyes, into a wide busy street. The archway that was the destination of the portal was set at the entrance to an alley, down which they could see four heavily armoured men standing around what appeared to be two dwarves, pointing menacingly. Ignoring whatever was happening in that alley they stepped out beside the road. It was wide and set with polished, clean cobblestones of some deep brown, almost black stone. Building rose around them, dozens of feet tall, and having the appearance of separate buildings stacked one upon the other. The buildings also seemed to be leaning ever-so-slightly inward, and as they looked back, past those buildings adjacent to the road, the illusion was amplified, if indeed it was an illusion; it seemed that in each direction the ground sloped gently upward, as if they had manage to stumble out into the lowest point in all of Sigil. Behind the buildings on the road were more buildings, and behind them more buildings still, crowded together over every spare inch of ground. As they looked about their eyes were naturally drawn upward. Overhead there was no sun, the light falling over them seeming to radiate from the sir itself, through the light cloud cover, or was it fog, or smog? They could not tell, and it was not something they were concerned with as beyond the clouds was the most spectacular sight they had seen. It was Sigil, or rather, it was more of Sigil; far above them, perhaps several miles above them, they could clearly see buildings and streets as though they were looking down on the city from the vantage of a mountain peak. But they had no such vantage anchored firmly to the ground, to one of Sigils streets themselves. The site was disorienting, dizzying, and they had to return their gaze to the ground to avoid stumbling under the vertigo. Hearing laughter from their left they looked across at a centaur, a centaur with the body of a goat rather than a horse, accompanied by well dressed human and a tiefling with yellowish skin, looking at them. The party clearly heard the words, "clueless", "berks" and "lost" as the trio moved on, the tiefling looking over his shoulder and laughing to himself again.
Without saying anything they began wandering up the street, which was strange, as both directions were up, always up, occasionally looking up to make sure they weren't prey to some shared hallucination.
"Watch it ya clueless sods," came a voice just behind them. They spun on their heals as a large, ornate carriage covered in stylised sweeping blades, it's occupants masked by silken veils over the windows, swept past them carried by four tall thin humans, one at each corner. It had no wheels, it mobility granted by the strength of the carriers alone, and they clearly had no time or inclination to be kept waiting by stragglers on the street.
They stopped and looked at each other as the carriage continued on, its carriers no pausing for anyone. "I think it's time to get into character," said Shadow Flame, "we need to find this inn Fallon spoke of and do what we can to get our bearings."
The rest of them simply nodded and continued looking blankly at him. Shadow Flame scanned the street; there were plenty of folk about, but he was looking for someone that might fit his idea of a resident - someone who might live nearby. He noticed that there were quite a few folk passing by who might have been lawyers, or clerks, or messengers, or...something. Many of them carrying ledgers, small cases, rolls of papers, scroll tubes and other documents, they largely had the appearance of public servants. Somethings it seemed, were the same everywhere.
"Excuse me my good man," Shadow Flame said to a short thin man dressed in grey leggings and a deep blue blouse, "we are in need of directions."
"Hall of Information basher," the man quickly said as he walked past.
"Yes but..." the man continued on without acknowledging Shadow Flame any further.
Taking Shadow Flame's lead Jean thought she might have a bit more success. Pulling her robe down tightly to expose a little cleavage she put her hand out to catch a slightly portly man who may have been an elf but for his silvery skin, "excuse me sir," she said, "but I seem to be in need of some help."
The man slowed down, and, glancing at her chest for just a moment, stopped and smiled, "certainly lass, what do you need?" he asked with a nearly friendly smile.
Shadow Flame stepped next to Jean and held out his hand, "well met friend," he said as the silver skinned man took his hand, "we are new to Sigil and have been told that the Ubiquitous Wayfarer should be our first stop. Would you be able to point us in the right direction."
Taking another quick glance at Jean the man nodded and said, "that I can basher." He gave Shadow Flame the surprisingly easy to follow directions and bid them all good day.
"Helpful chap," Jean said playfully.
Unagi laughed and said, "I for one hope we get lost a bit more often in Sigil," winking playfully at Jean who just laughed at him.
They walked for about half an hour, the streets in the Clerk's Ward being clean and tidy and laid out in a generally easy to follow manner, and managed to find the Ubiquitous Wayfarer without requiring any further assistance. It was not your typical inn - the doorway was just a plan wooden door set into a thick stone wall with "Ubiquitous Wayfarer" scratched into the stone above the door. No sounds drifted out of the inn, and if it weren't for the fact the walll proclaimed it to be so, they would not have realised it was the entrance to the inn. Opening the door they stepped through a veil of thin wires strung with beads, and after a brief flash of greenish light, found themselves standing in a busy taproom. Looking behind them they could see out into the street, and it was clearly not the same street they had entered from, this one being generally dirtier. The patrons did not give their flashy arrival any consideration, so they did not waste any time and headed to the bar. The room was filled with all manner of folk; tieflings, humans, githzerai, and those of the elf-like race of Jerison and their helpful friend from the street. It was a busy room and most folk were taking meals indicating the time was around midday. The bar was crowded but not overly so, and they found themselves talking with the bartender, a burly human with long plaited hair and circular tattoos curling out from his cheeks to his temples, in short order. They decided that for the moment they would take a common room and retire there to work out what to do next; niceties such as individual rooms could wait until they could begin sorting out what to make of Sigil and what they should do next.